Wednesday, November 30, 2011
I live by this credo, and I avoid using names if I'm not sure how to spell it, and I even avoid asking how to pronounce someone's name. Because I remember in Kindergarden, getting an award for something or other (being a nice person, I think?) and they spelled my last name wrong.
On my award it said 'Samantha Gordon'. I could not stop crying.
I don't remember anything else about the award. I don't remember if they fixed it or who had mispelled it, but I remember thinking that the award wasn't for me. Despite that they meant to put my name on it, and it was just a typo. Despite that being quite some time ago, I still get annoyed at my name being misspelled. For example, my first name? Samie.
A very unusual spelling of my name, and I tend to be pretty lenient with people about how they spell it if they've only heard it or don't know me very well, but I get a little irked when I send someone an email, ending it with the proper spelling of my name, and they respond with it misspelled. I find it a little lazy, to be honest.
It always makes me wonder how much they read of my email if they misspelled my name. Especially if I introduced myself at the beginning as well as ending it with my name. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest reason that I believe that it is a horrible idea to misspell someone's name.
It's insulting. Going back to being a child and not feeling I deserved the award, that really is the most basic way of describing it.
We define ourselves, in part, by our names, and if someone cannot take the time to spell our name right, they obviously do not think we're all that important in general.
Whether it's the person you're sending the resume to or the person you're sending your pitch to, if you don't spell their name right, they don't think that you are considering them important, so why should they take their time to even attempt to elevate your importance?
While not everyone will get upset about it, while I no longer will begrudge someone too much when they spell my name wrong, it still bugs me. One of my best friends does it, and while I tease him, I otherwise don't mention it to people.
But if I had to hire someone, and two people had similar credentials, spelling my name wrong may end up making the difference between hiring one person over the other.
Friday, November 25, 2011
I have just finished watching Magic Beyond words and found it to be a truly touching movie. Inspiring and well, amazing. And, let's be honest here, it spoke to me. As both an avid Harry Potter fan and an aspiring fiction writing myself, I understand that hesitancy, that reluctance. I almost cried while watching the movie, only saving myself from hysterics from the mere fact that the rest of my family was there, and none of them were crying.
None of them, however, are writers. My brother the aspiring computer programer, my mother the sales woman, and my father the project manager. All very practical professions. And me, getting my English degree, trying to make a living as a freelance writer while also trying to get that damnedable novel out of my head and onto a piece of paper and making any sense.
One of the biggest points of the movie that I loved, and that really struck a chord with me is the idea that the story has to become real to the writer. It's true, it really really is. A story is just a story until it comes to life. I've talked to other writer friends of mine and when they really get a story going, it isn't until it comes to life. Usually it starts with the characters. The character comes to life, sits on your shoulder and comments on everything you do and say.
I have one character like that. Just one. Adrienne. She sits on my shoulder and tells me how SHE'D react in the situations I was in, what HER favourite colour is. I don't even ask, she just tells me. When I begin to write her, she takes control of what she does. When I created her, I wanted her to be a bit of a brat, but evolve into a proper heroine. That has yet to happen. In fact, she has shown such a disregard for heroics she can barely even be labeled as an anti-hero. And I love her for it.
Monday, November 21, 2011
The Caffeinated Writer is designed to talk about the professional aspect of writing. Not only mine, but in general.
A Caffeinated Fantasy, The Caffeinated Writer's mirror site, is my personal writing blog. It includes any news about my personal fiction and poetry writing endeavors, and reviews of fiction novels.
There will be some times that I will link from one to the other as it applies.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
So while novel writing classes and avid fantasy literature fans will tell you to avoid these cliches, why is it that we still largely see these sort of stories on the shelves of popular book stores?
The simple answer is because they work. Most writers predict that their readers are male, so they write a male character, with female characters fitting in with the traditional mold of deferring to the male lead. Even if they are otherwise capable, they still are usually second in command after the male character, often times even falling in love with the male.
The five most common fantasy cliches and why some of them will survive (or won't):
- The Male Hero. The hero is a man of various backgrounds who saves damsels in distress and shows how they can overcome anything. They always get the girl in the end.
- Verdict: It will stick around, as this is going to be a very hard theme to shake off, but it's also not going to stay on top. With more and more books coming out with female protagonists, and feminism becoming a common thing, the typical male hero will start to fade a bit.
- The Prophesied Hero. Whether male or female, this is pretty common as well. This hero's birth was prophesied in some way. Whether they were secretly adopted or a part of a race that was wiped out (sometimes because of the prophecy), they have a humble start before they find out their purpose.
