Six Things College App Essays Taught Me About Writing

I just finished all of my college apps!!! *screams with joy for hours*

john-stewart-happy

And while it was a horrifyingly stressful and (sometimes) tedious process, it did teach me some things about writing and myself as a writer.

1. How to write something that doesn’t rely on dialogue. Or sarcasm.

In my fiction writing, I rely on dialogue and sarcasm. College app essays weren’t really the place for that style writing, so it was an adjustment. Trying to find a tone that conveyed my personality without making me sound like a bitch was something that I’m proud I accomplished.

2. Just how many “voices” I have, outside the ones I already knew about.

This goes with the one before, but as I wrote more and more essays, I started to develop new writing voices. I still prefer my fiction/journalism ones, but I like that I discovered others.

3. How to be done with something. And actually be done.

I have been writing fiction for years, but I have never really finished something. I have reached the end of pieces, and edited pieces, but I have never really felt done. With college app essays, I had to write, edit, and turn it in. This was incredibly stressful at the beginning, but it also feels awesome to be actually done.

4. Kill Your Darlings is actually really good advice.

I have heard the classic writing advice “Kill Your Darlings” for a while, but college app essays were the first time I really had to use it. And damn, it works. I can’t tell you how many essays clicked into place when I got rid of a favorite sentence, metaphor, or idea.

5. How to write, even when I don’t want to.

My WIP started to teach me this over summer, but it was writing essays for college apps that finally drove home this lesson. Although I still occasionally give in to writer’s block, I am now able to get myself to sit down and write, even if I don’t feel “inspired.”

6. Word counts are the worst, but only sometimes.

This was my first real encounter with word counts, and it was rough. Of the hours I spent working on these essays, only half the time was writing. The other half was spent editing them down to the right word count.

But I also started to appreciate word counts for the direction they gave me. I knew how far to go with an essay based on the word count. Without them, I don’t know if I would have edited my essays as thoroughly. So I guess word counts aren’t the worst.


What do you think? Was this post interesting for you? Have you applied/are you applying to colleges, and if so, what was it like for you?

Top Ten Songs I Listen To When Writing

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s TTT topic is an All About Audio freebie. Since I don’t listen to audio books or podcasts, I thought it would be cool to share with you guys some of the songs I listen to when writing.

I absolutely have to listen to music while writing, but it has to be songs I know really well, played really quietly. I listen to mostly quiet, melancholy music when writing, often just one song on repeat for hours. (Yeah, I’m not a lot of fun to be around when I’m writing.)

1. Here (2 a.m. version) by Alessia Cara

2. Battle Scars by Lupe Fiasco & Guy Sebastian

3. The Love Club by Lorde

4. This is What Makes Us Girls by Lana Del Rey

5. Crazy by Gnarls Barkley

6. Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine

7. Sad Beautiful Tragic by Taylor Swift

8. Send My Love by Adele

9. In the Night by The Weeknd

10. Beautiful Goodbye by Maroon 5


What songs do you listen to when writing? Are these any of your favorites?

The Struggle of Writing Short Stories

I know I said I’d write more discussion posts, but I haven’t thought of any great bookish topics, so I’m writing one about writing instead. Hope you enjoy it anyway (I bet some of you can relate to it)!

I love the idea of writing short stories. Condensing storytelling into a few thousand words, getting the creative juices going for a few hours and actually finishing something—it strikes me as the epitome of writing. Like, if I can successfully write a short story, I will have transitioned into a new phase of being a writer, I will have “leveled up” in some cosmic way.

I don’t know, that’s just me.

The problem is, short stories are hard. (That’s probably not surprising to most of you, but it always seems to surprise me when I sit down to write one and nothing magically comes together.) I seem to face three specific roadblocks:

1. What the heck should I write?

Probably the most obvious problem. There have been countless times when I sit down to write a short story and…nothing comes. I’ll even start with inspiration—anything from my countless Pinterest boards or the random writing challenges floating around—but no plot comes out of it. I have an easy time coming up with characters and worlds and funny one-liners, but stringing all of those elements together with the elusive device of PLOT???

Nope. That doesn’t happen often.

2. Well, that’s just an exposition with a dash of plot for flavor

So here’s what happens: I start with a picture or a prompt or whatever that sets off a lightbulb in my mind and the words start pouring out. After a little while, I have a few pages written and I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself.

