To Be a Writer

Recently I came upon a contest that Amazon is having. It involves writing a blog post that talks about the moment you knew – really knew – that you were a writer. I decided to give it a go, and before long I had surpassed the word limit that the contest set. I didn’t want to change anything, because what I wrote was truth, plain and simple, so I thought I’d just post it here anyway.

I've already used this, but I feel it still applies. :P
I’ve already used this, but I feel it still applies. 😛

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade. That was a revelation in and of itself, but it isn’t the same as actually knowing that you are a writer. Many people talk about that moment when they knew, that singular event that caused them to realize “I AM A WRITER!”, but for me it’s a little more complicated than that. My “I AM A WRITER!” moment was less a moment and more a culmination of the passage of some 15 years of growth.

I knew I wanted to be a writer after a school assignment in the third grade. We were to write a short story, print it out neatly on white paper (this was before we had regular access to computers), draw a cover, and bind it all together with construction paper and string. I can’t recall the exact plot of my story (although I could probably locate it in my parents’ attic if I looked hard enough), but I remember that it was called “The Mystery of the Emerald-Eyed Cat”. My cover featured two glowing green cat eyes below the title, and it was all bound with green construction paper. I also recall that I signed the cover “by Tracey Lynn MARIE Clarke”, not because I had any sense of what a pen name was back then, but because I was a little gone in the head and often changed my name a bit to suit my childish whims. (My teachers just kinda…ignored me, I guess…lol)  I was very proud of that story, and my teacher at the time was a truly awesome man by the name of Mr Power who praised it and suggested that maybe I might consider writing as a career choice in the future. Though I was an avid reader, this was thought that had never really occurred to me before; but in that moment I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Around the same time that I made my startling future career revelation, I met my best friend Kelly for the first time. As chance would have it, she loved writing too, and over the course of the rest of our grade school career we wrote a series of stories called “The Game Masters”, an adventure tale of a group of kids (ourselves and a few friends) who could travel in and out of video games. What Kelly and I had was an odd kind of a beta-reader relationship. We each wrote our own versions of the story – similar in many ways, but different in quite a few as well – and whenever we had each finished a chapter or two we would swap notebooks and read what the other had written. We praised each other for how clever we were, marveled at the amazing ideas we came up with and how “great” our juvenile writing was. We taught each other very little because we were so in awe of ourselves and how awesome we were, but it was excellent practice none-the-less, and it taught me another one of the joys of writing. I would strive daily to write as much as I could so that Kelly could read it. Even if the writing wasn’t perfect, it was a great thrill for me to have her read it and tell me that she enjoyed it, and so with that rush of fun and reader-acceptance I continued on with the belief that I absolutely wanted to be a writer.

Junior high school marked the turning point when Kelly and I both began to dabble into more mature original fiction. I can’t remember much about those first original stories because I personally tended to jump from storyline to storyline; whenever I would get a new idea I would drop the old one and start anew. Even so, it was excellent practice in creating characters and worlds and coming up with compelling plot lines. This era also marked my first foray into fan fiction, although I hadn’t ever heard the term at this point. Kelly, her cousin Melissa, and I became enormous Star Wars nerds in these days, and part of the way I expressed my nerdiness was by writing my own little Star Wars stories. I read a lot of Star Wars novels, and I got it into my head that I was a big enough fan that I could write one as well. My story involved Luke Skywalker discovering another lost Jedi – a gorgeous young girl, of course – and training her while trying to keep her from going over to the dark side. It was incredibly geeky. In these days I began to discover that I really had quite a lot to learn. My grade 8 English teacher, Mr Reilly, was not shy about telling me exactly what I was doing wrong when I wrote, and I would regularly compare my writing style to Kelly’s, which always seemed much better to me. I learned a bit of humility, but I was still totally wanted to be a writer.

