Pre-Hamilton Thoughts

I’m not going to say I like Hamilton any more than the next person, because I know there are thousands of more devoted fans than me, but there’s something about listening and experiencing it as a writer that really gets to me. Or maybe I’m just too empathetic? I don’t know, but the lyrics, especially the questions, really stick to me. How does one write like they’re running out of time? Have I done enough [with my words]? Who will tell our stories—will anyone?

How does my writing play into this narrative that is the vast planet we live on? You know it’s kind of terrifying, writing. You put your heart and soul into characters, you believe in your stories in the midst of millions of others, enough to spend months and years on them. Then you publish them for anyone and everyone to read, you put your story on the line because you believe so immensely in it, resulting in inevitable rejection by some readers. Stories can easily be looked over, even if they are published, because of the sheer volume of them. But they’ve all been worked on and loved so well by the ones who penned them.

The vast majority of stories will not be heard by the general public, but does that mean we stop writing them? No. Because as scary as it is, we shouldn’t write with the numbers or lack thereof in mind. We write because we have faith, we write because we’re gamblers, we write because we’re not scared of the odds. We shoot our stories blindly into the dark because we know they’ll help someone somehow. And that’s pretty dang cool. So keep writing and “keep fighting in the meantime.”

(10 days until Hamilton.)⭐️

~Annah

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What to Know about Writing a Novel in One Month or Less

I just had my first baby and she is a hefty 223 pages. I conceived her over 24 days and she is already proving to be a thoroughly sassy child. Her name is “Status: Untilled, Moldy Heart.”

1. It’s harder than you think.

For me at least, it was really difficult to get rid of my inner editor while writing. Part of me wanted to reread bits and fix them (in which case I would minimize the screen as much as possible to write) and part of me was whispering this is terrible for a majority of the time. But in both cases, you really don’t have time to stop and consider those thoughts, even though they are negative, because if you waste time it will take you that much longer to get to sleep at night. (Especially as a college student juggling 50 other things.) I made sure I never stayed up past 2 a.m. and always went to bed by the time that would give me 8 hours of sleep, which will be scandalous to some of you but was actually an accomplishment for me, because believe it or not, last semester I stayed up until 3 a.m. multiple times. (We don’t talk about it…)

It was also hard for the sake of my Novel Writing class, because our professor wanted us to write from the seat of our pants. Besides the main plot turning points, we were not allowed to plan out anything. Many times, especially in acts 2 and 3 of the plot, I had no idea what was going to happen, which made staring at the daily blank page daunting.

*We used the program Scrivener to write our novels. Some people broke up their novel documents into scenes, but I did it by day. Turns out, almost every day I managed to write a mini story, so I ended up turning my daily documents into the chapter breaks.*

Finally, and most importantly, writing a novel in a month is incredibly difficult because you actually create a story that’s much longer than 50k words, which is the monthly goal. So what I ended up with was a very rushed version that time-jumped a lot to get to where I needed to be by the end of the month. As my professor told us, and as I now know firsthand, we’ve actually created stories that are more like 80-100k words.

2. It’s easier than you think.

Now I’m going to refute my previous points–because in every case, there is an upside. Don’t get me wrong, writing a novel in a month is incredibly difficult and you should take great pride if you do it in knowing that not only have you bested all the people who want to write a book but haven’t, but you’ve bested everyone who takes years and years to write one.

If your inner editor starts nagging at you (when it clearly shouldn’t be), just dash in something completely unexpected. Use the nagging thoughts to your advantage. Feel redundant in sentence structure? Start writing one word statements. Start writing long, winding rivers of words. Character falling flat? Create some huge drama in that character’s life. Make them react to a situation in complete opposition to how they normally would. Also, my personal favorite: are you stuck on a scene? Not sure what you want your characters to do next? Have them talk it out. Dialogue will bring their personalities alive and I guarantee they’ll think of something to do.

I am one of the biggest planners you will ever meet. I thrive on planning, I need planning in my life, I get anxious when I haven’t written things down. Maybe you’re like me or maybe a lack of planning is not that terrifying. Either way, know that the lack of plot planning is actually the best thing you could possibly do going into a one month time frame of novel writing. Trust me–I was told I couldn’t write on an already formed idea and I was SO SAD. I was frustrated, I was mad, I considered doing it anyway. BUT DON’T. DO NOT. Start something completely new. Trust me. I know exactly how you feel if that sounds horrific.

