Category Archives: Writing

Sandboxes Aren’t Just for Kids — Writing as Pure Creation

When we were kids, there was the sandbox, filled with toys and friends. We’d build things, destroy things, and then start all over. It didn’t matter how small it was, or how quickly we could dig to the bottom of the box. We had total power over the sand.

Then, when we reached our 20s, we played computer games, and that sandbox we had as little kids showed up again, this time complete with a monitor and a mouse. It didn’t matter if we weren’t running the fastest machine out there because, once we put the disc of The Sims or Roller Coaster Tycoon into the CD-ROM drive, we were kings once again. We had total control and could create anything we wanted. A roller coaster that crashed every time? Why not? Two neighbors who hate each other at first and then fall in love and raise a family? All in the span of an hour? Sure.

But those sandboxes have limits and rules. You need a computer to play the game, or the box in which to actually put the sand.

When we put words on paper or, in the modern world, on a screen, the power comes rushing back. But there are no strings attached this time, no rules to play by, and no objective to beat. We just have pure creation.

At first, there is only darkness. But with four words, “let there be light,” we can see each other. Do you see what I did there? I wrote some words and changed the environment.

Writing is creation and change wrapped up in one simple action. By putting words down, an environment is changed. An environment that can be visited again and again both by writer and reader. Our imaginations are linked by the cyclical act of writing and reading. I can envision something and write it down, and you can see it.

Writing is the ultimate sandbox. We carry over what we learned from our previous sandboxes. Instead of Sims to play god with, we create fleshed-out characters with lives of their own. Instead of sandcastles, we build stories. And while we still can find a certain satisfaction in destroying a story, we know it’s more enjoyable to share it with others.

But we’re not kids anymore, and real life doesn’t have the same rules computer games did. Just because we write something doesn’t mean we get paid in points or dollars. All that freedom and expression isn’t guaranteed to put food on the table.

I got the chance to major in writing. But I found that, after four years of writing classes, I began to lose sight of the sandbox. Each semester, I had to adjust to a new professor with different rules of what was acceptable and what was not. Some assignments were pretty open-ended, while others were quite exact. Sometimes, writing for a grade wasn’t fun.

Luckily, I discovered National Novel Writing Month.

“NaNoWriMo,” as insiders call it, has as its main goal pure creation. Participants are tasked with writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It doesn’t matter how bad those words are because, by December 1, there are 50,000 more words than there were on November 1. This is a competition, but you’re not up against the other writers. You’re up against yourself for bragging rights. Can you silence your inner editor long enough to reach the goal?

November 2011 was exhilarating. I created with total freedom, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I mostly wrote by the seat of my pants. There wasn’t any outlining beforehand. I just set off with an idea and started writing. I was creating again, and this time I didn’t have to cater to professors or assignments. Finally, I was writing something that was wholly my own.

I found my sandbox again. And I’m never losing sight of it this time.

–My contribution to Before You Quit Writing Read This!, a collaboration by The Literati Writers and available on Amazon right now.

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Time Travel: NaNoWriMo Edition

The good news I’ve resumed writing again after avoiding my mess of my novel for a few months.The bad news is I’m fighting an urge every time I open the Scrivener document to do some major editing while the plot remains unfinished!

There is a speculative fiction group that I’m a part of that started weekly writing nights. I’ve found it’s a great incentive to tell my brain, “okay it’s Tuesday night. You are going to the food court in the Transportation building and you are writing. No Internet!”  I’ve gone for a month now and have banged out at least 500 words each time . Last night I hit a thousand. (I really should try to write every day again, but baby steps)

But as I’ve gotten back into my novel I’m realizing it has a lot more problems than just an unfinished plot. It partly comes with the territory of writing in a universe where time travel can happen. My novel seems to jump all over the place. And it’s not just because of the way Scrivener’s designed!

I’m still excited about this project so that’s a very good sign. If I had forced myself to keep writing after November 30th  I might have  burned out for good. Now that I have work settled I can get a schedule down that balances writing, gym, and free time. Oh and blogging of course!

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Before I turn 26: Bucket List!

