How to Learn

Listening is not active.

Maybe you’re a good listener.  Maybe you take the time to sit down next to someone and really hear what they’re telling you.  That’s active, because that’s a conversation.  It may be largely one-sided, but it’s still a conversation and you’re still contributing, whether by body language or word whiskers (mms and aahs).  If you needed to, you could jump in and state your side, then go back to listening.  That’s active.

At times, however, we’re all bad listeners.  The TV is on and you’re hearing it, but you’re looking at the little news ticker on the bottom of the screen for lottery numbers rather than listening to the news.  Or you were having a conversation with someone, until they hijacked it for their own complaints, and now you’re just nodding along to make them think you’re a good listener.  That’s not active.

Here’s the thing: listening itself is not active.  It’s what you do alongside listening that makes it active.  Maybe you’re taking notes as a teacher is talking.  Maybe you’re trying to understand things from another person’s perspective, and interjecting into the conversation once or twice to clarify, or give your own experiences.  Jumping rope while listening is not active listening, despite both being active and listening.  If you’re taking what you hear and making something out of it, you’re actively listening. Read the full post »

Sprint, Battle, Party

NaNoWriMo Week One is nearly complete.  You might be behind (like me), on track (as I have been in the past), or zooming ahead (as I often have been in the past).  No matter where you are in the fleet, your goal is the same: to get as many words in as quick a time as possible.  Now, you could order robotic hands that type faster than you can think— those are sometimes fun.  You could grab another person and have them type at the same time, theoretically doubling your output (but producing two separate novels).  Or, you could participate in a word war.

Word war, word sprint, word fiesta— they’re all the same thing.  You and anyone else participating make a pact, a pact to rid the world of procrastination, and fight to the death the war of words.  Or party the heck out of it, if you’re doing a word fiesta.  Your choice, bro.

Write as many words as you can in fifteen minutes.  Try not to stop until the time is up.  Force your brain to work overtime as your fingers speed over the keys, thinking barely faster than you can type.  You might not know what the next sentence will be, but you’ll run with it.  This is the essence of a word sprint.

Compete against others.  Compete against yourself.  Set records for how many words you can write in fifteen minutes.  Discover your word-per-minute rate and try to make it faster.  Compare your final count with others and feel that sense of pride that comes with winning, or the sense of despair and desolation that comes with second place.  Decide to do better.  Take a break, and start again.  This is the essence of a word war.

Write crazy plot twists and strange dialogue, because you can’t think of anything else to do!  Often, these spur-of-the-moment ideas and terrible thoughts bring about big changes to your story.  The plot twist nobody expected— it’s more of a surprise if you never expected it either.  Waltz through the story with a blindfold on, stepping in unimaginable kinds of goop and splattering it onto the page.  This is the essence of a word fiesta.

No matter which type of activity you choose, they all have the same basis: write as much as you can in fifteen minutes.  Where do you find companions with which to sprint, battle, or party?  That’s the easy part.  You can battle while someone else parties.  You can party while they sprint.  All it takes is someone to say Go and Stop, and a place to communicate in real-time.

Ta-da, the word war chatroom, which has existed since basically forever.  We started it three years ago for just this purpose.  Since then, it’s gone through some changes and seen some people come and go, but its purpose is the same.  Come in and write in company. Read the full post »


How’s life?

The first trimester at school is over.  The four months of internet silence, such as they were, are officially over, and I’m back.  More or less.  I plan to post more often on the blog (more often than once every four months, that is), but I cannot hope to post as often as I once did.  I hope you understand.

Anyway, how are you all?  What’s happened in your last four months of existence?

See Ya!

It’s time for me to leave.  Once again, watch the YAvengers blog for updates from me, which I wrote and scheduled this past month.  Enjoy your summers, and I’ll see you in November!



I am a fan of the TV show Castle.  I can spoil almost every episode for you right now.

I’m not going to, because I’m a nice person, but I thought I’d put that out there.  I can also spoil Elementary, Fringe, the three NCIS generations, JAG (although I’ve only watched a couple episodes), and all six of the Star Wars movies.

