Writing Update: Happy Spring & 5 Reasons I Love Writing

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I wanted to give a brief (but wondrous) writing update, since I haven’t in awhile. This month has been crazy busy for me, and one of my best friends got married over Easter weekend, another friend was proposed to over Easter weekend, my sister recently became engaged and is now planning her wedding, and I’m heading off to a dual bachelorette party next weekend for two more friends who are getting married this spring. Love definitely seems to be in the air in 2014 for the people I know, which made me think about how grateful I am to do what I love every day. So for today’s post, I wanted to share 5 Reasons I Love Writing.

5. Writing is my therapist.

I’m pretty sure if I didn’t write, I’d talk to myself a lot more. As it is, I have conversations with my dog already, so let’s just leave it at that. But ever since I began journaling in fourth grade, (yes, I still have those journals and they are BRILLIANT) writing has allowed me to work through the ideas, thoughts, and dialogue tumbling on permanent press in my brain. There’s a quote I remember from Leo Rosten that stuck with me: “The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.” I love writing because it helps me organize my thoughts and allows me to work through the ideas I generate daily.

4. Writing helps me express myself.

Sometimes my friends tease me because I, especially when excited about an idea, tumble over my words. “Aren’t you a writer?” they say as I fumble over that expression that would be perfect to explain what I’m thinking. But that’s exactly it, I want to tell them. I am a writer. Give me 2 minutes, a pen, and a pad of paper and I’ll write down exactly what I’m trying to verbalize. That’s what I love about writing: it allows me to express myself comfortably by giving me the time (and the ability to revise!) to reflect, and think through what I want to say.

3. Writing makes me love books that much more.

I love reading and can devour a book in one sitting or read multiple stories together, sampling each one to experience different flavors and tones. Being a writer helps me appreciate other writing more – I often pause and marvel at the beauty, complexity, or subtle simplicity of a sentence, or give props to a writer’s clever use of a certain word. I often note sentence length and variation, and find myself reading aloud when I feel a phrase has a beauty in its rhythm. I mark books up (which is one reason I do enjoy an e-book reader) with highlights on passages that ring true to me, words I want to look up later, or ideas I want to research further. And sometimes I just read, immersing myself in a story; but knowing that my love of that story also derives from my love and appreciation of writing.

2. Writing makes me money!

Yes, it’s true – as I recently told some bright-eyed, eager undergraduates at a writer’s panel, writing can actually make you money – but maybe not in the way you imagine. My path to becoming a professional writer has been told before: I always wanted to be a writer, and at some point, someone (perhaps my parents, perhaps a well-meaning English teacher) gently told me that writing might not be a lucrative career path; that perhaps I should consider it more a hobby. Well, I’m not the best at taking advice and plunged forward stubbornly. But lo and behold, I have been able to write as my profession, and I love what I do. I’m also grateful that writing can be what makes me money. Maybe not as much money as say, becoming a brain surgeon, but (1) I do okay and (2) it’s really in everyone’s best interest to not have me be around brains or scalpels, especially together.

1. Writing helps me dream.

I love writing because it not only helps me (and has helped me throughout my life) set goals for myself and dream big. Yes, I still want to publish my novel, and I love the feeling when a piece of mine goes to print. But I also love how the writers I know are also dreamers. We have big ideas and envision bright futures for ourselves and those we care about. While we also experience those crushing moments (or months) of self-doubt and fear, we more often than not rebound and decide to push forward, to pick ourselves up from lying facedown in the dirt after receiving that last rejection letter, dusting ourselves off, and resubmitting our piece… a piece of ourselves… out again to complete strangers, asking them to judge us and it. I love my writer friends for their bravery, honesty, and for being like me: a dreamer and someone who is never done.

What do you love about writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

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8 Great New Words

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Have you ever thought that a word didn’t exist in the common lexicon, but should? I recently read an article on 13 untranslatable words, and also listened to a radio segment about imported words and how we could replace a few with made-up English versions, and that got me to thinking. Words have often been added to our language after prolonged usage, and words that the younger generation might take for granted (think “defriend,” “flash mob,” or “young adult”) were added to the Oxford English Dictionary as recently as last year. So here are 8 great new words that I think we should add to our shared vocabulary.

