A Writer’s Whim

On a whim, I dug up my old “writing portfolio” last night. It was late and I was exhausted, but my mind yearned for something:

An idea.

I’d been struggling all day to compose, write lyrics, pick a blog topic… but it was one of those days when no ideas stick and all efforts are frustrated. My heart warmed, though, as I snapped open the old plastic binder in which I took such pride. I remember a friend of mine in high school had her own “writer’s portfolio” and we carried them like children and melodramatically declared them to be our very souls.

There is a bit of truth in that ridiculous statement. As I thumbed through the old pages, I saw flickers of my past that I’d forgotten. All at once, I revisited my bedroom late on school nights where I lay scribbling a story instead of weaving dreams. And I saw myself on the floor on a sunny afternoon, telling myself fairy tales in ink instead of playing outside.

I found etchings of my face and mind at different ages in the ever-evolving handwriting; from the ostentatious signatures of my elementary school writings (in which the “e” of my first name became a looping heart) to the chicken scratch of my high school years and eventual printed type, I met myself in those papers.

Skimming the stories I loved so, I see the growth of a writer. Glimmers of the novel I am drafting and the woman I am becoming shine even in those early pages of limping syntax and predictable plots. Every now and then, a single good sentence or word stands out and says, “There is hope for you yet, Scribbler.”

I have come a long way since drafting tales such as “The Magic Drinking Glass” (which is not without its charms) and have a long way yet to go before I publish anything as marvelous as Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt.” Still, as we all learned in elementary school, stories must have a beginning, middle, and end. Looking back on my beginning in these old stories inspires me to persevere in this messy middle as I work toward that the end: a future as a published author.

In this hodgepodge of childhood drafts, I did find three stories that stood out among their peers. I was reunited with the first that I deemed good enough for competition: “The Painter.” I also unearthed one which truly reflected something of my soul: “The Window Washer.” Finally, I found a draft that I must revisit now; it was oddly prophetic, though I drafted it years and years ago.

There is no real point to this post, reader, but to encourage you. Whatever your art, look back on your younger creations. In doing so, you too might remember a few important lessons…

First of all, creating something simply for your own joy is worth it. Most of these stories will never see the light of day, but they kept me entertained during dull high school classes and nights when sleep eluded me. Rereading them, I remember those late nights and sunlight afternoons and find again the joy of telling myself the story that I wanted to hear.

Second, handwriting is a work of art in itself. I’ve become increasingly digital, but I make sure my journals are always handwritten. It’s just more personal. Something about lying awake scribbling in a notebook feels more intimate than typing.

And, finally, you are meant to create. A bad day does not make you a bad artist. You are not writer’s block; you are the piles of paper covered in words that came from your imagination alone. Be the writer that you wanted to be as a child and do not let those many hours spent practicing go to waste. Perhaps one of those drafts will even be worth revisiting.

Writing: Expectations vs. Reality

  1. Expectation: Showing off your stellar vocabulary. Reality: Spending ten minutes trying to remember how to spell “potpourri” because you’re too proud to look it up.
  2. Expectation: Writing elegant rhymes to express your emotion. Reality: Sounding like an angsty Dr. Seuss.
  3. Expectation: Writing free verse poetry that seems authentic and avant garde. Reality: Sounding like an angsty and, now, drugged Dr. Seuss.
  4. Expectation: Scribbling thoughts on random scraps of paper because inspiration strikes at unexpected moments. Reality: Looking like a conspiracy theorist at best or a serial killer at worst as you frantically try to assemble your notes.
  5. Expectation: Making keen, discrete observations of your surroundings for later use. Reality: Looking like a creep when you make eye contact with a potential character and being mistaken for a critic as you analyze your favorite cafe.
  6. Expectation: Having movies and theme parks made after your bestselling novels. Reality: Writing silly blog posts late at night. (Unless you are J.K. Rowling, in which case the reality is still “having movies and theme parks made after your bestselling novels.”)
  7. Expectation: Carefully crafting characters that perfectly follow the planned plot. Reality: Controlling your characters is like herding winged cats. Not only are they cats, but now they can fly.
  8. Expectation: Planning a time to write and doing so in an orderly fashion. Reality: “THE VOICES IN MY HEAD SAID I MUST WRITE NOW!” (usually “now” is in the middle of another project, late at night, or somewhere without any form of writing material whatsoever)
  9. Expectation: People reading your silly blog posts all the way through and gaining an internet following. Reality: Your fan club continuing to consist mainly of your grandma, your best friend, and the fake cat lady blog your mom made to spam you.
  10. Expectation: Having many writing woes to blog about. Reality: Only being able to come up with nine and realizing that is also a problem you can add to the list.

I had fun jotting this down and think this might turn into another #WriterProblem series! Do you have any writing expectations vs. realities? Share them in the comments!

Writers’ Confessions (a sequel)

I have already blogged a series of writers’ confessions, but find I must once more come clean about some things…

  1. I (somewhat) enjoyed my term papers. Yes, they were torturous and I singlehandedly contributed to deforestation when it came time to print them (all 40 pages of them….), but there is something so satisfying about thumping down a stack of papers on a desk and knowing that they are your own work. Granted, I would have enjoyed them less if I had procrastinated and had to pull all-nighters.
  2. I am currently laughing aloud like an evil mastermind because I found a dark moment for one of my characters and it made me ridiculously happy. I feel only slightly terrified of myself right now.
  3. I forget about 80% of what I write. When it comes time to reread what I’ve written, I tend to be pleasantly surprised. For instance, I just reread part of my current novel draft and found myself shocked and amused by some of the twists because I actually forgot them.
  4. Sometimes the weirdest ideas end up being the best. I just wrote a story about mars, biblical end times, and some zany stuff like magnetic wine glasses. I did not expect it to make any sense or to work, but ended up happy with how it turned out. (You can read it below as it is my most recent post: “The Same Sun”)
  5. Words happen and I can’t stop them. Ideas and writing happens at the most inopportune times. For instance, I may or may not have been creating characters in the middle of a music theory class.
  6. I collect people and things from real life. Every writer does this, so I will confess on behalf of us all. I write character sketches of people I know. I write down quotes that real people say to me. I describe real places. I really ought to put a disclaimer in each of my stories saying something along the lines of *any resemblance to real people/places is purely coincidental. Of course, though, this would be a total lie.

There you have it! More writers’ confessions. I’m sure there will be more, but these will ease my conscience for now. 😉

#WriterGoals by Homer, Odysseus, and Ryanne

Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.

He says in Book XI lines 363-369:

“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine

that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth

breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up

lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have

a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,

and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story

of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”

In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth.  Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.

Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.

Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.

To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.