Why I Write for Kids and Teens

Sometimes, when I tell people that I write for kids and teens, they respond with something along the lines of, “Oh that sounds fun! Do you think one day you’ll be good enough/serious enough to write for adults?”

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I then launch in to all the reasons I love writing for young people. The challenge of creating a layered story that can appeal to different types and ages of readers. Characters learning their places in the world, moving from relying on adults to trusting in themselves and their friends. The room for genre-blending and experimenting with style since the books are primarily sorted by age group instead of genre!

Then I take a breath and realize they’re gone.

Having to defend the merits of writing for this age group makes me think a lot about why I’m drawn toward it. In last week’s interview, Krystal Becker talked about getting into art modeling because she wanted to go beyond admiring pictures to living in them.

I wanted to hug her. Because, that’s just it, isn’t it? Kids don’t just read stories. They live stories.

When I was a kid, there were a few series I was obnoxiously obsessed with particularly engaged in. Early on, it was The Baby-Sitters’ Club by Ann M. Martin. I still have a letter I wrote to my friend, disappointed that my dad had said we couldn’t start our own baby-sitting club until we were 13 (you know, the age when you’re totally mature enough to take charge of young children’s safety). Despite this set-back, I laid out my plans for making my favorite fictional club come to life.

When I was in fourth grade, it was Spooksville by Christopher Pike. While I did my chores, I pretended that I was climbing a mountain to the beautiful witch’s castle or wiggling into the magic tree that ate children. I also was into the X-Files at a perhaps inappropriately young age and my sister and I slung on my parents’ trench coats and made files for alien abductee and monster victim cases.

I then grew up and grew out of playing in the fictional universes I loved.

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Um, ignore this.

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And this.

I remember my fourth-grade self thinking that one day, if one kid out there in the world was daydreaming of being part of one of my stories while in class, or running around the neighborhood, or while they were doing the dishes, I would have all the success I’d ever want.

Today, as I write my middle grade novels in particular, I go back to young-Brandi’s goal. I ask myself what elements could make the story easier to play in. Maybe it’s adding something to a character’s appearance that would make a Halloween costume recognizable. Maybe it’s including props that could be duplicated at home. Maybe it’s a magic system with rhyming spells. The richer the world, the easier it is to jump in deep.

So why do I write for young people? Kids and teens tend to live in stories, share them socially, push the canon worlds created into new territory. And when they do, they give those books life beyond the confines it’s pages. I, for one, would be thrilled to provide the starting material and see what they build.

What do you consider when thinking about the audience or consumer of your work? I’d love to hear from you—comment below!


Haven’t yet read the interview with Krystal Becker, art model and artist, mentioned above? Find it here: Art Modeling and Creating Art with Krystal Becker

Similar posts: 

Collecting and Connecting – Two Years of Interviews

Create the World You Want to See

Where do ideas come from?

Want to keep on top of posts and upcoming interviews with creatives? Find the Follow widget at the top right of the page.

Art Modeling and Creating Art with Krystal Becker

16244815_10212811651832955_1751613662_oWhere does inspiration come from? Ask the ancient Greeks and they’d point you to the muses—goddesses with the role of inspiring artists, writers, and scientists.

Today we meet Krystal Becker, a modern-day muse (or art model) and an artist herself. Meeting Krystal in person, you’d be unsurprised artists are drawn to her. Her retro features and style are stunning and one gets the sense that she has somehow emerged out of a different time. But despite having been the centerpiece of paintings and photographs, Krystal is somehow completely grounded, even modest about her past, with an offbeat humor she used to write a zine about how to get abducted by an alien. Seriously, how can you not be inspired by this person?

I asked Krystal to share some thoughts around the topic of inspiration.

How did you get involved in being an art model? What was the experience like?

In my mid-twenties, I decided I didn’t want to only be an admirer of pictures, I wanted to live in them as well. Most of my art modeling was in collaboration with fine art photographers. The thrill of going on adventures with these brilliant artists, and having them reveal themselves through me, was intoxicating. When I see the photos, paintings, or film I’m in, I don’t quite recognize myself. I mostly see the artist. It’s interesting, I remember an artist that I’ve worked with more than a dozen times telling me that he could never seem to create an image that mirrors how he sees me. I think that’s because he would see an amalgamation of him and me in the photograph.

Edith Lebeau in particular often uses your image her art. What is that relationship like?

