An Attitude of Adventure

LifeTravel

“You’re moving all the way to Boston?”

It’s the first thing people say, but it’s often followed by something else.

“It’s cold there.”

“I hope you’re ready for the snow.”

“Boston’s expensive!”

And they’re right, Boston is full of things I’m unfamiliar with, from the cold to Dunkin’ Donuts. But rather than see those as things that may prevent me from enjoying the city and my life there, I’ve chosen to see it all as an adventure.

I have lived my entire life in Texas, and I love it. But I also love to travel, meet new people, and explore new places. And because of that, I’ve learned to take the time and the effort to make other places feel like home as well. Sometimes it happens quickly, which is great, but other times it’s harder. I know that it will take time to get used to Boston and its weather (though the unseasonably mild weather is helping with that), and it will probably take a while to make some new friends as well. But it will happen eventually.

So no matter how hard it is, I’ve chosen to see every change as a new adventure. While it can be a challenge sometimes – especially when you’re sitting in your apartment thinking about how you don’t know anyone in this city – it’s also ridiculously worth it to appreciate the adventure of everyday life.

Moving Forward When You Aren’t Sure Where You’re Going

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Happy 2016! Like most years, this one began with a sense of newness. But this isn’t just the “I’m going to write every day” kind of New Year. This year it’s more like “I’m going to get a job and move to a new city and probably change my whole lifestyle.” It’s made me realize that at most points during my life, even those that I consider to be major turning points, there has never been so much ambiguity. Last year at this time I knew I’d be returning to school and then studying abroad in the summer; this year I know nothing.

It is possibly the scariest thing ever. It is also ridiculously refreshing.

don't live same year

Change is hard, but without it life seems pretty meaningless. I came across this quote a few days ago and was struck by just how true it is. For the last twenty-one years of my life, I’ve lived a routine of school years with little variation. Some years are virtually indistinguishable from others, aside from classes, various vacations, and movie premieres. So now it’s time for a big change.

The lack of certainty is a little exciting. In a month, I could be anywhere, doing anything. All it requires is taking a few steps at a time, just like I did all last year, and remembering that you have to give a little to see results. Sometimes it means spending a little extra money to do something you’ve always wanted to do. Sometimes it means taking a little extra time out of your day. But mostly it means taking a chance, even when you’re not sure of the outcome. For that reason, I hope that 2016 is a year of fearlessness in work, in writing, and in life.

Embracing the Wiki Loop

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“Wiki loop” is one of those phrases that has popped up to describe a phenomenon we’ve all experienced: getting stuck reading endless Wikipedia articles. If you’re like me, you may wonder why this could ever be considered a bad thing. But I guess some people have better things to do on Friday nights than click through lists about the world’s oldest people.

Part of the fun of getting stuck in these loops is finding out new things, and I think that as writers we should embrace that. I’ve talked about how important research is before, and this is no different. While Wikipedia may not be the first thing you think about when doing research for stories, that doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable resource.

At the beginning of each semester, my creative writing professor hands out a list of weird things he’s come across on Wikipedia. Some things are just interesting natural phenomena (like ball lightning), and others are notable people (like this list of inventors killed by their own inventions). I’m currently working on a story that evolved from the page on embryo space colonization, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the narrative evolve from just one Wikipedia page.

So the next time you end up clicking through Wikipedia articles, bookmark the more interesting pages you come across! Embrace the wiki loop and know that your time is not being wasted. Feel free to share any weird pages you think others should know about!

Getting to Know Your Main Character

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This is my favorite part of writing. Your main character will make or break your story, and unfortunately they will not just appear from your head fully-formed, Athena-style. That is why this getting-to-know-you stage is arguably the most important part of writing.

If you’re not sure what I mean by “getting to know” your main character, I don’t just mean listing everything they’ve ever done, or filling out a bio sheet. These things may be helpful, but I think the truest way to get to know your character is through writing about them. When you write and rewrite a description or a scene, you’re not just figuring out the words you want to use. You’re figuring out who that person is. You’re discovering them, which is why there is that moment when your words finally feel right.

