It doesn’t matter when you hit a dead end. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing. You might be trapped in a maze, and suddenly you’re surrounded by walls with only one way out: back the way you came. You might be living in an apartment, and one day you get a notice that you’re being evicted because your landlord discovered the money you’ve been giving him for the past year was counterfeit. For me, a few weeks ago, I hit a dead end in my writing.
The ideas weren’t coming, and a forced idea is never a good idea. So I took what I like to call some “time off” from writing. It lined up nicely with the two week break I got from school for the holidays, which I spent either a.) watching TV, b.) checking my email, which was always empty, c.) playing board games, computer games, or videogames, d.) sitting around, or e.) some combination of a, b, c, and d. But pretty much, I was being a lazy slug. A few times I would open up one of the stories I’m working on, stare at the last place I left off, and then realize why I abandoned it in the first place. I was stuck.
But two days ago, I finally got un-stuck. It turned out that “time off” was really all I needed to come back to my stories with a new angle, a fresh idea to dig me out of the hole I’d fallen into. I opened up a story that I’d given up on a while ago and just started typing away, wondering why I’d even thought I hit a dead end in the first place. That worked fine for one page, until I hit another dead end. I hadn’t worked on the story in so long that I couldn’t even remember where I was trying to go with it.
So I clicked on a different story, a more recent one, and my imagination started to flow once more. It flowed for another eight pages, and then it crashed to a halt, stuck once more. With this story, I have a clearer understanding of where the plot is moving, what the next course of action is. But I’m not entirely sure how to get there.
Sigh. It seems I’ve hit another dead end, in this blog post, because right now I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say, what my point is. I guess I’m just rambling, as usual. I am one voice among billions, putting my voice out there. Everybody can hear it. But nobody can listen to it.
* * *
It’s me again. Aurora. Well, I was just reading over my last post, and it really made me ache to see how dejected I was back then. I mean, not that I’m not dejected anymore. I… well, I sort of am, but slightly less.
So here’s what’s going on in my life at the moment. Firstly, although you probably don’t care about this, I joined the school musical, “South Pacific.” It exposes the sensitive topic of racial prejudice in an interesting, heartbreaking way, and the concepts behind it are absolutely wonderful. The music, also, is very fun. There’s only one thing a little wrong with the musical: my part. I’m an “island singer,” whatever that even means. I can’t explain how embarrassing it is when somebody asks me my part, and I don’t even have a name to tell them. So I’ve decided to invent one for myself: Colette. It’s a French name, which works since I’m supposed to be French, and it means victory, which works because it’s ironic. Ha… ha… (dry sarcasm.) Ugh, I don’t know what I’m saying.
Anway, I just started a new story based on an old story. I’ve had the concept of a prequel to one of my other successful stories for a long time, but I’ve never really been able to bring it to life. This time, I hope I can be successful. I started off differently than I have before, and I’m making more elaborate plans for it. I was just writing a scene where one character give another a gift: a beautiful little snow globe with a violet inside it. I wrote it without looking or even really remembering that I had written a similar scene in my previous attempts at this story, but I was shocked and amused at how similar my word choice was.
Old story: “It was small and wrapped in brown parcel paper, tied with twine.”
“I took it and carefully removed the packaging, and it fell softly to the floor.”
New story: “He brought forth a box about the size of my hand, wrapped in brown package paper and tied with a piece of twine.”
“With delicate fingers, I removed the package paper, which fell softly to the ground.”
My writing style hasn’t changed at all in the past year! I don’t know if I should find that fact comforting or disturbing.
* * *
I’m finding that this year, my writing is going down the drain. I don’t have any new stories that I want to write, nor any ideas for the stories that I’m already writing. I’ve even become so desperate as to try re-writing a story I wrote in fifth grade, which didn’t make much sense but had an interesting concept, but even this re-written story isn’t turning out the way I planned.
You know how people say you never know how much you love something until it’s gone? With me, that’s how I feel about writing. It became a constant in my life, something I could always turn to for comfort when I was bored or upset or excited. I could start writing a poem, make a diary entry, work on a story. Now, without anything to write, I feel empty. I feel like a piece of me is missing, and I’m struggling to get the piece back, to tape myself together again, but I’m having quite a hard time.
Progress is slowly being made with my poems. I just finished one about a depressed girl, but it sort of made me feel depressed. The only other thing I really have going for me is a new story I started, but I doubt it’s going anywhere. It’s a mystery, which, simply put, is way out of my comfort zone. I’ve stayed away from writing mysteries since a writing contest fiasco in fourth grade, and I vowed I would never write another one again. Now I’m trying, and I realize why I vowed not to.
