Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best Anonymous Quotes of 2013

As 2013 comes to an end, I've found that words bring the clearest meaning. The last half of this year has been packed with words: from the manuscripts I've written, or not written, the little emails laced with hope and jokes, and advice from friends that helped me both laugh and contemplate where life has taken me since graduating with my MFA.

Now that I have an iPhone (oh yes I do), I've joined the modern world with things like Instagram and other amazing apps (sorry, Kindle Fire. I love you, but your apps stink). I experimented with a typography app as I crafted this post. This year more any other, words spoken and written by anonymous people seemed to have encapsulated my thoughts and feelings. So I wanted to share these quotes with you.


I love this twist on the classic "great minds think alike." I adored this quote right away because of the use of "wonder," one my most favorite words. But there's a lot to love here. It reminds me of the wondering that I've had the pleasure of doing with some great friends. I appreciate it even more now that I'm out of school.

Nothing beats being able to hash out a new story idea or difficult scene with a friend. In the MFA program, I was spoiled by being surrounded by like-minded writer friends who were just a floor away. I'd wash the red ink off my hands after a grueling grading session and wander through the halls, knocking on my friends' offices with a burning question on my tongue: "What point of view should I use? What do you think of me adding a tiger into the end of my story? How do I describe creme brulee without using the name?"

Without batting an eye, my writer-friends would divulge their opinions. We'd talk entirely too long about our respective projects and end each conversation complaining about the lesson plans still to write.

In the "real world," you don't often run into people who can have such conversations easily. I try to keep my craft-talk to a minimum, but I still get blank stares, polite smiles, and nods from my new work friends. They're happy and proud of me. They're also eager to peek inside the brain of a would-be writer, but what they find there doesn't make a lot of sense. This is usually the case for most writers.

My writer-friends are pure miracles, really, and getting to meet them on a free weekend over a greasy sandwich or hot bowl of soup raises my spirits. We burn our voices out talking at the speed of light about writer things, and I'm just thankful that I can have these conversations, even if they are more a treat now than the norm these days.


I've had a ton of dreams this year that probably stemmed from stress, but were nonetheless memorable (and draining). Have you ever dreamed something so real that you woke up fully expecting it? That was me, at least once a week. Those dreams usually had to do with me thinking I'd received an email or phone call that, upon waking and checking my Kindle Fire, I realized hadn't happened at all. 

Yet, other times, when the said email or call would come (just later in the afternoon), I wondered, "Well hey, am I psychic or something?" Then I'd daydream about the Oracle of Delphi and scold myself for putting off writing a novel about Apollo. 

For someone who writes in the vein of fantasy, my dreams are mundane. Weird stuff happens, but usually framed within spending time with friends and family and doing normal things, like grocery shopping. Magical realism that would be too boring to write about. But again, if I believed that even one little part of my dream was real, I'd wake up blinking and scrambling for proof. 

Having dreams like that is tiring. When I get to work, cracking my jaw over a big yawn, it's because the manic and worry that came with an ordinary dream dug its claws into me. At times like this, I wish I drank coffee. 


This little manta comes from Wren, my college buddy who just started a blog, The Wren's Nest. She, in turn, had heard it from an old friend, so perhaps it's got some history in it. 

2013 was not without its disappointments. Rejections, a writer's best friend, came flooding in for various manuscripts; as a consequence, I finally cleaned out the pints of ice cream in my freezer (the taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream is greatly improved when sprinkled with tears).

Eventually though, I was tired of feeling sorry for myself. It was a useless emotion that cramped my writing mood - and anything that prevents me from writing is bad news. "If not this, something better" came at just the right time when Wren and I stayed up late talking over the phone. What's great about this saying is that it leaves no room for negativity. If your expectations about anything don't happen, then you're asking for something even better to replace it. It welcomes life to surprise you.

It's hard to accept surprises when you're a writer, because when you create a world, you're the one who controls everything. You know which plot twist will send your main character reeling. You know what kinds of flowers grow behind the haunted mansion in your story, which villain will be redeemed by the third book, and how many paper clips is in your MC's math teacher's desk. But real life? Who knows what will happen? Sometimes, that's a good thing, especially when you invite extraordinary surprises in. 


I'm trying to follow my own advice here. Not too long ago, I wrote a post about being stuck in revision hell, along with facing writer's block. I think the gifs I used within that post accurately described what that was like, haha. With the help of my friends, NaNoWriMo, and a few well-placed contests (with tight deadlines), I think I'm back on my feet. 

After graduating, I tried to write at my normal speed, but it was difficult to rebuild my schedule without the program. Being a writer now meant finding small moments during the day to write a paragraph or map out a few chapters on the back of a post-it note. Tired from a long day of work, I'd curl up on the couch and blink blearily at the television screen until finally stumbling to bed. 

I haven't stayed up late to write in months. Weekends are dedicated to catching up on sleep, seeing friends, watching movies / reading books / and other things I can't do during the week. I'm totally an adult now. It's almost too easy to be normal with such a schedule. 