By the time Kelly and I hit high school writing time became significantly more scarce. There was more work to do, and our social lives (such as they were) became more important as well. We started dating boys, we had extracurricular activities and lots of other unrelated hobbies. Regardless, Kelly and I still found ourselves writing little stories, only now they were quickly-plucked-out mini-chapters that we would write on typewriters during our keyboarding class. This time, rather than writing two different versions of the same basic plot line, or writing our own personal original fiction, we would take turns writing chapters of the same story back and forth. The “story” was loosely called “The Day the Earth Blew Up” and featured ourselves and our friends in an ever-more-ridiculous plot of adventurous hyjinx and tomfoolery. For all intents and purposes, the point of the story was to keep trying to make it more and more foolish. At one point there was an invading army of flying mini-pizzas. Yeah, we were a little bit loopy. But this little exercise of ours taught me a few more things about writing, such as the art of collaboration, and how to keep your mind fresh and new, constantly churning out interesting ideas. Though there were now many other things in my life vying for attention, I was still certain that I wanted to be a writer.

High school graduation was a turn in the wrong direction. When it came to the desire to be a writer, I dropped the ball. I’ve mentioned it before, but in these days I made a conscious decision: I was going to put my focus into technology. I still wanted to be a writer – oh lord, how I wanted to be a writer – but I was scared of failure, scared of the financial implications, and so I made the decision to move into a field in which I knew I could still thrive, but in which I was significantly more likely to obtain gainful employment. My inner child, the little grade-3-aged girl who had just written her first story, was positively screaming at me. “You want to be a writer!” she shrieked. “What is wrong with you?!” I hold that the decision I made was a good one in the long run, but it definitely set me back several years on my true desires.

I wrote nothing for a long time. As many young people do I spent my university years cramming for exams at the last minute, ripping out assignments on the bus on the way to class, and drinking away the weekends. The work load was intense, and I had to work part-time jobs to help pay for it all. My long-time boyfriend broke up with me and I started dating the man who would become my husband. We moved out on our own and had to learn to feed and clothe ourselves while somehow paying for rent and taking what felt like hundreds of hours of classes a week. At one point, sometime during my fourth (and final) year of university, I had an extreme loss of confidence in my future. I had done fairly well in all of my courses – aside from Calculus (which we won’t talk about) I made 80s and 90s in most of them – but I had this moment when I looked at myself and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I had no idea what kind of career I was going to end up with, I had no confidence that it was going to be something I actually enjoyed or was good at, and I’d already spent upwards of $40,000 to come to this conclusion. It was around this time that Kelly reintroduced me to what we now know is fan fiction. She’d been reading a ton of the stuff on FanFiction.net, and encouraged me to do the same. The result was somewhat different; I ended up writing on the website. I didn’t really have the time to be writing, but I became somewhat obsessed and did it anyway. The one story I managed to complete, a Harry Potter fan fic called “Cry of the Wolf”, became surprisingly popular on the website, and with that I remembered something: I still wanted to be a writer. I had put a lot of time and effort into becoming a technologist, and I was going to finish that journey for sure, but all the time, no matter what else I did, I still wanted to be a writer.

It’s been seven years since I completed my university degree. In that time I got a job, moved away from home for it, bought a car, married my husband, bought a house, gave birth to my daughter, lost my job, found a new one that required me to travel back and forth across the country, and recently got laid off from that one because the job is over. And throughout all that I kept writing whenever I could. I wrote more fan fiction, I participated in several NaNoWriMo‘s, I set daily word count goals for myself, and I started this blog. I did all of this because regardless of what else might be going on around me, of the turns my life had taken, I still wanted to be a writer. Notice that I keep using that phrasing, over and over again: wanted to be a writer. That’s the phrasing I always used in my head when I thought about myself. I always used a future tense.

“I want to be a writer.”

“I’m going to be a writer.”

“Someday I’ll be a writer.”

That has been my thought process since that first story back in the third grade.

