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NaNoWriMo Prep Pep Talks

Have Courage

A pep talk for first time NaNoWriMo writers

One of the scariest sensations to a human being is that of the unknown. Will I get that job I interviewed for? Will I ever find love? Will they renew my favorite show next season despite low ratings? (We sure hope so!) Not knowing how something will turn out keeps many of us from doing the things we want to do, because somehow to our minds, not doing the thing at all is easier than the notion of trying the thing and “failing” at the thing.

NaNoWriMo is here to shut that argument right up, and remind you that you got this.

This #RoadToWriMo pep talk is here for those of you who have never tried NaNoWriMo. It’s for those who have waited in the wings of the internet during the month of November, watching everyone else try and write their novels, while you go, HA! That’s crazy! Who would attempt such madness?! (All while silently telling yourself you want in on the madness.) I’m here to tell you that you can do it, and the only thing you have to do is decide. You have to take the leap, even if you can’t see where you’ll fall. From my experience with NaNo, the place you land always ends up being way cooler than where you jumped from. Because here is the real point of NaNoWriMo. Lean in close for this one…It’s not about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s about trying.

It’s about flinging every inhibition you have ever had into the wind to try something that quite frankly should be impossible, but isn’t. It’s about telling a story–your story. It’s for those of you who feel adventures whispering inside of you aching to be free. NaNoWriMo is about letting go, taking a risk, and seeing what magic can come of it. Sometimes that means 5,000 words, sometimes it means 20,000, and sometimes it means going the whole 50K. The point is that you tried, and you ended the month with more words than you had when you started.

So many writers tell themselves that they just don’t have what it takes. But take a moment to imagine where we’d be if Jo Rowling hadn’t taken a chance? How boring would our lives be without Angie Thomas or Ray Bradbury? Madeleine L’Engle or John Green? All of these people were individuals who were bigger on the inside, with something to say about the world and the unique way they saw/see it. People just like you. The only thing separating you is that you’ve yet to take the first step. I’m here to tell you take it. Seize the opportunity to tell your story like you’ve never seized anything before. Carpe the heck out of this damn diem. BEGIN. YOUR. BOOK.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo thirteen times, and I’ll be honest in saying it never gets less daunting, and there will always be times when you doubt yourself and think you can’t finish. But the reason I’ve stuck with NaNo, and why so many people do too, is because of the community. When you hit that I can’t do this anymore moment, there are others doing the same thing along side you to remind you that every word counts. There are strangers from every corner of the world fighting the same battle as you. NaNoWriMo takes away the solitary nature of writing, and gives you an environment full of comrades so you never feel alone. It will be one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

So, potential future WriMo, I hope to see you this November. I hope that no matter your Hogwarts house, you muster up enough Gryffindor courage to take on this challenge. Your friends here at IndiePen Ink, and the many WriMos around the world, will be there for you if that courage ever fails.

See you out there on the road, new WriMos. Let’s boldly go.

Carry on my wayward writers,


 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Prep

Step Onto the Road to WriMo

 

Early in the fall of my fourteenth year, my sister told me about this little thing called NaNoWriMo. Being a curious and imaginative kid, I was intrigued by the notion of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. And so as November 2004 rolled around, I found myself with absolutely no qualifications (or skills to be honest), attempting what felt impossible, and somehow, I cranked out my first book. The rest is history, and I’ve since taken up the mantle of being what I like to call a NaNo-Lifer (n. Someone who does NaNoWriMo every year for the next conceivable forever) which is why I’m incredibly excited to announce IndiePen Ink’s upcoming blog series.

IndiePendents, get ready for our first annual Road To WriMo, or as the kids on the twitter say, #RoadToWriMo. We both loved and were inspired by the official NaNoWriMo’s awesome Road Trip to NaNo blog series, which you can check out here. So we thought we at IndiePen would share our own encouragement and inspiration with you as we head towards November.

Over the next two months, we’ll be providing readers with a series of encouraging and informative posts to help get you to and through this year’s National Novel Writing Month. If you’re unfamiliar with what this is, check out their website here and catch up. But essentially, as I mentioned in the paragraphs above, NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately known, is a month long challenge launched in 1999 by Chris Baty and his band of story-loving friends, who got together to ask a big what if―what if you could write a novel in a month? The idea behind NaNo is not to pen a masterpiece in 30 days, but rather to throw caution to the wind, and just write. Too many people have the goal of “wanting to write a book someday.” NaNo makes that “someday” become “this day.” And to make things even better, you’ve got thousands upon thousands of other writers from across the globe, all trying to accomplish the same goal, there to encourage you along.

