Do You See?

I’m not a great micro-editor.

I write instinctually; sometimes a long sentence feels good, sometimes a short one.  I mess around, but don’t put much thought into it.  When editing, however, I’m not in the moment— I can’t tap into that instinct.  Often I don’t know what makes good writing beyond good grammar and spelling.  Rhythm, tone, flow… it’s kinda lost on me.

My instinct is starting to speak up in strange places, though.  This is bad, I think as I write blog posts.  This feels confusing.  I’m not getting my point across.  Usually it’s the form that bugs me— not this time.  It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve pinpointed that feeling.

Over the past couple weeks, I read through the Query Shark blog archives.  I wanted to learn how to write a good query letter.  The form of a query letter, however, is simple.  The author of the blog spent more time on flow, rhythm, and word choice.  One in three queries had a note offering another version of a sentence, or another word choice, or a revamped paragraph.  She kept asking, “Do you see the difference?”  After reading about 200 queries and revisions, I started to see.

My ideas weren’t confusing— my sentences were clunky. Read the full post »

If You Were Stuck In Quicksand…

A couple weeks ago, the basic training for my school began.

I had gone through this training a year before, but this year I volunteered to work.  I wanted to help people grow and get good things out of the experience.  Someone had trained me who I respected for being firm but kind in the midst of other wild and messy training styles— I wanted to pass that on to the next group of incoming people, or candidates.  I hadn’t exactly enjoyed my time in this training, but I had grown through it.

On the first day, when I heard candidates yelling responses to officers, I immediately felt a pit open up in my stomach.  Why am I here?   Why am I a part of something that obviously causes so much distress?  This isn’t me.

I had volunteered for this, so I would do the work.  Everyone else could yell and be mean.  I’d yell, but only so far as it kept them moving, kept them learning, and got them closer to the point where I didn’t have to yell.  As things went on, I began to realize a couple things.  One, they were only yelling because they were doing the best they could.  They weren’t used to it, and when you yell without planning to it sounds like a scream.  Two, they were distressed, yes, but with so many people around showing them where to go, that didn’t matter.  Even if they tried to make the wrong turn, we could point them in the right direction.  We’d point loudly, but we’d still point.

Three, they were learning.  They were learning fast.  It was like drinking from a fire hose— too much knowledge and protocol to digest all at once.  They got what they could, tried again if they messed it up, and learned to tune out the yelling around them and yell louder.

Wouldn’t it be better, you might ask, to just sit them down, calmly explain all of this, and let them figure it out step by step before throwing them into this mayhem?  Why so much conflict?

A couple days into training, I realized something as I was reading a book.  Especially those first few days, I had mistaken conflict for evil. Read the full post »

Teacher or Performer?

Here’s a fun fact: there’s a difference between teaching and performing.

I love doing both.  I love helping other people learn stuff that I enjoyed learning.  I also love showing off what I’ve taught myself.  But sometimes, when I’ve learned something really useful and go to teach someone else, it turns into me showing off and them learning nothing.

Because I’m a performer more than I am a teacher.

When I talk to people, it turns into a speech.  When I show someone something, I have to do it perfectly.  I always feel like I have to nail the result, even though learning is a constant struggle.

To a point, teachers are performers.  They have to know what they’re doing.  They have to be able to do everything they’re trying to teach, so that they can lead by example.  Along with that, they have to put a skill into understandable words, break it down into achievable steps, and guide others through the same journey they just completed.  It’s even more complicated than just performing.

But teachers don’t have to be perfect.

The best way to learn is to teach yourself.  A good teacher won’t guide you step-by-step to every conclusion you make— they’ll help you think in a way that allows you to figure out many different things.  It doesn’t matter, then, if the teacher knows every answer or not.  As long as the teacher can point you in the right direction, you can figure it out yourself.

To a point, performers are teachers.  If you watch someone perform successfully time and time again, you can eventually reverse-engineer their method and figure out how to replicate it.  It takes a while.  It isn’t as easy as letting them teach you.  But sometimes, people can’t teach, or just don’t.  So you figure it out yourself. Read the full post »

Further Songs

Howdy!  A couple nights ago my sisters and I got together to write a song.  I told them it would take less than twenty minutes, but we took about five times that.  Nevertheless, we emerged from the darkness with a song which, out of the two I’ve written, might be my favorite musically.  You know that cool thing they do in musicals where everyone’s singing a different tune at the exact same time?  Yeah, we kinda did that.

Anyway, that’s me.  You can listen to the song at the end of the post.

A lot of things have come together for this project in crazy ways.  A friend gave us a pretty high-quality microphone several years ago, which we had never used until now.  Only a couple days after I wrote my first song, a graduating senior gave me— completely free— a used computer.  Immediately I set up Audacity (a sound-editing program) and LMMS (a program similar to GarageBand, but for Windows, meant for actually creating music).  Even better, one of my brother’s old guitar pedals connects to a computer and can record to it fairly easily.

In short, I can record anything I can play, and I haven’t spent any money on it.  I’d call that a blessing. Read the full post »

Beta Readers Wanted!

With the end of Spoon-Fed Camel, I have turned my attention toward editing my previous novel, The Tailor’s Song.  I almost can’t believe I didn’t post here when I finished that novel— I had a blast writing it, and personally I think it’s my best yet.  But I’m biased.

Anyway, as part of the process, I need a beta readers to help me see this thing from other angles.  And not just any beta readers will do— I want you as a beta reader.

“Oh, but I’m not a writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m not a very good writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m such a better writer than you are,” you say.  It doesn’t matter.  If you’re at all interested after you read the pitch below, please comment.  Beta reading requires no particular skill set besides enjoying a good story.  If what I’ve written rubs you the wrong way, I just need you to make a note and tell me which part.  You don’t have to fix it for me— let me do the hard work.  Just point at the spots I missed.

