Tag Archives: writing

How to sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about

So I was reading this bit of historical fiction. The author had obviously done a lot of research into the time period she was writing about. She included all the details. But I still found it almost impossible to suspend my disbelief. I had this nearly overwhelming feeling that the author didn’t know what she was talking about.

Then today I was reading this fun chatty blog post written by my cousin-in-law’s sister-in-law, who wrote about her recent wedding, saying, “Not that the months leading up to our wedding didn’t come with their fair share of trials and difficulties.. they surely did with a few things out of left field that left us baffled and bewildered.”

Neither I nor any of my siblings has ever gotten married, and it occurred to me that if I were to write a story about a wedding, everyone reading it would be able to tell that I have never experienced one, because I have no clue what sorts of things come out of left field that leave people baffled and bewildered.

I could find a copy of The Ultimate Wedding Planner and Organizer, and carefully study it. I could make my character pick out flowers, and a wedding dress, and a cake. But no matter how many details I threw in, if something didn’t go wrong, it would show my readers quite clearly that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

That got my mind churning. I have, a couple times, asked people about their jobs because I wanted to know some details for a story I was writing. From now on, I think I’ll start off with the question, “where you work, what kinds of things are likely to go wrong?”

Actually that might just be an interesting question to ask in general.

MOP April 13: Vindication

I was pretty bad at academic writing when I started college, which was hard on my ego. I mean, I’d published a book and stuff, how dare my teachers make notes in the margins of my papers telling me to take a writing class?

Humph.

Still, being of a practical frame of mind, I signed up for an entry-level writing class the next term.

Our first paper was supposed to be an essay about “the worst job I’ve ever had.” I wrote something clever and funny, and brought the rough draft to class to get critiqued. I think the idea was to get into small groups and critique each others’ papers, but as the teacher wandered from group to group giving helpful hints he decided to grab my paper and read the first paragraph out loud.

Oh no. My paper was not funny and interesting as I had previously thought. It was, instead, vague and confusing. At least, the first paragraph was. That’s all he read before flippantly dismissing it, and I went home with my writer ego a squashed mess.

I ranted to my mom about it over a cup of tea.

“I once had a writing teacher who absolutely tore my work to shreds in front of the whole class,” she said. “Then when I became a successful writer I saw him again, and he praised my work up and down, and I felt vindicated.”

After I got over the sting of criticism, I re-wrote the first paragraph to be less vague and confusing. The next class session, my teacher immediately came up to me. “Emily! I’m so sorry last class ended before I had a chance to critique your paper!”

“Um, yeah, well I guess the beginning was kinda confusing so I changed it,” I said, tentatively handing my paper to him.

He began reading it. “Yeah, this is great. This makes so much more sense.”

My writer ego scabbed over nicely.

Today, five years and several colleges later, I was finished with class and walking back to my car when someone yelled at me from across the street. “Hey, it’s the girl in the red rubber boots!”

I laughed as my former writing teacher crossed the street and came up to me, shaking my hands as if I were the celebrity and he was a fan. “I love your blog!” he said.

Mwa ha ha ha ha, vindication at last.

 

MOP April 7: Making the Most of the Life Stage You’re Currently In

A picture of Jenny just because she’s pretty.


Right now, I want to write another book. I know exactly what I want to write. I sit and daydream about pulling out my pencils and digging into a stack of old notebooks and organizing my ideas. I research how to write book proposals.

But.

I am not at a life stage where I can write a book.

It took me a while to come to terms with this. I’ve tried for years to be a writer and a college student at the same time, and it worked, to some extent. I wrote things. Just not things like whole entire books.

I know that I’ll be done with college eventually and can write a book then. But will I? Deep down I have a fear that if I don’t find time to write a book now, I will never find time to write a book.

After my last blog post about the perks of having married friends, someone commented saying it was nice that I’m secure in my singlehood, because many people can’t view singleness as a gift. My first thought was this: It would be much easier to view singleness as a gift if I knew for sure that I would eventually get married.

There are many, many perks to the life I currently live. A young mother recently told me that I need to appreciate my long interrupted hours of reading while I still can. As a college student I get to spend the majority of my time learning, thinking over the complex and beautiful issues of the world. Very little in my life could be described as “mundane.” There is a carefree independence to being single, and college offers a way to make friends with an ease that will probably never again be replicated in my life.

However, neither one is a stage I want to stay in forever.

There are some stages of life that we just survive. Seasons of illness and times of grief, for instance. If you want to know how to make the most of those stages of life, don’t look here, I haven’t got a clue. But singleness isn’t like that, and neither is college, and neither is the stage of having wild young children, or grown children that haven’t gotten married yet. These are all stages we will one day be nostalgic for, and yet our enjoyment of them, right now, is hampered by our longing to be in the next stage and fears that it will  never happen.

I don’t exactly know how to change that feeling. It’s one thing to say, “appreciate the stage  you’re at now,” but what are some practical steps to actually doing it?