It’s pretty nifty, which is why I’ve done it that past 14 years in a row. (Okay, so I skipped 2012, but 13 OUT OF 14 IS STILL PRETTY SOLID. Or so I tell myself to sleep at night…)

So what does this have to do with IndiePen Ink? Well, we at IndiePen want you to DO THE THING. We want you to put aside distraction, toss inhibition in the bin, and GET. THAT. STORY. WRITTEN. So to help make that happen, here’s what we’ve got lined up for you for the month of October…

  • A NaNo Pep Talk for Beginners: To encourage those of you who’ve never tried before to do so.
  • Advice for Plotters: Some pro-tips for the meticulous planning writers among you who love color coded plot breakdowns and the like.
  • A NaNo Pep Talk for Returners: Coming back for more victory? Tried, but never completed it? Somewhere in the middle? This one’s for you.
  • Advice for Pantsers: As Chris Baty said in his own book, “No plot? No problem!” Get the creativity flowing and get some ideas that you can write on the fly.
  • A plotting and structure course on our new writing workshop platform, Inkademy!

And as a bonus! This November, yours truly will be shooting a series of Pep Talk videos to help get you through the beginning, middle, and end of the month of November, as I will be down in the trenches writing with you all month.

I could not be more excited to launch this initiative, and I hope that those of you who are fellow NaNo-Lifers will join with us in sharing your own wisdom & encouragement for newcomers, either here in the comments, or on twitter using #RoadToWriMo. And for those of you for whom this is finally your year to try, or who’ve tried before and haven’t succeeded yet, we’re here for you. You can do it. Your story matters, and we’re going to help you get it told.

So ready your pens, brains, and keyboards, people. It’s time for us to make like Bilbo Baggins and blow this popsicle stand.

“You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien

Can’t wait to see where our #RoadToWriMo sweeps us off to, and I’m glad we get to go on the adventure together!

Carry on my wayward writers,


 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft Creative News Research-a-torium Resources Sass Worldbuilding

What Makes a Fictional World?

The beauty of writing speculative fiction is that anything is possible. Magic. Time Travel. World peace… (is it too cynical to think that the two formers are more possible in our real world than the latter? #writerprobs #historyteacherprobs) …and, while working in a world that will be shaped by your hand means the possibilities are endless, it also means that you have to play god, and literally build a world from scratch.

How the hell do you do that? Simple. And, lo, on the seventh day, god researched!

Writers research, period. Authenticity is key, regardless of whether you are writing realistic or fantasy driven fiction. While authors writing crime drama need to understand the mechanics of police procedure and writers of historical fiction need to understand the protocols of social status and gender, they both have the luxury of using anecdotal and empirical evidence to help them write authentically. Spec writers… well, we just make shit up, right?

Wrong. Well… kinda wrong. Wrongish.

You cannot just create matter from nothing. All cells come from previous cells. As too, with speculative fiction; you don’t just create something from nothing. The facets of the real world serve as our inspiration for fantasy worlds. The conflict that develops in fantasy setting may be fueled by metaphysical, magical, or technological issues, but it all stems from issues we encounter as real world people. Any fan of Star Trek: the Original Series will tell you that what made the show so amazing was its ability to take real world, contemporary issues and work them into a science fiction context. Species were based on cultures of Earth, albeit some were done in woefully poor and racist taste. Religious, ethical, political, ecological, cultural, and economic issues were not limited to human beings — they impacted species across the universe.

If there is one universal truth, it is that sentient beings, no matter how utopian and peaceful their society is, will always have shit to fight about. And that brings me back to my point: some aspects of the real world are universal to any society. If you want to build a fictional world, you have to start with a foundation, a template, and customize from there.

“If you’ve done your due diligence when building your fictional world, it will bleed into your writing without any great effort on your part.”

So, what makes a world? Here is the basic structure of any society, regardless of time period, culture, or race.

  • Setting
  • Political & Economic system
  • Shared cultural beliefs
  • Science & Technology

Setting

The variables of setting are very important to your world, and can either structure your world, or limit the possibilities. One of the most important ways to show authenticity is to make sure that the setting reflects every other aspect of your society.

