advice series

Writing Series #8: How do you stay invested?

What I hear most often from writers switching from short fiction to novels is: how do you stay invested for the long haul? How do you care about the same story for the time it takes to finish an entire book?

As someone who began with novel writing and never really mastered the art of the short story, I’ve always had the opposite question (how do you keep it to a minimum? how do you condense your ideas into just a few pages). But this doesn’t mean I’ve never had that age old book commitment problem. Even the best stories can drift away from us, and even the most dedicated writers will experience the occasional hiccup in their writing schedule. Too much time away–whether it be a busy schedule, a new child, an illness, or just general lack of inspiration–it can make coming back to the book after a writing drought seem impossible. You sit down in front of your story, see these words so old you hardly remember writing them in the first place, and think, how can I possibly keep going? 

Coming back to an old story can feel a lot like a high school reunion: bumping into people you once knew so well but who have now become strangers, and now you hardly know to strike up a conversation. But just like a reunion, you have two choices: runaway and give up on the relationship for good, or force the smalltalk until you break into something real. If you’re lucky, by the end of the night, you can be laughing and having a great time, saying it’s like things “never changed at all” before you’re through. A book is the same way. 

Just as we bring up “the good ‘ol times” in conversations, it’s important to revisit what made you write the book in the first place. Some things that have helped me have included: 

  • Taking notes of my character’s planned emotional and physical arcs over the course of the book. This way if I lose investment or take too much time away and begin to lose that connection to their emotional state, I can return to my notes and see where I wanted them to be and start to understand their state of mind again and their purpose in my story. 
  • Take notes of your planned plot or, if you’re not a structured planner, some things you hope to happen in the story or directions you might like it to go. This will be your road map later if you get lost along the way. 
  • Make a playlist (or other art form, if you’re a painter, poet, etc.) that reminds you of your story. Listening to these songs later can help you to revisit the mindset you were in while writing and spark that creativity. 
  • Go back and reread some of your older, already written chapters. This can help you to remember what the tone of the story was and how the dialogue was sounding. If you don’t and take a long break in the story, there’s a large chance that your story will end up disjointed with two separate narrative styles and tones that will be jarring for the readers (and yourself as you read it back later). This can also trigger the memory of how it felt to write this story last time and to hopefully help you to continue writing it again. 
  • Practice writing a scene with your character(s) that won’t make it into the book. Jumping right back into the novel can seem daunting at times, so it may help to open a new document and write a random event just for practice on regaining and writing your character. Other useful exercises might include an interview, biography, or sample social media account for your character if applicable. 
  • Just keep writing. Sometimes you have to write something terrible to break through to something good. But don’t worry. The delete button exists for a reason, and the editing process will be a lifesaver down the line. 

To all the writers out there: how do you keep yourself focused and interested during the course of writing a novel? Do you have any tips for maintaining writing momentum?

Feel free to add to this post or submit your own advice to share with your fellow writers at ancwritingresources.tumblr.com

Before I start this post, I want to say that everyone’s orientation is different! I’ve seen that a lot of schools have orientation over the summer, weeks before classes start. My school, I guess because only a few of us are from here and the majority of students are out of the state/country, we had orientation week starting on move-in day, the same week classes started. That’s why I will be discussing move-in day and the first day of classes here, though yours might be a completely separate experience. Let’s get started!

Move-In Day

  • Dress for a lot physical activity. You are going to be lugging your shit up and down stairs (elevators get full, if you even have them) all day, walking back and forth to your car, and once you get everything in your room, you will have to unpack and loft your bed, etc. You are going to be sweaty and exhausted by the time it’s all over. I wanted to still be cute so I wore spandex, my Vandy t-shirt and hat, and a full face of makeup lol. I know you might want to make a good first impression on your roommate and new classmates, but everyone will be wearing what looks like workout clothes. Don’t wear jeans or a dress or something. It’s August, it’s hot, you’ll regret it.
  • Be patient. Oh my god, I swear 90% of the memories I have of move-in day are just me waiting. Waiting in the car for the line to move towards the dorms, waiting in line to get my key, waiting for a dolly to free up, waiting to get inside the elevator, waiting for the stairs to clear up. It’s so boring, especially when you’re so excited to just finally be there. Be prepared to wait and try to appreciate your last few moments before college ruins your life (just kidding!).
  • Brace yourself for something to go wrong. No matter how organized your school is, chaos is inevitable on move-in day. You will have planned according to a schedule they gave you, and something will not go the way it’s supposed to. Thousands of freshmen who don’t know anything all in the same place at once is a recipe for disaster. Just don’t stress about it cause it will all work itself out. Honestly, that’s a philosophy to live by for your entire college career, not just move-in day.

