Writing Techniques: Music

When it comes to my own writing projects, I typically construct playlists to listen to while working. I LOVE when I read a great book and the author includes a list of songs they listened to while writing, either on their website or in the back pages. It helps readers get a glimpse into their process, in a way – to peek at their inspiration.

The full playlist I listened to while writing I’m With You can be found here. Now, the playlist is quite long, so for this post, I thought I’d take just a few selections from the list and explain the impact they had on the writing process. No major spoilers, though. If you’d like to read I’m With You and see the results of the playlist for yourself, here is the link to buy from Amazon! It’s available in print and e-book formats, and is also available in print on the Barnes and Noble website.

Dead Hearts by Stars
This song was pivotal in the creation and evolution of Remiel as a character. Not only for the lyrics, but also for the general sound, which I found incredibly unique from the first time I heard it. To me, this song evokes sadness, but it also seems cold and detached, even when exploring something very visceral – which was fitting for Rem’s personality.

If There Was No You by Brandi Carlile
Valkyrie and Ramus were created as characters long before the plot of I’m With You was finalized. Their original roles were quite different (one of them was originally a hit-man, one had two-toned hair, etc) and they have undergone many changes in personality and background as the narrative evolved into the final version, but their relationship (both the good aspects and the problematic) remained largely unchanged throughout development. This song was a partial inspiration in that regard, as without the other, their characters would not be complete.

Light by Sleeping at Last
A major idea I tried to explore in the novel was the idea of “family,” though not always in a typical sense. To me, this song emulates the influence/impact a person can have on another, whether it be via familial connection, friendship, or some other meaningful relationship. Since the main characters forge bonds with one another over the course of the story, weaving themselves together into a makeshift family, and they each come to be important to one another in some way, the content of this song seemed very appropriate. Also, I like how it sounds.

People Help the People by Cherry Ghost/Birdy
I think people are more familiar with Birdy’s cover of this song, which is amazing, but I will always prefer the original. I love all of Cherry Ghost’s work, which is criminally underrated. Overall, this song’s tone and sound is what I derived the most inspiration from, but one line in particular is what stands out to me the most, and that is: “And if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it,” which reminded me of the sibling relationship between Ciarán and Remiel, and how they support one another.

Dead Man’s Suit by Cherry Ghost
This song sort of served a dual purpose – I consider it thematic for the novel, mostly for the unique sound it has, and also because my play count for this song was extraordinarily high when all was said and done. It’s one of those songs that really hit me when I first heard it, and I never skip it when it comes on shuffle. It is also a partial influence for the character of Ernest Morrigan, Rem and Ciarán’s father, due to some particular lines of lyrics.

Six Weeks by Of Monsters and Men
Along with Your Bones, King and Lionheart, and Silhouettes, this song was pivotal during the writing of chapters 17-19, largely for their sound and lyrical content. Six Weeks, in particular, influenced the development of Cinderflynn as a character, and it, along with some of the other Of Monsters and Men songs on this list (from their first album – the second wasn’t out at the time of the first draft) were on repeat as I wrote those portions of the story, and were a definite factor in the development of the narrative and the overall tone. Of Monsters and Men have a very distinct “mountain sound” to their work that I sought to emulate while writing those chapters, and their songs provided a lot of inspiration.

The Story by Brandi Carlile
In addition to being one of my favorite songs of all time (OF ALL TIME, I TELL YOU), this song was also one I listened to for the general feel of the story/themes. If I hit a snag with writer’s block, this song helped drag me out of it. This song was my rock. I think if the main cast had a theme song to tie them together (you know… like the Power Rangers… or the Planeteers… or the Transformers, maybe) then this would be my choice, because the main characters are bound by their own stories, as well as “the story” that brings them together.

Coming Home (pt. 2) by Skylar Grey 
I listened to this song (the version sans the rap part) while I wrote the closing chapters of the novel, as it definitely struck me as an “ending theme.” It symbolizes the end of a journey; a determination to see something through to the end, until it is time to return “home.” The final stretch of a laborious journey. Etc, etc.

