Blog Update

So… did I mention how addicting fanfiction is? :)

It’s been a month since I updated, and all I can say is sorry. I’m pretty sure any regular readers have long since moved on, which is perfectly understandable. Anyone who stumbles upon this site or the old posts, I’m grateful to have you–and I have not abandoned this blog.

The issue with a writing blog when you’re struggling to write (or spending all your time writing really fun–but really not ‘career’-focused–fanfic) is that there isn’t much new to say. You also don’t really feel like an authority on writing, and yet another post on the struggles of creativity or writer’s block or finding motivation rings hollow and familiar.

To say that I’m struggling with where I’m at in my life, with the choices I’ve made, with the choices I have to make now… would be an understatement. I’m also at a point where I’m in a bit of a shame spiral about everything on top of that confusion, and it’s… not fun. So fanfiction was fun and I followed helplessly after, even as it sort of digs my pit a little deeper. It’s writing, though, and it’s building some emotional tools I can hopefully bring to my original writing–as long as I get back to my original writing, of course.

Where do I go from here? Well, isn’t that the question of the hour. I don’t know how personal to get with this blog–I don’t imagine anyone’s really interested–but I’ll try and get better about sharing something with anyone out there who’s also on this crazy writing ride. I can’t promise anything, though, so take from that what you will.

I’m appreciative to every single person who stumbles past this site, for however long or whatever reason, so thank you. :) And I will try to be better.

– J

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How Writing Fanfiction Can Make You a Better Writer

A lot of people have talked about the benefits of fanfiction—the lack of gatekeepers to allow beginning writers to dive right in, the built-in audience for support and motivation, the potential for growth and feedback—and all of these are absolutely true.

But there are a few other significant benefits that fanfiction can bring to your original writing, that I have discovered when I recently started writing it again. (For the uninitiated, “fanfiction” is original writing using characters and settings—and potentially plot points—from another source, such as a TV show; it can be as short as a paragraph or as long as an epic, and it is produced for free and shared online, though it has a more complex and interesting history than just this definition; see this post for more if you’re interested.)

  1. It makes writing exercises much more fun.

Many writing books advise writing regularly—many even provide prompts and exercises to guide you. But as much as I love writing, I have never been able to get into this habit; I’ve always aimed for the long projects that take a ton of planning before I feel ready to actually write. And so, when I’m in the brainstorming and planning portions of my process, I don’t write at all.

Fanfiction has changed that. By giving me characters and a world already built to explore (not to mention a supportive audience for even my short pieces), I have been writing every day and using the muscles that otherwise lay dormant. Though this form of writing has no potential for “financial” advantages, it is just as valid for learning and growing as a writer—if not more so, because it crafts a community full of enthusiasm and inspiration that can push your limits and creativity to new frontiers.

  1. It develops your characterization skills.

When you write your own characters, you have to worry about making them interesting, complex, and consistent. When you write someone else’s, you have to worry about all of the same things—but you also have to worry about accuracy, with an audience that already knows these characters (potentially better than you do). If a character says or does something that doesn’t fit, they will know. And that is going to hone your skills better than any original writing could.

You have to match the dialogue style and psychology to the source material, as well as developing that characterization through whatever original scenario you’re putting the characters through. Crafting this balancing act is not easy, but it helps develop the skills of making characters consistently themselves. If you have problems with all of your characters acting and sounding like you, try writing someone else’s characters—matching their speech patterns, thinking about how they acted in the source material. Maybe having someone else’s characterizations as a guideline will help you stop thinking like yourself, and start thinking like someone entirely different—which is one of the greatest gifts that stories can give us.

  1. It builds an emotional skillset for your original work.

This is the one that surprised me the most—and that I think is the most important of all. Fandom can be a safe, sheltered space of creativity for beginners, but it also mimics a lot of the same patterns of production and sharing as original work.

Every time I open a document to start writing out an idea, I have to make that leap—the creative jump into making something from my own mind and trusting that it’s worth it. Sure, fanfiction provides the foundation, but these are still my words and my ideas taking shape…

And waiting to be judged. Every single time I post something, I feel the nerves of putting myself out there—and I have to hit “post” and do it anyway. Is it easier than submitting to an agent? Sure; it’s lower pressure, and it’s obviously much easier and quicker. But the emotions of throwing your soul out to an audience are the same, and the leap of faith it takes to do so is the same bravery (if in miniature).

So you have to learn to write for yourself. Even if no one comments or likes or responds at all, did you still enjoy writing it? Can you reread it and smile? Did you learn something from the process? The more you put yourself out there in this relatively safe space, the more you learn how to put yourself out there in all creative ways. If you are lucky enough to gain an audience, then you have to learn how to deal with the expectations that comes with that.