Orientation Week

  • I can’t even explain how busy you’ll be. Starting from the first floor meeting we had on move-in day, the entire next seven days were packed full of activities and meetings and ceremonies. I still have my freshmen guide with the itenerary of all the things we had to do, and it was pages long. Everyday we would wake up at like 8, and have things to do until after midnight. I was so busy, I didn’t even have time to be on my phone, and I love social media. You will be so tired, and it will get old really quick. I don’t really have any advice, but through the exhaustion, remember to try and appreciate this chaotic time and stay in the moment. You’ll never again experience the freshness and excitement of your first week at college, soon you’ll get used to it all and you’ll wish for that feeling back.
  • You don’t have to attend everything. Like I said, you will be exhausted. You won’t want to wake up at 6 am for the Freshman Sunrise (i did and i regretted it), or to take the class picture where you have to stand still for an hour and you can’t even see yourself in the photo (again, i should’ve slept in). You might feel obligated to go to everything, but if you just need a break, then take that break. Orientation is overwhelming. 
  • Don’t freak out if you miss a required meeting. We had lots of events that were marked required. It’s inevitable that people miss these, due to sleeping through an alarm, or reading the time wrong, or getting lost on campus since you don’t know where everything is. Lots of the time, they only mark it as required to scare people into going when there’s no real consequence if you don’t. Even if there is a consequence, you won’t get into any major trouble the first week. You’re freshmen, they understand. Do try to make it to them, though. The best way to do this is to find friends or other people who are in that same section and go together.
  • Don’t stress about making friends. It is quite literally impossible to not make friends during orientation week. You will have to attend so many things with the same group(s) of people that you’ll bond over that alone. You don’t even have to try, so if you’re not a social person, don’t worry. As long as you don’t stay silent in a corner, you’ll have plenty of people to hang out with. 
  • Don’t stress about keeping the friends you do make. You will meet a million people, and have a million new numbers in your phone. You will have a hard time matching everyone’s names to their faces. People form connections really quickly, that’s just human nature, but this is especially heightened in university when everyone is away from home and no one knows anyone. Don’t feel like you have to stay attached to the same five people you became best friends with after two days for fear of not finding anyone else to be close to. Lots of people meet their real friends at the beginning of the year, but most people don’t. All of the pictures and videos I have from my entire first semester are with and of people I don’t even speak to anymore, people who, frankly, I can hardly stand to look at now. During orientation, you’ll gravitate towards anyone, but you’ll soon realize you don’t know them at all and they might turn out to be shitty people. I met all the friends I have now second semester through the LGBT group on campus, and they’re great. Point is, don’t feel too attached to your orientation buddies. You will find your people, even if it takes a while.

First Day of Classes

  • Find the buildings where your classes are held beforehand. Yes, I mean physically walk to them and find the exact classroom, don’t just use Google Maps to make sure you can get there in ten minutes. I knew the names of all the buildings and their general location, but then I found out some buildings are attached to each other and numbered in a strange order, then you finally find the right building but can’t find the right floor and hallway. I was late to all of my classes the first day. University buildings are so confusing. You will have trouble, I promise you. Do yourself a favor and figure out how to get to all of your classrooms sometime earlier in the week. You will feel great about not being that embarrassing freshmen asking the upperclassmen for directions (who are happy to help, but will laugh at you just a little bit).
  • Introduce yourself to the professor before or after class. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want, but it can’t hurt. Just shake their hand and make sure they can match your face to the name. Doing this the first day makes it easier to establish contact with them later in the semester, which you’ll probably have to do. Don’t worry, you’ll see lots of the other students in your lecture doing this, too. Just hop on in line.
  • Double check to make sure you don’t have any assignments due/papers to bring. This is unlikely cause you don’t have summer work in college (at least to my knowledge) and it’s never happened to me, but I had friends whose professors had assigned them work for the the first day of class. This is really ugly, I know, but just check your email and Blackboard to make sure there’s nothing to do. 

