Tag Archives: writing

Finding a Home for Your Writing–The Struggle for Publication, and My Latest Projects!

The way you’re supposed to know you’re a writer–or any type of artist, really–is if you just can’t stop creating. Even if you receive no recognition or payment or readers, you can’t help but write. In fact, the world is so overwhelmed by writers that you’re really advised not to dive into the world of writing unless you truly do feel this drive. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who writes incessantly, whether or not anyone cares. And I understand the struggle to launch bits of your work out into the world where other people can see and enjoy them. Finding a home for your is work can be more of a struggle than the actual work of writing.

The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is just to keep trying. Successful writers have proven themselves, and they may have people falling all over themselves to invite them to write something, but until you reach that point you have to keep proving yourself. And to prove yourself you have to keep searching out opportunities, which can be hair-pulling-ly frustrating. But the benefit of this is that you can be involved in all sorts of unexpected projects!

One of the most fun projects I involved myself in this year was a collaboration with my sister, who is a graphic artist. We created a small illustrated booklet of a memoir piece I wrote, and printed a limited run in hard copy. We had a great opportunity to display it at the Edmonton Design Week! And though I was not sure how sales of a hard copy of my work would go, since my experience has all been in electronic markets, I was pleasantly surprised to see there was a small market for the kind of stories we created after all! It’s funny how just the smallest bit of support can give a writer encouragement to keep going.

Here’s a great quote from Neil Gaiman about the writing life that really connects with this idea: “A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”

So all in all, my experiments with launching my work into the world has provided me with amazing learning opportunities, as well as great experiences. Maybe this is why creators have to go through the struggle of finding openings for their work, as it forces them to be creative and try things they might never have tried otherwise. In my journey, I’ve gotten to observe enthusiasm from my readers, and received reassurance that what I do can benefit at least a few individuals. I’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t in marketing (though I’m far from an expert). I’ve learned about various ways you can get your work out there. And most importantly, I’ve learned that by trying I can not only learn, but that trying feeds back into my writing, and my writing gets better.

If you’re interested, my recent work includes not only the story booklet collaboration, but also two articles where I explored the impact of my faith in my life: “You Too? What Friendship Is and Why It’s So Hard to Find” (for the Reformed Perspective), and “On Not Hurting Anyone While Dating” (for Christian Connection). I’m excited for a few other nonfiction projects I’ve got in the works–we’ll see what happens in 2018! Previously I also explored the world of ebook publishing, which you can explore here. And of course this blog is my primary platform for putting my thoughts out into the world! Blogging itself is an experience that provides growth in writing, and this I really value.

Finding a home for your work can be the most frustrating part of being creative, especially if you prefer to give yourself to the world in a way that benefits the world, rather than create for your own sake alone. I’ve spent days searching for places to submit my writing, and come up with empty hands. However, when I’ve imagined there was nowhere for me to go, and all opportunities were blocked, it was never the end of the story. I hope you can relate, or will be able to as your journey goes on.

 

Are you working on any unique writing or creative projects? Can you relate to the struggle of finding a home for your work?

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First Draft Depression

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month–National November Writing Months–that thing where you try to write a 50 000-word novel in a month. It’s good to write a full novel again. But it also reminds me how excruciating the process of creation actually is.

 

The minute you try put that thing in your head down on paper, it just sits there dry and lifeless and so, so far from what it was meant to be. The idea you had was good. That’s why you started writing it. But the reality of your ability to communicate this idea with others destroys all your joy in the idea.

 

The excellent thing about NaNoWriMo, and things like it, is that it forces you to keep writing despite your despair over your writing. If you’re going to churn out fifty thousand words, you can’t stop and mope. I think more than once in my past I’ve given up because my new project’s writing was objectively horrible, without continuing to work through to the reality that this horribleness only lessens if you keep creating. You can’t always think rationally about what will make your idea come to life. You’ve got to live with your idea and work it out, and somehow that breathes life into it.

 

As creators and artists, we’ve got to live with the reality there will always be a gap between the ideal in our heads and what we produce. This is usually good–it’s this awareness of that gap that drives us to keep improving our skill. To keep getting better. Until maybe one day we do produce something good.

