Epic poems, legendary sagas, and age-old tales. We all know and have read them, whether as a school assignment or otherwise. And while they certainly have their place in the cultural zeitgeist, too many writers aim for making a long story. For some, it’s even the goal. But it shouldn’t be.
Why? What’s so bad about long stories?
I can’t tell you how many books I would have loved–had they not had a million subplots and pointless details, things the author thought would enrich the story but instead soured them.
All too often, writers think stories need more ‘meat’ to be respectable. Their mistake is that, instead of adding more meat to the stew, they put in rice to bulk it up instead. Don’t get me wrong, I love rice, but if it makes up more of the stew than it should, then I’m going to look back on it with disappointment.
A lot of writers think a long story will gain them credibility or brownie points. In reality, the most polished writers know that it’ll probably end up over-stuffed. In adding all of that fluff mentioned above, the things that are important don’t maintain momentum, which in turn runs the risk of losing the reader. It’s better to keep things tight, and there’s a fine line between suspense and dragging something out. Too often, long stories blur that distinction.
Pretend you’re a literary agent. You have authors sending you proposals left and right, and they’re all total risks. They’re untested and unknown. Who’re you going to take the leap of faith on? A 300 page book, or a 700 page book that will cost far more to print and intimidate general readers? (Those of us bibliophiles aside, your average reader won’t be turned on by the idea of a 500+ page book. If anything, it may even turn them away.) The normally sized book will always be more marketable, so if you’re a blooming author, a lengthy story will only shoot you in the foot.
I love a good long story. In fact, I’m reading a 992 page book right now. However, there are few authors I’ll trust with a book of that length, and that’s only after they’ve proven themselves with other (shorter) books. So while long stories have a place on shelves everywhere, writers should consider all that comes with writing one–both the good and the bad.
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So many people ask, how do you work a full time job, go to classes, run a house, and still manage to find time to read and write? There has to be some simple answer, they say. And there is.
The answer is that you don’t. You will never find time. You must make time. It’s a straightforward and easy answer, but acting on it is a whole different beast. And so, here are my top suggestions on making the time to write.
Morning and evening are some of the only times we’re able to break away from the rest of the day and do our own thing. If you have children or pets or any other number of responsibilities, this goes doubly so. My recommendation is to wake up 30 minutes earlier/stay up 30 minutes later, and go into a room where nothing else is happening, where nothing else will try to claim your attention. A ‘mental quarantine zone’, if you will. I’ve even gone to go write in closets or bathrooms before, because hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
Take a pen and paper, or a laptop (with the wifi turned off), and get to writing. It doesn’t have to be about anything special, just something so that at the end of those 30 minutes, you can say ‘I wrote something’. Once you get into the habit, the words will begin flowing better and better.
I love to eat and I love to write. Admittedly, doing them together isn’t that relaxing, especially if I’m having a tough workday, but with an hour long lunch break I can knock out a lot of work. Bring a lunch so that you don’t have to spend precious time going to and fro, open up your laptop or journal, and get to working. The temptation to socialize with coworkers or scroll through social media might be strong, but the satisfaction of having knocked out a good chunk of writing far and above surpasses it.
‘Scheduling’ isn’t a word that excites most people, but it can be a boon if done right. Get out your calendar, mark down the time and place, and hold yourself accountable. Force yourself to go. Set a timer. I don’t care what you have to do to remember it, but go. (I for one like to go to Starbucks after work, so I can both avoid evening traffic and get some writing done.) Oftentimes we let our commitments to ourselves fall by the wayside, and I think it’s time we change that. Don’t you?
First and foremost, I’d like to establish this: there is no dichotomy between working smarter or harder. It’s not a multiple choice. It’s an ‘all of the above’. So, how does this apply when writing? Let’s say that you’ve finally made time to write. Excellent! You are working smarter.
But what are you doing during that time? Is your phone near you? Do you have Buzzfeed quizzes open? You probably already know that you shouldn’t be doing that–but let’s take it a step further. Do you have a writing outline? Are you doing a word sprint? It’s hard enough to find time to write; why not really push yourself to perform during it?
