Monday, October 31, 2016

An Introvert’s Halloween

“I don’t want to actually have a life; I just want to look like I do,” I said, explaining to my family we needed to do something for Halloween.

It’s not exactly true. As hilarious as I think I am claiming all I want is a good Instagram photo, what I really want is a good memory and that is exactly what pomp and circumstance is for.

One of my standby words of wisdom is that if you want to be a writer, you need to start noticing your ideas. Everyone constantly has moments of imagination, but authors learn to recognize them for concepts pivotal plot scenes, inspired by their everyday fears and fantasies.

Meanwhile, here I am, meeting new people, trying to think of something to say and drawing a blank. Most shy people will tell you their silence comes from brain paralysis, and that’s not much different than the tremendous hemorrhaging I experience.

While moving to New York City, I am staying temporarily with my cousin who is about as extraverted as you’re going to find. She’s the life of the party, filled with confidence and charm, and while watching her, I realized that being in the limelight requires you to do exactly the opposite of what you’d think.

There is no hesitation in talking about herself. She tells great stories, speaks her mind, and doesn’t hesitate to argue. In fact, she thrives on it. While bartending this summer, I mentioned to my coworker how I will never get the best tips because of my perfunctory delivery of my duties, in which he described a bartender who told the best stories.

I recently read a book in which a demon demanded payment in the form of good memories. If I had to pull up a good memory right now, I’m not so sure I could.

My ex behaved poorly in the honeymoon stage, and retroactively tainted all of the good memories I had of us “falling in love.” I told him I needed them replaced if I was ever going to forgive him. I had used many of the romantic things he’d done early as a means to feel loved and important, and when I found out how ingenuine they were, they became sources of pain, not pleasure. He did try to a certain extent, but it all felt false, and we never recovered.

As a child, my mother wasn’t big into traditions, and I can’t say the rest of the family was either. My dad to a zero extent, while my mom wanted to put in some effort, but as we got older the less we all cared. I hated going out into the cold and cutting down a Christmas tree. Decorating it felt tedious. I liked working on holidays, and I was a regular ole Scrooge.

Last year, I decided to make a point to celebrate and make things feel important again. I was struggling with stress and depression, and I hoped to start putting more effort into my everyday life to create more joy, more stories, more memories. But I found people—my ex mainly—fighting me, refusing to carve pumpkins, telling me, “I don’t do Valentine’s day,” the whole shebang.

Halloween is the next holiday after my birthday, and my first attempt to try and make things right for this “new year.” Of course, I didn’t make a costume this year or plan ahead, but scrounging some things from my cousin’s basement, I am off to Salem to be bombarded by crowds. If I’m willing to argue, I may be able to convince someone to carve pumpkins and make pie, but we can only hope.

Memories are, of course, what you make them, and being present long enough to enjoy a laugh, but a big part of it is getting out of bed first.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Are You Fueled by Positivity or Pushed by Negativity?

A rolling stone gathers no manuscript pages. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve lost a few. By the time of this posting, I’ll have moved over 2,000 miles, and missed several days of writing due to fatigue that can only come from sitting on your ass for eight hours.

I’m not happy about it.

But it was as I traveled, slowly growing less enamored with the scenery and ready to be ‘home’ that I realized my true problem; I haven’t had an actual home since I graduated from high school in 2008.

Everything was always temporary. Sure, my apartment in Los Angeles was with me for three years, but it was a dark and lonely place where meth addicts kicked in your door. When I got my cat, things became better, but by that point I knew I would be leaving soon and still didn’t form any attachments to the walls' embrace.

When I lived with my parents during the lovely recession, I kept thinking I would move “in three months” until two years had passed. It wasn’t until I left with my then-boyfriend to Australia and we set up a house together, got a dog, and starting planning for a future that I realized what I had been missing at that time.

I think a great deal of my remorse at that break-up had to do with just that sense of having a real home. I was finally starting a family, having my space which I could do what I wanted with, and then bam, just like that, it was all gone.

Starting over, in some ways, had its appeal. In Australia, I lamented never moving to New York City like I had always planned, and being with my ex would mean giving up a lot of what I needed in a partner. It was freeing, in a way. And, after having a well-paying job for the course of the summer, I was left with a much more flush bank account than the one I had drained getting to Australia, so on the surface, things were looking good.

As I write this, I am sitting in Chicago, two days from my destination. I have little pricks of fear here and there, truly having no idea what I will be doing outside of temporary plans, no idea what my life will be like, or how I will take advantage of the opportunities I’m seeking from New York, but overall, I feel a great deal better than I have in years. My concentration is better, and my ability to enjoy the little things—or anything—has improved.

And with that, so does my writing.

I’ve found that while my humor is often cynical and rantish in nature, my best posts being negative venting, I’m far more funny when I have high energy. The words come far more natural to me. It’s also a thousand times easier to write when I’m happy, feeling good, and not worrying about this or that.

I know authors who are the opposite. One story in particular sticks in my mind about a romance writer who, an older married gal in a deadbedroom, wrote fantastically while frustrated and pent up, but couldn’t muster it when her husband regained his interest in her. Many authors write their best while drunk, while in pain, while suicidal. Heartbreak is the great optimizer of passion.

Others write best while in love, their muses a beautiful woman. They write best in tandem with a cheerful cowriter building them up. They have a happy home and family. They tell stories to their kids. Their careers have taken off and just get better and better. They’re happy drunks.

But the better I feel, the easier the words come. I've been able to focus these last few days when I do get up and write in the morning, and the writer's block I had prior to fleeing the recesses of Wyoming seems uncharacteristically absent. Things are going easier, flowing more; the better I feel, the better I do.

If you’re dealing with writer’s block, it may be that your inspiration is fueled by something lacking in your life. Sometimes, sure, you have to push through the exhaustion or stress and get something done, but in other cases, you might sit back and figure out if you can’t add something to your life; it might greatly make things easier.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Six Questions to Improve Dialogue

How do your characters feel about…

WHO they are with?

Two people are talking about abstract art:

            “It’s red.”
            “Just red.”
            “That’s the point.”
            “Well, I assumed. He wanted to be lazy and get credit for it, and he did it.”
            “That is absolutely not the point. It’s about making you look at red in a new way. To see it for what it is. To have a new perspective on it without it being influenced by comparison to other colors.”
            “Okay. Fine. He succeeded at that too. I am definitely not influenced.”
            “You just don’t get it.”
            “I really don’t.