Ugh, this is so pathetic. The only way I can write is with poems, and even those don’t come naturally to me anymore. Today I had to actually think about things that would rhyme instead of just letting the words come. Besides poem, all I really have is this blog, which is why I’ve turned to it in this time of desperation. Right now I’m writing just for the sake of writing, to try to badly tape up the missing piece of me.
The tape will hold until I publish this post. Then it will disintegrate, and the piece will be missing once more.
* * *
Note: Yeah, I know: “The Crossroads of Destiny”? Don’t ask.
I suppose I don’t even have to say it, because it’s fairly obvious, but I love the Harry Potter series. Who doesn’t? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is one of my favorite books of all-time. Unfortunately, I don’t actually own any of the Harry Potter books; they reside on the bookshelf of my older sister. Because of this, I have only read each book once. However, recently, there has been a new way to refresh myself on the world of Potter. You guessed it. Pottermore.
Of course I got an account as soon as I could. On Day4 of the Magical Quill Challenge, I found myself in the middle of a lake in Wisconsin, on a boat with my family. I borrowed my mom’s iPhone and answered the question easily. After a few technological glitches–we were in the middle of nowhere, after all–everything was set. More than a month later, I received an email that gave me access to my Pottermore account.
Was I expecting it to be amazing? Yes! And was it? Well… It definitely was cool to move through each chapter, to find hidden objects to collect. And when I got my wand, a 12 and a quarter inch spruce with a phoenix feather core, I was ecstatic. And sure, when I got sorted in to Ravenclaw, I was excited. But after that? What was there left to do?
Only book one is available for viewing. There is no music or sound effects. There are glitches with potion making. The spells seem rather pointless–in a literal sense. I wanted to try to earn house points for Ravenclaw, but practicing spells doesn’t do that. I would try a Wizard Duel, but it’s “under maintennance” and cannot be played. The Pottermore experience is sorely lacking in interaction. I feel like I’m going through the motions, travelling from chapter to chapter but not really doing anything in them.
Still, I love Harry Potter. And I love Pottermore. But I think that I love the idea of Pottermore more than I love the actual thing.
* * *
Paper means something different to everybody. It can mean a piece of fiber, made of cellulose, usually white. It can mean a blank canvas waiting for a drawing to fill it. It can mean a place to brainstorm ideas. It can mean a dreadful face, staring at you, waiting for you to fill it with words that will be graded later. To me, paper is wonderful. It’s a place to put anything you want, a place to let your imagination flow. To paraphrase Anne Frank, paper doesn’t judge you. You can write whatever you want on it, do whatever you like with it, and it will still like you. If you use it wisely, paper can be your best friend.
Paper Towns by John Green takes the meaning of paper to a whole new level. It is used to desrcribe shallowness and superficiality. It tells the story of an awkard, funny boy named Quentin who’s been in love with his neighbor, the beautiful but unattainable Margo Roth Speigelman, for his whole life. Margo is pretty, popular, and seemingly perfect, and though Quentin knows he’ll never get her, he can still dream. But when Margo finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she takes Quentin on a wild midnight adventure to get revenge on her boyfriend and her so-called friends who knew about his unfaithfulness.
The next day, Margo is gone. She’s run away for the fourth time, and nobody really puts much stock into it. “She’ll be back,” everyone assumes, as graduation is approaching. “She’ll come home any day now.” Margo’s pattern when she runs away is to leave cryptic clues, which she believes should allow people to find her. So naturally, Quentin takes it upon himself to find these clues and find Margo.
It becomes an obsession of his. The first breakthrough is a note in his door with an address to an abandoned building where Margo liked to sit for hours, just thinking, just writing in her black notebook. Quentin goes there often, just looking through it. He knows she’s been there. He imagines her sitting there, writing, getting dirty. It takes time, but eventually he realizes that she was just a person.
He remembers the last time he saw her, on their wild adventure. From a tall building, they looked down upon Orlando, all laid out before them. Quention marveled at its magnificence, but Margo became distant. She reflected on how Orlando was just a paper town, full of flimsy, fake, paper people. As time passes, Quentin starts to wonder if Margo committed suicide. He continues to search, but for what? A girl, or a body?
