6 Steps To A Fantastic Novel

Since I made the decision to become a writer, I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing with the help of these six easy (and completely inevitable) steps. Hopefully they can be as useless to you as they are to me.

  1. Lay in bed at night dreaming about your novel. Breathe your story and live as your characters. Fill every spare minute with daydreams. Become so excited to write that you’ll convince yourself that life is complete with nothing other than your brain, your laptop (or notebook), and maybe a hot cup of cocoa.
  2. Start writing. Anywhere, and at any time. Let yourself develop a nearly unhealthy obsession with your novel. You know–skipping showers, holding in your pee as long as you can so you don’t have to step away from your writing, forgetting all your obligations–that kind of thing.
  3. Run out of ideas. After a few pages, realize that you only planned bits and pieces of your story. Notice all the gaping plot holes, pages of exposition that have to be written, and obvious flaws in the very core of your story.
  4. Become demotivated. Suddenly lose all interest in your story. Discover that the idea you once thought would captivate you for eternity was, in reality, only a short-lived cliche. Remember every other story you’ve abandoned.
  5. Question your validity as a writer. Why can’t you finish anything you start? Will you ever make a living? What do other authors have that you don’t? How will you be the dream writer you always wanted to be? Are you even a writer at all?
  6. Cry.
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What They Want To Hear

In fifth grade, the art teachers asked us to write what we thought about a project we’d just finished. Did we enjoy the assignment? Why or why not? Every year, I had told them that the project was great and that I learned a lot. But after the tedious tessellations they’d put us through, I just couldn’t lie. I told them that I didn’t like the project and that the art teachers were very creative individuals who could come up with better ideas.

Everyone flipped their shit.

Admittedly, I could have worded it more respectfully, but I was a ten-year-old who was just starting to open her eyes to a whole new world of complete honesty. Even though all the ruckus, disappointment, and “little chats” with the teachers brought me to tears, it was strangely freeing, in a way. I’d refused to conform, and it felt absolutely amazing.

It was another five years before I decided to commit to a life of candidness. My freshman year had been enormously turbulent and full of fake smiles, good reviews for everything and everyone, and sickeningly fake austerity. Tenth grade, I decided, was going to be different. When I had to write papers reflecting on the quarter, I told them that I was a horrifically lazy student who’d only regressed academically. I flat-out told my classmates–in front of my teachers–to ignore school if it was getting in the way of personal health. The best part? The teachers high-fived me for it. I got compliments on my honesty. I stood out because I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. I told them the truth. If something sucked, it sucked. I saw no point in sugarcoating things.

I’m glad that I made the decision to live in (often brutal) honesty, and I hope that I can inspire others to do the same. This world will never change if we don’t decide to buck the system of smiles and excuses. Surprise people with your sincerity. Tell people what’s really going on. And whatever you do, don’t just spit out an answer because it’s what you were told to do. Each person has her own brain for a reason, and it’s yours forever. Use it well; use it wisely.

Honor & Choices

School will get you into colleges, send you on your way to a lucrative career, and make you look smart, but it can’t do anything for your honor. Just as you have to work hard in school, you must actively pursue your sense of honor in order to live a true life of honesty. What’s the point of getting ahead in life if all you did was use other people’s hard work to be successful? You have to evaluate what’s important to you and why you’re attempting success in the first place. I would rather be a failing student with a strong sense of honesty than a Harvard valedictorian with a diploma and a heart full of lies. In life, you have to make choices. As for me, I will choose honor and character–which grow and bloom forever, if cultivated–over a wrinkled, yellowing report card with a few pretty A’s stamped on it.

Excuses

“I forgot my homework at home.”
“My printer stopped working.”
“My locker was jammed.”

There was once a time in my life (middle school) where I frequently came up with excuses to justify or explain away a lack of personal responsibility. It was my way of reaping the benefits of carefree leisure time without the hassle of fallout. Eventually, as I went through a mental growth spurt, I began understanding the importance of owning up to one’s shortcomings.

Let me make one thing clear: I am not the most responsible or reliable person. I sleep in, ignore my obligations, and I’m a chronic procrastinator. But I own up to it, almost brutally. If a teacher asks me why I’ve missed an assignment, I just flat-out tell them that I’d spent the previous night doing absolutely nothing. When I’m late for school, I just admit that I’m sorry, I don’t have an excuse. I can’t have my cake and eat it, too. If I’m going to waste my time, I won’t cover my ass by pretending I was working hard. That would be a lie–and there are few things I hate more than lying.