  • Geography — What resources are available in this region? How do the people regulate resources, and does that create conflict? Do the seasons change? Are their multiple environments in one land, or is it all the same? Do the people adapt to the environment, or do they adapt the environment to meet their needs through modification and technology? What kind of flora and fauna live in the environment, and how does that impact the people?
  • Time Period — What freedoms do people have, and what limitations? For lack of better words (because as a historian, my brain throws up red flags and sees these words as ethnocentric), how “barbaric” , “primitive”, “advanced”, or “civilized” are the people? What constitutes the difference between the meaning of these words in their world? Are people treated differently based on race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other minority qualifiers? What changes has your world seen over its existence? Who has power, why, and has that changed? What historical events have shaped the world currently?
  • Science — What is technology to your people, meaning any device that makes life simpler? Do magic/paranormal/metaphysical components exist in this world? What is the difference between science and magic and religion, and does that distinction cause conflict?

Political & Economic Systems

What kind of political system(s) exist in the world, and how are they organized? Who created them? Have they always existed? What is considered to be the responsibility of the government, and of the individual? How are children educated, if at all? What is considered a well-rounded education? What are the laws, who created them, why, and how are they enforced?

It’s easy to overlook, but a nation’s government and economy are intrinsically linked. The attitudes towards making money, public services, and other ethics about business will impact how governments make laws, protect their people, and provide services. What kind of economy exists in your world? Who controls it? What kinds of goods are made, and what kinds of services are offered? Does the environment and resources play a role in that? What jobs are available?

“If there is one universal truth, it is that sentient beings, no matter how utopian and peaceful their society is, will always have shit to fight about.”

Shared Cultural Beliefs

What unites the people of this world? What do they eat? What do they believe? How do they dress? What is sacred and blasphemous to them? What language do they speak? What are the customs and traditions in this world? What happens when parts of this culture are changed/forgotten/ignored, and does that cause conflict? Are multiple cultures fighting for resources/rights/autonomy, or do they live in harmony? How does the culture impact class, gender, age, and what expectations are held for those qualifiers? How has history played a role in the development of the culture(s)?

Science & Technology

A huge misconception modern humans have when it comes to technology is that it has to be digital, futuristic, world of tomorrow kind of stuff. But, from the historical perspective, technology is really anything that has made life easier. Many people would automatically jumped to the progress made my weapons and tools, but it gets even more simple than that. We may be spoiled with our personal pocket computers, but at one point, all those things a cell phone or tablet does, were distinct forms of technology. Printed books, brought about by the printing press, were an incredibly advanced tech in the Middle Ages. Pencils were cutting edge shit. A writing system in general changed to world, drawing the line between recorded history and pre-history, forever dividing us civilized people from those primitive savages. With this idea in mind, think about everything that makes your life safe, comfortable, and simple. Now, examine what the people in your world would need to feel the same way?

  • How do people communicate?
  • How to they move goods and people?
  • How do they fight?
  • How do they farm?
  • How do they learn and discover?
  • How do they heal?
  • How do they play and relax?
  • How do they record information?

Even if not directly important to or acknowledged in the story, these are the bare minimum elements of the world that should be addressed. The reader doesn’t need to know all of the details, especially if it will amount to endless pages of backstory and context, or if it’s irrelevant to the basic plot. But, as a writer, these are things that need to be considered to have a fleshed out understanding of how your characters will act, react, view, and function in their world. If you’ve done your due diligence when building your fictional world, it will bleed into your writing without any great effort on your part. You will be able to avoid heavy-handed exposition and your readers will appreciate the opportunity to fill in some of the blanks themselves.

“You cannot just create matter from nothing. All cells come from previous cells. As too, with speculative fiction; you don’t just create something from nothing.”

Remember too, that when you are building your world, the real world is full of inspiration for the elements you need to make it seem authentic. That requires research. Good research- not a cursory skimming of a Wiki page. All of us at IndiePen Ink know just how complex and time consuming proper research can be. Lucky for you, our strife has turned into your benefit, as it has inspired us to create a truly helpful research resource for writers unlike any other: The Research-a-Torium. A writers reference source that can guide you to online resources and services, as well as services and titles you can find at you own local library. Thanks to the tireless work of our Lady of the eLibrary, Caitlin, we expect to be opening the doors by the end of July.

COMING SOON TO AN INTERNET NEAR YOU!

Start working out those worlds now, and when you get stuck, come see Caitlin in the Research-a-Torium for a world of resources guaranteed to inspire.

Write on young savior,

Craft Writing Styles

The Five Senses, and Beyond—Using Sensory Writing to Heighten your Narrative

Close your eyes.

Quit whining, and do it.

What do you notice about the space you are in?

Is the TV or music on in the background? Is there a breeze coming through the window? Can you still smell the popcorn you accidentally burned in the microwave? Can you feel the lump in the old couch cushion under you, or the numbness of your butt from time sitting on that hard seat? Is there a constant drip in your bathroom, or the ticking of a clock? Is your mouth dry, or is the taste of your now cold coffee still clinging heavily to your tongue?

