Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, all! Hope your day is a wonderful one, spent amongst family and friends!


Also, I will leave you with one of my favorite Christmas songs, by none other than the King, Mr. Elvis Presley:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

They're More Like Guidelines Than Actual Rules

And that's the second Pirates of the Caribbean quote I've used for the title of a blog post. *nerd points*

So since we're in the midst of NaNoWriMo, and writers everywhere are trying to lure their weeping muses out from the bathroom with promises of double fudge rocky road and no more sentences ending in prepositions, I thought I'd share some of the techniques that I've learned over the years.

#1. Start strong. The first sentence, to me, is probably the most important sentence you will write in the whole novel, except for maybe the last one. It's the hook, the thing that draws the reader in and invites them to stay awhile. When you pick up a book at the store, chances are you pop it open and read the first sentence or three just to get a taste. 

For me, I like to think of the opening sentence and paragraph as the foundation for everything else that is to come. Get this right, tweak it as much as you need to until you're happy with it, and then move on. The strongest house will falter on a weak foundation, and the same goes with a novel; so make sure that beginning is tight. Once you're confident and content with it, everything else will come much easier. You'll be safe in the knowledge that you have a solid beginning with which to fall back on if you ever stray too far from the story you're trying to tell.

You may lather, rinse, repeat for the beginning of each chapter afterwards. The same idea applies.*

#2. Set the mood. I've mentioned this in a previous blog post, but music, more than anything else, can be a helpful tool in seducing your muse. If you're writing an action scene, why not pick some heavy rock n' roll? The fast tempo will get your heart racing, matching the hectic rhythm of an action sequence. How about a quiet ballad for a scene between two lovers? Lyrics may inspire dialogue. If nothing else, music will help you envision the scene that you're writing. I like to imagine it like a soundtrack and the movie is your novel.

#3. Eliminate distractions. This could also be called 'disconnecting your internet'. The internet, while extremely useful, is also extremely distracting. If you find yourself on Facebook or Twitter after every other word, then maybe it's time for some drastic measures -- such as unhooking your internet cable or turning off the wifi for a little while. I must confess, I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but discipline comes with practice! 

And, besides, the world won't end if you don't check your email every other minute. Well, unless you work for Skynet or something. In which case, you should stop working on that T-600 prototype altogether and pursue your dreams of becoming an author. It'll be better for the whole human race, trust me.

#4. Take a break. If absolutely nothing is working and you've begun contemplating throwing your PC/Mac/Typerwriter out the window, then maybe it's time to take a break and come back to it in a bit. Many people have suggested exercise as a good way to get the creative juices flowing, and I agree. Plus, it's healthy, always a nice bonus! Your body and mind will thank you.

But seeing as I'm rather lazy, I also have an alternative to provide! Watch a movie or read a book, any form of narrative that relates to the genre that you're writing. Writers are fortunate because we can study at the knee of the master any time we'd like -- we just have to crack open a book, or pay attention to the script of a movie. Sometimes it helps to see how another author has managed to get through a fight scene, or weave together several seemingly unrelated subplots. You don't even have to be consciously thinking about all of this. Your brain is awesome and will work through the writer's block by itself, given the time. So don't give up!

There's also the option of sleep. Dreams can be inspiring. And a rested brain works much better than a frazzled, overworked one.

#5. Just write. It might seem obvious, but the best way to get a novel done is to just write it. One word after the other. Push through the self-doubt and the nagging of your inner editor. One of the best ways to do this is to remind yourself of the good writing that you have done, thus far. There's bound to be a sentence somewhere that you're proud of writing. And there will be more, so long as you keep going!

Hopefully some of these tips help you! In the end, different things work for different writers. The only rule in this game is: whatever works, works. And don't forget to have fun along the way!

That being said, I'm rooting for all of you, dear writers! Feel free to share some of the tips and tricks that you've learned to help you on the bumpy road that is writing a novel. =)

* Disclaimer! Don't get hung up on the beginning, however. If you just can't get it the way you want it, and it's dragging you down, sometimes it's better to move on to the meat of your story and come back later. Writing something is better than giving up and writing nothing! Never surrender!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Inspiration is as Tricksy as Hobbitses

October is one of my favorite months, and I'll tell you why. Not only do I love pumpkin pie, dressing up for Halloween, and the leaves beginning to turn orange (which happens to be the color I love best), but it's also the beginning of two of the most exciting seasons: Fall, and NaNoWriMo season. I'm sure you're all well-acquainted with Fall so let's move on to the latter. For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place in November. You write 50,000 words in 30 days and try to stay sane. That gives those of us who're already crazy an edge; we've got nothing left to lose. And that's why November is my favorite month.

But back to October . . .

