Reflections on Writing a Novel Draft

During my journey home from Italy, I was super bored and, thus, my brain went crazy and came up with a novel idea that I am ridiculously excited about. Thankfully, I hit 50,000 words on my other novel draft, so I was able to set that one aside without too much guilt to begin this next project. While I am writing like mad to make sure I don’t forget my initial ideas, I have been trying to write more mindfully as well, meaning that I am writing with intentionality and observation. Basically, I am noting the quirks and tendencies I have as a writer, along with the surprises and mistakes.

For instance…

I have a knack for writing characters like me. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is not! Yes, I have written characters who resemble me in their appearance, fashion taste, sense of humor, hobbies, etc. and I need to steer clear of doing this too often or risk becoming predictable as an author. However, I have found that I also write characters who teach me about myself. For example, a cynical and morbid actor may not sound like me, but this particular character revealed to me some darker aspects of my own mind. (Don’t be scared; he’s not a bad guy.) Characters who I have tried to make unlike me have ended up like me in ways I did not intend, displaying through their traits and stories parts of myself that I did not even realize existed: apathy, romance, ambition, etc. all revealed themselves to me in my characters.

Continuing on, I have discovered that my life bleeds over into my fictional writing. I cannot control it. A barista from a coffee shop, a quirky house, a childhood friend, an overheard sentence, have all ended up in various stories of mine. I’m sorry if you read of a character that resembles you closely someday; I can’t really help it. I’ve found that I “collect” real-life characters and place them in fictional stories. As Sherlock Holmes once said, “life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.” I believe using aspects and people from the real world creates greater detail and intrigue in the fictional realm. 

The advice given by numerous authors to “write the book you want to read” is 150% valid. (please don’t attribute that quote to a single author; I’m pretty sure literally every successful writer has said something along those lines.) You know why assigned essays are not usually fun? Because 9 times out of 10, nobody wants to read your five paragraph essay on your three favorite foods. Actually, make that 10 times out of 10. Nobody cares. BUT, if you think of an idea that you wish to read about, why not write it yourself? When I find a book that fascinates me, I can’t stop reading. When I’ve thought of a story idea that fascinates me, the same principle is in place: I can’t stop writing. 

Despite being the author, I don’t know where every part of the story will go and I am as surprised by its twists and turns as I hope readers will be one day. It’s frustrating when plot points won’t connect or the timeline does not line up or characters decide to be fundamentally unlikeable. However, all of the struggles are forgotten the moment a character develops naturally or a plot twist generates itself or even when a particularly good bit of imagery paints itself. Writing is a constant adventure.

That about wraps up my reflections for now…oh wait! I have a couple more little tidbits that I have discovered over the past few days of writing:

  1. Writing time is like Narnia time in reverse; one minute of writing might actually be three hours of regular time. This can get out of hand very quickly.
  2. I feel guilty but a little bit cool every time I write a swear word, even if it is an edgy character saying it and not me. We’ll see if I let those stay in later drafts
  3. I have a morbid mind. Don’t ask. If this book makes it through publishing, you’ll see what I mean.
  4. It is possible to have a crush on your own character. The problem is if that character is based off a real person. (Not this time, though.)
  5. Netflix and writing go surprisingly well together. I managed to re-watch a season of Parks and Recreation and write 10,000 words in the same day. (Blame jet-lag for my laziness…)
  6. I get so enthusiastic about my ideas that I fear it borders on annoying. Sorry, everyone I’ve talked to in the past three days. If this ever gets published, you can have a free copy to read or burn depending on how obnoxious you found me.
  7. Coffee is writer fuel. One shot of espresso generates roughly 2,000 words. I’m open to donations of coffee money. The more coffee, the sooner this draft is finished.
  8. I write because I have to. I mean, I have no idea if anyone actually reads my blog posts regularly but I cannot help writing them. Words just build up inside my brain and if I don’t string them together into written sentences, I go crazy.

That’s all for now! If you read all the way to the end of this, do me a favor and like or comment or send me an appreciative message via carrier pigeon since I’d like to get an estimate as to how many people/who actually read(s) to the end of my articles. (See extra realization number 8) Thanks!