I’d really appreciate your help!  I’ll take as many beta readers as are willing— just say the word.  Without further ado, here’s the pitch.

Tessa thought nude magicians were the worst of her problems.

For the last nine months, Tessa has run her parents’ clothing shop.  Her powerful, entitled customers appreciate her ability to take their nonsense in stride.  Her senile, penniless tenant appreciates her ability to pretend that yes, the rent was up-to-date, not almost a year overdue.  Tessa, in turn, appreciates her punching bag’s ability to absorb her frustration; it dies a thousand deaths after close of business each day.  Life is manageable.

It doesn’t last.  Tessa soon learns her city business license will expire in a month if she can’t renew it.  Her father’s lack of records makes mundane paperwork a scavenger hunt as she searches the city for people who knew her parents well.  Her punching bag lacks power against the mounting stress— however, a young magician, entitled as they come, quickly becomes the focus of her pent-up rage.

As Tessa struggles along, one of her customers falls dead at her feet— rather, hanging upside-down in the air by magic no one understands.  The police, with few options, pinpoint Tessa’s shop as one of their only leads.  Tessa must close down.  Faced with an expiring license, unhappy customers, and a murder investigation side-eyeing her, she can give up and accept the consequences, or fight to stay afloat, innocent, and sane.

If that appeals to you, let me know!  I’d love your help.  Thanks.

I Wrote A Song!

Hi, everyone.  Guess what: I didn’t lie in the title.

I wrote a song.  It’s about a penguin that doesn’t like being cold.

You can listen to it below, and you can click through to my SoundCloud channel.  Enjoy!

Stuff To Which I Am Up

Fun fact: when you arrange “Stuff I’m Up To” in order to remove the preposition at the end, you still end with a preposition.

Anyway, I told you I was going to fill you all in on my productivity plans, and here I am.  I don’t usually do this, because sometimes I can’t be as productive as I’d like to be and I never get to the things I say I will.  But that’s human, and I hope you all understand that I, too, fall into that category.

So let’s jump in.  Here, in no particular order, is the Stuff To Which I Am Up. Read the full post »

My Favorite Author

Today, I didn’t get to meet my favorite author.

Maggie Stiefvater writes some fun books.  She lives a fun life.  She’s inspired and inspiring.  For a long time, ever since I realized she had written a book that wasn’t primarily kissing, I’ve read and enjoyed and sought out her writing wherever I could.  I’ve read a lot of her books.  I’ve learned a lot from her books.  And right now, I’m only talking about her books.  Y’all can research for yourselves what else she gets up to.  She’s multi-talented— nay, she’s dedicated.  To a lot of different things.  All at once.

She’s inspiring, and has been for a long time.  That’s why, when I realized she was coming to NYC on a weekend I was free, I made a plan to go get some books signed.

At first, it sounded like a large commute and small window of fun.  You see, I have obligations.  As a freshman at a service academy, I’m a bit confined as to when I can do things.  This confines what I can do.  But, trekking out into the city for a couple hours to see the Stiefvater seemed like it could work.

Then doors began to open.  I could cut down on the commute.  I could get a little extra time to get over there and get back.  In fact— and here’s the exciting part— I might even get some books signed.  That’s better than just being in the same bookstore.  All this because I got to go home this weekend instead of just traveling from my school.

It was a great weekend.  I got a lot of fun stuff done, listened to a sister’s orchestra concert, made progress in a couple of other projects I’ll break to you later, and in general pushed my life forward a couple more baby steps.  I achieved what I had to do.  When the time came to hit up the bookstore, I was riding a wave of productivity, inspiration, and feel-goodiness.

We show up just before the event is about to start.  The bookstore is crowded.  I’m in my white dress uniform.  We can’t find the checkout line, but eventually we get there and buy a copy of The Raven King.  We get our number for the signing line.

#281. Read the full post »

Novel #8

I just finished a novel.  My eighth.

I call it Spoon-Fed Camel.  My progress bar on the right of this blog doesn’t let me update the wordcount anymore, but it is complete at 93,836 words.

It contains no camels, no spoons, and very little food.

A short pitch: When virtual reality magic gets out of control, it sucks two patrons into its chaotic world, forcing them to face and fix parts of it they had never imagined possible.

It’s an adventure story, I think, at its heart.  (I just listened to a bunch of Writing Excuses podcasts that seemed to describe my book pretty well, so I’m calling it adventure.)  Even though the world sucks them in at first, it’s because they chose to be there and chose to have that adventure.  But I also tried (and failed) to put several more layers into the story.  The successful parts were the ones I didn’t expect.

This was a fun story to write.  I always enjoy creating a lot of strange creatures for my characters to meet, and a lot of different environments— think of Star Wars or Star Trek— but this time I took it to a new level.  The virtual reality could become anything it wanted.  I ended up with some pretty interesting stuff to write.  Giant birds, giant snakes, giant monsters made of rock.  Swarms of bugs, swarms of gophers, swarms of pieces of my protagonist.  Rabid zebras, rabid buffalo, rabid cat people.

If it helps, I can list more things in threes. Read the full post »


Last year, I read the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer.  Looking back on that year of reading, I can’t exactly remember what I read, but I know the Enola Holmes series was on the top of that list.

This year, my favorite movie so far is Zootopia.  I can remember more clearly the movies I’ve seen recently than I can the books I read last year, so I’m pretty sure in this statement: Zootopia is currently my favorite movie.  (I’m seeing Captain America 3 pretty soon, though, so don’t hold onto that one.)

All in all, children’s stories make me happiest.  Not just happy— not just pleased with life in general.  Out of all the movies I watch, out of all the books I read, those written for children give me the most enjoyment.  Why?

Guess #1: I’m a child. Read the full post »