Until I go back and reread it, when I realize that everything I wrote is a great set-up for a larger story (read: novel), but it isn’t close to being a short story. Sometimes, I’m fine with this (my current WIP started off as a random idea for a short story), but now that I’m fully committed to my WIP and I just want to write short stories to blow off steam, this gets annoying.

Being a pantser definitely doesn’t help this situation. I figure out the story I want to write by randomly exploring characters and scenes. That works well (if slowly) for longer projects, but not for short stories. I can’t tell you how many Word documents I have saved on my computer that are three pages of abandoned exposition.

3. And that’s just a lot of dialogue…

Sometimes I over-correct and ignore exposition completely. The stories that result from this are 80% dialogue, with the sparsest descriptions added to give the story context.

I actually love these stories, though they feel like scenes instead of stories (less plot, more snapshot). And though I love writing snappy dialogue back-and-forths, I can never shake the feeling that these stories are missing the backbone that is, you know, scenery and all that.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, there’s the hope that some of you have struggled with these same problems and have useful hints to help get over it. There’s also the hope that some of you have been trying to write short stories and not knowing why they aren’t working, and you’ll read this post and go “ah-HAH, that’s my problem!”

Also, I’m curious: what types of short stories do you like to read? Are these actually problems, or am I just imagining them?

But really, I’m sharing this with you because writing it down helps me focus on what I’ll do better next time. and putting it online forces me to do better next time. I really want to write short stories, mainly because it means that I can share more of my writing with you guys, and part of that process is sharing why I haven’t been sharing short stories with you guys as much as I would like.

So…what are you thoughts? Relatable? A mountain out of a molehill? Do you have any tricks for conquering the monster that is short stories?

Writing At Night, When the Juices Flow (Second Draft Journal #4)

I seem to have a problem…

Nowadays, I only feel comfortable writing at night.

I noticed this habit forming during summer, but didn’t really do anything about it. Now that school has started and the hours available to be to write are significantly limited by unavoidable factors, my own consciousness cutting down on those hours based on some irrational desire to write when it’s dark out is becoming detrimental. And annoying, because I often have time during the afternoons (on light homework days or weekends) when I could be writing, but something holds me back.

Part of the reason is that the afternoon is more social for me. I’m more likely to be spending time with my family in the afternoon, rehashing what happened at school, watching TV, playing cards, or just wasting time together. I cherish the time I spend with my family (even if we’re just enjoying a TV show together). Since writing is a solitary activity that requires a lot of focus (verses some of my homework, which I can have conversations while doing), I won’t pick up my WIP if the rest of my family is socializing.

There is also the unavoidable fact that homework and studying take time. I try to get it out of the way when I get home from school (though I give myself around an hour of relaxation and eating time in between), so that I have the nights to relax or to get ahead, but I don’t always succeed. And sometimes, homework just fills up the entire night, leaving me no time for writing. (I’m a light-weight when it comes to staying up late, and I have to be in bed by 10:30/11 or I’m a zombie the next morning.)

But I think there is something else going on, and I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this. During the day, I tend to feel self-conscious about my writing, as if someone is looking over my shoulder (even if they really aren’t). At night, especially when the rest of my family is sleeping, that self-consciousness falls away and my writing gets freer.

I also like the way that tired-ness affects my writing; sometimes it helps me “loosen up.” I’m not saying that full-on exhaustion helps me write (I already admitted how horrible I am with sleep-deprivation), but when I’m slightly tired, I worry less about every word I put down on the page and focus more on getting into the rhythm of the story. While this leaves me with some inelegant sentences, I ultimately value making progress in my story over agonizing over writing perfect sentences the first time around.

Getting to the end of the day also clicks my brain out of “school mode” and into a mindset where I feel closer to the story that I’m writing (oh my God that sounds so cheesy). I’m no longer worrying about school–I know all of my homework is done and that I’m ready for the next day–and I can finally relax into thinking about my personal projects. Additionally, because I make a habit of thinking about my WIP when I fall asleep, I think this has over time built up a Pavlov’s dog-type reaction to being tired and wanting to write.


Have any of you dealt with this? Does writing ever make you feel self-conscious? When do you feel comfortable writing?

Do you have a routine that you stick to, or do you just try to fit writing into whatever pockets of time you find (like me)? Do you have any advice for breaking this habit or forming a better one?

