Posted in education, Writing

#TBT: The Boring Professor

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The Four Stages of 3 pm Lecture

His voice washed over the class like warm honey, trapping us in a stupor of profound boredom.  We were long past fighting to understand his long monotonous drone and were now fighting only to remain semi-conscious.  A few had already succumbed to his soporific power.  They slipped into blissful oblivion, their gentle snoring adding to the stagnant ambiance.

I stared at a small knot in the carpet.  It was the most captivating thing I’d seen all hour.  I gazed at it as though it was the only real thing in the world.  A break.  An irregularity.  A small respite from the boredom.

A blank buzzing filled the room and invaded our brains.  Drowsiness hung thick and heavy, smothering the class and stifling every intelligent thought.  I’d never thought that boredom could be physical pain.  Now I couldn’t think at all.  I felt my mental processes breaking down and my very identity dissolving.

There was no purpose to life.  There was no life.  Only a meaningless muddle of mesmerizing, meditative, mesothermic, mozzarella …

Snap out of it, I told my brain.

Mozzarella, my brain responded.

–World History lecture, 2014

Some teachers open our eyes, some change our lives, and some are so completely boring that they are immortalized in desperate prose.

Happy fall semester everyone 🙂

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Posted in Life, Writing

New Blogging Schedule and Direction

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My (rather fitting) view walking home along the edge of campus today

In the past few weeks I’ve moved into a new state, started a semester of college, changed my major, started a new job, and completely overhauled my usual daily routine.  I’m meeting so many people and being introduced to new ideas and perspectives constantly.  Naturally, my writing muse has taken a corresponding shift.  I don’t have nearly as much time to write, but I find myself having much more to say.

Moving forward, I want to create a system that gives me freedom to explore various topics, works with my schedule, and keeps me accountable while also not stressing me out too much.  True to my title, I’m going to stay with my main topics of education, art, and writing, but also give myself space to discuss other topics that spark my interest and are relevant to my overall theme (“walking the line between creativity and practicality”).

 

I plan to stick to a schedule of posting twice a week, thus:

Tuesday:  Longer and more in-depth posts, covering one of my main topics

Thursday:  Shorter and more light-hearted post, covering whatever strikes my fancy

Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading my posts and helped me start this blogging journey!  You all inspire me to grow.  Special shoutout to  Kayla Ann Author,  Baroque Myriam, and Now I Have a Baby 🙂

 

If you can’t fly, then run.  If you can’t run, then walk.  If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.

–Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Posted in Writing

Cliches: The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard

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As a writer, I run into these articles all the time: How to Avoid Cliches in Business Writing, Top Ten Most Common Cliches in Fantasy, Cliche Examples and How to Avoid Them, 681 Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing.

There are so many of these articles on the internet, and while several are insightful and helpful, several have become just as cliched and predictable as the tropes they tell us to avoid.  In writing this post today, I didn’t want to be just one more post telling you the same thing (saying a cliche is an overused phrase or theme, listing basic archetypes, etc.).  Instead this post is a conglomerate of the best quotes and advice I’ve heard on cliches in writing, hopefully with some ideas and perspectives you haven’t encountered before.

Enjoy!

 

As the moth is attracted to flame, less-than-vigilant writers are attracted to the bright light of intrinsically dramatic situations, where the drama is preassembled, ready to use—convenient. We’re drawn to clichés because they’re convenient. And convenience for writers—convenient plots, convenient characters, convenient coincidences, convenient settings or situations or strings of words—almost always spells doom.

–Peter Selgin, Writers Digest

 

Clichés once painted vivid pictures, but they’ve been so overused that their imagery has faded. For instance, the first time someone used the phrase out of the box it was a vivid metaphor to explain the idea of creative thinking. While being stuck in a box, we can’t come up with wild and crazy ideas. To be creative, we need to crawl out of that box. But now, the phrase out of the box is so tired, that nobody visualizes a box anymore. The imagery has completely faded, and that’s why it has become a cliché.

–Enchanting Marketing

 

It’s a bit cliche, but you can’t go wrong by writing what you know.  Even if you’re a horrible writer, your own knowledge and experience is unrivaled.  Nobody knows what you know like you know what you know.  The way you see things is pretty unique.

