Listen to the sound of your voice (and try not to puke)

I’ve always hated reading out loud. There’s something about trying to vocalize the words written on the page in front of me that always made me feel like I was failing horribly. I would stutter. I would skip words. I would lose my place on the page. Perhaps worst of all, I would rush through the entire thing, eager to be done, and in doing so thoroughly butcher the flow and melody of what I was reading.

You can imagine how I felt when I got to college, and my writing classes started to require that I read my own work out loud in front of the entire class.

Absolutely horrifying. My worst nightmare come true. Pretty much the end of the world.

But as most adults attempt to tell you, more often than not the best thing for you to do is the thing that scares you the most. That’s how you learn and grow as a person. So they say, anyway.

Well in this case it’s actually true. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve developed as a writer these past couple of years, it’s that reading your own work out loud is one of the best things you can do to make your work better. Not only that, it helps you gain a lot of confidence in your writing, compared to if you just kept everything to yourself all the time. Over the course of a single semester, I went from being unable to bear the thought of someone reading my work, to being completely comfortable with reading even my rough drafts out loud to an entire room full of people. Trust me, that kind of self-confidence will take you far as a writer.

Confidence aside, reading your work out loud is the best way to highlight mistakes and flaws in your writing. Take last night, for example. I had just printed out an early draft of my latest manuscript (currently untitled, but it’s a fantasy story centered around necromancy in a way that ought to remind readers of Garth Nix’s Sabriel) and decided to read it to myself out loud in the solitude of my room.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Reading the manuscript (which is still in the extreme rough draft stage) enabled me to get a feel for parts that didn’t flow well, or were outright unnecessary. It also enabled to me pick up on each and every typo that I had made, which is as embarrassing a process as it is rewarding.

Perhaps more importantly, reading my manuscript out loud gave me an appreciation for the parts that work well. This in turn helped renew my confidence in not only the developing story, but also myself as a writer. Trust me, if a sentence sounds good in your head, that’s great. But if it sounds good when read out loud, that’s amazing, and you should feel proud.

So, here’s to something amazing.

See you all next week!

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Advice from somebody way smarter than me

Hey look at that, it’s Wednesday. That’s a good enough reason to post something as any, right?

Normally, I don’t feel like I have anything worth writing about, but in a bizarre twist of fate I actually feel inspired to produce words. Weird.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be all about me.

Most of you (or, if I’m being overly optimistic, at least some) have probably heard the name Neil Gaiman before. If not, then you need to get yourself over to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of American Gods or Anansi Boys, because the man is pretty damn good. His novel American Gods has actually been adapted to the small screen, and is set to air later this month, unless I am much mistaken. Oh, and I’m going to be seeing him this July in the hopes that he will sign every single possession that I own.

This isn’t about Neil Gaiman either.

Back in the dark ages, in the spring of 1990, Neil Gaiman wrote a book with a man named Terry Pratchett. The book was titled Good Omens, and it’s one of the best books I have ever read – a perfect amalgam of Gaiman and Pratchett’s witty sense of humor and deep understanding of human nature.

I was rereading Good Omens  the other week,  and in the back of the book, after the final pages of the story had run their course, I came across an interview with Neil Gaiman himself. I had read this interview before, when I first read the book, but I had quite forgotten about it. I’m not going to try summarizing the entire interview, partly because it would be entirely unnecessary and partly because I simply don’t want to. I only want to talk about one part of it, because that’s what’s been on my mind for much of this past week.

In the interview, Gaiman describes some of his memories of Pratchett, back when they were both younger. This one stood out to me:

“He wrote four hundred words a night, every night: it was the only way for him to keep a real job and still write books.”

I thought to myself, hey, you admire the frick out of this man, why not try taking his advice? A little backstory – I’ve been a college graduate for nearly a year now, and I have spent much of this past year telling myself that once the inspiration struck me I would sit down and write that novel that’s been sitting in the back of my head. One day, one day it would all click and I would spontaneously release all those pent-up words that were trapped in my head, and then my career as a writer would begin.

One day.

But that day never came. The task of writing a whole novel was too daunting, and the time just never seemed “right.” So in this past year, I’ve written very, very little indeed.

But four hundred words? That’s barely anything! Depending on dialogue and spacing, that can be less than a single page! I figured what the hell, if my all-time favorite author was able to write entire books at the snail’s pace of four hundred words a day, then I could at least give it a shot.

And so last week I sat down at my (newly organized) desk, turned on my laptop, and opened up the document that I had *attempted* to write for last year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The document was less than four thousand words long, which is pretty pathetic considering I spent most of November trying to find the time and motivation to work on it. It was a disorganized mess, but I didn’t care. People always say not to bother editing a manuscript until you have a complete first draft, and I was sticking to that.