To be fair, though, I know Star Wars backwards and forwards, and the spoilers are already plastered over everyone’s eyeballs, so there’s not much surprising there.  The point remains that I can spoil a crime show, almost any crime show, almost any episode, with a little thought and the first eight minutes of the episode.

I’m not going to tell you how— this knowledge cost me enjoyment of all recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations— but I can tell you why.  Why can a mild-mannered student of writing quickly tell the who did it of any whodunit?

Because most fiction, especially serialized on-a-deadline fiction like a TV show, has rules. Read the full post »

Another Tag

Here’s another tag post, filled with fun, whimsy, and questionable interpretations.  I mean, interpreting questions.  Because I can’t answer anything straight.

This is the Would You Rather book tag, given once again by Katie.  Full disclosure from the beginning, I can’t stand either/or questions, because there is never a situation in which you won’t change your mind.  Would you rather have pizza or rocks?  Well, I’d probably pick pizza at first, but if I just spent the last eight months eating nothing but pizza while travelling around the magical and pizza-filled Pizzazia, I think I’d have to go with rocks.  All I’m saying is there’s always a possibility.  Thus, I’m not going to like any of my own answers, so definitely don’t read too much into them.  So, would I rather… Read the full post »

I’m Gonna Pop Some Tags

I guess I had this coming when I said I was open for tags for the next month.  I suppose I’m really lucky it took a week for people to get the ball rolling— I love hanging around here, but three weeks might be my limit on tagging sanity.  So cram them in if you want them answered, people.

Katie at Spiral-Bound tagged me with the Extraordinary Means tag.  Six questions full of high costs, and I have to decide which author or character or book is worth such a price.  I’m going to say right now, however, that I take issue with some of the questions, so I’ll probably spend more time arguing them than actually answering them.  Anyway, here goes.  Forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. Read the full post »

Another Project

I told you it wasn’t my last post.

That last post still applies.  Everything in it is true except the part where I say farewell.  I learned how much I missed the blog about 24 hours after posting that.  24 hours after that, I realized how much time exists in a month and how much fun we can have together.  And here I am, writing another blog post because honestly, if I really wanted to, I could write my 700th post before I leave.  (This is #669, so I’m not sure I really want to, but it would be amusing.)

In trying to be dramatic and serious and stoic, I accidentally gave myself a five-month absence instead of just four months.  Now I’m taking this month back.  (To be clear: July, August, September, October, I’m still gone.  June?  Nope.)

Let me tell you about a project I started a couple months ago, and truly got working yesterday.  I’ve been a pianist for a long time— it was my first musical instrument, at age 4, and I took lessons for a good ten years.  Since I stopped, however, I’ve kept noodling.  I’m particularly good at playing by ear, but I also enjoy improvising.  In fact, if I have sheet music for a song, I will still improvise, by ear, that song.  At this point I’d rather make my own version than be restricted.

If you think about it, that sums up my writing process too, at this point.  I make a story up as I go along, to fit imperfectly the image I have in my head, rather than follow a set outline, even if I wrote it myself.  I’d rather improvise an imperfect, but fair, solution than hammer down and get a perfect one that doesn’t allow for mistakes.  At least, that’s how I feel about it. Read the full post »

The Future

This is not my last post.

This post is a goodbye, and an ending to three and a half years of fun.  It’s a change.  But it’s not my last post.

First of all, some stuff about me.  I’m eighteen, and soon going to college at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, which trains officers for oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers, and anything large that floats.  Essentially, it’s a school where I learn to sail giant ships around the world.

The Academy (USMMA) is modeled after the United States Naval Academy; it has many of the facets of a military academy as a result.  One of these things is the basic training at the beginning of the first year, and the boatload of restrictions for all students.  Also, it’s a larger school than the one I’ve recently been attending.  (As a homeschooler, that applies to just about everything.)  I have some idea of what to expect from all this, but still little of one.  During my time there, I’m going to need some time to figure all of this out.

Long story short, I’m going dark.

I need four months.  I report in July, the first trimester ends in November.  Between those two deadlines, you won’t see me anywhere except in person, saluting to someone important.  That means no blog, no Twitter, no social media of any kind.  It also means no chatroom and no NaNoWriMo site.  It also means no email.