Were you aware of any of this things prior to this moment?

Now, what’s really going to bake your noodle…are you even awake, or are you dreaming.

Perception in writing is incredibly important to making a scene feel real. When a scene is described with complex sensory detail the readers feel immersed in the narrative, as if they were there alongside the characters, experiencing what they are experiencing. This is the key to writing the type of story that readers get lost in.

And, the key to writing good sensory details is using all five physical senses alongside with what the characters are able to perceive. Sensing something goes far beyond just sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. In a speculative fiction story, the characters may have extra-sensory abilities, which need to be established and recognized in the narrative. But, even without abilities beyond those of mere mortals, human beings are conditioned to perceive many other types of senses beyond the physical. Even the five physical senses become multifaceted when one starts to think about all the things we can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, and how we experience those things.

The Five Senses, sensationalized.

When I was in middle school, I had a revelation … I’ll give you a moment to get out the crude jokes about self-discovery and puberty…

Are we good now? Fantastic. Let’s move on.

Joking aside, I do remember having one of those Ermahgerd moments in seventh grade science. One of those moments where you realize you’ve always known something, but it wasn’t apparent until someone told you it was there. Seventh grade science was biology, and we were talking about the senses. My teacher was talking about the absolute thresholds, the parameters and limitations of the human senses (fascinating and informative image included below). When talking about smell, he also mentioned something that Febreze has been marketing on for years now, though he didn’t call it this, he talked about going “noseblind” (go here, because Mental Floss)

When he described the idea behind walking out of room you’ve been in for a while, and then re-smelling an older smell when you walk back in, that idea literally blew my mind. It was one of those, I thought I was the only one who noticed that things. I realized what an important part of my childhood that concept was the next time I visited my grandparents house. The moment I stepped into their house, I always smelled a distinct smell- cigarettes and fried food. Long story short, my grandparents were not healthy people, but I digress… it was a powerful smell. It became a sense memory for me. When I smell meat being fried, I am immediately reminded of Grandma standing over a stove with a pork chop frying in the pan with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. And, I remember when I got home from my visits, I would change my clothes, because I realized that even though I had become desensitized to it over the period of time I spent at their house, my clothes reeked of grease and smoke when I stepped into my non-smoking parents home.

When we think about the senses, we usually think about their most basic functions. I look, I see a thing. I listen, I hear a sound. I pick something up, I feel the texture in my hand. But, our senses allow us to perceive so much more than just the literal thing they do.

Vision allows us to perceive variations in light and color, even when our eyes are closed (don’t pretend you didn’t play that game as a kid where you lay down in the grass, close your eyes, and stare at the sun). We can discern depth and perspective, as well as movement.

Hearing allows us to not just notice a sound, but how the sound it made and from where it is coming. Rhythm patterns, pitch, tone, and volume are all things we perceive about a sound without even thinking about it.

Taste is complex, and we can experience five different sensations- sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savoury (some even argue more).

Touch is really thought provoking when you really examine how many things we feel, even when we are not touching something. When you make physical contact with an object, your brain identifies so much more than just “Oh, hey look! A thing!”. When we touch or hold something, we are identifying temperature, texture, moisture, and weight. But, within your own body, you can also feel things. Pain for example is a sensation of touch we experience from the inside. Our nerves are being activated internally. Same with heartbeat, muscle tension, hunger, thirst, and that horrible numb-before-it-becomes-horrible-painful-stinging feeling we get when we sit cross legged and cut off circulation to our feet.

And, smell seems simplistic and obvious… you just smell stuff right? Wrong. Even though the act of smelling doesn’t consist of much more than a simple act, experiencing smell evokes memories and emotions, as evidenced by my story above. In animals, smell is an incredibly important sense, one that could mean the difference between life and death. It’s one of the primary instincts used in mating. And, like our animal friends, we use smell when determining potential mates, even during falling in love. Experiencing a smell is to literally experience a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s directly linked to our ability to taste… (think about that next time you smell a fart!). An odor, either good or bad can alert you to danger, ruin your day, ruin your moment, wake you up, elicit hunger, make you sick, make you sneeze, turn you on. The smell of a mother can soothe a crying baby.

Going Beyond the Five Senses

Once you’ve opened your mind and really thought about what sense is, you will start to notice the other things we perceive, some things real, others invented, that we also experience as human beings.

