Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Interesting Things I've Learned

This is a post I meant to write a long time ago, right when first semester classes let out. Now I'm back at Taylor and very excited about it. Before I start my first full week of class (I had class today, but hey, it's a Tuesday) I want to put up a list of the most interesting things I learned last semester, in class and out. Perhaps you already knew these random facts, or maybe they don't seem so remarkable. In any case, they stuck out to me. In no particular order:

  • Drinking milk or eating dairy products before singing doesn't actually do anything to your voice. This should have been obvious to me because the windpipe and esophagus are two different things. I've been told the milk makes mucus, but I've never really observed that milk has any effect on my singing voice, and one of the music professors told me this. I'm going to believe her so I can have my milk and sing, too.
  • Having lots of time does not necessarily facilitate getting lots of things done. This is a widely-observed phenomenon among people who do NaNoWriMo.
  • Contrariwise, having very little time makes you an extremely productive person. (It works for me, anyway. I need to keep busy if I'm actually going to finish revising my novel!)
  • The Golden rectangle is everywhere, and it’s really fun to hunt for it. (Thank you, math class!)
  • Fibonacci in general – awesome. If you know nothing about Fibonacci numbers, I hope you cover it in class at some point or do some research on your own. Start with Vi Hart's videos, if you like.
  • How to use power saws. This I learned from theatre set building, and I think it will be very useful later in life. Perhaps it would be more useful to be able to handle a drill properly, but I'm still really bad at that.
  • Satan and Lucifer weren't originally proper nouns.They're Hebrew words to which we've attached specific people, in this case the same specific person.
  • How to use databases. This is an important research skill I'm still surprised I didn't learn in high school. Thank goodness for friendly librarians.
  • How to use Photoshop. Part of me thinks this is kind of cheating to put it on this list, but as a person who likes art, I think this is also really useful.
  • "Internet" is a proper noun and should be capitalized. For some reason, this really took me by surprise. Again, perhaps this should have been obvious, but I find it interesting that in our very Internet-oriented society, spelling and punctuation are dropped for lots of day-to-day communication to the point of ignoring the medium we're using. Or maybe it's more that the Internet is such a part of our lives that we take it for granted.
I want a better list next semester, so I need to kick learning into high gear. Perhaps I should start by sleeping for my first ever 8:00 a.m. college class tomorrow.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thoughts on Moving

For many and varied reasons, my family has moved a lot. I remember living in eight different houses, and there were a couple more when I was little. Most of it was for financial reasons, including this upcoming move, but now there is another, more hopeful reason.

We love this house.

Well, actually, we've spent the last couple weeks ripping out old nasty carpet and old nasty plaster and drywall and flooring so we don't have to do it once we move in. It's a big old farmhouse, the kind that is white and square with a porch. We still need to finish the bathroom -- drywall, pipes, tile, the works -- before we can get in. And we want to be in at the end of this week, which is when I go back to Taylor. As in many things this year, I feel unprepared. Unlike some other changes, though, I'm not panicked. Before we're fully moved in, I'll be two states away again, but this new house holds something for me: the promise of a home.

Because we've moved so much, I've adjusted to living in different houses pretty quickly. But home has some different, more comforting connotations. Any house can become home, but I've loved some homes more than others. I lived in Wyoming for two years, and it never really felt like home. However, Taylor University felt like home very quickly. Wyoming for me was not a peaceful environment. Going to college wasn't exactly peaceful, but I settled in right away because there are so many great people and things I love there.

Especially for my mom and me, this house is full of things we love and has potential for even more. It has a two-story screened-in porch -- we just have to replace a lot of windows. It has room for pasture -- we just have to put up the fence. There are all sorts of trees for a rope swing -- we just have to tie it up. It has sturdy old wooden floors -- we just have to refinish them. And I'm already planning what flowers I'm going to plant this summer.

For some of the reasons I gave earlier, I also feel like I've never really had a home church. Maybe houses would have felt more like home if we had one. Maybe one reason Taylor feels like home is that I like my church out there. Our current Iowa church is a good one, but no one from my high school went there, so I didn't make any close friends. But this past weekend, I was overwhelmed by the dedication of this church. About twenty people came to help tear down plaster, clean, and get junk out of the house. For their care for us, I am very grateful. They helped encourage my family. They helped make my home.

I'm eager to go back to Taylor, but I'm also eager to get back home in the summer so I can help my family fix up our dreamhouse. I finally feel like it's the place we're supposed to be. I finally feel like God's bringing us to a permanent home.

And how lovely is it to think that this home is the predecessor of a better one in Heaven?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Being Home

Since January started, I've been home alone for most of the day. I thought this was a perfect time to get things done. Perhaps it is, but I'm having a hard time making it so. I've met my deadlines for working on my story (barely), but I've had a hard time moving forward. I've got the basic structure figured out, and I've written my prologue. And other than that...

