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Writing Prompt: Self Portraits

On writing self portraits to create dynamic characters.

I was really excited because I thought the nerdy guy who lives above me had a girl over for the first time since I moved in a year ago. It turned out that he was just watching anime louder than usual.

Anyway, I’m one of those people who is drawn to water. Lakes, ponds, oceans, and rivers are all endlessly enticing to me. I see my ideal home having a window seat in a library which overlooks the bay of an ocean or even the precipice of a cliff that leads down to water while rain constantly splatters against the side of the house. The latter version I envision as something from the Jim Carrey A Series of Unfortunate Events movie. I could be happy in that kind of darkness as long as there was water.

I genuinely believed that everyone felt this way about water until I met the guy I was recently seeing. He is terrified of water and thunderstorms unnerve him so much that he has to drive or go somewhere with loud music so he can’t hear it. I love thunderstorms. I should have known it wouldn’t work out with him.

Anyway, there’s a pond near my place which is one of my favourite places in the city; I fondly refer to it as MY pond. Yes, I’m like a toddler in the “mine” phase. The only thing I see as having as much of a right to my pond is a family of geese that hiss at me from time to time. I’ve been watching the growth of their two formerly fuzzy babies for months; I can hardly tell the difference between the adults and the goslings anymore.

geese

My love of water brings me to my pond every day, sometimes more than once.

pond

I was at my pond today laying in the grass when I had an interesting idea.

My high school English teacher once cautioned against looking for literary tropes in your own life. The tone in which he said it was foreboding and ominous, emphasized by his following silence. This been a reoccurring theme in my life from the professor of my first university class, Intro to Fiction, saying, “Fiction is history” to Doctor Who: “We’re all stories in the end.” If that is the case, if life is really just a story, then it can be analyzed like a novel can. Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero of a Thousand faces, looks at how cultures throughout time who never interacted with one another created myths and stories that (aside from smaller details, like names) were exactly the same. This means that there are really only a very small number of stories. Every story is simply a retelling or variation of these already existing stories. Thus, if there are only a number of stories, once which type of story being told is discerned, the end can be predicted. If life is just a story, then life can be predicted. As someone who always sees herself in tragic characters, I understand why my English teacher cautioned against looking at life this way. It is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down.

I was thinking of this at my pond when I began to wonder how someone would describe me as a character if I was in a novel, and I don’t just mean appearance-wise. We know as writers that a good character comes to life when they have quirks and ticks that make them people. How would someone turn me into a well-rounded character?

Then it occurred to me that artists paint or draw self portraits all of the time. What if wrote myself as a character as a kind of self portrait? What would look the self portrait of a writer rather than an artist look like?

This lead me to a problem: I know too much about myself, and if I didn’t find a way to dictate what  information to include and what to omit, I would end up writing an autobiography instead of a character description.

Genre was the answer to this.

How I describe my character will depend if the genre is realism, horror, tragedy, romantic comedy etc. For example, I likely wouldn’t want to describe my obsession with snapchat filters if I’m in a high fantasy setting similar to Lord of the Rings.

Screenshot_20170702-185515.png

What role the character plays in the story (protagonist, antagonist, anti-hero, supporting character, comedy relief etc.) will also impact the character description too. Me described as comedy relief wouldn’t be an epic saga of everything bad that’s ever happened to me. Instead it would likely include my penchant for going on dates with crazy people and falling down stairs.

Writing to a genre and accounting for character type will provide completely different character descriptions even though it’s all coming from just one person–little ol’ me. It’s like there’s a whole rolodex of characters waiting to be plucked out of, well, me. How cool!

Not only is this a really neat opportunity for self reflection–I think I want to create a whole book of them–but it will also provide inspiration for characters that I can use when writing for publication.

I’m going to post some of my self portraits on here, provided the information shared isn’t too scandalous for the internet. I will also make sure to dictate what genre and character type my character is so you can see the difference.

I’m too excited about this idea.

 

Student Teaching Round Two

I’m feeling better.