But the truth is, you have so many stories to tell. More than you believe you do. And the other truth is, if you’ve planned too much already you WILL get writer’s block. Plus, your planned story is probably WAY longer than 50k words and you’re not going to want to have to limit it or rush the story line that you’re already so attached to. You have complete freedom without a planned story because you’ve put no set-in-stone expectations on your characters or your plot. And the coolest thing is, your plot will transform and surprise you and you’ll love it way more than you initially thought you would.

Finally, your story will end up being rushed or not wholly complete because of the lack of time in one month, but that just means you’ll have endless more ideas by the time the month is over. (However, you NEED to give yourself a break before diving back in. At least a couple weeks. You want to look at it with fresh eyes.) By the time the month is over your plot is going to need some serious surgery. But you’ll also know and love your characters way more, so it’s exciting to consider delving in to better craft their story. It’s actually their story, not yours.

3. Your characters will do their own thing.

As I kind of hinted already, you will reach a point after the first week or so where your characters start acting and thinking for themselves. Think of yourself as an archaeologist picking up artifacts as you go. Pretty soon the artifacts have a much greater story to tell than the archaeologist does. That makes writing a breeze. Once the setting and external situations are established, you cannot plan for how or when the characters will steer off your neatly carved path. Just know that they will and they’ll show you some pretty cool places in uncharted waters.

4. In one way or another, you have writing patterns.

I’m a late night writer, but I also coincidentally switched every week. Weeks 1 and 3 I wrote later at night, week 2 I wrote in the early afternoon. (Week 2 is also the hardest, so I wanted to ensure I was getting enough sleep!) Similarly, you will find that you have writing patterns. Maybe you always write in the morning or maybe you can only focus well if you go to a certain coffee shop. I enjoyed changing my writing setting frequently. The cool thing about writing in such a condensed amount of time is that you find these things out about yourself as a writer much quicker, which allows you to better adjust for future projects and writing in general.

5. You pull from more personal experience than you expect to pull from.

I found myself pulling setting details or character action out of all sorts of random places. Your mind really is a palace of thoughts ,and you realize the full depth and reach of it while writing so rapidly. Since my story is realistic fiction I really enjoyed pulling from popular culture. Sometimes I’d be listening to a certain song or reminiscing on a memory, so I’d just stick those things into my story, and it usually suited the plot or characters! Subconsciously, I also included experiences or interests of mine that I never even intended to place in my story, yet looking back on it I can see the references. For example, the primary conflict originates around a talent show and I genuinely thought I was just pulling that from the air, when really I just spent a whole summer invested in America’s Got Talent so it’s no wonder that came to mind! That’s the cool thing: the story you write originates out of that particular time in your life more than anything, so you could try to write a similar story every year and it would never be quite the same, because you’re never quite the same.

6. You will grow incredibly attached to it.

I cried at the start of my last week writing. Because once all of the inner editor comments had grown stale from three weeks and once I had accepted that most of the word choice would be crap, I peeled away the technicalities to realize how much I actually adore this story. For a moment, I halted my critical eye and just looked at it as a dear piece of my heart. And it really, really is. Even if there are plenty of revisions ahead, I think it’s perfectly imperfect. It’s broken, just like me.

7. You will feel lazy and a bit aimless afterward.

…And as my professor said to me, ‘yes, because you are being lazy.’ (Although, considering I still have 50 other things I’m working on, I don’t know if I fully agree with that.) When it really comes down to it though, if you want to be a writer, you have to keep writing. Not just when you’re in the mood. And that’s a fact that makes me really appreciate this novel challenge. Because, just like life in general, the vast majority of the time we’re not in the mood to do what we hope to do. But you have to be relentless and persistent. It’s just like your basic laws of motion. To keep it coming out, you have to keep it up.

