Tag: writing

Concentration in Chaos

LifeOn Writing

Last Tuesday, my Panda Express fortune cookie told me, “You are a bundle of energy, always on the go.” While I was slightly upset because that’s not a fortune, it was kind of interesting to read because it is very true. I’m the kind of person who’s not happy doing nothing. I get antsy after being inside for three hours, and I’d rather go for a walk than relax.

Normally I’m good at balancing this, but since I’ve been taking this class at GrubStreet, I need to spend a lot more time actually writing. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t been working out for me.

This past week really should have been exactly what I needed. MIT closed two days for snow, and I spent the rest of last week working from home due to dismal travel conditions (and maybe just a little laziness). But somehow I didn’t get much writing done. Instead I filled my time with useful, but notably less-important tasks such as cleaning, laundry, shoveling snow, and teaching myself Javascript. I’d even venture a guess and say that this blog post is just another procrastination tool…

So how do I move forward and concentrate on writing, when there are so many other things I could be spending my time doing? For one, I’m going to start writing on my commute again. Hopefully those snippets will help keep the creative juices flowing, making it easier when I try to sit down at 9pm and churn out some pages. I’m also going to make more specific writing goals, rather than just putting “write 3 pages” on my to-do list. For example, right now my goal is “write at least 8 more pages of that Thanksgiving scene you started, and don’t forget that you’re supposed to be using first person.” If those things don’t work, I’ll probably have to go back to the old standards: prayer, sleep deprivation, and snack-based motivation.

Moving Forward (with a little help)

LifeMonthly UpdateOn Writing

It always happens – you start the year off well, writing and reading (or generally achieving whatever goals you set for yourself). But slowly, over time, things fall to the side. You start spending more time watching Netflix and staring at your phone than doing all of those things you said you would do.

It’s no secret that many of us could use some help staying motivated, and I am definitely one of those people. So, in early December, I decided to apply for a ten-week long novel workshop at GrubStreet. I kind of figured it would be a long shot, but by some miracle (and some help from my writing group on the sample I submitted) I was admitted, with a scholarship!

This means that, starting January 8, I’ll be attending a weekly workshop. In many ways, that’s not unusual. I spend a lot of time meeting with writers, sometimes workshopping and sometimes just chatting, but other than classes in college, I’ve never been in a formal workshop. They’re casual, and because of that, the feedback is often pretty casual as well. It’s not that it’s not helpful, but it’s definitely not always as targeted as I would like it to be.

I’m a little nervous, considering the fact that I’m sure many of the writers will be much more experienced than I am. It’s the usual apprehension I have when I get ready to share my work with a new group, only a little stronger. This class is also supposed to help you finish and polish a novel in progress, which is a bit scary in itself – as any writer will tell you, declaring something “finished” or “ready” is not an easy thing to do.

But I’m also excited, since I started my novel around this time last year, and it’s been at a bit of a standstill for the past six months or so. I’m hoping that the extra eyes and perspectives can give me the boost I need to fix some of the problems I’ve run into and finally decide that the novel is finished and ready to send out. So here’s to accepting help and moving forward in 2017.

Why We Write

On WritingReading

Lately I’ve been reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’ve been drawing it out, since I always seem to read the saddest parts in public, and I hate crying in front of people. But just this week I picked it up again, and, before I got to another incredibly sad part, I read a passage that resonated more with me than anything ever has.

It seems like everyone but me has read this book, so I won’t preface this quote with much extra information. On page 116, the main character runs into his love interest, and he describes what he’s feeling as

not knowing what the next words out of my mouth would be, but wanting them to be mine, wanting, more than I’d ever wanted anything, to express the center of me and be understood.

Not only is this one of the most apt descriptions of human nature I’ve ever read, it also describes what I view as the true purpose of writing. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think most writers would agree that the heart of writing, and the reason most of us do it, is because there’s some core part of us that we hope to share with others.

It adds a weight to our words that I don’t think we’re always aware of, and that’s significant. Our words are powerful, and they allow us to share the most interior parts of ourselves with others. There’s nothing wrong with letting that drive us, letting the understanding of why we write fuel our passion for it.

Breaking Up and Making Up with Your Writing Group

LifeMonthly UpdateOn Writing

I feel like there have been so many things for me to write about since I’ve moved to Boston, but for some reason I haven’t been able to put any of it on paper (and by that I mean here, on my blog). I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime in these two months, and maybe that’s why it’s so hard to pick just one thing to write about. (But I’ll do better, because I’ve missed this.)

The reason I’m even typing this right now is because I can’t ignore the feeling that things are right at the moment. And when things are right, it’s kind of hard to stop thinking about them. They creep into your thoughts, your everyday conversations, your Google searches – don’t worry, I’m not talking about a person, I’m talking about writing groups.

I’ve been going to writing groups for over a month now. I’ve tried new ones, stuck to one I thought was good for a while, then stopped going. Let’s just say they didn’t have this feeling. Sometimes they were awkward. Sometimes I felt like I was connecting with people, but only on a superficial level. Something was off. And then, two weeks ago, I went to a new writing group that was starting up.

First, I’ll just say it wasn’t perfect. There were too many people, and we kind of all wanted different things, and I didn’t write one word that day, but there was something about it that felt good. It didn’t matter that it had taken me almost forty minutes by train to get to our meeting place. I wanted to come back to this group, with these people.

And then our group organizer stepped down, essentially citing irreconcilable differences. And yes, it felt like a divorce. Without a leader, who was to say that this group would ever meet again? Well, I decided to say that. I thought about it for a week (it might not seem like a big life decision, but it definitely felt like it at the time), and then I said yes, I’d organize the group, on one condition: if someone co-organized with me. I wondered if this was the time to be stating conditions, but sometimes you have to think about yourself first (right?) and what would be best for you.

So someone stepped up, and somehow we became leaders. Yesterday we had our second meeting. It felt simultaneously like our first meeting (“Hi, I’m Kristin, I moved here in January”) and like our twentieth (“You know, sometimes you just want to write about an elaborate murder”). And that’s how I knew it was right.

A New Normal

LifeOn Writing

It hasn’t taken long for me to settle into life in Boston. In fact, it has been surprisingly easy – I have great roommates, an amazing apartment, possibly the best job I could have hoped for, and a new place to explore. All of these things have made my transition pretty painless. In many ways, the hardest part is getting used to the fact that yes, this is actually my life, and this is what it’s going to be like for a while.

But it’s also a bit of a difficult task to figuring out how to merge the aspects of my life in college with the new ones I’m just beginning to explore. Nothing is just normal anymore, and everything I do makes me realize that I’m creating a new normal. A lifestyle that is similar to my usual one, but different somehow. And I think that’s been the real challenge.

I have the basics laid out – normal includes going to work, watching TV with my roommates, sometimes getting takeout. But then there are things I find myself missing, like yoga, and hours spent writing in eccentric coffee shops. I’ve started trying to incorporate these things into my daily schedule, but it’s hard when a part of me really just wants the old normal – Common Grounds and my favorite Sunday night yoga class.

So my goal for this week, which is somehow only week three of being in Boston, is to find those things. And maybe they won’t look exactly like what I’m used to – maybe it’s not a coffee shop, maybe it’s an hour spent writing after work; maybe it’s an early morning yoga class or a run instead. Either way, I know that this is the time to make the new normal one that I can live with, one that I know is right for me.

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

LifeMonthly UpdateOn Writing

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

AdviceMy WritingOn WritingSchool

“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

AdviceMy WritingOn Writing

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

My WritingOn Writing

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.

What Makes a Storyteller

LifeOn Writing

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.

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