8. Sad and Joy

This was a suggestion made by Ralph Keyes, who asked his readers to create English words to replace foreign words that we use instead. “Sad and joy” was suggested as a replacement for schadenfreude.

7. 2-3′s

This came up in a discussion about what to call women, ladies, young ladies, girls, gals, chicas (see what I mean?) who are in their 20′s or 30′s. Twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings is too long, and we wanted an informal title that didn’t have sexist baggage or sound too stilted.

6. Schmoodle

I found this word on a Huffington post blog while researching this article, and out of the 15 made-up words they suggest we start using, I liked it the most. They define Schmoodle (noun) as “a state of over-ornamentation. But almost in a tacky sense. Sch-moo-del.”

5. Riddikulus

Yes, the classic Harry Potter spell that changes something you fear into something funny, so that you lose your fear. Best described as, “the triumph of laughter over fear” – I like the idea though I’m not exactly sure how you would use it in a sentence…

4. Doughnuts

This again comes from the NPR article on replacing foreignisms with new English slang. This would be to replace the word simpatico, and I just liked how Ralph Keyes described it: ”Doughnuts for the kind of warm, sweet feeling that simpatico suggests. So you might say that person’s really doughnuts, in a slangy way.”

3. Wackadoodle

Okay, so this actually made it into the Oxford English Dictionary last year, but I had to bring it up, because it’s a great word. In her notes, Katherine Connor Martin—the head of OED’s US Dictionaries—said this about the definition, “Wackadoo and wackadoodle are elaborations of wacky, wack, or wacko, used to refer to people regarded as eccentric. The silliness of the words themselves contributes to their mildly contemptuous effect.”

2. Antenexum

Suggested word for “pre-Internet” – a time before the Internet. As described in the discussion board on Quora, Curtis Cee explains the word this way: “Literally, nexum is Latin for “the act of binding together”… The Internet era is at its root defined as the age of interconnected networks, including physically wired and wireless, social, informational, and many other types of networks. So the Latin phrase antenexum or ante annos nexum ideally signifies this age before the world became connected.

1. Hand Slap

This might just be me, but I like saying “hand slap” more than “high five” – I think it could catch on! (If you’re interested in learning about some of the origin stories of the term “high five,” RadioLab does a great segment on it in its episode titled, “Patient Zero.”)

Do you have any suggestions for new words to the English language? Or at least the common lexicon? Share your thoughts – and words – in the comments section!

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4 Tips for Writing YA

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Young Adult fiction is pretty hot right now – popular enough that MFA programs are teaching classes on it and it seems like every other film or series that comes out is YA or is based on a YA property. So how do you write Young Adult fiction? I recently read the Publisher’s Weekly article written by Seth Fishman, where he gave a few tips for writing YA, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject from someone who has read and enjoyed YA series since I was actually in the 12-17 age range.

(By the way, Publisher’s Weekly notes that a new study cites, “55% of buyers of works that publishers designate for kids aged 12 to 17… are 18 or older, with the largest segment aged 30 to 44″ – the group accounted for 28% of YA sales alone!)

4 Tips for Writing YA

Your Protagonist’s Life Cannot Be Peachy

This goes for almost all stories, but your main character’s life, especially at the onset, should not be full of rainbows and wishes-come-true. Even if you want your character to be taken down a few notches, something needs to be missing in his/her life. For a reader to invest, you need to give your character a mission, which means all cannot be well in the land.

Young Adult Doesn’t Mean Dumb

Seth Fishman mentions this, but I think it’s important enough to mention again. Just because you’re writing to a young audience doesn’t mean you should skimp on the smart. While you won’t be writing scenes with graphic descriptions of sexual content or violence, that doesn’t mean you can’t tackle complicated issues. Be on the lookout for any moments where you might feel inclined to “dumb down” a word or an idea – and ask yourself whether it’s necessary.

