Of Attempting Success

Me Being Awsome

“Do what you have to do.” – Sarah Luna (aka ME!)

I’ve never been one to say, “Here’s my super challenging goal, and dammit if I don’t succeed.”

I’m much more likely to say, “What I’m doing right now is no longer working, I think it’s time for a change.”

When it’s time for that change, I move quickly. I’m often surprised by how much I can accomplish when actually I put in the time and effort. I know, shocking right? Then once I’m at a place where I’m comfortable again, I’ll stay there, until I have to move on. It’s a slow ladder, but it’s a happy ladder. And though I’m frequently less well-off than I’d like, I seem to do okay. I still have my friends, family, dance life, and I manage to eat. I still have my goals, my dreams, and my ever-increasing to-do list.

I’m great at doing what I have to do: If I need a job, I’ll get a job. If I need to write, I’ll write. If I need to get stronger, I’ll get stronger. And since the number one thing that pushes me to aim higher is a desire to not fail, here’s my current crossroads: I can either scrape by working one job but never have any sort of cushion, or I can put active effort into pursing my dreams of becoming working writer and look for some freelance writing jobs.

This is exactly what I’m doing. It’s just an added bonus that I also love what I’m doing. And truthfully, this blog post functions as a contract to both myself and anyone who enjoys my writing, that I will submit those applications and start writing that book that I’ll probably have to self publish.

I think all writers can agree that being a good writer is about more than stringing a bunch of words together to meet the criteria. It’s about diving in headfirst and hoping for the best.

So here’s to hoping for the best!

Of Writing Muscles

I haven’t written a plot driven story, poem, limerick, or really anything since I graduated. And it’s already been a year and a half since that momentous event occurred.

Recently I discovered that while my ability to ramble has not faded, my fiction muscles were defiantly out of shape.

When I first sat down at my laptop I was ready to kick ass. After all, in the past I’ve written fantastic stories on two hours of sleep and within extreme time constraints. So obviously this was gonna go well:

Anchorman - Big Deal

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The first draft was nothing more than shitty dialogue. No imagery, limited movement, and hardly even a purpose. It was deleted.

So I decided it was best to start over. Now that the initial creative process kinks were out-of-the-way it was just a matter of accomplishing the task at hand:

Anchorman - Fight

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The second draft was much better, but not improved enough to make me say, “Good job self.” Most of this version will be deleted.

Now I’m embarking on draft three. If all goes well, this draft will be on par with the stories I wrote when I had only an hour to throw together a 2-5 page exercise to discuss during class. At this phase it feels a bit chaotic. However, now I’m invested, and turning back to the la-de-da world of binge watching Netflix is no longer an option. Sadly, this draft will most likely also join the scrap heap:

Anchorman - Regret Decision

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By draft four, maybe just maybe, it might be good enough to share with the internet. Because if by the fourth draft I still haven’t got my writing muscles back into shape, that would be a true travesty:

Anchorman - Glass Cage

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I think what I need is a writing group to keep me accountable. Whether they be strangers via the online universe, or people I may or may not know who live nearby. I need someone to give me a deadline and a reason to stare a computer for hours a day. Initially I will hate them for making me enter the treacherous love/hate world of writing. But when I finally have a tangible (and awesome) story that I can hand to a group for discussion, all I’ll be able to say is:

Anchorman - Love You

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They say that, “You’re always your worst critic,” but I’ve always thought I was decently awesome. So if I say it sucks, trust me when I say it’s a shitfest that’s not ready to be viewed by anyone. However, when my writing is once again impressive …. I shall show it everyone:

Anchorman - Jump for Joy

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Of Writer’s Hesitation

Typewriter

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I want to write. I long to sit at my 1940’s desk with a quill in my hand and compose beautiful words. Sadly, I’m not writing. I haven’t written a complete story since I graduated a couple of months ago. It’s not that I don’t have ideas fluttering around my head, it’s just that I’m not writing. It’s a shame – I’m a pretty good storyteller.

So why am I not writing?

I can’t say that it’s because of writers block, as I already confessed to having ideas. It’s not that I don’t have enough time, I work a crappy part-time job and get maybe 20 hours a week – I have more than enough time.

When I picture myself writing everything is very romanticized. Sitting at my desk for hours every morning with a cup of coffee steaming beside me. But whenever I am about to start writing that’s when I freeze up.