One feeling that we are often completely unaware of is how often we are aware of things. Awareness and consciousness are things we feel, that we experience. We can clearly discern between being awake and asleep, the feeling of clarity when we understand something, and the muddled sense of confusion when we don’t. We can also imagine things, creating a false sense of awareness of things that aren’t even really there, or convince ourselves we experienced something when we did not, and make a believable memory of that event. This means not only can we perceive reality from non-reality, we can turn the latter into the former with our brains.

Another thing humans feel is emotion, which is a truly amazing feat in the fact we can turn an intangible mental experience into a physical one. We can feel physical pain when we are sad or depressed. Nausea when we are scared or nervous. Cry when we are heartbroken or when we are elated. And, as if that wasn’t magical sounding enough, we can also detect emotions in other people. Human beings are equipped with this incredible feeling called empathy that allows us to interpret the emotional state of others. Or, in some cases, such as Autism (or Republicanism), completely lack the ability, or have it greatly impaired. Even the inability to feel or interpret emotions still has a feeling of emptiness and confusion for those who experience it.

Then, there is the strangest sense of all, which is going to get very meta here, because it helps us perceive a thing that doesn’t exist at all- time. We are able to discern the passage of time to a point, as anyone who has tried to avoid looking at a clock will know. Humans aren’t particularly good at it, which is why those extra seven minutes on the snooze button felt like thirty seconds, and why waiting for the doctor to knock on the door feels like hours when it’s been less than ten minutes. But, how we perceive the passage of that time is relevant to our mood and alertness.

Being able to properly express these experiences when writing characters and scenes is vital to creating a fleshed out story. Readers want to get lost in stories by escaping into them, and without a fully dimensional world, they can’t do that. Since reading is limited to the screen of the imagination, of which some people have a hard time using to envision the world of the story, using sensory details grounds the story in reality and makes it easy to relate to and envision.

Craft Creative Editorials Inkademy Research-a-torium Sass Setting Worldbuilding

A Fantastic World Does Not A Story Make

We’ve all done it at some point – built a story to fit within the framework of a kick-ass world we’ve created. Writers get so wrapped up in playing God by designing beings, shaping geographic features, creating languages, or constructing epic histories that trace backwards through a dozen generations, that they completely forget what the hell they are supposed to being doing – telling a story. Writing isn’t about building a world, it’s about writing the story that could only happen in the world that has been built.

Crafting a story is a complex process, and building a world to serve as a rich setting is important, especially in speculative fiction. Setting is one of the five elements required in a proper story. Setting helps to understand character personality and development. It can serve as an obstacle creating conflict, or help to move the plot forward. The problem occurs when a writer focuses all their energy on creating the world, and no time focusing on the story that takes place within said world.

Back in January of 2015, on an episode of Fiction School, co-host Tommy Zurhellen discussed one of the biggest mistakes he sees made by his students. In his humorous story about “Scantron 7”, Zurhellen explains that when he asks writing students about their story, they spend several enthusiastic minutes describing their setting, their characters, elaborate government or belief system, the epic conflict that rocked the world a thousand years ago… but when asked the question, “Yeah, but what is your story actually about?” they draw a blank.

At the end of the day, no matter how epic and elaborate the setting or how fleshed out the characters, if there is no story at the core, or worse, no conflict to drive that story forward, then the writer really has nothing but a cool place with cool people.

To avoid falling into this trap, a writer must keep in mind that every addition they make to their world needs to be relevant to the story. That is, anything about the world worth mentioning. As the writer, there is nothing wrong with knowing every corner of the created world. That does not mean that the reader needs to know all those inane details. The more fleshed out the writer makes the world, the more real it will feel, but providing a millenia of history or recounting the entire text of a holy book is simply not necessary for the reader to understand the significance of a religious or historic event on the modern day.

As a writer, you can never know too much about the world within the story, because you never know what information will become useful later on, or my inspire new story lines. But, it is possible for a writer to tell their readers too much about their world. Avoid info dumps, and save that information for supplemental content (like rewards for people who support you on Patreon!) or later stories in the same world. Or, if you feel really bold, incorporate the method used by the author of Nevernight, Jay Kristoff. When the opportunity for history or cultural knowledge to came up in the story, instead of dropping a load of backstory that broke with the narrative, Kristoff simply placed an asterisk in the text, and kept moving on with the story. At the bottom of the page, he included footnotes for each symbol. This strategy worked perfectly, giving the reader the choice to break the narrative to read the footnote, or to keep reading until the end of the page or the chapter, and come back to read the backstory about a god, a cultural practice, or reference to a historical event in the history of the world.