Okay bye for reals! Back to frantically typing my draft!

The Word Crimes Inferno

In reading Dante’s Inferno, I was struck by his ability to identify, categorize, and assign fitting punishments to various sins. This is not perhaps the most cheerful observation, but it was certainly intriguing and made me think (apologies for the morbidity): what crimes I would punish were I to write a modern Inferno and how would I punish them? Also, who would be guilty of these crimes? I realized after much thought that some of the most pressing “sins” of our times are (*thunder crash and lightning flash*) Word Crimes.

And so, it is with my grammarly pleasure (Yes, “grammarly” is a word. Besides, I made this Inferno, so what are you going to do about it?) that I present to you: The Word Crimes Inferno.

 “Aboriginal AL hops your who entertain hear.”  

It appears that the inscription on the Gates of Hell suffered from faulty auto-correct…I believe they were once meant to read: “Abandon all hope you who enter here.” 


         

This good sir will be acting as your judge and guide.

       

Circle I- Limbo: Here we encounter not the “virtuous pagans” or the “unbaptized infants” who Dante met, but rather those who passed before they had the opportunity to learn the basic rules of language. Poor souls, they had no knowledge of proper syntax or good diction and must live in a world of blank, wide-ruled paper and stubby pencils forever with no hope of achieving the necessary writing skills to escape.

Circle II- The Carnal: In this ring we encounter several familiar faces, including the authors of mindless romances who shall not be named. These souls are those who used language not according to the inspiration of the Muses but rather the urging of their own dirty minds. As punishment, they are forced to listen to their own works being read aloud in a monotone so that they can no longer take any enjoyment from them and recognize them for them for what they are: lifeless and lacking in artistic merit.

Circle III- The Gluttons: Buried in heaping piles of adjectives and unnecessary commas and forced to shout run-on sentences without pausing for breath we find those writers who were never satisfied. These gluttonous lovers of word counts and lists were never satisfied with a single, solid adjective and let commas rain like glitter throughout their work. Shameful, disgusting, unnecessary, pointless, fluffy, over-the-top…that is what these were in life and continue to be even now.

Circle IV- The Avaricious: Here in eternal torment are the ambitious but impatient writers, those who so desperately desired to be famous that they refused to wait for originality. Without consideration for literary worth, these souls jumped on the paranormal romance bandwagon driven by none other than Stephanie Meyer. The most mild of the punishments in this circle consists of reading the fan fictions written by overly-emotional teenage girls while off-key recordings of the Twilight soundtrack blasts from every side.

Circle V- The Wrathful and Sullen: These souls cannot be considered true writers, but still must face judgement. In life, they never wrote anything but complaints and passive-aggressive blurbs, frequently on sites such as Twitter or- in the distant past- MySpace. In this circle, these sufferers continue as they did in life, posting depressing and rude things. However, to make them feel the shame of their crime, they never are able to use the emoji that they intend to use. For instance, a girl lamenting the woes of being single at age fifteen will be forced to accompany her complaint with a laughing emoji and, for good measure, “#blessed.”

Circle VI- The Heretics: The shades in this circle are guilty of boldly declaring skewed opinions and/or misinformations, especially when not wanted. They also tend to use big words that they do not understand and now are forced to research everything before speaking or writing, as well as take regular spelling tests. However, to make this punishment even more painful, they must do this research while broadcasts of political addresses are played on repeat and pamphlets for various organizations rain from above.

Circle VII- The Violent: These are my least favorite sinners: the abusers of the rules of grammar. This word here is the 666th word in this post, so I think the Muses agree that this sin is among the most despicable. I am deeply grieved to say that many people of my personal acquaintaince might be doomed to this circle, where their grammar mistakes become reality. For example, if one were to write “your pretty”, intending to write a compliment, he now will be forced to explain how the other person owns “pretty.” When he cannot, he will be jabbed with scalding red pens by the editing demons. They also must scroll through Facebook and correct every instance of incorrect grammar that they encounter, all the while weeping over their crimes. (Or, as they might say “they’re” crimes. Forgive me.)

