Displaying Story Ideas

So, I’m trying something new for organizing my writing ideas.

I don’t really have a centralized area where I write down my ideas for plots/characters/etc. Usually, they just end up in any notebook I have handy or any scrap of paper that just happens to be nearby. Sometimes, I’m careful to transfer these ideas to a central location, but most of the time they just float off somewhere, never to be seen again.

To remedy this, I’ve decided to collect some of these ideas in one place and, at the same time, give myself more of a visual reminder that, yes, I do get good ideas occasionally.

I’ve found some of the favorite ideas, written up a summary for each of them on sticky notes, and started covering my bedroom walls with them. There are three categories, each with their own separate section of wall: Place, People, and Plot.

Yes, a I am a fan of alliteration, why do you ask?

Under “Place”, I put setting ideas. Background stuff. Anything from maps of magical kingdoms to a fictionalization of a museum I once went to. One of these days, I’m going to add creatures I’ve invented, and fun houses that I wished I lived in.  This area will probably fill up pretty quickly when I start putting up my theories of magic. I spend more time than I like to admit coming up with rules for systems of magic (sociology, biology, conservation of energy, etc).

“People” is filled with characters that haven’t attached themselves to a plot. They are people with a distinctive trait, disability, or superpower that will require a certain style of story to accommodate. However, there are a couple of examples of people that are just interesting personalities that have asserted themselves when I’ve started writing. There is one guy, for example, that likes playing baseball. I don’t know his name, yet, or what story he is a part of, but I know what he sounds like and I know how he treats his younger sister.

“Plot” is filled up with log lines, basic “who” and “what” kind of stuff. I’m very careful to space the sticky notes out a bit, though, since I’ve added some smaller sticky notes below some of the main ones that start to detail the conflicts, characters, setting, or the origin of the idea. Ideally, each log line would branch out into a full tree of sticky notes that bring the story into greater detail with each layer added. In practice, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I can dream.

After putting an afternoon to get this set up, it surprised me how many ideas (decent ones) I actually had. For the exercise, I had gone back through some of my old journals, and found some short fiction that I had forgot I even had. When I finished posting everything up, it was encouraging to be able to see a history of my creativity.

I have to remind myself: Yes, I am a writer. I do, actually, have ideas. I don’t have any excuse for why I shouldn’t be writing.

Mind you, this hasn’t encouraged me to write more, like I hoped it would. But, still, it’s gotten me thinking.

New Years – 2014

Yes, I’m doing one of those “these are my resolutions, so please hold me accountable” posts.

Goal #1: Write a blog post every Monday and, before the end of the year, build up a backlog of 8 posts so that I can shift to posting twice a week. (I feel that a one month backlog should be fine to start with. Short enough that I don’t get to relax, but a lot better than I have right now. Disclaimer: This blog really doesn’t have a backlog. Hence the lack of posts over the holidays.)

Goal #2: Change my eating habits in two ways to improve my health: a) Eating more regularly. (I have a tendency to skip breakfast because I’m rushed or feel nauseous, and sometimes I miss dinner because I work late.) b) Anytime I eat, focus on portion control. I don’t have to eat as much as I think I do.  

I had some minor success with 2-b on Saturday, when I ate some leftover (homemade) fried rice for lunch, but left the second helping in the fridge. I told myself I would go back and eat it if I was still hungry in 15 minutes. Half an hour later, I my sister walked into the room happily munching on the rest of it. I was only minorly disappointed, which I took as a sign that I really didn’t need that second helping anyway.

Anyway, I’m soliciting help with keeping these. Feel free to bug me about any of these over the course of the year.

To reciprocate, if you leave a comment with your resolution(s), then I’ll bug you every so often to make sure you keep up with them. (Like NaNoWriMo, New Year’s resolutions do best with lots and lots of peer pressure.)

Libraries and my Research Method

So, I have this interesting reaction to being nervous/worried/concerned about changes or new elements in my life:

I research the heck out of them.