That is, until about a year ago. I’d written a zombie apocalypse novel for the previous years’ NaNoWriMo, but over the course of the month-long challenge I’d only gotten about 2/3 of the way through the story. I desperately wanted to finish it, as I’d never finished an original piece of fiction (that wasn’t a school project). So I set myself a goal: I would write at least 1000 words a day until the novel was complete. I can’t honestly say that I stuck to it every single day – sometimes life gets in the way, after all – but in what seemed like no time at all, suddenly I had a finished story. Sure, it still has to be revised and edited, preferably beta-read as well, but I had it; I had a whole original story, from beginning to end. That was the moment, though it wasn’t as much a revelation as a slow realization. Looking at the last sentence of my novel, and thinking back to everything I’d done up to that point, that was when I realized “I AM A WRITER!”

I may never succeed in becoming traditionally published, and I may never gain financial compensation for my work, but I’ll always be able to look back on that little third-grade girl and say, “Hey, guess what? You are a writer, and you always will be.”

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 25

It’s (more or less) official; my job is over and we’re all headed home after this shift. I’m not too depressed about that because it means I get to go home and enjoy the summer with my family, and there will definitely be more work in the future. That said, I have to inform you that the last week of a job that you know is over is absolutely painful. I’ve been spending my time scanning documents that have to be saved and transferring over changes that have been made between the master books and the working copy books, and it is unbelievably mind-numbing. At this time one week from now I may be a drooling puddle of goo on the floor.

Cheery today, aren’t I?

Okay, let’s get on with it then, shall we?

Health and Body Image Goal

I’ve been eating pretty well, I can tell you that. I don’t know if it’s sheer willpower or if my stomach (the organ, not my flab-belly) has been shrinking and I’m just not as hungry as I usually am. I have been scoffing on peanut butter cookies in the evening (OMGSOGOOD), but aside from that I’ve been eating good foods and decent portions of them.

On the exercise front I can’t claim as much success. Believe me, I do want to be going for my zombie runs, but I’ve been a little gun-shy since last Thursday. That morning I got up to go for a run and before I made it out of the building I almost doubled over with pains in the gut. I ended up nearly sprinting back to my room and staying there the entire day. I still have no idea whether it was a stomach bug or food poisoning, or what, but I’ve been a little nervous about venturing too far from a bathroom ever since because I still don’t feel quite right. I know I have to buck up eventually though, so tomorrow I’m going to try running on the treadmill in the ladies gym (which is only about thirty seconds from a bathroom) and see if I can’t build my confidence back up.

Editing Goal

I’ve regressed back to the days of getting nothing done…dammit. I do plan on doing some editing before the end of this shift, I swear, but I’ve gotten a little caught up in the writing aspect, as documented below.

1,000,000 Word Goal

This week I rediscovered a little thing called 750Words.com. It’s nothing fancy, just a daily challenge to write approximately 750 words on your personal section of the site, but there’s something strangely motivational about it. In three days on the site I managed to rack up over 8000 words alone. All together, through a variety of blog post planning, writing exercises, and a little bit of good old fashioned freewriting, I managed to write 13421 words this week, which if I’m not mistaken makes this my best week yet this year. Not too shabby, hmm?

I hope to focus more on writing (and editing) in the coming months while I’m temporarily out of work, and I plan to use 750Words.com for a little boost of motivation. You should check it out…it’s very simple, but it somehow makes you want to achieve the goal. I’ve joined the monthly challenge for July, and I hope to have more success with that than I had with Camp NaNo. 🙂

Until next week! Ciao!

Pop Culture Peeve

Every reader has something (possible multiple things) that ruins a book for them. These are little pet peeves that are unique to each individual reader and do not necessarily have anything to do with the writing skill of the author. These are simply things that a reader does not enjoy reading. For me, my reader pet peeve, my little brain tick, is pop culture reference in fiction.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but pop culture references in fiction really, really bother me. If a character refers to using her cellphone, that’s okay, but if she says the word “iPhone” I get a twitch in my jaw. If a character is playing a video game, no problem, but if they’re playing a Nintendo 3DS I start grinding my teeth. A character can be watching Saturday morning cartoons, but if the specific cartoon happens to be the most recent incarnation of Pokemon, I want to tear the page out of the book.