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Edith is a beautiful human and an absolute pleasure in every way. Because we live far away from each other, I cannot physically sit for her, so we improvise. She tells me, or shows me through images, which poses she’s searching for and I’ll provide photographs of myself in that pose. A few weeks later, I’m presented with an amazing painting. Again, the paintings, for the most part, reveal Edith, not myself.

What do you think artists get out of working with you or other art models? Do you think that the inspiration comes from a model’s look, personality, or something else?

I’m not really sure as I don’t work with models. I think it may just be a simple thing like they’re attracted to that model. It’s all very magical if you think about it. All throughout your life you’re attracted to different people, falling in like with them without even speaking with them. Then it turns out, once you get to know them, that they were perfect for you. That’s been the case in every artist/model relationship I’ve had. They’ve all been gifts in my life.

What was your most interesting experience as an art model?

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There are so any! I’d have to say when a photographer [uncredited per request] put me in a men’s tuxedo. I had never crossdressed before and I found it exhilarating! The photos from that photo shoot are still my favorite photographs of me. They remind me of Alfred Hitchcock film stills.

You are an artist yourself. Where do you find inspiration?

That changes all the time for me. Currently, I find it in shapes and color. I’ve just finished a series of abstracts. I had never worked like that before: with zero premeditation. The paintings painted themselves really. I found it incredibly freeing. There wasn’t the pressure that realism evokes.

Do you ever struggle with feeling inspired? What do you if that happens?

Yes, of course. I just show up consistently. I play and experiment when I don’t have ideas. I’ve found that some of my favorite works were born in that in-between time. I also think it becomes more and more difficult to return to creating after long hiatuses. So yeah, always show up.

What advice do you have for a young or new artist?

Just enjoy it and have fun, don’t take art or yourself too seriously. I heard a great line the other day. It went something like, “Life is two numbers with a dash in the middle. Make the most of your dash.” Don’t spend your dash being hard on yourself or comparing yourself to others or sabotaging your own creative exploration with self-loathing.

If you had to describe what inspires you in one word, what would it be?

Beauty.

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You can find Krystal’s artwork and get linked to her Etsy shop where you can find her zine, “How to Get Abducted by Aliens” at krystalbecker.com. You can also follow her on Instagram at krystal.becker.

If you live in the Ventura, CA area and want to see Krystal’s artwork exhibited, check out, Back to the Future—on display at the NAMBA Arts Center from Jan 21 through Mar 5, and Defying Doyena collection from a small group of contemporary artists on display at Atrium Gallery from Jan 27 to  Feb 28 (formal reception: Fri, Jan 27 from 5:30-7p).


Next up in the series, many of us get inspired by taking photos of travel, but actually turning it into a career takes a whole lot of work. I interview Megan Snedden, a travel photographer and journalist for publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, and Huffington Post.

To learn about the Inspiration and Perspiration series, check out Where do ideas come from?

Share your thoughts below or follow the blog to get notifications of future posts.

That’s a wrap! Until next time, nerds.

Where do ideas come from?

books-floating-hair-flip“Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ve noticed that fiction writers tend to answer this question in a tone I’ll call…cutsey sarcastic. “A unicorn brings them to me every full moon.” Cool, cool. The wisdoms of the masters—always super helpful…

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. It’s a weird question for fiction writers to answer. If you’re writing non-fiction, sure, you can say, “Well, I was volunteering in a war zone and someone said I should write a book about it.” But if someone asks me where I got my story idea, I can’t exactly say, “Well, this one time, when I was a young boy in Louisiana being cursed by witches…”

So the idea unicorn is a nice, cute answer for something that, in reality, would take a very long time to clumsily explain. That’s probably why the Greeks came up with the Muses. But it’s also not really helpful to the writers who are banging their head against their desk, tossing away another scrap that reads, “Terminator 2 but with vampires????”

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Bad example. Terminator 2 but with vampires sounds AWESOME.

When I was a kid, I read my way through the entire young adult section at the library (granted, this was the 90s and the heyday of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, so YA books were about 150 pages). Reading that much, something started to happen—I found books that should have been awesome but weren’t. My brain started comparing those to all the great books I’d read and came up with ways I thought the disappointing books would have been better.

That was my mind’s first step into creating story ideas. And of course there were tons of bad ones and half-baked ones and ones that fell apart as soon as I told them to someone else. But there were good bits too. For me, ideas formed from rummaging through a scrap pile of other stories, my own experiences, facts, art, news stories, always asking, “What if? What if?” until something would grab my attention.

