Me — I Will Become… Pt. 2

Nearly three and a half years ago, I started The Daily Dose of Derailment. I did it for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost on that list was the fact that I was depressed. This was partially because I considered myself a writer, but didn’t write, and so the blog was one of many aspects about myself that I changed in those weeks. It helped a tremendous amount, and I’m still happy I took that first step. I never would have imagined the traction it would have gotten in that amount of time (though that is not and has never been the point of it), and I love that I can very easily see how much I—and this blog—have grown.

If you’re interested, here is the fist blog post I ever wrote. I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep myself from cringing a bit as I read it. That’s good though, it proves growth. (The fact that I’ve since changed websites and the formatting has been screwed up does me no favors here, either.)

Having noticed that 6 out of 10 of my most recent posts have been indirectly (or directly) related to my recent depression, I feel that it’s time to revamp. Just like I did over three years ago. I need to re-calibrate, and hopefully some good will come of it.

The last two months I have not had the willpower to make myself happy. I’ve just been allowing myself to be emotionally unstable because it has been so much easier than the alternative.

That ends today.

As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to put together a list of some things I need to do—all of the things that will bother me during the week if I waste my Saturday and Sunday knowing I had time to work on them. In a sense, I’m throwing away the weekend by not allowing myself to relax. But I need to lay the foundation for a better tomorrow if I want every day to stop sucking. (As I’ve said before, every action I’ve been taking has been with the mindset of mitigating depression rather than maximizing enjoyment.)

This means no more late blog posts—especially when there’s no reason for them to be late—and no more procrastination. If I can’t be serious about pulling myself together, I’m in big trouble, so I have to be serious.

If you actually read any of the past few weeks of posts, allow me to apologize! I can’t imagine there was anything worthwhile in any of those, but I’m certainly not going back to check.

For those interested, one of the action items on my list is to make a list of quotes that I will start using to keep me going. I already have the list, I just need to print it out and put it on a frame on my desk so that I stay on track. I think that list of quotes is a great thing to send you off with (with no attributions as I’ve reworded many of them to be simpler than they were). And, as I hope mine will be, may your tomorrow be better than today was.

“Follow your path.”

“If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”

“It doesn’t get easier. You get better.”

“What easy thing can be done now to free up time later?”

“Don’t break your back for somebody who won’t see your pain.”

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

Review — Naruto (Final Thoughts)

I finally finished Naruto a few days ago, after having bought the last five books I had been missing for years. Now, I’ve talked about Naruto before, and while it was after the series was finished, it was before I had read through it myself. So, I’ve included a link to the original post, but this isn’t a sequel post to that. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even going to reread it. Alright, full thoughts on the story I’ve been following (literally) since childhood: go! (And don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything.)

I was surprised. Most of the reason I wasn’t in a hurry to finish the series was because it would mean leaving a huge part of my childhood behind. I was a fan of the series ever since Toonami started advertising “A cool new show about ninjas!” When I was maybe five years old. It’s how I got into manga, though to be fair that was probably an inevitability. Finishing the series and moving on would mean accepting adulthood, in a way.

Before I  finished it, my perspective on the series was that it was the best manga/anime out there, but even then I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It’s really long, and the first two hundred chapters/episodes are, admittedly, not great. That’s like telling your friend to watch a show and promising it starts getting good after season 12. Why bother? There’s way better uses of your time. It’s the same reason I have no interest in Game of Thrones.

So, what do I think now that I’ve finished it? Well, my reaction wasn’t what I expected. I’m almost completely indifferent. Nothing exceptionally shocking happened in the last five books (~50 chapters), and, once you get far enough, you can see how it will end perhaps eight or nine books in advance. It’s not bad, mind you, but it’s not overwhelmingly exciting. I’m just plain old whelmed.

When you finish a book series, you’ll often get that cathartic bubbling of emotion that says “Oh, no, it’s over? What now?!” But Naruto has been over for years now. I honestly think I was more emotional over hearing about the last chapter having been published than I was actually reading it myself. I had already moved on.

But is the series good? Has my perspective on it changed? Yeah, of course. The ending is satisfying, but it’s not exceptionally amazing. I don’t feel as though I’ve wasted my time, because it’s such a big part of who I am. The complexity of the characters and the world is something I really admire, especially since that doesn’t happen in anime/manga very often. Of course, most people don’t have the luxury of being able to write the same story for fifteen years straight, but you get the idea.

