Let’s Go on a Writing Date

The cursor looming over a blank document is terrifying, and finding time to open the document in the first place can be just as impossible as actually writing.

Except I’ve recently asked myself this — is it actually so difficult to find that time to write or am I making excuses? What about the time I spend watching YouTube videos or re-watching episodes of Miraculous Ladybug that I’ve seen hundreds of times? Why am I not using that time to write?

One of the YouTube videos I watched when I could have been writing is this one by Fran Meneses, an illustrator and YouTuber also known as Frannerd:
I recommend just watching the video to understand fully what she’s saying about drawing dates, but when I watched the video, I came away with an idea — writing dates.

The premise is simple — find an acquaintance, a friend, a classmate, whoever, and go to a museum/park/etc. with the intention of writing and actually write. Use a painting as a prompt, describe what the kids playing Frisbee look like and what they might be thinking, or just write your thoughts. The point is to free write, and if you can multitask, talk with your friend at the same time. Bounce story ideas off each other, share what you’re reading — be actively involved in your own small literary community if only for thirty minutes while you sit on that museum bench or park bench.

And if you’re not a writer? Maybe try a reading date. Bring a book you love, and have your friend bring a book they love, and trade. Sit and read for thirty minutes, an hour, think about why they love that book and appreciate its craft for what it is.

Not only will you learn more about the other person, but you’ll have beaten that excuse of “Oh, I just don’t have time for reading and writing.” Make time for what you love and for your craft in the same way you make time for the people in your lives.

(Fran also has some recommendations for going out in this way and what to remember in this blog post.)

From Concrete to Debris: Side Effects May Vary

“I knew what this looked like. It looked like I was using Harvey. But here was the reality of the situation: the minute my life went from semipermanent to most likely temporary, I decided to latch on to everything in my world that had always been permanent, and for me, Harvey was so permanent he was concrete.”

In Julie Murphy’s first novel Side Effects May Vary, childhood best friends Alice and Harvey find themselves together again after Alice is diagnosed with leukemia. Divided between Alice and Harvey’s perspectives in chapters titled “then” and “now,” the novel follows the two on every path of Alice’s journey with cancer, from the beginning of high school and her revenge-filled kick-the-bucket list to the other side, where Alice learns she’s in remission.

But is remission the good news it should be? For Alice, who was preparing to die, the situation is bittersweet as she must now deal with the repercussions of her actions and face the realities of her relationship with Harvey, especially as he struggles with his feelings for her, reflecting, “But, really, I loved her, and that hurt the worst of all because I was tired of being her debris.” Will she lose the best friend she finally connected with again when she was dying? Or will she find a way to adjust to truly living once more without pushing Harvey and his love away?15728577

Murphy has crafted narrators that both fight and balance each other as they struggle to find their footing in their own past and present. Alice’s narration is particularly polarizing, allowing for Harvey’s emotions to inform the reader as Alice breaks down both the manic pixie dream girl trope and the interplay of likable and realistic narrators, as she describes, “I was rotten on the inside, and I didn’t know if that had happened over time or if it had always been so.” While the novel hinges on Alice’s diagnosis, the real meat of the plot concerns the very side effects of the diagnosis, pre- and post-remission, and how it impacts each character as they collide with Alice and Harvey’s story.

This review is also available to read on the Midwest Writers Workshop blog and on my Goodreads.

 

On Fanfiction and Reader Engagement

In a world where fangirl culture is now being labelled as crazy, admitting to reading — or writing — fanfiction is akin to placing a target on your back, but I have a confession:

I regularly read fanfiction.

Fire away, but keep reading, hear me out.

I could attempt to hedge my statement by protesting that I only read it before bed, when I know a book would keep me awake, but I don’t think my statement should need any hedging — do you know why?

Because fanfiction shows enthusiasm for reading, because fanfiction is writing for an authentic audience that wants to engage with what they’re reading, and that’s incredible.

(Authentic audiences are one of the keys to crafting good writing assignments, I’ve learned, and the teacher in me couldn’t not mention them.)

It was the teacher in me that asked Jane Friedman how to get students interested in publishing when they’re still learning their craft. I had expected some sort of answer about teaching students how the publishing industry works early on, but the answer I received was infinitely better and was something with which I was already familiar.

She suggested Wattpad, explaining that writing in small chapters for established characters and universes not only allows for practicing writers to get on-site feedback, but also provides inspiration and motivation and helps to combat writer’s block and the anxiety coupled with that kind of block.

Friedman’s words are golden, essentially, and are key to remember whenever we even think of looking down on fanfiction. People can be cruel and look down on poorly written fanfiction, but all writers start at differing skill levels, and all of these writers love what they’re writing about — don’t squash that love.

Think about the last book you really loved. What did you do after you read it?

I’m the type of reader to re-read the chapters and passages that I loved, sighing with content and hoping I’ll eventually write a book that causes the same reaction for someone, but words are finite, and there is only so much re-reading that can be done, which is where fanfiction can come in.

When I’m rereading Percy Jackson for the hundredth time (fear not, dear blog readers; I will never stop mentioning my love for PJO), I eventually have to put the book down, but I can easily pick up my phone and pop over to AO3 and read anything from a canon-compliant fanfic from Annabeth’s POV to a Percabeth soulmate AU where Percy is in a band (something I recently read, and let me tell you, it was wonderful).

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And when I press “kudos” on that story, I’m letting that writer know that I think they did a good job, thereby supporting their craft and their enthusiasm.

And that’s not even the best part — I’m working to better my own writing, because what’s the number one tip people give when asked how to become a better writer?

Read and read widely.

(Even fanfiction.)

Seeds of Passion: What Literary Citizenship Means to Me

Words, words, words.

In addition to being a Hamlet quote and the filler I put in rough drafts when I can’t think of what to write next, the phrase “words, words, words” sums up my entire life.

I currently own over 400 books, book fairs and library trips were a constant presence in my childhood, and one of my first memorable bonds with a teacher was the result of my love of reading. My identity as a reader was one that I clung to, and it was an identity that led me to another identity, that of an aspiring writer. In one of the very first stories I ever tried to write, pounding away at the keys of my family’s old desktop computer, I essentially plagiarized the formula to The Lightning Thief, but with a female narrator.

Although that file has been long lost along with that computer (thank goodness, it was awful), I still think about it from time to time, and the effect that reading Rick Riordan had on me. I identified as a reader long before I started reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but retrospectively, this moment was one of my most passionate moments as a reader. I was so inspired by a story that I wanted to capture that same kind of magic.

This passion is part of what it means to me to be a literary citizen.

Passion by itself isn’t enough, though, I’ve realized growing up. I could read by myself in my room and cry my heart out over the characters, but no one would ever know how I felt about that book if I didn’t talk to them about it. I grew up shy, and by nature, I am an introvert, but talking about books has always been something I could do. I surrounded myself with friends who shared my passion, to the point that we would play our own version of Harry Potter during recess, and I wrote pages of book recommendations for a friend in high school. I even went to the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Borders (rest in peace, old friend) and watched fellow readers debate whether Snape was good or evil.

I was part of a community of readers and writers even before I knew what literary citizenship was, just by sharing and talking about my passion for words.

My passion has to manifest itself as action for me to be a literary citizen; action is key above all else, even if it’s a simple conversation. When I follow an author on Twitter, review them on Goodreads, recommend a book to a long distance friend (The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton — read it, trust me), discuss with classmates what we’re currently reading, I am acting as a literary citizen because I am turning my passion into support and discussion.

I am planting seeds of passion in any way I can. That is literary citizenship.