So my current novel wasn’t born fully-realized in a cabbage patch or on a train or in a dream. It had been a half-idea sitting in the “Ideas!” document on my computer for several months, about a sickly, sullen outcast finding out his brother is stealing all his strengths to become more popular. I liked the idea, but I didn’t see the spark that would turn it into a meaningful story.

Months later, I’d decided to shelve my first manuscript. My mom had been telling me about a woman back in Hawaii who gave her an honorary Hawaiian name that meant, “brightest star in the heavens.” I was thinking that if the woman turned to me, my Hawaiian name would certainly not be the brightest star in the heavens. I laughed.

Then froze. That idea and my half-idea for a story smacked together and I stumbled from the shower, soap still in my hair, and started scribbling in my notebook as fast as my hand would go.  I’d found my theme. I’d found my spark. I’d found my ending.

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How do people get ideas? How do they go from that exciting spark of inspiration to creating something meaningful? How do they make it through that point when fun becomes work and inspiration seems out of reach?

I’ll be exploring this question in a number of ways over the next year, in a series of posts I’ll be calling, “Inspiration and Perspiration.” Because it rhymes and I like that.

I’ll be interviewing different types of artists and creatives about these themes and no one will get away with crediting the “idea unicorn” for their hard work. I’ll also bring tales from my own experiences, from how a band’s show gave me an idea for a novel, seeing my writing performed on stage, and the experience of trying to get my first novel published. I even have a secret tale of online writing success I had under a pen name that will delight the nerds among you. And I mean the nerds. (*Fist bumps to the nerds*)

In the meantime, give that ever difficult question a shot. Creatives, innovators—where do your ideas come from? Comment below! 


Like this post? Try these!

Create the World You Want to See

Collecting and Connecting – Two Years of Interviews

NaNoWriMo: Your 50,000-Word Writing Challenge

To get updates about posts and interviews, find the follow button at the top right of this page. 

Make a 2017 Bucket List

2017-new-yearAs we approach the end of the year, you know what question is headed your way.

“Any New Year’s resolutions?”

Does anyone actually stick to these things? I feel psyched about New Year’s resolutions for about two weeks before I start dodging people as they ask me how it’s going. 

So for those who are a little sick of what resolutions have to offer, let me offer my New Years tradition:

Make a 2017 Bucket List instead. 

Wait, don’t leave! I know, I know. Outside of someone learning they have three months to live, nobody follows through on bucket lists, but hear me out. I’m not talking about a list of experiences that sound like they’d be cool to do someday. I’m talking about a to-do list of fun and adventure that you can follow through with in one year. 

My yearly bucket lists started only a couple years ago, after losing someone. I had the urge to do something that made me feel like I was taking advantage of life. So, on the heels of listening to the audiobook Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a novel about female WWII pilots that had me frozen on a street corner as the climax played out, I arranged to fly a plane. When the plane lifted off the ground and I had a front row seat to the world falling behind, I felt invincible.

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Should I mention that the plane almost crashed on this excursion? …Probably not.

Afterward, I realized I didn’t want to slip back into the mindset of, “There are some things I’d love to do…one day.” And so, the yearly bucket list was born.

If you want to create a 2017 Bucket List for yourself, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Choose one big thing to accomplish.

Choose one significant thing that is achievable in the next year. This is one of those things you might find on your big, lifelong bucket list. Something you’ll be excited to tell people about a long time from now. Being achievable may mean a lot of things, but it definitely means picking something in your control and something specific. It might be a trip, an experience, or a milestone. If you’re stuck for ideas, search through Groupon or Living Social, or brainstorm with friends. 

2. Fill the rest of your bucket list with smaller, fun things.

You’ve chosen the item that will take the most commitment in terms of planning, time, money, resources, or bravery. To make this all achievable in a year, fill the rest with things that could be done in a day or on a weekend. Always wanted to play messy paint Twister? Always wishing you’d take the time to put together a picnic and relax at the beach for the day? Constantly forgetting about that annual movie in the park thing a couple towns over? Stick ’em on there.

3. Keep the list short enough you can easily accomplish it all.

If you make a list of 100 activities, eventually, you’re going to give up. You might keep up the stamina for a little while, but if finishing is impossible, there’s no reason to push yourself to finish. I aim for about ten ideas I love but wouldn’t normally think to do. You can always keep a backup master idea list if you accomplish your list earlier than expected and want more, but keep the real commitment within reach. 

