Stories are Everywhere

Returning from the depths of the college world, I bring you a sparkly new blog post.

The "instructional" book I am reading for Intro to Creative Writing said that writer's block does not exist because stories are everywhere.

While I disagree with that statement, it also makes me think.

Stories are everywhere.

Take the short story I had to write for my creative writing class. We were told it had to be between 7-20 pages long and there were two rules. Rule number one it had to be real events happening to real people (basically no genre fiction) and rule number two, nobody could die in the story.

Taking those rules I started thinking about what was going on in my own life. I thought about the possibility of a move to the opposite end (north-south) of the country. I thought about my Nana with Alzheimer's and her struggle as well as my Granddad's struggle in helping her. I thought of my Dad's feelings about leaving a community that has become our home even though we've wandered far and wide.

I thought about family and what it means to love someone. In thinking about that I thought about a father's decision in who he loves more: his daughter or his dying, soon to be incoherent mother.

And that's when it hit me. I had a story to write.

My life became that of Zoey's. Zoey became an estranged college student who only talked to her mother. My father became Steve, the man who wanted to give everything to his daughter and failed in the one way she needed him to excel. My Nana became Ruth Hutchings, the woman who needed her son but barely recognized him.

The problem then became, not writing it, but deciding how the story should go since it is so symbolic. Should Steve not move to Alabama to be closer to his mother? Should he keep trying to reconcile with his daughter? Should he do somewhere halfway? (In case you were wondering, it's an eleven hour drive from Huntsville, Alabama to my university.)

Where should the ending be? Should there be a common theme throughout the story?

Finally, I finished. It took me three days. 1 day for the first draft, a day of rest and then 1 day for the second, longer draft. My tying together thread was Zoey and Steve sitting together at the local football games, stuffing themselves with peanuts and explaining over and over and over the rules of football.

See, maybe Mooring was wrong in that there is no such thing as writer's block. But they were definitely right when they said Stories are EVERYWHERE!

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Fitting it In

I start four classes tomorrow. I'm taking a total of 4 four-hour classes and 1 one-hour class. This means lots of non-recreational reading and note-taking. This also means I have less time to write.

Which brings me to the question, how do you fit in writing? What do you do when you are super busy? Go ahead, leave a comment. :)

Right now, I haven't had a whole lot of time to write. I've been busy with orientation, First Year Seminar homework, meetings and other fun things that make you feel ridiculously awkward. (Like walking into Opening Convocation serenaded by a bagpiper.) I've been trying to type up some journal entries but even that has taken a back seat to gelato parties for a floor mate's birthday.

But, if I'm going to be honest, I haven't been writing because I haven't had the muse. My muse is dead. Like, it decided to move to New Zealand and then died bungy jumping while I was moving into college. So that was the falling feeling when we were driving up to my dorm!

I tried writing something tonight and it just... it felt forced. Which brings up another problem. I am getting to where if I want to finish my WriYe goal (325,000 words) I need to get 890 words a day. 890 forced words a day are going to be torture, especially if I have three chapters of FYS reading and a poem to write for Intro to Creative Writing.

I'm sure my muse will return but for now, I'm not forcing myself to find time to write (other than my nightly journaling). And so, when my muse returns, (please return please!) I will have a nice time of balancing.

Anyone else experience this? Let me know what you think.

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As I think about moving into college tomorrow, it makes me think of building the anticipation in a novel. In many ways, they are similar.

Preparing for college comes with ups and downs. The past week I've had thoughts that this cannot come soon enough. When I read a novel I think at times that I want to race through it, wanting to get towards to the end as quickly as I can have resolution, closure. I want the author to keep the suspense up so that I continue to experience the rush to the end of the book. It is one of the biggest letdowns to me when the author doesn't keep the adrenaline and the plot flowly quickly. It's like the author just gave up.

I've also had the experience of not ever wanting to leave for college. A good novel makes it so you never want to leave the world. It's one of the reasons series are so popular. Harry Potter, for example, has seven books for the reader to indulge in, live in the author's world.

A good book has a combination of adrenaline and never wanting to leave. It is just like getting ready for college. So hopefully, authors will think about their experiences leaving for college when they plot out their novel and the level of suspense in it.

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I never travel without my diary.
One should always have something sensational to read on the train.
~ Oscar Wilde

Ever since the summer after my sixth grade year, I have journalled every night. This journaling habit has led me through a trans-Atlantic move, a sister away to college, a sister away to China, the hardships of high school, the decision to skip a grade... basically everything. In the span of thirteen journals, I have poured out my soul each and every night in addition to telling about how the day went.

I type up the entries as a way of keeping an electronic record of everything. However, I refuse to journal on a computer. First, because I have a love of smooth gel ink pens, and secondly, because there is nothing more soothing than pouring your heart out onto a page, not worrying about the circuit shorting when you cry on it. So, the electronic copies of my journals only serve as a smaller copy of the thirteen journals.

Every so often, I reread a particular journal to see what I was going through. I see the anguish I labored over my friends in seventh grade when I had the best friend in the world right there, unbeknowest to me. I see how I would obsess about asking that guy to the dance that nobody asked anyone to. That was just when I was starting out.

As I grew, my handwriting got better (I almost always write in cursive) and I thought I would learn eons about myself. Here's the thing - a relaxing habit does not lend itself to epiphanies unless one works at it.

I have to reread and reflect on my journals to really see the path I've travelled and how it can help me in the future. Reflecting allows me to see that I have already had one crazy life and I'm capable of handling much more than I ever thought possible. (My second year of high school should be a testament to this.)