 

In the meantime we do have to face the dragons of depression that come with creation. And it often is real, dark depression-y feelings, not a mild approximation of depression. A few thousand words in to this novel this month and I was absolutely miserable. I was only destroying what I had in my head, poisoning even the original idea I’d loved so much.

 

Then I wrote a few words that were maybe a little bit good.

 

And so I know it’s worth it to keep fighting to get that idea out. Failing at getting what’s in your head out in the world feels worse than never trying, but it’s only though grappling with your own thoughts, painfully facing your own limitations, that your idea develops. After all, not working with your ideas leads to depression too.

 

I’m getting close to the end of NaNoWriMo now, and close to the end of the fifty thousand word goal I’d set for myself. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near the actual end of my story. So it looks like I’ll have to force myself to stay in my writing habit after all!

 

Have a great November, guys! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo too–may you have the strength to finish! Comment below on whether you’ve enjoyed creation–or just comment on what you think about the process of creation in general.

 

 

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Writing the Tragedy – As Hard as Living It

The place my writing comes from inside me is dead right now. Probably not permanently, but dead for now.

I’ve always thought of writing – and reading – as a kind of escape from reality. I’ve blogged about this more than once. There’s a contrary theory of literature that says the good stuff comes from the bad experiences – the emotional turmoil – the realization that reality actually is incredibly ugly.

This theory may be right, but I don’t have enough distance from the ugliness to put it in words yet. Maybe I never will. And I know the joy in the escape from reality will come again – I still feel it pulse inside me – but I can’t create any escapes on my own at the moment.

Time will show how life experiences has changed me, and, in turn, how it has changed my writing. But for now – this is the reason my blog is neglected. This is the reason I haven’t posted for months.

I look forward to the day I rejoin the writing world.

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When a Hurricane of Clichés Equals a Great Movie

Today, I’m going to talk about Casablanca. If you want to know more about why I care about Casablanca, check out my previous post, ‘Writing Reality – Or Escaping It‘.

quotables button“Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology… And this is the reason it works, in spite of aesthetic theories and theories of film making…Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.”

Umberto Eco (Travels in Hyperreality, and “Casablanca, or, The Clichés are Having a Ball”)

For years, filmmakers hungered to know what made Casablanca a classic. If they could just crack the formula – figure out what made people instantly love it so much – they could crank out sure-fire hits over and over. After all, on the surface, there’s not much to recommend Casablanca above your average movie. It’s a very clichéd plot – a love triangle, a sacrifice, a clear antagonist, a damsel in distress. The characters are walking stereotypes. The character arcs have all been done a thousand times before (even in 1942, when this movie was made).

If there was a key to filmmaking—or writing in general, which is what I care about most of all—wouldn’t that be nice? A magic key unlocking the secrets of what makes stories work? But there isn’t. There’s no magic key – only magic. The magic that happens when, in this case, the right combination of actors, characterization, plot and tired clichés combine.

I shouldn’t have enjoyed Casablanca. You’d think by now, seventy or so years after its release, the plot would’ve been spoiled for me. It should be like those people who watched the Lord of the Rings movies and wondered why it used every fantasy stereotype in the book, when it reality it’s merely because Lord of the Rings INVENTED those stereotypes (except in this case it’s romance stereotypes, and Casablanca didn’t invent them but merely inspired the continual recycling of these old tropes). I saw the end coming from a mile away. Also, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve picked up something everyone told me was a classic, and hated it (see Romeo and Juliet, and Wuthering Heights).

However, I did love it. Like I said, there was magic.

And I love the quote I pasted above, because it shows how conventional wisdom about stories falls short – how in this particular case not an avoidance of clichés but a hurricane of clichés is what makes the movie. Casablanca breaks an accepted, basic rule of stories. But then again, every piece of true art is flawed.

Will lightning strike again if you use a hurricane of clichés? Or is Casablanca merely lightning in a bottle? There’s no way to say, except that creating art involves risk-taking and bravery. Sometimes that means breaking new ground. And sometimes that means risking doing what everyone else tells you is overdone.

The genius comes in telling what situation calls for which.

And if your striving eventually comes up with a story that works – a story that speaks to something inside humanity, and satisfies something in our cores – well, then your work has been touched by that magic.