–Issa Rae

 

When writing, question any comparison or image you are about to use.  Cliches often sneak in the barn door (that’s a cliche by the way) when we are trying to be descriptive.  Is the phrase you’re about to use one that you’ve heard frequently in casual conversation, newscasts, and advertising?  If so, it is probably a cliche or on it’s way there.  Instead of using stock phrases and images, be creative.

–University of Richmond Writing Center

 

While you may be able to get away with tired tropes in certain circumstances, the fact of the matter is that fantasy readers are a die-hard, dedicated, well-read bunch. The majority of fantasy fans have read widely within the genre, meaning that they’ve practically seen it all when it comes to typical fantasy standbys.

Most of the time, if a fantasy reader picks up a novel that adds nothing new to the already well-established genre, they’ll do one of three things: drop it immediately, forget about it entirely, or review it poorly – none of which are good outcomes for authors trying to find an audience.

–Claire Bradshaw, B.A.

 

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’; (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word … But in between those two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

–George Orwell

 

Every oak tree is gnarled.

Sometimes, so are the faces and hands of old, white men.

Every gentle wave is lapping upon the shore. Every mountain town is nestled in a valley, every chimney produces curled rings of smoke.

Every politician is slick, every banker is soulless. Journalists are moral and hardworking. Teachers are worn out. Every woman is unsatisfied, every man is flippant. Mothers are worn out too, but fathers are emotionless. Every woman has jet-black tresses, and every day starts with bitter coffee (which might also be scorching) and ends with whiskey. Who drinks whiskey? That old, white man with ice that clinks.

Clinks? Chinks? Tinkles?

In the city, there are cars honking, lights blinking, and many things are incessant—noise, screams, cries. Oh, and blaring lights. Lots of blaring lights that sometimes flicker.

The country has chirping crickets and waving grass. Parched earth abounds, there is lots and lots and lots of dust. The moon is always bathing fountains, statues and white shoulders lucky enough to be right under it. Fog is thick or dense, sometimes both. Thunderstorms rage while thunder cracks. Lightning illuminates—what, I don’t know. The sun shines down, as opposed to up, and clouds really don’t do anything except float by. And occasionally they don’t exist at all.

Waves crash. Cars don’t, unless brakes are slammed or heard to screech first.

Tears roll down cheeks, and faces break into smiles while the eyes always crinkle when they aren’t sparkling or flashing. Hair shines or curls, always curls. People are clad in clothing, never just clothed in it. Necklaces dangle, and bracelets chink. Arms are thick and strong, and eyes meet more than people.

Thoughts race or sometimes pervade while anger boils. Chills run up or down spines, depending on where you live, and ideas aren’t just clear, they are crystal clear.

What is crystal? It’s what you drink your whiskey in. With the ice that clinks.

Things are notably pale, thick, greasy, cold, strong and dry, which they don’t need to be. If it’s a pillow, we know it’s soft. Ditto Coke and cold. Words like eat and run and speak are passed over for gobbled and raced and exclaimed. People can’t just hold, they have to clasp. They can’t cry, they have to sob, and they can’t stop, they have to come to a halt.

I’m not tired, I’m fatigued. I’m not messy, I’m disheveled. I’m not sad, I’m despondent.

Ah, whatever. At least I’m not gasping for breath or not sleeping a wink over the use of clichésEvery writer falls for them, at some time or another.

Every oak tree is gnarled. Especially this one.

–Ellen Vrana, Quora

Posted in Painting, Writing

The Value of Black and White

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Conception, my boy, fundamental brain work, is what makes all the difference in art.  –Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As someone who loves color, I was majorly disappointed when I walked into my first oil painting class and was told we would spend the first two weeks painting only in black and white.  I had just bought all these exciting new colors, actual artist quality colors, not just cheap grocery store paint.  Even their names were beautiful: viridian green, cadmium red light, phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, madder lake deep, quinacridone gold, dioxazine purple.  My inner painter loved the color and my geeky brain loved the chemistry, and I couldn’t wait to get started.

But not those first two weeks.  Those first two weeks, I was stuck with titanium white and mars black.

Of course, my professor knew exactly what he was doing.  By the end of those two weeks we all made leaps and bounds, we were much better prepared to enter the world of color, and I found I really loved painting in black and white.