So seeing "Stay Weird" printed in bold script on a sweater was like a wake-up call to me (and a hit to my wallet, haha). I didn't forget to "stay weird," but the principle of it had slipped to the back of my head. 

Maybe that's why I had such a hard time writing. When I let go, the wheels started turning again. 


2013 was a mixed bag. It was a year of growth forced by the natural consequences of leaving academia's cozy yet frustrating bosom and launching into the brick wall that is the "real world." 

I've revised tens of thousands of words, shed substantial weight, developed a love of sweet potatoes and beans, mimicked Sonic the Hedgehog in meeting writing contest deadlines, and filled my life with a lot of music and life-changing books. 

I'm happy to say goodbye. Hello, 2014. Let's be friends. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Art of Writing With the Internet

I really enjoy reading my favorite authors’ blogs. Typically, I’m a bad blogger in the sense that I’m usually behind with reading the blogs I love, but when I do get the chance to sit down with a mug of chai tea, I enjoy getting to read the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the people I admire most. Laini Taylor’s blog is one I keep coming back to. She’s the author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, one of my favorite books. I just started reading Night of Cake and Puppets, savoring every bit of Zuzana’s adventure. I went on Laini’s blog this morning and read her post about how her most recent writing retreat went. She gave some advice as well about how best to be productive during a writing retreat, and it got me thinking.

A writing retreat is exactly how it sounds: you pack your bags, check into a hotel room for x number of days, and write. The hotel functions as a (comfy) desert island where you will fill up your empty word document because the sand is getting hot and the seagulls are not great conversationalists.

If you’re to go on a writing retreat, Laini suggests that you avoid the internet:

“No internet accesss. This is very important. Go to a hotel without free wi fi and do not buy a connection, and do not ask for a password. Just don't ever go down that path. NO. INTERNET.”

I get it. Checking your facebook account and tweeting photos of your hotel room’s carpeting is not what a writing retreat is all about.

The internet in the enemy. Turn off your wi-fi and go it alone.

Except that I don’t think I could do it. In fact, if I didn’t have the internet, I’d probably trudge home from a retreat with only a big fat bill to show for it.

On the bottom shelf next to my bed, I have as series of binders from pre-college, where I’ve stored drawings, stories, and copies from source material before personal computers were a real thing. Sometimes I open up a binder and look at the stories I wrote, torn out of notebooks and hole-punched together, wondering how I ever managed.

Nowadays, I handwrite notes and outlines for my stories–along with snippets of dialogue or description–but the bulk of my writing happens on a computer. And somewhere along the line, I started using search engines to seek the answers to my questions rather than bugging my mom to drive me to the library.

Yes, the days of interrupting my parents to have them rebuild the Roman aqueducts for me and catch criminals in Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? is over.   

Is it bad that I never got past the Ancient Rome case? I much preferred the other Carmen Sandiego game where I wasted plane fuel jumping country to country interviewing suspects

Of course, nothing beats physical source material. When I was writing my thesis, I ordered a 1927 reproduction of a Sears catalogue since the novel takes place in a 20s-inspired world. I spent a whole afternoon flipping through the pages, lost in a world long past (and actually, I considered the idea of dumping my wardrobe and replacing it with all 20s outfits, if only I could pick straight from this catalogue).

Research time usually happens before I even start writing. I gather books from the library or order them if I think I may use the information for future projects, and hunker down with some hot vanilla blueberry tea. I type my notes to make sure I can read them later, haha.

When I’m writing, I don’t usually have sessions where I write straight through. More often, I’ll keep writing until I need to know something. What kind of nuts do airlines serve? How does a jet pack work? If you were in a hot air balloon and the pilot fell out of the basket, how would you figure out how to fly it?

Not all questions can be answered through raiding the library alone (especially because my library severely lacks a decent selection. Hello, inter-library loans!). Google is wonderful for this, and usually I can find a picture or website that helps answer the question so I can move forward with my story. Other times, I might have to email or call an expert in the area… which is something I’ve tried to do multiple times with hilarious results. If you meet me in person, ask me to tell you what happened when I contacted a doll-repair business.

I cannot turn off the internet. If I did, I’d probably be stranded in my draft. I’m not the kind of writer who can simply skip over the issue and continue. I don’t leave “BLANKS” throughout my drafts as markers for places in the story to return to and fill. And I can’t say, “I’ll keep going because it’s a first draft. I’ll just let my imagination free!” Honestly, I wish I could, but it’s just not my process.

So I minimize my document, search the internet, and eventually return with an answer. Rinse and repeat.

Laini is always full of great advice; when I read her blog posts, I’m usually nodding my head vigorously and taking mental notes. Her advice about not using the internet is still good. On bad days, it’s the very thing that prevents you from making progress in anything–not just writing. Even though I can’t bring myself to shut off my internet, thinking about what she said made me aware of how I work and how writing makes it from my head to the paper.

Understanding your process as a writer is pretty important–it’s a surefire way of beating writer’s block, at any rate. Perhaps the internet is more helper than hinderer for you too.

It's debatable.