My Silver LiningFirst Aid Kit
This song wasn’t released until I’m With You was in the editing phase, but it still provided a boost of motivation as I worked through rewrites and tweaks to the manuscript. Because if there is anything the main (and supporting) characters needed during their ventures, it was a “silver lining” to their respective circumstances. Also, it’s a total jam, man.

DemonsImagine Dragons
I liked this song for the overall tone and theme, but also as a partial influence for Kaz’s personality and his mentality. Several characters grapple with their own demons over the course of the narrative, so the song is fitting for the plot, but I listened to this particular tune during chapters 23-24, as I tried to convey that, though someone may be plagued by demons, it is not impossible to overcome them.

Believe by Mumford and Sons
This song didn’t come out until after I found out my manuscript was going to be published, but I added it to my playlist during the editing process. To me, the song explores what happens when belief falters and doubt sets in – but also about overcoming those difficulties, or striving to restore dedication in a cause. And that is the main plight that Ciarán faces in the story; his world gets flipped upside down, and he no longer knows what to believe. Through the course of the novel, he must learn to cope with new circumstances; to find belief again, after his perspective gets utterly rearranged.

Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

Writing Rewind #2: Wings of Fate – Chapter 1 Part 1

Because the chapters of this monstrosity are so long (the first was 10,000+ words and it’s one of the “shorter” ones if you can believe it) I’m splitting them each into at least 2 parts. Some may even be 3, depending on the content. Since I’m only including snippets instead of the full draft, which means large cuts in plot and context, I will attempt to assemble some semblance of a story from the passages I select. Don’t want y’all to miss out on the extremely well thought out and plausible plot I devised ten years ago!

Last time we dissected the problematic prologue, which introduced a mysterious “mission.” This time, we meet our hero, and my very first original protagonist (of some kind of substance) – Heiwa! So let’s get started with Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter.

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

ch1p1

*sigh* Here we go again… bogged down with excess description and detail.

If it wasn’t cringe-worthy enough in itself, I envisioned this piece as an “anime/manga,” hence the random Japanese phrases strewn about. But that’s the least of the issues, here, so I’m not going to bother pointing them all out. Rest assured, I am mortified by them.

Every sentence just keeps going, and going, and going, when it has already conveyed the message and does not need any further explanation.

Also, way, way too many adverbs. I’m actually not as anti-adverb as some folks tend to be (within reason), but I do think they should be used sparingly. A decade ago, I was a huge advocate of adverbs; but I didn’t really know better. Still… I look forward to hacking through them. Might get my word count under 200,000 with that alone!

So, an initial scan yields this:

ch1p1marks

Time to get rid of that awkward phrasing and those pesky adverbs! Not to mention the overly-descriptive passage about Grandma. Her character becomes clear later through dialogue and her interactions with others, and doesn’t need to be so overt from the get-go. We don’t need a full description in her first appearance. Or ever, really.

ch1p1fixed

Despite losing some description, Ritsuko’s character and personality still seems to come through, as does her relationship with Heiwa. And it could be done in far less words! Imagine that!

*cracks knuckles* The next bit is going to be… well… a challenge. But it does show just how bloated this entire story is, as there are passages like this throughout the piece.

ch1p2

SWEET JESUS. Where to START? I almost wish I could highlight all of it in red.

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While some degree of description is necessary for setting and for characterization, as blindly leading a reader into a story probably isn’t wise, I think I laid it on a little too thick. And by “a little,” I mean way too thick. There does need to be set-up of some kind, especially since the story is futuristic, but an exposition dump is almost always a bad way to approach it.