A lot of people think they’re busy, and some of them actually are. For all of these busy people out there, we all make choices. Today I chose to watch a couple YouTube videos and do a crossword puzzle. Those are minutes I could have used to write instead, but I didn’t, and I’m okay with that. What we do with our time is truly up to us, and even with a million responsibilities and things to do, we can all find a few spare minutes to further our dreams.
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I started writing around age 7 and haven’t stopped since. Despite all the amazing things that come from writing at such a young age, there are cons too, like the weird sort of complex young writers often develop around their work. Here are just a few of the things I wish I’d listen to and taken more seriously as a teenaged writer.
“You will have to edit more than you think.”
I remember when I was eleven years old and finished the first draft of my first book. Picturing all the high-points in my head, riding that wave of excitement, I thought it wouldn’t need any editing at all. In my head, my writing seemed absolutely amazing. Then I printed it all out and looked over everything–and cringed. Well, maybe one edit would take care of everything… right?
I ended up editing that book 13 times before I put it out into the world, and even then I still think about un-publishing it. Now an adult, I talk to other young writers who also believe they won’t have to edit. I can’t help but shake my head. I’ve learned the hard way that only after multiple edits will something truly begin to shine–and those who think otherwise are either kidding themselves or are too deep in the trees to see the forest.
“You will exclusively write garbage for the next few years. Write anyways.”
On the opposite side of the coin, there are times I’d looked at my writing and wanted to give up. I hated every word, every letter of what I’d written, and wanted to throw in the towel. Why keep trying when I was so clearly bad at it?
Because everyone who’s good at anything, they once sucked. You don’t see their first drafts, their worthless scribbles or junk-drawer ideas. It took my time to learn this, but once I did, everything changed. The only way you’ll improve is by constantly, consistently trying. And if you don’t? If you give up? Then you will have missed out on so, so many opportunities to improve. I wish I’d spent less time agonizing over my failures, and more time instead building my skill from my mistakes.
“You’re not the exception.”
I say this without any judgement, but teenaged writers seem to think they’re special. (Heck, I used to, too. We all probably did.) Now, I love writers. We’re a creative, thoughtful, and determined bunch. But that being said, artsy people often have a sense of superiority amplified by whatever it is they find unique about themselves. Teenaged writers doubly so.
I can’t tell you how many times I read advice telling writers x, y, or z and thought “that doesn’t apply to me/my work doesn’t have that problem/I’ll never encounter this”. I thought that me and my experiences were somehow outside of others’ knowledge-sphere, as if there had never been someone in my shoes before. (See the ‘you’re not the exception’ paragraph above.) How shortsighted– and how dearly I wish that I’d listened. Who knows how much sooner my writing would have advanced?
“There’s a legal reason why no one works with young authors.”
Sure, publishing deals for young writers happen. There are those exceptionally, exceptionally rare cases in which an agent will sign a young writer–but they’re almost unheard of for a reason. (To be clear, I’m talking about full book deals here, not magazine or contest entries, which are far more attainable for teens.) Why is this?
Because before the age of 18 in the US, you are unable to sign a legally binding contract. No large publishing house, nonetheless agent, is going to risk taking on a client they can’t sign a contract with. It’s difficult enough for them to find writers they want to collaborate with, and when you throw in the age issue? It’s a no-go.
*I know that someone is going to throw out the example of Christopher Paolini in the comments, so I’m going to go ahead and preemptively mention that he published under his parents’ own company.
“Listen to the advice of other authors.”
When reading up on advice from older, distinguished authors, I came across a tweet from a favorite author of mine that said almost verbatim “young writers, you shouldn’t self-publish your book. You’re going to think it’s good, and it’s probably not”. After being mad about it for a hot minute, I scoffed and wrote it off. I listened to that ‘I’m the exception’ mindset. But she was 100% right.