This pet peeve has made itvery difficult for me to get through some books that I otherwise enjoyed very much. In one particular series the main character makes constant reference to her MacBook Pro… That’s a triple whammy for me because it’s not just a Mac. It’s a goddamn Mac Book Pro.

What’s really funny about this little tick of mine is that it’s present-time exclusive. Only pop culture references that are current to the times bother me. Ageless pop culture is perfectly fine. So a character is safe if they’re watching Star Wars, but not if they’re watching The Hunger Games. I don’t mind if a character is listening to ACDC, but I can’t handle it if they’re listening to Justin Bieber. By all means, have your character own a mobile phone, but if you feel the need to tell me that the phone is the latest, greatest Samsung Galaxy S4, I might just toss the book out the window.

I suspect that the problem stems from a pop culture reference’s ability to forcefully mix fantasy and reality, while additionally forcing the reader into the present. Say, for example, we’re talking about an alian invasion story. Okay, well we know that aliens have never yet invaded Earth, so we suspend disbelief and imagine that the story is taking place in a time that hasn’t happened yet. But if a character starts talking about their PSP, we get hauled back to the present and suddenly it’s hard to get back into the story because we are fully aware that an alien invasion is not currently happening.

But Tracey, you might ask, what about stories that take place in the past, but crazy things like alien invasions happen, like in the movie Cowboys and Aliens? Easy. Those stories occur in alternate timelines or parallel universes, thus the differences from reality are fine…unless you use current-time pop culture references that bring the reader back to the present and thus screw up the illusion.

Okay, okay, it’s a flawed theory at best, but it doesn’t change the way that I feel about these things. Being slapped in the face with a piece of information that proves a story is meant to be taking place in real time, right here, right now, takes me out of the story and makes it harder for me to enjoy. To me, even if a piece of fiction occurs in modern-day Earth, I like the illusion of it being some other world. I read to escape the real world, and trying to make me feel that the story world and the real world are one in the same ruins that mood for me. I’m certain that not all readers think this way, but I’m also sure that there are plenty of readers who do. Keep pop culture out of my fiction!

How do you feel about pop culture in fiction? Annoying or unnoticeable? Do you have an other reader-specific pet peeves? Please share!

The “right time”? What’s that?

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

91. The right time to begin a new project

This really depends on what kind of a writer you are.

For me, growing up and writing stories in my spare time, the “right time” was always whenever I got a new idea that I just had to get down on paper. But that was all just for fun, with not a concern in the world of what might happen to that story in the long run.

Professionally speaking,  the “right time” to start a new project is more likely to be when you’ve finished the old one. If you’re writing for a living and you’ve got agents/editors/publishers to deal with, they may not be overly impressed to find out that you’re playing around with a new project while they’re not-so-patiently waiting for you to hand over the old one that they’re paying you to write.

Then, there’s another way to look at this; that is, if we were to think of the “right time” as the literal “right time” for you – personally – to begin working on a new project. This can bring up all sorts of issues for each individual writer. After all, it might not be the “right time” if you just had a baby and have very little free time to yourself. It might not be the “right time” if your day job has become overtime heavy. It might not be the “right time” for any variety of reasons that keeps you from actually sitting down and writing.

So when is the right time? Is it when your kids are old enough to keep to themselves while you work? Is it when most of your debts are paid off so you don’t have to worry so much about finances? Is it when something drastic happens, like losing your job and having no other way to make ends meet? Is it when you literally have nothing else to worry about? Because if it is, I can go ahead and tell you right now that you will never start that project. You may as well just forget about it now, because it’s never going to happen.

Professionalism aside, the “right time” to start a new project is right now. If you haven’t guessed why yet, right now is the best time to do anything, the only time to do something important to you, because the future is unstable, unreliable, and unknowable. You might think that it would be better to wait for any of a million possible issues or distractions to be out of the picture, but the fact of the matter is that you will never have no issues or distractions. There will always be some financial issue, health problem, family mess, or personal obstacle to deal with. These are the kinds of things that we will never be free of, and convincing yourself otherwise guarantees that you will never accomplish anything you hope to accomplish.