The NaNo site gets rebooted every October 1st in what can only be described as a lovely little makeover. Everything is cleaned out, including the forums, and shortly thereafter everyone comes flocking back by the hundreds. Writers from all over the world, brimming with creativity and a desire to do battle with the blank page, descend upon the site like a ravenous horde of speed-typing, story-spinning, caffeine-guzzling . . . well, like a bunch of writers.

It is glorious.

Being of the literary species classified as 'writer', I'm one of those who come excitedly clicking back on launch day. Let's just pretend I don't lurk around the site off and on year-round anyway. But unlike many of my fellow NaNo-ers, I'm usually completely blank as to what I want to write about come November. This usually leads to a month where I chase my muse around like a drunken pirate in a pre-politically correct Disneyland ride. We go around and around, sure, but we don't really get anywhere. And I find that's how the pursuit for story inspiration usually goes.

You see, sometimes, and often, inspiration is very elusive; it's like searching in a dark room for something, except you don't know what you're looking for until you find it. It strikes at seemingly random, and usually whenever is most inconvenient. Like in the shower, or while you're trying to go to sleep. Whenever you don't have access to a pencil, paper, or computer, basically. It's tricksy like that.

Even so, I've found there are ways to coax inspiration from even the most stubborn muse.

Music is inspirational in a lot of ways. It can capture anything from an idea to something more ambiguous like emotions. A few lines of lyrics can often prompt a scene, dialogue, or even a whole plot! Similarly, music has been proven to stimulate the brain, and the brain likes that. When the brain's happy and awake, it's more willing to come up with those bestselling ideas. True story. In fact, I'm sure there are some actual studies out there that explain that in a more scientific fashion, but yes. I highly recommend instrumental and classical as they allow you more room to interpret as you will.

Humans tend to be very visual creatures on the whole, and sometimes we need to visual stimuli to act as catalysts for some idea or the other. The internet is an excellent resource, allowing you to look at anything from medieval art to modern-day photography. You never know when a picture will supply that inspirational spark!

The Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton

Other Literature & Media
I'm not supporting plagiarism here, of course, but sometimes the best inspiration comes from someone else's work. Anything from film to music videos can sometimes provide that sought-after inspiration. If nothing else, studying from your favorite and least favorite books can lead you to discover what you do and don't like about them, and you'll know what to focus on and what to avoid writing in your own work. For me, I've found that history is a good source to draw on; some of it even reads better than fiction!

Brainstorming with Family/Friends/That Poor Guy Who Asked You For a Pencil
Kidding about that last one (mostly) but it is always helpful to toss ideas back and forth with a friend or family member. Brainstorming sessions are invaluable at all stages of the writing process, but especially when starting!

I believe Jack London said it best when he said, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

The aforementioned methods are only a few that have helped me over the years. I'm curious, dear readers, to know what sort of things you do to lure the ol' muse out of hiding. What are some of the best ways to find inspiration that you've found?

* In case any of you are curious and would like to follow my progress throughout November, you can find my profile HERE. And if you, too, are participating in NaNoWriMo, do let me know! ^^

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Let Us Not, Dear Friends, Forget Our Dear Friend the Semicolon

In case you were unaware, yesterday was National Punctuation Day. According to the official site, National Punctuation Day is "a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis". On the spectrum of blink-and-you'll-miss-them holidays, this basically falls somewhere between International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day* and Felt Hat Day. Unlike the aforementioned holidays, however, I feel this one is slightly more respectable. No offense to the felt-hat-wearing pirates out there.

It got me thinking about what my favorite punctuation mark was. Well, no. I already knew what it was. You know you're a writer when you have a favorite punctuation mark in the first place, but I digress. Really, this National Punctuation Day felt like the perfect excuse to pimp my beloved semicolon.

Because, let's face it, folks, the semicolon is awesome.

I know, I know, you're wondering what's so special about the semicolon? Who even uses semicolons anymore? To the first question, I counter with another question: what isn't special about the semicolon? Semicolons can do the work of a comma or a period; they're very versatile! See? And can you connect two independent clauses by just existing? I DIDN'T THINK SO.

As to the second question, I DO. And so should you! Because this is not just a post to celebrate the natural marvel that is the semicolon, but also to raise awareness about its endangered state. Yes, dear readers, I am afraid that the semicolon population is in a state of alarmingly rapid decline! But YOU can do something to stop this tragedy before it's too late.

Use the semicolon; it's what you were meant to do.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with a poem I composed to express my gratitude to that brave, thankless punctuation mark:

Ode to the Semicolon

O, semicolon!
You who eat independent
Clauses for breakfast!

We salute you, friend!
 Your punctuation powers
Without which, we'd fail!