I will start a new journal tomorrow night. And while I don't know how long it will take me to fill the pages or what it will contain, I do know I will come to it when things are good, when things are bad and when I am so confused I don't know what question to ask. Journaling has helped me become more introspective. Sometimes I think that's a bad thing. But then I remember, a little self reflection never hurt anyone.

Anyway, if I always travel with my journal and I record the funny moments in my life, I can always have a joke book with me. I can be like Oscar Wilde and have something sensational to read that is extremely personal.

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I have been trying to find a writing/organizing program that works with how I write and my lack of planning. However, I also needed a program that would let me plan when I needed it.

With a little help from Nicole Humphrey Cook , I found StoryBook. StoryBook was more time-line based and aggravatingly annoying if you've already wrote the novel and just want to revise it. So, I decided to uninstall the program.

I tried writing on paper - asking questions of something I had already written. That didn't work either.

So, I laid off programs or writing novels for awhile. That was, until I looked back at Nicole's article. I had heard of Liquid Story Binder. I have writing friends who love it, swear by it. Some hate it too so I was a little cautious.

I downloaded it when I decided to completely rewrite the 2008 NaNo novel I wrote (the one I constantly talk about that is giving me trouble). I decided to first plan everything out and then write the novel semi-from scratch.

I tried Liquid Story Binder's outlining tool - I love it! I have found a program that works with how I write. It's amazing. It's fairly easy to use and has many features that I'm sure I'll find useful.

As I use LSB more, I'll let everyone know what I think about it and its different components. But for now, I'm in love.

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Writing on the Computer

I have been on the hunt for my college laptop the past two weeks. I'm not a gamer so I didn't need fancy graphics. I don't store music on my computer so I don't need loads of storage. What I needed was a laptop that worked with what Carroll wanted and could withstand me hitting the backspace key repetitively in anger.

What I found was that Best Buy (one of the only places I trusted) covered the ITS requirements quite easily. They said they only had two computers that didn't qualify. That helped but, also didn't.

Apparently, it's weird for someone to just want a computer for writing.

So I poked around, did some research and decided it didn't really matter as long as I felt comfortable with it.

Which, I suppose, is like all things with writing. Do it so that it makes you comfortable. If that means a Mac, so be it. If it means, for me, an HP, oh well.

What type of computer do you use for your writing? Do you love it? Hate it? Let me know.

Seven days without...

Having my other half and getting re-addicted to E.R. can be fun, but also a strain on the writing relationship.

I do the majority of my writing on the family computer (some on iPod or on paper) since that's where my flashdrive is with my Master Files and my Excel Spreadsheet for my 2010 progress. The family computer, I might add, is downstairs, basically away from everything else except the junk room (the unfinished part of the basement). So that makes writing a pretty solitary activity.

It's been so nice having my sister home that I thought I would take a dy or two break from writing. That day or two stretched into a week. I still journaled at least one hundred words a night, as I always do, but I stayed away from heavy writing.

Today, I returned. My mind is refreshed. The plot bunnies have been silenced but that, actually, is wonderful. Now I can focus on one thing and not worry about having my attention diverted by the other muses.

This week break also allowed me to realize that I write because I love it. And when I'm forcing words (sorry JulNo) I'm not enjoying it. This should be an interesting experience in college, but I'm ready to get used to it. See, when I was not writing, I was thinking, "I should be writing." It was like an itch I couldn't scratch. Now, I'm back at it.

Albeit, slower this time. I will still try for my goal of 890 words a day, however, if I don't achieve that, I won't beat myself up.

Try a break sometime - you might find yourself more productive afterwards.

New Idea

Fairly soon, I will be embarking on a new journey (no, not college) that I only have an inkling of where I am going.

I have a new novel idea. There isn't much too it right now. Here's what I have so far.

When the Day Met the Night

Main Female Character: Eliana
Main Male Character: Artemis, "Artie"

The two main characters are complete opposites. Artemis is named after the Greek goddess of the hunt/moon and Eliana's name means "daughter of the sun." So yes, slightly obvious, but nevertheless, fun.

I'm not exactly sure where this is going plot wise. I do know, there will be a very much "opposites attract" for Artie but not so much for Eliana. She's a bit of a flirt in my mind.

The idea of the story is slightly based on the song, When the Day Met the Night by Panic at the Disco.

Anyway, I shall let you all know when I have more!

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The Million Words

They say the first million words are practice.

For some participating in WriYe, and crazy enough to try it, those million words will come in a year. If you want to write a million words in one year that's... 2,740 words a day, every day. I have friends that could easily accomplish this.

However, not everyone is that prolific. For some, those million words of fiction (or creative nonfiction) may take years. David Hendrickson, a very successful published author, suggests it will probably take ten years.

Ten years.

That's a lot of time. That's a lot of commitment.

Last year I wrote 290,000 words. This year I am going for 325,000 words. Let's say you are more conservative. You go for 150,000 words a year - a reasonable goal. That takes down your million words to 6 and 2/3rds years.

But does it matter how long it takes to get there?

And who decided one million words was a good indicator of the quality of your writing?


Writing is about making yourself (and those pesky voices) happy. It's about fulfilling your goal to write something meaningful. Maybe some write for publication, but they don't have the right idea.

Writing, sure, can always be improved. Anyone going to a workshop, creative writing class or in an MFA knows this: your writing can always be improved. That does not mean that if I go out and write one million words next year and don't focus on anything in my writing, I will magically get better.

Writing for the sheer fact of getting your million words is stupid, honestly. You should write for you. If you want to improve, then do so. If you like your writing where you can't decide between 'gray' and 'grey' in a manuscript, fine. It's your writing.