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Writing Reality – Or Escaping It

A quick thought for today:

Writers write what’s real. They try to connect with some reality in the readers’ experience, and inspire emotions that complement the work they write. They try to represent the world as it truly is. That is one theory of writing’s purpose, anyway.

The problem is, reality really bites.

I wanted to improve as a writer this year. I gritted my teeth and tried to dredge up something of reality – bad experiences as well as good (though I’d be the first to admit my own real problems may barely phase anyone else.) I wrote down some stuff that for me was ‘dark.’

Then a lot of awful stuff happened in the world (some of which is obviously in the news, and some of which is just learning things about people you never wanted to know.) Then my ability to capture the true darkness in words falls so far short.

Because it’s so hard for me to face the depths of darkness. And I don’t want to do it.

Some writers can – dive into the depths of evil and show it for what it is to the world. And this is important. But is it what I – who shrinks from true evil and know its true strength is far beyond my own- am meant to do?

Then I escaped into the movie Casablanca – a fictional world which pretends to represent reality but in actuality stereotypes and simplifies it – and was drawn in. The story took me away. It ended on hope.

And now I believe there can be two types of creators/writers – those who don’t flinch from portraying problems and showing the ugliness of reality. And those writers who help escape from reality, and use fiction to remind us what it’s like to hope.

In real life, Harry Potter may’ve never escaped his cupboard. He may’ve been abused his whole young life, or been so psychologically scarred he could never function in any world. Frodo might’ve never gotten out of Mordor. Elizabeth Bennet would’ve end up penniless and husbandless, dependent on the mercy of Mr. Collins in her old age.

But, instead, these stories provide hope and escape, and show me a way to touch on reality without giving into the full terribleness of it.

 

What do you think?

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Must-Reads at Stories and Stuff in 2014

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By Ken Whytock, licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0

I started this blog in 2009–wow, that’s a lot of blogging! This year was definitely less active for me in the posting department, as I’ve had a lot going on (see Paris, and my Job and Apartment update). However, I refuse to neglect this blog! I love to debate the joy of stories with you all–as both a writer and a reader. Stories need to be not just heard, but chewed over and hashed out between us all before they solidly enter the age-long human conversation. Let’s soldier on with this! So this blog will not die any time soon, though I think the upcoming year will be a good time to branch out and try new things.

However, if you’ve enjoyed stopping by here this year, or even if this is one of your first visits, check out what was big at Stories and Stuff this year in the list below. Then check out the rest of my work by visiting my Stories tab up at the top.

Anyway, the Top Five Posts:

1.) J.K. Rowling is Not Dead – But Why Does She Want You to Know What Harry’s Up To?

This post was a response to J.K. Rowling’s update on her Harry Potter world–in other words, the explosive revelation that Ron and Hermione’s marriage might have been a ‘mistake.’ Obviously this was going to be a top post! In it, I dissect the dilemma of how much control an author should have over characters once they finish a work. Do they still get the last word on what’s going on in the characters’ lives? Or can we declared ‘death of the author’ and continue the characters’ lives in whatever vein we, the fans, please?

2.) Rant on Ruining the English Language

Here I take a go at people who get snobbish about the English language, at the expense of allowing English to change. One of the wonderful things about English is its flexibility and ability to change as people use it.

3.) Observations on Being Single, Revisited

Ah, of course everyone longs for my insights into single-ness.

4.) Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared – They’re Doing Fine, Actually

My happy update explaining why ebooks has not killed the printed book – or bookstores–and that hopefully the two will comfortably coexist.

5.) Why ‘Write What You Love’ Means all Fiction is Fanfiction

Secondly, I love to see several of my older posts are still popular! Number one among them is ‘Tolkien’s ‘Take That!’ to Shakespeare.’ I guess The Hobbit has kept Tolkien pretty relevant in 2014, and I am always happy when Tolkien is popular.

My top piece of fiction hosted here is ‘Thoughts of Mr. Knightley,’ a Jane Austen-inspired vignette I posted a few years ago. I do plan to sharpen my writing skills by trying out a few more of these in the upcoming year, so stay tuned for that!

When it comes to my ebooks, Prince Charming is by and away the favourite – but I also repackaged Why Polly? into a nicer ebook format, which has been successful. (Some of you may remember this one being serialized right here on this blog!) Thanks to all of you who supported these ventures by buying, reviewing and sharing these stories. More ebooks to come in 2015, as always!