I turn into a completely different person when the weather changes. As soon as it becomes sunny out I’m like…I’m trying to think of a good simile. I’m like Mary Poppins? No. I’m like Joy from Inside Out? No, I’m not that manic. Am I the only one who would punch her if I got trapped in the same room with her?

Anyway, I’m happier and I love sunshine.

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows…

I’m over half way done my second practicum now. I have two and a half weeks until I’m done. This practicum has been three million times better than my last one. 

I’ve been placed in a high school this time, not an elementary school, and I love it. My supervising teacher is the bees knees, the school is awesome, and I’m actually making meaningful connections with the kids. I was sick this week, and I actually missed being there. Crazy, right?

The classes that I have are tough because the kids in them are just not interested in English. Which is maybe good because if I went into this and got super academic classes that love reading, I might go into the profession expecting every class to be like that. The critique I keep getting is that I really know the content and that the lessons I have planned are fantastic, but I lack the ability to engage the kids. This is no surprise as my passion is literature, not teaching. But I’m trying to get better, and that’s why these classes who don’t dig literature are actually a blessing in disguise. If I can engage these classes, an academic class would be a breeze.

I finally feel like a teacher for the first time since starting this program.

It’s about damn time.

Free Write– “Typical”

The result of a free write exercise. There are bad words, sexual references, and drugs in this post. Sounds like a good time, right?

It needs, he thought, it needs…to be held. Gently in soft lubricated hands with long fingers tipped by carefully manicured nails. It needs to be pleasured, made love to. Fucked. Hard. It needs…it needs cocaine. That was it. You can’t go wrong with cocaine. Well, maybe you could. But what did he care? His heart hurt, after all. It needed to be held, or it needed cocaine, and the former wasn’t going to happen. Not since she’d gone.

He thought of the energy infused in his muscles after snorting a line, mouth chattering almost faster than the words spouting out his throat, eyelids peeled back, taking everything in faster than possible, his energy lashing out in all directions, feeling larger than his body. And his heart. Oh, his heart would race with joy. It would thunder and leap in his chest. It would palpitate with life, with the rush. Energy. Rage. Love. He needed cocaine.

Getting up from the disheveled bed, he rubbed his hands across his unkempt beard, brushing out the stale granules of last night’s pizza from his face. He stumbled over to the coffee table, sticky with pop spilled a month ago. A month. A whole month gone by without her, his heart cold and untouched.

He’d devoured a large pepperoni pizza and two pounds of salt and pepper wings the previous night in an attempt to feed his heart, thinking that maybe after all this time that it might just be hungry, and that it was just crying for food to comfort it. But his heart didn’t want pizza and wings. The food hadn’t made it happy. Instead, it had only made his skin oily and his stomach protrude with an unsightly food baby beneath the black fuzz of his body hair. His bed sheets were filled with crumbs and his heart was indifferent, empty and untouched.

He had touched other things in attempt to heal the shuttering gasping thing in his chest. In fact, his genitals were well loved—not by anyone else, but at least they responded to his efforts, like his stomach did to food. They allowed themselves to be indulged unlike his sad heavy heart.

But somewhere in the city, there was cocaine.

The thought spread in him like warm honey oozing down an aching throat. He didn’t have any coke in the house, hadn’t for years. He didn’t even remember his dealer’s name, let alone his contact information. Why was life so hard?

With a sigh that wreaked his whole body, the man fumbled with a slip of cigarette rolling paper and dumped in some green from the absurd amount in the jar on the sticky table. He ran his tongue along the paper, the moisture picking up little flecks of weed, green on pink. Bitter. Like everything in his world.

He pinched the paper together, lit the end and took in a breath matching the ferocity of his sighs. The cloud of grey smoke rushed into his lungs. It filled his whole chest, but it didn’t reach his heart. Typical.

Transcribing

On optimism and working for nothing as a transcriber.

I’ve always wanted a work from home job because A. I could work in my jam jams all day and B. I don’t really like people all that much, and the less I have to interact with them, the better (said the future teacher *Sobs*). It would also be awesome to be able to pick up my life, and wander off somewhere and be able to take my work with me.