            “It’s red.”
            “Exactly. See, he did that deliberately. He wanted to show you the color red without it being compared to anything else.”
            “Are you sure you’re not giving him too much credit?”
            “Looking at art is more enjoyable if you try to trust it.”
            “I don’t know. I just don’t get it.”
            “It’s not for everyone.”

            “It’s red.”
            “You’re red.”
            “Why paint something just red?”
            “Because it helps you see red in a new way.”
            “Like anger?”
            “You’re anger.”
            “I don’t get it.”
            “Enough to see red?”
            “I will smack you.”

In real life, how we phrase our sentences is highly dependent on who we’re talking to. It should be easy to read, even out of context, how long a character has known someone, how well, and his opinion about that person.

In the first example, the second speaker has no respect for his friend. In the second example, he does, and is just trying to explain his ideas without being rude.

In the third, he argues with his friend just as much as he did in the first, but there’s affinity for his companion. It’s no longer about proving the philistine wrong, but expressing disagreement to someone he likes.

All three convey the same content, but it tells a different story about their relationship.

And, not only does understanding their mood help the author develop the characters and their connection, without that sense of respect and amiability, dialogue comes off as flat.

Even when there is no relationship, a character has an opinion on the person she’s talking to. Does she look down on waiters? Empathize with them? Is she angry at them for her food being late? Is she pleased at the waitress’s jovial attitude?

The lack of an opinion or feelings towards another human being is a strong choice, not a neutral one. If a character barely recognizes a waiter’s existence—the waiter is wallpaper only there to serve, dehumanized—it says something about that character. Also, sometimes a character might be too distracted to even see the person before them, too focused on herself to be worried about what the other character is thinking. This are great choices that will affect how the dialogue is conveyed, but they are impactful ones. When an author unintentionally writes a character who speaks in perfunctory and objective ways, it will create insincere dialogue.

And how does he think they feel about him?

            “It’s red.”
            “Don’t get me wrong. I just don’t understand why.”
            “What do you mean why? It’s an illustration of a common entity—the color red—giving you a new perspective on how you see it outside its normal context. Basic art move.”
            “It’s not complicated. Not even original really.”
            “I mean, painting something like that takes a lot of time and dedication…”
            “But the concept is pretty simple.”

Prior, the characters were on the same footing. The original example, there was a mutual disrespect, but in this one the naysayer is less confident. He cares what the other person thinks and is struggling to voice his opinion without earning judgment.

How do your characters feel about…        

WHAT they are talking about?

            “He left eight minutes after three. We should have an hour to sneak in there, get the book and get out.”
            “Where did he go?”
            “I don’t know. Skipping around some fancy-pants art gallery. Examining trouble souls and past partying through their post-morning sick. He needs to give it a good amount of time to convince people he really cares, so we have a while.”
            “The presentation at the Calvin Steins Institute was actually pretty nice.”
            “Just come on.”

Again, we could stick to the point:

            “Where did he go?”
            “I’m not sure. He’s a society guy, so probably a party? We should have some time.”

But coloring our words with opinions are more interesting and informative than conveying information.

            “So the guy tries to tell me that it’s a symbol of how we perceive everyday day things, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
            “Can I help you, sir?”
            “One coffee. Black. Small.”
            “For 25 cents more you can get a medium.”
            “Small is fine. Anyway, I go along with it, nodding for a while, tuning him out before I said, ‘Fine. I’m still not paying 10,000 dollars for it.”

            “So the guy tries to tell me that it’s a symbol of how we perceive everyday day things, and I’m like… Hold on a moment.”
            “Can I help you?”
            “Yes. I guess I’ll have… Just a small black coffee is fine.”
            “For 25 cents more you can get a medium.”
            “Sure. That sounds great. Anyway, I go along with it, nodding for a while, tuning him out before I say, “I can’t pay 10,000 dollars for it.”

In the first the person has done this before, knows exactly what he wants, and has a very firm opinion on coffee, the second does not. How he orders his coffee—and how firmly he sticks to his gumption—changes his reputation to the audience. The first guy is no nonsense, the second is more casual, less firm, less bossy. It’s an inane subject, but can convey two totally different personalities.

How do your characters feel about…

WHERE they are?

Has he been here before? Has he taken possession of the place? Does he like being there? Is he comfortable there?

A character believes she’s alone in her bar, cleaning up, when she finds one stranger standing there, staring at her.

A character believes she’s alone in the post office when she finds a stranger standing there, staring at her.

A character believes she’s alone in her living room when she finds a stranger standing there, staring at her.

What are the first words out of her mouth?

If it’s in her bar, she probably won’t ask, “Who are you?” or “What do you want?” She’s most likely to conceal her fear and jump to a rational conclusion—he is a left over patron who she missed somehow.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. We’re closed.”

In the post office, she might swallow her fear and even say, “Hi,” as she passes.

In her bedroom, of course, she might skip the words and go straight to a scream.

It also applies in more subtle situations. Being in a large hall with an expansive table as the characters discuss what to do about the oncoming battle will encourage calm, logical, and formal discussion. Take the same people sitting around a campsite after a hard day, and they’ll use very different words to explain the same thing.  

The less extreme the setting of the scene, the more important it is to consider the details. We don’t always consider how the room makes them feel, forgetting things like chill or the hardness of chairs, but just being aware of the small discomforts—or their opposites—can greatly enhance the nuance of language.

WHEN did he come up with what he was saying?

The words we choose are based around how long we’ve been planning them. A guy who has been trying to say, “I love you” for six years is going to have a very different method than someone who realized it then blurted it out.

It looks like it wouldn’t be important in most circumstances—Who cares when he decided he was going to order a cup of coffee?—but the devil’s in the details makes this sort of choice change the generic to natural with a little effort. Having characters who vary with their pre-planning is interesting and easy to express. When a story presents each person walking in and knowing exactly what they want immediately, and saying they want it right when they think of it, it looks fake. When, however, the protagonist is the only one among many who can make snap decisions, all others waiting until the last minute to know what they’re going to do/order, it becomes a personality choice. Also, because it is typical for authors to make the “incubation” time of a thought the same, breaking that, having him sometimes jump to conclusions or mull it over, will lead to creative choices the writer might not have thought of before.
And, on that same note, when does he think his conversational companion came up with what she was saying?