O, semicolon!
Never think we do not love
You, our favorite.

You know my favorite punctuation mark, but now I wonder: what's yours, dear readers? Are you infatuated with the comely comma? Or maybe you get a thrill out of using an exclamation mark! Do share.

* Interesting side note: apparently ninjas wanted a slice of the holiday pie, too, as they now have their own day. Day of the Ninja is December 5th. Mark your calendars, otherwise it may sneak up on you. *rimshot*

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Library and You

Alternatively titled: The Library and One Excited Bibliophile. Or how I found the most awesome old book ever.

We've all been to the public library in some shape or form, whether out of choice or because of a third grade field trip. Back in the day, the library was a source of information, a repository of knowledge. And that hasn't changed. However, with the introduction of the internet, Google, and Wikipedia, there seems to be less and less reason to visit the public library today. Sad, but true. Everything you could want to know (and much of what you never wanted to) is just a few mouse clicks away. It's easy. It's convenient. Slowly, the shine and excitement of visiting the library is wearing off, becoming something best left to the nostalgic, and old people who used to have to walk to the library -- in the snow, uphill, both ways.

I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't fallen prey to the allure of the I'm Feeling Lucky button, and like everyone else forgotten the majesty of a well-stocked library.

That was rectified today.

Today, I decided to finally investigate my university library. I'd been inside once or twice, but not for any length of time and not to check anything out. This time was different. This time, I was on a mission. Sort of. It sounds more dramatic this way, so let's just go with that. The truth was that I had an hour to kill, some curiosity, and a borderline unhealthy fascination with Polish history. In effect, it was the perfect storm.

A university library, in case you've never been to one, is a creature of another kind. This isn't your friendly neighborhood library. University libraries mean SRS BSNS. You will learn something here, and you will like it.

In any case, after choosing a random aisle and (unsurprisingly) failing to find anything on Polish history, it was obvious that professional help was needed navigating the numerous floors filled with shelves jam-packed with books. My friend, who was kind enough to join me in this venture, and I inquired of the local assistant librarian guy how to go about finding a book on Polish history. He was kind enough to explain the process of looking up the call sign* via the university website. So I busted out my Mac and looked up some books that seemed interesting.

Unfortunately, what he failed to explain, or what I failed to understand, was how said call signs actually worked. This led to my friend and I wandering an aisle full of folklore books. Not necessarily a bad thing if you like dragons, castles, and other folky things -- which I do -- but I couldn't very well check out the whole library and it was very easy to get wooed by the many, many books. Each one crying to be checked out. After more than a few minutes, I finally figured out that it was organized by the first two letters of the call sign and not by author's last name. We were in the wrong aisle, by like twenty or so aisles. Oops.

Even knowing the call sign, though, unable to find anything on Poland, I was finally forced to ask for help a second time.

Me: So, I'm pretty sure you have these books here, and I'm pretty sure that I just don't know what I'm doing.
Librarian Guy: *with a smile* Probably. What class are these books for?
Me: Oh, no class. Just for fun.
Librarian Guy: Ahhh . . .

I guess you don't have many people coming in looking to read history books on Poland for fun. Who knew?

Finally finding the right aisle and the right section, all that was left was to pick out the right book. Which was harder that I anticipated. With so many options, I became indecisive. But in the process of looking for something that would be informational while not turning my brain into goop, I stumbled upon an old book.

Now, when I say this book was old, I mean OLD. Its binding seemed to be made out of aged leather and quite frayed. The pages were thin and crinkly. It had the most fabulous old book smell, ever. More importantly, it was called "History of the Late Polish Revolution" aka the November Uprising and was one of the original copies. This baby was printed and published in 1832, a year after the actual uprising -- a first edition copy, or very near to.

I was holding in my hands a book that was around while Chopin was alive, about the very revolution that happened to be the source of inspiration for his Revolutionary Etude. You can imagine my excitement.

If you can't, here is a .gif to illustrate:

Sadly, I didn't check it out. I could have, but I didn't, on account of already owning a .pdf copy of the same book on my computer that I'd gotten a while back. Even so, it didn't detract from the thrill of the find.

So the moral of this story is that libraries are still awesome, even magical places and you should hang out in them, keep all those long-ignored books company and savor that old book smell.

And now I'd love to hear what sort of delightful experiences you've had in a library, dear readers! Have you ever come across a particularly interesting find? Met someone who shared the same interests as you? Embarrassed yourself by jumping up and down, proclaiming your love for a certain book or books? Or maybe that's just me . . .

P.S. Welcome to my blog! ^^

* I'm pretty sure it was actually called a call number, now that I'm thinking about it, but call sign sounds so much cooler. Like the books are all secret agents, just waiting to be summoned for action!