On graduation day, everything falls into place. Scattered clues from forgotten maps and highlighted poetry books lead to an entry online, in which an article describes Agloe, a “paper town,” an imaginary town put on a map to protect against copyright infringemtn. There is a single comment on the article. From Margo. Quentin, along with his two friends and one of Margo’s friends, rush to Agloe to find Margo before she leaves there for good.
They do find her. But she snaps at them, yelling, telling them they shouldn’t have come. Quentin asks why she left all those clues if she didn’t want him to find her, and she replies that there were no clues. There was only the first one, the address to the place she liked to be alone. It was supposed to be a way for Quentin to come to terms with her departure. This time, Margo didn’t want to be found.
Quentin begs Margo to come back home with him, and Margo asks Quentin to go to New York City with her, but both refuse each other’s offers. That’s their difference. Both know that Orlando is a paper town, but not in the literal sense. Quentin chooses to accept it, but Margo can’t handle it. And Margo reveals that she is superficial as well, worried about silly issues. She is a paper girl.
Paper can be a place to write, or a metaphor about the fakeness of the world. It can be your greatest ally, or your worst enemy.
* * *
This year, as you know, is my first year in high school, where there are an abundance of classes to choose from. One of these is Journalism, which I decided to take, because, in case somehow you didn’t catch on yet, I love to write. I thought that this class would be a great way to learn a new style of writing while also developing more skills for the styles I’ve already learned. Surprisingly, we have a Journalism textbook, a little paperback called High School Journalism, told by a slightly annoying, fairly arrogant author named Jim Streisel. It’s told in first person but mostly gives advice, although it occasionally contains a story that’s meant to be funny but is really just irritating because Streisel is trying too hard. Occasionally, though, there is some meaningful text.
One of the main things that Streisel emphasizes is getting to the point. He says that without a clear idea of what you’re trying to get across, your story is just made up of random ramblings, whatever pops into your mind, and nobody is interested in that. He might as well have said, “Aurora, your blog stinks.” It pretty much entirely consists of whatever I feel like writing, and I know that supposedly, its purpose is to give reviews of things, but honestly, who am I kidding with that? It’s really just a way of expressing myself, of exercising my writing skills, of entertaining myself. I mean, just take a look at my last post. I started off wanting to give a review of Foundation, but it ended up being about how to get inspiration for stories. Ugh.
So I came in to this post with a point in mind, and I intend to get it across. I am actually going to write a review of High School Journalism. It began fairly decently, with a few jokes meant to loosen up the reader, to make Streisel seem likeable. It talked about “Carl the Caveman,” who, Streisel says, is the first journalist, because he was a storyteller, and that’s what a journalist really is. So far, so okay. That was the introduction: nothing special, but nothing that really aggravated me.
Then I got to the first chapter. Streisel compared journalism to broccoli, saying that it was really good for you, but if it wasn’t presented in an appealing way, nobody would want to eat it. So I get the analogy, but I’m not really feeling it. Then he makes a couple more jokes which really fall flat, and all the while, he’s becoming increasingly irritating. One of my biggest pet peeves in writing is when authors make one sentence a whole paragraph because they think it’s important. I mean, I get it if it is important, but if it’s just for dramatic effect, it’s ridiculous. Well, it seems that Streisel thinks that everything he says is important, because every other paragraph is one sentence. Or not even one sentence. Example: “Your readers.” “Meet Carl.” “But it might.” “Maybe.” It drove me insane, honestly.
The content of the book isn’t half bad, actually. Some of it, like getting to the point, like understanding your readers, like localizing your stories, are actually good advice. But the voice Streisel tells it in is just too hard to ignore. I think I’ve mentioned writers’ voices before, when I talked about Molly Backes. I’m not sure what I said, exactly, so I might be repeating myself here. But every writer has a voice, and like a fingerprint, no voice is exactly the same. It can be witty, charming, glamorous, or simply beautiful. Streisel intends for his to be funny, using little quips, telling supposedly hilarious stories, but they all fall short.
So now, I’m going to end this post using one of my biggest pet peeves. It probably doesn’t bother anyone but me, but hopefully this can illustrate, if only a tiny bit, where I’m coming from. There was only one funny thing that Streisel put in his book. It was on a page telling journalists how to conduct good interviews. There was a chart, one column of “Do’s” and one of “Don’t's.” All of them were obvious, but only one of them made me smile. It was under the “Don’t's” column.
It read, “Don’t go up to someone and say, ‘Hey, man, you got a quote?’”
* * *
Note: Hee, hee. Who would actually say that? Ah, that’s funny.