Just like with real-life friends, you can’t rush the process. It requires time, interaction, and conversation. Sometimes you don’t like what you find out, but you accept it, because you love this person. The more you put your character into situations and figure out how they will react, the easier it will get to make things right the first time. Now, I’m not saying that getting to know a character will ever be easy. I just spent thirty minutes rewriting a paragraph about a character who has changed the way he styles his hair. For a while it felt wrong, and then I realized it was. Al hadn’t just changed his hair, he had cut it.

One of the best things is that you don’t have to do this outside of your story. I think getting to know a character within their story is the most important thing. You can write and rewrite as much as you’d like, and even if a scene doesn’t end up in the final draft, know that you’ve learned something about your character. The more you begin to question what you’ve written, the better (and truer) your story will be.

The Creating Process

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Creating a story is like creating anything else.

It takes time, some reflection, and a little bit of improvisation. Of course, like anything, your story might not exactly come out right the first time. The good thing is that it’s easier to rewrite a sentence than it is to fix a painting or remodel a building. Words are malleable.

This semester I’ve spent a lot of time creating, and not just stories. What I’ve learned is that stories are so much more than what they may seem. Before you create your story, you must also create characters and worlds and plots. Trying to write a story without them is an exercise in futility. And then the really hard part is taking each of those things and making them into a whole.

I probably make this more difficult by jumping from scene to scene in my stories. Currently I have about ten pages that don’t really go together at all, and only about one finished scene. It doesn’t really bother me until I get close to the deadline and realize that while I have all these awesome scenes, they have to somehow become a whole piece in just a few hours. Oops.

It may not be the best way to write, but I don’t think I could make it work any other way. There’s something comforting about being able to just stop working on something that’s frustrating and move to a different part of the story. It’s like a quilt in that way, where the scenes are squares that you can cut and paste until the whole thing just looks right.

Sometimes you realize that two pieces you’ve been working on separately come together seamlessly (unintentional sewing pun, I promise). Sometimes you realize that the one piece you’ve been working on is actually two, or maybe even three.

It’s like the ultimate puzzle, because you don’t know what it’s going to look like when you finally put it together. That’s why I think the process of creating is so rewarding.

Deciding Not to Settle: A Writer’s Job Search

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A few weeks ago I went to the career fair and left with a bag full of trinkets, a free shirt from a company that told me they didn’t have any jobs for me, and whole lot of questions. Needless to say, it wasn’t particularly fruitful. I would even go so far as to say it was a waste of my time (though I do really like that shirt).

The problem with the career fair is that I did my research, and I knew that there would be very few companies attending that I would ever want to work for. There were plenty with jobs I could have done – corporate and internal communications and marketing, for example. But I talked to them, and I realized that not only did I not want to do those things, I didn’t want to work for their companies.

I only went because everyone told me to.

And I think part of being a writer who is looking for a career is to look for things that you want to do. Don’t listen to everyone else for once. Yes, people settle for jobs all the time, but settle for something you won’t hate doing after three days. Settle for a job that has enough work/life balance for you to write on the side. Settle for a job you won’t feel like you’ve settled for.

As I draw closer to my December graduation date (74 days), I’ve been faced more and more with what I’m going to do with my life. It’s hard not to just apply for every job and hope I get one. But I’ve told myself before that I’m applying for jobs that sound like something I wouldn’t mind spending my life doing, and that’s what I’m going to do.

(Sidenote: It’s not easy to look so far into the future when senioritis has kicked in and I just want to skip class, go get some coffee, and write all day long.)

 

What Makes a Storyteller

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I will admit that I am often that person who tells a story that garners absolutely no reaction. It’s frustrating, and usually embarrassing, especially when the story is about something that means a lot to me. So why is it that our stories fall flat, whether they’re oral or written down? What makes a good story, and what makes a good storyteller?

Structure

Often a problem with a story, especially oral stories, is a problem with its structure. We all have that friend (it’s me) who is constantly going back to rephrase what they’ve said and provide extra information. It might make sense to them, but no one else has a clue what’s going on. The same can be said for written stories. Yes, you can have flashbacks, and your story doesn’t need to be in chronological order, but it needs to be clear what you’re doing and where we are in time.

