Why We Hate Our Old Writing (and how to stop)

Have you ever noticed that your old writing is really bad?

Like, really bad?

Yeah, so have I. I shudder at the idea of people I know personally reading my books. Whenever I see a new review on Goodreads, I’m afraid of what people will say. What if readers judge me? What if they never read my books again?? What if I was never supposed to publish a book at all??? It’s ridiculous, of course, but from what I’ve seen, most other young authors have the same paralyzing fear. It really needs a name. Lateral Author Syndrome, maybe?

Well, here’s my unfortunate thesis: Your old writing will always seem awful to you, and that’s a sign you’re doing it right. Why? Because it shows you’re growing as an author. You grow as an author because you grow as a person. It’s inevitable! As long as you’re writing honestly, you’ll automatically become a better writer as you experience life.

But that’s a bit vague, isn’t it? We always talk about “writing honestly” and allowing ourselves to “grow as writers,” but what do those #writerslife cliches really mean?

Glad you asked. That’s what we’re talking about today.

A Brief History of a Teen Author

Most teen authors have the same (or similar) story, so let’s take a look at *shudder* my old books.

Son of Ren seems pretty awful to me right now, and that’s probably because I wrote most of it between the ages of 15 and 16, when I was still technically a kid. (Yeah, a kid who can stop a bus with their bare hands, but still a kid.) My characters were adults grappling with adult issues like political change and parent/adult-child conflict, and though I did my best to tackle them, I couldn’t fully identify with those characters. I just hadn’t experienced a whole lot of their world.

Then, at age 17, I wrote Alen’s War, which seems slightly less awful. I’ve never fought a war or led a rebellion. I’ve never so much as been on a pirate ship, let alone set one on fire. But I had wrestled a bit with my own fears and had seen other people fighting theirs, and that provided a bridge for me to identify with my characters and the issues they faced. My real life affected the fictional world I’d created. I learned to empathize with the characters on the page by letting them be real people, and the story was that much better for it.

Now, age 19, I have two main projects that have a lot in common- with each other and with me. They both feature main characters with severe depression, and they both deal with many of the heavy emotional issues I’m trying to deal with in real life. And to be honest, it can be hard to write about things that are so personal to me, but I have to. I know this story needs told because other people are struggling with the same issues. For that reason, the story becomes more and more real.

Same old story, right? Teenage authors almost always grow in their writing at lightning-fast speeds, and their books are here to document those changes. And that is not a bad thing. The fact that you realize that your old work could be better shows that you understand what writing is all about: putting a little bit of life down on a page.

Getting Under Readers’ Skin

This is what it means to “write honestly.” Real life bleeds into the words on a page. Even what seems like escapist fantasy can teach us something about the real world when the author writes honestly. It’s why geeks love utterly ridiculous stories like Captain America or Star Wars; even though the plots are fake, the people are real.

Here’s what I really want you to remember: Don’t be ashamed of your old writing, because it’s better than you think. As I’ve said before, it’s a picture of you when you wrote it. If you don’t believe me, ask the people who are reading them right now; the stories you wrote are still having an impact.

While you are worried that someone is annoyed by your incomplete worldbuilding, a reader is overjoyed that you took a chance to explore the evils of racism and the heroes who fought against it. While you’re over here stressing about your head-hopping in that one scene, a reader can breathe with relief because you gave them hope in their struggle with anxiety. While you’re agonizing over the trees, the readers are refreshed to see the forest. 

Age 16, I didn’t understand monarchical political shifts, but I did understand Elkay’s passion for doing something big, and I knew all too well how arrogance can destroy that big something. Age 17, I’d never grappled with a nationwide revolution, but like Alen, I had fought my own wars with perfectionism and forgiveness. So those are the things I wrote about, and those are the things that readers loved.

Raw, honest bits of life are what impacts readers. Hardly anybody cares about your overuse of speaker tags or your flat secondary characters, especially when they know you were pretty young when you wrote the book. (Usually, if they mention those things in a book review, they’re giving you some pointers for next time.) Readers remember how you impacted their emotions, and if your book makes them feel like they’re on a journey with real people and real problems, you’ve done your job.

So say the readers:

13 Contradictions Only True Book Lovers Understand

Happy Labor Day. And, as we like to say, happy writing.