But also, you have to live. It’s okay to feel aimless and sad that you can’t write about your characters anymore, but you’ll get the chance to revise and dive back in later, and if you really care a ton, you can always write a series. I truly believe to be a writer you have to keep writing, but you also have to live. You can’t be cooped up all the time, you can’t expect to write every day of your life, you can’t be too hard on yourself. You need experiences to draw from, you need the other stories within entertainment to inspire you, you need family and friends to remind you what you care about.

Most importantly, the world desperately needs you. Not just your writing, but you with your unique thoughts and passions and talents. So as much as you love your books and your characters and your plot, take time to offer yourself to the world and see what the world has to offer you.

8. You CAN do it.

Stop speaking those lies. Stop making up those excuses. Because the truth is, you can. Anyone can.

~Annah

book

Fall Semester Book Reviews

While almost all of these books were for my English classes, there were many wonderful tales present over my semester’s worth of reading. It was a good set of fiction and nonfiction books, with a good variety for people of many tastes. In all honesty, I’ve always been someone who is not fond of nonfiction and I tend to think it’s incredibly dry, but I read some exquisite memoirs that have officially transformed my view of the genre.

Some of these books are easy reads and some require more effort and dedication, so whether you have multiple weeks of break ahead of you or only an hour after work every day, there should be something in the mix for everyone.

  1. Persuasion by: Jane Austen

Austen writes with such lovely language and this was my fourth book I’ve read by her (the others being Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma). After reading four, I can also tell you her books all center on the same ideas: a wealthy family, romance, and endings that usually have everyone coupling off. While I think men could enjoy her books as well, they are usually going to be enjoyed by females mostly.

The story centers upon Anne Elliot, one of three sisters, who’s considered an outcast in her family because she’s not as concerned about wealth or beauty. This ties in closely to Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, protagonists of Austen’s other stories. As one might guess, the novel also centers upon the theme of persuasion and how that has an impact on decision-making and interpersonal relationships in one’s life, whether positively or negatively. People who enjoy romance and the importance of individualism will find this book entertaining. I gave it four stars, as I appreciated the themes and her smart wittiness and sarcasm among dialogue.

  1. The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls (reread)

Initially I did not plan on including this book, only because I have read it before in high school. However, since I reread it for class this semester, I decided to review it for those of you unfamiliar with the memoir, because it is a great story (and now a movie!).

This memoir follows former gossip columnist, Jeannette Walls, through her adolescent years, as she grows up within an incredibly unconventional family who lives a rugged, unstable lifestyle always on the move. A beautiful woman with a glamorous professional career, Walls initially generated extreme shock across America with the publication of the book, because the hardships throughout her past were completely unexpected. The book begins with Walls sitting in a taxi on the way to a fancy party, when her ride stops next to a woman rooting through the dumpster: her mother. The story is authentic, unforgettable, and a page-turner for anyone who enjoys an intriguing narrative. It’s definitely a five-star story and I appreciated getting to reread it to find new details I missed the first time.

  1. Jane Eyre by: Charlotte Bronte

Last year, I saw this story come alive through my college’s musical version, but the novel contains far richer detail than the play could ever have conveyed. Jane’s story contains themes of faith, romance, and independence—not too different from Austen’s style, except less sarcastic and more genuine in character interactions. Certain aspects are even reminiscent of Les Misérables, such as Jane’s firsthand experience of different social classes and a Christian friend who permanently influences her outlook on life, similar to Jean Valjean.

Unfortunately, I had to rush through this novel in particular and was not able to give it the full attention it deserved (as anyone familiar with college knows). But anyone who enjoys Austen’s work would appreciate it, as well as anyone appreciative of feminist undertones. I gave Bronte’s book four stars, because while there were many well-written sentences and sentiments, it would not be at the top of my recommendation list for everyone, like my five-stars.

  1. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by: Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s fictional work is very science-based and reminiscent of the scientific revolution within Britain’s Victorian era. (One of my classes was British literature, as you can probably tell.) It’s a novella and a quicker read if you’re not looking for too big of a time commitment. Some might classify the story as horror or science fiction, but I also think mystery is a large part of the plot. Without sharing too much, the story focuses on good versus evil, as well as individual identity. Anyone intrigued by mystery or science fiction would enjoy this story that I rated four stars.

