Writing in a Foreign Language

 

I’ve always loved writing.  At my parents’ house, there are still boxes under my bed, full of notebooks I filled with half-written stories and ideas.  I have tons of files on my old computers and on my flash drive with more stories and essays.  I’ve changed my mind several times on what I like to write most, but I’ve never fallen out of love with writing.  I’ve done it my whole life, and I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Since I’ve had so much practice with writing, especially for school, I like to think I’m fairly good at it.  Since I learned to write a five-paragraph essay, structured, written thought has come fairly easily for me.  When I first began writing serious papers, it took me awhile to get to the point I wanted to make.  I would have to go through several rounds of edits to shorten and clarify my thoughts.  But as I did it more and more often, it got easier.  Now, if an assignment requires an essay, I can crank out a pretty good paper within a few hours to a day.  While I might make a few changes afterward, I typically say all I need to say with relative ease.  (Of course, every piece of writing could use some editing.  But when I also have to block out time for other things, a few hours to a day for a fairly high-quality essay is pretty good.)

But that’s all for essays I write in English.  With Spanish, I’m finding it’s a different story.  Throughout my Spanish classes, I’ve had to write a ton of papers.  They started out short and simple, as ways to practice vocabulary, sentence structure, and specific grammar rules.  As I got farther along, they began to get more complex.  They became less about practicing the language and more about engaging with the culture.  I learned more vocabulary, and essays in Spanish started to get almost as easy as essays in English.

Almost is the key word here, though.  I got fooled into thinking I knew Spanish well enough to use the same one-day process I use for English papers.  So last weekend, that’s how I wrote two papers for my capstone — one Saturday, one Sunday, and done.  Then a few days later, I got them back from my faculty adviser, and while overall the papers were okay, my grammar was all over the place.  I figured out very quickly that I need to take a few steps back in my writing process for Spanish papers.  Ideally, here’s how it should go:

  1. I need to make a list of grammar mistakes I make often, using already-graded papers as a reference.
  2. Start the paper at least a week before the due date.  (This means I need to be diligent about finishing the books I’m supposed to be writing about on time, too.)
  3. Take one or two days to write it, and then let it sit for a day or two.
  4. Read back through the paper, fixing any glaring mistakes, and polishing it if need be.  Make sure I’ve put everything in the paper that is required.
  5. Go over it again, this time with my list of common mistakes, and fix those.
  6. Finally, either run through a grammar checker or have someone else look over it.  Or maybe even both.

It’s a much longer process than my one-and-done style.  But it will help me write better quality papers.  And I think that the more Spanish I read, the better my writing skills will get.  That’s a big part of how I learned to write well in English, after all.  It makes sense that it would work that way in Spanish.

How I Come Up With Post Ideas

I finally decided on a regular blog schedule back in September or October. This was a biggish step, because it means I have to work harder to stay on top of writing blog posts. It also means I’m writing a lot more. Writing more is proven to get your juices flowing — every single writer I follow touts writing every day as the best way to stay focused and get new ideas. Sometimes this is true for me. A lot of times I find myself with two or three ideas I really want to write about, which is good since I try to write and schedule several posts at once. But then there are those days (cough…like today) where I don’t have a ton of ideas and end up putting a post together the day of. (Not recommended.) So here’s what I do when that happens. 