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27 Things I Accidentally Did This School Term

(desperately searches for a gif that suits the insanity of this semester) (oh there’s one) (it’s Sherlock even better)

Miracles do happen. I’m alive, people!

Granted, I am 1000% ready for the summer. I’ve got a bunch of fun plans for the next few (i.e. million) blog posts. In the meantime, though, I’m just trying to recover from the last two months of my life. You would not believe the insanity if I tried to describe them. However, insanity is sometimes better communicated in a list format, which is why I’m going to tell you about it in a list of 27 things I randomly did this semester without ever planning to do them.

So in case you ever wanted to know, here’s why I disappeared over the last two months. Not a thinking post, just a rant to say hello and hopefully make someone laugh. I did some good things as well as some not-so-wise things. Learn from my mistakes and copy the things I did right, and hopefully you will survive your junior year as well. (Maybe.)

In the past half-semester of school, I:

  1. Signed up for five courses in eight weeks.

  2. Subsequently learned that you’re only supposed to take two or three courses in eight weeks.

  3. Tested the “you need at least eight hours of sleep in order to function normally” hypothesis. It is in fact true.

  4. Learned how to bluff my way through a paper.

  5. Wrote a total of 28 essays (some shorter, some longer, there is no in between).

  6. Got really, really good at finding scholarly sources for papers.

  7. Mastered the skill of citing those sources in multiple formats in my sleep.

  8. Tweeted a lot about #college and #studentlife. (Still did not learn how to use Facebook.)

  9. Concluded that I go to college with a bunch of Andersons.

  10. Speaking of Anderson,  finally sat down and watched Sherlock. 

  11. Became a full-fledged & slightly insane Sherlockian (see also: gif).

  12. Also watched Doctor Strange way more often than I should have.

  13. Perplexedly tried to figure out why most people I talked to hate Doctor Strange.

  14. Basically watched any movie that has Benedict Cumberbatch as a sarcastic jerk.

  15. Wrote parodies for Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

  16. Perfected an impression of Mads Mikkelsen for aforementioned parodies.

  17. Discovered just how hard it is for American me to learn a Danish accent.

  18. Did not do any decent filming- we must hold out until the summer. Sigh…

  19. Re-wired yet another old draft of a novel.

  20. Turned that novel into a fantasy thriller turned romance novel turned Greek tragedy turned… well, I don’t really know what it is yet, but it’s cool.

  21. Invented an eccentric INTP who may will probably turn out to be an antagonist.

  22. Also invented his twin ESFJ sister who is the sweetest little cinnamon roll that ever managed a kingdom.

  23. Let my characters start another war. They’re really good at that.

  24. Published two whole blog posts (although I admit one of those was written beforehand).

  25. Promised myself I would take off the summer and resisted any and all attempts by my college to get me to come back.

  26. Made a resolution to take violin lessons.

  27. Ranted about all of it on my blog.

So that was the last few months of school for me. Needless to say, I’m just glad the semester is over, and I plan to have a lot of fun during the next one.

Happy summer, kids.

Doctor Strange || Coat and Cloak:

A New Direction (not a joke)

Hello, people of various cities, countries, and alternate-universes who congregate on my little corner of the internet.

Because

Because I couldn’t find the Matt Meese version.

Yes, of course, you say. You always miss me. But why is this post up on Sunday? I never post on Sunday. It’s a miracle if I even post on Monday. But I’m here early because it’s time for an announcement. To cut to the chase: my blog is going a new direction, and I figured I would take the time to tell you all about it before randomness starts popping up. (Surprise.)

A little backstory: As some of you may know, my other site, A Heart Devoted, is leaving the internet for good, and I’ll be posting those sorts of things here now. For those of you who haven’t heard yet: hitherto I and several other girls have written for a Christian blog, but lately we’ve been quite busy with a little thing called life, so we decided to consolidate that blog with our personal sites.

So, while I’m at it, I’ve decided to expand the scope of this blog to include lots of things. Videos (and vodcast, hopefully), literature, philosophy, maybe even economics… all of it will be here alongside the writing stuff. Basically you get a peek into whatever is on my mind every week.

Hence, the new tagline: Inside the mind of a sheltered Christian writer. Because that’s what haters call me, so I’ve decided to roll with it. It worked for Yankee Doodle, didn’t it?