Circle VIII- The Fraudulent: The criminals here are guilty of twisting their language to suit their purposes. In this ring, we find the forgers of “fluff”, the frivolous fillers that English teachers command their students not to include in essays. We also find those who used quotes out of context to support faulty claims. Now they are condemned to carve bare facts onto stones using rusty nails so that they can no longer pervert the writing. To make this even more difficult, they must do so while struggling to stay afloat in a pool of foam which parallels the fluff that could not support a sound argument.

Circle IX- The Traitors: These wretched souls knowingly committed numerous word crimes and thus are considered total traitors to the English language. They are eternally sentenced (heeheehee) to be chewed headfirst between the covers of a hardcover Oxford Dictionary with teeth made of freshly-sharpened number two pencils. Let us not dwell any longer on the horror of this center circle.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed your journey through The Word Crimes Inferno.  Please note that I will not actually throw anyone into this wretched place…mostly because it does not exist…

To answer “How is your writing going?”

People often ask, “How is your writing going?” or some such question. Well, to answer that…

What I think: 

My novel is sadly forsaken but I think if it all the time and also I need to change the entire perspective so I am rewriting it even though I was 50,000 words in and also I have about forty short story ideas that are rotting in my brain since I have not the time to plant them on paper. Oh, did I mention that I run a blog and do not post regularly? Yeah that’s cool too. HEY NOW I HAVE ANOTHER IDEA! YOU HAVE INSPIRED ME! THANK YOU! Did I just shout that? Whoops. Do you have a pen? I need to write this thought down. By the way, I met my perfect man but I forgot to mention that he is a character in my novel and he is too wonderfully flawed- a real Byronic hero- so I think I might have to kill him off… Where were we? Oh, how is my writing going? I need caffeine. Did you know each espresso shot translates to roughly 4,000 additional words? Anyways, can I make you into a background character? Too late, I already did. Oh snap!!! I missed a comma in chapter 58! Guess it’s not a big deal because I’ll never be published anyway. Wait, yes I will! I have confidence! Plus this is all practice, so I suppose I’m doing pretty well for myself.

What I say aloud:  

“Pretty good, thanks for asking.”

Sophisticated Simplicity

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is remembered as one of the most ingenious men to have walked the earth. Even those unfamiliar with art recognize his name as the painter of the “Mona Lisa” and the innovator of ideas ahead of his time. And yet, this man, the epitome of a Renaissance man, believed that simplicity was the highest level of sophistication, that simplicity was the most apt means of communicating the most complex subjects. 

I agree with Signor Da Vinci. 

You see, this week I have been thinking a great deal about the relationship between simplicity of expression and beauty of thought and have realized that, when it comes down to it, they are inseparable. I sang in my regional honor choir last week and one of the songs we performed was a stunning piece of music, but when our director asked us what the lyrics meant, nobody had a clue. Normally, I am quite good at either discerning or inventing a meaning for the words I read, but even I was at a loss to explain what bizarre lines such as “born of scorpion need” could mean. Although beautiful when obscured by strong piano accompaniment and rumbling bass voices, these lyrics made no sense on their own; they were too vague to effectively convey their message and thus their potential beauty was lost.

In contrast, my favorite song from our concert, a joyful piece by Dan Forrest titled “The Music of Living”, was a rather basic work of poetry when examined apart from its music. It reads:

Giver of life,

Creator of all that is lovely,

Teach me to sing the words to Your song.

I want to feel the music of living!

And not fear the sad songs,

But from them make new songs

Composed of both laughter and tears.

Giver of life,

Creator of all that is lovely,

Teach me to dance to the sounds of Your world.

I want to move in rhythm with Your plan.

Help me to follow Your leading!

This song is joy! It is praise to God sung by His creation! It is a jubilant dance and encouragement between the faithful and a confession of dependence on His infinite strength! But even more than that, this song is simple and through this blessed simplicity conveyed infinitely more meaning and beauty than any amount of obscure metaphors and “scorpion needs.” 

