Category: Advice

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.

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.

All You Need is Something to Write In

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I’ve been abroad for a week now, and I haven’t even attempted to do any creative writing. And yesterday, as we were walking around and exploring the city, I realized that part of this is my fault for not taking advantage of all the inspiration around me. 

So I bought a journal, and last night I started writing. The words flowed. 

I decided to write using places I’ve visited as prompts. Once I gave my notebook a purpose, I realized just how much inspiration is in my surroundings and how much I should take advantage of it. This idea was really solidified for me when we went on a tour of Christ Church and were shown all of the things on the campus that are represented in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. He relied a lot on his environment to create stories that were rich with description and heart, and that’s what I want to do. 

I had been so caught up in figuring out wifi, writing blog posts, and keeping up with my journal that I completely neglected the most fun (and rewarding) writing option – creative writing!

I’m hoping that once we really get into the rhythm of classes and outings, I’ll really be able to set aside some time to write – until then, I’ll be making time. 

Social Media: No Limits?

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So I don’t normally blog about social media, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. Since I will be 5000 miles away from most of the people I know in less than a week, figuring out the best way to use social media is kind of important. 

I know some people who post relentlessly. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – you see them everywhere. And then there are those people that you barely ever hear from. Maybe you didn’t even know they were leaving the country until they posted a pic in front of the Eiffel Tower. 

Is one of them more right than another? Are there rules to posting about your travels on social media? Should I post one picture a week, or one a day? Is it okay to post on Instagram and Facebook, or is that annoying? Why has no one made a FAQ for this yet??

Anyway, I’d love feedback if anyone has dealt with this before or has some strong opinions. Right now I’m planning on posting a day or two before I leave to let people know that if they want to follow my travels, they should read my blog or follow me on Instagram. I will probably post on Facebook pretty often as well, but I don’t want to bombard anyone.

Inspiration: The Writer’s Excuse

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Let’s first note that I am not saying inspiration is bad. Inspiration is a great thing, often the best thing a writer could hope for. So what I’m addressing today is what happens when you don’t have inspiration.

We have all said these words, at least in our heads: “I’m just not feeling inspired today, so maybe I won’t write.” (Don’t deny it.)

The problem is, sometimes we get so into the ease of writing when we’re inspired that it becomes really difficult to write when we’re not. But you can’t just continue to wait for inspiration – you could be waiting forever! Plus, often what creates inspiration in the first place is working on a piece, getting to know it, and finding out what it needs.

How are you ever going to be inspired to finish something if you never look at it?

Honestly, beginning to write without inspiration is just getting used to hard work (the hard work that is writing, revising, and trying not to throw your laptop in frustration) – and what is writing without hard work?

Real Writers Don’t Have Free Time

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That’s a bold statement to make, isn’t it? I don’t mean it as harshly as it sounds, but I do see a bit of truth in it. Don’t worry, I’ll explain –

Sometimes we get so caught up in the novelty of simply having free time that we do nothing with it. After a busy day at work (or more realistically, a string of busy days), I’ll find myself grabbing takeout and plopping down on the couch to watch Netflix for a few hours before I got to sleep.

But when I look back, all I can do is bemoan the fact that I didn’t write anything. Whose fault is that? Mine, of course, despite how much I don’t want to see it that way. As William Goldman (author of The Princess Bride) once said, “The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”

It’s different to relax after you’ve worked and read and written your daily pages, but to do nothing when you know you should be writing is possibly the most damaging thing you can do to your skill as a writer.

The simple truth is that when they have free time, real writers don’t sit around and do nothing – they write.

Train Track Thoughts

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There are some moments that are just ripe with good ideas. Last night I had two of them – they were identical, except for the fact that one I took advantage of, and one I didn’t.

On my way downtown, I got stopped at the railroad tracks. The train took almost five minutes to pass by, and I turned up the radio and stared at my phone.

I went on to my meeting. A few hours later, after I’d stopped for ice cream, I got back in my car to make my way home. I was stopped again at the railroad. And this time when I drove away, my mind was reeling.

I called my brother – there are very few other people I can talk to when I’m just starting to form a story idea. He listens, provides feedback, allows me to talk through the jumble of thoughts in my head until they form something coherent. And by the time I got off the phone, I almost had a plot. A plot centered around a railroad and a small town and the citizens who want to protect it. It was exhilarating.

And never in a million years would I have thought that something as simple as a railroad would have sparked such a full and interesting idea as the one I ended up with. I’m happy to say that I didn’t sleep much last night – for the first time in a long time, I stayed up writing, capitalizing on the rush of energy that comes with a new story.

So don’t forget that there are story ideas everywhere. Ideas don’t just appear out of thin air – they’re usually precipitated by something. It might be something small, but it’s something, and if you don’t pay attention – let you mind wander and gather threads – you might just miss it.

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