And tell me in the comments below how your holidays have been! Any big goals for 2015 for all of you?

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Do You Use ‘Alot’ A Lot?

Hopefully you realized there were two spelling of ‘a lot’ up there in my title, and hopefully you also realized one of them was not grammatically correct. Why not grammatically correct, you ask? I don’t know – the spaces lobby argued we should all use the space bar on our keyboards more often?

That is why I was SO HAPPY to see someone finally speak up in defense of ‘alot’. James Harbeck argued today in Slate that just like ‘ahold’ and ‘awhile’ were finally somewhat accepted in English, ‘alot’ is likely here to stay. Whether it’s official or not, whether grammarians screech or not, likely enough people will keep using it until it’s finally accepted.

Wait, I’m not saying I use it – not in my public writing at least. I know pulling it out would brand me as a know-nothing hack. People on the internet would pretend I was talking about a furry animal, rather than an understandable word ( The link in the last sentence goes to a rather amusing piece by Hyperbole and a Half which rails against ‘alot’ – the Slate piece linked to it too, but I remember reading it back when it was first published and wishing I could come up with a good enough retort. But really, it’s cute enough that I can let it slide…)…

But oh, wouldn’t it be nice to skip typing that space. Why, oh why, should ‘a lot’ be two words? Using ‘alot’ doesn’t wreck anything about the English language. It’s simple and understandable, and the only thing holding it back is that it’s nonstandard.

 

So here’s to hoping in fifty years or so my arthritic hands will be typing ‘alot’, a lot.

 

See also: Rant on “Ruining the English Language” and What, the English Language Changes? Literally?

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In Defense of Typing

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Whoa, whoa, whoa! Was not my last post about handwriting? How handwriting stimulates creativity and word productivity? Very true, but since then I’ve run across the article, ‘The Joy of Typing,’ which strikes back at the idea that typing reduces the quality of your thought.

Typing, the author Clive Thompson argues, does not make us stupider. Handwriting is great for note-taking, he goes on to say, because it prevents us from robotically recording every word we hear, and instead makes us think about how to shorten what we’re hearing into something we can write down. But typing is better for creating original works, because the speed of typing enables us to get all of our ideas down.

This is due, he argues, to something called ‘transcription fluency’ – getting down on paper the ideas you have in your head. Transcription fluency is improved in handwriting by teaching kids to practice making their letters until they don’t have to think heavily about each word they want to express, they can just write it. When it comes to typing, this involves teaching kids to type properly instead of with that two-fingered typing method. The more fluid you get, the more likely you are to get your ideas down before they slip away – and obviously the speed of typing makes it superior to writing in this respect.

Kids, Thompson argues, often DON’T learn proper typing, while most schools still do focus on printing with a pencil and paper. And you know what? I am utterly grateful my dad sat me down one summer and forced me to learn to type – This is will help you in highschool and university, he said, and he was absolutely right. I never typed notes in class, but I did type out dozens and dozens of essays, book reviews and assignments. And if I’d continued to hunt-and-peck at the keyboard like I remember doing in elementary school, I probably still wouldn’t be graduated now.

Did knowing how to type help me with my ‘transcription fluency’? After thinking about it, I think it probably did. I remember working in group projects where I’d try writing up the project with a several other people, and these people would just struggle with their section of the report while I pounded out my ideas in no time at all. I always figured it was their problem of overthinking every little word that they typed – that it would be better for them to just type something, and go back and fix it later. However, maybe it was directly related to their typing ability. Maybe they overthought every single word of their sentence because their typing ability was so slow that the sentence had to be good enough to actually be worth the effort of typing.

Where my experience doesn’t line up with Thompson’s arguments is where he states the ‘transcription fluency’ that comes with typing leads to higher quality writing – that once people could express their ideas at a pace of at least 32.4 words a minute they produced more coherent and readable writing. Like I said, my quality of fiction decreases drastically when I type (though I suppose the possibility is that I haven’t reached a high enough word count to get into a proper writing ‘trance’?) I feel like I miss my brain’s filter when I stare at a computer screen with the ability to pound out words as fast as I think them. I miss my ability to compose and recompose while my hand struggles to put those sentences on paper. But that is possibly just my own idiosyncrasy. After all, I don’t notice this when typing nonfiction.