I’ve had several goals floating around my head of what I wanted to accomplish/experience by the time I turn 25. I should probably get them down in writing. I’m giving myself a deadline of my 26th birthday which will be November 7th, 2014 (at 7:35 a.m. to be precise) Originally the goal was 25, but considering I’m already 23 and just starting out on my career, I figure an extra year wouldn’t hurt. So either before or on my 26th birthday, I want to…

  • Get back to Germany. Spending five months in Munich nearly two years (already!) ago isn’t enough. I need to go back and really work on the language. Luckily I have family in Frankfurt so I could crash with them for maybe a couple of weeks. But wouldn’t it be nice to stay there longer than a month? I wonder if it’s possible to take a class in German and be able to get another visa like JYM set up for me before. The Germans have a whole program set up for foreign students called DAAD.  The question remains if I can still be counted as a student since Hofstra sent me my degree and whether I would want to dive into being a full time student so soon.
  • Visit Las Vegas during the Star Trek convention. The allure of “sin city” isn’t quite enough to entice me. (Watching 21! is enough of a fix for me) However I am a huge Trekkie, and the convention that comes to the city every August is the biggest (and most expensive) one. Tons of Star Trek stars make the trek out. I have several twitter friends who live on the West Coast and make a yearly pilgrimage to the con. So far I have only lived voraciously through their tweets and con reports/pictures. This August is a huge TNG event as the show is turning 25 in 2012. I think it would be great to see the stars of the show that whenever it came on, I literally danced in front of the TV. (I was born in 88, the show came on air in 87, meaning it was the 6th and the 7th seasons that I remember watching before bed)
  • Get published! I was lucky to get my short story in Font before I graduated. But Font is just on Hofstra’s campus. And unless you were an English major, or your friend was in it, odds are you didn’t pick up a copy. I had set that goal of getting into Font before I left and managed to achieve with a piece I wrote while I was in Germany. I’d like to do something like that again, but find a lit magazine that’s a step up from a college one. If I manage to pull it off, I’ll consider it progress.
  • Finish a novel. I seem to have stalled in my writing on The Luther Paradox. I either need to finish the story or edit and trim down the 50,000 words I have now. I had a lovely conversation with a stranger at Grendels on Saturday (I was on a bar crawl with a friend) who loved the idea that I pitched him, but helped me realize that my approach for my protagonist wasn’t the best way to keep readers engaged in the second part of my novel. I need to make him willing to risk his life to get back home. Right now he doesn’t have anything or anyone waiting for him, so why should he rush home, other than he’s leading the life of someone else? When I started writing this character I pictured him as a time traveling mercenary – available for the highest bidder so to speak. But as I worked through the beginnings of my novel, it turned out he freelanced on the side as he worked for the time travel agency. He’s still plenty jaded and doesn’t have much to tie him down other than his job and his “relationships” (if you could even call them that) with his boss and the tech guy at work. He doesn’t have anyone waiting for him when he finally gets back to his one bedroom apartment for the night. He eats or orders out nearly all the time because he hates cooking for one.
  • Get an apartment. My parents graciously let me back into the house after I graduated. Growing up the joke was “We don’t care what you do as long as you’re out of the house by you’re 25.” Well I wasn’t able to afford an apartment right after school. And the first priority on the financial stability list was student loans. So what’s next on that list? Cellphone, and then apartment rent. I’d love to stay in the Boston area, meaning I’ll have to find people to rent with, because this area is expensive.
  • Get a car/licence. While probably less expensive than paying rent/bills this is a bit harder I think. I did get my learners permit before I turned 23 (barely made that deadline) but have yet to start learning to drive because instead I started working/earning money. I think in the long run that was a better decision because I needed money to pay for said lessons. People are surprised when they find out that I have neither a  car nor a licence at 23. But growing up in the city, right on the T, I didn’t really need one.

There are two honorable mentions for this list. I’m not quite sure either are the direction I want to go but they have a chance of happening within the next couple of years or so.

The first is to get a job in New York City. As a budding writer, I am lucky to live in Boston, where there are plenty of writing/publishing/editing opportunities. But New York City is obviously like Boston on steroids. Plus with the last semester of work I did at RecordSetter, I do have some professional contacts in the city, compared to almost zilch here in Boston. (Obviously I am starting to connect/network through my new job but there was a 7 month drought of professional contacts until I started working). And the four years of going to school at Hofstra are to my advantage because I already know I’d be able to live in New York. It’d just be even more expensive than Boston.