Naruto is “fine”. If you want to spend that kind of time, it’s good. But for me, when it comes to watching and reading, “fine” isn’t good enough. I look for the “great”s and “amazing”s. So while I thank Masashi Kishimoto for the journey and helping me become the person I am today, I don’t think I’ll be convincing anybody new to pick the series up. (Somehow I don’t think he’ll shed any tears over that, though.) I doubt I’ll ever even start reading Boruto, either. I need to diversify my exposure to media more than I have been, so while I’m sure it’s good, it’s not worth my time.

Life — Doing What You Love (340)

A lot of people will tell you that you should learn what you love doing and then find a way to make an income from it. “If your job is something you love doing, you’ll never work a day in your life.” But at the same time, I’ve also heard advice that you shouldn’t make your passion your job, because soon you won’t enjoy it anymore. If you love writing, making it your profession would supposedly kill the enjoyment you get from it.

I think there’s merit to both arguments. There are certainly situations in which making what was a hobby a job could run the potential of making that thing less enjoyable. If woodcarving is your release, and how you relax after a long day, getting commissions and suddenly having to stress over completing the project in time may not be the best course of action.

But taking all of that into consideration, I think a lot of life is about learning not only about the world around you, but about yourself. You can’t make a blanket statement and say that a hobby can’t turn into a job without positive results. It clearly works for a lot of people. The question then becomes: Is doing your passion professionally good idea for you?

In general, I think its best to give it a shot. The ideal thing here is to work a job that you enjoy, and one of the easiest and simplest ways to accomplish that is by getting a job where you do what you love. If you find that the added wait of making this hobby a profession adds too much stress to enjoy something, you can always stop. Just quit the job. If you like woodcarving but don’t like the time constraints commissions may add, you can always go back to having woodcarving be just a hobby.

In the end, this process will have the guaranteed effect of making you learn about yourself. Maybe you found that getting money from woodcarving was pretty dang cool, but it was specifically the time constraints and the stress that occurred because of it that you didn’t like. In that case, you can step back and re-calibrate what you want to be doing. Maybe instead of offering commissions, you can simply sell things online when you’re done with them. That way you can still have fun doing it, work at your own pace, and get money.

I’m a firm believer that any hobby can be worked into a job. If one does enough exploring and self-discovery, the capability of finding a job one enjoys is always out there, even if its not a job you expected to enjoy. For example, I didn’t expect to enjoy writing in this blog. It was purely a means to force me to write more often. by a happy coincidence, I also enjoy writing on the various topics on a weekly basis, in addition to the fiction.

So, don’t let anyone’s advice on what you should be studying in school, or what jobs you should and should not apply for scare you. The process of self-discovery is always working on the sidelines, so no matter what you end up doing, you’ll end up closer to what you really should be doing with your life.

Learning! — Writing Outlines… or Not.

When I was writing my first big project, Soldier of Nadu, I was under the impression that an author had to write an extremely detailed outline of not only the chapters of the book, but know everything about everything about the story they were telling. Paragraph after paragraph per chapter, and every major character needed bio sheets (basically questionnaires) five or more pages long.

If you’re anything like me, feeling like you needed to write several pages of what is essentially homework before you could even consider “writing” for real sucks. Any enjoyment I could have gotten from writing was drained away by forcing myself to answer “What is Character X’s favorite childhood memory?” over and over without actually getting down to any fiction.

As I’ve grown more experienced in the craft, however, I’ve learned that outlining is not the most important part of the writing process. In the end, writing is. I learned from Brandon Sanderson that there are two kinds of writers: outline writers and discovery writers. There is a spectrum that many people land in the middle of in regards to how much planning one needs to do before sitting down and actually writing “Chapter One”.

Outline writers are pretty self-explanatory: they are people who do fill out and plan everything about the book before or during the writing stage. They write down a synopsis of everything that’s going to happen in a particular chapter and when they get to it, everything in the outline goes in the chapter exactly as planned.

Discovery writers are the opposite. The more of a discovery writer one is, the less of an outline one uses before writing. A discovery writer may have an idea of where they want the story to go, or they might not. If an idea pops into their head as they are writing, they’ll often follow that idea to see where it leads. They write by intuition, rather than planning.