 

This is what working in black and white does for you:

Screenshot 2018-08-31 at 9.03.12 AM.pngIt helps you see values as they actually are.  When you have a reference photo that’s in full color, it can be hard to tell which areas are lighter and which are darker.  We have natural biases about color value; we assume that cool colors are darker than warm colors, we assume that if colors are the same intensity they’ll be about the same value, we assume ares of the same color will have the same value, and so on.  Take this parrot for example.  Just looking at the colored image, I might assume that the entire red area was basically one value, or I might assume that the white eye area was lighter than the yellow feathers.  But looking at the black and white image, it becomes easy to see the shadows in the red feathers, and it’s clear that the eye area and the light feathers are in the same range.  Even if you intend to work in color, reverting an image to black and white helps you compare value easily.

It moves much faster.  Color is complicated.  You have to constantly mix up new colors, clean out your brushes, clean out your water cup, dig through your pile of colored pencils for the right one.  Working in gray-scale, you don’t have to deal with any of that, so you can bust out pieces in a third of the time.

Screenshot 2018-08-31 at 9.16.02 AMIt removes distractions so you can focus on form.  Remember these balls and cubes that we all had to draw at one point?  It shows how light and shadow form around objects, and it is very obvious in black and white images.  It’s just simpler: pure light is white, deepest shadow is black, things with light on them are lighter gray and things with less light are darker gray.  The end.  This helps you see the form of what you’re drawing, and also helps it read easier to others looking at your work.  Everyone wins!

It improves your ability to work with colors.  This seems backward, but it works.  You can see values better, work faster, learn how to show form and patterns of light, and master the basics without worrying.  One you have that down, adding color is much less daunting.  Even if you’re a skilled color artist, working in black and white helps you remember those fundamentals.

I recently rediscovered my enjoyment of working in only black and white, and plan to do it much more often, especially now that my life is getting busier.

Is there anything you initially hated about learning your craft, but now use regularly?  I’d love to hear your stories!

 

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Ten minute tree frog (charcoal).  I love drawing these odd little guys
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Current work in progress (oil and acrylic on canvas)
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Fun piece I challenged myself to finish before the end of a Food Network episode (oil on canvas)

 

Posted in Writing

The YA Bully, and Why I Hate Them

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I’m an avid devourer of young adult/teen fiction, partly because I recently exited that age demographic and mostly because that’s the target demographic for my work in progress.  I’ve read a bunch of these, from popular series to the obscure ones found only in the back of the library or on my parents’ bookshelf, and I’ve noticed a trend.

There is almost always a bully, and they are almost always completely terrible.

I don’t mean terrible person–I mean terrible character.  Unrealistic, oversimplified, predictable, and stupidly cliche.

You probably know what I’m talking about.  The protagonist is the unpopular loner kid, and the bully is nothing but a ball of cliches with the IQ of a seven-year-old.  They are rich, spoiled, entitled, and have brainless loyal cronies backing them up.  They chant, they sneer, they steal desserts, they stuff people in toilets and garbage cans.  This bully hates the protagonist, for reasons that are usually not even explained, and is fervently committed to to torturing them in particular.  The bystanders look on in fear, or better yet, snigger in appreciation.  This bully is the very epitome of basic and nasty, and there is really just no good explanation for why they are like this.

I hate this trope because it just doesn’t happen like that in real life.  Not all rich kids are automatically rude jerks.  Most bullies don’t simply call someone stupid and steal their lunch, and most have complicated motivations and life stories.  Especially at high school age, most onlookers will be more indifferent than fearful, and I have never once heard any of them actually snigger.  (Seriously, no one sniggers.)

Yes, horrible nasty bullying does exist in the world, especially in schools–but not like this.  Real bullies usually aren’t so flat and cheap; there is a whole spectrum of attitudes and methods that teenagers employ to hurt each other.  There are the fake friends, the two-faced, the sarcastic, the ignorers, the false victims, the fierce competitors, the subtle excluders, the pranksters, the violent, the passive-aggressive … the list goes on, yet most of these novels use only the most basic and obvious and juvenile.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just bashing on YA writers.  I read their work all the time, and I really do love these books.  That’s why these bully characters are so disappointing to me.  I’ll open a book with a fun premise, good protagonist, witty humor, great writing, and then bam–the stereotypical bully materializes.

And I get it.  As a writer you don’t want to spend tons of time creating a fantastic bully character.  They aren’t all that important and only exist to serve a few purposes: provide some minor initial conflict, make the protagonist more sympathetic, and be horrible enough that the protagonist seems better by contrast.  The tacky trope bully accomplishes these purposes, so what’s the issue?

Here are the issues.