This is longer than I anticipated, so thanks if you read it all! I hope this helps someone out. Orientation is a chaotic mess but so so fun, cause it’s the only time you’ll ever be able to experience the fun of college without the stress of the work. Up next is advice on living with a roommate (and boy, do I have advice for that). Previous posts:

Application Process

Choosing/Changing Majors

The college application process is without a doubt the most stressful time in all four years of high school. Here’s my advice on getting through it:

  • First of all, if you’re reading this as a freshman or even a sophomore, calm down. You do not need to be worrying about college yet. So many things can change between now and your senior year, any plans you make now likely won’t be the same then. I didn’t even know what schools I was applying to until I applied to them. I thought I knew for sure what school I was attending until I was accepted into the school I actually ended up attending. Just focus on doing well in school and having fun, then cross that bridge when you get there.
  • Begin researching schools after junior year ends. Junior year is notorious for being the worst one of the four in high school. The work is ridiculously difficult, the pressure is insane, and standardized testing is exhausting. After it’s over, you will have the taken the majority of the classes that will appear on your transcript, you’ll have your ACT/SAT results, and you should now have a good idea of what schools are within your range. Maybe your GPA tanked and you didn’t do as well on the SAT as you thought, so your former match schools are now reaches. Maybe you managed a 3.9 GPA and a 35 on the ACT, so your reaches are well within reason. Summer before my senior year, I (thought I) knew what I wanted to do and began looking for universities that offered me that. 
  • Be open-minded. I’ve seen lots of students get into the mindset of “these are the schools I want to go to, these are the ones I’m applying to, and that’s final”. Don’t be stubborn. If you find a school you’d never heard of before, but it has a really great program in your field of study and a beautiful campus, add it to your list. It can be scary to venture into the unknown when you’ve had your heart set on going to the same university for your whole life, but you never know what could happen. That school you just discovered could turn out to be your dream school. Your list of prospectives is live, meaning it can change. Welcome those changes with open arms.
  • Apply to your dream school! Going into senior year, I planned to apply to one school. Yeah, that’s right. One single school. It was a state school with guaranteed admission and I thought that I would save myself the time, stress, and money of getting rejected from other universities. For some reason, I genuinely thought I had no chance of getting into any school with an acceptance rate of less than 50%. Thank god my parents made me apply to Vanderbilt University, which had always been my dream school. One day, completely expecting to get rejected, I got my acceptance email from Vandy, and now I’m starting my second year there in August. All of this to say, again, you literally never know what’s going to happen. “But my grades/extra-curriculars/test scores aren’t good enough!” There were plenty of people in my class with better stats than me in all of those categories that got rejected from Vanderbilt. There’s no rhyme or reason to college admissions. Apply to that reach school, and keep your expectations in check, but you could be pleasantly surprised.
  • Have multiple safeties. At least two. My safeties were two state schools with guaranteed admission so I knew I’d have somewhere to go in the fall. If you can’t find somewhere with guaranteed admission, find a school with admission averages that you exceed by a lot. I know this seems like obvious advice, but I know of quite a few people, both at my high school and online, who got rejected from literally all the schools they applied to. Those who had a safety went to the safety. Those who didn’t have a safety went no where. Don’t be in that second group. Have safeties, and be prepared to attend them.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Another piece of advice that might seem obvious, but trust me, you’re going to be tempted. Senioritis is real and you aren’t going to want to do anything, especially if it’s not for a grade. Luckily for me, my AP lit teacher required us to turn in our admissions essay as an assignment in September, so I had mine done way ahead of time. If you don’t have a teacher to hold you accountable, you have to do it yourself. Start your essays as early as possible and edit them over the weeks before the deadline. Ask for your rec letters at the end of junior year before summer break. Make sure you have all your deadlines written down and get all your paperwork in order early. There will be plenty of people spending their Christmas and New Years finishing college apps that are due the next day. Don’t be one of them. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress.
  • Stay organized. I saw a studyblr post where someone made an excel sheet comparing all their prospective schools, with categories like size of campus, tuition, type of housing, etc. I did that and it was a great way to keep track of everything. I also put all the essays needed for the application as well as when they were due, so I could easily see what I had left to do. I highly recommend doing this: here is a template you can use to get started. Even if you don’t decide to do this, use your own method to keep on top of all your application work. It can easily get lost beneath your schoolwork or other things you have to do. Make sure it doesn’t!
  • Keep yourself busy. The waiting to hear back from schools after submitting your apps is the worst. It’s torturous. I submitted my applications in October/November, and didn’t start getting decisions until March. That leaves all of winter to be nervous. The only way you’ll get through it is to not think about it. Focus on school, get a job, enjoy your last season of a school sport, just stay busy to keep yourself distracted or else it will be the longest few months of your life. Take a mental break from anything college-related until the good news starts rolling in.
  • Prepare yourself for disappointment. Rejection is never fun, it’s never easy. You might think you’re going to be fine, but it hits you harder than you think. When I got my first rejection, from Georgia Tech, I cried. I didn’t even want to go to Georgia Tech. But I felt like I wasn’t good enough, and therefore I wouldn’t get into any other school. The whole reason I wanted to apply to just one school was to avoid that feeling. If only I had known that my dream school would accept me just a couple weeks later. It’s going to be tough seeing everyone around you get into their first choice school while you’re receiving rejections, deferrals, or waitlists. What you have to remember is that everything happens for a reason. That rejection means that wasn’t the school for you. You will end up where you are supposed to be. 