The second is some sort of grad school. I thought up until my junior year that I had it all figured out perfectly. I’d get my Master in Fine Arts in writing, preferably at Emerson so I could live at home. But then the real world invaded (it has a nasty habit of finding you in your ivory tower doesn’t it?) and I realized I still wouldn’t have a practical degree. (Not all Master’s degrees are created equal!) Sure I could teach, and if my writing improved I would probably make some industry contacts through professors and be closer to actually publishing. But as my cousin who does have two books published pointed out – you don’t need  to go to school write a novel. You need to have some basic skills, that I hopefully picked up in workshop classes at Hofstra, and then you need to live your life. The alternative is an education degree in Egnlish, or some sort of Divinity school. I’ve held off on any grad school decision since a) I’m so broke, and b) I clearly can’t decide which path of further education to pursue.

So on my bucket list there are some practical items, as well as some fantastical items. A pretty good mix. The question remain as to whether I can accomplish everything by the arbitrary deadline of 26. I already know I should not beat myself up if I fail to check everything of that list. But it’s nice to know I have a general outline, and had a little fun in thinking of ways to spice it up.

If you have read this far, congratulations and thanks for putting up with me. Maybe you have a bucket list of your own? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Random Writings

Some of my writings from THREE years ago. The lovely thing about the internet, is you can preserve things in their original status forever (or until the site goes under)

I look back on where I started and can’t help cringe, but that’s a sign that I’ve improved, right?

In other writing news: taking advantage of not being employed or in school full time and going for the full FIFTY THOUSAND Words goal for National Novel Writing Month. I had fallen behind but managed to catch up on Sunday where I wrote seven thousand words in one day. 

I put off actually starting  the Luther Paradox reboot enough to use it for NaNoWriMo. And I’m 45k + along and enjoying myself.  Sure I’ll have a lot of editing to do once I finally finish the story (which won’t be on November 30th) but this is the first time in almost six months that I am enjoying writing again.

But once I have gone through the project and revised it, I’ll start posting at least segments of it  here. I’ll never “live-blog” my NaNo story like I did two years ago. That was a mistake looking back.

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Editorial Archieve

This post is more for my personal use than anything else. I am going through the Hofstra Chronicle website, and tracking down all of my columns. So I can quickly access them, if I ever need too.

Qu’ran Burning – 9/16/10

Adjusting the Political Parties – 9/30/10

On the spate of LGBT youth suicdes – 10/14/10

“School Pride” Extreme Makeover School Edition – 10/28/10

Keith OlbermannSuspension – 11/11/10 

“Christmas Column” 12/9/10

~Semester Break~

Obamacare in the Courts – 2/10/11

South Dakota’s law on justifiable murder – 2/24/11

Libya and Sheen’s destructions – 3/9/11

News Story: Catholic Students Push for New Chapel – 3/16/11

Homophobia at the NYC St. Patrick’s Parade – 3/24/11

Presidential Campaign Speculation Already – 4/7/11

I’m pretty sure that’s all of them. I know I missed out on an column right after Spring Break when I came back swamped with work and a deadline that I missed.

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The Luther Paradox

Or the story that finally breaks my writing drought after three months.

I was sitting in my History of Christian Churches classes last year, learning about the Reformation, when a story idea came to me. What if Martin Luther had been prevented from posting his 95 Thesis? What if there was a time travel element – if the person who stopped Luther was from the future… if he was a time traveling mercenary?  I played with the first draft during National Novel Writing Month in November and got to about 20,000 words before I realized my story wasn’t going anywhere plot wise. I had focused far too much on my protagonist, giving him a back story that was quickly turning him into a Mary Sue character. There is a reason why I never bothered posting anything I wrote back then.

I decided to reboot my own story and start again, playing around with the plot until I picked a starting point that would just jump right in. I don’t want to give too much away in case of spoilers but I’m hoping to weave a tale that combines religion – the Catholic Church specifically – and Time Travel.

