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. Continue reading “On Choices”

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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… Continue reading “Another Tag”

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. Continue reading “I’m Gonna Pop Some Tags”

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.

Spider-Blogger

Several funny things happened yesterday— not surprising, considering its April Fool’s Day status.  I usually don’t do anything for April Fools.  If it makes someone else feel bad or really confused, the prank isn’t worth it to me.  But April first was also a scheduled wrap-up day for the YAvengers blog.  Combine the two and what do you get?

I would encourage you to check out that wrap-up post.  March at YAvengers was about voice, mood, and style, and we wrote some pretty good posts.  (And the puns in the wrap-up alone…  I’m still cringing at myself.)  If the wrap-up doesn’t suit you, I’ve compiled Spider-Man’s Twitter takeover for you below.  Enjoy.

Continue reading “Spider-Blogger”

Favorite Posts of the Past Year

Over the past year, I did a lot of awesome stuff.  I read 87 books, wrote 2 novels and 4 novellas, and published uncountable blog posts.  I learned a lot about writing, and I mean a lot– and many of those things were monumental concepts that I posted for you here.  I’m sure you all read all my posts just the second I publish them, but in case you missed these, here’s a list of posts– and the concepts within them– that I thought were really life-changing.

  • Emotions.  This was written just after reading I Am Not A Serial Killer, a horror novel by Dan Wells.  Horror is the best place to learn about emotions, but really, all this post said was that they were important.  That, of course, is very true– it informed most of my decisions about the things I wrote later in the year.  Emotions are so important to story, and I’m glad I learned about this when I did.  Along with this post goes Emotions in Structure, which spoke about low points and midpoints of stories and how emotions pertain to those sections.
  • Contrast.
    I always think about this post in the same vein as the emotion post.  Contrast is all about emotions, really– growing one emotion, then changing it so quickly the readers are shocked.  It’s a really cool concept in whatever you’re doing, whether it’s writing, drawing, or life in general.  The post touched on the main two facets of contrast for fiction– contrast in large things like scenes and characters, and contrast in small things like making things noticeable in the narrative.  It’s a really cool concept– along with it go the concepts of cat scares, well-placed humor, and many others.
  • Motives on Steroids.  I published this while sick, so I apologize for the stream-of-consciousness style of writing, but it was truly an amazing idea that I stumbled upon.  After reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, I discovered why her characters were so vivid and passionate, and why all their choices worked: all of the choices worked with their personalities, which shone through every moment of the story.  Their emotions (I’m telling you, emotions are really important) were amazingly complex, but fit perfectly and didn’t feel like she was getting them out of a random emotion generator.  (There are such things.)  As time went on, this concept grew into a way of knowing my characters: boil them down to a single emotion or attitude, and then work their plot line around that emotion.  They won’t want anything that isn’t in their character to want– that’s why it’s called Motives on Steroids.
  • How to Make Anything Enormous.  True to the title, this post was massive.  It rested on the concept of expanding instead of adding.  (A funny side note: Sanderson, whose law I paraphrased as “Expand, don’t add”, actually sees that law as saying “Everything is interconnected”.  That’s true as well, but I like the expansion theme better.)  You can look at anything as worthy of expansion– consider, for instance, The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien rewrites in the Silmarillion in the span of three paragraphs.  Anything can be expanded, including outlines.  (The success of this year’s 4th novella, Plague, depended on that.)
  • Promises.  I love the concept of this post, that the writer is making unconscious promises to the reader that the reader expects will be fulfilled– it utilizes the fundamental human nature, curiosity.  Promise the readers something in the beginning and they’ll want to see how that promise is kept.  However, you have to make sure you keep your promises, promise the things you keep, and know what constitutes a promise.  (A satisfactory ending is a happy ending, even if it ends in tragedy.)

I hope you got as much out of these posts as I did– they really informed much of the crafting of Stakes, by far my best (and longest) novel yet.  I hope they helped you as much.

A Perfunctory Post

As of this blog post, I have reached and passed 100,000 words on my NaNoWriMo manuscript.  This means that I have effectively finished both the NaNoWriMo standard challenge (fifty thousand words), as well as the NaNo YWP challenge I set for myself (one hundred thousand words).  However, the story demands more– my first act was 30k, so as dictated by the Hollywood Formula, I’m in for a 120k novel.  That’s a lot of words, folks, but I hope to be done before the end of November so I can rest up.

In writing this novel, I’m not only using the Hollywood Formula as I usually do, but I’m also using the Save the Cat Beat Sheet, as specified for novels here.  Thanks to YAvengers for pointing me in that direction, because it has been helpful.

And with that short note, I leave you.  I still want to write today.  I’m not about to take a break just because I hit a milestone.  The break when I hit the end of this novel, however, will be legendary.  And I will post lots more then, I promise.

How to Critique

I’ve been asked about critiquing before, and I’ve given answers specific to the people who asked, but I’ve never done a blog post about critiquing.  Since my previous discussions on critiquing, I’ve discovered a few things that have been quite useful to me in particular.  First and foremost, there is a big difference between critiquing your own work and critiquing someone else’s.

Critiquing your own work is hard to begin with, but it gets easier.  At first, you’re probably quite conceited and think of everything you write as amazing.  (I do that.)  As you get a better understanding of the craft, you begin to realize that you could be a whole lot better.  You start getting depressed and bashing yourself, which is not that constructive.  If you stick at it, however, you begin to realize that everything that you don’t like can be fixed.  The sooner you reach that third stage, the better.

Every time you run into a problem in your writing, there is probably a reason why.  The first mindset refuses to acknowledge the problem, the second refuses to deal with it, and the third both acknowledges and deals with it in one fell blow.  The way to successfully critique yourself is to constantly wonder why you’re unsatisfied with anything you’ve written. Continue reading “How to Critique”

Temporal Existentialism and Cake

Time.

People say to live in the moment.  Don’t look ahead, don’t look behind, just live for now… because you never know when a sandwich truck is going to come out of nowhere and flatten you.

They don’t usually add that last part, but I think we all agree that’s their point.  What’s the point of planning ahead if there’s no ahead to plan for?  And what’s the point of looking behind if you can’t change anything about it?  Furthermore, what’s the point of looking both behind and ahead in order to use your present to your greatest advantage?  That’s just overachieving. Continue reading “Temporal Existentialism and Cake”

I Am Heartily Ashamed Of Myself

Do you think this blog is helpful?

I do, under a certain set of conditions.  It helps me a lot.  You have no idea what you never knew until you write a thousand words about it.  If it helps others in the process, excellent.  However, its true purpose is to help me.

And does it?  I think it does, under a certain set of conditions.  Unfortunately, the more frequent advice comes through this blog, the less often those conditions are met.

What are those conditions?  That I write.

None of this helps anyone if I don’t write.  I could write ten thousand words a day about character development, plot twists, and story structure, but if I don’t write, it all goes to waste.  But wait… I’m writing ten thousand words a day.

I meant writing fiction.  Story structure and character development don’t help essays. Continue reading “I Am Heartily Ashamed Of Myself”