- Verdict: It works, and it's going to stay. No matter how cliche it is, it gets people interested. Everyone wants to be in this hero's shoes. They want to escape their mundane lives for a little adventure.
- A Band of Heroes Save The World because it is their Duty. Somehow, when a band of friends (or strangers) are faced with the task of saving the world, a town, a race or some other cause, they chose to do it for the greater good. Not revenge, not personal gain, not even fame or reward.
- Verdict: It's already started to fade. With the popularity of anti-heroes on the rise, people are writing more characters who have their personal gain in mind. While so far it's usually a side character, there a few main character that adopt this idea.
- Elves are helpful, Orcs are evil. This is a theme that a lot of people hate, as it is indictive of racism. Certain races are good, others are bad. While the 'racism' claim is a bit silly if you look at the mythological backgrounds of these creatures. It is when people view these creatures as humans that the racism emerges.
- Verdict: It will stay, but it will also evolve. They are stories of 'evil' races being good, such as RA Salvatore's Drizzt stories, and just as the anti-hero is becoming popular, so is the evil race anti-hero.
- European Setting. Even if it isn't precisely Europe, medieval or otherwise, most fantasy worlds resemble medieval Europe. European mythology, terminology and speech. European Dragons, weaponry and architecture. All of them, European.
- Verdict: It'll stick around, but with the growing knowledge of the common writer of Asian culture as well, there are more Samurai based stories. There aren't a lot of Indian, South American, African or any other medieval cultures. They'll come with time, however.
Monday, August 22, 2011
While it wasn't always true before, now, with the introduction of internet self-publishing and now the ebook, it's not only becoming far more popular and it's becoming an actual reputable platform. Even many professional freelance writers are choosing ebooks over the traditional method of publishing.
The Question is Why?
When the Kindle came out the ebook revolution began. While many cried that it was the end of the book, and many still do, it is simply a new option. One that gives many people the opportunity to publish their work without the miniscule royalty that many publishing houses dole out to their writers. Many people who refused to buy Kindles when they came out now own them and swear by them.
While there is the ebook, there is also Print on Demand publishers such as Createspace that will publish a hard copy of the book you want to publish; but only when someone wants to buy it. For a book that you know will either sell slowly or only sell a few copies, it is a good option.
What this means for Writers
Self Publishing is no longer the dirty word it was. While you still want to avoid vanity presses, ebook and Print on Demand publishing is becoming something reputable. Someone can publish their work for the world to read. Of course, some of the usual drawbacks with self publishing still apply. The biggest drawback that still applies is the marketing aspect. The writer, in most cases, are doing entirely all of the marketing to sell the book. While for many this can be troublesome, for others, especially those with small niches and new writers, who the publishers will not heavily market your book through traditional means.
So while you may still want to search for a publishing house, you may not need to go to a publisher for all of your writings. For that collection of short stories that many publishers will quickly overlook, self publishing may be an option. Make sure to check out your options when you are working on getting published.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Have no fear! I'm here to let you know what careers are available for those of us with an English Degree so you don't have to feel like you have to are stuck with a career in fast food or waiting to become the next great novelist.
- Author - Most writers want to become authors in some sense. Whether they want to publish the great American novel or not, being an author is about having your name on a book. It's a hard part of the writing industry to break into, as it requires skill as well as patience.
- Editor - One of the prized positions for many English Majors, an editor, for a magazine or a newspaper, will not only edit other people's work, but often times they will also be in charge of writing a few articles each issue, as well as dealing with freelance writers.
- Technical Writer - Technical writers are the people that write service manuals, and other instructional or informational pieces. They are needed in any industry, from electronics to automotive, to health care. If you like writing, and want to get involved in a specific industry that you don't believe caters to writers, technical writing may be for you.
- Journalist - You too can be Lois Lane! Well, perhaps not literally, but journalist have been around for quite some time. The most current incarnation, and the one people think of, came around with the onset of the printing press. A time honored tradition that requires good writing, reporting techniques, and a love of the truth.
- English Teacher- The most commonly assumed job for those seeking an English degree, if you like teaching others, it is always an option. You don't even need to stick to public school system. Private schools, tutoring, or professional writing teacher, you will find that many people want to learn how to write well. If you can teach someone else to write, this is an option.