4. Plan everything right at the get go.

And here is the secret sauce. Bucket lists get forgotten because it’s so easy to say, “Not now. Someday. Later.” But you have one year. How much do these things cost? Where can you do them? How might they fit into your schedule? If you figure these things out right at the start, you’re entering January knowing if you need to start saving money, planning vacation time, or buying tickets while prices are lower. The big event will require the most foresight, but don’t leave out the smaller ones. When you’re ready to pick something from your list, make it easy: have a website saved, have figured out which stores have what you need, think about who might come along for the ride. That way, adventure will always be at your fingertips.

I’ve found the bucket lists not only make sure I end each year with wonderful memories and feeling grateful, but also have made me more willing to take risks in general.

Remember, it’s not the adventure that finds the person, it’s the person that finds the adventure.

And on that note, Happy New Year! What are some items you’d like to have on your 2017 Bucket List?


If you like a dash of inspiration in your posts, you may also enjoy Create the World You Want to See or Collecting and Connecting – Two Years of Interviews

Apartment Horror Stories, Part Two: San Francisco and Raccoon Warfare

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When I moved into San Francisco, I remember thinking it would be a glamorous, artsy, intellectual part of my life. I would be inspired by the culture and the hustle. I would write. I would learn. I would have experiences.

I had some experiences, alright.

Now this story is hard to tell without understanding some basics about the layout of my 2nd floor apartment. I’ve included an illustration below that demonstrates how my art skills flourished during my time in SF.

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Waiting for my call back from the SF MOMA.

Longing for nature, I was looking out the kitchen window into the cement shaft that ran down the center of the building to our floor. The shaft had always boggled me. I could step out my window onto it and look up at the sky, but thats about all that could be done with it. I guessed it was to vent kitchen smells or to keep the occupant of my bedroom from going insane.

From the space between our building and the giant wood fence that separated us from the next door neighbors, a raccoon popped up onto the ledge. Gleeful, I called my roommates over.

“Aw, it’s so cute!” we cooed. So naive. So innocent.

With that warm welcome, the raccoon moved in with all his buddies. They spent nights hosting Raccoon Fight Club. They would poop outside my window in the shaft and my landlord would call to ask me to clean it up. One little monster reveled in my startled cries when I opened up the blinds to find it staring at me once a week. Claws scratched at the wall behind my bed and I knew with absolute certainty that one night, a raccoon paw would finally burst through the plaster of my wall, grab my hair, and drag me to raccoon hell.

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“Hello, Clarice.”

It went on for months. They couldn’t be caught and relocated because the city was infested with the garbage-munchers. Under the guidance of the internet, I sprinkled cayenne pepper on the ledge where they strutted around—supposedly, the taste would repel them. Nope, one glared smugly at me as it licked cayenne off his paws. If it had stuck up its middle claw and scurried off sniggering, it would have felt right.

My landlord covered the spaces where the raccoons were climbing onto the ledge with fencing. They hissed and shook the chainlink with their paws and their night battles were now accompanied by the crashing of metal. In his limited English, my landlord told me he had some “cat powder” that could get rid of them for good. I was unsure if he misunderstood what we were dealing with or if this was just his word for raccoons, but I figured something called “cat powder” wasn’t about to do the trick. I decided to try one more tactic I’d read about—playing talk radio near their nest.

I stepped out into the shaft in my sweat pants and tank top, holding my clock radio, talking with my mom on my flip phone (yes it took me forever to get a smart phone). Three raccoons climbed up the fencing to watch.

I switched on the radio, flashed them a “Take that!” look, and went back inside. As I sat down on my bed, I noticed something weird. My arm looked…black. And…my sweatpants were moving.

Fleas. I was covered in hundreds and hundreds of fleas.

The last thing my mom heard before my cell phone hit the floor and snapped shut was me starting to scream.

By a miracle, one of my roommates had left out a bottle of flea spray. I shut my door and sprayed it wildly, knowing the raccoons were laughing with evil delight as they watched me poison myself. But I knew if I ran from the room without dispensing every last drop from that spray bottle, my bedroom would forever belong to the fleas.

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“LOL, look at her go! Those fleas have got her dancing! Great idea, Bob.”

Ten minutes later, I stood in the bathroom, my brave roommate pulling fleas out of my ears and my hair while I picked them from eyelashes.

I called my landlord. It was time for the cat powder.

He walked in wearing what looked like a hazmat suit—I think in reality it was a painter’s suit and mask—holding a can with a white label someone had scrawled two words on in pen. “Cat Powder.”