Finally writing again after the summer drought feels good, but my confidence is shaky (actually, that’s nothing new). I have decided to post the first two thousand words for feedback.

~~~~

Continue reading

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Two Years – Back on the Horse

Celebrating my two year Blog-versary! As you can see from the stats, I’ve had several ups and downs, but I’m finally back on the writing horse after spending the summer off basically.

All it took was an idea from a class on Christian History, focusing on the reformation. For now I’m calling it The Luther Paradox.

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Character Sketch

School has started up again, and so has my creative writing class. The first assignment is a one page character sketch.

I had intended to create a character from scratch, but found I had writers block. – Now I realize that I made the right choice in taking a second character based class instead of the plot one. – So I decided to sketch my best friend Jane.

***

It was clockwork: every March, my best friend  Jane would get such a nasty cold that nearly incapacitated her for two weeks. In a school of overachievers, Jane overachieved the most. She loaded her schedule with as many AP classes as our school would allow, with the rest being honors classes. We had a motto, “BS is two thirds BLS” because most of us overachievers excelled at getting the most out of the least work. But not Jane. She fired on all cylinders in every class, which meant she had to do homework every night for 6 classes.

On top of her heavy school load, Jane was on Varsity crew. During crew preseason she would run laps around the basement of our school with her teammates every day for almost two months. That was right around February and March, so maybe the added stress is what caused the yearly cold. In gym class, especially before she joined crew, she never seemed very athletic, but after a few years of crew, she was muscular. She loved to run and row.

Jane is really down to earth when it came to things outside of school. Her hair is always shorter than her shoulders, barely long enough to put into a ponytail most of the time. It’s just one aspect of her no-nonsense approach to her appearance. She never wears make up, and the majority of her clothes were chosen for their comfort over anything else. While we were at school and most of our classmates were very style conscious, Jane stood out by ignoring what was popular. It seemed most of her shirts came from gift shops and souvenir places.

Jane is soft spoken, with a generous sense of humor. She’s never the first one to start laughing, but joins in almost immediately. She prefers dinners with her friends, sometimes as a big group but mostly one at a time. It doesn’t matter what we do or eat, because we always have a good time.

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Typical day as a JYMer

My time in Germany will be over in a month. Our program is putting a year book together. At first I didn’t think I would submit anything, then last week I remembered I had a blog post about globalization in Germany so that’s going to be in the year book. I also wrote a humorous piece about a day in the life as a JYMer. It’s supposed to be German and English mixed together.

Typische Tag als ein/e JYMer

0730 Aufwachen.
0745 Really Aufwachen. Why did I sign up for a 9 am course again?
0750 In the shower, trying not to think of how I need to clean my bathroom.
0820 Begin the 40 minute commute/ordeal to JYM. I base how my day’s going go based on how the Zugführer sounds when he says. zurückblieben bitte.
0900-1030 Advance German Language class aka Finding out how little Deutsch ich weiß
1030-1330 Mittags Pause. Ich suche Mittagessen. Mahlzeit? Mensa? Soll ich Hausaufgabe mache? Maybe.
1330-? Okay, signing up for zwei Kurse Rücken an Rücken the same day as the 9am one was probably a mistake, but I like them too much.
~1800 Freiheit! Another 40 minute hike zur StuSta
~1930 Getrinkladen. Billig (GUT) Bier. Trying to spend nur 2 5 Euro.
2000 Abendessen. Tribühne food isn’t mouthwatering, but it’s billig, and that’s what matters. As soon as I open my mouth, they can tell I’m American.
2100 Hausaufgaben.
2350 Quick call Home.
2430 Ins Bett gehen. Sich wiederholen am Morgen.

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I’ve Got a Secret

So I realized I haven’t written anything in ages and that needs to be fixed. And I also noticed that this is my 80th post! So I’m celebrating a bit.

I’m going back to my old standby whenever I need to write but can’t seem to. Edward Hopper paintings.  “Nighthawks” is his most famous painting.

I typed in “Nighthawks and Abortion” into google on a whim and got this little article. It doesn’t even mention abortion but it is a great idea, that the woman in red is the epitome of loneliness because she stands out from everything else in the picture. (Which is either too dark or too light)