What even is this trying to say? If this is deep, then I can be deep too: "Hearing: It's like smelling through your ears."
What even is this trying to say? If this is deep, then I can be deep too: “Hearing: It’s like smelling through your ears.”

Simplicity’s sophistication is found in prose as well. Take this quote for instance: 

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

I don’t know about you, but I read that and it took a moment to process. Even apart from the fault in this math (pun so intended it hurts…), this quote was wordy and unbelievably eloquent for a teenage character. I got the idea behind this passage: it’s a profession of love. But I was not left with any resounding emotion by this excerpt and within five minutes of reading it could not tell you what exactly it even said. I know many idolize John Green for his eloquence, but in this instance it seemed to get in the way of the raw emotion behind this scene. (Feel free

to disagree; this is just my opinion.)

Gilbert Blythe: the king of simple sophistication. <3
Gilbert Blythe: the king of simple sophistication. ❤

In contrast…

“I don’t want diamond sunbursts or marble halls. I just want you.”

-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It does not get much simpler than that and yet in those two brief sentences, Anne shares her complete love for Gilbert; she no longer dreams of castles or fairy tales, just him. If that is not true love, what is? And somehow L.M. Montgomery conveyed all that in twelve simple words. Beautiful. Crystal clear in wording and beautiful in meaning.

In my own life, simplicity has won out as the most sophisticated art form as well. Although I do not generally share my drafts of stories or scribblings of poetry, they have grown, opposite of what most would expect, more simple over the years and even the last few months. Where I used to dream up complex compositions of passionate lyrics and “artistically” dissonant music, I now find delight in honest writing and pure melodies. Where once I would have generated philosophical-sounding gibberish, I now dream up simple refrains such as,

“Let the red roses grow and fade; I’d rather have daisies on a rainy day.”

If you haven’t seen “You’ve Got Mail”, do yourself a favor and watch it this weekend.

Even this line from my writing journal attests to the superiority of simplicity: red roses for passion are elaborate but predictable and when it comes down to it, daisies for no reason are simple but sweet.

Granted, I should add as a disclaimer that I adore complexity within literature and music. I love speculating and analyzing, but I find that the most poignant pieces of art tend to be the most simple, as seen in the power of “The Music of Living” or Anne of Green Gables, both of which spoke to me on a personal level and will remain a part of my artistic soul forever, whereas other, more “refined” works of music and literature will be sang, read, and forgotten because in all their complexity, they failed to have the impact of pure simplicity.

To sum up, often overly-flowery writing proves unnecessary; use too much artistic license and the artistry itself is diminished, try too hard to be deep and you’ll end up sounding shallow.

Sometimes we need daisies more than roses; try too hard to be deep and you'll end up sounding shallow.
Sometimes we need daisies more than roses; try too hard to be deep and you’ll end up sounding shallow.

Grave con Brio: On Pianos in Literature

Writing-An-Essay-877
Me right now…

I feel a bit guilty admitting this, but I love writing essays. Really. My classmates- if any of them actually are reading this- are probably rolling their eyes and groaning, but call me a nerd, I don’t care and I’ll say it again: I love writing essays. I especially love writing them when they are not on set topics and I am free to explore familiar regions, themes from my own life, stories chosen directly from my bookshelves. Having, over the course of the last two weeks, written a total of nine essays for AP Literature (even for me, this was too much), I suppose I was bound to find at least one where I could choose my own topic and, to my delight, the final prompt was the one. 

I'm afraid this is going to be me in a few hours...
Me in a few hours…

I was instructed to choose a motif not generally taught in English course and discuss its appearance in several literary works, but having just spent several hours practicing piano, it was hard to switch gears so suddenly into essay mode. But, as it turns out, I didn’t have to! My favorite instrument (sorry, bagpipes) happens to be a common motif in literature and I was so embarrassingly excited to write this paper that I may or may not have written it to be two pages longer than required… oops.