  1. Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir by: Donna Johnson

Johnson’s memoir centers upon the Pentecostal tent revivalist culture most prevalent throughout America in the mid-twentieth century. It forces readers to consider the religious practices and form an opinion on them, even though Johnson makes her opinions clear in this recounting of her childhood. Anyone curious to learn more about different denominations of Christianity, religion in general or aspects of culture that are lesser known would find this book a page-turner. Similar to Walls, the stories Johnson tells are extraordinary in good and bad ways. Her accounts will astonish and surprise you, especially her sentiments at the end. I gave it four stars, as it stood out as less of an objective perspective to me and the timeline was confusing—qualities I think are crucial in memoir.

  1. The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry by: Joe Wilkins

Wilkins wrote this memoir about his life in the Big Dry, a place in Montana. With his father passing away while he is young, he continues to search for a father figure and his values without someone constantly there giving him direction, in this coming-of-age story. Every sentence breathes memoir covered in poetry; it’s an incredibly artistic book. Rather than a chronological story like Walls and Johnson, his is comprised of short chapters, each one a different memory. This book is great to pick up and put down if you have limited time to read, which makes it even more attractive to any kind of reader. Despite the general lack of female figures, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a woman and think it’s also an important dialogue for grasping the pressures and confinement surrounding the concept of masculinity.

This memoir was by far my favorite book I read this semester, considering I already read The Glass Castle. As my one new five-star read, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

  1. Uninvited by: Lysa TerKeurst

My friends and I are just finishing this book up as our semester ends, and it’s honestly the perfect book for group discussions. TerKeurst writes vulnerably and beautifully in this Christian book explicitly geared toward women. Concerning rejection, Uninvited speaks directly from TerKeurst’s personal experiences and how she has changed her perspective with God’s help, in order to keep the negative feeling from running her life.

I have only read a few explicitly Christian books, but I would probably give it four stars. That’s not to say it wasn’t great—it was! But certain chapters were not as engaging as others, and compared to other Christian books I’ve read, every sentence didn’t resonate as fully.

~Annah

Summer 2017 Books

Nowadays, reading can be a challenge for many, because we have an internal debate that was nonexistent even a decade ago: to read or to watch Netflix? Seriously, it’s a struggle. For me, they both always sound so inviting, but one has to win out over the other. My reading patterns consist of either seasons of constant reading or seasons without reading. But whenever I begin seasons of reading I always wonder why I ever stopped. It is relaxing, it is engaging, and it is fun. I wholeheartedly believe that if you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book for you yet.

My “to-read” list is probably about a mile long, but this summer I was able to take out a teeny chunk of it. I’ve been tempted to start a new section of my blog where I review all kinds of entertainment, so why not kick it off with my summer booklist? I’ve read a wide range, from self-help, to novels, to religious books this summer. So sit back, grab a refreshing drink, and see what grabs your interest.

  1. Les Misérables by: Victor Hugo (Sort of…)

I actually already read three-quarters of this book two years prior for AP English, but I finally finished that last quarter this summer! (I know, very long overdue.) Although a long time coming, this is actually my favorite novel. I’ve realized what warms my heart the most within books are redeemed characters, which Jean Valjean most certainly is. The theme of redemption provides the hope that no one has to be enslaved to a certain lifestyle or attitude, and our circumstances are always susceptible to change.

This is also one of the longest books I have ever heard of with the most intricate detail and is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to really invest yourself in a story and characters with great depth to them, if you like the musical or movie and want more detail, if you enjoy seeing a cast of characters of all kinds, then this one’s for you.

  1. The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

Set in Germany during Hitler’s reign and narrated by Death, this book became popular a few years ago. Unfortunately I was not a part of that trend, but after blowing through it in two days and crying my eyes out, I can confidently say this is one of my new favorite books. Voice and language is what Zusak does best and are the tools that will keep this story embedded in your mind. The characters are easy to fall in love with and the narrative is a powerful page-turner. I would recommend this to everyone, regardless of your reading interests.