There’s no point in waiting until tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. Start now, or you might never start, and if you never start, there’s no way you can ever finish.

Giving Props

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

15. A list of the best writing posts of the week

I was actually expecting this one to be a little difficult, but there have been quite a few writing-related posts popping up over the last week or so, so here’s a couple that really caught my eye:

Kristen Lamb over at her blog wrote: Unlocking Your Great Future – 5 Keys to Writing Success. I especially liked what she wrote about self-discipline…*ahem ahem*

Suddenly Jamie at Live to Write – Write to Live wrote a post entitled: Reading Like a Writer, which is all about learning how to write by picking stuff up while reading.

Finally, the blogger over at Writing Struggles has been posting a series of “editing worksheets” with questions you should ask yourself about your manuscript while editing it. The first (of five so far) can be found here.

Prompts

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

10. Creative prompts for other writers

Now here’s a twist. Usually I’m the one searching for prompts, not the one giving them. I’m concerned about my ability to come up with a prompt that is actually useful, so if you come across this list and decide to use one of the prompts I’ve given, please let me know if it was any good! 🙂

– Your character wakes up on a perfectly normal day, has breakfast, gets ready for the day, and walks out of their home to find…silence. Every other human (or if you’re really keen, every other creature) on the planet has mysteriously vanished overnight, with no signs as to what may have happened to them…

– Your character is vacationing on a sunny resort, perhaps taking a walk on the beach, when all of a sudden they are grabbed from behind and dosed with chloroform…

– Your character is a futuristic astronaut, exploring new worlds for breathable atmospheres and signs of life. On a newly discovered planet, on which your character is supposed to have been the first person to set foot, your character stumbles across a small human child, playing all alone in a field…

– Your character finds his/herself standing alone on a busy city street with no recollection of how they got there or who they are. All they have is their wallet, full of credit cards and store membership cards, but their ID has been stolen…

Hope these help someone! 😀

Future (Pointless) Possibilities

People regularly let their pasts dictate their lives, but how many of you let your future dictate your life?

I’m particularly bad for this, and I’m not sure if it’s one of those things that’s weird and unique about me, or if other people actually share this ridiculous problem. Feel free to let me know!

The issue goes like this: I’ll be trying to accomplish something, but a particular facet of my immediate future makes it extremely difficult to accomplish this task. Let me give an example… When my husband and I were still living in our old duplex, we had let the basement get ridiculously messy. There were cardboard boxes everywhere, old furniture that needed to be thrown out, and even the stuff we were storing down there was just plain all over the place. I must have tried several dozen times to build up the gumption to go down there and straighten the place out, but I never managed to convince myself to do it. Why? Because at the time we were looking houses, hoping to buy. Every time I would try to convince myself to clean the basement, all I could think was that soon enough we would be moving, and all the stuff down there would get packed into boxes anyway. In other words, I couldn’t be arsed to put in the effort knowing that it might have been effectively pointless.

Does anyone else know what I’m talking about?

I’m feeling that way right now as well. I recently got word that I’m being offered my job at the mill back once the sale is finalized and the place gets up and running again. Putting aside my feelings on that particular subject and whether or not I’ll actually end up back there, knowing that the possibility is there is making it exceptionally difficult to write. The thing is, I know that I can’t write while I’m working. I just can’t manage to work in the time. Eight hours (or more) of work, plus seven or so hours of sleep, plus meals, showers, dealing with baby stuff, errands, and household chores, and I’m lucky if I get ten minutes to myself. Knowing that, I’m finding it very hard to write now, because that nagging little voice in my head is telling me I’ll never finish my novel by the time the mill starts (estimated August), so there’s no point in bothering to work anymore.

Does that make any sense?

It’s a stupid attitude, and one that’s plagued me for quite a long time. I don’t know why my brain works this way – you’d think I’d be motivated to write harder to try and finish before my time gets taken away from me – but it does and I can’t help it.

That said, I do want to finish this damn novel, so if anyone wants to perform a localized lobotomy on whatever part of my brain causes this insane way of thinking, please give me a call.