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!

Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 

Valid. 

But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

A Sunset Reflection 

I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day. 

Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn. 

What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning. 

Misshelved: Winnie the Poe

Went to the children’s classics section in search of some light reading…now I am just wondering how many poor young Winnie-the-Pooh fans have been traumatized by Poe instead… 


Perhaps Eeyore likes Poe’s stories. “Nevermore” seems like his type of vocabulary. 

Still, “Welcome to your nightmares” is a daunting phrase to put on a book beside a beloved nursery classic. 

Oh, how I love when shelving decisions go awry. Endless amusement!

Flood of Thought

Every once in a while, I have what I like to think of as a flash flood of ideas. It seems that inspiration is everywhere and I can hardly jot down one idea before another demands my attention. It’s terrible and wonderful at the same time; I love to dream and brainstorm, but am frustrated when time constraints and real life prevent me from being able to execute all of my ideas. 

So, naturally, to cope with the storm of ideas, I wrote some poetry instead of working on them. 

A river builds within my mind

Against the dam, too-strict time.

The tide of thought, irresistible-

Drowns me in its ebb and flow,

For it ought to carve a canyon steep 

But life restrains this swirling deep,

So current’s force grows storm by storm

As raindrop muses demand form; 

They rise and swirl, must soon o’er take

The crumbling barriers we make.  

Oh! On the day they’ve held too long,

The gates shall give to waters strong,

And then shall finally freely pour

The ideas held in painful store;

The words will flow and music play,

All the deeper for their delay. 

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. 😉

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!

Writing is Hard: A Lament

Writing is hard

and I’ll tell you why:

I am not the Bard

and that makes me cry.

Red pens are bloodstains

on my poor first draft

Despite prep-school refrains

about the English “RAFT.”

Well, dear school teachers,

I must ask you now:

Though you seemed to be preachers,

I do not know how

To find out my ROLE

and write something witty

Or cater to AUDIENCES

who only give pity.

FORMAT is another

thing that I fear,

Should I use some other

TOPIC right here?

And don’t get me started

on characters mine;

They seem to have parted

from the plot in my mind.

Speaking of plot,

that’s a whole other problem.

It’s conflicts are rot

and I can’t seem to solve them.

But Ah! What sweet hope

Is a new inspiration!

To quit is to elope

but I need a vacation!

This stupid novel draft

is getting quite tedious

and you’d have to be daft

to desire to read this.

Alas, though, I’m stuck

and committed you see,

for it is just my luck

to write a trilogy…

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.”