An Aside

My writing self is pretty insufferable right now.

Let’s imagine the conversation between the two of us: my conscious self, studying for classes, having fun, but all the time wishing he could motivate himself to write instead of procrastinating all day— and my writing self, who is doing nothing.

***

Conscious: Bro, get off Facebook and start writing.

Writer: But have you seen this puppy video?

Conscious: It doesn’t matter.  I want to finish this current novel by the end of this month.

Writer: Puppies.

Conscious: What’s going on?  You used to be so powerful.  You used to motivate me to get all my stuff done so we could write for eight hours, then publish a blog post, then write some more.  What happened to us?

[Hello plays softly in the background]

Writer: I don’t know, man.  It’s just…  We’ve drifted away from each other and I’m not sure we can ever get back.

Conscious: Don’t say that.  We’ll make it work. Read the full post »

Cheats for Writing

I’m going to tell you how to cheat.

That’s right.  There are ways to hack your way to an emotional response.  You can bypass the usual systems of good characters, solid plot, and vivid setting— you can even get away without a very good writing style— and still evoke a positive reaction from readers.  Yes indeed!  You don’t have to go through the misery of learning how to actually write.  I’ll give you a couple examples and tell you exactly how to use them for MAXIMUM EFFECT.

In short, don’t.

Imagine you’re writing the next Star Wars movie.  The franchise has millions of fans.  No matter if you write a good story or not, people are going to come, spend money, and watch your movie.  You could write anything you want and they’ll still watch it.  Why?  Because the story is that big.  It doesn’t matter how well you write; it just matters that it’s Star Wars.

You have a cheat. Read the full post »

Short Story: Ash

Allow me to present this year’s 24-hour short story.  I started it at 11:57 last night, barely staying within the rules.  I have to say, it turned out differently than I expected.  Check out the other short stories written last night, which will be collected soon on the host blog.  Enjoy.


“Tell her she smells like your mom,” said the imp from John’s jacket. “That always works for me.”

John smoothed his lapel. The imp squeaked as John’s hand squashed it.

“Is that him?” John’s date leaned forward. The imp had interrupted while she introduced herself, and he was too embarrassed to ask her name a second time. “The elf?”

“Imp,” said John automatically. “And no. I left it at home. It doesn’t like this jacket.”

“If you’re expecting to keep this woman, I suggest you prevent her from smelling it,” said the imp, poking his head above John’s collar. “Great long johns, fresh air is sweet unto my nostrils!” He snorted noisily. John cleared his throat to cover the sound, but his date wouldn’t hear the imp anyway.

“Is it really that fickle?” she asked, cocking her head. “I thought it went everywhere you did.”

“Everywhere I want it to,” said John with a dead smile. The tips of her red hair brushed her shoulders. John shivered, imagining flames smoldering and burning her skin. “How did traveling treat you? Did you enjoy your first time navigating New York City?”

She deflected the change of subject with a smile. “I’m curious about the terms of your agreement with him. I mean, with it. Is he— it— bound to doing whatever you say, or is it his choice? Can he do anything, or is he limited? I keep saying he, but you know what I mean.” She laughed, touching his arm across the table as if they shared this hilarious joke. Her hand was scorching.

John didn’t like her much. Read the full post »

On Choices

Great people see potential in a certain light.  Schools, specifically undergraduate schools, consider potential quite differently.

Over a year ago, I visited a bunch of colleges that I didn’t choose to attend.  As liberal arts schools, they sold themselves in a very specific way, a way that appealed especially to me.  They knew what they were doing.  They advertised well, they made people feel at home, and they made every prospective student feel the same way: good.  Everyone leaving the school after a visit felt as though they could really, truly, have fun and learn at that school.  But mostly, have fun.

For me, this feeling came in the form of the ‘undecided’ option.  One school— small of campus and creaky of stairway, with free food and a stone library— offered two full years without having to pick a major.  Through freshman and sophomore years, the student needed to do nothing but pay their bills and take random classes, until junior year when they would have to pick a major or, for those who really couldn’t decide, make up a major of their own.  All this because they were creaky of stairway.

Over the past four years, I have seen piece after piece of advice— essay after essay, talk after talk— encouraging people to pursue their passions and pursue them now.  If you want to be a writer, write.  If you want to be a cartoonist, cartoon.  Before you can become anything, you have to do it first.  This struck a chord with me as well.  (In fact, I’m sure I’ve turned around and given the same advice here on the blog.)  If you work hard enough at something, you can succeed at it.  This was the message all these successful people would give.

Funny, isn’t it?  I’m not trying to say that people running colleges are not successful people, nor invested in the success of their students.  But why is the approach so different?  One group says you don’t have to decide what you want to do— just play in the sandbox as long as you want, then figure out a general direction.  The other group says if you know what you want to do, you have to do it— there isn’t time for the sandbox. Read the full post »

Short Story: Klepto-Mobile

I wrote this short story way back in June for a competition.  The competition required a fantasy story exploring a new world, in under a thousand words.  This version, the first one I wrote, is nearing two thousand words.  While I did cut it down for the contest, I prefer the longer version.  There’s a sentimental value to any short story you write at midnight in pink pen.  Enjoy.  If you’d like to read the shortened, polished version, you can find it here: http://writetheworld.com/groups/1/shared/2767/version/5257


Stealing cars was more fun when they weren’t magical.

Stu leapt into the third one, pressing the ignition button and the brake at the same time. The cars were all new, meaning his hotwiring techniques set off more alarms than Stu actually ever tripped. They were all magical, meaning at least two of them had tried to melt his eyebrows in creative ways. Stu had never seen such an angry llama.

Stu held the key fob close to the dashboard and tried the button again, with nothing but a beep in response. He had found the key in a tray by the door— it had to fit one of these. He couldn’t survive many more hotwire attempts.

Definitely not this car. The speedometer had a rooster stenciled into its face, and after the acid-spitting llama…

Stu kicked open the door and dove into the next car. He had little time. He could thank his stars, though, that none of these “alarms” had alarmed anyone but him. He was—

The silver convertible screamed. Read the full post »

A Toast to Balance

Imagine your perfect kitchen.

You have an oven.  You have a stove.  You have a microwave.  Between the toaster and the refrigerator is a clock radio that plays your favorite tunes.  Special lighting illuminates every inch of countertop.  This kitchen is basically the Ikea model; functionality, variety, and brushed aluminum everywhere.

Unfortunately, this kitchen has no electrical outlets.  When you go to make toast, you might be disappointed.

Now imagine the opposite.  Your friend has a kitchen.  It has electrical outlets every six inches.  No matter how many beaters, blenders, or bread machines your friend owns, each one has an outlet.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any of those appliances.  In fact, despite all her outlets, she has nothing to plug in.

Yours might be the Ikea model kitchen, but hers is the Home Depot electrical showcase.  (“Choose the outlet that fits your personality!!”)

Will either kitchen work if you want toast?  Probably not.  What kind of kitchen would give you toast?  That’s pretty easy to imagine: the kitchen with the best of both worlds.  Enough appliances to do the job, with enough outlets to power them all.  Perfection.

Before I lose you, I promise I’m not going into kitchen design.  I’d like to twist this metaphor to talk about speaking and writing (especially nonfiction).  Despite the appliances, this is a “show don’t tell” kind of post. Read the full post »

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 »

Hi

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!

L

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