It’s very dramatic, I grant you.  I could probably survive without cutting myself off completely, but it would make everything harder.  Even these days, I occasionally try to put social media or extracurricular fun stuff ahead of school.  I think most of us do that.  At a service academy…  Yeah, I’ll let you figure that one out.

I’ve thought about this a long time, and I think it’s the best way to go: I’m going dark for four months, and at the end of that period I’ll reassess.  It could be that I have too much time on my hands, so I reinstate noveling and blogging.  (Those two are priorities.)  It could be that I’m overwhelmed, and have to simplify even more.  Whatever happens, I will tell you all.  See?  This is not my last post.  The one in November just might be.

I’m hoping it isn’t, but we’ll see.

So all that is about me.  I have to shut the door for a little while on this part of my life.  That doesn’t mean I find it easy, or that I welcome the opportunity.  This blog has been a wonderful place for me to learn and to grow, and you as readers have made that possible.  I’ve been truly terrible at keeping it fresh these past few months, especially in comments, but you all are amazing.  I don’t expect many of you to stick around for the full four months, but if you do, I hope I can get you something new to enjoy.

I haven’t been very emotional on this blog since I found my style around year 1 (that style being dusty old professor with bifocals, which isn’t very conducive to much of anything fun), but I do want to stress this: I’m sad to leave you.  I’m sad that I have to let this stagnate.  I’d love to keep doing what I’m doing for another ten years, but that won’t be possible if I’m going to grow.  Thank you for being here, and thank you for understanding what I have to do.

Obviously there are still some more questions about this.  The biggest one is: Why would I go to a restrictive service academy when I enjoy writing and apparently want a career in that field?  Obviously there’s a 5k word reason, in-depth with multiple examples.  The shortest answer, however, is this: because I can.

You might not agree with it.  You might think the only way to success, especially in the literary career, is to drive straight at it until you achieve it.  But I haven’t found that to be true.  I’ve long held that I can succeed by knowing a little about a lot of different things.  Although I seem to be very good at writing, or at music, or at sailing, all of the qualities I learn there can apply to a million other things.  Everything on this blog?  It counts toward living life, making friends, or telling stories in any medium I want.  It counts toward being productive, being happy, being receptive to other attitudes and cultures.  The things I’ve learned from this blog apply to so much more than just writing.  That’s what I hope to do with the rest of my education.

I’m not going to a school that beats me down and teaches me a single, specific skill that I’ll use until I can retire, at which point I’ll dust off my notebooks and consider writing again.  It teaches leadership.  It teaches survival.  It teaches things that most easily translate into the shipping business, but with a little work can translate to writing, to music, to anything I want.  Could I learn all of it on my own?  Of course, yes.  Over the past three and a half years, I’ve gotten really good at teaching myself things.  But if this school offers those things up front, I might as well learn from them.  If it means giving up my blog for four months, or even four years?  I can live with that.  I can absolutely live with that.

Also, sailing.  You have no idea how much I love sailing.

It’s not going to be easy.  I’m going to miss all of you.  But this is what I’ve decided, and I hope you all can live with it too.

A little more housekeeping before I go: because of the miracle of scheduling posts, the YAvengers blog will publish a post per month during my absence, written by me.  I’m going to write those in the next couple days, so I don’t know what they’re about yet, but they’re going to be fun.  I’ll do my best to stick around as Captain America over there (especially now that I have personal experience), but if I can’t keep up this blog, that blog will have to go too.  You are my priority, and I will make sure you know what’s going on.

So, farewell.  This is not my last post— I hope to return triumphantly in four months.  Thanks for bearing with me.

The Confidence Arc

One of my favorite character stereotypes is the confident character.  Richard Campbell Gansey III, Dorian Havilliard, even Valerie Solomon from Tessa Gratton’s story on Merry Sisters of Fate.  There’s something about the character who has it all, who has an all-purpose mask they crafted for themselves over the years.  Of course, since we write crafted fiction, this mask never stays on.  Something will happen to tear it off, and there— that’s when you really enjoy the character.

Half of me wants to be such a character with such a mask.  Half of me just wants to write millions of those characters.  For the convenience of everyone, and especially me, here’s a step-by-step how-to on creating the confident character. Read the full post »


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