Category: My Writing

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.

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.

Writing Abroad

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Writing is something you have to make time for. I know this. What I didn’t know is how easy it is to make time for writing when you’re doing things like homework and laundry all the time…it’s much harder to make time in between traveling, eating out, and sightseeing.

IMG_3430During the five weeks I was in Oxford, I journaled every day. I made a conscious decision to do this, and it often involved writing late at night or on bumpy trains and buses. And I did this because I knew that otherwise, I wasn’t going to write everyday. The material was there, but honestly there wasn’t always time.

There were a few (amazing) moments when I was able to just sit down and write in the middle of a beautiful or inspiring location, and I doubt that the work produced then could ever be rivaled. But, when I wasn’t able to do that, I was glad that at least I would have my journal to look back on. It contains my thoughts, feelings, and a very subjective account of the days’ events.

writing in holyrood park

The one productive thing I did was buy a notebook with the intention of only writing stories in it. Stories based on places, situations – things I had experienced during my travels. It was a challenge, but definitely a fun one. I’ve written in it a few times since I’ve gotten home, but my best experience with it was a lovely writing-filled day in Edinburgh.

A few of us passed up the offers to go sightseeing, instead deciding to spend our time enjoying nature’s inspiration. We hiked in Holyrood Park and then sat for about an hour, just taking in the beautiful sights and writing. One of my friends even pulled out watercolors and painted the scene in front of us. It really was a testament to just how easy it is to be creative when you have so much material to work with, and I’m looking forward to seeing how inspired I can be when I have just my journal and memories to take me back to those amazing places.

 

 

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. 

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