However, most of the work from home opportunities I’ve come across have seemed too scammy for my liking. In fact, my research showed that the best stay at home job is running a successful blog, but I’m just not there with this blog. In fact, I may never be because the principles of Search Engine Operations are like Klingon to me.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while are aware of my struggles with finding relevant work after graduating with an English degree, and well, any work at all. I couldn’t even get a job in retail after 10 years of experience. The economy is really horrible up here in Alberta. So I’m back in school to be an English teacher instead, and right now, I’m on Christmas break.

Yesterday, I finally got a “job” (I’ll explain why I put the word in quotations later) doing something that’s relevant to my skills and I can do it from home. I bet you’ve guessed what it is from the title of this post. That’s right blogosphere, I got a transcription job at Scribie!

Scribie is a transcription website that pays from $0.50-$0.90 per every six minutes transcribed (all audio files are all broken down to six minute increments). You choose the files you want to transcribe and when you want to do it (as long as the file is completed within two hours of you selecting it). When you submit your transcription, it is then reviewed and assigned a grade out of five for accuracy. As someone who gets a high off of good grades, I really like this system.

Considering that I have a week off before school starts again with no job, no car (RIP Kia), my boyfriend out of town, it being too cold to play Pokemon–yes, I’m that one person who’s still playing–this was an awesome time to get started.

I did my research before applying and accepting a job with them too: it is not a scam! However, it’s biggest accusers call it a bit scam-like because of the low wages, and I thought, you know what? It’s still money and it’s something I’d like to get experience in.

Now that I’ve been doing it for a couple of days, I’m understanding that their complaints weren’t hyperbolic.

At first I thought that $0.50 per 6 minutes wasn’t too bad, but then I realized that it’s $0.50 per completed 6 minutes. To complete a transcription, I listen to every file twice to double check my work, so that’s 12 minutes of work, and I can type about 80 wpm, but that’s still not enough to not have to pause the recording to affirm what was said every now and then (I’m brand new at this!). So in total, it takes me about 20-30 minutes to complete $0.50 of work.

I’ve been doing it for two days, and I’ve only accumulated $3.60 USD. Yeah, ouch.

However, Scribie is completely honest about their low wages, and I was well informed going into this. On their page it says that for an average transcriber spending 8 hours each day, 6 days per week, could only earn about $200-$300 per month. 

But you know what? I think it shows integrity that they’re honest about it, and for someone like me with zero experience, it’s a really good place to learn the ins and outs of transcription. Plus I get to get paid for writing something. That’s important.

And no, I’m not writing this because Scribie paid me to or whatever. Like I said, I don’t really get that making money off of blogging thing. This is just my opinion, and it might change after another day.

But as it stands, I have a week off to learn a new skill in my own time when I choose, and make a bit of small change. I’m totally okay with that. I’m thinking I might put away all of the money I make from Scribie into some kind of small gift for myself.

For transcribing virgins like myself, I’d definitely recommend checking out Scribie and getting some experience and a little bit of cash if you have some extra time on your hands.

 

The Write Resources

Resources every fiction writer should be aware of.

There’s more to writing than just, well, writing.

There’s perfecting the craft, literary agents, query letters, style, literary magazines, submission guidelines etc. etc.

I’ve created a comprehensive list of the resources I’ve found to be invaluable as I’ve navigated my way through all of these things that go along with writing; hopefully it serves as your own resource too!



Books

On Writing by Stephen King – this is without a doubt the best book on writing in existence because it discusses the whole process, not just the act of writing itself. Don’t think you need to read a book on how to write? You do, and you will only believe me after you’ve read this book. You’re welcome.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – this one’s certainly not On Writing, but it’s worth checking out if you don’t have the time to plug through a whole memoir while learning about the craft.

The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr. – this is another small book, and honestly, it’s been sitting untouched on my shelf for about a year. *smacks self on the nose with a newspaper* However, pretty much every writer that writes about writing lists it as a go-to resource, and this list would have felt incomplete without mentioning it. If you have read it, feel free to let me know what I’m missing out on.

Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents 2016 – Through buying this book, I’ve recently discovered that the genre of my novel is New Adult–a thing I didn’t even know existed. However, the main purpose of the Guide (if you couldn’t tell from the title) is to help you find an agent when your novel is ready to be published. It has a bunch of informative articles about the process of finding an agent, and after this it lists hundreds of agents (only the ones that don’t charge reading fees) which are organized alphabetically. Each posting has information about how to contact the agent, their credentials, the genres they work with etc. In the back there’s an index which sorts the agents by the genres they work with, so you can find which ones will fit you best without having to flip through each post.


Facebook Pages and Websites for the craft–All of these are free!

Book Riot – If you’re a writer, you probably like to read. Book Riot is a good source for what’s going on in the publishing world, and to get an idea of what sort of books are selling right now. Plus, it’s interesting because, you know, books.

Writer’s Digest – Oh, Writer’s Digest, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Have questions about query letters? Writer’s Digest. Curious about new agents? Writer’s Digest. Writing prompts and writing conests? Writer’s Digest. Need advice for revision? Writer’s Digest. AND ALL OF IT IS FREE–I mean, they have an actual magazine and books which cost money, but everything online is FREEEEEE! Need I say more?

Typingweb.com – The faster you type, the faster your manuscript can be completed. Simple.

Grammarly – Funny articles and grammar lessons are posted regularly on their facebook page. I think there’s an actual Grammarly service you can use, but I’m cheap and prefer to enjoy the free stuff instead (in case you haven’t noticed).

The Oatmeal – Do you want to laugh while learning about the basics of grammar? The Oatmeal provides hilarious comics explaining grammar among other things. Hyperbole and a Half is similar to The Oatmeal as well–I’d suggest checking out the “Alot” monster.

 

Vocabulary.com – THIS IS THE BEST RESOURCE EVER AND IT’S FREEEEE! I’ve read this adivce over and over again: you are better off to use simple words in your prose rather than ridiculous flowery big words that only half of the reading population will be able to define. HOWEVER, the best way to learn exactly what word will serve you best is by broadening your vocabulary. Enter Vocabulary.com. The way it works is kind of like a quiz game; you pick a list of words and then you’ll be “tested” on a given word a certain amount of times until you master it and get a bunch of points proving that you are indeed a smart mofo. I’ve found that the most useful lists of words on the website are the ones intended to prepare students for exams, specifically the GED and SAT ones.

50 Book Pledge – As all of the authors of the aforementioned books will tell you, you can’t write if you don’t read. The 50 book pledge is pretty simple: you sign up and pledge to read 50 books in a year (you can make the amount greater or lesser if you need to; I only pledged to do 25 this year). Every time you read a book, you add it to your “shelf,” and the website keeps track of all the books you read. I like this site because 1. It’s kind of like a list of your accomplishments, and 2. I like lists.


Facebook Pages and Websites with publishing information

The Review Review – This is my favourite resource for pieces of short prose and poetry (if I wrote poetry). The Review Reveiw has a database of literary journals/magazines that you can sift through based on incredibly specific searches (like genre, if it accepts simultaneous submissions, if it’s paying, the journal’s estimated response time etc.). It’s the bee’s knees, and it’s how I found the lit mag that published my first piece of fiction.

PW.org – This is another database of literary journals, but it’s only organized by genre and alphabetical order meaning you have to do a bit more work to see if your piece will fit at the zines listed. However, Writer’s Digest cites it as a good source for finding literary agents, which I will soon explore!

Writer’s Market – I’m brand new to this website–I got free access to it by buying the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents–so I have yet to learn the full benefits of it, but I’ve seen it listed as an important resource numerous times by other writers. It’s another one that’s useful if your manuscript is done and ready to find representation.

Writing Pun on facebook – Shameless self promotion here, but I follow tons of lesser known pages for lit mags, books, and writing that all post valuable information–including calls for submissions. My new goal on the Writing Pun facebook page is to begin sharing all of that information with you lovely people; I won’t be sharing these things on Word Press, so you’d better like the facebook page!

That’s it! Those are the best links/book that I’ve found throughout my writing career. Of course there are a ton more (I keep hearing talk of Scrivener, but have yet to try it), but these are the ones that I’ve found to be the most useful. If you have any to add, please mention them in the comments!

You’re welcome.