These distinguished writers are distinguished for a reason. They’ve been in our shoes, have gone through our struggles, and have come out the other side. If they’re charitable enough to share their insight, we should listen. On an even larger scale, it took me years before I read books like On Writing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and whatnot. I didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t think that far ahead. But if the nuggets of wisdom are valuable, then so is the whole chicken.
The above only covers a portion of what I wish I’d known as a teenage writer, but what it all boils down to is that I needed to be more open to then advice of others, to be more realistic, and to know just how much more growing I had left to do. (Which I’m still nowhere near done with, mind you.)
What do you wish you knew as a teen?
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So, you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo. But have you heard of Camp NaNoWriMo? I hadn’t until a fellow writer introduced me to it.
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, wherein an online community of people attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Why? Because people revel in pain, I suppose. While few complete the challenge, it still serves as a good starting point for beginning a novel.
However, I never participated in NaNoWriMo before, largely because I felt the format of the challenge was too restrictive.
Camp NaNoWriMo is far more flexible. Essentially, you get to choose how many words you want to write/hours you edit for/pages you do a storyboard of/etc. during the month of July. It’s for any and every type of creative, and is largely self-determined. When I heard this, I decided, hey, what the heck. I had a short story I wanted to turn into a novella anyhow (The Stolen Sun), so I signed up and never looked back.
It has been a great kick in the ass. Apologies for the profanity, but it really has been.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret. Before Camp NaNoWriMo, I hadn’t written in over a year.
“Egads!” you exclaim. “How can a writer such as yourself not write?” Exactly. I had been so busy editing what I’d already written and trying to stop writing altogether that I simply had not written anything at all for a year. When I heard about Camp NanoWriMo, I decided to change that.
I joined my writing ‘cabin’, (a group of likeminded writer friends; in this ‘cabin’ you can update others on your progress, see others’ stats, etc.), updated my project info, and… didn’t write anything. In my defense, it was a crazy busy day, and by day 2 I had written 1,200 words. So there’s that.
At this point, my word count was 4,962–which meant my novella had already surpassed the original short story in length! I also had already gathered research materials at this point, 11 heavy library books on ancient Mesopotamia, and was incorporating historically accurate information into the story as I went. I was riding an immense writing high at this point, and had already done 2 write-ins with other local cabin members.
This day was… less great. Still great, but I was feeling down because my writing hadn’t been as consistent. I had written over 1,000 words on each of the previous 3 days, and then nothing on day 20. In my defense, I was incredibly sick, but still. It stung. All I could do was hope that I’d be able to get back on that horse and finish my 20,000 word goal before August 1st. I was already sitting at 9,109.
On July 28th, I reached cloud nine. After a few word sprints, many late nights, and sacrificing my lunch breaks and sleep to write, I had reached my goal of completing my first draft for The Stolen Sun. I didn’t hit 20k, but the story didn’t require it. It reached its natural ending at 17.5k. As you can see from my word count tracker, there were ups and downs on this journey. Days when I wrote diddly, and days when I made leaps and bounds. But ultimately, the biggest thing that contributed to my success was the accumulation of small, regular efforts.
Overall, I’m incredibly happy that I participated in this.
This whole project is a great way to kick one’s butt into gear and put some serious words on the page. The goal flexibility was really the stand-out factor for me here.
But ultimately, there’s nothing magical about the month of July. There’s nothing Camp NaNoWriMo gave me that I couldn’t have done on my own. Aside from a word tracker and a group of dedicated writer friends, all that was holding me back was myself.
I sincerely hope this month-long exercise has helped get me back into the habit of writing regularly. At the very least, it’s been a fulfilling and rewarding experience that I recommend every creator try. While I still need to edit my novella two or three times, this experience alone has been huge in getting me this far.