These revelations should be more gradual, especially when it comes to the protag; we’re going to be spending 22 chapters with this guy, so not everything needs to be spelled out right at the beginning. Especially not in such a callous way, either – the listing of his flaws comes off as trying too hard to show what a “screw up” Heiwa is, or to downplay him on purpose; like making a girl protagonist “clumsy” just to give her a flaw. In retrospect, the message doesn’t need to be quite so heavy-handed, as his personality unfolds throughout the introductory chapters and doesn’t need to be foisted upon the reader right at the start.

ch1p2fixed

The word count for the selection was more or less halved, and nothing was really lost. Everything that needed to be said is still there in a more concise manner. Heck, it could probably be trimmed even more! HECK, I PROBABLY COULD HAVE LEFT IT ALL OUT. But, I digress… onto the next snippet!

ch1p3

I thought the last section was bad, but now, I… am beginning to regret doing this. I’m not sure I can take it. I might just shrivel up and die of embarrassment.

ch1p3marked

FIRST OF ALL, THAT CRINGE-TASTIC RED HIGHLIGHTED SENTENCE HAS GOT TO GO. That is so, so, so bad. “Green orbs.” I am horrified. LAY OFF THE EYE DESCRIPTIONS, ALLIE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Sadly, as I have seen the rest of this work (being the one who wrote it, and all) I know it will only get worse from here on out. Much worse.

Also, lots of awkward wording and phrasing that needs to be refined.

ch1p3fixed

Whew, the cringe is gone! Well… most of it, anyway.

The last portion for the first part of the chapter (because I don’t think I have the energy to any more of it today… I need a break to ponder my life choices) features another character; Heiwa’s mother, Izumi.

ch1p4

*gets out the scissors* TIME TO START CUTTING!!!!!!

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Izumi doesn’t need to spell out her entire life story and the progression of her illness all in one chunk of dialogue. Especially since it has already been discussed previously, and it is partially explored in the paragraph that follows it. It’s just too much, and can be narrowed into something that is more efficient.

ch1p4fixed.PNG

AH, much better! So much is gone, but not much is lost. Izumi’s personality and her situation peek through without bombarding the reader with info. Subtlety is a virtue… one I did not understand a decade ago.

That’s it for today – I’ve done enough damage! Next time, we’ll tackle the second half of Chapter 1… which is, unfortunately, similar to the first. We’ll discover what “the letter” means and how it will affect our hero, Heiwa. Hopefully, I can whip the latter half of the chapter into shape without splintering my sanity.

Writing Rewind #1: Wings of Fate – Prologue

I’ve mentioned my history with fanfiction in a previous blog post, and I’ve probably touched on some other early writing ventures, but perhaps the most significant of those endeavors is the 539 page, 285,000+ word anime-inspired sci-fi epic, Wings of Fate, which I wrote when I was a 14-15 year old “weeaboo” with lofty dreams of drafting a masterpiece. Sadly, the end result was a nightmare.

I look back on it sometimes when I need a chuckle at my own expense, because it’s bad. Unfortunately, these strolls down memory lane typically result in more cringing than anything else, but for the last decade or so, the file has been sitting mostly untouched on a flash-drive.

Therefore, I thought I could use it for an experiment, of sorts – I’ll cut out snippets, chapter by chapter, post them here, then examine mistakes I made and how I could have improved it. I’m not a “pro”  but I don’t intend to do anything with this work (no serious editing and I do not want/intend to attempt to have it published in the future) so I might as well use it as an exercise. Sure, digging up past examples of my terrible writing might not be the best idea for my ego and could even induce some level of trauma, but who knows? It might be therapeutic!

I won’t be posting all of it, so some context will be missing, but I’ll do my best to bridge the gaps. I mean, the whole thing was over 500 pages on WordPerfect, single-spaced except for paragraph breaks. I typed it on my now-ancient Dell PC, and it’s a tedious read that can probably be classified as torture. The end result of this little exercise won’t be perfection, but it will certainly be an adventure!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

So here we go… with Prologue: The Mission! (DUN DUN DUN!!!)

 

P1

I have mentioned my previous tendency to over-explain and add superfluous detail; an issue that still creeps up on me to this day. I was tempted to strikethrough the entire thing…and it’s only the first paragraphs. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

So, after a scan, this is what I came up with:

P1FIX

First of all, I described the general’s eyes as “icy azure,” and then “frigid.” I guess I REALLY wanted to make sure everyone knew how cold he’s meant to be. Forewarning, this will be a recurring theme with the personality/physical traits of various characters. This whole section is bogged down with needless detail and a lot of “tell” instead of “show.” It’s just TOO MUCH.

