Writing Techniques: Out of Order

It’s almost safe to say that no writer writes exactly the same way – it’s a unique process for most. Some folks must have absolute silence, some prefer total isolation, others can be productive in a busy coffee shop whilst other patrons are slurping lattes and chatting with friends. It’s all up to the writer.

And how a person writes vastly differs as well.

When I was writing I’m With You, I wrote the first draft entirely in order until around chapters 13-15 range (can’t remember the specific chapter), then I got stuck. I tried to slog through it, but couldn’t figure out exactly how to puzzle out that segment, so I just moved on to what became chapters 17-19. I had a better idea of where I wanted that portion of the store to go and what I hoped to achieve with it, since it’s a fairly contained section of the narrative. Thus, it was easier for me to draft.

I used to think I had to write in a strictly linear pattern – point A to point B to point C and so on – so when I hit a roadblock, I’d just… stop. Several bouts of frustration and stress later, I’d manage to get momentum going again, but it didn’t occur to me until around my college years that I could write out of order. I could go from point A to point J if I wanted. It doesn’t matter, so long as you can seamlessly link the parts together after they’re all done.

That realization – though simple for some, it was a groundbreaking revelation for me – actually first came to me while writing essays for college. English majors have to write a lot of essays. A crap ton, one might say. And the bane of many college writers is the intro paragraph, which contains the dreaded thesis statement. I used to sit and stare at my computer for ages, trying to think of a compelling intro with a powerful hook, as the cursor blinked mockingly at me from an empty document. To be fair, I’ve encountered many other students and writers who also thought that you had to do the intro first. How else would you know what to write, if you haven’t yet set it up?

I learned, by my senior year, that, as long as I had at least some idea of what I was going to write about, I could just skip the intro, write out the rest of my essay, and then hope motivation and momentum carry me enough to pump out an intro by the time the rest of it is done. Or, if sudden inspiration happened to strike, I could go back and write it out at any point. There are no rules dictating the order in which you write an essay, or a narrative, or any piece of creative work.

By my last couple of semesters, my drafts starting looking like this:

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For the record, I do still believe that intro paragraphs can die in a hole. As you can see, the start of this draft is ugly, my thesis ends with “something something something,” and I haven’t even got a title.

But here is the final version, which came together as I was writing the rest of the essay:

final scor.PNG

A bit wordy, but it gets the job done. Your thesis and intro can take shape during the development of the body paragraphs. A lot of the time, I would have no idea how to word my thesis, but I knew what I was trying to prove… and working through the meat of the essay helped me find the right words.

For my current MS, I got stuck on a particular chapter for months – but I didn’t dwell on it very long. I didn’t forget about it entirely, of course, but when I felt hopelessly stuck and had no idea what to write next, I just moved on and kept chugging away at the other sections of the story, the ones I did have a clear path for. Ultimately, I worked past the roadblock and got the chapter done. So, if your writing patterns and habits seem a little unorthodox, don’t let others tell you that your style is out of order. Sometimes, being out of order is exactly what a writer needs.

~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Etiquette

Now, I will freely admit that I am not a people person. I dislike most activities that involve interacting with large groups of people. I do not talk to strangers, both for safety reasons, and an inherent distaste for making small-talk.

However, I feel there are certain rules that should be followed when in public places. Some of these unspoken guidelines are obvious; like, don’t be a jerk, treat people the way you want to be treated, look both ways before crossing the street, hold the door for your elderly neighbors, etc, etc.

But I cannot help noticing that certain “rules” are often ignored, and the rule-breakers either have no idea that they are being a complete butt-head, or they simply do not know the basics of etiquette.

Now, I am not an etiquette master by any means. I don’t do fancy forks and all that nonsense, and would be a menace at a cotillion. And yet, while I have the disposition of a hungry bear that is waking from a three-month hibernation, I do my best to be polite when interacting with others. I turn my inner grizzly into a teddy-bear. Because I’m polite, dammit.

There are three places in particular where I notice a blatant disregard for proper etiquette the most, and those places are the gym, the movies, and the grocery store.