Think On Negative Things?

Think on wonderful things. Avoid unwholesome thoughts. Get your mind out of the gutter. Imagine your ideal self. However you put it, it’s generally believed that the more you think about doing bad things, the more likely you are to do them; therefore, we should avoid imagining bad deeds or horrible outcomes at all costs. For me, however, it goes a little differently.

I am not energized by actions. I am energized by thoughts. Even when I’m engaging with the real world, I’m absorbing everything mentally, through ideas and images. I don’t spend hours on my neighborhood swing because I crave the feeling of wind rushing through my hair. I spend hours on that swing because of what the wind helps me imagine–I’m flying, I’m famous, I’m magical, I’m in love. Sensory input is first and foremost a diving board off which to plunge into a whole new universe of mental stimuli.

So, naturally, when I think or talk about doing something, it’s almost as satisfying as performing as the action itself, or perhaps even more so. And, by thinking about things, I’m able to reflect on how these impulsive behaviors might affect my life. After wrecking my life in my mind, I’m able to pause, rewind, replay, and manipulate the situation however I choose. I feel more empowered after having done so. That’s not to say that thoughts can’t inspire me to go out and do bad things. I am still a human being who’s subject to her own whims. However, the danger of excessive thinking, for me, is not that I will decide to act out; it’s that I could become so engrossed in my own ruminations that I lose touch with reality. I can’t claim that running off into my own world for days at a time is healthy in any way, shape, or form. Reality is as important as fantasy in this way.

In summary, yes–it’s probably better to reflect on good things, because our thoughts have immense power over our moods and perspectives. But dark escapism is not always such a terrible thing when done in careful moderation. It can be relief. More than relief, even–maybe escaping from reality can help us find it again.

The Reality of Death

As a child, death, to me, was just a synonym of end. It was a conclusion. A finish, a resolution, an outcome. When I heard that somebody died, I felt only a passing sadness. It was how I’d learned to react; it meant nothing to me.

One day, when I was about ten, the reality of death slammed into me with an extreme and sudden fury. I was playing Barbies with my sister.

“And then,” said my sister, referring to one of the dolls, “she died.”

Usually I wouldn’t have really thought about the character dying. She was just a doll, after all, and death was only an outcome. But that one statement, that one plot suggestion by an eight-year-old, grabbed hold of me and refused to let go. The reality of death became painfully, intensely clear, throbbing like a headache after getting new glasses. That doll had dreams, hopes, and aspirations that were swept into oblivion by the winds of death, loved ones with wells of deep love that were flooded with the rushing waters of grief. Death was not a single end. It was an end to millions of possibilities, memories, experiences, thoughts, and emotions.

“No,” I responded. “She doesn’t die.”

Life is Life

I’ve always been annoyed by those cheery “life is good” tee shirts (and hats, bumper stickers—you get the idea). Life is not good. We hurt. We cry. We feel like punching things and screaming at people, or, in all honesty, the other way around. To say that life is good would not be an accurate representation of what it truly is and the pain it holds.

Conversely, I’ve seen sad faces under rain clouds with a “life is bad” caption, parodies of widespread, generalized optimism. Just as it wouldn’t be fair to label life as good, it’s inaccurate to say that life is entirely bad. We smile and laugh until our sides hurt, see beauty, hear perfect melodies, and enjoy simple pleasures.

Life is sometimes good. Life is sometimes bad. I think the truthful balance between the two extremes is this: life is life. It just is, and we just are.

The Seminar

Today, in my English class, we had a Socratic seminar. If you don’t know what a Socratic seminar is, it’s basically where everyone sits in a circle and has a discussion (not a debate, teachers emphasize) on a specific topic. I don’t generally have a favorable view of these discussions. They’re usually just horribly dry recaps of boring articles, with students merely recycling one another’s statements. I don’t enjoy being stared at, forced to analyze things on the spot, and being graded on my thoughts. I was nervous. Talking, thinking, and taking notes on others’ statements is multitasking overload. I wasn’t particularly interested in the topic anyway. I told my teacher that, to be honest, I’d rather write an essay.