  1. Mary Poppins by: P.L. Travers

I grew up with this movie and absolutely loved it, which may be part of the reason that I personally was a little let down by the book. I have always been a firm believer that a movie can never be as great as a book, but have always loved both equally in their separate entities (I’m a very optimistic entertainment-retainer, you could say). This is a lovely book for children, with its imaginative series of events. However, if you’re anything like me, and love taking deep themes and messages away from stories, this book is not the best for that. Something I really enjoyed from the movie was the character development of Mr. Banks and the contrast between the fun and silliness with Mary and the kids, to the serious troubles of an adult man, which really caters to every audience and hits a deeper chord. Mr. Banks’ development was not present in the book and Mary was also a much more serious and stern character in the book (although that character change had to have been a result of Disney.) Personally, I preferred the more lighthearted version of Mary that Julie Andrews portrayed and thought a stern Mary who created imaginative events wherever she went seemed a bit odd. But if you want a light read with lots of silliness and imagination, or a good book for your children, this is a great one.

  1. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by: Don Miguel Ruiz

This was a different kind of book for me, but I wanted to read it because it meant a lot to a friend. I’m really thankful I did, though, because I think it’s crucial to read all kinds of viewpoints and lifestyles, not just those like your own. That’s how we learn from each other and understand each other better.

This book is perfect for those of you looking to better your life and seek personal happiness outside of the major religions. I appreciated the sentiments behind the four agreements, and as a Christian, was able to see some similarities between the two different belief systems, which was super interesting. If finding new ways to personal freedom or seeking to understand other viewpoints interests you, here’s your book.

  1. Mere Christianity by: C.S. Lewis

I’ve always been a Christian who prefers to stick with the Bible and is not interested in other Christian books, but I ended up reading not only this spiritual book, but the next two on this list, which is really different for me. (Not going to lie, during the period of reading The Four Agreements and these three, I basically had separation anxiety from novels.) Lewis is so intellectual that it blows my mind. Everything he writes is so articulate and it makes me think he came out of the womb using words like ‘obsequious’ and ‘taciturn.’ Talk about thorough though, this book is 100% thorough. It’s also dense and not a quick read, so expect to really put your thinking cap on every time you sit down to read. This is not a book to change anyone’s mind about anything, but if you really appreciate sound, structured arguments with solid examples to back them up and/or you want to reaffirm your Christian beliefs, you have exactly that within this book.

  1. Mister God, This is Anna by: Fynn

This is one of my mother’s favorites and so I thought I’d try it out. Sure enough, I opened to the first page and she had ‘Anna’ and ‘Joy’ circled, which are my first and middle names. The author is actually the main character in the book and it appears to be based on a true story, but the difference between the truth and fiction is not certain. The story centers around a wild and confident four-year-old girl named Anna who is taken home to live with a nineteen-year-old man named Fynn and his family. In the time he lives with Anna, Fynn learns about ‘Mister God,’ this important relationship in Anna’s life. This book offers unique perspectives of God that may offer a fresh viewpoint for interested Christians.

  1. Jesus > Religion by: Jefferson Bethke

Like The Book Thief, I made quick work of this one. Not only was the title intriguing, but I’ve been watching Bethke’s YouTube videos for a couple years now and knew I would love his style of writing. Compared to C.S. Lewis, Bethke is almost the opposite writing style—very simplified but straightforward, with many emotional and real-life examples to back up his points. His points don’t require a ton of concentration, but may stir up some disagreement among Christians, as he focuses on how we are living/where we’re failing as a church versus how we should be living.

  1. The Good Earth by: Pearl S. Buck

As I write this, I still have 50 pages left, so this may be “cheating,” but I’m going to give my review from what I know of most of it. This is an incredibly intriguing novel that deals with Chinese culture and Buck received the Pulitzer Prize for it back in 1932. I never read nearly enough ethnic literature, so I’ve enjoyed this excursion (added to the fact that it’s my first novel in two months). It focuses on Wang Lung and his family as they battle through multiple famines and family hardships. This is a great book to help expand your cultural knowledge (within reason, as it is still a novel) and would also be awesome for a book club—my copy even has some great discussion questions in the back!

I hope you enjoyed this review post! There were a lot of ‘firsts’ within this group of books and the eclectic mixture ended up being really cool. So I hope you all could find one you’re interested in taking the time to read and I will try my best to keep reading and reviewing books whenever I can! I definitely have a reading list that will keep me busy.

~Annah