Let’s start with the gym.

Now, I go to a really laid-back gym. I like going there, have been a member for six years, and go 5-6 days a week, most weeks. It’s pretty small, and other gyms probably have a wider variety of clientele. At my gym, if you go between the hours of 8-10AM, the place is full of the elderly and/or rehabilitation folks. They are some of the nicest gym-goers I’ve ever encountered, though, occasionally, they will sit on the machines and chat with one another for a little too long, but that isn’t intentionally harmful.

It’s in the late afternoon/evening where the jerks come to play.

First of all, is it that hard to wipe down the machines after you use them? No, it isn’t. And yet, some people don’t seem to realize that other people do not want to use a machine that is soiled with stranger-sweat. It’s not just disrespectful, it’s gross. No one likes stranger-sweat. I don’t even like my own sweat.

Also, if you fill the entire gym with your dying-seal groans, that can infiltrate relatively soundproof ear-buds, then you are probably lifting too much weight and need to scale it back a little.

Then we have those select few who think it is appropriate to blatantly stare at other gym-goers. If you are one of these people, and you think that you are being subtle about it, I have news for you – you aren’t. It’s common enough at my gym that there is a rule about it on the rule-board. And yet, there is a guy at my gym – who I call Cargo-Shorts Guy, because he wears cargo shorts to work out – who I swear only goes to the gym to stare creepily at girls. Don’t be Cargo Shorts Guy.

At my gym, there are time limits for certain machines, because they are in high demand at “peak” hours, which is typically when I’m there. I witness people break this rule on a daily basis. Some nights, I can’t finish my routine because someone is hogging the elliptical. It’s not like they don’t see the time limit – it’s taped onto every machine. Maybe someone else would like to use the treadmill today, yeah?

Most days, I get through my workout without incident, but I am still appalled at some of the behaviors I see there. But that’s nothing compared to the monsters you find at the grocery store.

My grocery shopping routine is simple. Go in, get stuff, pay, leave. The less time I spend in there, the better.

But that does not mean I escape unscathed.

Last week, I needed to pick up dinner before heading off to work a late shift, so I stopped by the grocery store, thinking that I would just pick up a box of Lean Pockets and be out in two minutes. Alas, this was not the case.

I always use the self check-out. Typically, this is because I only ever buy 5 or six items at a time. And I am lightning-fast at scanning. However, on this particular day, luck was not on my side. And this is because there were numerous people going through the self check-out with FULL CARTS OF FOOD. I am talking carts overflowing with cereal boxes, lunchables, and bags of chips. I mean REALLY. One woman had to keep bugging the poor attendant because she didn’t know any of the codes for her produce, and her cart was comprised ENTIRELY of produce.

If you are one of these people, I ask you: WHY? WHYYYYY?

The convenience of self check-out is a marvelous thing, I know, but if you are buying enough food to feed a small army, then for the love of quick shopping trips, go through the regular line. You might think it’s convenient for you, but you are inconveniencing literally everyone else just because you don’t want to go through the regular line. The woman in front of me was buying diapers. Just diapers. And we had to wait in line for fifteen minutes because every bay was taken by someone with at least one full cart of product – some even had two.

I understand that some people don’t like it when other people bag their items for them (I mean, what if they put the Easy-Mac with my grapes? Perish the thought…) but there is a simple solution for that: BAG YOUR OWN STUFF. If, by chance, I happen to be making a big trip, I go through the regular line and I bag my own items. Simple as pie.

Then there’s the people who don’t follow lane procedures. These folks stand in the middle of the aisle, comparing the prices of peanut butter or applesauce or what have you, forcing others to perform acrobatic moves of incredible flexibility to even get past them. I once said “excuse me” to a woman who was blocking the middle of the aisle, and she told me to go and do something anatomically impossible and refused to move.

STAY ON ONE SIDE OF THE AISLE, PEOPLE. It isn’t hard.