If readers truly love the world a writer crafts, they will come back for more. The trick is leaving enough for the readers to have a reason to return. Giving away too much in the beginning does one of two things- overwhelms the reader, boring them with over-information, or satisfies them to the point there are no questions left for them to answer.

If you’d like some help training your world building muscle, sign up to beta test our Worldbuilding Workshop taking place on June 25th thru July 8th by sending an email to indiepenink@gmail.com with the word “Inkademy” in the subject line.

And, keep an eye out for announcements on the opening of the Research-a-Torium, which we hope to build into the ultimate world building resource!

Write on young savior,

 

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Craft Editorials For the Ladies Pep Talks Sass

Wasted Space

When you say you wanna be a writer… but, you just end up writing wish fulfillment.

A rant from Sass:

Scroll through any random writing forum, especially any topic under “writing help” and you will find the following:

“NEED HELP! I really want to write a story, but I need an idea! Thanks!”

“I have an awesome idea (insert extremely long, detailed physical description of a character and nothing else) but now I’m stuck. How can get over writer’s block?”

“I’m writing a story about a werewolf/fairy/vampire love triangle about a teenage good girl who can’t decide between two bad boys (who she can totally change), but I don’t have a plot yet. I need ideas!”

UGH! I swear to this dear, merciful fucking universe, if I see one more post like this in a forum, I am going to Hulk smash the internet. Not my keyboard. Not my monitor. The entire fucking internet. Oh… I’ll do it. Watch me. I’m that upset.

Why? It’s because people that say this don’t really want to write a story – they want to write personalized escapism. It’s like the mature version of those Barbie books your Grandma used to get you for your birthday, where they put your name in the book with a Barbie that looked like you… remember those, child of the Nineties? (Yes… I know we’re getting old. Don’t change the subject.)

For anyone who has ever posted a topic like the ones above in a forum, I’m calling you out. I’m not trying to shame you. I need you to stand up and be counted so that I can ask you a serious question, and I expect an honest answer:

Why in the hell are you writing a story?

Not, what is your story about. Not, what is your main character like? Honestly. Seriously. Think about it for a second, and tell me why you want to write a story.

If the answer is anything less than: “…because I have this thing inside me, consuming me, and if I don’t get it out somehow I am literally going to die.” … well then, you really have no business writing a story. At least not yet.

“You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design.”

It took me a really long time to call myself a writer, to have the confidence to back up the statement when I said it. After all, writers produce stories, finished stories to be exact, which is something I have yet to do with original content. (Yeah… I write fan fiction. So what! Wanna fight about it?) So, without having produced a finished original work, how could I have the audacity to call myself a writer?

Easy. I’m a writer simply because I write, and I have been actively doing so since 2009. Actually, I started much earlier than that, having written since my childhood, filling notebooks with silly knock-offs of my favorite stories where a placeholder character of myself was living out a fantasy like one of the ones I wanted to experience.

There is no crime in that. That’s why fan fiction exists in the first place. And, if that is truly what you want, then that is what you need to write. Start with worlds and characters that have already been fleshed out, and play with them until you sate that desire to escape. Then, go back to the real world until it destroys everything good inside you, and return to your fan fiction until you have the will to live again. I get it. Escapism is a powerful thing, especially when you are a young girl. That, I get even more. I’ve been there, done that, and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.

“Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be.”

If you are a woman, young or old, the world is not a place made for you, especially if you are a woman of color or a non-Christian. Society does shame you. It targets you. It whispers stupid shit into your ear about how you’ll never be pretty, or loved, or have worth… unless you buy this awesome deodorant, or wear this mascara, or lose ten pounds. It pits you against other girls. It traps you under a glass ceiling and pays you seventy-seven cents on the dollar compared to the men you see gliding through that glass like water, and tells you that you should just be grateful for the opportunity to even see the glass. Society traps you in pretty pink boxes with prescribed labels from which escape is nigh impossible.

Perhaps that is why I get so irate when I see “I want to write a story but I don’t have an idea and blah and blah and blah…”. You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design, another trap set for you, filled with Mary-Sues and pseudo-conflicts designed to create love triangles because that is all a girl needs- to be loved.

If you want escape, I don’t fault you for that. But, if that is all you want, why in the hell would you write a story? Writing is not easy. It’s not just something that manifests once you have the idea. It requires research, planning, revising, and restarting. Writing a story is possibly the most feminine thing you can do- you are literally giving birth. You are like a goddess creating an entire universe from scratch, making something from nothing. That is no simple task. Taking on a project like that requires an intense amount of time and energy. So, again I ask, why do you want to write a story?