He sprinkled it over the ledge down to where the raccoons nested while I searched for other places to live on the computer.

To this day, I have no idea what was in that can. All I can say is that I never saw a raccoon near my apartment building again.

I’m expecting my radioactive super powers to kick in any day. Some mornings, when I noticed dark circles around my eyes, I wonder if it’s beginning. If one day, you find me fighting in an alley and digging through trash with superhuman strength, get the cat powder.

For other stories of apartment horror, check out Part 1: Santa Barbara and the Microwave. Ominous enough for ya?


Like what you read? Comment below with your own apartment horror stories or follow the blog. Hope to see you again!

Apartment Horror Stories, Part One: Santa Barbara and the Microwave

10533443_10103376478127597_3479849254700546766_nMy second year of college in Santa Barbara, I moved into my very first apartment. I had an air mattress, a bean bag chair, and a very low bar for living standards. It was the best of times.

Granted, when I joyously threw open the kitchen window, I found myself face to face with a painting on a shed of a man with his hand over the mouth of a crying child and the words, “Fermez la bouche!” (Shut your mouth!, for those non-francophiles) Was this a political statement or a warning from the local French mafia? Oh well! I was soon distracted by the children in the building who ran after me demanding money like orphans from a Dickens novel and the discovery that across the street were three unmarked frat houses whose residents did not know the difference between a school night and, say, Carnivale.

Living somewhere tropical is paradise, but it does come with a catch. Aside from rowdy frat boys. That catch is bugs. Once, I saw something peeking around the bottom of my slightly-open door that I thought was my roommate’s shoe. I figured she was going to try jumping out to scare me. I rolled my eyes and said, “I can see you, Erin,” and from across the apartment, Erin’s voice called back, “What?” The shoe revealed itself as an alien monster called a potato bug that skittered into my room. I can only assume the neighbors didn’t call the police at the sounds of my primal screams because I hadn’t paid up when their Dickens children tried to shake me down for cash.

But nothing compared to when cockroaches built a nest inside our microwave.

I would like to say we IMMEDIATELY sent that microwave to hell to burn. I don’t know quite how long we kept it around, but too long. Too long. The cockroaches crawled under the glass of the clock, streaking across the lit-up numbers. Sometimes, when pressing the buttons on the microwave, you’d hear a, “Beep, beep, BZZZZ.” That last sound I can only guess was a cockroach getting the electric chair.

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Oh look, just like the one from my nightmares…

The worst part is, microwaves don’t kill cockroaches. We’d have to pay careful attention while heating up a meal, because often a cockroach would appear out of a vent and start scrambling straight toward the good stuff. We’d rip open the door, screaming, and it would race back into hiding.

One day, enough was enough. We had a break from midterms and were tired of defending our food with the savagery of prison inmates. We bought a brand new microwave.

We stared at the old one, strategizing.

The microwave had to go to the dumpster. But whoever picked it up risked cockroaches crawling all over them. We struck a deal. I would put the microwave into the box, which my roommate would then seal while I screamed and slapped cockroaches off me, then run it to the dumpster where she would scream and slap cockroaches off of her.

I took deep breaths and jogged in place as Erin pep-talked me. Then, I grabbed it and lifted it up.

Tiny cockroaches swarmed the counter.

I dumped the microwave in the box. I think the screams I heard were mine, but my soul had floated out of my body by that point, so who knows.

We stuck to the plan. We got the counter cleaned, the microwave to the dumpster, and our new microwave gleamed proudly at us.

Erin ran one more load of our cleanup trash to the dumpster, and returned looking ill. “The box is gone.”

“The trash collectors came already?”

She swallowed. “No.”

It dawned. Someone had seen an old microwave and believed they’d scored a new appliance. The microwave would take another victim. Like the video in The Ring, the cockroach microwave could not be destroyed, the evil could only be passed on.

When I ultimately moved out of that place, I remember smiling and thinking, “Goodbye, dumpy apartment. Now, I enter real adulthood with grownup apartments in my future. I’ll look back on this time and laugh, and I will never deal with gross crises like that again.”

As those of you who are familiar with foreshadowing will pick up, I wasn’t exactly correct.

Happy Thanksgiving! (I shout as everyone has suddenly lost their appetites.) I personally will be thankful for bug-free kitchen appliances. For more stories of apartment horrors, check out for Apartment Horror Stories, Part Two: San Francisco and Raccoon Warfare.


Like what you read? Comment below or check out other posts! Hope to see you again!