Avoid Product Placement

All right, I admit it. Fishman mentions this one as well, but since almost every professor I’ve had in a writing workshop has also mentioned this, I feel it’s necessary to reiterate. There have been several times in books or short stories where I was ‘bumped out’ momentarily by the mention of Facebook, or some inevitably dated pop culture reference. When I’ve worked with high school students and their creative writing stories, I see this often. Name-dropping galore and references to the latest fad. Consider while you’re writing whether you need to be that specific. Do you need to mention the specific artist’s name or the television show your character loved so much, or can you concentrate on other specifics that build your character and his/her motivations.

Your Characters Can Be Strong & Smart

Something that always bothered me growing up was that it was oftentimes difficult to find strong female teenage leads. I didn’t want to be the girls in some stories that sat on the sidelines while the battle raged on, and I definitely didn’t identify with female characters that acted that way. Nowadays the strong female leads are popping up like springtime daisies, and I’m all for more! Just because your character (female or male) is young doesn’t mean she/he has to be completely naïve or inexperienced. You can be street smart, not book smart, or a brainiac with no real-world experience. Don’t fall into the “passive” trap, where your character is told what to do, or waits to take action. Your character can be strong and make decisions on his/her own, even if those decisions turn out to be the wrong ones. Keep advancing that plot!

What other suggestions do you have when writing YA? Check out the comments section and happy writing!

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A Great Copyeditor Interview and 3 Takeaway Tips

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I often save articles that are recommended to me or that I see in Twitter feeds or elsewhere on the Internet in a “To Read” bookmarks folder on my browser, and then I return to those articles when I have some down time or am looking for something interesting to read.

One such saved article was The Millions interview titled, “Style Sheet: A Conversation with My Copyeditor” by Edan Lepucki. She interviewed Susan Bradanini Betz and I thought the interview was incredibly interesting and brought up some great points for both copyeditors and clients to keep in mind. Here are three tips pulled from the copyeditor interview that could help both writers and copyeditors with their work.

Use Style Sheets When Copyediting

Betz mentions that,

“I am obsessed with my style sheets. I keep a word list, a character list, a list of places (fictional and real), a chronology, a general style sheet, a list of hyphenated modifiers, and any other list that helps me keep track of everything.”

I think this is a great point. You have to get to know the writer of the work, and a good copyeditor is going to keep track of the details, and be on the lookout for any inconsistencies – not in the writing versus what that copyeditor might write – but inconsistencies in what the writer is trying to convey.

Ask Questions and Query Before Revising

Another piece of advice Betz gives that I wholeheartedly agree with is that you should always ask a question to a writer if you’re unsure of intentionality. I think too many times copyeditors or proofers try to change something in a piece without checking with the writer as to whether whatever it was (passive voice, unique capitalization, a certain spelling of a word repeated) is intentional. I think if you’re able to quickly communicate with the writer, you should save those questions and ask the writer about them before you revise the work. Because it might just be personal style.

Be Comma Conscious

Betz gives 4 tips on comma usage, and aside from not 100% being behind her first tip (just because avoiding commas between elements of a series connected by a conjunction makes my eyeballs twist a bit), I agree with her #2-4, and also her general note to be aware of when commas are necessary for clarity, but that “A comma isn’t always needed to make the reader catch the pause in dialogue or narrative; often the syntax does just fine, and an unnecessary comma slows the reader down too much.”

You can read the full interview here. And please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Feeling Freelance Frustrated: 2 Websites To Cheer You Up

The writers, graphic designers, or freelance editors I meet always have some “great” client stories, the ones that make you shake your head or ‘facepalm’ as you listen. If you’re frustrated with freelancing and you want to share your story, or you just want to read some funny ones, these are 2 websites to cheer you up when you’re feeling freelance frustrated.

The first is Clients from Hell, which collects stories (anonymously) from graphic designers and their conversations with clients. My favorites include one where the client refuses payment after the designer finishes the project, because he thought that being “freelance” meant working for free. Or the quote about deadlines and the change in payment plan, or the quote about mistaking Lorem Ipsum for Spanish (especially because this happened to me with a client who told me, “I don’t think you should be using Spanish in my website just because I didn’t give you what I wanted to put there yet.”