 

  • It makes the story less believable.  I’m sorry, but as soon as a sixteen-year-old starts sniggering and calling someone a pathetic loser, it breaks the suspension of disbelief for me.  Real people don’t act like that.  They’ll be rude, but not stupid.  Even if some real people do act like that, it’s become so overused that it feels fake regardless.
  • It’s boring.  So many YA novels have this character that it’s not anywhere near original anymore.  You can see this bully coming from a chapter away and probably find their exact dialogue in the novel you wrote at age eleven.  “You’re an idiot!” (yawn) “You don’t have any friends!” (sigh)  We’ve all read that before, countless times.  Give us something new!  There are so many more creative ways to give your character some interpersonal conflict, even so many more interesting and meaningful ways to show bullying.
  • It’s not helpful for real kids who are being bullied.  This is perhaps the most important issue.  A lot of kids read these novels right at the age that is the peak of both bullying and insecurity.  And what do they see? They see bullying as a flat caricature, and the bully is usually defeated by being publicly humiliated or taken down by someone’s magical powers.  Neither of those are positive or realistic solutions.  

Really, it isn’t hard to get past these stereotypes.  Think back to your own teenage days.  You must have had a petty classmate, a friend who talked about you behind your back, a friend who didn’t realize how self-centered they were acting, a friend who expected too much of you.  Even look around you now for a coworker who won’t give you credit for your work or a passive-aggressive manager or anyone who makes your life harder than it has to be.  Real life is full of complex and diverse examples of interpersonal conflict, all of which can serve the purpose of the cliche bully without all the problems.

Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.

 

Posted in Writing

Method Writing

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You’ve heard of method actors?  I have a coworker who calls himself a method writer.  He tries to put himself through the same experiences his characters go through, all so that he will better know how to write it.  

For example, he’s currently working on a short story about an awkward guy going on a date with a girl he considers to be out of his league.  So he signs up for several dating apps, starts chatting, and sets up no less than seven blind dates for the weekend to get a better feel for awkward first date vibes.  He recently wrote a different story where a character is completely isolated, so he spent a day locked inside his apartment not using his phone or computer to force his mind into that lonely place.  

Of course, he draws the line at serious personal harm (though he draws it a little closer than I would think to). He won’t jump into oncoming traffic, but he will stand right by the road and go on thrill rides and jump into canals.  

Many of our fellow coworkers probably think he’s nuts, but I think his insanity borders on genius.  

Most writers make efforts to understand what they write about.  We’ll travel to the places we want our stories set in so we can find fun details, observe the locals, and get a feel for the area.  We’ll spend hours on the internet looking up plausible animal species, how the body reacts to trauma, legal system details, and all sorts of things that can get us flagged as creepy stalker criminals (or is that just me?).  Beyond that, we use pieces of our own lives in our writing.  

It all comes down to a simple truth: we write better when we write what we know.  If I’ve never been to Spain, I’ll get it all wrong if I write a scene based there.  If I’ve never had an eating disorder or known someone who has, my attempt at writing a character with one will probably feel fake and contrived.  Of course it’s great to push your limits as a writer, and part of the magic of writing is exploring things you otherwise couldn’t.  But everything we write is at least based in our own reality.  

Method writing capitalizes on this.  It’s the same idea as researching locations or pulling inspiration from everyday life, just far more literal and deliberate.  Instead of just mentally projecting yourself into the narrative, you literally live out the narrative.  My coworker does it to really know how something feels and how real people react.  It clearly works for him, because he’s still an undergrad and already has an editor publishing his stories.

Personally I love this idea, and I’ve already started trying it out.  Here’s what I’ve found so far while using method writing:

  • It’s much easier to express real human emotions.  Often when I try to write emotional scenes or just describe emotions of everyday life, my writing feels flat and fake (I guess I’m too much of a cold-hearted logician).  Once I experience something for myself, I know it exactly how it feels.  My writing is authentic and no longer sounds like it’s trying too hard.
  • It’s much easier to avoid cliches.  I think most writers use cliches by default, almost without thinking, just because they’re easy and we’re used to them.  But life isn’t made of cliches: most people’s eyes don’t look like the sparkling sea, tears don’t actually roll down cheeks, and moonlight doesn’t usually bathe anything.  A method writer has real-life experience with just about everything in their story, so they don’t need these overused phrases as a thoughtless fallback.  I can avoid cliches and overused phrases because I don’t need to draw from any other writing or experience than my own.
  • It makes your writing more unique and memorable.  This happens partly because of the stronger emotions, and partly because of your unique life experience.  Take my coworker for example.  He didn’t end up writing a generically awkward first date with a generic awkward guy and generic flashy girl.  He combined the funnest quirks and memorable moments from all of his seven blind dates, and created a completely unexpected but delightful scene.  When you do something for yourself, you’ll find details and turns of events you never would have thought of before, and all of that can improve your story.
  • It is incredibly fun.  Method writing brings your writing to life, literally.  You get to keep working on your story even while away from your computer or notebook, and you get to try things and expose yourself to new experiences and put yourself in your characters’ shoes.

