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Learning the craft

2756494307_4018808b1b_oI’ve been taking creative writing classes and enrolling in creative writing workshops for the past two years and I can say they have changed me. One professor in particular has been a huge part of it. Before taking his workshop I could read all kinds of books and I was fine. Now I feel like my way of looking into things has changed. Every book I open, every story I read, is different. I see things I had never noticed before. I see little flaws in technique that I wouldn’t be able to identify before. I see what could be done to improve the flow of a story and what is stalling it. And although I might not always agree with his point of view, I am thankful for all he has taught me.

I’ve recently read 1Q84 and my reaction to it was not what I expected. Thank you to my professor I paid attention to details in this book I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ll talk more about it later, in a separate post, but all I say is that my opinion is influenced by all I’ve learned in the past few years.

Learning about writing has changed me. It has made me aware of how to approach it and what I need to do to improve my own writing. It has made me a better writer. And I can’t wait to learn even more.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee

 

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Why and how to blog

I constantly see blogs talking about how many viewers they have or how many clicks they got on a certain post or day. I also see the number of likes and comments they get and sometimes it amazes me. Then I come to my humble blog and see my single-digit comments and likes and my double-digit views and you know what? I love it!

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to interact with more people through my blog, of course. But it’s so much fun when I see that someone liked or commented on what I wrote/posted that I don’t really care how many people did it. Most people will read a blog post and move on, not even leaving their mark in here. And it’s okay. Maybe they didn’t like what I said, maybe it didn’t matter to them as much, or maybe it did.

Maybe, just maybe, what they saw here, be it a post, a video, a review, did make an impression, did make them think. And that, to me, is more important than whether or not they say something to me. I guess that’s the reason why I have this blog, as a way to communicate with people I don’t yet know, and I like it. No, scratch that, I love it!

I’m now thinking of a poem I love by Emily Dickinson that I already talked about way back when I first started this blog. I guess, to me, if I can reach one person, only one, it won’t be in vain. We can’t change the whole world, but we can (and should) try. And the way to do that is by reaching one person and doing one small thing.

Here’s a video by Vi Hart that talks about reaching people and how to do it. I think it has the message I’m trying to convey. Don’t stress over the numbers of views/comments/likes. Do what you want to do because that is the message you want to send. And if you reach one person, great! That means you’re doing it right.

 

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Rejection letters

The most common thing when trying to publish a book is to receive a rejection letter. But what does that mean? Does that mean your work is not good enough? Not necessarily.

Many famous authors received cruel rejection letters. Here are some excerpts from some of those letters:

  • Sylvia PlathThere certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
  • Rudyard KiplingI’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
  • Emily Dickinson[Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.
  • Ernest Hemingway (on The Torrents of Spring): It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.
  • Dr. SeussToo different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.
  • The Diary of Anne FrankThe girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.
  • Richard Bach (on Jonathan Livingston Seagull): will never make it as a paperback. (Over 7.25 million copies sold)
  • H.G. Wells (on The War of the Worlds): An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would “take”…I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book’. And (on The Time Machine): It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader.
  • Edgar Allan PoeReaders in this country have a decided and strong preference for works in which a single and connected story occupies the entire volume.
  • Herman Melville (on Moby Dick): We regret to say that our united opinion is entirely against the book as we do not think it would be at all suitable for the Juvenile Market in [England]. It is very long, rather old-fashioned…
  • Jack London[Your book is] forbidding and depressing.
  • William FaulknerIf the book had a plot and structure, we might suggest shortening and revisions, but it is so diffuse that I don’t think this would be of any use. My chief objection is that you don’t have any story to tell. And two years later: Good God, I can’t publish this!
  • Stephen King (on Carrie): We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.
  • Joseph Heller (on Catch–22): I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.
  • George Orwell (on Animal Farm): It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.
  • Oscar Wilde (on Lady Windermere’s Fan): My dear sir, I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.
  • Vladimir Nabokov (on Lolita): … overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.

But that’s not all, that’s not all at all. Many famous authors were rejected many times before being able to publish their books:

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit was turned down so many times, Beatrix Potter initially self-published it.
  • Lust for Life by Irving Stone was rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies.
  • John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) received 134 rejections.
  • Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) received 121 rejections.
  • Gertrude Stein spent 22 years submitting before getting a single poem accepted.
  • Judy Blume, beloved by children everywhere, received rejections for two straight years.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle received 26 rejections.
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times.
  • Carrie by Stephen King received 30 rejections.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank received 16 rejections.
  • Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rolling was rejected 12 times.
  • Dr. Seuss received 27 rejection letters

So my opinion is: no matter what, keep going. Got a rejection letter? Great! Save it somewhere you can find it later and go send more manuscripts. Print this list and put it where you can see it, to inspire you, to remind you that you’re not alone. Do what you have to do. But don’t ever give up.

 

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You wanna mess with me? You wanna mess with ME?

Today we had this group project to work on. We had to work on a problem and suggest solutions for it. So not as fun as it sounds. And before you tell me it doesn’t even sound like it would be fun, let me clarify that if doesn’t even sound like it would be fun, what do you think that means? Exactly.