As I said, this is a spectrum. Very few people are strictly outline writers or strictly discovery writers. Brandon Sanderson considers himself an outline writer, and he writes very detailed story outlines before getting to work on his books. As I’ve gotten more experienced, I’ve started using less and less outlines for my stuff. For the novelettes I’m working on, I don’t plan ahead at all. I have a bunch of ideas and scenes I want to write in my head, and a loose base on how I want to tie them together, but the only ideas that go on paper before I start writing any story are because I want to make sure I remember things, not because I’m planning the story.

In fact, I very rarely have an ending planned to any short story I ever write. If I’m using a writing prompt, I don’t know where I’m going until I’m there. The only time I know which direction I want to take the story are in the instances in which I have a good idea for an ending, in which case I work backwards.

The biggest problem with all this is that it simply takes practice and experience. It’s difficult to say where somebody is on the spectrum if they haven’t written enough to figure out where they are. The best advice I can give is to use trial and error: for any big project, use various sizes of outlines, and see which one works best for you. You can’t “train yourself” to be a discovery writer or an outline writer, because that’s just not how it works.

But let me tell you, once you have enough experience to know where you’re at on the spectrum, writing gets so much easier.

Learning! — Writing Different Narrating Styles

I’ve never liked when people told me I need to find a “narrative voice” in my writing. It seems weird when people say “Oh, you write like H.G. Wells! Or “Your prose is as dramatic as Poe!” because I can’t take that information and use it constructively. I’m not going to pretend that “writing like [X Famous Author]” isn’t valid–all writers certainly develop somewhat unique prose–just that this comparison can’t really help the writer in any way. I wouldn’t even know how to take such a phrase. Is it a compliment? What if I don’t like that author? I prefer more solid points on which to base my writing, because emulating people in anything isn’t really ever a good thing (unless it’s acting, of course).

All that being said, every genre is going to have a ‘feel’ to it, and that’s what an author should be aiming for, not a specific author. This means its important to recognize what this ‘feel’ really means, and why its important. Now, this subject is pretty open, because there’s so much to narrative prose, grammar, and form, that I wouldn’t even know where to start, so let’s just talk about the narration.

I’ll give a few examples in my own work, and for my purposes I’ll assume you know what the different perspectives are. “Change in the Winds” is written from a third person limited perspective. The narrator follows behind the protagonist so closely that it only ever sees what he sees, and even occasionally points out what he perceives, but it doesn’t employ any direct thoughts. Generally, when writing in my universe of Nacre Then I want the reader to feel like they’re glimpsing into a world where a lot is going on. I’ll pluck in details about the surroundings, but not how my character feels about them. This will inevitably make you feel somewhat distant from the protagonist. This is also fine, because I also wanted the reader to feel like he had a past, something that’s easier established if you only give hints as to what the character’s experiences are rather than having them tell you what they’re feeling.

In my Lisa Stenton stories, I write very differently. This is in first person, and with a more contemporary writing style. She has a sense of humor, but doesn’t let on that she knows more than she really does. This story works better in first person because she has no idea what’s going on, and it’s much easier to make the reader feel this confusion if the protagonist is the one narrating it. I also do far less description of the surroundings because this isn’t as important. You don’t care about the house she lives in, because it’s just a suburban, unimpressive house. Why would I bother describing it? It’s not why you’re reading the story. You’re reading it because of the mystery of what’s going on, as well as Lisa’s reactions to the mystery, so that’s what I focus on, using the majority of the narration to let Lisa voice her thoughts and actions, and using the dialogue to help her voice her confusion (as the case often is) to the other characters.

Every narration style is going to have pros and cons, but honestly the most important thing is to write whatever makes the writer most comfortable. If I was scared to write something in first person, it wouldn’t have stopped me from writing Lisa Stenton stories. It would change the way they read drastically, however, even if everything happened the same way. The reader wouldn’t feel as connected to Lisa, but if I wrote it in third person omniscient, perhaps I could sprinkle in some dramatic irony by explaining to the reader what’s happening while leaving Lisa in the dark. The story would still work, it just wouldn’t be the same story exactly.

To me, the way I pick a narrative style is pure intuition. I don’t plan it at all, but I can look back and explain why I made the decision to write that way. I can say the third novelette to The Aftermath of the Rupture will be in first person, because it will be far more centralized around the main character and that’s simply the way I’ve always envisioned writing a story for this character. Also, that title is starting to lose favor, because the focus of the novelettes is starting to shift as I write them. No alternative title just yet, but I am working on it.