- Freelance Writer - While not everyone is cut out for freelance writing, as it is a competitive field and the independence you get from working for yourself also translates into the panic of having to do everything yourself, if you can bowl through the awkward first few months where you're sure you'll never get anyone to pay you over $5 for an article, it is fun and rewarding.
- Marketing Director- Writing is, let's face it, pretty important to marketing. While you may not start as the director, you could end up there with persuasive writing skills.
- Public Relations - Writing speeches, doing press releases, and generally making the public happy isn't necessarily hard for a writer. If you are a good persuasive writer, and you love working with people, this could be the job for you.
- Administrative Assistant- The office world may not seem like the most attractive profession, but an English degree can be the easiest way to get your foot in the door to a writing based job. While some may use this as a doorway to another job, others may enjoy an Administrative Assistant job, especially in certain industries, as it is generally lower stress than a lot of other office jobs.
- Paralegal/ Legal Assistant- Those skills you learned for how to write a good essay and a research paper translate into investigative ability that will turn around and can be used well. Whether you decide to use it as a bridging degree or not, it's up to you.
Despite that there are many professions available to the English Major, if you're interested in these careers and don't want to go to college or don't have the time, these are just some suggestions. Many of them you don't need a degree at all to get into. Many people move into their jobs without ever getting a degree. This can be great, and this can be dangerous, depending on the industry. I always encourage people to at least get an associate's degree in something, as it's the shortest (and cheapest) degree to get.
I may be a bit biased, however, since I grew up the girl who wanted to get a degree in everything, and still plans on getting quite a few degrees. Including a PH.D in psychology.
What are your thoughts on the uses of an English degree? Did you get one and then go in a totally different direction or did it lead to your dream job? Did you get your dream job without needing a degree? Did I miss any other interesting jobs you can get with an English degree?
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
There is no such thing as an original idea.
Now, doesn't that make you feel a teeniest bit better? I mean, really, this blog most is mostly for my fiction writing companions, but it can also be true for non fiction writers. However, I'm going to focus largely on fiction writing for this. Because that's when this becomes a pet peeve of mine.
Haven't you ever read those posts by various people that are upset that [insert author here] didn't give credit to their inspiration? That they really aren't that original?
Personally, I get tired of it.
Humans have been telling stories since, well, since they could communicate with each other. Stories have been woven by man and woman alike for millennium. The idea that it is even possible to come up with an entirely new and unique story seems a bit ridiculous to me. I know someone that continuously tries to prove me wrong on this point, and every time he fails.
And I don't understand why people get upset by this fact. In fact, I consider it a relief whenever I am writing and I tell myself 'You don't have to try to create something so unique and so different that it's shocking. All you have to do is make is believable: make it real.'
Making it Real
Now, when I say making it real is more important that making it original, what I mean is that the issue with writing is not the originality of the idea or of the story, but how it connects with the readers. Famous playwright William Shakespeare was by no means the first person to write about star crossed lovers (ever read Tristan and Isolde?), but he did so in a way that connected with the readers and the play goers and there he found success.
So how can you better connect with your readers? With people. People that seem real, and believable. Whether or not they feel that they can connect with the main character is not the immediate issue, because people will find what they like in the characters for themselves. But if the character seems like a real person, then they'll want to read more about them, about their life. High action works well for movies, where you can enjoy the special effects and action for action's sake, but in writing, especially in a world where there are many people who would prefer to watch TV than curl up with a good book, it's the characters that make people want to read the story.
Don't misunderstand, however, the plot and the action is also very important, as no matter how wonderful your character is, without a direction for the story, it can read more like a psychological study than a well thought novel. I think the book Plot vs. Character illustrates this the best, and helps explain why you need to balance the plot and the character development in your story.
So stop worrying about being the most original writer that ever existed.
And focus more on being a better writer.
Friday, July 22, 2011
When you were in school, in all of your English classes, grammar was heavily enforced. You would lose points if you used the wrong tense, punctuation, and other such small grammatical errors, and I was never very good at following directions. I could write grammatically very well, but I didn't like to, and I've come to realize in the years since I left school that small grammatical errors aren't as important as your high school English teacher would lead you to believe.
Now, don't take that as an excuse to throw those rules to the wind and write sentences in a jumbled, convoluted manner. That's not what I mean. What I mean is that when it comes to grammar, how particular you are depends on two things: your audience and the type of writing you're doing. Fiction writing, whether in first or third person, has a tendency to ignore grammar at times in favor of a certain style, and the tendency works quite well for some authors. An academic paper, however, would not allow someone the same leniency in grammatical errors as, say, a blog post. Each type of writing you might do has different leniency due to how formal or informal it is meant to be.