  1. Keep a running list of topics. I think of random blog topics all the time. Sometimes it’s just a shadow of an idea, and sometimes it’s fully formed with two or three points I know I want to make. I keep them all on a list on my phone, and usually scroll through it for inspiration every time I sit down to write.  This post idea has been on my list for awhile, and today’s situation is definitely a perfect day to use it. 
  2. I scroll through Twitter. I don’t write about current events a whole lot, but when I do there’s a good chance my thoughts stem from a news article I saw on Twitter. I also follow several authors, bloggers, and celebrities there too, so sometimes their tweets will give me an idea for a related post. (I’ve found that, for me, other social media is not so good for post ideas.)
  3. WordPress’s post prompts and blogging courses. The employees at WordPress know that we all struggle with post ideas, and that’s why we have the Daily Post. I’m not a huge fan of the daily one word prompts, but there are also weekly challenges and other prompts specifically for bloggers to look through when they have writer’s block. WordPress also hosts free blogging courses a few times a year, several of which I’ve participated in before. A couple times, I signed up knowing I wouldn’t be able to actively participate, but I can still go back through the lessons and challenges for even more inspiration now. 
  4. Take a break and talk with friends. A lot of my post ideas come from conversations I’ve had with friends over coffee, or with my family while I’ve been home over the holidays. While online content is great for inspiration, I tend to subconsciously curate stuff I know I agree with. You can’t do that with actual people. Many of my more thoughtful discussion posts have stemmed from real-life conversations. 
  5. I don’t post if I don’t have a pretty good idea. I know technically this isn’t a way to come up with ideas. But there have been a couple times where I’ve wanted something on my site so bad that I’ve posted something completely worthless. While I will try to push myself and get good posts up on time, I’d rather skip a day than post something subpar. Quality over quantity, people!

If you have a different way of coming up with ideas, feel free to share!

Handwriting (or, Let Me Peek at Your Notes)

I’ve always loved looking at people’s handwriting.  I don’t know why, but it fascinates me that we all learn to write letters the same way, and still our words come out looking so completely different.  If you catch me looking at your notes in class, it’s not because I’m trying to copy, it’s because I’m looking at your handwriting.

When I was younger, we subscribed to American Girl magazine, and that was my first introduction to the quiz “What does your handwriting show about your personality?”  I don’t know how much merit those quizzes actually have, but I love personality tests, so I ate it right up.  If I remember correctly, the fact that my handwriting tends to slant left means I’m reserved, which is true.  But the big bubbly letters mean I’m friendly — which I am, once I get to know you.

I’ve wanted to write about handwriting since I started posting regularly, but wasn’t quite sure what to say about it, so I was thrilled when I found this post.  I don’t do blogging tags very often, but this was a win-win for me, because I got to put together an easy post during finals week over something I actually did want to write about.  Thank you, blogging world!

Handwriting Tag Rules

  1. Write your name
  2. Write your blog’s name
  3. Write your favorite word and its definition
  4. Write something nice
  5. Write the name of your favorite song right now
  6. What are you writing with?
  7. Write a fun fact about yourself
  8. Write/draw your favorite emoticon
  9. Write a silly message
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Featuring my cracked iPhone lens

 

Novels and NaNoWriMo

I follow a lot of bloggers who are also writers.  Some of them are published, and some of them aren’t.  But they all write as a passion, and that means every November, a lot of them start talking about their word count, their characters, and their plot lines.  I start seeing huge lists of writing tips and motivation on Twitter.  Things like Dory singing “Just keep writing!” fill up my social media feeds.  Every November, tons of people around the world worry and fret about whether they can write 50,000 words in one month.

That’s because November is NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month.  If you’ve never heard of it, you can read about it here.  (It’s not too late to join if you also want to participate!)

I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo (which is NaNoWriMo’s summer counterpart) the summer before I started college.  I did not make 50,000 words.  I think I wrote between 20k or 30k, which is still quite an accomplishment.  But I’m probably exaggerating.  And I haven’t participated since.

I’ve wanted to be a published author as long as I can remember.  Books and words are definitely my first love, and I used to write stories all the time.  My problem was finishing them.  So I thought NaNo would be perfect for me.  Just churn out the first draft, and the first step is done.  It seems a lot less daunting that way.

So why did I stop participating?  Well, for one, I started college.  It always seems like fall semesters are the busiest, and writing however-many words a day on top of homework and extracurriculars is just too much.  November is also when a lot of semester projects start being due, and those just take priority.

But the other reason is I’ve lost my interest in writing novels for now.  I still read them all the time, of course — I would go insane if I couldn’t read others’ stories.  I love novels with all my heart and will read them till the day I die.  But I just don’t know if I want to write one.