That first night, I wrote six hundred and seventy-two words. The next, four hundred and twenty-eight. The night after that, four hundred and thirty-eight. And so I continued, setting aside time each night before bed to huddle over my computer and type away until I hit a stopping point, provided that stopping point came somewhere after word four hundred. I’m not someone that easily picks up new habits – I have a chronic lack of discipline, and generally tend to be a shit about anything that involves sticking to a schedule. But I kept it up, day after day.

It’s been just over a week since I started following Pratchett’s routine, and I’ve already added more than five thousand words to my manuscript. To some, that may not sound like a lot, but for me it’s everything. That is more than I wrote for the entirety of this past year, and without this schedule I can guarantee that none of those five thousand words would have been written.

What is the point of all of this? Heck, I don’t know. Maybe I just want everyone to know how awesome Terry Pratchett was (I wrote my senior capstone on him, so you could say that I’m a little biased). Maybe I’m just amazed that this routine is actually working for me, and want other people to try it too. Maybe neither. Maybe both.

Either way, it’s time for me to get back to it. Catch you all next week.

Not a Day for Happy Endings

Okay, first things first: spoilers for “Logan” ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Anyway, this is probably going to be a mess, but this movie fucked with me and I just want to get my thoughts out there. I know I’m a little late to the party here, but I finally got around to watching “Logan” today, and boy did that movie hit me right in the feels. Actually, let me rephrase that.

“Logan” utterly and completely destroyed me.

It wasn’t a case of “Oh, there was that one scene that hurt me.” Or even the usual “Mannn I really loved that character and his death hit me hard.” Nope. That’s the amount of pain that I have become accustomed to experiencing over the course of my movie-watching career. Losing one character is pretty normal. Seeing somebody meet a bad end is almost expected, in some form or another.

In the case of “Logan,” I was an emotional wreck for pretty much every second that the film was on the screen. The entire movie was sad. All of it. Every single piece of it. Even the action scenes couldn’t break that feeling, as shocking as it may sound. Sure, Wolverine did a fair amount of his usual hack-and-slash with his signature claws, but where previous films showed a fit and ferocious Wolverine that seemed impervious to pain, “Logan” showed an ailing veteran whose own claws (which don’t even extend properly anymore) caused him agony, and who visibly felt every single bullet.

Don’t get me wrong, Jackman’s Wolverine was still plenty fierce, but he was very obviously exhausted and in pain throughout the entire movie. He’s tired of fighting, even of living – he even keeps an adamantium bullet in his pocket, just in case the desire to put it through his brain strikes him. The man is a far cry from the indestructible Wolverine that we’ve come to know these past 17 years.

But where the movie really came through, was in the way that I absolutely could not blame him for wanting to die. The sheer hopelessness that pervades the film hit me hard, and in ways that I never thought the X-Men cinematic universe would dare. I mean, after the way that “Days of Future Past” made a mockery of any sort of bad end for the X-Men (you know, that film where literally everyone died but then suddenly didn’t?) I guess I felt that the X-Men were safe. That no matter what happened, they would find a way to fix it.

Well, “Logan” certainly did a fine job of kicking that idea right in the balls.

Much of the reason behind Wolverine’s pain in “Logan” is that pretty much all of the other X-Men are dead. For real this time. And the kicker? It wasn’t due to the actions of some arch nemesis or other evil force.

It was Charles Xavier.

Xavier, who by the time of his appearance in “Logan” is a broken old man suffering from an unnamed degenerative brain disease, a disease that causes him to suffer from uncontrollable seizures that shake the world around him, inflicting massive amounts of pain to everyone nearby. It is revealed that prior to the events in the film, Xavier’s first seizure resulted in the hospitalization of hundreds of the occupants of Xavier’s school, as well as the deaths of some of the X-Men. It’s not revealed exactly which X-Men perished in the event, but if Wolverine is to be believed, he and Xavier are the last of the X-Men. Everyone else is dead.

Heavy stuff, right? It doesn’t end there. By the end of the film, both Charles and Logan are dead, and I’m left wondering what the point of the whole series was if it all can just end like this. I guess that was sort of the whole point of the film, but damn if it isn’t hard to come to terms with it.

In the end, though, I have to admit that this was certainly a fitting sendoff to Jackman’s iconic portrayal, and I sincerely hope that the studio doesn’t cheapen this film by bringing Wolverine back in a later one.