Does Mistress Starbucks say “Have a nice day,” to everyone, a preplanned response to all customers? Or is it individual to him and spontaneous? Individual to him and planned? It might be, “Have a nice day, sir,” she said, turning abruptly to rinse out the sink, or, “Have nice day! See you tomorrow!” or She held back the cup, holding him there an instant before releasing. The barista smiled shyly at him, “Have a nice day, sir.” While these might not all be options in context, each adds more information other than he got a cup of coffee. We might know the coffee shop or the city is unfriendly or hurried, maybe that he’s attractive and gets hit on a lot. Some options might not be options at all, but it wouldn’t hurt to know they exist, which is what asking when each character came up with a thought does.

WHY is he saying it?

So, most of us have heard the words “super-objective” and “motivation,” but for those of you who are lucky enough to work outside of the loop, these are literary terms that refer to the characters’ goals.

Why a character does what he does and says are what create the underlying message of who he is. All actions are motivated and all of them should be, yet those reasons are rarely ever outright stated. It doesn’t make sense for a character to do something he doesn’t see a benefit from. Even if it’s trivial or vague and not likely to happen, even we don’t believe that it will happen, there is something propelling us to make each decision: I sit down because I believe it will feel better than standing up.

More importantly, because this is true for real life, the writer has certain motivations in making the choices he did (whether he is aware of it or not), and it is up to the motivation of the character to conceal the meta-thinking of the writer. We want the reader to believe, “Man, the villain is an ass,” not, “Man, the author wants us to think the villain is an ass.” We do this by motivating the villain’s actions, rather just saying, “An evil guy does an evil thing to look evil to the readers.”

A person’s motivation is the primary factor in their tone of voice, their timing, and the words they use. Their tactic is based around what they hope to achieve.

For instance, if Julia finds out that her boyfriend cheated on her, and she wants to punish him, she might break up with him in the loudest, most public way possible, starting by shouting, “So you like whores do you?” as he sits in a bar with his friends.

However, if she was filled with doubt and wanted to find the truth, she might do it privately and start nonchalantly, “I ran into Chelsea today.”

Her motivation may lead to her not confronting him at all. Instead of having a conversation, she packs up her things and leaves, just wishing to be done with it. What good would talking about it do if she just wanted the relationship to be over?

When the author wants to do something, especially deliver information, the dialogue can come out just like that: the characters sound like they’re trying to tell the reader something, not like they’re talking.

So we motivate them by asking, “What do they have to gain from saying this to the person they’re saying it to?”

If an author wants to convey that this couple is blissful, and he does so by having the man tells his girlfriend of six years that he loves her so the audience knows he loves her, it might read false. If, however, the author has the man tell his girlfriend he loves her because he feels like the happiness will explode if he doesn’t get it out the writing is more likely to naturally come out as real.

And lastly…

HOW does he think it is going to turn out?

This is different than why he is saying it. The first one is about what he hopes will happen, this second one is about what he thinks will happen. Again, his tactics will change based on success level. If he knows she loves him back, he’s going to be more straightforward and take more risks admitting he loves her. If he thinks she’s probably going to slap him, he’s more likely to keep a distance, stammer, or do it quickly. He still says it because the possible benefits of having her love outweigh the possible, more likely consequences. It is worth it to get slapped on the off chance she might love him back.

This also defines character. A man might not tell a girl who he’s pretty sure loves him back because if, on the slight chance she doesn’t, it would ruin their friendship. But another man might think that having her love is worth risking the friendship. How we prioritize possibilities and likelihood varies based on who we are.

His perceived success rate will alter his tactics and his response to her response. And his response to her response is exactly what a dialogue is.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Tips for Writing a Book from Start to Finish


Everyone has ideas. All the time. But they’re like opportunities. The trick is to notice them when they’re happening to you, or they’ll just pass you by.

Get inside your own head, understand your thoughts and your emotions. Though opinions and perspective will come regardless of consideration, it is easier to highlight and strengthen those ideas while being aware of them.

Pay attention to your thoughts, your fantasizes, and your questions on life. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” “Why am I feeling that way?”and “Where do I feel it?” every chance you get. Write things down. Keep them in the back of your mind. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you can suddenly be ordered to write a story on the spot and you have at least two options in your mind. You may not be inspired by any of them at the moment, but the blank, deer-in-headlights reaction isn’t there.

Professional writers do this all the time. They have thousands of ideas stored up that they’re interested in writing about, which is why the common solicitation of, “I have a great idea! Will you write it for me?” has less than amazing results.


There’s a saying out there that I don’t like very much: “You can’t polish a turd.” Not only is it a disgusting image, but I think it’s not very accurate.

All ideas are pure in their original form because the author was, at one point, inspired by them enough to get excited over the others. They get tainted, however, from harvesting and trying to be plucked from their vague and ever changing form to something with boundaries, something more concrete.

Now, important to remember is it’s your book and you are allowed to write it in any way you see fit, even—sometimes especially—if it evolved.

However, I find it helpful to write down its purest form in detail while it’s still fresh. You can do this with bullet points, or a description that is only meant for accurate reference. It doesn’t have to be legible or interesting, just accurate. I often find it best to write the portion of the book that inspired me first before the rest, keeping it in another document until I get to that part. Of course, changes will be made, but it is a good reference for me to understand why I liked the idea, the tone I was going for, and simply be more fun for me to write that point while inspired (thus, usually more fun to read). Mostly though, when you’re struggling later on, trying to figure out your point, or your pitch, or where it ‘went wrong’ to reflect on the memory of when it was just young love.

2) Writing.


There is no right way to write a story, and you’ll be surprised how often the best parts came from “mistakes.” Feel free to experiment, focus on finishing and having fun, and don’t shame yourself every time you’re not happy with the results. Don’t fixate on the right way—try new things.

Here’s the common places I have heard authors saying they start:

-At the Beginning.
-At the “Point of Conception” and/or Out of Order
-With an Outline
-At the End

Each has their own benefits and negatives. Starting at the beginning and writing until the finish is the easiest way to keep track of things. I usually write my novels this way, and it allows me to keep in mind the number one aspect that I get confused about—what information I’ve already delivered to the audience.

