10 Signs You Are a Real Writer

So you’ve made it through the first week of NaNoWriMo! How’s that novel coming along? Whether you’re a veteran or this is your first NaNoWriMo ever, chances are you’re already starting to feel a little doubt creeping in. Maybe you’ve fallen behind on your goal, or maybe you’re beginning to feel the burnout from all that writing. But the moment your energy falters is when you expose yourself to the poisonous idea that maybe you’re not a real writer after all. Don’t give in to that thought!

So to keep you motivated through at least the next week of NaNoWriMo, here are ten signs that you are a real writer. Remind yourself of some (or all) of these truths every day and know that you can do this! Good luck!

1) Telling stories is one of your best and favorite skills. – Nothing says “I’m a writer” like the gift of telling stories. If your friends and family often read your work and ask you to tell them a tale every time you hang out, you know you’re on the right track!

2) You’d rather spend time in your fictional worlds than your real one. – Where would you rather celebrate the holidays: the office Christmas party or the Yule Ball at Hogwarts? That’s what I thought.

3) The conversations you have with the voices in your head are way more interesting than the ones you have with real people. – Who wants to waste time on small talk when you could be discussing dragons or planning how to stop that alien invasion? The characters in your head will always have something more interesting to contribute to the conversation!

4) You carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. – Inspiration strikes when you least expect it. You gotta be ready to capture those ideas when they come to you!

5) You can find the tiniest flaws in your favorite novels. – Thinking like a writer means reading like a writer. Because you understand the craft, you can read any book and spot the smallest errors from continuity to misused words that most readers can’t. It’s kind of like having a superpower, isn’t it?

6) You never stop brainstorming story ideas. Ever. – You could be in the middle of an important business meeting, out to lunch with friends, or spending the holiday with family, but your creative mind will never shut off completely. Story ideas are everywhere! How could you possibly stop thinking about them?

7) You’re pretty sure your blood is 90% coffee. – How else are you supposed to power through those late-night writing sessions?

8) You’re a master of procrastination. – Sure, everyone procrastinates, but nobody can perfect the art quite like writers can. Writing is hard, ok? Sometimes we need a break to read or snack or play video games. Just five more minutes, I swear!

9) But once you get into that writing groove, you couldn’t stop if a meteor hit you! – Writing time is sacred. You know you’re a writer when even your family and/or significant other know not to disturb you when you’re in the zone. Bonus points if it’s because they know they’ll be punished if they do!

10) Writing is your life! – You love to write! You’ve already committed to writing a novel, haven’t you? What other proof do you need that you’re a real writer?

Have you ever doubted yourself or your writing skills? How do you handle those slips in self-confidence?

10 Inspirational Writing Quotes for NaNoWriMo 2017

Welcome to November, otherwise known to writers as National Novel Writing Month! It’s time once again to shift your writing into high gear by writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days! Of course, it’s not so easy to take on this challenge without a fair amount of motivation to get you going, and one of my favorite sources of writing inspiration is collections of quotes by well-established writers. Over the past two years, I’ve started November by sharing NaNoWriMo motivation in the form of ten writing quotes from famous authors. Now let’s dive into another set of quotes for inspiration!

So to get you motivated for NaNoWriMo 2017, here are another ten inspirational quotes about writing from famous storytellers. Enjoy, and good luck in this year’s NaNoWriMo!

1) If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.Stephen King

2) Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.Neil Gaiman

3) After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.Philip Pullman

4) All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.Ernest Hemingway

5) A word after a word after a word is power.Margaret Atwood

6) There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.Beatrix Potter

7) A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ― Thomas MannEssays of Three Decades

8) I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. – Joss Whedon

9) You can make anything by writing.C.S. Lewis

10) Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.Meg Cabot

What are your thoughts on these writing quotes? Any others you’d add to the list for NaNoWriMo?

When Bad is Good: 3 Tips to Make Your Villains as Interesting as Your Heroes

With Halloween just around the corner, it’s a great time to binge watch scary movies and practice writing horror stories. And the scariest part of a horror story—as well as one of the scariest parts of most stories in general—is usually the antagonist, the villain who embodies the evil of the plot and serves as the main barrier between the hero and victory.