Obviously, I enjoy writing.  I have a blog, after all.  But lately my focus has shifted from novels to writing about other things.  My favorite posts to write are memoirs, and I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book-length one of my own someday.  I’ve though about extensively interviewing my parents and writing their story.  And, being in business school, I’m surrounded by marketing blogs and content creation ideas that center around the goal of appealing to the consumer by helping them with a problem.  I would love to have a job where I create blog posts and social media content for a company.

But novel writing is not my thing anymore.  I’m more invested in what is going on around me than I am in my own head.  I don’t get ideas for stories and characters anymore; I get ideas for blog posts and essays and research papers.  This is probably more a consequence of who I am around more than it is my ability to be creative, like I sometimes tell myself.  I think if I had been an English major I would still think like a novelist.  But I’m majoring in Marketing, and while I may someday be able to write a novel about that, right now my focus is on other things.

However, to all the WriMos out there furiously typing away, best of luck to you!  Even though I do not participate anymore, I highly respect those who do and cannot wait to read about all you are up to this November.  Who knows, maybe I’ll be reading your book one day.  And maybe, just maybe, in a year or five or ten, I’ll join you.

Letter to the Author

Dear nerdywordybirdy,

Why did it happen that as you’ve gotten older, you’ve lost your motivation to write?  You have folders and notebooks both real and virtual that are completely full of stories.  They’re mostly terrible, and mostly unfinished, but they represent an imagination that never lacked for an idea.  Back then, you wrote because you enjoyed the story.  You liked seeing how many pages you could fill with action and you liked being completely in control of what would happen to your characters.  Their lives could go in any direction, and you were the one who decided which.

Now, you still really want to write.  It’s the perfect way to say things without actually speaking.  You even have a few ideas that flit around your brain, mostly for blog posts since you haven’t done fiction in ages.  Maybe I could create a list of my favorite music, you think.  Maybe I’ll write about makeup and my own personal journey with self-love.  Maybe I’ll write about my actual life and describe my dreams and plans.

But then you second-guess yourself.  You overthink things.  My readers probably won’t like my music taste; it’s probably too bland for them, you say to yourself.  You think there would be too much pop music on it, when bloggers are supposed to be hipsters who write in coffee shops and listen to funky bands, and you’re just sitting in a library and everyone already knows about the bands you like.  You know this is not a valid excuse, because humans are diverse and wonderful and tend to appreciate things, but these thoughts still keep you from writing the post even though you’ve had the idea for forever.

Okay, what about the makeup idea?  People love a feminist self-love issue.  But maybe yours isn’t so much a journey as it is you not caring anymore.  Do you really love yourself more now?  Are you really more confident, or do you just not give a crap?  You wonder if anyone really wants to read your internal monologue about whether or not you love yourself, and so you avoid writing the post altogether.

A lot of the time you don’t write because you have other things to do, like homework or hang out with your friends.  So you think, why don’t you write about your life and what you’re doing with it?  You could write one of those “a day in the life” posts.  Like today, you woke up at 10, stayed in bed reading until 12, and now you’re not doing homework and kind of feeling like a failure because of that.  The other bloggers my age that I know have really cool lives; they’re all super involved in their schools and hobbies.  No one wants to read about what I’m doing on a Sunday.

So, instead of writing any of those posts, you end up talking to yourself on virtual paper, where your current internal monologue is preserved for everyone to potentially see.  And actually, when you read back through it, you can see how silly it is that you don’t just write what you want to write, because the only thing holding you back is fear.  You’re afraid of other people and you’re afraid of not being good enough, so sometimes you decide not to try.  And that’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard.

Girl, you love writing.  Most times you’re even good at it.  Writing makes you feel accomplished and heard, even right now when you’re literally the only person listening to yourself speak.  So next time you get the urge to write, just do it.  It really is that simple.

Love and awesomeness,

nerdywordybirdy

Change

“Change is natural;

just look at me.

The tides fall in and out;

colors creep their way up the greenery of trees;

babies get taller and stronger

and ask questions like

‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’

instead of just, ‘Why?'”