The benefits of going in order is that it’s less confusing and the author less likely to make mistakes, such as continuity issues. The story tends to have a better and more automatic flow. The problems that tend to arise is what I call “stalling,” which falls along the same ideology as the word “um.” There tends a lot more slack in the plot as the author is trying to figure out what’s going on. This doesn’t happen as much when writing out of order or with an outline because he’s written the important parts in, and all he needs is quick transitions between the two, which are less likely to be long and rambling (but also tend to have a jerky flow.)

I love starting at the Point of Conception, e.g. the image that inspired the story, because that is the moment that sets up the entire book. It will be more fun to write and keep you going. Not only is there a chance that you will have lost interest in writing that scene by the time you actually get to it, but you might forget all the details that made it interesting. It can get confusing, however, as to what happened before hand, how the characters have changed since the beginning (which is something that happens naturally when writing in order) and what they’ve found out about each other. Also, since you’re writing them as their original conception, there’s a good probability that once you go back to the beginning (after having written the rest) you will have a hard time matching the gradual growth to a sudden difference.

It is likely you will have to do more editing and rewriting. You are more likely to reveal the same information several times, have the arcs, pacing, and flow jerk around. However, you are also more likely to maintain inspiration and have fewer boring scenes to cut out.

Many people advise to start with an outline. And many people don’t. If you are not past the stage of learning to tell other people to shut up, my suggestion is to learn how to tell people to shut up. Diplomatically. It doesn’t matter what you do so long as you keep open minded about it. Again, I think outlining is required experimentation all writers have to go through, along with homosexuality and bob haircuts (bearded lumberjacks if you’re a boy).

I have started with outlines in the past. Usually what happens is that the story tends to be tighter, better organized, and has quality expedited for it. Instead of spending your second draft trying to tie up loose ends, cutting stalling, and trying to squish it into a proper structure, you can use it for more important tasks, like finding out where a character disappeared to (I’m looking at you Shakespeare!)

Personally, I don’t begin with an outline. I’m bad at what I call “cold genesis” where you sit down and come up with ideas on the spot. I have to experience the scene and the world a little, learn more about it before I get a good understanding of plot. Many, but not all, of my novels ended up with an outline somewhere around the 30 to 50,000 word mark. After about that point, I start to have a good idea of what will happen and need to organize it.

Working by inspiration allows for more organic and natural sounding stories. It also allows for rambling. Outlining helps make a story crisper and more to the point before you make the mistake. It also forces you to answer important plot questions, the avoiding of which often leads to writer’s block. If you do not like editing, pre-planning is an excellent way to work.

I haven’t ever done this, so I don’t have much experience with the subject. There are many writers, however, who claim they live by this.

The reason why it doesn’t appeal to me is that the end is the most important part of the story. It ties in all the different links, makes the final statement, and leaves the reader with the last impression, which basically tells them once and for all if they actually liked it or not. Because I tend to find things as I go along, I often don’t decide what the story, what needs to be tied together, and what concluding impact I want until the very last conflict.

The people who do write the ending first like that it sets up a guideline for the rest of the story that gives them a clear indication on what is relevant and what isn’t, where the plot needs to end up, and what foreshadowing should happen.

Coming up with new and, albeit, wazoo ways to write will lead you to better ways to be inspired and to overcome obstacles. Trying something you don’t agree with (like outlining) when your original way isn’t working can reveal all new things to you. We all have our tendencies and what works best for us, but if you’re a prolific writer, it doesn’t hurt to try something new and see how you feel about it.

STEP FOUR: The First Line.

The first line is the first, and maybe only, opportunity an agent or reader gets at judging the actual work. It needs to be quick and snappy and clever. How? Well, this is a much longer article to be written by someone more successful than me, but here’s a few tips for immediate consideration:

-It summarizes the conflict, the theme, or the story itself.
            “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
-It introduces a conflict (not necessary the main conflict.)
            “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself    changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”
-It introduces the protagonist.
            “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her          charm as the Tarleton twins were.”
-It gives a passionate and biased opinion.
            “It is a truth universally acknowledge that a single man in possession of good fortune       must be in want of a wife.”
-It delivers enough information to raise a question that the reader has a possible answer for, but enough ambiguity to make them doubt it.
            “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
-It starts with a great emotion.
            “I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.”

Do you start with writing the most epic line ever? I wouldn’t, personally. I’d focus on finishing the book and rework the first line over while I did so, but if you enjoy making the first line perfect, enjoying your writing is half the battle.


Typically, this is where the character is leading his “normal life” before everything changes. How long this is or what it entails can vary, although filmmakers like to say that it is 15 pages. When considering the average film script is 120 (although it varies), we can proceed to think that someone somewhere expects it to be 1/8 the book. But, really, I wouldn’t spend my time worrying about it and fixate on what “feels” right. You can always change it in the second draft.

A couple of tips for the introduction:

-Indicate normal, daily events for the character, but are atypical for the rest of the world. (Aladdin running from guards in the market place) to demonstrate who the character is.
-Write a normal for the world, yet atypical for a daily conflict (Getting a ticket, a divorce, fired) to show an average character in a normal world, but with some emotional relevance.
-Reveal the characters’ flaws and qualities that will affect the ending. (Flaws that he overcame, qualities that helped him succeed.)
-Foreshadow the ending.
-The introduction showcases the five elements of the story: the voice, the theme, the setting, the characters, and, at the very end of it, the inciting incident will introduce the plot. This will let people know what they’re in for early on.
-Have a conflict independent of the main conflict, usually to introduce the above aspects of plot. That conflict will foreshadow the “point” of the story (how the character changes, why he can’t immediately solve the plot.) You might solve this prior to the inciting incident or come back to it in the aftermath.


The plot of the story is the main conflict and how that conflict is resolved. The inciting event introduces that conflict in the most interesting way possible.

The good news is that this is generally the easiest thing to come up with by instinct. Unlike many of the other elements in plot structure, this one tends to be the most constant and “rule abiding.” Your subconscious will automatically try to put an inciting incident in, just not maybe of the magnitude it should be.

Sometimes, however, it might not put it in the right place, simply because we tend to ramble. Or, at least, I do.