Anyways, this is just a first draft. And yes I noticed similarities between this and “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway. I’m not saying I think I’m as good as him, just that I’m taking almost the same situation.

I’ve got a secret.

I’m not sure if I can tell him. But it’s only been a few days and already I feel it gnawing at me, each day getting stronger. How long can I keep this up?

They had walked to the only place they knew would be open after they had gone to the last showing at the movie house. It was the awkward time of night where it was too early to go home yet too late to do much else. So they walked slowly through the muggy summer night, mostly in silence. The movie wasn’t very good. By the time they reached Phillies they were tired. The only other customer had barely acknowledged them as they shuffled into the cafe. They waited a few seconds for their eyes to adjust before picking adjacent stools on the opposite end of the counter.

“Kitchen’s closed, folks,” the sodajerk said.

She just eyed the gigantic coffee urns sitting on top of the counter a few stools down from them.

“Coffee, please” it was the first time he spoke since he suggested this place.

“Decaf for me please” she added hastily as the sodajerk went to get their coffee. Her boyfriend gave her a brief look.

“I uh… need to be up early tomorrow.” She didn’t look him in the eye.

“oh. well you could have said something back at the movie house.”

“No, no, I wanted to stay out with you a little longer.” She forced herself to flash a smile at him. “Besides, it’s been so hot out that my apartment needs to cool down before I can sleep.” He nodded in agreement.

The coffee arrived and she gratefully took a big gulp before realizing just how late it was. She nearly spit it out before setting the cup down. He, on the other hand, didn’t seem to notice how bad it tasted. She reached for the sugar and poured in more than her usual two spoonfuls.

“Want some?”

“Oh, no thanks.” He looked at the sodajerk who was drying some cups. “Do you have any milk?”

“We’re out.”

“Cream?”

“Out. It is Saturday night.” He looked at the clock. “And I’m closing in 20 minutes.”

He didn’t seem fazed by this at all. She briefly considered just telling him now. The other customer stared intently at a newspaper that was soon to be yesterday’s news, his coffee cup sat forgotten at his elbow. She wondered what brought him here alone, on a summer Saturday night.

They sat in silence for a bit, nursing their coffees as if they were alcohol. She didn’t feel able to speak and he didn’t think he needed to. The silence sat awkwardly among them. It wasn’t comfortable but it wasn’t oppressive either; it was just silent.

Finally she opened her mouth. “You know I…”

“Closing time folks. I’m gonna have to ask you three to leave.” The other customer paid and quickly disappeared, leaving his newspaper on the counter. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. 10 cents for the coffees mister.”

He fished a dime out of his pocket and put it out on the counter. Neither had finished their coffees, but they didn’t care. They just nodded goodnight as they slipped into the still heat once again. Instinctively they started heading for her place. The streets around Phillies were dead, even a few store fronts empty. This part of town had seen better days.

“God, it didn’t even cool down yet.” He looked at his watch. “And it’s already almost 11.”

She felt uncomfortable; the coffee wasn’t sitting well with her and she swore she felt a little dizzy. “Let’s not rush home then.” She knew she wouldn’t have been able to tell him right now, with even though they were alone. She saw him screaming his head off, waking up the lucky people who were already asleep and making a scene. How did she even think she could have told him at Phillies?

The buildings slowly changed from the silent old-timers to the younger, livelier row houses. Her neighborhood was in transition like all the others, but it seemed to be for the better. They reached her door stoop without her really noticing.

“Well.”

“Next weekend?” she asked.

“I really should check what’s playing. I don’t want to sit through that again.”

“Fine. Maybe dinner then?”

“Maybe. I’ll give you a call by Thursday.”

He kissed her on the cheek and then vanished into the darkness.

She let herself into the building without looking back and went up the stairs to her apartment. She came into her apartment with a loud sigh. Instead of heading straight to bed, she took out her phone book and looked up her best friend’s number. If she couldn’t tell her boyfriend that she was… Don’t think it! then she would at least tell her best friend. She needed to tell somebody soon. She left the book opened to the page right under her phone.

He doesn’t need to know. Then she turned out the light and went to bed.

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