Do with it what you like. And toss that million word goal out the window.

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Getting to Know You

I've always liked filling out character sheets, up until a point. Then, I realized how tedious they are. And yet, I am realizing how important they are.

My roommate and I have been Facebook chatting and emailing, finding out all the weird things about each other. This is way beyond what we look like and what our favorite colors are. We're telling each other our quirks (afraid of the sound of flushing toilets, thinking pickles are cucumbers soaked in evil to name a few [both are mine]), our fears (not being challenged) and weird things like our high school mascot and class size.

All of this is helping me get a better picture of Sarah. It's very random what questions come up. We've had questions from do you like jigsaw puzzles to what would you see in the Mirror of Erised. (Thank you J.K. Rowling for uniting the world!)

So next time you need to do a character sheet, don't think of it as tedious work. Think of it as a conversation between you and your character, letting it take off in whatever way you want, as long as you get some answers.

Lack of college in YA Lit

Sometimes I love reading YA Lit as a teenager because they get it right. And sometimes they don't...

One thing I have never gotten a proper feeling for in a YA book is the mixed emotions about college. I mean, there have been undertones of college in one of my favorites - Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen - but never as the main theme.

Here's what I know about going to college, as a senior who graduated this Spring. Some of these are generalizations but many are experienced by myself, my friends and family.

1) You will cry at sappy family commercials. The one about a mom sending her daughter Jiffy peanut butter gets me every time.

2) You are so excited to be moving on and yet you want to stay at your house forever.

3) You are terrified that the class work will be too hard and that maybe, you chose the wrong major.

4) Conversely, you're afraid you'll never find the right major.

5) You are sad to be leaving your friends from high school, ready for new ones.

6) You hope your roommmate isn't from hell - especially those that have always had a bedroom to themselves.

7) You don't want to grow up, can't wait to.

Here's a little glismp at what's going on in my life right now as an example:

I found out my housing and roommate assignment yesterday. My roommate, from Minnesota, sounds amazing. However, I'm also terrified that our Facebook chats will be better than our interactions in person. She has a boyfriend coming with her to college. I'm terrified that I'm going to be a third wheel. Some of my fears are irrational, some aren't.

I am so ready to major in creative writing and history but I'm afraid I might be taking on too much. What if my passion, writing, isn't good enough for college? What if I'm not challenged? This is a huge one for me and history. I have never been challenged academically history wise during high school. History Day, yes, challenged me, but that was extracurricular.

I love my family more than anything in the world. But I've never spent more than a week apart from one of them. I'm afraid I'll be so homesick I won't want to continue with college...

I could go on forever.

The point is that I want YA authors to ask the teenagers around them - especially the graduated seniors. Ask them about college - what they're feeling. Part of the appeal, for me, in YA lit is that it's an escape, but also a learning experience.

I want to see a character struggle through this transition and come out on the right side of it - or even the wrong side. I want to see the anticipation and fear for college.

National History Day

A break from writing related topics to talk about something I'm truly passionate about: National History Day.

I have competed in National History Day since I was a sixth grader. However, it wasn't until I moved to Iowa (after seventh grade) that I began to realize how important History Day was. My eighth grade Humanities class required me to write and research a topic on the Civil War. My teacher wanted ten sources - only two could come from the Internet. Everyone complained. I knew how to do it. It was nothing.

My junior year paper on Oscar Wilde, went to Nationals with 108 sources, an interview with a professor who wrote a book on Oscar Wilde and some of the best writing I've ever done. My senior year paper on Jane Austen made third in the state of Iowa. It was succinct (word limit: 2,500 words) and well-written. I am a fiction writer, however, I am not ashamed to say my Jane Austen paper, entitled, "'Only a Novel?': Jane Austen's Innovations for the Romantic Novel", is my best written work.

But History Day has not just taught me to research and write papers. Although I'm so happy I have these skills for entering college, that's not it.

National competition involves competitors from every state, DoDDS-E, Shanghai, China, Guam, the American Samoa and and even some Canadians that sneak in through Shanghai. You get about 2,000 kids together who are passionate about history and some sparks fly.

History Day makes me take my learning into my own hands. I want to know all about how polio was eradicated? Fine, that will be my topic. Want to know why Oscar Wilde was thrown into prison (it was illegal to be gay at the time) I can research it. At History Day you chose topics that interest you and then you take off.

Not only are you making history personal to you, but you're also getting personal. I love the people part of history. I want to know, "What did they think? How did they overcome [insert event here]." I want to know about the people and their emotions. History Day allows me to do this. It lets me get close to the person, so to speak. I would have never known about what Roosevelt thought personally, of the United Nations, had I not done History Day. I wouldn't have known that Jane Austen was a snarky person.

History Day has taught me so much - to research, to ask questions, to write well, to find both sides of the story. It's taught me to be outgoing with finding what I need to find to answer those questions I have. It's taught me about thesis, teamwork and hard work.

However, History Day in Iowa is in a bit of a pickle. The major funder of National History Day in Iowa, has decided to drop their support. I ask, even if it's just your time, to help History Day. I wouldn't be the person I am without this program. One thing offered every competition are special awards. For example, my Jane Austen paper won the "Outstanding Entry in Literary History." If you're passionate about an aspect of history, consider giving a special award.

If anyone has any questions about History Day and what it is, either follow the link above (to the National History Day contest site) or comment a question. I'm more than willing to help out in whatever way I can.

Also, here below are links to donate to the National History Day contest and the National History Day in Iowa.

Why Support History Day? (National Contest)

Getting Involved (Iowa History Day)

I thank everyone ahead of time. You are the ones who will keep this amazing program alive.