Lastly, a disclaimer for the sake of everyone’s sanity. I’m not saying that non-Christians and others who disagree with me aren’t welcome here anymore. Far from it, anybody of any belief system can come here and talk about reality and such, as long as you’re willing to be courteous to everyone else. However, I want to be fair: know that I can’t slow down and explain all the relevant tenets of Christianity and dispel all possible misconceptions before I start the actual discussion. (My posts are way too long as it is.) So if you really want to gain something out of my posts without being offended, just walk around in my shoes while you read my stuff, and if something seems off, give me the benefit of the doubt. Get it? Got it? Good.

So welcome to the new blog. I look forward to talking with you.

The Book-Room Challenge

Hey, kids, guess what? I’m not actually dead! It just happens that I’ve been tagged by not one, but two of my favorite bloggers in an already-busy month. But… of all the kinds of busy, this is the bestistest. This week, we’re just going to start with the one, but come back next week because we’ll have some more awesome stuff.

the-book-room-challengeFirst, the one and only Blank Mastermind genius (thank you, writefury!) has tagged me for the Book-Room Challenge, which will be fairly self-explanatory.

We have an order of events tonight. First of all, the rules.

  1. Write 3 of your own books as rooms. They can be finished, works in progress, or even just ideas, but they have to be your own.
  2. Write 1 of your favorite books to read as a room.
  3. Tag 5 other people.

Then the tag. I had a little trouble deciding what approach to take; should I write the rooms as if they were from palaces and villages in fantasy worlds, or should I write more modern rooms with fantastical flavor? I was up for a challenge, so I chose the latter.

Son of Ren

A foyer in an old Victorian house. The floor is marble, with an old Saxon tapestry as a rug. Several mahogany chairs line the blue walls, and several white Hellenic statues line the far wall. One stained glass window is over the door, and overhead hangs a chandelier with lit candles. Smells like winter and history books.

Alen’s War

A boathouse by a river. An old sword from the Civil War hangs above the doorway. Several raincoats hang on pegs and boots sit on the worn pinewood floor. Two floor-to-ceiling windows let in the grey morning light. There are no chairs, but a large wooden table is at the center with some books on it, and the whitewashed walls are covered with old maps, navigation charts, and flags, and at the far end of the room hangs a huge painting of a royal flagship.

Aaaaand…. I didn’t plan to tell everyone about this project quite yet, but now is as good a time as any other. I am writing a speculative/scifi/dystopian novel. Yes, it will probably be finished within the next five years. No, you may not read it yet. Thank you for asking. Its working title is…

Monsters Becoming

A dark, sad living room splashed in golden light. The walls are dark blue-grey and the floor is faded tile, but it’s brightened by yellow lamps, a soft rug, and a warm fireplace that smells like burnt coffee. The walls are decorated with what looks at first like paper chains, but are really metal chains painted bright colors.

Mismatched chairs surround the fire: several metal folding ones with cartoon character blankets, one kitchen chair with a quilt-pattern cushion, and a recliner with a laptop bag sitting beside it. Several important-looking folders are stacked on the table next to a box of crayons.

King Richard III

Because it’s the only Shakespeare play I really enjoyed. (Lately I’m watching The Hollow Crown version and loving it- maybe I’ll talk about that later this month.)

A small office/meeting room. The floor is black carpet with red and white geometric shapes. One wall is covered with a bookshelf with Latin-sounding books; another has a huge whiteboard scribbled over with charts and lists of names. At the center of the room stands an oaken table, and in the middle is an old faded Risk board game.

Now for the tagging of bloggers, which is where I usually break the rules. Not on purpose- I’m just can’t always find people who haven’t already been tagged. This time, though, I might be able to get by…

And there you have it. That’s all for now, so enjoy another October week complete with hot cocoa and rich descriptions. 🙂

For Your Consideration

As you may have noticed, blog posts just aren’t happening this week (or last week). So *cue the optimism* here’s a few things to watch and read instead!