I think that part of me is afraid of the process. Delving deeper into my subconscious may reveal things about myself that I’m not willing to confront or perhaps don’t want shared with the world. I’ve always said that fiction tells readers more about the author than non-fiction. Non-fiction is easy, it’s a glimpse into the author’s life, and they get to control how everyone is portrayed and what you witness. Fiction is the subconscious, what they are really thinking, and how they process the world around them – their soul masked by layers of characters and scenery.

So yeah, maybe I’m fearful. And for the first time in my writing career I’m completely on my own, no teacher to hand out assignments, or internship set a deadline. The only thing to motivate my fingers to tap away at the keyboard is me. Me. Me. Me. And I gotta say, I suck at self motivation. Give me a deadline and I’ll get the work done, and damn it the paper will be good. But when left to my own devices I shy away from the real writing and hide in work that is less deep, less personal, and less substantial.

I need to write.

Of My Habitual Bookshelf

Book shelf

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My books are organized alphabetically – by title. Many book lovers I know take the time to arrange their books by genre, then by authors last name, and lastly by title. I’m not a library, there’s no need for me to so intricately categorize my books. When I’m in a literature mood I don’t browse based off genre, I think of the book I want and find it with ease. It didn’t occur to me until tonight that my bookshelf might be functioning as a hindrance to my reading life.

For you see, I’m a creature of habit, as many are. I order the same coffee almost everyday (double, 12oz, vanilla, latte, hot). I always go to the same restaurants and when I do I order the same food (I know it’s good, if I’m feeling adventurous I’ll take a bite of someone else’s food, my choice is a guaranteed success). I watch the same style of movie or TV show. I walk the same trails with my friends. I even play the same songs on the piano. I’m highly predictable – makes it easy to buy presents for me.

Tonight I was in a reading mood, so naturally I went to my bookshelf. It’s remarkable how many of my books I’ve never even read a page of, and I’d say half of the one’s that I have read were never finished. In theory, my unread bookshelf should give me a lot of options when picking out a book. But as I stared at the titles I kept flicking my eyes towards my favorites. Skimming over the titles that I really should read, since I own them, and pausing upon books that I have read multiple times. It took a lot of restraint to not grab The Giver by Lois Lowry for the fourteenth time and choose a new book. Well, new to me anyways.

Thanks to my self-control (and trust me, it was mentally tiring) I picked up White Oleander by Janet Fitch, a book that I’ve been meaning to read for years – and no, I’ve never seen the movie. Starting tonight I shall read this book I’ve never read, and who knows, someday I might be able to say I’ve read every book I own. Nah, probably not, I’ll shoot for 50%.

Maybe when my lease is up, and I’m once again forced to relocate my library, I’ll try a new method of organizing. Force myself to say, “I should read a fantasy novel,” and sift through that section. Instead of, “I’m going to read Looking for Alaska (by John Green) or Me Talk Pretty One Day (by David Sedaris) …. again.” 

And perhaps it doesn’t matter. Odds are, no matter what I do, I’ll still fall into the same habitual tendencies.

Of Blurring the Line of Creative Non-Fiction

Harry Potter - I must not tell lies

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In the creative writing world the term creative non-fiction always starts an intense conversation.

There’s two sides:

  1. The side that insists that nothing can ever be fabricated, if there are people involved you need to get their permission and/or have them confirm the story as the way it happened, and there are very few liberties regarding details.
  2. The other side is a bit more lenient. They are in favor of the use of the creative license, they care more about the emotional truth than the factual truth, and in regards to details, if wall was yellow but it’s a more powerful scene if it’s black – let it be black.

Personally I fall into the second group.

Here’s how I see it. Unless you walk around with a video camera or notepad recording EVERYTHING that happened in your life EVER right down to the um’s, ah’s, and like’s used in daily conversation, then everything may as well be fiction. For no one wants to read a list of facts, it’s boring. That’s what textbooks are for. There’s a reason that very few people read textbooks for leisure purposes.

I just can’t grasp why people care so much, it’s not like creative non-fiction writers are writing the news. They are writing their story, most likely with the only source being their memory and maybe a friend or two.

The truth is about as stable as a ribbon hanging from a beam. Non-fiction on one side and fiction on the other. Sometimes it goes crazy, spinning and jumping all over the place. Other times it’s flipped up, stuck to the top of the roof – the line vanishes. And occasionally it hangs straight down – forming a clear definitive line of what’s the truth and what’s a lie.

