What I Learned from Reading My Old Writing

Home for the Holidays means one thing: going through old clutter and purging. Old clothes, old collectables, those kinds of things.

But then I found five old notebooks. I knew what they were before I even opened them. They were notebooks I used during my time in University where I wrote a bunch of stories. They were a series of stories about (insert cringing face) a series of four friends who play on the same hockey team….that is being possessed by a demon. Unfortunately, the evil demon is the team’s best player, and they aren’t sure they want to stop winning.

Here’s what I learned from reading through it all.

It’s not easy to throw it all out.

I was ready to toss them all out. But as I started reading them, I found myself laughing or turning the pages to see what happens next. Will these stories ever see the light of day or be re-worked to become publishable? Dear god, no. Do they deserve to be trashed? No, not really.

Writing was important to me.

Somehow in the middle of lectures, library research, textbook highlighting, drinking with friends and long essay writing, I found the time to put the pen the paper (yes, these stories were handwritten!) and continuously churned out page after page of story. I even found one chapter that was written very messily, and in the margins I had written: “I wrote this on the bus!”. I am so impressed, looking back on myself, that I was so into my story that I actually pulled out my notebook and started writing a scene while riding the bus. Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten that I have always been a writer. That is something that time, work, and personal relationships can never take away from me.

I was good at characterization.

I’m actually impressed with my ability to create four very distinct personalities, and have them show up on the page. I’ve recently been victim of falling into the trap of writing people who are too similar to one another, or voices that don’t sound unique.

I wrote for myself, not my audience.

I know that’s the opposite of what you’re supposed to do when you’re trying to become a published author, but I guess back then writing was more of an escape for me, and I wrote for myself. In a way, it gave me a sense of freedom. I explored some very dark themes, and some very corny ones. But that was okay, and I enjoyed writing it.

I wrote what I know.

And in this case, I knew comic books. Reading through my old pages, I can see my influences very clearly. Which goes back to the whole characterization thing. I’ve stopped reading comic books, but now I suddenly miss it. The magical worlds really did open up my imagination, and provided a huge escape.

Well. I’m glad I found my old writing. It’s good to be reminded of how writing has played such a strong role in my past.

And hopefully my future.

Creating Characters Inspired by Real People

Recently, I started my next Work in Progress. Yes, I wanted to start it in October, and not in November during Nanowrimo. I got 6,000 words in and realized it’s just not working. It’s going straight to trash and I’m going to restart it. I’m going to wait until November to start it. I’m going to spend the next two weeks of October planning.

Because that was the issue here: pants-ing.

I’m sure it works for some people. And I gotta admit, I love pantsing, especially during Nanowrimo when the point is to word-dump, not necessarily to come out with a perfect manuscript. But I want to do it right this time. I’m getting old, and I don’t want to waste a month of my life. I’m going to come up with a solid outline this time, and solve what was my biggest issue in the 6,000 words I just dumped: character.

While reading this Nano Prep article, How the Ancient Art of People-Watching Will Make You a Character Pro!, I realized that’s what made my previous novel come so easily. Everything clicked for me when I observed someone in real life who was exactly who I wanted my main character to be.

It was a girl I worked with. I even named my MC after her! (which I changed later, of course). The thing is, everyone in my office hated her. Even I would get annoyed with her. It made me wonder, why? I realized it’s because she has absolutely no filter. She always speaks her mind about anyone and everyone, and she is very, very opinionated. Shell also never let anyone talk shit about her. Not only that but she is very bubbly, optimistic, and a huge lover of gourmet tea.

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(I just realized she’s exactly like Kelly Kapoor from The Office)

 

Boom! Instant character. Suddenly my main character came alive in my story. I sat down and all the scenes came easy because I understood her reactions and motivations in the scene.

I don’t know if this is a right or wrong way to go about creating a character. All I know is it’s worked for me before. So for now, I’m on the hunt for my next real life character inspiration.

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Unfortunately, everyone else at my office is dull so I need to go outside this time. To the mall I go!

Where do you get your ideas from? – Part 1

One of the best places I browse for inspiration is PostSecret.

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I remember back in the day when it was huuuuuuge. Me and my friends would wait every day until new secrets were posted on Sunday, and then we’d scroll through them all and discuss our favourites or ones that made us think.

I even submitted a few secrets once before that were actually published, and they had no idea! There’s this strange thrill of putting something out there that makes you feel free, like you are not the only person who knows about it anymore. And when someone says “that’s a silly thing to be worried about”, it makes you stop and think that maybe something that has had a powerful hold on you, might not actually be that powerful.

Anyways, I still look through it from time to time and save my favourite secrets. Ones that are shocking and others that are ordinary. Then, when I’m writing a new character, I have a look and see if it’s something I can use to create a psychological roadblock for my character.

You never know what will hold someone back. And how easy it is to let go!

Here is one of my latest favourites:

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Describe Yourself as a Writer

<I>Q: Describe yourself as a writer using one word.</I>

A: zhogv3bi

I like weird things. And I like to write about weird things.