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Rereading for Fun

I am working hard on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before you Die. So far I've gotten 35 or so read with a goal to read 15 more this summer. Slow progress, most definitely, but when the books are War and Peace, Doctor Zhivalgo and Gone with the Wind one can understand why they take a while to complete.

I am also suppose to be reading All about Dreams by Gayle Delaney for my Honors First Year Seminar on Sleep.

What book did I just finish reading today? Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.

Yep, I'm not doing my required reading (yet! I have to order the book) or books off the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I'm rereading the Harry Potter series.

Is that a bad thing? No, actually I think it's good to go back and reread old books and here's why:

You realize what works in a story when you already know the plot
You pick up on little, minute things you missed reading it the second (or hundredth) time
You know you'll enjoy the book so you get more out of it.

While I'm in DC with National History Day I'll be reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles because Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire doesn't fit in my suitcase. But when I get back, the series will be there to great me and welcome me like an old friend.

What are your favorite books to reread; the ones you'll put down anything required just so you can read them?

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Graduation - Writing Related

Although it was less than a week ago, I barely remember anything of the three speaker's speeches. One was about how I didn't plagarize the speech so you shouldn't plagarize your life. Don't ask me what the others were about.

But as I sat, dripping in sweat, listening to speeches I wouldn't remember, I thought about how that related to books and writing.

How many books have I read that I couldn't remember the title or the plot? They weren't memorable. It doesn't mean they weren't good; it just means that they didn't have something to capture my mind and put some tidbit into my long term memory.

Harry Potter for example - I will always remember the scene where Sirius dies in the book. Maybe because of the imagery, maybe because I love the book and Sirius the character. (I named a fish after him, after all.)

I think it's every author's dream that their books will be remembered forever. And it presents a challenge. How do you do that?

Personally, I think you do it with emotions and imagery. What do you think?

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Getting Back to the Beginning

Currently Reading: The Tale of Genji (Volume 1) by Murasaki Shikibu

Current Writing Project: Outlining, Questioning, Back to the Characters of Her Testament to Life

My NaNo 2008 has been causing me endless problems. When I first edited, the manuscript went from 60,000 words to 30,000 words. I never realized how much dribble I put in there until I started cutting it out. West Wing rants, talks about whether Kiwis really like being called Kiwis and if was really just a British attempt at making fun of those from New Zealand. Seriously, some days during that month I just wrote dribble.

It is my goal for that manuscript to see a literary agent before the year ends. 220 days left, according to the newspaper. I know I've mentioned it before, but a young adult novel should be about 65,000 words. And that's where my problem came.

I needed to add 35,000 words that wasn't drabble. I tried thinking of scenes but that wasn't linear and they ended up in a file named "Additions" that just sat and sat.

So I reached out to the friendly people at WriYe. I started asking questions - how do you define a scene? How do you make a proper timeline? Is a timeline a substitution for a plot outline? How in-depth do your character sketches need to be? Is it important to know things like if your Main Character (MC) likes oranges or is it more important to know they can't stand the sound of chewig?

As I got answers I realized that being a pantser (working without an outline) may work for my History Day papers and other school papers but it's not going to work with my novel.

And now, I've got to get back to the beginning. I need to re-examine what I have written, what questions are in my mind when reading it so I can answer them. I need to relearn every little detail about my characters so that when I'm writing about them, it's like they are an extension of myself, not something my mind is making up on the spot. In the end, I think it will make the book more consistant.

Here's to getting back to the beginning, almost like I had never written the novel before.

When you have to add significant wordage and don't know where or what needs to be added, what do you do?

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Feeling Accomplished

Putting things into prospective I realized a few things this week.

There will always be better writers than me.
That does not mean I am a bad writer. -- It just means I have more to learn

I have written a novel. That is more than most can say.
I am proud of my novel. Even if Her Testament to Life never sees the light of a bookstore, I am proud of it.

I may never publish. And somehow, I think I'm okay with that. Because....

I have a huge amount of passion for the writing I do. I put my heart and soul into my writing.

Fan fiction is not a worthless pursuit because it teaches me how to build plot with characters I already know.

Sometimes you have to take a step back from your writing to see what is really important to you.

Writing will always be there - even if Real Life tells you it won't if you can't write x number of words every day.

I can learn and while I may be stubborn, I am willing to learn.

And while the publishing blues may hit me every once in awhile, just knowing I'm a writer who is proud of her own work, is an accomplishment in itself.

Opinions? What makes you feel accomplished?

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What They Neglect to Tell You: YA Authors

As both a Young Adult writer and a high school student, I know what the other, published, authors are talking about. I understand the drama of a first love and the pressures of school work. However, I believe YA authors leave some parts out of their novels.

Finals: The stress of finals is something every high schooler has to deal with, and yet, is rarely mentioned in YA books. Why is that?

Prom: God, someone could write a book just on the prom drama llamas. This is another topic I don't see written about as much.

The cliches of high school: We, as high schoolers, are not trying to be cliched. We're just trying to be the best people we can be under the circumstances. Ask a freshman in my high school what popularity is and they'll say "having lots of friends." By the time they're a senior they'll say popularity is "over-rated."

Honestly, I wish sometimes a YA author would take the time to let their own high school experiences guide them. We still struggle with the same things - for example, my high school is known for its drinking and every year we lose someone to drunk driving (normally around graduation). We still worry about getting into college. And there's still loads of drama.

Two of my favorite authors, Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Dessen, focus on the teenage psyche. And they do a wonderful job. But there are parts still missing.