This is largely because for more casual writing, such as blogs, the writer wants to connect to the reader on a more intimate basis, and people often relate better to others who have their own little quirks than those who have perfect writing. For example, my odd grammatical quirk is putting a 'u' in certain words, such as 'favourite' and 'colour'. In American English, this is incorrect, but without fail I do this in almost everything I write. Part of the reason for this is because my Grandmother is very British and I've picked it up a bit. Often times, genre of writing and audience are tied together. Not many children are going to read college papers, so you needn't worry about making it accessible to them.
However, if your writing is targeting teenagers, then you don't need to worry about grammar as much as you would if your target audience was Professors. The more strictly you stick to grammar, the more educated you are assuming your audience is. While not entirely true in practice, that tends to be the thought. So if you're writing a blog post designed to attract teenagers, you can ignore grammar and use 'OMG' and 'LOL' and other internet short hand without it being too odd, but it would be inappropriate in a resume (something my friend, who is in HR, has told me has happened before).
Which brings me to the biggest point of all. Grammar is not as important as how understandable you are. Your grammar can be immaculate, but if you are targeting the wrong crowd with your writing and they don't understand you, there is little point. Grammar is, after all, a set of rules to make people more easily understood.
Whether you bend the rules or not, that's the most important part of grammar: how well are you understood? Can the reader understand what you are trying to get across to them?
Monday, July 18, 2011
I have days I don't want to write anything substantive. I only want to write fluff or fan-fiction; fun writing that won't do any good, that won't pay any money. Some days I let the impulse take over, but after about an hour, I turn my attention back to what I need to do. And I write. I write even though I don't know what I'm writing, or I'm not an expert in the topic, or even if I feel like I'm writing pure and utter garbage.
That's what editing is for. If you have the luxury of a day or two extra, write the article, even if you think it sounds absolutely ridiculous and even if you know it's going to be full of mistakes. Put it aside for a day, maybe two, and come back to it. Read it over as if it isn't your own and see what needs editing. Then fix it.
You may have to do this a few times before the article or blog post comes out how you intend for it, but after a while you'll get used to pushing through it. You'll find that it comes more easily the next time you get that feeling. You'll be able to push through even though you may hate yourself.
It took me awhile to learn this, and I still have a hard time practicing it when it comes to fiction writing, as inspiration is far more vital to fiction writing than it is to nonfiction writing. I still force myself to pump out writing that I may not be proud of, putting it off to the side until I can edit it and make it into something I'm proud of.
Because I am a writer, and despite that I may hate it some days, writing is my job, and like any job, you do it even when you're not feeling it.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
So don't get discouraged when something isn't up to your standards. It happens, and sometimes it's as much up to your mood as it is about the environment you're trying to write in. There are a lot of articles out on the Internet about keeping a 'writing space' that is separate from everything else and is 'sacred', I'm a bit wary of this idea. I've never had a space dedicated to writing. I don't lock myself into my room and refuse to speak with anybody. I've read these articles, I've tried it. I have a nice, creatively decorated yet simple desk that's secluded in my room with a comfortable chair and good feng shui. And covered with 'stuff' unrelated to writing.
I usually curl up on my couch, or snag some time at a coffeehouse, and sit myself down wherever I feel comfortable. That, I suppose, is part of the idea of the 'writing space' that is often overlooked in favor of lack of distraction. My belief is that a good place to write would be similar to a good place to meditate. Where the distractions might pass you by, you may glance at them, perhaps even stare for a moment, but then you shrug and turn yourself back to writing. Maybe this belief and my lack of a writing space comes from my history with meditation. Sitting stiffly in a chair, in a set location with no distractions seems too confined for me. Too forced. I'm not the kind of person who can sit still for very long. I never have been, so why would I want to try and force myself simply so I can do what started as a distraction during class?
So it's environment that is more important to me (and I suspect many other writers) than getting away from distraction, and environment is something you can control. Whatever your necessary environment needs to be is something almost personal. If you've ever seen NCIS, Special Agent Timothy McGee (also known as author Thom E. Gemcity), you'll see an example of a writing environment rather than a writing space. He prefers to use an old fashioned type writer and listen to jazz. He sets an environment for himself, and it just happens to tend to be in the same place (a typewriter is a bit heavy and bulky to carry around, after all).