Also, as a side note: Don’t let your children steer the cart if they are not tall enough to see over the handlebar. Just a couple of days ago, I was perusing the frozen pizzas and was struck by a cart full of cookies, Boo Berry, and Juicy Juice. The child-driver laughed at me as I stumbled into a display of playground balls, while his mother scolded him, the voice of utter defeat, “Sweetie, don’t run, you’ll hurt someone.” The child then sped away down the frozen foods aisle, laughing all the while.

Yeah… too late, lady.

After a stressful day of grocery shopping, one might find solace in taking in a movie. I go to the movies frequently, about two or three times a month, or more, depending on what’s out. I love movies. And it might just be me, because I am very particular about my movie-viewing experiences, but I feel as though there is a proper way to behave when you are in a movie theater, around other movie-goers.

Only three times in my life have I ever been in a theater that was empty save for my friends/family and I. My mom and I saw Cinderella this year, and, because it was a matinee on a school day, we were alone on the theater, so when I felt like making a comment about how cute Richard Madden looked, I didn’t have to whisper. Also, my best friend and I saw Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters and Jupiter Ascending, and we were the only people in the theater. So we were as loud as we wanted to be because there was no one there to bother.

However, some people are as loud as they want to be even when there ARE people there to bother.

Last Friday, I took my parents to see The Martian. There were a group of kids in the theater who kept JUMPING up and down the stairs. Physically LEAPING. I am not sure what purpose this served, except for making the ground shake. By “kids,” I mean they were 15. And one of them was wearing a denim vest, which is an atrocity in itself. Eventually, someone asked them to stop, so they left the theater. They essentially paid $10 to jump up and down some stairs and not even finish the movie. WHY? WHYYYYY????

Also, the people behind me talked for the entire movie. Why do people pay money to go an talk the entire way through a movie? GO TO STARBUCKS, GET A LATTE, SIT DOWN AND CATCH UP. Don’t have your all-important life chats when everyone else in the theater is trying to watch Matt Damon eat potatoes grown in his own shit.

I was once in a screening of Iron Man 2, and in the first two rows (the ones where no one sits because you have to crane your neck to see the screen) were about ten teenagers, who decided that the rest of the theater needed to hear their commentary, and all of them had their phones out. Needless to say, when they were kicked out by theater staff less than halfway through the film, everyone else applauded, and the kids gave us the bird. Yeah… if you are a teenager like that, you should feel bad. And you’re not cool. If you were a teenager like that, then I hope you look back on yourself with the utmost amount of shame.

And people who text during a movie… just stop. Put your phone down for two hours. If you can’t, wait two years until the movie is on TV. I don’t need your phone screen flashing on my periphery when I’m trying to enjoy the movie.

AND FOR THE LOVE OF CASABLANCA, SHOW UP ON TIME. People who walk into a theater ten minutes into the movie – not the previews, the actual motion picture – with their arms laden with nachos and popcorn, and they can’t find the seat printed on their ticket, so they wait for an usher to escort them, disrupting everyone else… no. Just… no.

Now, I could go on. I won’t, because I’ve gone on long enough, but honestly, maintaining proper etiquette when in public isn’t difficult. It isn’t. If I, a girl with the mentality of a perpetually hungry zombie, can be sweet as a flower-covered pixie when interacting with the public, then so can the rest of the world. Common courtesy takes zero effort…. and it’s even rewarding, at times. Because most of the time, when you show people respect, they’re going to respect you in return.

Follow the golden rule: Don’t be a jerk.

Regret

During my years at college, I decided to grow my hair out.

It doesn’t seem like a monumental decision. However, it was a pretty big decision for me, as I had never permitted my hair to grow past my shoulders, because my hair is more or less a sentient being capable of complex thought; it’s kind of like having Super Saiyan hair without the otherworldly strength and crazy powers that come with it.

Every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror, I don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it’s semi-relaxed and I am able to style it into something moderately presentable for the day. Other times, it’s a frizzy, tangled mess that takes three hair ties and approximately 72 bobby-pins to contain. If I want to straighten it, I have to give myself at least an hour to do it and on humid days, it takes an hour and a half.