And if someone were to tell me this wasn't good fiction I woud have to remind them, "This is our lives. We're experiencing this drama and stress and life. So don't forget to put it in because you think it doesn't make good fiction." I want to see a teenager I can relate to in a YA book. And when they not only struggle with the aftermath of their rape (Speak or Just Listen for example) but with dates to prom or finals.

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"Plot Surgery"

A favorite tweet of mine came across my screen today: "I'll be in plot surgery all afternoon."

It was an interesting comment which made me think of my own novel.

My NaNoWriMo 2008 novel has turned into a dragging project I never thought it would be. I never understood how much junk I wrote during a WriMo until I was editing that baby. I went from 65,000 words to a litte less than 30,000. A marketable novel for Young Adult, I've been told, is about 80,000.

So I knew I needed to add more to my novel. I started a new Open Office file called "Additions" and just started writing scenes, figuring I'd add them in later. Now, I'm realizing that isn't going to work. I am never going to get the extra 50K I need by doing that.

Therefore, I know I need to take the Twitter author's suggestion - have plot surgery. Realize where the gaping holes are and stitch them closed. Maybe then the vital organs will survive.

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Books, Books, Books!

The book postings for my Intro to Creative Writing class are up. I've got to buy four books ranging in price from $10.00 to $35.75 in addition to the other books my other professors haven't announced.

Regardless of the fact I'm going to have to pay quite a pretty penny for my books to be without highlighting, I'm so excited.

I love textbooks that interest me. So sorry Mr. Newmeister, that doesn't mean I voluntarily read that Biology textbook.

And part of my obsession (healthy? I have no clue) with books is that I can't mark them up. I feel like I'm damaging something sacred. Even when I really needed to highlight things for my cultural anthropology class two years ago, I had issues. It didn't matter I wasn't going to keep the book. I thought that I was defacing a book.

So now, as a to-be college freshman I wonder - how does one get over this? Can you actually get over this feeling or do you just have to feel everytime you put the pen (or highlighter) to paper that you are damaging something precious, almost like a little soul?

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The Drama Llamas in YA

It is prom season in the high school world. While the girls have had their dresses for months, suddenly it's a mad dash to get shoes, accessories, figure out how to do their hair and what color to paint both nails and toenails. And if we females weren't obsessed enough with appearance, there's the date aspect. It's enough to drive someone mad.

For all writers of YA who aren't a young adult themselves, take a look at prom. Ask a senior girl about prom planning and you could get half an hour on what she thinks, is feeling and is worried about. Prom introduces a whole new set of drama llamas into the household. For the girl seniors, this is the event they'll probably remember for the rest of their life (or want to forget) and they want everything to be perfect. Prom comes with the sudden realization that graduation is only three weeks away and then it's off into the real world (or something slightly like it - college).

It's a scary, fun and emotion-filled time.

So next time a YA author wants to make their novel realistic, talk to a girl about senior prom. Take those bouncing, struggling emotions. Take those drama llamas and drag them home to live with you while you write the novel.

Both the girl and the novel readers will appreciate you.

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Soccer As It Applies to Writing

Sitting, freezing with a dead camera battery at a varsity soccer match tonight, I realized a few things about writing that also pertain to soccer (at least at my high school).

* The Crowds
While soccer is a popular sport to play at the high school level, it is not well-attended. At the soccer game I went to, it was all parents or siblings. Unlike football where people will weather 20 degree weather and sleet, nobody shows up for the bad weather during soccer season.
In the same way, writing can be a very lonely profession. Many people don't "get" writing or why you would want to make a career out of it. And when those sleeting days come, it gets even harder. Ever met someone who told you to just "write" when you had writer's block? Ever want to hit them over the head? (They may have a point but that's a different point for a different post.) Writing is spent not in collaboration but in the room with a locked door without anyone - including the cat or dog depending on your level of distraction tolerance.

* The Rules
Just when you think who the call was for in soccer, the ref changes it. Of course, the parents get outraged and the players want to talk back to the refs. There's lots of internal and external yelling.
The publishing world is like that. You think you know all the rules and they go and change them. Two spaces after a period? One? Courier or Times New Roman? E-query or SASE? And that isn't even getting into tenses, point of view or the nitty gritty writing aspects.

* The Exhaustion
High school soccer is two forty minute halves, FIFA World Cup is 60 minute halves. And soccer has very few substitutions leaving the players dead after a game. It's a game of endurance, to say the least.
Writing requires just as much endurance - if not more. But it's a different kind of endurance. You have to have the ability to get through a novel, a short story, a poem - to see it through until the end where it's either a well-edited piece for yourself or a published piece in some form. You have to be able to know that there can be times when you get ahead of yourself and then promptly run out of steam because of overwriting. Like any endurance athlete learns, you have to pace yourself.

* The Yellow (or Red) Cards
A yellow card is kind of like a warning for players. Two yellow cards and they're out. One red card and they're definitely out.
Writing has its own yellow and red cards. Maybe they come in the form of someone trusted saying a piece is unressurectable and you don't listen, ignoring their advice. That's a yellow card. The biggest offense for writers, at least in my opinion? There's two.
1) Sending queries that are badly written or sent to an inappropriate place (or both *cringe).
2) Not staying true to what your writing style is - while always knowing you can improve.

So maybe come this June when the FIFA World Cup comes on in South Africa, you'll see more than just soccer. Maybe you'll see your own little writing world.

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Every so often I will go through my bookshelf to see what books would be better served at the library or the Book Rack. I love my books but sometimes I realize I don't need as many.

I started with two large oak bookcases full (5th grade) and now I am down to one row. Yes, that's right. One row not including my journals or writing help books.