Learning! — Writing Basics (315)

When people get into writing, whatever the genre, there’s a lot to consider. Obviously, since it’s an entire field of study and there’s so many ways things that are important, it can be a little daunting for some people! That being said, let me talk about a few things an aspiring author might want to consider when tackling their first project, be it a novel, fanfiction, whatever.

First things first, the most important thing is to write. It should be obvious, but it’s worth saying. You can’t just do hundreds of hours of research and then write a pristine novel. That’s just not how it works. To write quality stuff, you need practice.

The upside of that, is that you can learn so much from just writing. Practice will make you intuitively learn how to write better, and while research and actively learning things is important, practice can show you those things firsthand.

So, since you need a lot of practice, you need to find out a way to make it as enjoyable as possible. Just write down whatever you want to write about. If you’ve got this awesome battle-climax at the end of a novel in your head, but you’re not quite sure how the characters get to that point, who cares? Write that battle! It doesn’t have to be good to anyone else. You’ll enjoy writing it because those characters can be doing awesome things in your head. In the end, that’s what’s important when you’re practicing. You don’t have to worry about whether those awesome things are being translated into other people’s heads, too.

Once you get some stuff written, you may or may not want people to read it. Either way, that’s fine! In my personal experience, you shouldn’t expect pretty much anyone to actually read it. A lot of people feign interest or respond positively to your stuff to be polite, but nobody wants to read your stuff. Heck, nobody wants to read my stuff. But again, that’s fine. Remember, your primary goal is to practice and learn how to put sentences together properly. Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.

When you’re going back to edit the stuff that you’ve written, there’s actually more than one way to edit things. Very generally speaking, there’s what I call “line editing” vs. “content editing”. Line editing is going and cleaning up the actual words. Fixing sentences and changing descriptions to make the words on the page more cohesive. Content editing is going back, changing, adding, removing actual parts of the story to be more consistent, remove continuity errors, add dialogue, that sort of thing.

For an aspiring author, it’s important to learn both of these. Learn what grammar mistakes you have a habit of making, or learn where your weak points are in story structure (mine is setting descriptions). Honestly, though, don’t worry about making rigorous edits to stuff you’ve written. Your primary focus should simply be to get more written! You need to know what your weaknesses are, though, so you can write stuff with that sort of thing in mind. If you know you’re bad at giving descriptions of settings, just keep that in mind and remember to be more thorough on the next thing you write. Never get stuck constantly improving the same chapter/story over and over again, because that’s not where true growth lies.

Life — Trying Hard Things

With the extra time between semesters the winter holidays has given me, I’ve been working on a few things that are far more difficult than I had anticipated. The Aluvalian novelette is finished, but getting it done was incredibly hard because I couldn’t push myself into “writing mode” (a state of focus normal blog posts don’t require). I’ve been doing a lot of things, but I’ll get into that more on Monday.

Whenever I had reached a big milestone on the blog, I did something different. On my hundredth post, I did a review of my own blog. On my two hundredth post, I talked about my history as a writer and all the stress surrounding it. With both posts, I simultaneously made significant changes to my blog to better coincide with what was going on in my life.

Point is, the cool thing I’ve been trying to do for my three hundredth post has turned out to be a lot more work than I expected. But if anything, it’s made me more resolved to actually make it happen. For one, trying new things is always good, and you should never give up simply because its more difficult than you had anticipated. Second, if that hard thing is something people do all the time, that’s all the more reason, because experiencing what other people go through on a daily basis can be eye opening.

Personal growth should always be a goal for all of us, and trying new things come as a part of that. Even if that thing you try only teaches you why you didn’t pick that career path, you still have more insight to the world around you.

I would go so far as to say that difficult things should attract us more than easy stuff. If we did all the easy things in life, we’d never grow and better ourselves. It’s trials and effort that forges us into who we become, so if we avoid all of those trials, in a way we can never find out who we are.

So whatever hard life choice you’re coming to, or something interesting you want to try, don’t back down from whatever path you want to take simply because it scares you. Especially if you’re under a lot of stress, you’ll be left with one of two conclusions afterwards: either you tried the thing and you failed, in which case you know you’re strong enough take on things despite what’s going on in you’re life, or, if you succeed, you know you can handle whatever life throws at you because you managed to handle that situation you were in and you learned something from it, too.

That thing that I’m planning on trying, starting next week, I’m already pretty certain it won’t be as cool as I want it to be, because its way harder and more time consuming than I had anticipated. But it won’t stop me from doing it. I know its something that I can learn a lot from, and that alone is enough encouragement.