Create the World You Want to See

our-liberty-signI’ve been thinking a lot in the past couple weeks about the subtitle I chose for this blog. Why not, “Story time!” or “Who brought the marshmallows?” or “Why to be careful checking out a stack of books about witchcraft because a student might think you’re trying to summon the devil”? (Another story for another time.)

See, people say teenagers think they’re invincible. But when I was a teenager, I was pretty disillusioned. Books had promised me a lot about this world. That good people would get what they deserved, and bad ones too. That friends were loyal and enemies could see the light. That I’d be able to make a difference. But around my junior year, most of those promises had been undelivered. I was also realizing how big in scope some of the world’s problems were, far beyond the power of a 16-year-old who couldn’t even vote. It started sinking in that maybe the world wasn’t going to turn out the way I’d thought it would and that there was nothing I could do about it. 

So, I sought solace in writing. If my real life didn’t have those things I wanted, at least I could write about them. In the online community, I met other readers who longed for those things, and we spoke to each other in story-form.

Then, I came across this quote by Chuck Palahnuik:

“The first step—especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money—the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.”

My own beliefs had shifted through reading fiction, from the classics to amateur works. Writing had helped me work through my own beliefs regarding everything from what a good relationship should look like to what justice means. So when I read this quote, I decided instead of resigning myself to the world as it was, I could be active in making it better. My role? I would write the books.  

I really do believe that culture drives our society. TV shows, books, art, songs have ways of getting around the barriers of what we think we believe to pose different ideas for how things could be. They get shared across party lines as entertainment, but offer the opportunity to relate to someone different, even if that person is fictional.

The U.S., and maybe the world at large, recently revealed itself as far more divided than most of us ever understood. And a lot of people, especially young people, are wondering how to amplify their voices and change minds. 

Write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.

Create the world you want to see.

NaNoWriMo: Your 50,000-Word Writing Challenge

Guest post by ERICA ROOTmachine-writing-1035292_1280

Writing a book is an overwhelming endeavor. Writing your FIRST novel, even more so.

So what’s an aspiring author to do? What’s the best way to overcome that insurmountable hurdle?

My answer: Sign up for NaNoWriMo.  

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is exactly what it sounds like. A one-month period dedicated to intensive writing. If you keep up with the daily word count — 1,667 WORDS A DAY, to be exact – you will have a 50,000-word novel at the end of the month.

It’s exactly that little push needed to put pen to paper, or more likely fingers to keyboard, and get writing.

If you have dabbled with the idea of writing a book, NaNoWriMo might be a good option to jumpstart the process.

Here are a few things you should know:

  • NaNoWriMo values quantity over quality. I’ve done NaNoWriMo four times, and only once hit that 50,000-word mark. My first two failed attempts I spent a significant time going back and rereading what I had already written. If you are writing every day, you should know where you’ve left off. Rereading is a time suck. Get to the writing, get those words in. The time for editing is not now.
  • There is a community of authors and other writers to support you. Writing is an isolating endeavor. Knowing that there is a community of friends, neighbors, and strangers all working toward a common goal is a powerful motivator. When you go to the website you have a wealth of information and inspiration at your fingertips. While you might have a lot of enthusiasm on day one, you might hit a slump come day 10.  Utilize these resources and figure out a way to build them into your writing time. Are you going to spend 5 minutes readying the latest email from a popular author and then dive into your daily writing? Will you post your accomplishments on a community board? Will you be a lurker? Reading and not partaking in the discussion boards? Because that’s OK too. Figure out how to make the site work for you.
  • Getting ahead is easier than catching up. If you have a two-day conference in LA scheduled during November then you have a few options available to you: you could say you will make the time to write while you are at the conference (but we ALL know you won’t), you could get ahead and write more in the days leading up to the conference, or you could play catch up once you are safe and sound when you get back home. I recommend getting ahead, because feeling like you need to play catch up is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to staying on track during NaNoWriMo. Suddenly 1,667 words a day turns into 3,334 words you need to write to be on track. As that number grows, your confidence in getting the project done plummets. So, stay ahead, stay above water, because you are treading ALL month long.