About 3/4 of that row is taken up by both the Harry Potter and Laura Ingalls Wilder collections that I refuse to get rid of. The others are a (tiny) mixture of Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Ann Rinaldi and a few others.

As a writer, I should, according to popular belief, hoard books. Love them, adore them, do nothing short of build an altar for them.

And yet, it is very therapeutic to only have maybe 20 books. Especially since I can't take all my books to college. Plus, having less books makes me truly examine why I like certain book and why they are my favorites - always something I believe a writer should do.

So what else is on my bookshelf?

On the top, top are two pillows I made, a stuffed lamb animal from my grandmother's preschool days (when she taught, and my American Girl doll.

The next two rows are cards from friends and family, reminding me I'm loved.

Then comes a row of books.

Then comes my CDs, writing books and journals.

On the bottom floor are my portfolio or reference binders and some index cards.

Regardless, I don't think the bookshelf is the important part - it's the knowledge imparted by the books.

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The 3 A.M. Epiphany Review

The 3 A.M. Epiphany - Brian Kiteley

Brian Kiteley, a professor at the University of Denver's Creative Writing PhD program, gives writers 201 writing exercises in several different categories to are pledged to "transform your fiction."

The exercises are split into 20 sections:

-Point of View
- Images
- Characters and Waysof Seeing
- Women and Men
- Children and Childhood
- Conversation
- Thought and Emotion
- Biography and Autobiograhpy
- Time
- History
- Description
- Sentences - Butting up against each other
- Other People's Sentences
- Play and Games
- Sports
- Humor
- Travel
- Internal Structure
- Exercises for Stories in Progress
Each exercise ranges from 600 to 1,000 words to keep the details short and each one meaningful. While Kiteley advises not to use these as an extension of a work in progress, I find them useful for new ways at looking at scenes to be written or needing to be rewritten in my works in progress.
For example, I did the first exercise (they can be done in any order), The Reluctant I, where you are suppose to write a story fragment from the first person point of view while only using personal pronouns (I, me, my, mine) twice. It was a challenge but it made me realize there are times I don't need to use I, me, my or mine and yet I do.
Kiteley's book has given me a new look at certain aspects of writing and has also given me prompts for when it's a dry day.
I would recommend the book to anyone - it's a creative mix and there's definitely something for everyone in there.

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Wealth of Knowledge?

On Wednesday I took a foreign language placement test at my University. I was thinking I would test into 201 (hopefully 202) Spanish. That's third (or fourth) semester Spanish. After all, I had four years as a Spanish student and almost a year of helping a Spanish teacher. I thought I would be covered.

I tested into second semester Spanish.

So I decided to take German for my foreign language requirement which wasn't going to bother me since I wanted to take it anyway.

Okay, so where's the lesson?

Don't over estimate your knowledge. Things get harder as time passes. Don't believe that you can get by with just what you're doing now. You have to constantly improve; to make yourself better each time you try.

But most importantly, understand that there is no way in which you can know everything. I know I can never know everything about living in Germany (something I know a lot about) and because of that, it not only has made me humble, but it has also made me more wise. Because only when you can admit you don't know everything, do you know something more.

So keep learning. It'll come in handy.

And if you ever take BYU's foreign language placement test, don't expect anything other than grammar. :)

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Tweet, Tweet

Completely lacking in inspiration for writing today, I decided to spend more than my usual five minutes on Twitter.

I subscribe to several author/agent/writing guru's feeds. Some, like Elizabeth Craig are very prolific, offering links to other writing blogs or sites with information on every topic under the sun writing related. It's useful, but also overwhelming.

I might have learned a lot from people's Twitter feed about writing, I also wonder at what point should I stop looking at every link. When does this good, helpful, information get to be too much? And what do I do if two tweets disagree with each other.

Sure, I like to learn by reading - that's who I am. But this is one of those times I need to take a snippet of advice and go after it myself. I might not know where every comma needs to go, but I'll learn through trial and error.

And doesn't that make it more meaningful anyway?

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Without a Parent

I always found the stories of a chld who had to take care of other children because a parent was absent. I understood alcholics, druggies and occasionally, the death of another spouse.

What I couldn't understand was workaholics.

Why couldn't they let things go from their job so that they could spend time with their kids? When did it become more important to have a job than to love and cherish your children?

In recent experiences, I have learned not only what it truly means to be a workaholic, but also how it affects the kids. They are forced to grow up way too soon. They are the ones picking up perscriptions, dropping off the library books, making dinner and school. And those are the ones who are only children or have older siblings away.

It's even worse for those with younger siblings. They not only have the responsibilities dropped of errands and dinner but the actual job of parenting. It's a huge task to ask of anyone - and its ginormous for a teenager who doesn't have the choice or the option to say no.

It all makes sense - and I may now be able to write about it. But that doesn't mean I wanted those experiences for anyone.

What experiences have made it easier for you to write about but you never wish on anyone?

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Editing vs. Rewriting

I am working on making my novel ready for querying sometime this summer. It needs about 10-30K more added to it which brings me to a curious question.

What's the difference between editing and rewriting? Opinions? Go ahead, post them. I'm curious as to your answer.

I think editing is the final tweaking - grammatical errors, spelling errors and realizing that your character changes eye color five times in the course of a 75,000 word novel. It's definitely an important step but it is not the first one.

I made that mistake with my first novel, Her Testament to Life, (which I'm currently rewriting). I edited first and then decided to rewrite. Basically I wasted a revision on my own stupidity. I suppose that's how it goes with writing. You learn after the fact.

Rewriting, I believe, is more substance. It's retooling scenes, characters, places. Fleshing out the novel if it needs it and then, when all the actual substance is there, then you can go and do the actual editing process.