If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle. You’ll daydream about taking walks along the streets in your world. Your characters will have conversations with you in your head. You’ll be wrenched out of deep sleep at 3:17 in the morning to write down the incredible idea that resolves your entire plot thanks to some weird dream.

When a writer is ready to write a story, their story, they don’t need to beg for inspiration. They already have it. When you find your idea, it will call to you to write it, and once you do, you will be a writer. Until then, practice in the kiddie pool of fan fiction because the deep end of the fiction pool is terrifying when once you take off the water wings.

“If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle.”

…And, when that happens, ladies, please, please, break the fucking cycle. Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be. Make her strong, dynamic, complex, and opinionated. Force the plot to bend to her will based on her actions, and not make her a victim of its abuse. For fuck’s sake, be bold, and dare to write a story about a female protagonist who *gasp* doesn’t have a love interest!

We need female voices. We need women writers of every shape, size, creed, color, orientation, and ability, because women out there deserve stories worth escaping into, and we all need different ways to escape. When you’re ready, IndiePen Ink will be here to support you, to coach you, and to help you flesh out that plot instead of inventing it for you.

You have a story inside you, and it is worth being told. Advocate for yourself, for others like you. Take up space. Demand that your story be told.

Write on, young savior,

Editorials Pep Talks Sass Writing Styles

If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

A Letter from Sass:

At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection. The why and how have been lost to history. Perhaps that burned up in the Great Library of Alexandria? Yet, despite not understanding why they have this obsessive compulsion, writers of all levels fall into this trap daily.

I’m not singular in suffering from writer’s block. Every writer I know, regardless of their ability, preferred genre, and levels of experience and success, admits that they sometimes hit a point where they just can’t write. The problem is, as the dry spell continues, they simply don’t move on by planting the garden; learning a new recipe; finally cleaning out the closet. They wallow. They let their brain start to warp their confidence in their abilities. Suddenly, they are a no talent hack, and always have been.

This mindset is toxic. It is also counterproductive, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes root in the mind of a writer and prevents them from moving forward, even when inspired.

“At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection.”

Let’s get personal for a minute. Currently, I have a Google Doc with 30+ plot points, in chronological order, that I have already planned for in my story, Intrepid. I am not want for ideas — I am want for prose. The idea is fleshed out, and I know exactly what I need to write. I just can’t write it. For weeks, I went through the motions of my usual routine: I sat down to write with my trusty Ink Joy gel pen in a funky color, a thick DIY legal pad made out of my favorite lined paper glued together with cardboard backing, and a full pot of steaming tea, and I put on a Epic Instrumental Music video from YouTube from one of my many subscriptions.

In times past, I would have cranked out 1000-3000 words for whichever scene I had decided I was ready to write. Recently, I have been lucky to settle on a mere hundred words I didn’t want to crumple up and throw across the room.

The worst part is that I had absolutely no reason to be blocked. The depression that tends to hit me two to three times a year was not lingering around, and my anxiety is under control currently. My job, while stressful, is manageable now that I have developed a rhythm. Marriage, immediate family life, and finances are all strong right now. My friends are all doing reasonably well… so what the fuck is my problem? Why can’t I write?

Well, that is because I suck. I’m a great writer, but I am a fucking awful drafter. It feels impossible to just sit down and free write without analyzing my own word choice or flow.

Why did my character do that? Why would I write that? Where did that idea come from? Why can’t I think of a better word!?

“It has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary.”

Why? Because, the first draft sucks. The pre-write sucks. The first time words hit paper, they are an unruly mess. And, it has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary. At the risk of inspiring a chorus of that’s what she saids, let me repeat that again: Sucking is necessary.

On the days I mindblowingly, ultra suck, I try to keep these quotes in the back of my mind…

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply writer’s embarrassment.” –  Andrew W. Marlowe

and

“Do something. You can always correct something, but you can never correct nothing.” – Dale C. Bronner

They’re brilliant. The kind of brilliance that you only register once you read it or someone says it too you. It’s the kind of brilliance that makes you feel like a moron for not realizing the simplistic solution it delivers. It is exactly what every writer needs to be reminded of when they sit down to write. In fact, I think these two quotes should be visible to a writer in every writing space.

So, that being said, I have made graphics of condensed forms of these quotes that writers can print and hang in their writing spaces…

The first step in conquering writer’s block is realizing that the block comes not from a lack of creativity, but a lack of confidence. Not being able to write well is a phobia that is so stifling that it makes writing impossible at all.