 

Anyway, here is the finished product:

 

 

Grave con Brio: On Pianos in Literature

“I tell my piano the things I used to tell you.” -Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

In this one heartbreaking statement, Frédéric Chopin, the “Poet of the Piano,” describes not only his yearning for a lost friend but a motif that has played its way into numerous literary works: the piano. This instrument is one that I hold dear to my heart, as it has been an extension of myself since I learned my first tune; it has been and continues to be a source of comfort and companionship for

the emotional artist in times of loneliness and despair. Like Chopin, many authors have understood this connection between musician and keyboard and made use of it to portray depression, isolation, but also a hope for recovery.

 

hammershoi-woman-piano          The piano as a motif appears in most literary works on my bookshelves, but is especially prevalent in those dealing with thwarted love. For instance, in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, when Marianne is abandoned by her unprincipled lover, she sinks into a sorrow beyond the reach of her friends and family. However, she finds comfort in the notes of her pianoforte, which provides a means for her to both express her woe and piece her heart back together. Similarly, in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, when Jo March refuses to accept the hand of her best friend and ardent admirer, Laurie, in marriage, he storms away. A few hours after his disappointment, Laurie is heard playing the opening lines of Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique,” which is considered among the most keenly sorrowful works for solo piano, having been composed around the time of Beethoven’s tragic hearing loss. In fact, Beethoven wrote it to be performed “grave” and then “allegro di molto con brio,” which mean gravely and then with fiery passion. In this instance, like that of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, Laurie feels that none among his friends can empathize with his disappointment and thus turns to the piano, which is always there to suffer under his angry fingers and propel him toward recovery through its understanding melodies.

 

The piano as a motif does not merely appear when cupid’s arrows have misfired, however, for this instrument can be the medium for emotion and healing from misfortunes beyond star-crossed romances. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, when Daisy and Gatsby are finally reunited in Gatsby’s mansion, one of the first things that they do is find the pianist who has been “visiting” for many 13994344704_2229c08b1f_zmonths and make him play a song for them called “Ain’t We Got Fun?” This piece, while frivolous, bridges the gap between them in a way that words never could and it allows Gatsby to feel for the moment that he is not completely alone. Granted, this still seems romantic, but Gatsby’s true desire is for acceptance by the “Old Money” families of society and he has simply found this desire personified in Daisy. Thus, when the piano is clinking away a familiar melody, Gatsby is actually expressing his longing to be a part of a world that he has been excluded from and creating a feeble link between himself and the representative of this world. The piano music, although performed by another, was commissioned by Gatsby to serve as the accompaniment to his heartache and attempts at healing. Another example of the piano motif, and perhaps the most obvious, is in Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.  In this novel, the face of the title character, Erik, is horribly disfigured. This, combined with his extraordinary genius, gives rise to violent suspicion in other men, thus forcing him to cut himself off from his fellow men to become the “Opera Ghost.” He conceals himself within the cellars of the Paris Opera House and spends his indistinguishably dark days and nights at his organ and piano, composing his masterpiece. The dissonant tones and provocative melodies of his composition parallel the turmoil of his forsaken soul. Only the keys of his instruments understand his anguish and give a voice to his misery. Like most appearances of the piano motif, the music has a restorative nature, keeping Erik alive only for as long as he continues playing; when his masterpiece is completed and he leaves the piano bench, his life too comes to its finale. Here, as in The Great Gatsby, the piano offered a catharsis for Erik’s emotion, but when its notes faded, the healing was halted.

Me in real life (not a meme!)
Me in real life (not a meme!)

The piano is a staple instrument. It is used to find pitches for singers, tune violins, unify jazz band riffs, and create mood in silent films. Nearly every home has one crouching in its living room, or at least a keyboard lurking in some forgotten closet, but wherever the piano is, there lies the heart of the house and the musician who resides there. I can personally attest to this truth, for I have a piano dominating my front room and seek refuge in its music whenever my heart is overwhelmed. In the same way, pianos furnish the pages of literature as a motif that is generally overlooked but can provide major insight into the souls of the players if examined closely. From the works Austen to Leroux and Alcott to F. Scott Fitzgerald, the members of the literary canon are crowded with pianos, which, although they play different tunes, all  represent an emotional outpouring and a gradual calming of the mind, experienced through the impassioned performances of their owners.