The second website has been around for awhile, but if you haven’t heard of it, it’s David Thorne’s site 27bslash6.com (a reference to one of the innumerable forms you had to fill out in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) and it records his dealings with clients and unfortunate strangers who happen to contact him. One of his most famous, and the first I read of his, was an email chain where he tries to pay off an overdue charge with a drawing of a spider. If you’ve ever felt frustrated yet too polite or reserved to do anything about it, reading some of his responses can help you, momentarily, live vicariously through him. Such as his response to his neighbor’s new floodlight in his driveway.

If you have other humorous sites like these, please share them in the comments section!

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10 Reasons Why Writers Might Use Words You Don’t Know

Bigwords_602x292Sometimes readers ask, “Why do writers use words that I don’t know? Why don’t they just use simple words to appeal to a wider audience? Why do they insist upon using SAT words when all it does it make me not want to read the work.”

As a writer and as someone who swims in words and loves them, I’m always going to be more empathetic to the writer. I believe more that it’s up to the reader to challenge his/her vocabulary and read things that do have interesting or unknown words in them. Why not discover a new word while you’re reading?

However, there are also arguments for using words the reader knows, or using the words you want to use, regardless of how popular or long they are. As a response to William Faulkner’s jib that Hemingway “… has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary,” Hemingway responded:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler words, and those are the ones I use.”

So in case you’re interested in some reasons you might hear from writers, here are 10 reasons why writers might use words you don’t know.

10. That’s the way the character talks.

If your character is the type of guy who uses “10-dollar words” or has two PhDs and loves using difficult words, then when he speaks, he’s going to use words the reader might not understand. The good news is that if this is the case, another character might be as put-off as the reader, and call the character out.

9. Some writers aren’t looking for a “broader audience.”

While some writers might be out to become rich and famous, many write because that’s what they do – they’re writers. And if the story or character they are creating demands certain words, then those are the words the writers are going to use, despite what that means for an audience.

8. Because words matter.

This is the idea that while many words could convey similar meanings, the idea that two words are exactly synonymous if often misunderstood. And sometimes the word a writer uses is the exact right word for that situation, and any other would be close, but not exactly right. And as Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

7. Language and ideas are meant to be complex.

Life isn’t simple. It’s messy and complex, and the situations and ideas that you encounter can be complicated and difficult to understand. So sometimes complex language is needed to explain a complex situation. Maybe the word “excitement” might work in a certain situation, but what if the word “fervor” was more apt? What if it was more appropriate and more effective at conveying what the writer is trying to say? Words have connotations, subtlety and nuance.

6. The writer is being true to the character or story.

Similar to noting that some characters might speak a certain way, even if you’re describing a character or her inner thoughts, if you substitute a word for the one you really want to use, just because you’re afraid your reader might not “get it” then you’re not being true to your characters or yourself.

5. Whose vocabulary is the right vocabulary?

A reader who might not know what the word “pensive” means but knows the word “hesitant” might be reading the same book as a reader who doesn’t know either words (or someone who knows both). So whose vocabulary should the writer write towards? What list of “general, simple, and non-confusing words” should the writer reference when writing?

4. The reader can (and perhaps should) learn new words.

I touched upon this in the introduction, but instead of “blaming” the writer for being pretentious or confusing or not empathetic to the reader, why not argue instead that the reader should change, not the writer? A reader can learn new words and increase her vocabulary, and then perhaps have a greater understanding of why the writer chose that particular word instead of another.

3. Some writers feel no “obligation” to create a simple message and might want to challenge the reader.

A famous example is James Joyce, who during his time was both widely criticized and dismissed for writing books that even he once joked “no one can understand,” still continued to write them, without bending to the opinions of others.

2. A writer is an artist.

A writer, like a musician or an artist, is creating something, and just like Mozart’s music might not be accessible to some, it can still be appreciated. Like some poetry, sometimes it’s about hearing the words or appreciating the beauty of the phrasing, and if you took that away, you’d be taking away what the writer was trying to create.