My top 3 tips for hitting your goal:

  • Create a network of accountability. You are more likely to succeed in an endeavor if you have a plan and share that plan with others. Me, writing this article, will give me a much better chance of success this November. The first and only time I completed NaNoWriMo I actually emailed my daily writing to a few trusted people. This tactic worked great for me. People expected the writing, gave positive feedback (that’s the only kind of feedback allowed at this stage), and placed the requisite amount of pressure on me to get those 1,667 words down. 
  • Create a Space to Write. A few years ago, I bought this beautiful tiffany-blue desk from Cost Plus World Market. This is my writing space. I only use the desk to get work done and writing a novel in a month is – obviously – a whole lot of work. But I know when I go to the desk that I need to focus on the task at hand and not get distracted by shiny objects or squirrels. A sound track is helpful in creating your space as well. I’m partial to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack, the Kiera Knightly version, which is available on YouTube. Yes, I listen to music on YouTube, but that’s a discussion for another day.
  • Plan What You Are Going to Write. You don’t need to have the whole story map written out before you get started on this journey. In fact, that’s not really recommended. However, spending the first 5-10 minutes of the day mapping out what you are going to write about THAT DAY is immensely helpful. Of course, you can always begin the planning process in October or earlier.

Things that don’t work:

  • Editing instead of reading. Didn’t I tell you not to edit? See above.
  • Saying you will just “browse the internet for a few minutes” before you start writing. The internet is a tempting siren, desperately trying to lure you away from writing. So turn off your internet access, go to your designated writing space, or a coffee shop without free Wi-Fi, and get to work.
  • Maintaining a Social Life. Maintaining a social life is hard to do if you take on this challenge. If you really want to be successfully and hit the target 50,000 words, you have two options: become a recluse or surround yourself with friends who are also participating in NaNoWriMo. The latter works really well for me.

Whether you are a professional writer or are just curious about what it would be like to write a book, this month-long challenge is great option to kick start those creative juices.

Compressing the book writing process into a one-month period suddenly makes it feel much more manageable.

So, if you are serious about taking on NaNoWriMo, do yourself a favor, figure out how you are going to build it into your life and make it happen.

Write on.

erica-root

Photo by Eleakis and Elder Photography

Erica Root is a Sacramento-based public affairs professional who spends her free time reading, writing and chasing her perpetually energetic puppy, Teddy. You can read more about Erica’s thoughts on travel, reading, and her worldly stuffed panda at: asquarerootinaroundworld.com

Urban Legends: The Hook

killer-820017_1280The babysitter and the creepy phone calls. The woman followed home by someone flashing their headlights. The “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the lights?” message.

I only recently discovered that not everyone’s childhood innocence was ax-murdered by these stories. For me, all you have to say is “urban legends” and I experience a mixture of emotions I can only describe as…nervous horror-glee. 

As a kid, I loved scary stories. I took those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books into the dark closet (the title’s instructions were clear, people) and would read them by flashlight. Most would leave my creepy little heart unsatisfied. I felt un-scare-able. 

Some of the urban legends are apparently in those books, but I remember my introduction to them coming when some family friends stayed the night. In the room of kids in sleeping bags, the oldest girl asked, “Have you ever heard any urban legends?” She shared a couple with us and due to the world having a sense of humor, the house alarm went off, and all of us screamed and screamed from the primal core of our being.

For those of you less familiar with these stories, I’ll start you off with the mildest one I know. For those of you who like to close your eyes during the scary parts of movies, feel free to skip past the next couple paragraphs.

A couple goes to a secluded lookout point for make-out funtimes. But, over the car radio comes an emergency bulletin—a patient has escaped from the local asylum. He is highly dangerous and can be recognized easily—he has a hook for a hand. The girl announces that make-out funtimes are OVER and asks to go home. The guy lock the car doors and assures her they’re perfectly safe. But the girl is not having any of that nonsense, pushes him away from her, and demands to be taken home. The guy, annoyed, peels out and drives her to her house, steaming the whole way. But when the girl gets out and goes to close her car door behind her, she shrieks. Hanging from her door handle is a bloody hook.

(I like to think this story has an epilogue in which the girlfriend waves the hook in her creep of a boyfriend’s face in the ultimate “I told you so,” then dumps him to look for a boyfriend who respects her boundaries and comfort. The hook might even remain on her shelf, baffling her parents, as a reminder to herself to always trust her instincts.)

Any research on what makes Urban Legends like these ones tick will tell you they’re morality tales, warning young people against all sorts of bad behavior. I’d argue they mostly warned me against babysitting. I’d also argue the morality part wasn’t what kept me staring wide-eyed at the ceiling all night long.

The thing about the classic urban legends is that in most of them, the main character makes it through unscathed. In other stories, the main character might be going through something terrifying, but they know what’s happening. And we can then look around our living rooms and say, “Well, I’m not being chased by a hooded figure, I guess I’m good to go.”