The point is when I’m writing non-fiction I’m not lying, but that doesn’t mean I’m telling the truth. If I were to include a disclaimer this would mostly be what I put:

The following is true, it happened, this is how my brain remembers the event, story, people, weather, and so forth. I’m not lying to you, not that it matters. It really doesn’t matter, the events truth doesn’t matter, what matters is how I remembered it, how it influenced me, and how you as a reader connect to the story. Hopefully you’ll be entertained or possibly moved by the next few pages. This may as well be fiction because I didn’t bother to double-check the exact time or temperature ever when writing this. I repeat, the truth doesn’t matter …. but this is a true story, so you may as well believe me.

From that I’m guaranteed to have people freak out that I’m a liar, and others praise me for my honesty. Even though I hopefully clearly stated where I stand on the issue in a simple little paragraph. The point is there’s no winning these conversations, it’s a dead conversation that loops on repeat over and over. It never goes anywhere, no one ever sees the other’s point of view, no one suddenly jumps from team 1 to team 2 or vice-versa.

What we need is more terms to use for the genre. Like in the way that there’s 50 types of love in the world but the English language only has one word to use, so it’s all in how you say it. There’s 50 – and growing – types of creative non-fiction. But there’s only three terms you can use: creative non-fiction, memoir, and (auto)biography. They all basically mean the same thing and have the same debate regarding truth and lies.

I think people need to calm down and realize that no one is ever going to agree.

Of Save the Words

Save the Words screenshot

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I’m officially bummed.

Several months ago my friend mentioned in passing a website entitled Save the Words. A dream site, especially for anyone who has ever said, “Nice word choice,” and meant it. Then, about fifteen minutes ago, I suddenly remembered her telling me of words crying out for us to save them and the option of adopting a word. It sounded glorious.

I regret to inform you that Save the Words.org is now a blank website. After trying various programs (Explorer, Firefox, Chrome) I have come to find that the website is extinct. I even checked the source, which revealed that there was no hidden code. In fact, there’s no HTML code at all. This is why I’m sad.

Now I’m scrapping my brain, trying to remember words that are starting to fade out. A few come to mind, almost all of which are 90s slang and are heard in old hip-hop music:

  • Rump
  • Scrub
  • Baller
  • Boo ya
  • Jiggy
  • It’s your birthday
  • Bust it
  • Da bomb
  • Groovy
  • Bitchin
I really wish I could think of “smart” words to add to the list. Can anyone else remember other words that are dying out?

Of Piles and Piles of Books

Girl Reading in the Woods

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I need to read more. They say that the more you read, the better you write. I’ve always said that a cliché’s a cliché for a reason. Let’s get reading …

I have a pile of books by my bed on my Read Now Bitch list, and even more on my book shelf. Last week I got three new books from a free books shelf, and I have an ever-growing list of books I want to buy. Yet, I have no time to read these stories. I am partially into The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Most books that I start I WILL finish. Even if I think the book is simply dreadful like Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea. Warning, spoilers: young girl named Trisha gets a job, loses job, meets a girl named Rose, Rose throws her gross tampon at a guy (I swear these girls never bathe or do anything remotely hygienic), they do a lot of drugs (a lot), drink a lot, steal, Trisha has sex with Rose, then gets a tattoo, Trisha figures out that she’s a lesbian, Rose says she’s straight, this angers Trisha, they part and go back home, Trisha’s sister lost her Real World Audition tapes, The End. The whole thing is written with intense teenage angst and bizarre dialogue formatting, but damn it, I finished the book.

Then there’s a couple that I have never made it past the first thirty – fifty pages. Some of those are considered classics: Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Other’s are books that looked interesting and were on either a best seller list or employee picks section: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

Still, I need to read more. I need to finish every book I own no matter how nauseating it is. And if I can’t bear the sight of it after completing said book(s) I will donate it(them) to some other person who may in fact love the story. I am not so cocky as to say that my opinion is the best, but I do have high standards. Often I think it’s more fun talking about or buying a book than actually reading one.

However, when a book comes along that defies that norm, it’s something amazing. And my Books I’m Ecstatic Came Into My Life That I Need to Own and Lend to Everyone I Know is much longer than my hate list: Looking For Alaska by John Green, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella.

I could write lists of books I love, hate, and want for hours.

Of Pure Writing Talent

Me and Joe

Me and my best friend Joe. I miss the kid. This photo technically has nothing to do with the post. Except, just look how awesome we are. Awesomeness = relevance.