When I first started working as an advertising copywriter, my Creative Director gave me a little notebook on the first day (I’d love to picture it as a sexy leather-bound moleskin but nope, it was just a shitty dollar store book) and told me to write down anything weird I observe or experience during the day (of course I wrote that down as my first entry). This became my “There-Must-Be-An-Ad-In-That” idea book. If we were ever stuck for ad ideas, we were all urged to refer back to this book, just flip the pages and see if we could plug any of these strange things into an advertising concept.

I’ve never stopped doing this even though I’ve fled as far as possible from advertising. Only now instead of carrying around a notebook I just type it all into the Notes section of my phone.

Story on the news that made me laugh? I shove it in. I’m not a traditional person and my entire life I’ve been attracted towards the strange and things that are different. That includes reading novels based on strange situations (for example: Death and the Penguin, a story about a man who lives in post-USSR Ukraine with his pet penguin that he recovered from the bankrupt zoo). I love that kind of shit! Give me more of it! My thirst for the bizarre is rarely satisfied, though, that’s why I feel this need to write about it.

People who read my stuff always go “Wow you’ve got such a creative mind to come up with these things!” but let’s face it, that’s not the exact truth. Ideas don’t magically strike me down at any given moment. Maybe that’s how some writers work, but not me. It’s hard work – always observing, listening, and recording things down. That’s the key to it all – don’t hope you remember it later. Even if you’re lying in bed half asleep or on a crowded subway or in the shower – if it comes into your head, even if it doesn’t make sense at the moment, write it down! For those moments when you’re stuck with either where to begin a story or how to get one going, the idea swipe file will always come in handy. No matter how quirky the thought is.

By the way, QUIRKY has a close relation to CRAZY, so sometimes I straddle both lines…

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But I’m okay with that.

How would you describe yourself as a writer? Also, if you have any fab quirky book recommendations for me, please don’t hesitate to share! I’m always on the lookout!

 

Dialogue Problems – “Gonna”

My first drafts are word dumps where I do just that – dump out as many words and scenes and characters as possible. Then I go back and clean everything up. Cut out awkward scenes and kill my darlings, you know how it is.

Right now, I’m stuck on my dialogue.

We’re told to write realistically, to make it sound the way a person would speak. Sometimes I read a passage outloud and no, it doesn’t work, it sounds too formal.That’s definitely something I learned while watching Eastenders last night.

Here’s the word I’m stuck on now: “Gonna”.

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Nobody says “I’m going to head over to Starbucks.” I mean, maybe sometimes someone actually will say it? But I watched some TV shows and every character says “gonna”. So people generally really actually do say “gonna”. “I’m gonna head over to Starbucks.” “I’m gonna eat that pizza.” “This is gonna be good!” The word really is an authentic part of dialogue.

Then why does it feel so weird for me to use it? It just looks so out of place for me, and stands out when I read dialogue between characters. Is it just me, am I overthinking this tiny word? Or is “gonna” really bad to use in my writing?

Oh well. I’m gonna go drown my sorrows in more wine. And do more editing.

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*It’s never gonna get old

I still don’t understand half of what they’re saying

I read this article today about Renee Zellwegger watching Eastenders to perfect her accent for her Bridget Jones role.

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LOVE IT. In my latest novel, one of my characters is a Polish dude who watches Eastenders to learn how to speak English.

Me and this show have a bit of history. I once worked at a TV station here in Canada that broadcasts this show. My job was to watch all the week’s episodes and write a gossip type column about the week’s events. Yes. I was paid to watch Eastenders. Let that sink in for a minute. Best job ever, right?

Anyways, I haven’t watched it since. But after reading this article, I realized I need to start watching Eastenders again. Why? Because parts of my novel take place in London, and my British dialogue was falling flat.

OH MY GOD. I’ve missed this show.

I think I’m enjoying my research a LITTLE bit too much!

P.S. I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY

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Prompt: The Accidental (?) Boob Grab

Prompt: Tell us about a time someone accidentally grabbed your boobs.

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Okay. So there I was, walking down Bay Street, heading back to work after lunch. I was late, of course, because I had to pause to visit the LCBO on my way back. I was rushing like Usain Bolt to get back to my desk before my boss decides she prefers my desk to be empty, which caused me to dart in between the slowpokes. In front of me, a man was talking with a lady. They were so engrossed with their conversation that they were not in any hurry to get anywhere and clearly were in my way.

I rudely darted in front of the man so I could pass them at the light. The light was red. As I took a step forward, he took a step forward. Our bodies collided. Instinctively, his hand went up to pat my shoulder as he apologized. Accidentally, his hand landed riiiiight on my boob.

It was not a soft graze. It was a full on, palm flat against my breast. But it was totally accidental. Which is what made it so hilarious. Especially the look of horror on his face as he realized what he did.

The light turned green and I bolted forward. Both humiliated and amused.