The application process is grueling and stressful, but also very rewarding. Stick through it and it will all be worth it. Up next in the University Advice series: choosing/changing your major. If you have any other ideas for topics you want to see covered, please let me know!

Next post: Choosing/Changing Major Advice

10

bernie wolfe + @ao3tagoftheday (2/?)

bonus:

Going from living at home with your family to living at school with a stranger is a major major change. I had a very negative roommate experience my freshman year (which I will be making a post about all on its own) and I don’t want any of you to live that so here we go!

  • DON’T ROOM WITH YOUR BEST FRIEND. Obviously, you can take this idea with a grain of salt, but this is advice that’s been passed down to me by many people and I agree with it. If you happen to be going to the same school as your best friend from high school, or your cousin, or someone you’re close to, I recommend against rooming with them. You’re going to college to meet new people and have new experiences; you don’t want to spend your time around the same people you have your whole life. Also, living with someone brings out a different side of them. They might have quirks you hate. Spending so much time with someone can make you sick of each other. You don’t want to enter college besties and leave it enemies, so just be careful. I love my best friends, but I can’t imagine living with them full time because we’re so different!
  • It doesn’t really matter how you find your roommate. Whether you use your school’s facebook page like I did, or choose to go random like many of my friends, it doesn’t matter. Not meeting your roommate until you move in doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. My roommate messaged me on facebook and we talked all summer before move in and didn’t even survive the year. Now that I think about it, all the worst roommate nightmares I’ve heard of were with people who met each other beforehand, and all the people I know who went random were fine. You truly don’t know someone until you live with them; just because you get along great while messaging doesn’t mean you’ll be that way when you’re together almost 24/7. If the deadline for housing is nearing and everyone around you is already paired up, stop stressing and go random. It’s a tossup either way.
  • Accept that you might not be best friends, or even friends, with your roommate. Even if it starts out that way. Again, you don’t really get to know someone as a roommate until you live with them. I went from loving my roommate to not even speaking to her by the time she moved out. You might think the little differences you have don’t matter, but they do. It’s fine though, because you don’t need to be friends with your roommate. You just need to respect each other and get along. It won’t be awkward or uncomfortable if you don’t talk all the time and share hair products. You’ll have plenty of friends you don’t share a room with.
  • Take the roommate agreement seriously. At the beginning of the year, you might just fly through it like it’s a joke, because of course you won’t have any problems! This is untrue. The tiniest thing over time can accumulate in passive aggressive behavior and blow up into a huge conflict. Go over everything and talk about it in detail. Print it out and keep it on hand in case of conflict. Change it if needed. Don’t be afraid of seeming like an overbearing, annoying person because you don’t want your roommate to have the light on after midnight. Be honest and open at the beginning or else it’ll be six months later and way harder to bring it up. Determine who will clean what and when. Determine what is okay to share and what isn’t. Especially determine anything involving other people and your room, which brings me to my next point.
  • DON’T BRING PEOPLE BACK TO THE ROOM WITHOUT ASKING. EVER. This was the thing that ruined me and my roommate. She constantly let guys sleep over without asking me, which was extremely uncomfortable. If one of you wants to bring friends back all the time but the other doesn’t, come to some type of compromise and put it in the roommate agreement. If one of you has a significant other who wants to sleep over, talk about it in length and put it in the roommate agreement. Your room is exactly that; your room. If you want that to be a space for just you and your roommate, the one place on campus you can escape from everyone, that is totally fine. Make sure your roommate knows that. Even if it’s in the agreement that you can bring people over without asking, ASK ANYWAY. It’s common courtesy and respect. A heads up text goes a long way.
  • Communication is key, but escalate if needed. At some point, you’re gonna have some sort of issue, whether it’s big or small, you have to talk about it. If you don’t, it’ll just fester and get worse until you’re pissed at your roommate for something they don’t even know they did. It might seem uncomfortable, but it’s a lot better to squash it immediately than having a full-on fight a few weeks later. If you have a serious issue that’s making it hard to live with your roommate and you’ve talked to them about it and they haven’t fixed it, talk to your RA. They’re there for a reason and you can’t always handle things on your own. When I got to the breaking point with my roommate, I went to my RA. When my RA did nothing, I went to the area coordinator. When they did nothing, I went to the director of housing. You do not have to put up bullshit when you’re paying to live somewhere. You have just as much right to the room as your roommate, so if that’s being compromised, don’t stop until you can find someone to help.