But the fun of fanfiction is that it is not the hard-edged and difficult world of publishing, so this emotional armor can be built carefully and gently, and you can strengthen your ability to take that leap before you dive into contracts and paychecks and published reviews. There can be dark sides to this world, of course—anonymous internet hate and being completely ignored and disappointing your readers—but those experiences build an important emotional armor as well.

When you can create in the void, when you can savor your creativity for yourself (even if only for yourself), when you can create even in the face of rejection, then you can create anything.

And that’s the first step to being the best writer you can be.

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Developing Ideas: One Path from Idea to Draft

You start with an idea, a glimmer in your eye, a shimmer in the void, a vague sense of maybe… It may be a single image, a lone character, an interesting what if? You poke and prod, squint and twist, and decide it’s worth uncovering from the shadows of the muse’s cave.

Or maybe you don’t have an idea—maybe you just want one. Maybe you stand in the dark, no light to guide you other than the blazing of your own dreams, the desire sharp and pressing on your back, urging you forward. So you grope and crawl and search for something, anything, to follow into the sun.

But how do you take this vague, amorphous, fickle creature and bring it to life? How do you build its roots into the ground so it can stand on its own?

How do you take an idea… and make a book?

This is one way, from unclear start to something potentially real. It may not work for everyone, or every idea, and sometimes the path resembles a hopscotch more than a straight line. But when you’re stumbling in the creative night, every tiny step is one towards dawn.

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On Fandom and Creativity

I believe this is the golden age of fandom.

We could have a debate about the quality of current content versus the classics of old—certainly more is being produced today, and “nerd culture” is at its most mainstream—but that debate would exemplify what can sometimes be wrong in fandom: competitiveness, and judgment, and gatekeeping.

What I want to explore is the best of fandom, and I think the best of today’s fandom is the best there’s ever been.

For any out there who might be unfamiliar, “fandom” is a term for a collective group of fans—it can be applied to a specific work, such as the “Harry Potter fandom,” or as a general term for people who express enthusiasm and even love for fictional works—through buying collectibles and t-shirts, attending conventions and midnight screenings, drawing fanart or writing fanfiction. Being a part of fandom is more than just enjoying a work; it’s about the hunger for more, the passion for the details, the connection you feel to others who love the same, and the burst of creative energy that can come from this adoration.

It’s the last two that are more powerful now than they have ever been.

I’m sure as long as there have been creative works, there have been fans. Shakespeare’s plays probably had a dedicated group of followers (including Queen Elizabeth?); and Arthur Conan Doyle’s fandom was so strong and vocal that he had to resurrect Sherlock Holmes from the dead. In fact, an interesting book I read about fanfiction—Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison—mentioned that the Bronte sisters wrote fanfiction as their early work (I’m pretty sure; this is from memory).

The earliest form of fanfiction as we recognize it today—“amateur” fans writing stories about their favorite characters or worlds and sharing it with each other for free; as opposed to licensed media tie-ins or adaptations of works out of copyright, both of which share many qualities of fanfiction, but notably not the “free” part—is generally believed to have come from the original Star Trek fandom, who sent out newsletters and coined the term “slash” around the pairing of Kirk and Spock (a.k.a. Kirk-slash-Spock). In these early days of fandom, to love a fictional work so much that you subscribed to newsletters and attended conventions was a mark of an outcast, a “Trekkie,” a geek or nerd before that was an okay thing to be.

But still, people sought fandom out. Because somehow, fiction stirs something in us, powerful and deep and often unavoidable. (I maintain that “sports fandom” shares many of the same traits—costumes and gatherings and trivia and fan creations—without the stigma, but I digress…)

So what has changed to make today’s fandom not only so much more mainstream, but so much better?

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Update on Wattpad–Complete!

Hi all,

Just wanted to check in briefly and let you know that my “novel” on Wattpad is now completely posted! Check out the “My Books” tag above for the link, if you’re interested. :)

I’ve gotten a few more readers, some lovely comments, and whether new readers find it now that it’s finished or whether it floats away quietly into the void, I can say that I do not regret posting the story on Wattpad for one moment. It’s out there, and people can read it (if they want), and that’s better than my black hole of a hard drive any day.

I said at the beginning of this that if I got even just one reader who enjoyed the story, I would be happy. So I can say, unequivocally, that I am happy. Thank you to anyone who takes the time to give it a chance–I appreciate that so much.

As far as this blog… I want to get better about posting. And I keep saying that, and not changing, so I realize that’s a problem. But I’ve been in a difficult creative slump (more like roller coaster) lately, and it isn’t very conducive to posting writing “tips” like I know anything about anything. As always, my eternal optimism remains, so who knows what might happen in the near future… (Answer: nothing. Always nothing.) :)

I will do my absolute best to post more in the future, and if anything radical happens on Wattpad, I’ll let you know (for those interested in it as a platform themselves).