You want the inciting incident to happen pretty quickly and pretty obviously, but it needs to be made clear why it’s important. Having it right at the beginning without introduction of the norms won’t have the same emotional impact as if you make it clear the emotional state of the characters prior to this event. But, as it starts to introduce possible outcomes that they can root for or root against, people will often not be as invested until after this occurs.

The inciting incident is basically a thesis statement in the essay, indicating, “This is what you are about to read. Keep going and you might get to see this happen. Or maybe not.” It should be relatively obvious in its announcement because if people don’t logically realize there’s “a question,” they can’t seek answers. Hidden inciting incidents, ones that happen off-screen, unannounced by the narrator until later, might as well not be there at all. (From the readers, anyway. It is popular right now for the protagonist to not find out his place in a plot until ten minutes from the end.)

A common trick to coming up with a good inciting incident is to think of what would best persuade your character. What is his super objective (his main goal in life) and how does this conflict stop him from getting it? Or what makes him decide now is the time to chase it? Essentially, you tell him that in the loudest way possible.


Each individual has different reasons for not finishing. Though they can be common problems, the magnitude and response is often unique to the writer.

Understand yourself, and don’t let yourself talk you down. The number one cause for quitting is looking at the work you’ve done and seeing crap. Ignore this. Tell yourself that you will do better on the rest of the book and that you can always go back and edit it anyway. Worst comes to worst, the practice still did you some good.

-Don’t procrastinate: Putting it off to the last minute only works when you have a last minute.
-Don’t worry about the quality: Your opinions will evolve, so will your talent, and you can always fix it later. You might be emotional and find later it’s not as big of a deal as you thought.
-Don’t constantly start over: There’s nothing wrong with once or twice, but you’ll learn more from finishing and fixing than from a restart.
-Don’t worry about if you will succeed, just assume you will: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
-Don’t borrow trouble: If thinking about whether or not your book will sell discourages you, focus on the problems right in front of you and cross that bridge when you come to it.
-Don’t accept your flaws as facts: It’s not, “I’m just not inspired,” or, “I’m just not a good writer.” Overcome what’s holding you back.
-Try new things and experiment: Try writing in a notepad, outlining, working at Starbucks, breaking rules, doing something you’re scared of.


Most people get up to the inciting incident, no problem. Especially when they’re writing in order. Then, all of the sudden, as the plot they’ve been waiting for finally gets introduced…

They don’t know what to say.

How do you get that point?

The traditional expectation is for three disasters to take place, the second two usually being the fault of the protagonist as he tries to fix the problem. Often times, orienting around setting up these disasters will pretty much carry the story.

Secondly, every scene should be fleshing out one of the five major elements: tone/voice, character, setting, plot, and theme.

This limitation actually helps. Setting and characters I save for “filler,” meaning when I need to have them having a seemingly pointless conversation for the sake of pacing, ramifications, or to lead-in to the important stuff (like an argument), I can add information about the world’s history or their background information, so that the scene has some merit before the wall of the bar explodes into a thousand pieces. Character, setting, and tone also tend to be revealed through descriptions of other events, just by existing in the time and place of events.

There are three kinds of scenes in the middle: events, transitions, and contrasts.

Events are important actions that affect the story. It should be noted that after each event something should have changed, whether it be relationships, moods, plans, or the world itself. Events are basically anything that would be included in a summary.

Transitions are getting from one event to the next. In the Lion King, we see Scar tell Simba to go to the Elephant Graveyard. It’s the only time we see Scar and his nephew’s relationship prior to the betrayal, but it’s main purpose is to plant the seed of the next event in the story. A transition can be an important part, but it’s job is to explain how we got from point a to point b.

Lastly, we have contrasts. These are simply there to break up tension and moods to emphasis said tension and moods. Think of it like the calm before the storm or the calm after the storm. Comedic relief, peace in battle, a moment of joy in a long haul of negativity enhances the readers’ experiencing.

When it comes to the middle, it’s all about what you want to happen, what needs to happen, and how you get there. A simple, big-picture vision can tell you exactly what should come next.


Unfortunately, writer’s block is something that everyone’s going to have to deal with at some point or another. Some people maintain it doesn’t exist, but they don’t claim they’ve had the feeling, rather that it’s not that big of a deal. Often times a good way to deal with it is to ignore it and force your way through it.

But, there are also better solutions than that, depending on the context. Here’s some reasons why you might be experiencing trouble: I call it the past, the present, and the future complexes.

If your issue is in “the past” it has to do with something that you’ve already written. Usually it means that you don’t like it. But it could also be that you wrote yourself into a corner, have a glaring problem with something like continuity, or changed your mind drastically about the direction you want to take it, and now you have to go fix things that contradict that. In any of these cases, I count it all as writer’s block because it is what discourages us the most from moving on.

In this case, your best options are to either go back and edit it until it’s to your satisfaction, or you can continue on until you finish and then go back and fix things. The best decision is about your personality; perfectionists should trudge on because they won’t finish, for instance.

In my opinion, if the problem is with quality (you hate what you’ve made), trudge on. If the problem is with continuity, fix it now. I say this because getting it right is going to take a lot of effort and it is more likely you’ll quit before you’re done. However, in my own personal experience, I’ve had trouble with knowing what “cannon” I’m committed to if I don’t make a change the minute I do it.

The present is a little harder to contend with. It basically means that you don’t feel like writing now. You can tell if this is the case if you try to write something else and you still don’t care. This could have anything to do with stress, depression, or simple discomfort (i.e. the way you’re sitting.) At times it can be attributed to good moods, such as being excited for something, like a party or date, or being frustrated by an annoying coworker who humiliated you.

Sometimes the solution can be as simple as going to a new computer, going to longhand, or changing the program you’re writing in. (I will write on Powerpoint for funsies.) If it is because there is physical distress, I would suggest change your socks and underwear, dress in something comfortable that makes you feel good about yourself, do something relaxing, then go to a Starbucks. (Getting out of my room where all the bad vibes are helps me.) Lastly, force yourself to do it anyway. A lot of times my mood comes from not writing. Suddenly, miraculously, after I’ve done what I’m supposed to, I feel better.

“Future” problems, are the easiest to solve. It is the truest form of writer’s block in which the author honestly just does not know something very important.