Most people live with a roommate at some point in their life, it’s almost like a rite of passage. It could turn out awful, but it could also turn out to be a really awesome time. I hope for you all that the latter is true! Next post scheduled is advice on college classes and schoolwork, another thing I haven’t had the best of time in. Yay!

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Writing Series #7: Am I Copying?

We all know that plagiarism is wrong. If you’ve written at all, you’ll have it engrained in your head that copying is theft and stealing creative works is one of the worst things you could do in the writing world (no matter how much we wish we could have written that one book, you know, the really really good one). But what about accidental copying?

Every writer I’ve ever met has at some point said to me, “I really like this story, but I think it’s already been done” or “I just finished my book and found out there was one published last year that’s the exact same thing” or “I started reading this book, and I think I accidentally stole its plot.” I know I’ve been there, staring at my favorite books and wondering if I was just a bit too influenced by them, if our plots are a bit too similar, if our writing styles mesh too well. 

But then we have the well-repeated Mark Twain quote: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” And this just might be the most important quote a writer–or any artist–can ever see. 

Plagiarism is stealing fully formed concepts (or words, or sentences, or pages). Plagiarism is taking the full design. Plagiarism is writing a story about an orphan boy in glasses with a lightning bolt on his head who goes to a wizarding school and defeats the evil wizard who killed his parents with the aid of his redheaded best friend. Plagiarism is not writing a story about a wizard. It’s not even writing about a wizaring school. Harry Potter doesn’t own wizarding schools anymore than it owns orphans. Yes, it has been done before. Yes, it can be done again. 

General concepts are not owned. Magic, teenagers with terminal illness, vampires, werewolves, “quirky love stories”–all these things can be done again. Just make sure there’s a reason for it, make sure that your version is different than the last one, that you’ve “turned the kaleidoscope” so to speak, and are giving to the world a story that only you could write: a brand new take on what’s been done again and again and again. 

And this is a question we should  be asking ourselves no matter what: is what I’m writing important? Is it a story that needs to be told, and one that only I can tell? It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, doesn’t have to be an instant classic. Important can just mean “it will make the right people smile at the right time” or it can mean giving representation to a lifestyle that isn’t often seen. It can mean different things to different people, but it should mean something to you. When you’re off trying to sell this story, agents are going to ask just that: why are you the author to make this story a reality? Why could you and only you write this story? 

But by all means, be inspired by what you read and watch. Media is meant to be absorbed and used, to be a springboard into new media. 

To all the writers out there: how do you determine the uniqueness of your story? How are you influenced by the stories you read and how do the play into what you write? 

Feel free to add to this post or submit your own advice to share with your fellow writers at ancwritingresources.tumblr.com

Masterpost: “Asperger’s Syndrome”, “Severe Autism” and Functioning Labels (And Why They’re All Nonsense)

Part 1: “Asperger Syndrome”

If you know a little bit about autism, you know that it’s a spectrum. Some people have very mild autism, and some have severe autism. Some are high-functioning or just have Asperger’s Syndrome and are able to communicate and live independently. Some are low-functioning and need help to survive.