If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)
I’m a firm believer in New Years Resolutions. I make a list of goals every year, and typically accomplish at least 80% of those I’ve set. But as I’ve discussed previously, this year has not at all gone as planned. Between being stalked, experiencing a downturn in my health, and so on, things have been all over the place, causing me to take a look at my goals and my life. There are some I’ve taken off the list. There are others I’ve added. It’s been difficult for me in that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and want to hold myself accountable to my goals– but I’m also learning that it’s okay to adapt to new circumstances, even if they’re not the ones you thought you’d ever find yourself in.
Here are my new personal goals for the rest of 2018:
I’ve already read 10 books this year, and am in the process of reading my 11th as I write this. With those plus the other 10, that should bring my target this year to 20 books read. This is much less than in other years, but what with a full-time job and everything else going on, I figured I’d cut myself some slack. Whatever that is.
One of my goals for 2018 was to travel to at least 3 new countries. I’d figured it would be a breeze. I had plans to go to Bhutan, Vietnam, Mongolia, etc. before that was all dashed by my crappy health. But, I did get to go to Hong Kong* and Macau*, so . . . that counts for something, right? That plus my plans to visit Mexico for the first time will let me reach my goal!
I completed drafting THE IMMORTAL last summer. At the time, I’d tried to force myself to put it out of mind and not edit it for a while. (This was in my ‘I don’t want to be a writer’ phase. An awful time, really.) While deep down I wanted to complete my first round of edits on THE IMMORTAL before the year was out, I didn’t put it on the list. Which is akin to sacrilege for me.
Now I’ve made it one of my primary goals. And I’m well on course to complete that goal by the end of July!
This seems like a silly goal, I know. On the surface, it is.
But it’s not about getting likes or comments or anything like that. As I’ve made clear in my other posts, it’s been a rough year for me. Certainly not the worst, and I’m grateful for many of the things I’ve experienced, but it hasn’t been a cake-walk. Being able to connect with like-minded individuals online has been a godsend, and it’s really helped me reconnect with my passions and motivators.
Thus, managing my online profiles is my way of checking in, of holding myself accountable and staying connected to my online communities.
Never did I think I would write a novella. I didn’t know just how awesome they could be until recently, and it certainly wasn’t on my initial resolutions list for 2018.
Some of you may recall a short story I wrote almost 3 and a half years ago now, titled The Stolen Sun. It was about a young boy and his ailing mother who are called upon by a deposed sun goddess to restore her to the heavens. I loved it, but I always felt like there was something fundamentally off about the last half’s execution. No matter how I tweaked it, no matter how I rewrote chunks here and there, the problem persisted. All the places I had submitted to felt the same.
But underneath it all was still a great story. So, I’m casting out to old work entirely. No more reworking, tweaking, or moving around. We’re starting from the ground up, and I’m now attempting to make a novella out of it!
While I have a few other, more personal goals, these are the major ones I have for the rest of 2018. How have you done with your yearly goals? Do you set any to begin with? Whether or not you do, comment below with one tangible thing you’ve done this year!
So, I’ve officially jumped. I’ve taken the plunge head-first into moving abroad, officially moving to China for a one-year contract as a teacher. I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to my family and pets, then got on the plane to China. And, honestly?
I was confident and excited–up until the moment I zipped my bags closed. Then, I was scared shitless.
“Who Does This?!”
Every way this scenario could go wrong played out in my head. Every fear I had about China plagued my dreams, both when my mind wandered and in my sleep. Who does this? I’d wonder, and it was a fair point. Who leaves everything and everyone they’ve ever known to go live overseas, in a place where they don’t fluently speak the language, they don’t know a single person, and they don’t know what’s waiting for them?
But, apparently, I do. After a lot of mental wrestling matches and talking myself out of buying a ticket home, I decided to stop. Self-doubt certainly wouldn’t make this any easier.
What Moving Abroad Has Taught Me
Moving abroad was a risk, but, these many months later, it’s one I’m glad I took. China hasn’t been perfect. No place is. But, it has thoroughly changed me for the better. It has taught me what I’m capable of withstanding and doing (like enduring the Christmas season utterly alone), as well as exposed me to new experiences and tested my spirit. Ultimately, I could make an entire separate post about all of this. (Keep your eyes open for it!)