Sometimes, this means the traditional Google search, where I read the top ten helpful pages and afterwards feel a little more in control and stop looking. But when I need solid opinions, or in the time before Google became my best friend, I instead went to the library.

I love libraries. We have a wonderful relationship where I use and abuse them, and in return I occasionally pay small fees when I overstep my bounds. I’m pretty sure all of my inborn female “love of shopping” got channeled into library browsing. And that’s great, because it’s like the Monopoly money of shopping. It’s the best parts of shopping without any of the costs. You can search through shelves of products, pick out all the things that look interesting, not pay a dime even when you buy things that in hindsight you didn’t really need. And best of all within a month or two the items have been returned (with no glares from the customer service desk) and you don’t have the stuff cluttering up your house.

Yes, I might just be a little obsessed. But I find the library to a great destressor. I don’t know if anyone else feels better when they smell paper or can run their hand down a row of spines, but I find it fun and relaxing.

But I digress. I was talking about researching topics as a way of calming myself about upcoming life changes.

For library research, my method goes like this:

  1. Check out as many books as possible on the topic, and any books that happen to be shelved near those books. (This results in 20 to 40 books and a receipt that’s longer than my arm).
  2. Take the books home. Sometime in the next few days, go through the books a little more carefully, fully reading the back of the book/the inside cover. Usually, I’ll find a few books that are not remotely helpful to my situation, or a few with premises that I simply cannot stand. These go into the return pile without even being opened. (This leaves 15 to 25 books that might be useful).
  3. Next, I check the table of contents of the books that might be helpful (but I don’t know for sure). If they look promising, I might even read the introduction. This is to check that the author has a writing style that I can tolerate. Not all books pass this test. Most times, this is enough to eliminate a few more books. (Leaving 10 to 20 books).
  4. At this point, I start reading the books that I know will be helpful. These are usually the bestseller ones, with titles or authors that I’ve heard of before. I go through almost all of these before tackling my pile of “maybe” books again. (There are 3 to 7 of these slam-dunk books).
  5. Now, I take the rest of the books and I skim though them. Does the table of contents mention any new topics that the books I’ve read haven’t covered? Do they offer counterpoints to what I’ve already read? Is the author just awesome or different enough that I’d read their book for fun even if I don’t learn anything? If none of these get’s answered “yes”, than the book gets returned. Otherwise, it goes into the “must read pile” with the bestsellers.

Some examples of topics that I’ve researched using this method: How to succeed in college (I didn’t follow through with most of this advice. Ooops?), Personal Fiance (when I discovered Green with Envy), Independence/Career advice (Still feel shaky in this area. I’ll let you know when I have something worth sharing), what I should/could actually do with money (Millionaire Next Door, Richistan), and I’m currently looking up investing (Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Bogleheads Guide to Investing).

(Note: Yes, I know those are mostly about PF. I get that. I do. I’m still telling myself that this blog won’t be a PF blog, and maybe one day I’ll believe it.)

I get some interesting results using the library to do research. Some books I learn a lot from and they shift how I view the world (most of the PF books listed). Some of the books I just find amusing even if I don’t learn much (most of the college books, the finance book “Shoo, Jimmy Choo!”). Sometimes, I miss out on fundamental books because the library doesn’t have them or they’re checked out, but for the most part I feel that I’ve come out with a pretty well-rounded education on anything that I’ve used this method on.

In summary (tl;dr): Use and abuse your library. It’s like shopping without paying anything, and there is no penalty for checking out books you don’t read!

Ambition (or lack thereof)

I’m at an uncomfortable point in my life.

Besides the fact that I sometimes still feel like I’m in the transition from college to full-time job, I am, in fact, sort of settled. I’m renting a pretty decent place. I just found a church. The other day, I got a library card to the branch a couple of blocks away. I have friends that I can visit on weekends to hang out with and join for midnight grocery runs.

I’m in a decent spot. I have to keep reminding myself that. But there’s something that’s really dragging me down right now.

I don’t have major ambitions right now – I’ve finished most of them.