Thankfully, we got twenty minutes to collect our thoughts before the seminar. Before we began, I just decided to voice my true thoughts, regardless if I related back to the text or not (which we were strongly encouraged to do). I didn’t make reference to the texts even once.

But I blew it out of the park.

My thoughts sparked a whole new discussion–deeper and more difficult. I saw my fellow classmates discussing moral relativism, ultimate truths, the overarching principle of personal conviction, and other related things. It was so beautiful. Some girls started laughing whenever anyone said anything profound or difficult to comprehend, but they only fueled me. I was invigorated. The people whom I’d only heard discussing sports were talking about moral relativism. Afterwards, a guy who sits near me–one who’s generally uninvolved–told me his mind was blown. And even though he hadn’t participated very much in the discussion, I could see his face ablaze with fascination the whole time.

I’m full of faith. Not only did I prove to myself that I can do well when I don’t think it possible, but I inspired my peers to dig deep into the universe–deep within themselves. If that’s not amazingly beautiful, then I don’t know what is.

My Project

National Do Things You’re Bad At, day five.

I didn’t write last night because I was finishing a project. It’d been assigned weeks ago, but, being the lazy ass I am, I did absolutely nothing. So I completed it all last night. I had a lot of fun for a while; the project was interesting and entertaining to make. As the hours dragged on, however, things gradually became unpleasant. I needed to go to sleep, but my work was unfinished. I stayed up until an ungodly hour getting it all done (2:47 AM is when I went upstairs). My goal was to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed–somehow.

When I woke up for school a couple hours later, I felt like a rock. A numb, expressionless rock. I asked my mom if I could pay her to let me go back to sleep. I did (not the paying part). I feel awful about it now, because I missed school (that’s not something I enjoy doing, even if school sucks), but I realized I wasn’t going to be productive anyway.

I suppose it’s only natural that I’d fail. It’s not really possible to function well on four hours of sleep. So I’ve learned my lesson: on school nights, do not stay up past 1:30. I’m fine with 12:30 or even 1, but once you get to the 1:30 mark, you’re shot.

Lunch Chats

National Do Things You’re Bad At Week, day four.

Once I got in to ninth grade, I wasn’t familiar with very many people. Most of my middle school friends were either assigned to different schools or weren’t in any of my classes. So I had to make new friends. I hadn’t yet developed the best conversational skills (it would be another year until I realized I was a better speaker than I thought), but I got acquainted with a few people nonetheless. It just didn’t bring me that much satisfaction. I got bored and ran out of things to talk about. Once I rediscovered my love of reading, however, I never felt bored again. I felt bad reading during lunch, because I’d mentally check out of everything and leave my acquaintances to talk among themselves. Eventually, though, I stopped caring. Books were just better than acquaintances. I abandoned the group and moved to the far end of the table to sit alone.

Tenth grade rolled around, and I’d already decided to find my own spot right away. I chose a circular table in the corner of the cafeteria. Nobody noticed me for months. One day, I accidentally made eye contact with a nice fellow–and he joined me. A few strangers had sat at my table before, minding their own business, and I was usually fine with that. But this fellow wanted to talk. And by talk, I mean make small talk. Tiny, microscopic talk, fluffed up beyond all hope. About what my classes were. My weekend plans. Upcoming assignments or tests. Every other day he came and sat with me. I wanted to be nice, but it felt like torture. One day, I told him that some others had asked me to sit with them. I found a spot with a group of friends, made a partial cubicle with my backpack, and asked them to cover for me. A few weeks later, I saw him sitting with another group. I felt a little guilty–admittedly, I hadn’t handled it it very well at all, but I took solace in the fact that he looked like he was having the time of his life.

This year, I’ve made the choice to sit with people at lunch. I’m a junior, for God’s sake, and I’ve been completely and utterly involved with my school. So I found some friends and asked to sit with them. They’re cool people. I’m a great conversationalist when I put my mind to it. But I always find myself back in my book. It’s almost unconscious, like I don’t even realize it until lunch is over. I don’t want to push everyone away and realize years down the road that I’d shut down opportunities that could have (who knows) changed my life. So today, when somebody struck up a conversation with me, I decided to engage more. We hit it off really well. And while I’m proud of myself for making wonderful new friends, I’m still going to let myself read sometimes. I’ve earned it.

And I always have free period.