I’m definitely going to keep using this idea, and one day I’ll call myself a method writer too.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.  –Benjamin Franklin

Image result for pencil shavings writing

 

Posted in Life, Writing

Becoming a Morning Person

sunset view of mountains

Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.  –Wayne Huizenga

I’ve tried to become a morning person countless times, and every time I’ve failed.

Sometimes I get all inspired and actually wake up with my alarm.  The world is still asleep, the sky is that pale fragile blue, a faint chill lingers in the air, and only the birds interrupt the peaceful silence.  My mind is wide open.  Writing is quicker and higher quality, cleaning is suddenly no longer a chore, and I can think of a million things I want to create and accomplish and do with my life.  In those early hours I haven’t yet sunk into the everyday hustle and the world feels wide open.

I’ll do this for a few mornings and then inevitably I’ll have a late shift, a hard workout, or stay up working on projects into the unholy hours, and there is nothing I hate more than that alarm in the early morning.  My body feels welded to the sheets and my brain is irrationally upset and the last thing I want to do is wake up and face life.  I’ll snooze the alarm several times, try to go back to sleep, fail to go back to sleep, scroll through Instagram … and then suddenly realize that I’ve laid like a wasted slug through those magical morning hours.  And the worst part is, even after extra sleep, I’m still tired.

Thus I fall right back down the slippery slope.  I’m tired and try to sleep in but can’t, which leaves me more tired, which makes me even less likely to wake up early, which means I waste time and have to stay up later, which leaves me more tired.

Bison in early morning Yellowstone Park

I recently read an article called “The Miracle of Mornings: Attempting Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast” (full article linked below).  The author, a self proclaimed long proponent of early mornings, writes about the magic of the early hours “before the masses rouse to distract and interrupt, siphoning off our willpower and attention.”  She enjoys going to stores right when they open and going for a run right after getting out of bed.  On vacation, she loves seeing the sights before the crowds converge and the heat of the day beats down.  She says, “When you rise early, you take the day on your own terms. You commandeer the sun, pulling dawn into morning like the Greek god Helios. Or like the very mortal people that we are, we greet each day like the miracle that it is, another day of bison and bread, fish and bridges, all best seen on foot by the morning light.”

 

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Morning Glory

The artist in me loves the poetry of quotes like that.  I love the beauty of the morning, the peaceful sounds, soft colors, dewy grass.  I love the whole morning person aesthetic.  I love the way my imagination hasn’t taken a back seat yet, and I feel strokes of pure inspiration.  Some artists work into the night, but my artist brain flourishes in the morning.

My logical side loves mornings for their practical function.  I love working without distractions from people and work.  I’m always more productive in the morning, and grow lazier and lazier as the day goes on (which is why it’s such a problem for me when I start the day lazy).  Mornings are perfect for all those things I know I won’t do if I put them off until later, like journalling and scripture study and exercise, and all those things I might not have time for later, like writing.  All the studies and articles I’ve read indicate that waking up consistently early is good for your sleep cycle, self-esteem, health, and even brain function.  Logically, waking up early makes so much sense.

 

Overall I think my desire to become a morning person arises from a deeper desire to have a productive life.  I may hit the snooze button several times on my weaker days, but ultimately I keep setting it at night.  I don’t want to sleep my life away, literally or metaphorically; I want to wake up and live at the top of my lungs.

Are you a morning person, or have you ever tried to become one?  What helps you get up in the morning?

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.  –Paul Valery

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Sunrise at Lanikai Beach

 

“The Miracle of Mornings: Attempting Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast”

Full Article Here:  https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900027376/tiffany-gee-lewis-the-miracle-of-mornings-attempting-6-impossible-things-before-breakfast.html