P.S. I wrote this blog post at night. It felt apropos. 

4 Ways to Stay Motivated During a Hectic Life (Second Draft Journal #3)

Second Draft Journal is a series of posts in which I randomly discuss things that occur to me during my process of writing my second draft of my WIP. Today I’m tackling how I make sure I stay motivated.

Staying motivated. It’s a broad topic. Everyone has their own tips. Here are some ways that I’m kept myself feeling good about writing and itching to sit down and write, even if my hectic school schedule doesn’t allow me the time.

SDJ staying motivated

1. “High Scores”

So I talked a while back about the spreadsheet I keep in which I track how many words I write per day. The spreadsheet itself is a useful motivation tool–it gives me a kick in the pants when I haven’t written in a while, and it challenges me to sit back down and write more when I realize that I only added 900-ish words in a day.

Recently, I took it a step further and decided to keep track of my “high score”–the most words I’ve written in a day, to date. Right now my high score is 4,071 words. I know that’s pretty low in the grand scheme of things, but if I write that many words (or get close) I’m proud of myself.

What I specifically like about the high score motivation tactic is that it is a pleasing balance of motivating without being a lot of pressure. I know that not every day that I sit down to write will be a high score-setting day, but when I can tell that I’m on a role and the words are flowing well, the high score pushes me to stay in the chair for a little while longer and hit a new “best.”

2. Monthly Word Count Goals

I’ve also set myself a goal of adding at least 10,000 words to my WIP a month. For August, I’ve already achieved this (13,000, like what?!), but I know I’ll still keep writing. I like that the goal is low enough that if I have a rough month, I can still accomplish it, but that I still want to keep writing after I achieve it. The goal of getting higher and higher above that baseline monthly target will keep me motivated.

3. Reading Just Enough Writing Advice to Keep My Head in the Game

I wrote a post a little while ago about the debilitating effect that reading other people’s writing advice can have on my self-confidence. While this can still trip me up, I make sure that I expose myself to writing advice fairly regularly. Whether it is a random pin that comes up in my Pinterest feed or a Chuck Wendig post, I make sure to check out writing advice blog posts when they cross my path. I tend not to spend a lot of time reading them–just glancing at the main headings and skimming the paragraphs. This way, I get a dose of writing advice that keeps me thinking about writing and that points me in the right direction, but I don’t get bogged down in specifics or self-doubt. Other times, when I have more downtime, I’ll go back and really focus on the writing advice that I found, sometimes taking notes or bookmarking especially great pieces.

Reading other people’s writing advice gives me confidence (if I’m already doing what was suggested), makes me think (in a good way), or helps me find my way through a rough patch (like a scene or a relationship that I can’t quite make work). Making sure I read posts like that regularly keeps my head in the writing game.

4. Fall Asleep Thinking About My Story

I find it is much easier to sit down and write a scene that I have already run through in my head a few times. I usually do this while I’m falling asleep, playing out different ways a scene could happen, playing with character reactions and personalities. It gives me something to think about, and distracts me from anything that is stressing me out–my WIP is kind of a happy place for me. Making sure that I think about what is coming up next in my story (or just a part of the plot that I need to develop further) when I’m falling asleep also connects my WIP to my daily life, even if I didn’t write that day. Often, if a writer goes a long time without writing, it is hard to come back to the story; I’ve found that keeping the story close by when I’m not writing makes it easier to come back. 


How do you stay motivated? Have you tried any of these methods?

Why Do I Write?

This week’s Flash Fiction Contest is not about fiction. Author and fountain of writing advice Chuck Wendig has challenged us this week to write 1000 words about what drives us to write. 


I’ve been writing forever. I was writing novels in fourth grade, cringing and rewriting them in fifth grade. Sharing chapters with my friends in middle school and wishing I hadn’t in the first months of high school. I don’t have any memory of choosing to write–it just happened. Someone put a laptop in front of me, I got a crazy idea about fairies and dragons, and everything else enfolded from there.

My first novel was called After We Waited for Ever, and I thought the title was the cleverest pun in the world. To be honest, I’m still really proud of it, and the story that it created. I stopped writing it when it became clear that it was no longer the story I needed to write, but I still remember those characters.

Looking back on my writing career since I started high school, it can charitably be described as stop-and-start. I’ve been working on my current WIP (Devil May Care–another title I’m rather fond of) since freshman year. My writing productivity is lackluster. Inertia is my byword. Everything gets in the way, and on bad days, the urge to write feels more like a guilt trip than a friendly reminder.