A lot of people prefer coffeehouses because they are often have a good environment for writing. I discussed this in my other post called Why Writing and Coffee Go Together and it holds true for any space. If you can find a comfortable, creatively nurturing environment, you can write. Whether it's inside your house, outside your house, or anywhere you happen to find inspiration, figuring out the best environment for your writing is helpful, and sometimes it's different depending on what you're writing. Sometimes you have to be listening to classical music, sometimes you might need some heavy metal music to get your fingers flying across the keyboard.
So take a closer look at your sacred writing space if you don't think it's working for you and ask yourself: Is it comfortable, or stiff? Does it nurture your creative spirit, or merely covered with other's creativity? Is it a good writing environment for you?
Thursday, July 7, 2011
For example, the common "write a train-of-thought' journal doesn't work for me, and a lot of common writing practices only distract me. However, I've come to realize that this isn't so much an issue of not being able to put words on paper, but for me, it's a matter of motivation and distraction. Writing practices are tools for procrastination.
So instead I go to the nearest coffeehouse and grab a cup of coffee. Why? It's a good enough distraction that I feel refreshed, and the caffeine gives me an adrenaline rush that gets my brain moving. I can't just sit and watch TV with a cup of coffee. I have to do something with my hands, so it's easy to reach for my laptop (or a pen and paper) and write.
It may not be the best writing, and it doesn't always work as intended, but a cup of coffee is my (temporary) cure to writer's block. Part of why I like the expensive drink so much.
How can this help you?
Instead of trying to address your writer's block with futile writing practices and hoping something works, my best advice is to figure out why you have writer's block. This can be harder than trying to do train of thought writing, but it's more effective in the long run. Once you can figure out what causes your writer's block, you find it easier to cure it each time it comes up.
To help you figure it out, I'll tell you some of the common reasons that writers get blocked:
- Motivation: This is my biggest problem. I have always had trouble finding motivation for anything that does not result in instant gratification. Taking the time to do something that will pay off later is too much trouble. Too much anguished artist in me, waiting for my muse to strike me. A good solution to this is to make your own muse or to force you to have no other option but to write.
- Stress: Life can be stressful, and with too much on your mind, your writing can be blocked by your emotions. Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders count under stress. If you believe that it is caused by a mood disorder, I would recommend talking to a therapist to see if medication or therapy might help you. A good solution for stress is getting your emotions out, such as daily journaling or meditation.
- Fear: Fear is a big problem for many people, and often times contributes to other problems. Fear of putting yourself out there, of being rejected. This one is actually quite common and contributes to both Stress and Motivation. This is the hardest one to cure, as it is rooted in self-esteem and that is a difficult problem to solve. My best suggestion is to find a supportive writing group, or a friend, someone who will help build up your writing self esteem.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
While the wifi, the coffee and the soft alternative music is usually a nice addition, it's not necessarily the draw. What is then?
Unlike some places, you can go to a coffeehouse and even when everyone in there is talking, it's pretty peaceful. Somehow, it tends to be a place where people mind their manners and don't talk so loud that everyone can hear them. Maybe it's because of the relaxing music, the delicious coffee, or the distracting wifi, but something about a coffeehouse makes people calm down and relax.
So next time you've hit a wall in your writing, take your laptop with you to your favorite coffeehouse, curl up in a reclusive corner with a nice hot latte, and let the atmosphere wash over you. Even if you're not a coffee drinker, a nice cup of tea is also an amazing writer's companion.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
It only costs at most $1 to make that latte, but I pay that extra $4 for the atmosphere, and the art. Not just the art on the walls, but the latte itself. Being a barista, I've come to understand the time and care that it takes to make a good latte. Good timing, careful creation, and practice make an average latte a great latte. Something you'll curl up with and come back for time and time again. The difference between the Corporate Chain latte that you grab simply because it's easy, and the local Coffeehouse Latte that makes you willing to go out of you way to get.
When it's my first time going to a new coffeehouse, I always get a cappuccino. While I usually prefer a flavored latte, it lets me actually taste the coffee and see if the place is worth the money. It also lets me test the skill of the barista. A real cappuccino, made from equal parts espresso, steamed milk and foamed milk, with a sugar cube on the side, if made right, is amazing. If made wrong, it can be absolutely dreadful. I haven't gone back to places because the cappuccino was that bad. It's only been one coffeehouse so far that has been that bad, but I haven't been back since.
I appreciate the art of coffee, the miraculous smooth dollop of foam turning a shot of espresso into a true italian macchiato, the silky foam atop a delicious latte, and the delightful mix of milk and espresso in a carefully made cappuccino.