In the end, I’d argue that knowing BOTH how to write and how to type are important. I never thought about how much I relied on typing until I read Thompson’s article, but I really, really do. Not for creating fiction – I seem to have some sort of technology block in my head when it comes to that – but certainly with creating nonfiction (like this very blog). With nonfiction, you need to be able to constantly rearrange sentences, and create and delete them. But handwriting stimulates different sections of your brain, and sometimes you need that too. This is pretty much the conclusion Thompson comes to too. Ideally, teach yourself to be fluid at both. Your writing might thank you for it.

Any further comments in defense of typing?

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I Handwrite My Fiction, But I’m Not Stuck in the Dark Ages – I’ll Prove It

writingRemember back in November I said I managed to spew out 50,000 words in a month in order to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? Well, I may not have mentioned those were handwritten words, so really my total of 50,000 was a guesstimate. I have recently been occupied in typing these words up. And the result… well, do you think I over- or under-estimated?

Over. Definitely over. I’ve hit 46,000 words and I still have a third of the manuscript to go. Which leads to the question – why on earth would I use such an inefficient method of writing? I mean, handwriting? Hasn’t that gone out with the dark ages? They don’t even teach that to some school kids anymore!

Well, let’s bring in the authority of the New York Times on this issue, through their article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” I’ve written before about how I feel less creative typing, and how handwriting helps me to actually connect to my subject. Turns out there’s actually some scientific indications that this is not just a weird anomaly that occurs only in me.

According to the study quoted in the article, children who wrote text by hand not only produced more words (hello to me overachieving on my NaNoWriMo word count!), but also expressed more ideas (hello to the fact I feel more creative handwriting!). The article ends by quoting psychologist Paul Bloom as saying, “With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important. Maybe it helps you think better.”

As I said in my previous post, “My theory is that typing and handwriting use different parts of the brain, and in me only one of them is linked to creativity.” Wouldn’t it be neat if I wasn’t completely off-base? But then – what does this mean for technology? Are our computers soul-sucking beasts that are slowly draining away all of our society’s creativity?

I think not – to some extent the dulling effects of technology can be overcome. I can write far better by typing than I used to, though my fiction still comes out sounding wooden. More practiced authors, especially those raised on computers, will strengthen the brain’s creativity-into-typed-words pathway even more than I have. But hey, maybe someday someone will do a survey of all this century’s ‘greatest’ literature and find none of them have been typed – who knows? Get a scientist to research that.

So if you ever find yourself faced with a blinking screen and a bad case of writer’s block, why not try writing something the old-fashioned way? You might surprise yourself.

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Paris is Always a Good Idea

“Paris is always a good idea.”

– the internet would like to believe this quote is by Audrey Hepburn*

It’s been a while since I updated, hasn’t it? And definitely for some of those weeks I didn’t have a good excuse, but I’d like to believe a spontaneous trip to Paris is a good enough excuse for a least a couple of them, isn’t it?

How cliché! A spontaneous trip to Paris to “find myself” – well, not really find myself, but at least learn new things about myself. Specifically, how brave I am to travel alone. And what it feels like to be in the French culture for two weeks.

I discovered:

1.) Despite the romantic idea of writing in little French cafés, I can’t actually sit still for very long when I’m in Paris. There’s so much to see! Writing had to wait till I got home.

2.) I am perfectly capable of travelling independently. But sometimes it was more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be. Also, I learned a lot about what it means to feel “alone,” and how to manage this very human feeling. A worthwhile experience, don’t you think?

And now… some pictures! Just a few to give you an idea:

First, a very famous place for us bookish folks – The Shakespeare & Company Bookstore: Shakespeare & Co. Then the house of Victor Hugo: House of Victor HugoAnd finally, a pic of me taking refuge from the spring rain in a random art gallery in Montmartre!

art gallery, Montmartre

That’s it for now! Hope you all had a nice spring. 🙂

 

*note: I can’t really find a good source proving this quote is actually originally by Audrey Hepburn, but if anyone can point me the way to one, I’d love it. It does sound like the sort of thing she’d say, doesn’t it?

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