1. Writers love words.

Some writers have been writing, professionally or on their own, for years before they get published. Most writers are avid readers as well, and almost all have a love of words. Writers love words. They are their tools and their passion, and they are what they think about and see and use every day. So like any expert in a field, writers have words they are more familiar with, or words they enjoy, or words they love and want to share, and that is why they choose to use a certain word at a certain place, and no other word will do.

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10 Best Writing Prompt Websites

Writing prompts can help break through serious writer’s block, or help you take a mental break from your current project. Here are the 10 best writing prompt websites I’ve found online.

1. Timothy McSweeney’s 13 Writing Prompts

2. Luke Neff’s Writing Prompts - these are my favorite!

3. Poets & Writers Writing Prompts (The Time is Now)

4. Pen USA Writing Prompts

5. Writer’s Digest Writing Prompts

6. Single Word Writing Prompts

7. Reddit’s Writing Prompts

8. Creative Writing Prompts

9. Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck

10. And then yes, this isn’t online, but in case you want to buy a book… 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts: Volume 2

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Passages to Inspire Your Writing

HelpfulTips_580x281Maybe the Los Angeles rain has put me in a contemplative mood, but I’ve been diving into passages and quotes lately, as they always help inspire me in my own writing. I find it helps sometimes to study and read passages to inspire your writing. They can not only be a reminder of how to write, but of what to write and why we write as well.

On Quora (I love Quora) recently, there was a question listed, “What is the best passage you’ve ever read and why?”

Here are a few of my favorites from the answers. I hope reading and studying their structure inspires you as it did me:

“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of you life you have something and the loss is too empty to share.”

- Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

 

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

- From The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

 

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

- Gary Provost

 

“I realize that people still read books now and some people actually love them, but in 1946 in the Village our feelings about books–I’m talking about my friends and myself–went beyond love. It was as if we didn’t know where we ended and books began. Books were our weather, our environment, our clothing. We didn’t simply read books; we became them. We took them into ourselves and made them into our histories. While it would be easy to say that we escaped into books, it might be truer to say that books escaped into us. Book were to us what drugs were to young men in the sixties.

They showed us what was possible. We had been living with whatever was close at hand, whatever was given, and books took us great distances. We had known only domestic emotions and they showed us what happens to emotions when they are homeless. Books gave us balance–the young are so unbalanced that anything can make them fall. Books steadied us; it was as if we carried a heavy bag of them in each hand and they kept us level. They gave us gravity.”

- Anatole Broyard, Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir

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Video: Twins Separated At Birth, Reunited

Because the novel I’m writing about is about adoption, and because I’ve allowed myself to wonder “in that moment” (as the broadcaster says) this same question, I wanted to share this video of two 25-year-old women who, separated at birth and adopted out to two different families, found each other via social media years afterwards and were reunited.

Great story, and the documentary they are making could be an inspiration to any adoptee writing his/her own memoir or story about adoption.

You can read the article about it here.


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Writing Update: Push Through It

I haven’t given a personal update on writing for awhile, so I thought I’d share that I had a breakthrough last night on a project that has been giving me all sorts of trouble. I’ve been attempting to conceive a story for several months but only pieces were coming together, and nothing tying them all together. So I’ve been concentrating on writing scenes, trusting that the transitions and connections would come at a later time. Well, happily yesterday seemed like that time. After I finished revising a scene, I suddenly saw how that tied into the next, and the next, and then I was quickly jotting down a rough outline that took me through the entirety of the storyline.

We’ll see how the plot holds up as I continue along, but I must say it felt good to have a breakthrough, as small as that may be. My advice to anyone who feels like they are having writer’s block is to just push through it. Dori’s phrase, “Just keep swimming,” comes to mind. Keep writing, even if you aren’t necessarily writing forward or writing what you think you should be at the moment. Because something unexpected might trigger you to see, finally, the whole scope of the project.

And of course, if you’re having an “on” writing session, take advantage of it! If you complete the tasks you had set out for yourself, or you find that you’ve written as much as you can on the project at hand, go after another project that’s been sitting on the back burner (you must have one, right? I know I have several). Utilize not only the inspiration that’s coming to you at that moment, but the confidence you’re gaining about your writing and your projects.

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