But antagonists can also be the most challenging characters to write. Not only do you need to make them just as interesting as your protagonists in order to carry the story, but you often have to do it in fewer words, as villains usually get less focus and have limited room for character development. Not every writer can pull this off well, but fortunately, there are a few writing tips you can use to turn your villains from flat and boring to fascinating and terrifying.

So in the spirit of Halloween and scary characters, here are three writing tips to help you create villains who are just as interesting as your heroes. Enjoy!

3 Tips to Write an Interesting Villain

1) Villains should be just as three-dimensional as their heroic counterparts.

I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me. – Bad-Anon closing affirmation, Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie that starred a kickass hero, but for some reason they never seemed to reach the peak of their awesomeness? Chances are what could have been a great story arc fell flat because of a terribly written villain.

We know that part of telling a good story is creating good characters, but many writers tend to focus all that character-building attention on their protagonists and not enough on their antagonists. (Don’t feel bad if you can relate; I’ve definitely been guilty of this myself.) I’m sure at some point, we’ve all fallen into the trap of making an antagonist “just a bad guy”, but it’s important to remember that villains are people too—well, in the broader sense of “sentient beings”—and much like real people, all characters should be three-dimensional. No exceptions.

Personally, I hate it when a villain has literally zero depth. It may seem like a good idea on the surface to make a bad guy as bad as possible, but no one is purely evil for the sake of being evil, any more than a hero is good just because the story calls for it. If we take exceptional care to give our protagonists clear dreams, goals, strengths, and weaknesses, we should do the same for our antagonists. A hero is only as good as their villain, right?

The Bad-Anon support group for video game villains (Wreck-It Ralph, 2012)

One of my favorite modern examples of how much depth a villain can have is the 2012 Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph. Given how everyone treats him like a monster and almost no one respects him, Ralph is a good example of a character who was forced into the role of a villain despite not actually deserving it. Of course, after leaving his game and setting out on his own adventure, he does prove to everyone that he’s much more than a “bad guy” in the end. While the movie isn’t about a “villain” per se, Wreck-It Ralph does teach two important lessons about antagonists:

  1. Villains and conflict are indispensable to storytelling (and therefore must be respected)Fix-It Felix Jr. is no longer playable without “the bad guy who wrecks the building”
  2. No one is the villain of their own story – despite being the bad guy of Fix-It Felix Jr., Ralph is clearly the hero of his own adventure

In contrast, my least favorite antagonists are usually the ones whose only defining characteristic is “being evil”. You know who I’m talking about: those one-dimensional a-holes with zero redeeming qualities who can make you fume or gag every time they appear on page or screen, like:

It’s one thing to give your character less-than-noble motives; it’s another to go out of your way to make the audience hate them. But then again, even “pure evil” can be interesting when written well (case in point: the villains listed above are all bad people, but not necessarily bad characters). It all comes down to a delicate balance between characterization and storytelling.

So when writing your antagonist, always make sure you give them as much background and attention to detail as you give your heroes. Remember that a good villain has depth and personality, not just “evil plans”. Bonus points if you can make your audience sympathize with the bad guy. After all, hero or villain, we’re all still people. Which brings me to the next point…

2) Nobody starts out as a bad guy, not even villains.

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. – Harvey Dent/Two-Face, The Dark Knight (2008)

Although it’s easy to think of the world in terms of good and evil, the fact is that all people start out as blank slates. Every individual has a story to tell, a history behind the person they become. It’s the circumstances of one’s story—and the choices they make in response to those circumstances—that determine if they become a hero or a villain (or neither). In a nutshell, bad guys aren’t born, but made.