You how there are different kinds of goals? Short term, long term, etc. Well, I’m dealing with a lack of . . . let’s say “medium-to-long term” goals. I’m lacking goals that I can work on now, that I can aggressively pursue. Here’s my situation.

The “big goals” that I had for my life were (in order):

1) Score well on my college tests so that I could get into a good university, hopefully with a scholarship. (This motivated pretty much all of my Junior High/ High school life[Done!]

2) Graduate with an engineering degree. [Thank God this is over with!]

3) Get a good-paying engineering job so that I can become independent of my parents and truly enter adulthood. [Yup]

So, what’s left?

Well, I want to publish a novel one day. That’s a thing. And while I feel that’s a worthy goal, it’s something I’m working up to. Truth is, my writing isn’t good enough yet. So I’m taking baby steps (this blog, National Novel Writing Month, etc). I’m working on this, but the timeline is so up in the air, so far in the future, that it doesn’t really seem real.

I’ll also probably want to have a family eventually. You know, husband, x number of kids, etc. But I can’t focus on that right now. I’m enjoying being single. I don’t want to have to add a boyfriend to my already busy juggling attempt.

Right now? I think that’s it. That’s all she wrote.

Which is kind of sad. I was talking to a friend of mine today, and she’s talking about taking a summer away from grad school to teach English in a country where the native language is Russian. Not that she wants to teach English for a living (she was an engineer, but she wants a job in the bio/chem fields), but because she loves the country and the culture and she plans to use the English job to support her in that.

When I talked with her, she assured me that one day I’d “find something that was so exciting that I’ll start salivating at the very thought of it”. I really want to trust her on this. That one day I’ll wake up and be like “Oh, I never realized it before, but I want to move to Italy and learn to design sports cars.” I keep hoping that it’ll work like that. I want the assurance that I’ll find something like that eventually, something that just supercharges me with energy and motivating. But until then, I feel kind of directionless.

Maybe I’m relying too much on a miracle, trying to foist off the guilt of my own laziness. I don’t know.

Until next week.

Inhabitions, Mistakes, and Courage

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: This blog has an unofficial title in my email, web browser, and the place where I store my passwords.

It’s called “Ooooops”.

(The number of ‘o’s varies.)

You see, when I first signed up for WordPress and created this page, it was pretty late at night. Very late. And I don’t know if you have noticed this, but your inhibitions get slightly lowered at night when your body is sleep deprived. For example, you know that you really should start studying for that test or put a load into the laundry machine, but you don’t have the willpower and end up cruising Facebook or Meetup.com for a couple of hours.

Anyway, it was one of those nights when I thought it would be an amazing idea to start a blog. I mean, there are so many of them on the internet! I don’t even need to pay any money to start it up; I just have to click here and . . . done! And then I’ll just do an easily recognizable programming joke as my first post, like so . . .

The next day, I was already starting to regret it. All of my emails and bookmarks got shuffled under their own neat little “Oooops” folders and hidden away. I tried to forget it ever happened. What had I been thinking? Me, start a blog? Sure, I want to be a writer, but that’s no reason to inflict my petty thoughts on the world. Sure, some day I’d have something important and interesting to write about, but for now I should just lay low and practice my craft in private.

This is the entirely wrong mindset. If I had continued thinking like that, then I’d spend all of my time hiding under the blankets and never get anything done. I’d never go to the gym because I thought I looked too fat. I’d never try out a new board game if I didn’t already know the rules and strategies. I live in that mentality far too often. I find myself too afraid to reach for things and end up hurting myself with my inaction.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” (Albert Einstein)

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

So, right now, I’m glad that I created this page in a fit of insomnia-induced poor judgement. Otherwise, I might have waited years (many, many years) before I started posting. And even if I don’t know what I want to with this blog yet, and even though no one is reading it, I’m proud that I’ve started it, that I’m working on it.

I’m stretchering myself, and practicing my courage, just little bit with each post. Because, yes, it’s terrifying to put words up where they can bee seen by everyone. But then, it’s good practice for being a published author. And that, right there, is a dream worth feeling vulnerable for.