And so, after a quick edit, this is the fixed version:

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Streamlined and much shorter – it attempts to set the scene without delving into too much unnecessary detail and description.

Let’s move on to…

p2

Again… this is just… no. Just no. My initial reactions resulted in this:

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I mean… clearly, I didn’t do much research prior to writing this, but for a story that features a confidential, military-related mission, the way I framed it is RIDICULOUS. Plus, it would never happen. Not that I was aiming for “believable,” but even the parts that could have been at least a tiny bit plausible were just… a mess.

ALSO WHY WOULD I EVER DESCRIBE SOMETHING AS “GOOD-SIZED?”” I mean really. USE YOUR WORDS, ALLIE!!!!

Here’s how I fixed it:

p2fixed

I can feel the 533 pages being pared down already – like a sheep being shorn from the shackles of its oppressive fleece. How I wish I could travel back in time and give Past-Allie a thesaurus and a good smack in the face!

p3

Again… way too much all around. And, just in case it wasn’t clear, “The General” is a cold man. Frigid, even. I don’t think I used nearly enough adjectives to describe him.

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These were my initial edits, but I did rework some sentences a bit more as I slogged through through the changes. (I know “General” is meant to be under-cased, but since no names were used in the prologue, I capitalized it to make it more clear.)

p3fixes

Seeing a theme? Edits are much shorter, because, back when I was 14/15, I frequently fell into the all-too-common trap of incessant, grating detail. Gotta leave something for the reader to draw on their own instead of beating them over the head with it.

Lastly, to send off this disaster…

p4

*headdesk*

p4errors

Notice there is only ONE SENTENCE LEFT UNTOUCHED. ONE. OF SEVERAL. And really, the comma in that sentence is sketchy.

Also, the two red segments scream of using a thesaurus for certain words. Typically, there is nothing wrong with this as the thesaurus is a useful tool, but it sometimes makes a sentence or phrase sound unnatural. I mean, “Ebony tresses?” “Azure eyes met cerulean heavens?” Kill me. However, I can see where my tendency to refer too-often to a character’s eye color began.

Less is more. LESS IS MORE. I was quite obviously not aware of that back then…

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Sadly, this is only the prologue. The ensuing chapters (of which there are 22, I think – I will probably split each chapter into 2 posts) are all absurdly long (I had a notorious reputation for long chapters in my fanfiction days) and the story was crammed with so much detail and bloated dialogue and repetition that it might cause me to lose my sanity to revisit all of it. However, despite the pain, it does feel good to go back and trim down the superfluous bits, and be able to pinpoint and mend the errors I made in my writing a decade ago. This is equal parts soothing and enraging… though the scales may tip more in favor of “enraging” as this blog series continues.

Next time, I’ll venture onto Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter. We’ll meet our reluctant hero and get a taste of what his life is like… it’s probably going to contain frequent references to his eye/hair color, so brace yourselves now.

 

*Also, thanks to anyone who bought the Kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You, during the Countdown Deal this weekend! If you missed out, it’s still just $4.99 to purchase at Amazon, but I’ll be running more deals in the future!

Countdown Deal still LIVE!

Just a little over five hours left for the first increment of the Countdown Deal for the kindle version of my indie YA novel, I’m With You! Currently $1.99!

Here is the link to Amazon: LINK!

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Follow fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who, with enlisted help from a band of misfits, strive to escape their unstable father and the ghosts of their past.

Writing Techniques: Setting

I bet y’all looked at the title of this post and thought that this would be about creating settings for a story, right? GUESS AGAIN! I actually want to talk about “setting” in the context of the writing process. Like, the setting where the actual writing takes place… the “work space,” if you will. Where the so-called “magic” happens.