You might not know what’s going to happen next. You may know exactly what’s going to happen, but you don’t know how it will get there. You may know everything about the action that will take place, but you need to start giving hints to that big “secret” you’ve been hiding, but, hey, you don’t actually know yet what happened to grandma.

The “trudge through it” solution is pretty viable here. It is also readily solved by sitting down and figuring out what you don’t know. Recognizing that you are trapped because you don’t have the answer on how they’re going to break out of prison makes you one step closer to answering it.

It is often best to try and predict these “futuristic unknowns,” like eventually you’re going to have to find out who killed the grandmother, and start thinking about it long in advance. People come up with their best ideas when they’re not trying to. Knowing, however, that there’s an idea that you need to come up with is more likely to be revealed while you’re taking a shower, instead of that concept about a fan fiction of Justin Bieber and the One Direction boys.

But the best advice I can give you is don’t let this excuse stop you. You take that excuse, beat it up, and throw it in the dumpster.


The ending simultaneously the hardest and easiest part for me, because, like I said, it’s the most important, but I also have a pretty good grasp on what the book needs to be, plus have been planning it for a while.

First and foremost, the story ends in the protagonist either winning or losing the conflict in a concretely permanent way. It’s kind of like how if you’re found not guilty at a trial, you can’t be tried again. Because it’s not fair if we remain worried for the rest of our lives that that whole mess will just come back around again. (Although, try telling that to horror films.) But you want to convince the audience that the conclusion is solid.

Most times the protagonist will win. Because we like that.

If the protagonist wins, it is most satisfying with several things included:

1) He has to lose terribly first.
2) His victory has to have a point and be an accumulation of the film.
3) You either give people what they wanted or explain to them why they don’t get it.

The first is the most important. Generally speaking, the reason why an ending is so anticlimactic is because he goes there and wins and that’s the end. The climatic battle has to be hard. We demonstrate it’s hard because the protagonist nearly loses. So, basically, the best endings are the ones set up so that for a brief moment, it’s possible he might fail.

Number two is a simple demand from our society that having the villain lose in a way that means that the rest of the two hours wasn’t a waste of time. Basically it should be more meaningful if you actually saw the whole film (read the whole book) than if you just came in for the last fifteen minutes.

The most common way is that the protagonist overcame a flaw that was making him fail before, or he utilized a quality we consistently demonstrated he had.

Or, you can employ the concept of “theme,” i.e. point of the story. Which is to say that your story is about how we shouldn’t judge people for the way they look, the villain fails because he thinks a little girl is harmless.

Number three is pretty obvious. If they have been waiting for the antagonist to be beaten to a pulp, beat him to a pulp. Will they or won’t they characters fall in love. The murderer is revealed. If you do not make good on your promises, you have to tell them exactly why you didn’t do so, why it’s better, in-world, that you didn’t. (Main character has a speech why he doesn’t want to be like the villain and so showed mercy.)

If your plot, however, has the main character losing, then simply switch the villain with protagonist in the above and do the opposite.

Then wait for the hate mail to come.


1. People say to put it in a drawer and leave it alone. I say read it first and then put it aside. Why? Because you (and by that I mean me) will forget your entire vision and have to take the effort to figure it out again. So, my advice is do draft two as fast as possible, do draft three in a couple of months.

2. I am not a big fan of don’ts, but I’m going to say it anyway. Don’t give out a first draft for someone else to give you feedback on; they’re going to give you feedback that you could have easily done for yourself. Secondly, you need to understand your work a little better in order to have a good conversation on it (and to know when to tell someone to shut the hell up.)

3. The circle edit: Print out a copy and then read it, only making simple changes and notes to stop it from ruining the flow. Circle lines and scenes you don’t like and want to fix, then go back into the computer to actually make changes. It’s easier and you’re more willing to put in an effort.

(There are, of course, negatives to this one, but I won’t go into it.)

4. The loose edit.

When I first figured this one out, I made my life a thousand times easier.

Instead of attempting to do drastic changes to terrible scenes, I would read it several times, each draft making few small changes as I went. What this allowed for was time to think about it. Instead of having to come up with something better immediately, you have occasion to consider it, which yields better choices in the end over just hacking away.

5.  A full read.

Sit down and read it in one or two sittings, making notes about big changes. This gives you a better feel for the flow and read.

6. Talking it out with a friend.

Force someone to sit down with you and let you tell them the whole story start to finish as much as you remember it. It works best after actually having read it, but if you have someone willing, you latch onto them before they can get away.

Speaking out loud allows you to truly understand the scope of the story, receive reactions to events, and notice any glaring continuity problems.

Lastly, remember your vision and what you want it to be. Make decisive choices and do not allow yourself to be swayed by the siren song of the coulds. “Someone could like this,” “It could be funny,” “It could be scary,” etc. It either is what it’s supposed to be or if it isn’t, and if you’re questioning it, it probably isn’t.

A big part of writing is just doing it. Being able to make mistakes without being demoralized is what will help you keep going to the finish line. A bad draft doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything up until you’ve decided it’s “finished,” which is your choice when that is. Remember, there are no right ways to do this. But for those of you who are lost, this might help you not utilize the excuse.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Healthiness of Guilty Pleasures

Despite a severe lack of spirituality on my end, I have always admired a Buddhist monk’s will-power, self-control, and focus on important things over earthly pleasures. I strive to not only be a good person, but lead a satisfying life with minimal regrets.

Some months ago, a man wanted to buy me a drink, and when I merely got water, he was shocked, put-off, and exclaimed, “What sins do you do?”

“None,” I replied, perfectly honestly. “If I do something I regret, I don’t do it again. If I don’t regret it, I don’t consider it a sin.”

I’ve been very good about restraining myself when it comes to making hedonistic choices that I will later make me unhappy. Even my last relationship, which was hard on me, was never based on impulse or even pleasure. I stuck around, sure, because the thought of being without him was unbearable, but also because I knew myself. Even when I began to accept the problems would get worse, not better, if I ended things before I truly understood what went wrong, I would be harder put to let go. In some foolish way, I knew that I would regret prematurely leaving rather than staying until long after it was dead, dead, dead.