Winter has arrived in Iowa, and the cold has slowed me down. I have a paper route, and it's harder to get up to deliver papers in the morning knowing how cold it's going to be. Also, my family is moving soon, to a nearby farmhouse which needs a lot of work. We've started on that, and at times it feels great and at times it's very stressful, like moving in general. That may be part of the reason I'm feeling so unfocused. We're working on the house -- pulling down plaster, cleaning, and yanking up hundreds of staples from wooden floors -- and that feels like it should be a priority.

I think the other reason is that I don't have to discipline myself at all, like at school. At school I have a schedule from which I can't deviate, and it makes me get up on time and be in certain places because other people are counting on me. I can get things done simply because I want to get them done, but it's difficult unless it's something I'm really excited about. Now, lying at home, waiting for family members to get home so we can work on the house, it's hard to get excited about anything.

I think I'll be able to start being productive again at school. I'll be busy, so the time I'll have to work on my story will be the only time I have, so I will work on it. But now, I have lots of time. I'm pulled to do many things -- work on various crafting projects. Draw. Naaaap. Bake. All of these are things I enjoy. But I can't settle to any of them. Or, I could, but I'm not so decided as to know I should be working on any one thing.

I'm not terribly comfortable being so lazy. Maybe I should go bake stuff. That might make me feel better.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Outlining... sort of

After resolving to outline my story, I decided it was time to do some research and reviewing.

I turned to one of my favorite writing resources -- Writing Excuses. It's a fifteen-minute (or eighteen-minute... or twenty-minute) podcast by writers Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler, the guy behind my favorite webcomic, Schlock Mercenary. Each 'cast focuses on some aspect of story writing. I picked out some helpful episodes and got to listening. I also perused Dan Well's blog, because I remembered there had once been something on there about plot structure.

That led me to a really cool series of videos from a presentation he did on the structuring system he uses. So far, this has been my most helpful tool. Now I have beginnings and endings and midpoints and plot turns for the major character's arcs and the biggest plotline of the story. So, basically, an outline.

The reason I dislike outlines is from some unsubstantiated-but-still-strong belief that as a creative person, I don't need an outline. Obviously my thoughts and ideas are much too free and can't be constrained by such a rigid system.

This is stupid because I've never really used an outline before.

And I still don't think I can do a precise outline like other writers do -- chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene organization. Once I get to the point where I can picture it like that, I don't think I'll need an outline anymore. But right now I have a framework on which I hope I can start building my story.

But that's not the same thing as starting.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing as Work

I consider myself to be a very hard worker. If I've committed to do something, I will do it, and I will go above and beyond the generally accepted minimum. This is how I get things done at school. I'm working on someone else's time, doing things they expect me to get done. How can I possibly fail them?

But things are a little different if I'm working on my own time. I finished NaNoWriMo, but it wasn't a walk in the park. It was something I wanted to do, but it's easy to put wants aside for needs. Sometimes once all the needs are finished, it's hard to balance the wants.

For me, this is what makes writing hard. I have no limit to willpower if I need to get something done. But when working on my story, there is no one else telling me to finish it -- just me. And at this stage of revision, I'm unsure enough that I don't know when to give myself deadlines, let alone how to make myself meet them.

Another difficult thing is that writing takes time. Sometimes, you need to give it a rest instead of working a piece to death. Sometimes you need to get away from it so you can come back to the story with a fresh mind. And if you leave the story for a few days, it's easy to let those days be a week. Or weeks. Or more.

For fear of this happening again, as it did to my previous NaNovels, I'm proceeding blindly into the revision process. I'm great at revising papers. I can revise short stories. I can analyze someone else's story and clearly point out the good and bad points. Right now I can't do that with my writing, because basically my story's not written yet.

Sure, I have a NaNoWriMo draft. But in the past few years, NaNoWriMo has been a way for me to spew the ideas in my head onto a document. I find basic ways to make them fit together. I touch up a character portrait. And I finish -- something. But not the thing it has potential to be. Taking a rough draft and making it into something great is not yet my area of expertise, but if I'm going to be a real writer, I have to make that weakness one of my strengths. To do this, I think it's time to turn to a tool I've previously hated an feared: the outline. Perhaps if I had one of those going in, I wouldn't have so many problems now.

I love the ideas in my story. I've got a government that's outlawed all technology, a secret underground organization, an immortal beast who was once human, and a nine-year-old-boy trying to find out the truth about his family. The big pieces fit together, but as I'm refining it, I'm having trouble making my character's motivations align with the action I need.

I'm home in Iowa for the rest of January. My parents and siblings are at work and school, so for the majority of the day I'm by myself. I'm going to make this into writing time. I can't let what I have go to waste. For the next day or two, I'm going to be brainstorming and taking notes on how to put together my broken pieces. Then it's time to tame the beast. The deadline I have for my finished outline is January 11th. I have no idea if this is reasonable or not, but it's definitely more reasonable than me spending the entire month of January sleeping in and playing Wii.

Resolving is making me feel better, though it hasn't changed the fact that I don't necessarily know what I'm doing. Feel free to offer advice. It looks like I'm going to need it.