I know that.

I thought you knew that.

So why is the air between us

dead?

NaNoWriMo Is…The Zone

You know the feeling when you’re half-asleep, and you’re dreaming, and you’re just awake enough to know that if you move, the dream will be gone?

The Zone is like that.

I love when I get into the Zone — where it’s just me and the page in front of me, where I am so into my work I can sit and concentrate for hours without getting distracted.  It’s when creativity flows the fastest and heaviest, when some of my most brilliant lines spout forth from my fingertips.  But it can be a fragile state.

For me, the Zone begins in quiet times, maybe if I’m a little tired, preferably if no one is around.  In the Zone I can blissfully succumb to my own writerly fancies, forgetting all other chores and obligations.  You other writers out there will know exactly what I’m talking about — when real life fades and your writing becomes your reality, when you live inside your story.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows or is appreciative of the Zone.  Family members can be quite inconsiderate of the Zone, barging in to talk or demand that you participate in their lives.  The phone, especially, is one of the Zone’s worst enemies, with its noisy, startling din.

And then there are those twilight moments, where you’re in the Zone but not working, and there is one predator to that state that will kill the Zone if it gets the chance.  It’s a beautiful, enticing place full of imaginary closets and weddings and food and fitness.  It makes you happy while you’re there, but when you finally break free you realize that, really, you have been pinned there (yes, pinned) by all the pretty things, held captive against your will.

(Darn you, wretched creation.)

The Zone can also come at the most inconvenient times, such as when your family is getting ready to sit down to dinner or when you are away from a typing device and are reduced to scribbling frantically on whatever paper product is available at the time.  Or sometimes, the Zone sneaks up on you, and you just have that nagging feeling that were you at your computer, or if you held the pencil in your hand, the words would spew forth like fireworks, but maybe you’re at work or in a meeting and you will never know what brilliance you might have written because that particular Zone will pass in the next moment and never come again.  And then you’re left with a feeling of loss that is as vague as it is piercing.

And the Zone is fickle.  Sometimes you can participate in conversations while in the Zone, giddy enough with the adrenaline rush to be able to talk while still typing at the speed of light.  Sometimes the high is so good you have to get up and pace around, planning out loud excitedly and doing lots of waving around of your hands.  Other times the Zone is so intense you are deaf to the world, still as a rock to all observers but living a fantastic dream inside, and the only interaction you give is a hand held up — “don’t” — when others try to talk to you.  And sometimes the Zone is a fragile thread, and the frantic typing pace comes from fear that soon the Zone will be gone, and you must get as much work done as possible while it is still here.

Occasionally, the Zone ins’t even a time of frantic typing.  Sometimes it’s just a moment of profound clarity deep in your brain where everything in your story falls into place and you know exactly what you are doing.

Those Zones don’t come very often.

But the one thing that unites all Zones is that every Zone that is really blissful comes during intentional work, by consciously trying to immerse yourself in your story.  By reading over it to feel as if you are really there, by experiencing what the reader will experience.

And that, really, is how all your hard work is truly paid off — not by getting published and finally seeing your book on the shelf, although those are beautiful moments in life and ones every author aspires to see — but by working hard, so hard you lose yourself in your story and slip quickly and quietly into the Zone while the rest of the world whirls around you.

NaNoWriMo Is…Inspiration

Inspiration usually comes during work, not before it.

–Madeleine L’Engle

 

Over the last four days, I’ve been typing, typing, typing, and this quote has started to make so much sense.  It’s when I sit down to write, turn off the distractions, and start throwing words on the page that I get ideas.

I don’t get them instantaneously, of course.  A lot of the time, I feel like I’m rambling just to make my word count.  And that’s frustrating, because I know I might go back over my manuscript and delete half of it once it’s all done.  But that’s also the beauty of NaNoWriMo — that I can write stuff that may well be crap, but once it’s all over my ideas are finally down on the page, finally finished, and I can move on to the next step.

And right now, I truly believe I WILL finish, because when I sit down to ramble, more ideas keep coming my way.