But even when I’m not writing, because of school’s stress or summer’s laziness, I always have an itch to sit down and write. I always open the Word Document again, put my hands back on the keyboard, and find my characters’ voices again.

I cannot imagine a world in which I don’t identify as a writer. I have my characters inside of me, my themes and plots always buzzing around in my mind. I keep a notebook by the side of my bed to jot down late night inspirations. I leave myself electronic sticky notes on my phone and my laptop’s desktop with plot notes and reminders to write. My Devil May Care (secret) Pinterest board is one of my most commonly used boards. I always come back to my story, even if it takes a few months without it to remember why I need it.

When I’m writing, I know I’m a writer. There is no feeling like hitting a groove and letting the words tumble out of you and onto the paper. Writing is the best outlet for emotion I know, the best therapy money can buy, the best escape I can find. To write fiction is to play a game of cat and mouse with the ideas trapped inside of you–and I crave the satisfaction of winning.

I write to meet the people inside of me. The rebellious girl, the flirtatious guy, the bully, the power-hungry ruler, the scared teenager, the fighter, the best friend, the older brother, the ex. To watch people fight and fall in love and do stupid things and find friendship and rise to the challenge of being themselves.

I write to figure out what I think about the world, to have the voices inside of me debate the issues of politics and feminism and the American school system on paper.

I write to explore the things that terrify me and challenge the assumptions that ground me.

I write because how else would I know what I’m thinking?

I write because I can’t stop reading.

I write because when I’m falling asleep, my thoughts trip on themselves and become poetry. I write because words can’t stop rearranging themselves in my mind.

I write because if I get the words in the right order, sometimes people shut up and listen.

I write because people tell me I’m good at it. I write because writing a novel seems like something that could get me into college.

I write because I want someone someday to read my books and understand something about themselves that they’d never realized before.

I write because it is the hardest thing that I’ve ever tried to do.

I write because I am a writer, and I’m not ready to give up.

Balancing Blogging and Writing (Second Draft Journal #2)

I’m starting a series of posts called my Second Draft Journal. It’s nothing fancy, just a collection of posts inspired by and following my progress as I write the second draft of my novel, Devil May Care. I’ll talk about everything from writer’s block to character development, but today I’m focusing on how being a blogger affects me as a fiction writer.

paperwork
ever feel like this?

I love being a blogger. I like that it is an easy outlet for writing and that I get to be a part of a reader/writer community.

However, as I’m working on my second draft of my WIP, I can’t help but notice that when I’m blogging, I’m not writing fiction. If I have a random pocket of time, I am much more likely to sit down and write a blog post (like this one) than commit myself to Devil May Care. Blogging is easier for me, and I can do it while watching TV (I’m rewatching an episode of Psych right now). If I’m writing my WIP, I’m really working hard to make my fiction writing strong. And that takes a lot more focus, energy, and commitment.

Especially during summer, focus, energy, and commitment are not exactly my bywords. Television multitasking is much more my style. So here’s my question: am I blogging too much, sort of using it as an excuse to avoid fiction writing? Where is the balance between blogging and writing?

I like that blogging gives me a break. If I have actually written during a day, blogging is a nice break that keeps my mind thinking about writing but also lets me relax. Blogging has helped me develop a conversational writing tone and pushed me to go outside my comfort zone occasionally. Blogging has an element of instant gratification and real-time feedback, which my WIP (which I keep fairly private) lacks. Blogging and fiction definitely work together positively in my mind, sort of a left/right brain interaction.

If you ask me if in five years, I’d rather be a successful blogger or a published fiction author, I’d say an author 100%. But I also know that I don’t want to stop blogging, and I like that I’ve kept myself committed to three posts a week.

Going forward for the rest of my summer (I only have like six weeks left! *crying*) I am going to try to make sure that however long I spend blogging, I match with fiction writing. Will I be able to do it every day? Probably not, to be honest. But I have to find a balance, and this seems like a good starting point. Does this mean I might have less blog posts, might read a few less books? Yes. But sometime  soon (eventually) I’m going to have to prioritize my fiction writing, and this summer is the right time.

What is the relationship between blogging and writing? To you writers out there, how do you balance your time blogging and your time writing?