My hair is a force to be reckoned with. Whenever I think I’ve found a shampoo and conditioner combo that will tame the beast, it rebels against me. Products will work for a few uses, and then my hair will somehow evolve and develop a way to fight against it. Keratin? HAH. Don’t make me laugh. Argan oil? You must be joking. My hair is a supreme power, and nothing can prevent it from becoming the wild, tangled mess it’s destined to be.

Last summer, I’d had enough of the demon hair.

My hair was almost to my waist by then, after almost four years of growing it out. I hadn’t had a haircut in years, so I called up my stylist and scheduled an appointment. When I showed up at the salon, I don’t think anyone recognized me and I felt like a mountain man descending back to civilization after three years without encountering humanity… or a hairdresser. My hair was a disaster.

I asked my stylist to chop it all off. She asked if I was ABSOLUTELY sure, and I said yes. So she chopped off over twelve inches of the mane of doom, and I watched my crazy curls collect on the floor in a pile that soon resembled a brunette Cousin It from The Addams Family. With a few snips from her scissors, my rebellious hair was gone.

Before...
Before…
...After.
…After.

I was very happy with my new hairstyle at first. My hairdresser does excellent work. But shortening my hair doesn’t tame it much, and it does not last for long. It doesn’t change anything about it, except for the length. It’s still a complete pain to control, requires way too much time and effort to style, and can defeat even the strongest hair products with its tangle of curls and wild waves. I am the Master of Broken Combs and Severed Hair Ties, and that title remains, no matter how long my hair is. So, it wasn’t long before I regretted my decision to cut it off, and I began to process of growing it back out.

While I was growing it out the first time, my hair was a point of pride for me, but it got too difficult to maintain, and so I decided to just get rid of it all at once. Despite my choice, I felt better about myself when it was longer. I guess that’s silly, but after I cut it, I didn’t feel as confident as I used to… which is something I’ve always struggled with, regardless of the length of my hair. It didn’t take much time for me to realize that cutting my hair was a temporary fix to a minor annoyance, and it didn’t do anything to solve some of the deeper issues I was going through at the time. And I think that might have been the subconscious reason why I decided to cut it off. I was trying to exert control over something to make up for the things that were out of my control.

Regret is an interesting thing. I was so, so sure that I wanted to cut off my hair. Maybe I thought it would cure some of the other dissatisfaction I was experiencing at the time, but, obviously, it didn’t. Because it’s just hair. It’s trivial. And changing the external does not often lead to a change in the internal.

I have more regrets than a simple haircut, though I have found that it does no good to dwell on them for too long. Especially those events that might have happened years and years ago, but you suddenly recall them when you’re trying to fall asleep at night and cringe both internally and externally at the embarrassment and shame and agonize over and over, “Why did I do that?” I feel like everybody has moments like that. Those “Dear God, why did I do that?” moments that haunt us, from awkward adolescence to adulthood.

But I suppose that regret has some benefits, too. Because it’s possible to learn from your regrets and your mistakes. A rash decision can seem like a terrible choice at first, but the outcome might reveal itself to be a blessing in disguise. I mean… this probably isn’t the case for more questionable/unforgivable mistakes that lead to jail time and whatnot, but bear with me here.

A little over a year later, my hair is well on its way to being a mane that even Simba would be jealous of. It’s still a mess most of the time, and has defeated about three brushes in the last few months, but I’ve learned to accept it for what it is, and deal with it the best that I can. I regret my decision to cut my hair last year, but it was not a total loss, because I was able to learn from the experience. I know that changing my appearance does not fix the things that affect me on the inside, and that if I want to change certain aspects of my life, a haircut is probably not the way to go about it.

Things change, and life changes, and hair grows back. As much as you try to assert dominance and power over all aspects of your life, some things are out of control, like crazy hair, or unfortunate circumstances, or certain events that fill us with regret once they are over. And while regret can be a terrible thing, it doesn’t always have to be.

Because you can’t learn from mistakes if you never make any. All that matters is if you take something out of it, and do not let regret hold you back from making choices in the first place.