I’m afraid all of this is nonsense, and the fact that it keeps getting perpetuated really hurts a lot of autistic people.

This is a topic we have a lot to say about, so we’re splitting it into two posts (watch for the second part very soon). First off, let’s deal with the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”. We get a lot of asks from people referring to characters with this condition. The problem is, it doesn’t actually exist. Well, the diagnosis officially did exist, but it doesn’t anymore. It is an outdated diagnostic term which is no longer used in the DSM and which is slowly being phased out around the world.

The idea behind the distinction was that there were different “types” of autism ranging from mild to severe. If you learned to speak at a normal (or early) age, were able to communicate in a relatively normal way, and showed an interest in making friends with other children, you were considered an “aspie” - a person with Asperger Syndrome. If you started speaking late or couldn’t communicate verbally at all, and showed no interest in others, you were autistic, which ranged from mild to severe. It was a way for doctors to sort autistic people into categories for the purposes of giving them a diagnosis - and giving them access to assistance. Generally speaking, people diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome got little to no access to assistance, whereas people diagnosed with autism were considered more disabled and given less freedom to care for themselves. On the other hand, those who were diagnosed “autistic” had to live with the stigma of having a severe disorder and were often denied opportunities.

Since all of these people were autistic anyway, it was sometimes hard to know who should be put in which category. The main diagnostic criterion was: if someone with autistic traits learned to talk before 3, they had Asperger’s. After 3, they were autistic. It was taken as a given that you could tell an older “aspie” from another type of autistic by their desire to be social. Spoiler alert: this was a totally arbitrary decision, and when a person learned to talk says nothing about how they function in the present.

So all of this is pretty much meaningless; a person is autistic or they are not autistic. Any one autistic person can have a completely unique mix of traits which is different from anyone else - it isn’t as simple as “this type are like this, that type are like that”. Mod Aira says:

“The very first student I helped to get diagnosed (and then worked as an assistant for) was a little boy in the preschool where I worked at the time. I pointed out that he seemed to be autistic, and my boss said, ‘we used to think that, but he doesn’t mind being touched, he likes playing with other children, and sometimes he makes eye contact, so now we know he can’t be autistic.’ I had to do a little educating with my well-intentioned but ill-informed boss, then we managed to get a specialist to come in and observe him. She was ready to diagnose him with Asperger Syndrome, until she talked to his parents and found out he didn’t start speaking until he was three years old. That meant she couldn’t diagnose him with AS, because that requires starting to speak at an earlier age. The woman was a little confused - how could he be autistic, not “Asperger”, and still be so social? This boy didn’t fit into any of the categories. (It was almost as though the categories were nonsense!) Fortunately, not long after that the DSM-V came out, doing away with AS entirely, and she was able to give him a diagnosis she felt fit him better - autistic, and then with a list of qualifiers.”

This change has been difficult for a lot of autistic people to deal with. Many who were diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome came to identify as “aspies” and to separate themselves from those who identified as “autistic”. Some people even lost their diagnosis altogether, since under the new specifications in the DSM-V, they are no longer considered “disabled” enough to merit a diagnosis. Many continue to refer to themselves as aspies despite the change. This is understandable, and a valid identity - but it’s important that the information get into the mainstream that there is no difference between different types of autism. Rather, there are differences between individual autistic people. Everyone is different, with their own mix of traits and their own unique personality, and there’s no use in trying to subdivide the community into categories in this way.

Speaking of categories, in our next post we’ll get into functioning labels, and the damage they do as well.

We hope this has been helpful. Happy Writing!

Shocking Your Reader without Undermining Character

I think there is an important lesson that can be learned by examining a particular part of ACOWAR through the lens of a writer and exploring how, if it was approached from a different angle, it could solve some of the issues readers are having with characterization while still fulfilling what I believe Maas was hoping for. 

Spoilers ahead. I’ve written this in a way that I hope will be clear even to those who have not read the book (or have no interest in doing so) for the sake of communicating my point. Cause in the end, this is less about the story and more about writing as a craft.

We’re going to talk about the Eris reveal.