Then again, this isn’t Buzzfeed. I don’t need a list of “ten practical ways to appreciate the single college student stage of life (number 14 will surprise you).” Tonight I will celebrate my singleness by staying up past midnight chatting with an old friend, and tomorrow I will make the most of my studenthood by talking to Garrett who sits next to me in class. I don’t know why I don’t talk to him. He seems like a nice enough guy, albeit kinda quiet.

What stage of life are you struggling to appreciate? Any tips to offer?

Read Jenny’s April 6 MOP post here. Stay tuned for a post tomorrow on Mom’s blog.

Writing is Just Hard

Uggghhhhhh writing is so haaaaaaaarrrrrrd.

Why? Shouldn’t it be easy, so long as you learned how to type in high school? Just put your fingers on the keys, and, “beep beep boop!” Transfer your thoughts to the electronic equivalent of paper.

Right? I mean, come on, fingers. You haven’t posted in a month and a half. Do your thing.

My friend Esta recently read two books about writing, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King.

“I love On Writing!” I told her, sipping tea in her living room while her toddler napped, a fan whirring to muffle our voices. “I started Bird by Bird and didn’t finish it.”

“See, you’re like Justin,” she said referencing her husband. “He also liked On Writing but not Bird by Bird. Anne Lamott is always second-guessing herself, and writing is so difficult and painful for her, and Justin just had a really hard time getting through it. But I told him he has to read it to understand how I think as a writer.”

I was actually really surprised to hear that writing was so hard for her. Listening to her talk about the painful dramatic tug-of-war in her head made me think, “wow, writing comes easy for me.”

But it doesn’t. I mean, it does when I write in my diary, it does when I’m inspired and feel like writing, but the easy writing is never enough to turn me into the type of writer I want to be.

I read On Writing in a Journalism class, and loved the humor and practicality, even though Stephen King is not an author I would normally read. I think this is because I have a very practical approach to writing, one that is more stereotypically male than female. So when it comes to things like “writer’s block,” I always think there must be a practical solution.

Like, “Outline more.”

Or, “Make yourself write for an hour each day.”

Or, “trick yourself into doing it.” That was the solution I came up with today, powering off my iphone and telling myself that it’s staying off until I post a post.

But that doesn’t change the fact that writing is just hard.

The other day I inexplicably found myself alone in the house. In the morning, no less. Mom rushed out the door and left a steaming pot of tea behind, and I sat at the table and gazed across the brilliantly green fields and felt like writing.

So I got out a story that I should have finished months ago, but for some ridiculous reason I’ve been putting off for FOREVER. I opened the notebook, set my pretty tea cup on top of it, and snapped a picture for Instagram.

Yeah…so much for diving into the writing.

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I realized, after I posted it, that this is more of a universal struggle than I thought it was.

I asked Mom, “why is writing so hard?”

“Because,” she said, “your thoughts are a jumbled mass of emotion, visual, impressions, whatever. They’re not in orderly words and sentences in your head. So they have to be squeeeeeeezed through this cake-decorator tube that shapes them into words and sentences.”

The fact that she can articulate it that well shows that she has mastered the craft, in my opinion. But writing, for her, is still so, so difficult.

This is one of those posts where I want to hear your thoughts. Writing is hard. But why? What do you think?

Writers who Don’t Care

I’ve decided that there are two types of writers: writers who care, and writers who don’t care.

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Writers who care write in order to be heard. They post Facebook status updates about the bickering matches they’re writing for their characters. They spend hours pounding away at the keyboard, and go to writer’s conferences, and endlessly promote themselves. They keep stacks of rejection slips, knowing that all the great writers had to deal with rejection slips too.

Writers who don’t care write just to write. They may compose funny stories for their little sisters, or letters to their grandparents, or extensive diary entries.

They don’t care if the world hears them or not. They just write, because they can.

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Fun Fact: The year I was 16 I wrote over 90,000 words in my diary. For comparison, my book was about 30,000 words. So in one year I wrote three books worth of words about my feelings and a social life that consisted of roughly fifteen people.

I don’t know why I wrote that much.

When people ask me why I write, I have no good answer. I just do.

Some writers who don’t care have become very successful. Jane Austin comes to mind. But usually it’s the writers who care who become successful, because they put in the time.

Writing a whole book takes time, you know, and dedication to one project instead of whatever strikes your fancy at the moment.

The world is big, and in most cases, if you want it to notice your work, you have to care enough to hand it over.

That it why I would like to become a writer who cares.

But at the same time…

When I come across unpublished works by writers who care, I find myself gasping and flinching and seeing every error. It may have potential, and it may end up a best seller, but between every line is written, “trying, trying so hard,” and reading those unwritten words over and over again drives me batty.

But when I come across unpublished works by writers who don’t care, I devour them. Old diaries at garage sales. Handwritten letters from my cousin. Family newspapers. Funny essays by my students.

Words that were written, not to be heard by the world, but just because.

I guess I would like to be a writer who cares, but still write like I don’t care.

I don’t know if that is possible.