Maleficent crashes Princess Aurora’s christening (Maleficent, 2014)

A well-known modern example of the making of a villain is Disney’s 2014 Sleeping Beauty retelling, Maleficent. While the 1959 animated movie portrayed this character as little more than a vindictive witch (who seriously could not let go of a grudge), this version of the story digs a little deeper into how the fairy Maleficent became malicious enough to curse an innocent child. Between the beginning of the film and Aurora’s christening, we learn that Maleficent started out kind and idealistic, but her relationship with Stefan turned her bitter and vindictive against humankind. Say what you will about the film’s execution, but at least it establishes a clear backstory and motive for a character who would otherwise be just another run-of-the-mill fairytale villain.

If you feel your antagonist is missing clear motivation for their actions, try giving them a backstory that explains how they became evil. You don’t have to expose their entire life story to the audience, but at least convince us of their reasons for opposing the heroes. Show us what broke them so badly that it turned them to the dark side. Remember, the only people who start out as bad guys are cartoon villains; everyone else has a story.

3) An interesting villain is just as strong, smart, and capable as the hero (if not more).

A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. – Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Take a second to think about your favorite villains in any books, movies, or TV shows. What do they all have in common (aside from the fact that they’re doing bad things to good people)? Why do you find them so fascinating? Because they’re good at what they do!

The most interesting and popular villains are usually those who challenge the heroes, and it’s obviously not by being total pushovers. Darth Vader mercilessly kills any subordinate who disappoints him and pushes Luke Skywalker to his limit in their first lightsaber duel. Before his downfall, Voldemort was so terrifying that witches and wizards everywhere were afraid to say his name. A large part of what makes Hannibal Lecter so fascinating and frightening is how mysterious and complex he is. Basically, if an antagonist can draw your full attention and steal every scene they’re in, you know they can give the heroes a run for their money!

The Joker being interrogated by Batman (The Dark Knight, 2008)

One of the most popular examples of a brilliant and highly capable villain is the Joker from The Dark Knight. Aside from his unpredictability, a major reason the Joker is so interesting is that he’s one of the few villains who actually challenges Batman. Like the embodiment of chaos itself, he keeps the hero and the entire police force of Gotham guessing and thwarts them so many times that we as the audience can’t help but wonder what he’s going to do next at every turn. Now that’s a well-written villain!

So keep in mind, if you find your heroes aren’t reaching their full potential, the problem might be with your villains. Superpowers and high intelligence aren’t enough to make a great hero; you have to give them someone or something to use those abilities against. Make your antagonists just as strong and smart as the protagonists, then have them push each other to their limits. Only by overcoming a nearly insurmountable obstacle will your hero’s story arc be as satisfying and captivating as it deserves. In more ways than one, an antagonist can make or break your story!

Do you struggle with writing antagonists? What are your thoughts on these tips for writing an interesting villain? What other tips would you add to this list?

What If? Writing Prompts: Horror V

It’s the month of Halloween again, so here are some new “What If?” Writing Prompts for you to enjoy! This week’s set of prompts is centered around the genre of horror. What sorts of scary stories can you write from these ideas? Have fun!

What if… every time you had a dream about someone you know, that person died within 24 hours?

What if… you woke up with blood on your hands and no memory of how it got there?

What if… your dog started acting as though it wanted to eat you?

What if… you heard scratching against your bedroom door at night… even though you didn’t own a pet?

What if… the local haunted house attraction turned out to be filled with real monsters?

Good luck spinning some more tales of horror!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

My Thoughts on Despair, Hope, and Creativity

So it’s been a brutal last several weeks, hasn’t it? From a conga line of devastating hurricanes to a humanitarian crisis in a U.S. territory to a mass shooting labeled the worst in American history, it’s almost as if 2017 is trying to set some sort of horrible historical record.

I’ll be honest: it’s times like these when I can’t help but feel glad my blog posts are written and scheduled in advance, because there’s nothing like the world seeming like it’s falling apart to totally kill creativity. The hurricane-every-week situation of September was bad enough, and then what happened in Las Vegas last week broke me. Instead of spiraling into a dizzying rant about all the anger and frustration I feel, however, I’ll let Jimmy Kimmel sum it up better than I ever could:

Honestly, a part of me felt guilty for not saying anything about Las Vegas on my blog last week. I mean, when tragedy strikes, everyone feels obligated to say something before all the buzz dies down, right? And it’s not like I haven’t acknowledged tragic events before; it’s almost become a habit for me to dedicate a poem to the victims of a major attack within a week.