The goal of that moment was pretty clear, based on how it was structured - Maas wanted to end the scene on the sudden, shocking revelation that Eris was the missing member of the Court of Nightmares meeting. She wanted a moment where you would gasp, go “wtf, what is he doing there?!” and then feel compelled to dive into the next chapter. It’s a very commonly used tool implemented by many writers.

For those unfamiliar - Eris is a man known for his cruelty. He has been established as taking part in the abuse of two characters that are both written as sympathetic and people that the protagonist cares about (Lucien and Mor). Mor is present at this meeting. It is instantly made clear that she was not informed that he was invited. The sight of him is extremely triggering and her emotional turmoil throughout the scene reinforces to the reader that Eris is a Really Bad Guy. Not exactly something we needed reinforced, given that he tried to hunt down and capture/kill the protagonist earlier in that same book, but… ok.

So the goals of that moment were:

  1. Surprise us with the reveal of Eris.
  2. Make Mor’s reaction reinforce the sense that they are making a deal with the devil.

The thing is, this could have been achieved without having Rhys blindside Mor with Eris’s sudden appearance into the scene.

As these books are written from a first person POV - if Maas wants to surprise the reader, she has to make certain that it’s with something that Feyre either doesn’t know or carefully does not mention to the reader (the second one is a bit of a gamble, because if it isn’t done perfectly, it feels like a cop out). Having Eris’s entrance be a surprise is dependent on Feyre not knowing about it ahead of time - not Mor. There is no reason in terms of story structure to surprise Mor with that. 

And if Maas had made it so that Mor learned off-screen that this was going to happen, then she could have used that to increase the tension before the reveal happens. Feyre can notice how stony-faced Mor looks, how straight-backed and mostly silent. Feyre thinks it’s just because she’s having to face her father (another one of her abusers) and yet something feels different. She’s seen Mor with her father before - seen her glare the man down, holding her composure. But Feyre notices there’s a slight tremble to her now. She’s rattled. She’s not only angry but frightened. And her eyes keep darting to the empty chair at the table, her lips pursed tightly, her brow furrowing as she’s clearly trying to school her features into not revealing what she’s thinking/feeling. And seeing this, even tiny little moments like this, would instantly get the reader wondering who will fill that empty seat. It will increase their anticipation for the reveal that they now know is coming. Mor is a warrior - she is not a woman who scares easily - so something that gets that reaction out of her must be terrifying. The Court of Nightmares is full of monsters - perhaps we’re about to meet one of them. Given the setting, you’d still never assume that it would be Eris - so the surprise would still hit the right mark.

So by choosing not to let Mor know - Maas not only made Rhys seem incredibly heartless concerning his friend’s feelings, she also passed up on a really good opportunity to play with the reader’s expectations. 

And if Feyre was upset at being left in the dark (which is necessary in order to surprise the reader), Rhys and/or Mor could explain that Mor did not want anyone else to know. It would be made clear that Rhys came to her with the proposal to use Eris as an asset, explaining why it was so important, and even though every part of her is repulsed by the idea - she ultimately chose to agree - to protect Feyre’s secret and to gain an ally for the coming war. Because if Maas really wants to keep hammering on this idea that Rhys is all about choice - this would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. He gave Mor the choice whether or not they work with her abuser and it was her choice whether or not to tell the others. 

I think the takeaway here is that when you’re editing a draft, it’s not just a matter of fixing typos or changing a few words around here and there. One should really examine the text to see if there are potential moments there that you didn’t see before in your outlining or first draft stage. Maas gave herself a really powerful tool - the ability to raise the stakes with a subtle detail that would not detract from the main action of the scene - and she failed to use it. Either this was a conscious choice (because she really wanted to feature retraumatizing Mor) or she simply did not see that she’d set herself up for something much more powerful that would have kept Rhys more in-character (or at least, more fitting with the sort of character she keeps telling us he is).