Before I begin. I was planning on doing a November challenge, where I would get my ass in gear and write a post a day. My personalized version of the write a novella in a month challenge. I figured this is more doable since I am a busy person. However, I’m starting a couple of days late. Oh well, better late than never.

Okay, post time!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Let’s be honest. I’m fucking talented.

Every quarter I take a creative writing workshop, fiction or non-fiction, and every quarter I’m reminded of how awesome I am. This is not to say I am the best, but I’m certainly not the worst. I read a lot of lame or simply AWFUL work from people who are supposedly creative writing majors, these same people are intending to graduate within the next year or two. Crazy, surely there must be something else they are more talented at. I have to read so many plotless fiction stories, and poorly written non-fiction essays that make me feel like a bitch for prying into a private moment.

Sigh. Why creative writing majors? But, on the other hand, thank you for making me feel like a very talented person in this smallish school.

Most of what I write I throw together in a blur. Typically I’m low on sleep, high on caffeine, and limited on time. This quarter especially is a sleepless haze, I’m taking eighteen credits and work twenty – twenty-five hours every weekend. Then when I can I try to throw in a night of dancing or mindless television for the sake of sanity. It’s pure magic that I manage to get my assignments finished on time.

Ironically, I refuse to half-ass things, so maybe that’s why my work turns out above average most of the time. Let’s be honest again, grammatically I’m not a queen or a Nazi. In fact, most of my writing buddies will agree that while I’ve improved that is still my weakest department – thus I have no desire to be a copy-editor. I would no doubt suck at that.

But in terms of content, yeah, I’m pretty fucking awesome.

Of Writing Breaks

Calvin and Hobbs Writing Comic

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One of my favorite quotes regarding the written word is:

“Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it.” – Gloria Anzaldua

Anyone who has ever discussed writing, reading, basically creative literature with me has heard this quote come out of my mouth. Unfortunately when I try to verbalize it, I butcher it. Actually, it seems like most the time when I read aloud I butcher the words on the page. Maybe I just need more practice and maybe I just need to accept that I will never read books on tape.

For multiple reasons – I will never be Morgan Freeman.

Why I write is part of what sparked my previous post regarding reading habits and taste. Currently I don’t get a lot of opportunity to write for me. Rather, I have to sit around and write cover letters, memos, constantly tinker with my resume, and write creatively for a professor who in turn will slap a letter grade in red upon the page. I often have trouble maintaining momentum when I have a lot of not-so-fun assignments to write. In fact, this very blog post is me taking a break between writing my memo/resume and writing a cover letter.

As Anzaldua would say, this is me putting order in the world. I’m taking a break from writing by writing. Shifting from professional rhetoric to seemingly pointless borderline rant with an underlying theme. It’s healthy though right? I feel like I’m getting to be good at the technical writing thing, perhaps soon I’ll be great. But my creative mind needs some variation in format, style, and voice. This is my voice. Sarah Luna – sarcastic, not-so-romantic, witty, deep-thinker – my voice. Now my voice must disappear and in turn this unpolished blog post shall reach an end. My mind will shift back to the realm of professionalism and hopefully I’ll go to bed before 3:30AM.

Of Writing Style and Reading Taste

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This is an expanded version of an assignment I had in my editing and publishing class to write a letter about my personal taste in writing and reading. Initially I tailored the assignment with a narrow focus with the intention of keeping the letter precise and semi-formal. But after listening to what my professor wrote and several of the other students in my class I felt inspired to rewrite the letter even though I knew it would never be graded because I wanted to:

Dear Professor:

 The first thing I’ll admit about my reading tastes and writing style is that I’m lazy. I’ll spend hours binge watching anything by Joss Whedon, or an old Gene Kelly musical before I finally say to myself, Sarah, stop procrastinating you have to write something. At that point I’ll sit down and pump out what I need within three hours that’s good enough for at least a B+ or A-. Or if I’m writing for fun I’ll spend hours talking aloud to myself making sure that my words flow with perfect elegance or sarcasm depending on the piece.

When asked about my tastes I can answer what I dislike much easier than what I enjoy. I’ve read more unbearable plotless fiction than any person ever should. I’m eagerly awaiting the end of the current apocalypse fad. I dislike when someone messes with my traditional or Whedon mythology, sorry Stephanie Meyer but vampires burn to ash in the sun, they simply don’t sparkle like fairies. I hate unnecessary wordiness, thus I hate Victorian literature. If Jane Austen’s books were to all of a sudden vanish into the clouds, I would not shed a single tear, in fact, I would probably dance with joy. I’m sick of snooty classic literature purists who are constantly trying to start a fight because I loathe their precious Pride and Prejudice, I think Mr. Darcy was a jerk with money, and that I find Austen’s writing style unbearably boring. If I’m being honest I haven’t read a lot of classic literature, but from what I’ve read I’ve rarely been impressed.