In later articles, we will be exploring the reasons people suffer from writer’s block, and offering creative solutions to overcoming your fear, rather than stimulating your creativity. Until then, I leave you with this: If I tell you that you really do suck, can you get over it already? We all suck. Get in line kid — the queue starts with me.

Write on, young savior,

Editorials News Pep Talks Resources Sass Writing Styles

Hey Guys! Watch This!

An open letter from Sass:

There is a small assortment of books collecting dust on my bookshelf these days. These books were once some of my most coveted, habitually read, and referenced tomes. I carried them in my bag on trips and methodically marked and annotated passages. Interestingly though, these books are neither classic literature, nor contemporary favorites. In fact, they’re non-fiction. They are my craft books – the first books I began buying and devouring when I finally decided to take the terrifying leap from saying “I write” to “I am a writer.” The books that helped me learn the basics; that built the foundation of my writerly knowledge.

Now, nearly a decade later, as I plot story arcs, develop characters, and invent universes, they sit idle, neglected and forgotten. Why would I need to read these books now? I’m not a novice writer anymore – I get this shit. I’m done with theory. Onto the practicum! Yet, when I sat down to make notes over the tutorials and concepts I wanted to cover on IndiePen Ink, my head emptied as quickly as a broken vacuum seal clears out a cargo bay on an interstellar ship. I realized that I needed to go back to my source, to my humble beginnings, and work backwards, taking my acquired knowledge and using it to create a curriculum of what I would have liked to have learned early on as a writer.

The problem though is that the stuff I wanted -needed- to learn was not the basics. Now, granted, while they are the important foundation on which the skill of writing is built, understanding the elements of story makes you little more proficient than a high school freshman when it comes to writing… I know this because I teach high school English to freshmen. So, instead of reaching for the craft books on the basics, I reached for my intermediate books – the ones on style and expression – and, decided to take a look through two of my trustiest reference books: Better Than Great and The Elements of Expression, both by author, Arthur Plotnik.

And, lo… what I have forgotten/ignored/never learned/breezed past in haste to get to the “good stuff”…Did you know that there are twenty-five types of figurative language? Because I sure as hell didn’t! The weird part is I had it marked, as if I had either read it and forgotten, or never got back to it after thinking “Ooooh! This looks important!”.

This brought me to a realization – I had thought I had read these books, scoured these books for information; devoured them and digested their contents – but in truth, I had done no such thing. There was no doubt I had depended on these books and used them constantly, but for an intended purpose. A purpose from which I am eight years removed and hardly remember, but at the time they gave me information I craved. I read it, absorbed it, and it became habit. Then, I threw it on the shelf and walked away more confident in my ability than before, and thus satisfied I had taken everything I could from that text.

“I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time.”

It’s this realization that leads me to believe this is the reason I roped my friends into creating IndiePen Ink. I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time. Those needs change over time, and new resources have to be sought.

Middle of the road writers, like myself, have fallen into a chasm of sorts. We still need help while writing, but it doesn’t come from our foundational limitations, it comes from isolation. Writing in a vacuum is horrible. It’s inside the black hole where all your incredible, original ideas stagnate, your characters go flat, and your dialogue becomes trite and stifled. This happens not because you don’t have talent, but because you have no place to keep skills sharp or be held accountable.

In essence, you need a proving ground. A playground, if you will, to mix and mingle, to refuel and get hurt when you slip off the fictional monkey bars. This place needs to be flexible, inviting, tolerant, and empathetic to the needs and diversity of writers, and those writer’s stories. But, the playground also needs an assortment of equipment, and not just one of those plastic jumbo monstrosities with seven slides and towers and glider handle thingy… what hell do they call that thing? It needs separate play areas where we can go and play and learn, and when we conquer that area, we can move to another; make new friends; fall off new toys and get back up again.

Consider IndiePen your playground. Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again. We, as the creators of IndiePen Ink, want you to help us make this playground the first place, and only place, you go when you fall down the writing well and can’t crawl out again. We’ll throw you a rope, and pull you back up to the playground.

“Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again.”

The playground is small right now, but it won’t always be. This isn’t going to be just some corner park they used to fill space in a subdivision. We’ve got big plans for this playground (think Leslie Knope plans). So, come to our playground. Tell us about yourself, your needs, and what toys you want to play on. Tell all your friends to meet you at the sweet, new playground. Until then, we’ll be here waiting. You’ll know us – we’re the cool kids hanging out on top of the monkey bars.

…and I’m the kid writhing on the ground after shouting the famous words, “Hey guys! Watch this!”.

Write on, young savior,

 

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