Review of “Goldenhand” by Garth Nix

I was first introduced to the Old Kingdom when I picked up my classroom’s copy of Lirael back when I was in seventh grade. Not knowing that it was the second book in a series, I dove headfirst into the book, losing myself completely in the characters and plot that I rapidly grew to love. Garth Nix’s storytelling prowess blew me away, and left me wanting so much more of the world he created.
Well, that was over nine years ago now, and in that time I’ve devoured every book on the Old Kingdom that Nix has given us. Being out of the loop news-wise, I had no idea that Nix had any intention of continuing the series, so when I picked up Clariel a year or so ago I was blown away by the unexpected return to the world that I had loved as a kid. I was similarly shocked when I saw Goldenhand for the first time, again having had no idea that the book was in the works. It was a total surprise, a completely unexpected gift from whatever god it is that rewards faithful readers with new books.
I’ve reread Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen so many times that I’ve lost count, and my love for them has only grown over the years. I liked Clariel too, don’t get me wrong, but it just wasn’t quite as good as its predecessors, so I was eager to crack open Goldenhand and return to the characters that I had loved from the original three stories.
I suppose I can only blame myself for having such high expectations, but about halfway through Goldenhand I felt a cold, sinking feeling in my stomach that could only mean one thing: I was being disappointed. A couple hours later, after turning the last page and laying the book down on my aunt’s kitchen table, I confirmed that feeling.
For readers that are looking forward to an honest return to the story of Lirael, Goldenhand is simply not the book that they asked for. The novel has a number of problems, from a poorly paced plot to shallow and unconvincing characters. The greatest issue that I had with Goldenhand, however, was that it gave me the distinct impression that Nix has forgotten what exactly it is that he is good at. The greatest strength of the original Old Kingdom trilogy to me was always Nix’s prodigious grasp of worldbuilding. Everything about the series, from the cultural and magical division between the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, to the fluid mechanics of Charter Magic and the chilling atmosphere of Death, made me want more and more of this fantastical world that was as eerie as it was beautiful.
But there was very little of that world in Goldenhand. The story focuses around a mix of old and new characters that spend the entire first half of the book traveling around the Old Kingdom trying to meet up with each other for reasons that aren’t fully explained until more than two-thirds of the pages are behind you, largely skipping over meaningful “new” descriptions of the world in favor of what I can only describe as nostalgia bait. It’s like reading The Lord of the Rings, except that nobody bothers telling the reader why the Fellowship is taking the ring to Mordor until more than halfway through The Two Towers. Once you finally discover the purpose behind the whole plot, the rest of the action is squished into the last quarter of the book, and the sudden change of pace is highly disorienting. Clariel suffered from an almost identical flaw, which just reinforces my opinion that Nix has forgotten what made the original trilogy good.
The main problem with Goldenhand is that Nix spends a majority of the book trying to build upon the romance between Lirael and Nicholas Sayre that had been hinted at in Abhorsen. For some authors, this is not a problem. However, I am sure that I am not alone when I say that romance is easily Nix’s weakest point as a writer. Every time he attempts to spark chemistry between his characters, his stories become bogged down with awkward and downright cringe-worthy dialogue, and everybody involved just feels completely out of character. Lirael spends much of her time in this story talking to Nick, and while doing so she is almost completely unrecognizable as the Lirael that we had come to know and love. As for the rest of the Old Kingdom cast, well, they might as well not even be in the book. Touchstone and Sabriel are conveniently “on vacation” for the majority of the story, and Sam doesn’t even show up until the last fifty pages or so.
Goldenhand was Nix’s chance to give his readers something that they had been waiting over a decade for: a genuine return to the characters that we had grown to love from his Old Kingdom trilogy. Instead, what we got felt more like a bad fanfic, as if Nix had completely forgotten how to write his own characters. The characters were unrecognizable, while the plot was awkward and simplistic. To make matters worse, Nix completely flubbed the main plot twist of the story, with the so-called mysterious identity of the “Witch With No Face” being impossible not to guess after a mere two chapters, which did a spectacular job of killing any degree of suspense that the plot may have had.
In short, though I do appreciate Nix for continuing to make content for this series that I love, I honestly wish he hadn’t.

Review of “You Are A Writer” by Jeff Goins

I’m not normally one to pick up what you would generally consider “self-help” books at my local bookstore. I’m more of a novel guy, personally. Still, I received this book on Christmas from a family member, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to give Mr. Goins a shot.
I’m glad that I did.
There’s no such thing as a comprehensive guide to every question a prospective writer might ask. We writers are an inquisitive bunch, after all. If I were to say that this book left me completely satisfied, that it answered my every question about the publication process, well, people would say that I’m lying. And they’d be right.
After putting down “You Are A Writer,” I am not satisfied. There were many points in the book where I felt that I was still reading the book’s introduction, despite being more than three quarters of the way through the book. I want more: more details about how the publication process works, more tips about how to get my work out there. A better understanding of how I am supposed to find the inspiration to “start acting like one,” as the book’s cover promises. So no, I am not satisfied.
And yet, I am motivated. While Goins did not outright answer all of my questions, he did inspire me to get out there and start finding these answers myself. ‘You Are A Writer” is no in-depth guide about how to manage every single detail of a career as a writer. Frankly, it wouldn’t be fair to expect that from a book of this length (my copy was barely 132 small pages with large print).
What this book is, is a way to get started. A way to get your foot in the door and begin to understand what it means to be a writer.
With that in mind, this was a highly rewarding read that I would highly recommend to any aspiring writers struggling to get their foot in the door.