Content

The content of a story is arguably the least important part. That said, it still must be present. Stories are about something, not nothing. And when your story is about something that matters, that is interesting or weird or heartbreaking or horrifying, that’s when it starts to mean something.

Passion

I am a big proponent of passion. I believe people perform their best when they are writing or speaking about something they are passionate about. This is because passion shines through. But while passion is important, it can’t be the only thing carrying your story. That will result in an awkward silence and a quick change of subject, and you’ll be left wondering why your story didn’t translate. On the other hand, a story without passion is dry, and often prompts questions like “Why are you telling us this?” Passion is vital for storytelling.

Confidence: A Writer’s BFF

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Sometimes it’s hard to have confidence in words, even when they come from your own brain. We write them down, question them, write them again. Then we stare at them, wondering if they say what we want them too. It’s only second nature, but it’s also damaging when we don’t trust our words.

I’ve been writing a lot this semester, like I do most semesters, but I’ve found myself more confident in my writing. I trust that my words say what I mean when I write them down. If I feel like they don’t, I revise them. But it hasn’t always been this easy.

It’s hard, when writing is so personal, to prepare it for presentation to others. But what good is a masterpiece when there is no one to read it? One of the reasons I’ve been able to gain more confidence in my writing is by remembering that it is personal. Other people may read it, but I don’t have to listen to what they say. As long as I feel like it’s doing what I want it to, I don’t have to change a thing. My writing is mine, and I believe in it.

The reason confidence is important is because it shows through in your writing. The more confident you are, the more likely you’ll be able to make your readers see things the way you do. It comes full circle. So the next time you sit down to write anything, believe in your words. Believe that they mean what you want them to, that you are in control. Be confident in your ability and your stance, and you’ll be confident in your words.

Trusting the Workshop

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We tend to think of writing as a personal, internal experience. Thought to paper, right? And that idea is fine until someone actually reads your work. Then you have to think about what your writing means, its relationship to reality, what people think of it–all the stuff you would rather avoid while just continuing to write.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes I wish I could stay in that oblivious stage and just keep thinking, “this is the best thing I’ve ever written.” But this isn’t the life of a writer–at least, not a good writer.

Tomorrow my story is being workshopped in my Advanced Creative Writing class, and I’m nervous. I’ve thought it through, in the agonizingly long week since I’ve turned in my story, and I think the reason I’m nervous is not just because I don’t want them to dislike it. I’m nervous because I really like the story (more than any short story I’ve ever written) and I don’t know how I’ll react to negative comments.

We say criticism isn’t personal. That’s true. But writing is personal, and sometimes it’s hard to separate something that is such a part of you from the words, “I didn’t like…” It can often feel like a stab to the heart.

But workshops are about trust. The readers trust that I am attached to this work, that I have given them my best. I trust that they know this, and that they will be cognizant of it. I trust that they have my (and my story’s) best interests at heart when they offer suggestions or critiques. I trust that they only want me to be better. And if all of these things are true, then I know I’ll be able to make it through workshop (but wish me luck, just in case).

Translating Experience to Fiction

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I’ve found myself relying more and more on my experiences as I’ve been writing this semester. It’s weird for me, since I tend to write less from “what I know” and more from research. But I think there are just some experiences that beg to be written about, and I discovered a lot of them during the trip this summer.

And I think, after mulling over them for quite some time, that I understand why. It’s hard to write about things that are emotional or fun or scary. I think that’s because these emotions are hard to translate into words. You feel them, but how do you make other people feel them?

But then there are some experiences that are just weird. And I mean really out there, like people talking to sheep or a train derailing into a herd of cows (I will never stop referencing this story). These are the kinds of things that fiction writers look for, that they draw inspiration from. These are the kinds of things that get reactions.

Of course, the hard part is having these experiences. You can’t force them. But you can pay attention. You can write things down when you hear people talking about them, or when you read a weird headline. When you’re observant, you get to do a lot more writing and a lot less thinking of what to write. Stories are always out here.

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