First: How to Write a Blog Post in 70 Minutes or Less. Now I don’t think it’s always possible to crank out a blog post in an hour (case in point: me), so this video isn’t quite as useful on that front. However, this interview with Michael Hyatt contains some perfect writing gems, particularly on what it means to grow as a writer. So check it out:

Second: Learn from Write About Dragons. It’s been on my Links list for some time now, but every author should take advantage of this site, which has two years’ worth of college-level lectures from authors like Brandon Sanderson on everything from worldbuilding to humor. Check it out here.

Third: Some Thoughts on Beta Readers. An article from Roger Colby that I found quite helpful, even though I’m not anywhere near the beta-reading phase just now. The infographic with questions will certainly come in handy.

Last: I’m back on Pinterest. So you can go check out my boards and see if you find any interesting tidbits, and please recommend any boards that you think would be cool!

That’s all for now, and we’ll get back to regular posting soon; I promise. Godspeed and good day!

Why Write?

“The written word is a powerful thing, you have to be careful with it.” –Inkheart

I am a Christian. I am an INTJ. I am also a writer. It’s a very simple formula for all sorts of fantastical novels. Or for revolution, come to think of it. 

But, of all the things I could do, why do I write? From an outside view, all I do is sit in a chair and type word after word after word about fake people and the feats they never really did, and I drink a lot of coffee in the process. That seems insignificant. Yet, if you asked me what I would regret if I died today, one of my first responses would be, “I wish I had finished my books first.” Why is writing so important to me?

pen-and-paper_400x295_39

Writing itself just looks pretty. (image credit)

Well, for one thing, I am naturally introspective, and I love writing for creativity’s sake. God blessed me with a severely overactive imagination and a mind that constantly asks, “What if?” I have to answer those questions. I spend a good deal of time inside my own head and dig into those questions, making up my own worlds. Mine is an imagination that is set afire by one single image- resolute castle gates weathered and rough from ancient battles, purple lakes frozen over with glowing whiteness. It strikes me, and I have to write it.

For another thing, I love writing for language’s sake. For all my introspection and thinking, some of it is bound to spill out, and while I’m no virtuoso at crafting imagery out of spoken words, I can build anything with a pen and paper. I can’t tell it to you, but I can write it for you. Writing is like constructing a Gothic cathedral, for you have to learn all the mechanics and the rhetoric, then you must take a grand idea and build a strong-standing structure out of it, and finally you must make it ornate and color it with stained glass. I do love a good challenge.

For the most part, though, an INTJ writes because of the nature of writing itself, because the pen really is mightier than the sword. Harriet Beecher Stowe created an avalanche with her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, opening the eyes of a nation to the evils of slavery. Upon meeting Stowe, Abe Lincoln said, “So this is the little lady who started this big war.” Again, long before the bloody wars against communism broke out, Marx wrote a book that attacked capitalism and everyone who possessed more than someone else. That book sparked revolutions all over the world, and we still suffer repercussions of that today. One German book- and it led to warfare across the Pacific and Atlantic.

Let me ask you something: why has every totalitarian regime in the last century started with banning books? Why are the historians, philosophers, and writers always the first to go? Why does the government desire to control the press? I’ll tell you why- people who hate the truth necessarily hate writing. They hate that ideas can be recorded and handed out for all the world to see and consider. They especially hate the Bible.

Oh, yes, the Bible is at the top of the list here. You should have known Christianity would make its way into any of my posts on truth and life purpose. Ho and hum and beat around the bush as long as you like, but you cannot erase the fact that whenever philosophers and writers are taken away, the Bible is taken away with it. That has got to count for something. People who try to take away the Bible don’t hate do-good-er morality or legalism (which aren’t actually in the Bible), nor even the inspiring stories and scientific truths (which are actually in the Bible). Enemies of freedom, of love, really of anything good will always hate the life-changing message of the Gospel, and that is because it is true and challenging. Everyone who reads and believes it is commissioned to share it, and it spreads like a wildfire. Take away that rudder of truth, and you can wreak all manner of havoc on everything good in the world.

I am an INTJ, and that means I want the truth. I am a Christian, and that means I am commissioned to share the truth. I am a writer, and that means that I will share the truth. Writing is one way that I do my life’s work: a plain yet beautiful, simple yet complex, tiny yet powerful weapon, the pen is a spark that starts a worldwide fire. It is a tool to change the world, and no one will ever stop me from doing that.

“There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” –The Two Towers

Now you tell me- why do you write?