Favorite Anime Openings

Music is imperative when I’m working on a writing project. I’m one of those obnoxious people who crafts specific playlists for each story I’m writing, and I listen to them when working on said projects. But sometimes, my well of inspiration runs a bit dry, and I need a different kind of musical inspiration to get the creative waters flowing again.

There is one playlist in my collection that really gets me motivated, and that is a playlist full of anime opening (and some ending) theme songs. I’ve been an anime fan ever since Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, Dragonball, and all those awesome classic 90’s series aired on Cartoon Network and were part of the Saturday Cartoon or Toonami lineups. And lets not forget classic Adult Swim. Those were the days, man.

So when I feel like saving the world, killing massive humanoid monsters, collecting all the shards of a dangerous jewel, becoming a mecha pilot with serious daddy and mommy issues, or learning the cruel lessons of equivalent exchange, I just put my Anime Openings playlist on to get myself pumped up. Sometimes, it makes writing just a bit easier and helps to blast through pesky bouts of writer’s block.

Is there anything more inspiring than a good anime theme song? I think not! So here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite anime themes, in no particular order.

Disclaimer: I do not own the anime or music listed below, nor are the embedded videos mine, they are just posted for reference.

1.) Ready Steady Go!Fullmetal Alchemist – L’arc En Ciel

I preferred FMA: Brotherhood to the original series (no hate, I did like both), but I will always consider the second opening to the first anime as one of the very best I’ve seen and heard. I often listen to this song on the treadmill and it gives me the boost I need to finish my workout.

2.) Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis  – Neon Genesis Evangelion – Yoko Takahashi

Say what you want about the anime itself (it’s one of my favorites, but I understand people who dislike it, especially the last episode which really is a big WTF), this opening might be the greatest anime opening of all time. It makes me want to clap and congratulate somebody, for some reason…weird.

3.) My Soul, Your Beats! – Angel Beats – Lia

*bursts into tears*

4.) SignNaruto Shippuden – FLOW

I watched Naruto for a long time before I eventually got burnt out and gave up on it, and I never made it to Shippuden, but hope to pick it up again. I love FLOW and their songs are always definitive of what an anime intro should do: Get someone hyped to kick some ass. This one in particular makes me feel like going out and fighting ninjas, or rescuing my angsty traitor best friend from a freaky snake guy…

5.) Guren no YumiyaAttack on Titan – Linked Horizon

After disliking Death Note, Bleach, Black Butler, and many other anime that were far too over-hyped, Attack on Titan was the first anime I saw in a really long time that lived up to the buzz that surrounded it. This intro really gets the adrenaline pumping, and the second one, Jiyuu no Tsubasa, is just as awesome.

6.) Kimi ga Inai MiraiInuyasha: The Final Act – Do As Infinity

Inuyasha was one of my first “real” anime (that wasn’t Pokemon) and I actually bought the theme song CDs when I was in junior high. But as much as I love the original series (minus some of the filler, it did drag a bit), this theme might just be my favorite from both the original and the sequel.

7.) Tank! – Cowboy Bebop – Yoko Kanno ft. The Seatbelts

You can’t beat the classics.

8.) Crossing FieldSword Art Online – LiSA

I personally did not like SAO (don’t judge me, it was WAY over-hyped, though I understand why people loved it) but this opening song is pretty amazing.

9.) Cloud Age SymphonyLAST EXILE – Okino, Shuntaro

Last Exile was the first anime I owned myself (and it is the perfect length for an anime, in my opinion) and whenever I rewatch it, I never skip the intro. I like that it has a bit of a different sound, and the visuals are pretty great for an anime that came out in ’03. I have yet to watch the sequel, but I hope the music is just as good!

10.) Taiyou no Mannaka eEureka Seven – Bivattchee

Eureka Seven is one of my all-time favorite anime (great characters, concepts, story, mecha, etc) and I loved all the intros and outros, but this one just struck a chord for me. Though Days by FLOW, the first opening, is great too.

BONUS: Moonlight DensetsuSailor Moon – DALI / Moon Lips

BECAUSE SAILOR MOON IS GREAT, OKAY.