For now, I’ll continue to persevere, foster self-confidence, and carry on.
What’s one experience you’ve had where you experienced self-doubt, but finally overcame?
We’ve all seen the Best Nine posts on social media by now, those highlight reels for one’s digital world– but what about for our real lives? The things we’ve accomplished, seen, experienced? That’s what I want to share here, both to keep myself motivated and to share inspiration with others.Tell me in the comments below what you’ve accomplished this year!
First off, for the big achievements!
After countless 8 AMs, essay-writing frenzies, long hours both early and late, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in International Security, and minors in Chinese Language and Asian Studies. I wasn’t much of a partier nor a sporting-event attendee, and to be honest, I don’t regret the way I spent my time. My college experience was a (sometimes brutally) tough one, but it made finally getting that diploma so much more worth it.
Landed My First Full-Time, Adult-World Job
Before I even walked the stage, I was fortunate enough to already have a job lined up! It helps to have known since age 11 what I wanted my first ‘adult’ job to be, and thus far I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, even the paperwork. (I love paperwork.)
**(For the curious people out there, I’m currently an English teacher at a popular education chain throughout China, though I prefer not to disclose its name for privacy reasons.)
Moved to China
I can’t adequately describe what it’s like moving clear across the world. A place where you don’t fluently speak the language, where you know absolutely no one, where the food and the climate are the complete opposite of what you’ve grown up around, and so forth. Scary? Boy, scary doesn’t even begin to cover it.
But. It’s more than just scary.
It’s exciting, it’s validating, it grows your courage and your sense of self. It tests your limits. It brings out both the worst and the best in yourself–then lets you decide which to cultivate. Though I’ve had many a struggle since I’ve been here and essentially no one to lean on, I am thankful to be here, and can’t wait to see who I am at the end of my year abroad.
P.S. I do, however, sincerely miss salsa. And Cool Ranch Doritos.
Finished the First Draft of my 4th Novel, The Immortal
With my No Angels trilogy wrapped up in 2016, 2017 was high time to begin another tale. I’ve had the idea for The Immortal for many years now, so to have the first draft officially penned is a big milestone. I know it’ll take a while to polish, but I’m enjoying the slower-pace of editing right now, savoring the process, watching the prose develop, and so on. Currently it’s at about 65,000 words, one of my shorter works, but trust me when I say it’s my favorite by far!
With the bigger achievements of 2017 out of the way, here are my smaller (though still meaningful) accomplishments:
Made 12 YouTube Videos
I know what you’re thinking. “Okay, and that’s exciting why?” But here’s the thing: I’ve tried for years to gather the courage to post YouTube videos. I’ve probably made over 30 videos that I either never posted or posted-then-deleted, all because I was afraid. Afraid of getting embarrassed, of the quality not being good enough, and of 500 other things. But 2017 was the year I decided to say goodbye to those thoughts, because fear like that brings no value to our lives. You can check out my channel here, if you’re interested.
Improved My Photography and Video-Editing Skills
On some level, I feel like wanting to take beautiful pictures and videos goes hand-in-hand with travel. When’s the last time you saw something beautiful and didn’t want to share it with the world? However, it wasn’t until recently that I purchased a decent camera, and even then I was a complete beginner at how to use it. After enrolling in an online class on the lighting, composition, angles, etc. of photography, I’ve started to see steady improvement. I hope you have too!
Traveled to New Places
Traveling is something I hope to do every year, but that doesn’t mean I should take any of it for granted! I rang in 2017 with the love of my life in Denver, Colorado, and later we endured the heat of Las Vegas for a couple days of buffets, magic shows, and some good ol’ fashioned people-watching. A week and a half before I went to China, we went on one last trip together to our favorite US city, Seattle, Washington.
From academics to adventure, 2017 has been a success, and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store–both for me and for you.
Speaking of which, what did you do in 2017? Sit and really think about the lessons you learned, the people you met, and the things you saw, then comment them below. ♥