For now, I just wanted to say that my first novel, something I made, is out there in the world… and whatever happens in my life and career, that will always be awesome.

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Update on Wattpad

For those following along at home (after this long hiatus, I’m sorry), and considering using Wattpad for releasing your own fiction into the wild, I thought I’d give an update on how it’s going.

The mechanics for uploading a chapter are super easy, at least so far—just copying and pasting from MS Word, and it keeps all the italics and everything. Once the chapters are published, cross-posting them to Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr is just a click of a button (so far, I’m only doing Tumblr). From this aspect, Wattpad is very user friendly and doesn’t require any complicated formatting or anything.

But the real question is—is anyone reading it?

The short answer is… not really. Which is pretty much what I expected, so I’m not too disappointed. The most basic underlying reason I posted to Wattpad was just to put my story out there, for better or worse, for feedback or radio silence, and to have it out in the world. In that, mission accomplished.

But if you’re thinking about Wattpad and wondering about readership, I’ll dig a little deeper. There are two potential reasons why my story isn’t being read:

Option A is that it’s just bad. No one’s going to make the effort to continue reading a story on the internet if it’s boring or confusing or poorly written, and they shouldn’t have to. This is my first completed novel, and I can accept that it probably belongs in a bottom drawer. However, if my statistics are to be believed, I don’t have too many random people clicking on the first chapter or two and then turning away (a few, to be sure, but not enough that I feel like I’m missing out on some huge readership). Whether there are random people seeing the summary and not being enticed, it’s impossible to tell—though undoubtedly quite likely.

The more likely reason is Option B—it’s not being seen. In the vast sea of works that is Wattpad, standing out isn’t easy—even just being visible isn’t automatic. It’s especially difficult when you don’t do any promotion… Probably the best tactic would be going out and reading and commenting on other people’s works, which I will admit I haven’t really done. Without an internet following of any kind to point towards my story, or any standout features to attract its own audience (such as being a fanfic of existing characters people love, or having some really unique twist), I’m not surprised that it’s lost in the void of the internet.

My guess is that it’s a combination—hard to find amidst the overwhelming crowd, and with a first chapter that isn’t going to make anyone instantly obsessed for the few who find it. Add to that my lack of promotion, and it’s destined to do exactly what it’s doing…

But that’s still cool. I will continue posting chapters until the story is complete, and then I will leave it there (and linked here on my website), and I will have put my first book out into the world. Perhaps someday I’ll have a legitimate reason to be embarrassed by that, but I think this is part of growing as a creator. You make something, you put it out there, maybe no one likes it, and then you keep making things. It’s the only way. :)

Let me know if you’ve used Wattpad and how it went—or if you read things on Wattpad, how something catches your eye! Or, alternatively, what it takes to keep you reading–and what turns you away. I’m sure every writer is just looking for that secret formula, eh?

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Healthy Eating for the Week–and Some Tips!

I’ve written before about the issues of body image that seem to plague almost all young women (and some men), following them from meal to meal and mirror to mirror like a shroud. Our culture is struggling, slowly and painfully, to move towards a world where women are not objectified, commodified, and quantified by their appearance above all else—before they can even walk.

But in the meantime, women (and men) of strong principles must find a new balance, between the confidence to love our bodies in all their imperfections… and the struggle to live a healthy lifestyle that may not always be fun, and may even require a bit of that body image issue for motivation.

As someone who likes a lot of bad food and hates exercise, plus lives a sedentary lifestyle, I have found myself putting on weight and sinking into my decidedly unhealthy lifestyle like a swamp. Suggestions to change get under my (admittedly lumpy) skin, reeking as they do of our image-obsessed and impossible-perfection-seeking culture. And yet they’re not… wrong.

This week, for whatever reason, something in me switched. It may have been an overpriced patty melt that didn’t sit quite right with me, or a candid picture I saw of myself that made me do a double take (mostly a problem with the angle, I assured myself…). Unconsciously, it sunk in, and when I went to the grocery store, I bought all healthy stuff. And I mean… all. Since Tuesday, I have eaten basically nothing but fresh produce, cooked and prepared in various means—a miracle on two fronts, since I’m used to frozen meals and haven’t actually cooked in ages. I’ve also walked every day!

Knowing me, this won’t last. But I decided, in lieu of a writing blog this week, I’d share the food I’ve been eating—easy to prepare, tasty, and healthy (I think). And pictures, with horrible quality that I apologize for. Recipes and tips under the cut!

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