And I don’t regret it. I am bound and determined to never let myself be in that situation again, and if I woke up two years ago, I’d make very different decisions, but I don’t wish it hadn’t happened, I see benefits to my experiences. I learned a lot, I had fun at times, and I found feelings I didn’t know for sure I was capable of. I may have been humiliated and hardened by the relationship, but do I wish I hadn’t made the decisions I did? Not really. I understand what I was going through and respect my younger self for her optimism and compassion, even if I have no desire to be that girl again.

In any case, in the following months after our break-up, the more miserable, angry, and pessimistic I became, the more I latched onto future planning and not living in the moment. I still remained at home, wrote instead of socialized, and though I tried to put myself out there a few times, the experiences were awful—most occasions ending in ongoing sexual harassment by a few individuals I merely engaged with in small talk for a few minutes.

I struggled to think on how to make myself happier, to enjoy the moment or television shows or books or socialization… or anything really. I was miserable, and it seemed subconsciously set on being miserable, unable to focus long enough to get anything creative done, unable to immerse myself long enough to have some fun.

I have a friend whose misery is evident in her physical appearance; every time she’s unhappy with her life, she goes out and gets a haircut, dye, or tattoo. From her, I recognized the desire to change something about my physical appearance when I was dissatisfied with my life. And as someone who loved having long hair, I decided that going out and cutting it on impulse would be something I’d regret after the novelty wore off. I haven’t cut my hair since the eighth grade.

Now, in my hopes to be more impulsive, outgoing, and just happy in general, I made a decision. I chopped off eight inches of hair. And I’m a thousand times happier.

As I looked at my ponytail, filled with split ends, I thought, “Yeah, it took me a long time getting there, but it was a mess.” I worried about it turning out poorly, that I’d be stuck with a terrible haircut, that I’d be mad at myself for making the decision and I’d end up with something much worse than what I had before.

But instead, I feel better about myself. Sure, a bit of the enthusiasm I have is purely due to it being different, a temporary high, but who’s to say that isn’t just as meaningful? Just because it’s not lasting doesn’t mean that happiness doesn’t mean something. Take it from someone who has constantly denied herself the little joys in life in favor of bigger gains: smelling the roses, eating that piece of pie, buying a new shirt, or anything considered frivolous—even shallow—can be what makes your life more colorful.

When I was new to writing, I constantly judged the books I loved. As a teenager, I was pretty much filled with cynicism and judgment period, but I refused to consider writing the “silly” pleasures I got from the books I read. I mean, I was far more open minded at 12 than 20 (I praise my early writing for its honesty, relatability, and appeal), but it took me some time to stop resisting “commercial” elements, respecting my personal tastes, and being true to my opinions. I started to reflect on what I really felt about things, rather than saying, “Well it’s for kids, therefore it’s not serious.”

At 20, I realized my work, while much superior in precision, continuity, and stakes, lacked the draw, the feeling that the books I wanted to read had—what my earlier manuscripts had in spades.

Guilty pleasures, I argued at one point, aren’t little embarrassments we should hide. Sometimes they’re exactly what we need to add to make a story worthwhile.

It’s obvious that life—and writing—is about achieving a balance, and yet it’s fairly easy to forget it. In fact, it’s much less risky to continually focus on the present or the future, but switching back and forth? Not so much.

In summation, my hair’s all gone and with it a whole lot of baggage.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Goodbye, Jackson Hole

by Charley Daveler

I hate looking people in the eye. It encourages them to speak their mind, and their minds are freakin’ bizarre.

Every so often I decide I’m going to be more social! I’m going to smile, speak loudly, meet people’s gazes. On one of these occassions, while I was in Australia, wearing a tank top, a young man—who was probably seventeen but looked like he was ten—stared at the pale whiteness of my chest, and flirted with me by instructing me in proper sunscreen use.

What is this sunscreen you speak of? Why isn’t this in the news!?

I shrugged it off, annoyed, but empathetic. He was just trying to start a conversation, and as a completely socially inept individual, I should understand what it’s like to say stupid things in order to start the connecting process. I can forgive, despite how little I enjoy being told what to do by a prepubescent twit.

Next time, as I headed back to the grocery store, I was being checked out by a female clerk and thought, “Okay! No hitting on this time!” I smiled, confidently said hello, to which she responded by staring at my chest and saying, “I wish I had small boobs!”

And people say anxiety is irrational.

As I research methods into overcoming my fear—re: Google it—I find the answers lacking. Sites advising us how to become more social give tips like being a good listener, but any shy person knows listening, not interrupting, and not talking about ourselves is not the issue. I can sit and absorb what I’m being told like a brainwashed college student who just wants to belong to something bigger than herself. The problem is, getting people to start talking in the first place.

In fact, if you are shy or introverted and want to learn how to be better at socializing, I would make the opposite recommendation. Sure, listen, but you need to be willing to talk about yourself. When asked a question, don’t just answer it in the most perfunctory manner—give details. Be personal. The more you talk and are willing to talk about yourself, the more you inspire ideas in your conversational partner—and encourage them to open up as well. If you seem guarded and unwilling to share, people aren’t going to feel safe being personal back.

Same thing goes for anxiety. As I read up on suggestions to overcome it, it was clear the writer had no idea where I (at least) was coming from, what I was anxious about, or how my brain works.

One thing it encouraged was to live in the present and stop thinking so much about the future. True enough, except that it ignored why I tend to live in the future.

One, the present is boring. A benefit in how my brain takes in information is I pick up on patterns and settings fairly quickly. Once I’ve learned about the “rules” of my situation, there’s not much else to think about. My mind is constantly blathering, and if I don’t have a problem to solve or something to keep it busy, I get truly, agonizingly bored, so I start working on issues that aren’t at hand. Conversation can help, but only true discussion, not bullshit about the weather or something neither of us care about.

But not only that, I’m in chronic pain. Partially from the anxiety itself, of course—fear and constant vigilance is stressful and exhausting and can manifest in physical problems. Yet, it’s not just anxiety because I experience headaches, queasiness, constant need to urinate, and a multitude of other issues even when I’m by myself, happily doing something entertaining, freeing, and without a care in the world. If I stop for a minute, I’m suddenly reminded that my eyes hurt, my neck is stiff, I have to pee… again. It’s been this way for years now. I’m not always in pain, but I’m in pain enough, and when I’m stressed, it’s going to be a lot worse. Sitting back and smelling the roses just remind me, oh, that’s right, I have a migraine.