I’ll admit, I’ve not always been the best at selecting a place to write. Sometimes I’ll get set up on the couch and, within twenty minutes, I’ll end up resting on my elbows with my knees/feet tucked under my body (in a “snail” position, sort of), typing with the screen about five inches from my face, which is probably not the most effective sitting position for both productivity and posture, and it might also be a contributing factor to my declining eyesight. I became somewhat notorious for my unusual “study poses” while in college, as I used to splay out on couches or chairs to do my work, but I can’t say that it helped the study/work process much. I also don’t work very well in public places… I’ve gone to Panera Bread and Starbucks a handful of times with the intention of writing or getting work done, but I usually wind up puttering around on the internet and don’t accomplish anything of note. From this, I’ve drawn the conclusion that I can write anywhere, but I’m only at my best under specific conditions.

When I was writing I’m With You, I lived in a different house. I did some writing in my “office” area (also known as the spare bedroom with a desk in it), some in my bedroom, but most of the time, I wrote in a little kitchen “nook,” where my ancient PC was located. The nook was basically a table in the corner of my kitchen, right next to a window (so I could also make sure the neighbor kids weren’t terrorizing my yard.) That work station was about ten or so feet away from the fridge, so I could spend entire afternoons in there and only had to get up to use the restroom. I also lived alone for a significant portion of my time in that house, so I didn’t have to worry about bugging anyone else with my choice of work space or bizarre sitting positions. It was the ideal setting for writing productivity, and about 90% of I’m With You‘s first draft was completed there.

However, it is all thanks to my kitchen nook that I realized the importance of a proper work setting and atmosphere, because ever since I left that house I haven’t quite been able to recapture that level of efficiency. Sometimes, at night (or in the morning) I’ll write while I’m in bed, but it’s definitely not good for my posture, and I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve fallen asleep mid-edit without meaning to. Unintentional naps are the true nemesis of my writing output and my spine.

desk.PNGNowadays, I’ve got a desk in the corner of my bedroom and a yoga ball chair. The enclosed picture is old (if the “Star Trek premiere” note on the calendar is any indication – although it’s referring to Star Trek Beyond, not the 2009 film), but my current setup is basically the same, with a bit more clutter on the desk. I’ve since gotten a rad BB8 light-up statue, for one. Also, that little fan is a great asset for summer days, because my room is like Antarctica in the winter and the tropics in the summer, with no in between.

Overall, it’s not a bad set up – but it does make me miss my kitchen nook. I have whittled away at various writing projects sitting at that desk, including the latter drafts of I’m With You. Some days I set up in the kitchen or the living room instead, for a change of scenery. If the weather is nice, I’ll even go on the enclosed patio and actually endure sunlight, but my desk is my primary work station. I genuinely wish that I could be one of those writers who can stroll into a Starbucks and pump out two chapters in the time it takes to finish a latte, or plop down in any sort of chair or table/desk and create quality content no matter the location. Maybe I’m just picky, or there are other factors at work here, but I have definitely noticed a correlation between setting and productivity when it comes to my writing. I can write anywhere, but if I want to work to the best of my ability, I need a solid “space” to get work done, and designating a specific area, like a nook or a desk, works best for me, because it makes it seem more “official.”

I’m also very curious to know what sort of “setting” works for other writers, as I’m sure different folks require a different set of circumstances to be at their best and most efficient. What kind of desk works for you? Is there a certain chair you have to use? Can you work in only one room, or can you spread out all over your house and work from any space? Is absolute silence necessary, or do you need some type of music or background noise? Do you have to preemptively make sure your obnoxious cat has been adequately fed so she doesn’t whine and beg for food while you’re in the middle of an inspiration burst? Lots of sunlight or little? Total isolation or a few folks around to bounce ideas off?

For some, “setting” in terms of a story is as important as “setting” in a literal sense… therefore, the “setting” in which you write the “setting” can be a vital decision. Perhaps it’s trivial in a way, and it might not even matter to some, but if it improves productivity (and posture, in some cases) then selecting the right place to work can have some worthwhile benefits.

Worth 1000 Words #7: Studying

Allow me to spin a cautionary tale about the importance of studying, and the evils of procrastination and putting off work.

Throughout my academic career, from kindergarten to college, I was a decent student – in the sense that I got good grades and I generally behaved myself. On report cards, I never got below a B; of the few B’s I earned, they were always in my poorest subjects, a.k.a, math or science. Or political science. Government class killed me, man.