Words Written: 6,472

Words To Go:  43,528

Camp NaNoWriMo!

I am a forgetful person.  But occasionally I remember things just in time.

Ever heard of NaNoWriMo?  It’s short for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November.  Basically, you write furiously all month until you step back from your computer and hope all those words somehow formed themselves into a coherent story.  I’ve thought about doing it, but I always seem to remember it’s happening right around the middle of November.  Plus, Novembers are busy for me.

Thankfully, there is also Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a significantly more awesome version of the regular NaNoWriMo!  It occurs in July rather than November, a still busy but less hectic month for me.  And, along with the usual word-tracking, you get to be in a virtual cabin of people who are also doing Camp NaNo.  These people can support and encourage you, ad it’s always fun to get to know other writers!

I’ve got five days until the frantic typing begins.  That gives me five days to finalize my plot and characters.  Then, it’s on to 31 days of nothing but writing, writing, writing.  My word goal is 50,000 words, which means I must write 1,612 words per day to finish on time.

Yikes.

But for now, onward!

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Character Interview: Regina Marshall

As a way to achieve my goal of finishing my first draft this summer, I’ve given myself a short term goal of 500 words a day.  I have no idea if this is realistic, and that number may change.  But I am working on it, and I’m trying to write every day.

I mostly know where I want my story to go, but I’m having trouble getting there.  Am I beginning my story in the right spot?  Do I really want my character to say that?  What’s the best way to get her where I want her (which, right now, is the pool)?

So, instead of deleting and typing and deleting, today we’re interviewing my MC, Regina Susanna Marshall.  Some questions were borrowed from this post.  Enjoy.

What is your favorite subject in school?

Art.  I love to draw.  It’s one of the only things I really love, actually.  Maybe THE only thing.

What clique are you in?

*laughs*  I was barely in with the art freaks at my old school.  I’m kind of invisible, actually.  I just don’t click with people.  *pauses*  But hopefully that’ll change soon.

Do you consider yourself pretty?  What is your favorite part about yourself?

Umm…is that a legitimate question?  Do I actually have to answer that?  I’m okay-looking, I guess…I’m not ugly…  People always tell me my eyes are pretty, though.  Old people, mostly…but that still counts.

How much attention do you pay to your appearance?

I used to not pay much attention to my appearance, just going for the comfy t-shirt and jeans, you know…  But now that we’ve moved, I pay a lot more attention.  I dress cuter.  I even wear makeup most days.  It’s crazy.

Have you ever committed a crime? If you regularly commit crimes, what crime would you NOT commit?

*rolls eyes*  Do I look like the type of person who commits crimes?  I barely break the house rules.  And I would never smoke — not just because I’m underage.  My grandma died from smoking too much.  I might sneak out of the house after curfew…if I had a good reason.

What do you find attractive in the opposite sex, and how would you approach a potential love interest?

Well…to be honest, I’ve always been attracted to guys who are loners.  Kind of like me, I guess.  Doesn’t really matter what they look like, as long as they’re cute.  Although I am kind of partial to dark hair.  But I would never approach a guy I liked — way too scary.  But if I were to…I would just talk to him.  That’s all you can do, right?

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

*laughs*  Uh, everything?  But seriously, I’d be more outgoing.  I’d do anything not to be so invisible.  Of course, I kind of am doing something about it.

Talk about your friends.

Well, at my old school there were Carrie and Vanessa.  They sat at my table in art class.  Carrie was pretty sweet, but Vanessa kind of discouraged her from talking to me.  They were both part of the drama crowd, which was pretty exclusive there, you know?  Man, Vanessa hated me.  I think she was jealous, actually.  Like I would become Carrie’s best friend instead.  Well, I didn’t even have a chance.  She protected her position like crazy.

At my new house, I don’t have any friends yet.  I mean, school hasn’t started.  But this girl, Shay, who lives across the street, might have potential.  

Who are you closest with in your family?

My grandpa.  We just “get” each other, you know?  It’s almost like we’re the same person.  We understand each other.