Most importantly, is the consequences of how my brain works. I say that I pick up on the rules of a situation quickly, but prior to understanding it, I’m a drooling incompetent. When introduced to a new setting in which there are little familiar social cues that I’ve already established, I’ll have moment of complete, unadulterated confusion—and with that, panic. See, I am observant to social rules because they don’t inherently make sense to me. My mind does not take in new visual stimulation based on a need-to-know basis; it strives to take in all the information at once, then throw out what it doesn’t need, and it is very bad at guessing what it needs. So while I’m more observant than most, I am simultaneously absent-minded. I’ll see and remember things that no one else will, yet discard “information” that common sense—the kind that I don’t have—would dictate is important. Routine and building open previous experience allows me to function, come to certain conclusions, yet it takes time. When I’m in a new social setting, I’m very, very disordered and stressed despite it being an every day, non-threatening time.

“Hi! How are you doing?” says the new stranger, stretching out a hand.


By the time you run through all of the options of what he might be doing, he’s been standing there with his arm out for an uncomfortable amount of time. It wouldn’t have been awkward before, but you’ve made it that way.

Unfortunately, it’s not completely irrational. Most people with anxiety are described to be overly sensitive to embarrassment—true enough—and doing the “wrong” thing by shaking is hand when he really wanted you to hand him his coffee, despite being no big deal, can cause deep emotional pain. For days, sometimes. And the truth is, people who, for whatever reason, don’t naturally understand the rules of their own culture tend to do “the wrong thing.” We second guess ourselves frequently, and it's not easy to knock it off.

It’s not that abnormal, but we take it very seriously.

The solution to this? Planning ahead. The reason we spend the time prior to a social situation antagonizing over it is that the earlier we begin to think about the possible “rules” and events, the quicker we can be on our feet. If it occurs to us that he might try to shake our hands before he sticks his out, we’re far, far more likely to respond like a normal human being.

Sunday was my 27th birthday. Par the usual, I made decisions to get the most out of my life, this year especially, and I deeply considered what my life was lacking.

I’ve spent the last few years stressed and upset, succumbing to my anxiety by hiding away and refusing to interact with others. I didn’t lament it. Despite the hurt my ex caused, I never felt lonely when I was with him, having him next to me took away my insomnia, eased a great deal of the need for external acceptance—despite him never accepting me. A year ago, I don’t think I would be willing or happy with the decision to actively pursue a social life. But now, as I reflect on why I so rarely feel crushes, attraction, or a desire to be with someone romantically, I came to a pretty obvious conclusion: I don’t know that many people.

Wyoming is not a state known for its great diversity. It barely has people period. My fifth grade class had six students.

I lived in Los Angeles for five years, but even then I had a limited number of people I interacted with, many of whom I had little choice in being around. Being generally introverted, refusing to leave my house, rejecting invitations to social outings or exploring the world, I didn’t meet new people, I was restricted to the ones I was coincidentally exposed to. I’ve met some of the loveliest individuals in the world this way, and successfully avoided the some of the more awful, but it was still a select sampling. In Australia, I stayed inside most times, and, in truth, there’s less than 25 million in the entire continent; it was pretty much a small town with crocodiles instead of cows in between neighbors. Well, cows too, to be fair.

People ask me why I’m going to New York City. Telling my plans has been very similar to telling them I’m a writer.

“Are you now?” they say. “Well, I hope things go as planned.”

What plans?

Certainly derision may be imagined by my overly sensitive mind, but I think any author has had a moment in which, explaining their career or their aspiration for one, someone took a satisfying moment to judge them for it. There is definitely a vindictive glee in seeing someone pursue a dream and fail, and it makes writers not want to discuss their plans with strangers.

What am I doing in New York? Meeting people. Gaining options. Living in a town where I can find a spool of thread and a paint brush within a 50-mile radius.

Two weeks ago, I attended a memorial to a man taken far too soon. He was a vibrant personality, a fearlessness to him. He made me, and many others, feel welcomed, comfortable, and cared about. The speeches at the funeral discussed the hardships he experienced in being himself, but his refusal to stop and adhere to certain social expectations that others imposed on him was one of his greater traits.

Ever since I moved to Australia, I had to consider things I was willing to give up. It is a truly isolated landmass, costing thousands of dollars for a plane ticket out. Fifteen hours to return to America. I had never seen the Grand Canyon. I would never live in New York City. I couldn’t buy a motorcycle and tour bookstores across the U.S, go to New Orleans at Mardi Gras, see Niagra Falls, or Disney World. Not without costing an arm and a leg. As I knew being with him would mean sacrificing things I craved from a relationship too.

This summer, I skipped going to a stage-combat class due to being tired, a movie night because I was afraid of the awkward silences. I thought I would have the opportunity to do it again… but then, the man who invited me passed away unexpectedly. I thought I had all the time in the world to see him again… and I just didn’t.

The potential loss of these things combined. After breaking up with my ex and returning to America, I feared time wasted. It had only been two years, and I don’t know of anyone that I would have preferred to be with. But it took me so long to know who he truly was, to tell the difference between getting to know someone and having them drag in their feet, I grew scared about time. To meet someone, fall in love, be confident in who they are, plan for the future and make that future happen, it all took time.

And when I’m upset, I work on solving future problems. But I didn’t know what the future held for me. Where would I be, where would I work, who would I know? So I turned to Fate and asked it to give me a sign. I said, “At one o’clock tomorrow, show me what I should do.”

I planned on taking a few hour road trip to visit a friend. My mother—who I had sold my car to when I moved to Australia—had occupied the vehicle to do some errands. In a pure moment of stress, I raced to help her finish what she needed so I could leave. When I finally got into the driver’s seat, I looked at the clock—“1:03”—and thought, “I still have plenty of time.”

I didn’t make the connection until six hours later when I tried to remember what occurred at my designated sign.

As I turn 27—which less be honest, is pretty much thirty—I begin to think about using my time most wisely. Not on Facebook, letting myself be enraged by hatred and helplessness, but creating, living life, and exposing myself to new people. I’m sick of being afraid. It’s a waste of time.

So I finally leave to NYC like I had been wanting for five years now, with a violin, sewing machine, and temporary plans, asking myself the same question everyone else wants to know. Why New York?

Well, why not?

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