The way urban legends hook us (*wink*…yes, I’m a nerd) is by landing a twist where the main character realizes that danger was close without them knowing it. They tickle our spines with scenarios of people who feel something is off, but only later are shown how sickeningly off their situation really was. Someone was in the back seat the whole time. Someone was in the house. That clown statue wasn’t a statue at all. 

So, when we’re trying to sleep, these are the stories that make us ask, “Are you sure there’s nothing in the closet?” “Are you sure that creeping sense of unease should be dismissed?”

“Are you sure—really, really sure—you should turn on the lights?”

Happy Halloween! 

If you’d like to walk down a dark and twisted memory lane, or if you’re new to urban legends and want to not sleep for the next few days, here are some links to some classics if you don’t have a creepy friend to whisper them to you at a sleepover.

(Warning, a lot of the titles of the actual articles behind the link give away the twist, so if you’re really new to them, ask someone to tell you them without clicking.)

The Boyfriend

The Babysitter and the Phone Calls

The Clown Statue

The Dog

Flashing Headlights

Bedroom Light

Collecting and Connecting – Two Years of Interviews

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Alumni Spotlight Panel: Click the pic to watch!

 

I not only tell stories, I collect them. I interview people about their complicated career paths and publish the articles once a month. After two years, I’ve found there’s a key factor that separates the interviews I find interesting and the ones I get fully sucked into, head first.

But before I talk about other people’s stories, I need to rewind to one of my own.

When I graduated college a year early, a proud and eager honors student, I shot out resumes into the job market like I’d gotten a hold of a t-shirt cannon.

Imagine those t-shirts fluttering to the ground of an empty stadium while a sad hotdog wrapper tumbles by. That’s a pretty dead-on metaphor to how my job search went.

So there was a lot at stake six months in when I finally got a call for an interview. In the brand new business dress my mom had bought me, I nervously walked through an active construction site to my “marketing” interview. Only, as I asked deeper questions about the odd terms the interviewer was using, it struck me–it was a pyramid scheme. The interviewer saw the dawning on my face and cut things short. It wasn’t going to work out.

I walked off, dazed. My only interview had been a scam. That I got rejected from. Obviously, I had gone terribly wrong somewhere. I’d missed something critically important that kept other people from launching themselves into the world and thwacking into a mud puddle.

I sat in the parking garage, numbly hugging the purse I’d borrowed to carry my resumes, utterly alone.

I would continue to struggle for a few years in a lot of ways I’m sure to talk about later. But flash forward to 2014, with a stable career in advising, I pitched a feature where I’d interview alumni who graduated into or after the economic crash exploring how they got into their careers. It would be educational. It would be human interest for the college. 

Secretly, it was a postmortem. I needed to know what crucial piece I’d missed all those years ago.

I’d missed, it turns out, the stories themselves.

Maybe it was because I approached potential interviewees with my own awkward account first, maybe it was the mission of helping young people, but I started getting the real stories, not the polished social-media ones. Not all of the interviewees shared with me times when they felt like they’d crashed or made a wrong turn or taken a step only to find the ground drop away beneath them, but a lot of them did.

 A National Geographic photojournalist shared the moment a doctor handed her a handicap placard and told her she’d never lead a normal life. A speech therapist laughed with me about applying for a nighttime bike assembler position at Target and getting turned down. One person called me after reading the draft of her feature, stunned that I’d made her sound cool. I was surprised she didn’t see herself that way already. 

The thing about those stories that get vulnerable, when they get to the triumphant parts, they make me clap and grin (yes, sometimes literally). With those people who are brave enough to share their weaker moments, I feel as though I’ve known them for years instead of, as is often the case, being in the middle of our very first conversation.

The power in our stories doesn’t come from the proudest, glossiest, Instagram moments. The power comes from the vulnerable parts. The parts we’re afraid of showing each other.

We all want to feel connection in those places where we feel most alone.

I can’t speak for the people I’ve interviewed, but for me, talking to others who say, “While you were in that parking garage, I was out there too somewhere, feeling the same way,” moves me in ways that the white-toothed smile, LinkedIn-ready stories simply don’t. 

So to writers of fictional stories or people just looking for more connection to the people in their lives…my suggestion? Take the risk. Get vulnerable. Show off your humanity. And stick close to the people who give you those things in return. 

You can read my interviews with these amazing folks at UCSB’s College of Letters and Science page

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