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My studying pose, known as “the cricket.”

But while I earned good grades, I was absolutely horrendous at studying and managing deadlines, and, thanks to those poor habits, I can attribute it to luck that I was able to pull off the academic performances I did. It wasn’t until my final year of college that I actually developed a normal/healthy routine with homework and school projects, but prior to that point, it wasn’t uncommon for me to put off an assignment until the day/night before and end up spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and intense regret as I brewed my fifth cup of coffee at 3:21 in the morning on a Tuesday before an 8AM class. I pulled about 5 or so all-nighters in high school, which isn’t all that bad, and I definitely did less in college; but during each of them, there always came a point where I would run a hand through my snarled hair and say, “I am never doing this again,” and yet, I’d end up inevitably doing it again regardless. I think the worst one was 10th grade – I spent a whole night doing the majority of a project that I’d had at least a month to do, drank 2 Full Throttle energy drinks to stay awake, and put “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from the Mulan soundtrack on repeat for 4 straight hours as motivation. The experience did not make a man out of me. Even way back  in elementary school, I used to wait until the morning my reading logs were due to have my mom sign them, and ended up forgetting to do so on numerous occasions. It takes like, five seconds to have someone sign something, and I was too lazy at 8/10 years old to even do that.

Studying was the largest hurdle in my academic life… mostly because I was a prolific procrastinator, but also because I found it difficult to focus, as I have the attention span of an acorn and I am way too easily distracted. But I won’t deny that I could have applied myself much better, and worked harder to focus – it’s not like I was sucked into a Youtube vortex of fainting goat videos against my will, I chose to put off my work and bore the consequences because of that decision, and allowed myself to fall into that mindset multiple times. During my last year of college, I turned a page. I made sure my homework was done (or almost done) by dinner time, went to bed at 10 PM every night, woke up at 6AM to go jogging 5 days a week, always left to go to class with enough time to grab my usual latte at the campus center (the lady at the counter only had to see me coming and she’d start preparing it for me), I spent my weekends doing homework in my little kitchen nook, and, with what free time I had remaining, I either hung out with friends or worked on writing for personal reasons. I’d cut back my work schedule that year, and during my final semester I dropped my second job in order to focus on schoolwork. This was a massive help because I felt like I had more free time to do fun stuff, which sliced my procrastination level down. It’s a shame that it took me sixteen or so years to get into the appropriate mindset regarding school, because I could have saved myself a lot of suffering, and my caffeine dependence probably wouldn’t be quite as bad as it is now. I am down to 2-3 cups a day as opposed to the 6-7 I used to consume, so that’s progress, at least!

Once I began to apply myself, and worked out a schedule that afforded me a more or less well-balanced life between school/work obligations and personal matters, I noticed an improvement in my academic performance and a noticeable decrease in my typically-astronomical stress levels. I finished my assignments early. I wasn’t scrambling to finish homework the morning it was due. I actually wrote multiple drafts instead of just turning in my first endeavor at everything, and, as a result of all the changes I made, I even improved my diet and sleep schedule, which led to an overall boost in my mood. I wasn’t late to appointments. And it all felt so rewarding, to finally feel like I wasn’t drowning in papers and books in a vicious cycle of my own making.

Looking back, I actually cringe thinking about how I might have improved on some of my work and my assignments had I changed my habits earlier. Those ‘A’s could have become ‘A+’s. Those ‘B’s and ‘B-‘s might not have even happened, and my student ranking might have been higher in high school, which would have awarded me better scholarships. Luck was certainly on my side throughout my academic life, as I still managed to graduate college with honors… but, other than those final months where I turned it around, that success was at the cost of my health, both mental and physical, because it took me so long to reform my studying methods. Just because you are someone who can pull off decent/adequate, or even stellar work, at the last minute, doesn’t mean that you should. And as someone who used to ascribe to that way of thinking, and assumed I could put in just enough effort without really pushing myself to be even better, I definitely recommend that you do not.