But this time, I just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t like thinking about it, much less talking or writing about it. So I figured I’d just share my thoughts on my personal Facebook page and move on with my blog like everything was normal.

But then I started reflecting on that mentality. Why was I thinking about the latest in a series of national tragedies like it was just another social media meme doomed to fade after a week? Why should we stop talking about the people who have suffered and are still suffering from any recent event just because it’s not the trending topic anymore? Should I not write about an issue that matters because I “missed the boat” and it might upset readers who are trying to forget about it? I don’t think so.

What you’re reading now is the result of days of processing, a sudden urge to vent, and hours of careful editing to get my thoughts straight. Maybe it still needs some work—editing is never truly finishing—but I can only write so much on the subject without losing my mind.

To be clear, this is not a political rant. I’m not trying to shove my thoughts on climate change or gun control in anyone’s face. I’m not even focusing on the events themselves. This is more of a creativity rant, or rather, a lack-of-creativity rant. So here goes nothing.

Recent events have reminded me of how much despair can drain one’s ability to create. As a writer, it’s a strange feeling not to be able to write. Emotion is the fuel of good fiction and poetry, after all, so you’d think real-life tragedy would be perfect material for art. But emotion also affects inspiration, and when there’s simply too much negativity to handle, it takes an incredible effort just to sit at a keyboard and type out a half-decent story.

2017 has been a particularly difficult year for me, not just because of what’s going on in the world, but because of major changes in my personal life. As soon as I finished my Master’s program at the end of 2016, I left home, hopped on a plane to California, and moved in with my long-distance boyfriend of seven years.

For almost a year now, I’ve had a front-row seat to some of the most emotionally exhausting events of my lifetime. To give an idea of how much current events have affected my creativity, I used to have at least three weeks’ worth of blog posts scheduled in advance at all times. Now I’m lucky if I can get up to two weeks ahead.

But a reflection on recent events has also reminded me that despair is only half of a cycle that includes hope. Somehow, every time tragedy strikes, a little light still finds its way through the shadows and rekindles that spark of creativity and inspiration. Whether it’s a blog post, a short story, a poem, or another page of my novel, the will to create always returns.

It’s hard to stay positive when the world insists on knocking you down over and over, but if I’ve learned anything in all the time I’ve been writing, it’s that creativity is one of the greatest manifestations of hope. I may write less than usual sometimes, but I’m always writing, and that definitely counts for something. It means that deep down, hope is still alive and well.

I’ve been told that I’m an empath, a person who feels other people’s emotions. I’m no stranger to being overwhelmed by negative energy, and it’s certainly made its way into my writing more than once. But while some of my most inspired fiction and poetry has come from a place of sadness or anger, I’ve realized that the creativity I feel in those moments is rarely about the emotion itself; more often, it’s about conquering those bad feelings and battling through the darkness to get to the light.

Maybe that’s why despair affects me so much: it feels less like an emotion and more like a void for all the others. It fights dirty, robbing me of the only weapons I have to fight back. But it hasn’t won yet, and as long as hope and creativity remain, I know it never will.

So to all my fellow artists, the best takeaway I can offer you is this: try not to let despair stifle your creative nature, because it’s both your best defense and your strongest weapon. Hold on to your hope and remember that there will always be a light at the end of the darkness. Sometimes a short piece of fiction or a simple poem written from the heart is all the reminder you need to keep moving forward.

On a final note, those of you familiar with my blog know that I share posts about creative writing every single Wednesday, all year round. I almost didn’t share this post today. I could have written all my thoughts out and just kept them to myself and let my blog skip to the Wednesday piece originally planned for today. But obviously, the fact that you’re reading this now means I decided these thoughts were too important not to share. I only hope they’ve resonated with someone in the good way I intended.

Thank you for reading. Stay hopeful, keep fighting for positive change, and please, no matter how hard it seems, never stop creating.

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