Being a twenty-two year old college student I naturally have adult tastes:  I love a book that will challenge or wow me intellectually, as well as a girly book that makes me laugh. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella, for example, is a hilarious book marketed towards women and is surprisingly not cliché. A strong female, who is not a needy obnoxiously boy crazy human being, drives the plot with such surprises and quirks that the first time I read the novel I only put the book down once and only because I was laughing so hard that I could no longer see the printed words on the page. However, being that I was born and raised in a religious conservative household, I have come to find that some of the best books are ones that I can appreciate and my younger brother can also enjoy. These are books that when visiting family, I do not have to worry about my mother looking over my shoulder and seeing something that she wouldn’t approve of, such as curse words or sexual language. That’s why I long to go into young adult literature. Problem is that most of what I write isn’t like the young adult literature that I love to read. My writing reflects a part of me that I’ve never shown my family, and I dread the day that I have to decide between censoring myself, using a pen name, or letting the full truth come out for my family to see. I used to always censor my writing; I have the ability to switch how I communicate to match what the people around me deem appropriate. I recently decided that in order to write to the best of my abilities I had to be fully honest and not adjust how I write to please others; I use my blog to practice this.

When my little brother was three we learned that the reason he was not speaking was because he was deaf. By the time he was four he had a surgery to get a cochlear implant. Nowadays he still has a deaf boy lisp but he doesn’t need us to sign as he is able to speak and understand us just fine. I gained a whole new level of respect for the language I took for granted while watching him go to hours of speech therapy and commute an hour and a half daily to the most amazing deaf school to ever exist, Northwest School for Hearing Impaired Children. Naturally, because of what he had to overcome, it took him awhile to get into reading. When he was about eleven he was engrossed with the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell. He loved it, so I read it, and I have to say it was dazzling. And the only thing it has in common with the movie is the names of the characters and title of the story, literally everything else is completely different. I made it my personal mission at that point to make sure he keeps reading, so I frequently introduce him to books that I loved when I was little, such as Holes by Louis Sachar. And he would in return share current books with me.  Doing this is what initially sparked my dream of publishing young adult literature.

While edgier books have their place and are also wonderful, I love a book that is brilliant enough to touch the souls of both old and young. My favorite book growing up, and to this day, was The Giver by Lois Lowry. A short novel about the dangers of ignorance in a controlled society and follows a young twelve-year-old boy who boldly made his own path, returning the memories of the past to his community. In terms of books that have influenced the masses, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is a prime example of what well written young adult can accomplish, and is arguably the book of my generation. While marketed for young adults it still has a plot and depth that adults of all ages have enjoyed over the years. And don’t even get me started on how amazing the character of Snape is, his purpose, intentions, boldness, contradictions, I could only dream of writing such an intense and interesting character.

I’m not a consistently tidy person, but when I sit down to read or write in my own home, I need order. My desk organized, my clothes put away, and most importantly my bed has to be made, throw pillows in place and all. Without my physical surroundings providing structure I find that my ability to focus or produce original work of quality falters. If I’m being honest, I would probably fall asleep regardless of how enticing the story was or how driving my creative flow was being. My unmade bed would call me into its untucked sheets. Without question that slumber would cause me to rise a few hours before my assignment was due in a raging panic. Once my bed is made I sit and wait for a vibe to take over for me. Everything I do is governed by vibes, this is how I decorate my apartment, how I decide what to wear, and it governs the tone of my piece. Recently I was doing a lot of blues dancing, which if you don’t know is a form of sexy ballroom, and watching even more Gilmore Girls. Those activities created a vibe within me that helped me write one of the best stories I’ve ever written. A sensual undertone, slow pacing, and witty dialogue drives the story of a young girl who rebels within a small community ultimately finding solace on a rare patch of grass in the desert.

My attachment to young adult literature stems from my guilty pleasures and the books that inspired me while growing up. I want my family to be able to enjoy the majority of what I publish whether they are ten or seventy. Of course, because of my own writing style and voice I’ll definitely have adult books not everyone will be able to read. Regardless, I want to publish the books that will inspire the future youth to love literature, in the ways that the books that I read inspired me. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Sarah Luna