Brrr! February Update

It's suppose to be fifty on Monday. That's bikini weather in Iowa right now. And while I've probably all got people imagining pasty white Iowans running around in skimpy swimsuits, I am going to try and divert attention to my completed goals for the month.

My goal was to write 27,083 words. I wrote 27,093. And the last about 900 words of that was at 8:30 at night when I really should have been getting ready for school the next day.

What did my February writing include? This is a list - though not very detailed.

-Additions to Her Testament to Life
- The SOS scene
- Typing journal entries - both in the Keep Life Simple journal and the Pink Bird one.
- Portfolio work (Almost 10K total for the year.)
- 4 blog posts
- 2 co-written subplots
- The very beginning of a West Wing fanfiction
- 2 scholarship essays
- Annotated Bibliography and History Day paper (on Jane Austen)
- Public Address and Oratory for IHSSA Competition
- Sociology research and the beginnings of a paper
- 2 school pen pal letters
- 5 poems

Now that's a lot of writing. But it is also a lot of not writing. All but about 1600 words was not on novels. Granted, my school words have to be written no matter what happens. And WriYe counts them as words, so I count them too.

My portfolio needs things to show how I've improved and the journals are so I don't have to carry five pounds of journals with me wherever I move. Both of these last two things are part of my goals for the 2010 year.

But I also have a bigger goal. I want to start querying my first novel, Her Testament to Life before the end of the year. But first I have to get it to length and then go back and re-edit it. At the pace I'm going, it's going to take me over 407 days just to get the novel to length. Then there's editing.

So, this month, my goal is editing and I want the majority of my words (51% or higher) to be on either Her Testament to Life or Ruined Emotions, both of which are novels.

Here's to hoping this works because my novel desparately needs more meat to it.


According to my handy-dandy calculator, I am 11% done with the scenes I need to add to my novel, Her Testament to Life, to make it the 65,000 words I have been told Young Adult novels should be.

I'm having fun making these new scenes - so far I've written 3 new scenes and one extended, rewritten scene.

New Scenes:
- "The SOS Scene"
Amy and Claudia argue about school - Nate picks Claudia up after an SOS text, promising her a night to let everything fade away. Movies, breakfast food, bowling and lots of dialogue to ensue. (This one isn't completely finished.)

- "The New Death Scene"
Claudia with Nate just before she dies - making him promise to continue working at the clinic in her place.

- "The Confrontation Scene"
Former best friend, turned slight back-stabber, Anna, comes to visit Claudia to apologize. Mostly Claudia argues while Anna feels guilty.

Extended Scenes

- "The Telling the Friends Scene"
Claudia tells her two best friends, Anna and Cira, that she has leukemia - at a football game. Retaliation by Anna happens shortly after.

At first I was unsure of what I needed to add to my novel, but now I'm realizing just how much backstory and *real* story I need to add. I'm not sure how long it's going to take me to finish all the scenes and then put them in their places (right now they're in a file titled "Additions") but I think I like taking it slow. I think it'll turn out a better end product.


In my college Humanities class we decided to get away from non-fiction and spend a week on poetry. In came the poetry bug.

However, I didn't want to kill the bug with just any old free-verse poetry (what I used to write as a sixth grader with very little knowledge of poetry.) So, I visited Shadow Poetry to see what types of poems were out there. I wanted to stay away from types I knew - so cinquain, free-verse, monorhyme and a few others were out. Haiku was briefly considered before given up.

I chose five different types since that seemed like a good number at the time. I chose, Ethereee, Naani, Ghazal, Laturne, and Quinzaine. Most were syllabic (lines based on the number of syllables in the words) but one - my favorite, I've decided - Ghazal, uses a specific reptition pattern.

So to make this a little less complex...

Ethereee: A poem consisting of ten lines where the lines go 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 syllables. There are inverses of these which go 10,9,8 etc, but I stuck with the original. My version was on friendship.

Nanni: A quartet (four line stanza) generally consisting of 20-25 lines total. This one I wrote on courage.

Ghazal: A poem with the rhyming scheme: AA bA cA dA eA

(Ex: La de da de do
He he ha ha do

Le loo mee ma me
to le te do)

I wrote this one on writing - using the repeating word shh!

Lanturne: A five-line verse with the syllables like this:

This one was on lying.

Quinzaine: A poem where the first line is 7 syllables and makes a statement, the second line is 5 syllables, the third line is 3 syllables and both the second and third line ask questions about the first.
This one was on a gorgeous morning.

I might post them later - we'll see how it goes.

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Getting a Platform

On a writing site I am on, Stringing Words, a friend recommended creating something I'm going to call a platform. It is using social networking and blogging sites to get information out there about your writing, your newest project. Because when you're active in the blogging/Tweeting/Facebook-ing world, then people notice you. And when people start to notice you, then, at least in my opinion, there will be good things to come from that.

So, having very little experience in publishing but quite a bit of experience in Social Networking (I am a teenager after all!), I decided to start my own platform. Nothing spectacular, just something that might attract someone who wants to be a beta reader, or crossing my fingers I ever get published, a buying reader.

So my Twitter account Ann_Abney, now has been devoted to writing and reading related posts. And I'm making a commitment to post on it at least once a day (provided I have internet access). My blog will become more writing centered as I go on and again, I'm making a commitment to post on it once a week.

Now, am I putting the cart before the horse? Probably. But I think that getting people interested in your writing should come before publishing. Because if you have people interested in that next chapter, you're more likely to write it, and write it well. And sometimes, as I've found, the beauty of writing and its complements comes not from an offer from a publisher, but from the normal person who says, "Keep up the good work. I like how you wrote this."