Have you ever wanted to write about something simply because you felt you ought to? Or do you always choose your writing topics selectively, because you are so filled with ideas that you couldn’t possibly shed light on all of them? For me, my mind is always buzzing with new concepts for things to write about. I usually will take a few days, even weeks, to develop these notions in my mind before sitting down at my computer and letting my hands carry the story wherever they feel it should go. I’ll write a few pages, and then… what? Then I’ll get stuck. I’ll have moments of frustration, growing frustration, as my mind becomes clouded with where I want the story to go, but completely blank with how I should get there.
So, you may ask, what then? How do I get past this obstacle, this hurtle preventing the story from reaching its final destination? Sometimes I don’t. Actually, it’s more often than not that the obstacle will simply be too impossible to get past, or that I’ll feel too lazy to try to move it, or that the story isn’t strong enough to survive it. So I’ll leave it be. I may never come back to it. I may leave the story behind, trapped behind that obstacle, never to move on. Or, days later, I may try again and succeed, only to come up against an even bigger obstacle. But that’s what writing stories is about. It’s about growing irritated, tired, wanting to give up on them. You will give up. You will say, “The story just isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want to deal with it anymore.” You will forget about it. You will write more stories, ones that you think you’ll really be able to finish. You will give up on these, too.
But some of them will make it. Some of them, despite all the obstacles in their way, will persevere through these difficult times, and they will last until they have finished telling whatever it is you wanted them to tell. I’ve been writing for forever, and how many stories have I finished? A countless amount. How many books have I finished? Six. How many books that I am proud of have I finished? Two.
So how did I do it? How did those two survive longer than the others, endure all the hardships thrown their way? A lot of it is planning. I know, I know. Planning? For many writers, planning is something to be avoided at all costs. They believe that writing should be free, an extension of the imagination, a completely creative process that shouldn’t be tampered with by planning. I agree with them to a certain point. Writing is free, imaginative, and creative. But what I like to do is to write down what things I have in store for each story. Before and during the writing of my best book, I wrote down pieces of the plot, did extensive research to find names that fit each character, made summaries, created charts, wrote bullet points, and took notes. It sounds obsessive, crazy, yes. But it helped.
I could go on forever about why planning is so important, but I’ve bored you enough already. “Okay,” you’re saying. “So it’s good to plan out what I want to write before I start writing and even after, too. But how do I plan if I don’t have any ideas?” I can’t answer that specifically, I’m sorry to say. That’s like asking me, “How do I decide what to wear today?” I don’t know what you look like, what colors will match with your hair and complexion. I don’t know what style of clothes you are attracted to, if you enjoy cute and comfy ones or dark and gothic ones. What I can tell you is what criteria I base my decision of what to wear on. So when it comes to getting ideas, I spend a lot of time just thinking. When I’m in the car, looking out the window but not really looking. When I’m in my room, watching TV but not really watching. When I’m getting dressed, deciding what to put on but not really deciding. The idea doesn’t just come to me like, “Bing! Here I am!” It takes time. I can’t even explain it, really. Sometimes, I can’t think of anything. But sometimes, a tiny seed will sprout in my mind, and eventually it will grow into a little plant. That’s when I start to plan, to nurture my plant so it can become beautiful and healthy.
If thinking doesn’t work for you, don’t stop doing it. Never close off your mind to new ideas, because they’re always in your mind, if only you could dig deep enough to find them. But another technique isn’t even really a technique. It’s a little something called waiting. If you wait long enough, something will happen, and it will lead to a flurry of ideas. Your teacher will say, “In the Roman times, if a baby didn’t look healthy enough, the father would leave it outside to die.” You’ll discover that before you lived in your house, an old woman with a black cat did, and she left her necklace behind. An old object, a dusty fishbowl with a sparkling castle inside, will catch your eye.
You probably won’t even realize it at first, but all of these objects have given you ideas. You’ll go on to write about a Roman girl who, as a baby, was left outside to die by her father, and who grew up to be a great warrior. You’ll write about an old, lonely witch who, with the help of her cat, worked to do good in the world. You’ll write about a hidden city under the sea where mermaids lured sailors.
I could go on and on about ideas, about writing, about so much more forever. But I’ve probably said enough for today. For now, farewell. I hope that maybe, just maybe, this has given you an idea about ideas. Or even an idea.
* * *
Note: I started off wanting this post to be about this book I recently read called Foundation. My mom recommended it to me, so I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I actually did. Anyway, it just goes to show that you can think you want to write about one thing, but really inside, you want to write about something totally different.