So my group is trying to come up with problems and we keep going back and forth in a couple of ideas. And by a couple I mean ten. So this chick from another group asks us what our topic is and we tell her it’s going to be soap. You know, the differences between anti-bacterial and non-anti-bacterial soap, plus how had-sanitizer is not really that helpful. And she has the guts to look at us with that “I’m so much better than you and my group’s topic is so f***ing great” look on her face. I wanted to punch her. Especially because when we asked her about her topic she didn’t even answer us.

But then we talked some more and thought soap was really not that great, and kept changing our mind every two minutes. I wasn’t even keeping track of all the topics. From time to time I would agree with something, or say I thought soap was a good topic. After a while I think they started ignoring me. Or maybe it was just my imagination. But then Ms. Nosy came back, and I couldn’t contain myself. When she asked us about our topic, I said, without even blinking, “We’re going to discuss the importance of killing puppies in order to prevent rabbits from contracting rabies.”

Her eyes seemed to pop out of her head. Like she was a cartoon. Probably because she liked my idea and thought hers was crappy compared to mine.

At least she stopped bugging us.

P.S.: We’re totally against killing puppies here, and I only said that so she would leave us alone. It worked.

 

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To condone, or not to condone: that is the question.

To condone means to overlook and accept as harmless a behavior considered immoral or wrong. It means to make allowances for a bad behavior without criticism.

When someone behaves in a certain way, a way you do not approve of or you feel it’s not appropriate, and you do nothing about it, you’re allowing it to happen. You’re looking the other way and pretending you didn’t see it. Therefore, when you’re lenient with objectionable behavior, you condone it. When you condone bad behavior, you allow it to take place.

If you condone dishonesty in the company you keep, what’s to stop you from becoming untruthful yourself? After all, we are known by the company we keep. And nowadays, with technology and all, we’re also known by the ones we choose to follow or befriend online. If you choose to follow a certain twitter account or a certain blog, and you allow that person to behave a certain way and say the things that person wants without doing anything about it, what does that say about you?

Be careful what kind of behavior you condone. Because that shows your character. And character is everything.

Be careful what you think…
Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions
Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your character
Your character is everything

 

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Drinking the Kool-Aid isn’t that cool, you know?

Let’s talk metaphors, shall we? And what is a metaphor? It’s a figure of speech, it’s making a comparison using two things that are otherwise unrelated. It achieves its effect via association or resemblance.

Take the phrase drinking the Kool-Aid, for instance. What could it mean? Well, if you think that’s what all are doing, you’re wrong. It’s actually a blind, uncritical acceptance or following. It’s doing what others are just without actually questioning it or critically examining it. And the phrase actually carries a negative connotation when applied to an individual or a group.

The term is a reference to the 1978 Jonestown cult massacre, where people were given a cyanide-poisoned Flavor Aid (similar to Kool-Aid) to drink. Over 900 people drank what was given to them and died.

Honestly, I prefer to question what’s given to me. No, I’m not a sheep. No, I won’t do or say something because others are doing or saying it, or because that’s what’s expected of me. I’m NOT drinking the Kool-Aid, thank you very much. So, no, I’m not an instant fan of something just because. I have to see it with my own eyes and listened to it with my own ears. And most importantly, analyze it with my own brains, thank you very much.

 

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Of being stabbed and learning lessons.

When people say they felt as if they were being stabbed in the back I tend to say “I know exactly what you mean.” People say that when you consider someone a friend and that person does not consider you one it’s like being stabbed in the back. And although I’ve been betrayed before, I’ve never been stabbed in the literal sense of the word. Not once in my life I had a knife puncturing my body in such a way, so I can’t really compare. So here’s a comparison I know:

I lived in an apartment on the 12th floor. Pretty high and with a great view of the city. At night I liked to sit on the window and sing my heart out. I was convinced no one would ever know I was the crazy girl singing on a window, since it was dark and they wouldn’t see me. I’d even turn my lights off, just to be sure. And I’d sit there, with my head immerse in the darkness singing songs I’d improvise on the spot. I’d keep my legs inside, of course, so my body had to be a little twisted, but it worked out fine. And I always kept the windows just open wide enough for me to fit in, so I could hold onto the wall on one side and the glass on the other. Because I was that smart.

But one day I lost my balance. My hands immediately glued themselves to the wall and the glass. I panicked. For the few seconds that took me to get my body all back to safety I thought I was really going to die. The air left my lungs, my heart was slamming hard against my chest, my palms were sweating like crazy, blood was pumping in my ears, and the air felt suddenly so heavy I wouldn’t dare to breathe it in. I finally pulled myself inside and just kneeled on the floor, trying to get my head to stop spinning.

I want to say I never sat there again, that this was enough of a warning to keep me away from the dangers that a window on the 12th floor without a security net can offer, but I can’t. The truth is that we are human beings. We make mistakes, and keep making them until we’ve learned whatever lesson we have to learn. We just have to hope we’ll learn them fast, before we actually fall from a window.

 

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