Sub-plot dancing

I have been occasionally re-examining my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel, Her Testament to Life, in hopes of getting it to the standard young adult novel length. Of course, that means I need to double it since it stands at a measly 32,000 words and I should be somewhere around 65,000. I've been at a loss for how to add depth and breadth to it...

Until now.

Sitting and working on my sociology project, I thought of a curious question, "What if Anna [my female main character's best friend] was furious at Claudia [my main character]? What would happen? And what if Claudia didn't tell her friends at a quiet coffee shop and instead told them at a football game where the entire school could find out. What happens if Anna can't deal with the cancer and so she spreads the truth about Claudia's condition? What would happen?

And enter in, my first ever sub-plot.

The sub-plot gives Anna, a previously very background character some depth and some nastiness to her. It allows her to take her own place in a cast that focuses almost exclusively on two people.

Knowing that I couldn't make a sub-plot last for 33,000 words, I got thinking about other characters. What about Mom? Katie, Cira (the other best friend), what about what Cira thinks of Anna's behavior? What about Claudia's sister, Amy? What about....

And so, knowing that I want more people to play a part in the novel, I feel I'll have a better chance of making the additions stronger and more meaningful than 33,000 words of descriptions, which, I believe, even Jane Austen couldn't do.

January Round-up

Total January Word Count: 33,183
Writing Files/Documents it took to get there: 20

My plan had been to work mainly on my novel, Ruined Emotions, and only have my History Day paper and annotated bibliography as padders. Well, that didn't happen.

And yet, I'm happy.

I got five books read - one book ahead of where I should be for eiie's 52 Book Year challenge.

I rocked at Speeech competition and am going to State competition this Saturday.

I managed to only have one or two mental breakdowns.

I applied to two scholarships.

& .... most importantly, I sent off my tutition deposit and Intent-To-Enroll form to Carroll University. My housing packet should be coming soon so then I'll be an official Carroll Pioneer.

All in all, it's been a good month. A fiasco, chaotic and maybe never want to do it again, but a good month nevertheless.

China series: On Hostel Life

Hostels can range from hotels with communal bathrooms to dorm-like rooms that allow you to meet potentially five other people.

The first hostel I stayed in was Wangfujing International Hostel. It's like a hotel where people keep to themselves, even in the rooms. The bathrooms all had Western toliets which was nice. Although, one can't avoid a squat pot forever.

The second hostel, Shuyuan, in Xi'an, was more of a "hostel." People hung out in the bar and resturant talking, laughing and inevitably, drinking. This one was my favorite. The staff was exceptionally helpful and I felt at home.

Apparently, so did one roommate, who my sister and I named, Sir Sleeps a Lot. He would be asleep eighteen to twenty hours a day.

We also had Sir Butterfingers who would wake us up every morning at seven when he dropped everything possible.

Lastly, we splurged in Beijing at the Emperor's Guesthouse for a two-person room. This hostel was like a cross between the first and the second - you could find people but if you wanted to be left alone, you could do that too.

Honestly, hostels are great, cheap places to stay. They come with their own quirks, but that is just to be expected.

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China series: On Public Transportation

The Beijing subway is notoriously crowded. (Yes, even at three in the afternoon on a Sunday.) The majority of the stops don't have escalators and good luck trying to find an elevator. China's public transport is hopeless for those wheelchair or even crutches bound.

Taxis are cheaper in cities other than Beijing where fares start at 10 yuan at go up by 2 yuan a unit (I believe by kilometers). There won't be a place to buckle your seatbelt and extremely few drivers speak English. It will be a slightly crazy ride since almost no one obeys traffic laws and horns are normal sounds. In fact, ambulance sirens are disregarded more than taxi horns.

Bus quality varies though fares are usually one yuan. In some cities, they won't come to a complete stop. General operating procedure is to get on in the front and exit in the middle. There is no such thing as a fire code so the buses can be so full you can't move to get off.

Trains are generally half an hour late and filled with people. Hard seats may be the best price but it also means people can pack around you. Sleepers are decent though it helps to take a sleeping aid if you really want to sleep.

There are bicycle ride things called "tuk-tuks" but the seats are small. However, they are authentic.

While queueing might be commonplace in the airport, never expect it on public transportation. There is nothing wrong with elbowing because you will be elbowed in return.

China series: On Flying to and from China

Depending on where you start from, a flight to China can take 10.5 hours to almost 14. (Definitely more if you have connecting flights, ect.)

The plane ride to China is about 99.5% Chinese and .5 non-Chinese (at least, in both cases my family has experienced.) Regarless, announcements are made first in English and there may only be one flight attendant fluent in Chinese.

Entertaining yourself can be difficult depending on what you consider entertainment. Movies are generally okay though there's a limited selection - especially if you return the same month you left. Personally, I enjoy the map feature to know how long I've been on the plane, how much longer to go and maps. I also read (it's got to be a thick book to keep me occupied the entire time) and journal.

On the flight there, if you are in the back of the plane, expect the Asian meal option to be out. Also be prepared to have something to eat or drink every 4 or so hours. At times it's annoying because you don't want to have junk on your tray table constantly.

Chinese customs/ immigration can be scary with surgical masks and lack of non-authoritative ways. However, generally if you follow the instructions you will be fine. It's kind of a show - one for a good purpose - but a show.

It's helpful to have your passport with you for the beginning of the flight for when you fill out the forms (one you have to keep to leave China) because all of them require your passport number.

At the airport, expect people to queue but don't be shocked if they don't.

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