Welcome to the next post in my university advice series! I’m gonna give you some tips on choosing your college major, cause I have truly been through it:

  • Think about how/what you did in high school before you choose your major. By this I mean what classes did you do well in? Which ones did you actually enjoy? What clubs did you participate in? If you’re planning on being a math major but the only C’s on your entire transcript are in math classes, that’s not a good idea (@myself). If you enjoyed your government classes and debate club, consider something like poli sci. Going to college doesn’t mean you’re an entirely different person; you’re going to enjoy the same things and be bad at the same things. Take this into consideration when choosing your major.
  • Don’t be afraid to go in undecided. So many of my classmates in high school didn’t know what they wanted to do before going to school. Then I got to uni and no one knew what they wanted to do there either. Going in undecided is honestly way better than declaring a major, doing it for a year, deciding you hate it, and then having a year’s worth of useless credits (again, @myself). Go in, take some general requirements, take a couple electives in things you find interesting, and you’ll eventually figure out what you want to major in. Don’t stress about it too much. I promise there will be hundreds of other students who are undecided, too.
  • DON’T CHOOSE YOUR MAJOR BASED ON WHAT YOU THINK WILL MAKE MONEY OR WHAT YOUR PARENTS WANT YOU TO DO. Everyone says this, and I heard it a million times before I went to school, yet I still ignored this advice. Story time: at the beginning of high school, I was planning on going to a school where I could major in songwriting. My parents made it clear that that wasn’t going to be a lucrative choice at all, and various people planted the idea in my head that I should do something in engineering, especially since women of color are so underrepresented in that field. I took AP comp sci in senior year and decided I would just do that. If I couldn’t do what I truly wanted, I didn’t really care what I did instead, I thought I might as well do what makes money. Computer science is basically a few classes short of a math major, and I had spent the past six years complaining about how much I hated math. My first semester of college, I failed both calculus (a calculus class I had already taken in high school, mind you) and gen chem and got put on academic probation. My second semester, I retook calculus and passed with a D, passed my second lab science with a D, and only passed the intro computer science class with a C. I struggled with every assignment, every test, no matter how many hours I studied or professors I spoke to, I couldn’t do well. I spent a good chunk of my freshman year more depressed than I have ever been, and anxious about getting kicked out of school. It took a visit to my doctor to discover that STEM was not meant for me. In my heart, I knew that, but I thought I could push through to get my degree. But what would’ve happened then? I would’ve gotten a job I hated and been just as miserable. Basically, there’s no way that this will end well. Please choose your major based on what you’re passionate about. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make yourself love something you hate. Even if you excel academically, you’re setting yourself up for more unhappiness. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you’re miserable. Please trust me on this. 
  • There’s nothing wrong with changing your major. Tbh, changing your major is great. You’re paying all this money to attend university, you deserve to study what you want to study. If you’re like me and discovered that your current major isn’t for you, change it as soon as possible. Don’t push it off and think “it’ll get better!” because before you know it, it’ll be senior year and you’ll either have to finish what you started or stay in school another two years just to graduate. I know it’s scary at first, but your mind changes! I swore to myself i would never change my major, and now it’s only my second year and I’ve transferred to a completely different school in my university to major in a completely different field. You can take a couple classes in the field before officially changing your major to make sure it’s for you. And if you change your major and still hate it, guess what? You can change it again! You can change your major as many times as you want. Many people in the work force have jobs in fields that have nothing to do with their degree, so it’s not like your major is a determining factor for the rest of your life anyway. Literally all of my friends who are about to graduate have both been on academic probation and changed their major at at least one point; one just changed his major during his fourth year. The point here is that nothing is permanent and change is going to have to be embraced if you decide college is for you.
  • People are going to judge you, especially if you’re in the humanities or arts. The reactions I got when I told people I was a computer science major versus the reactions I get now when I tell people I’m a gender studies major with an italian minor are so vastly different it’s ridiculous. People used to be so proud and impressed of me. Now when I tell people what I study, they can’t even hide their confusion and judgement. It’s so awful. I constantly get asked, “what are you going to do with that?” “how are you going to make any money?” “what job opportunities are in that field?”. The answer is always that I don’t know yet! I didn’t know when I was a comp sci major either, yet no one asked me then, because STEM professions are seen by our society as more valuable. All i know is that I want to help people. Whether that be through policy, law, psychology, non-profits, even my music, that’s what I want and that’s what I’m going to do. News flash, people! There’s no guarantee of a job no matter what field you’re in. There’s plenty of unemployed people with engineering degrees. Even on campus, people in STEM fields tend to be condescending and look down to us in humanities. I can’t even imagine the crap that art majors get. You have to learn to ignore the looks, the questions, and the sly comments, cause you’ll get a lot of them. Understand that what you’re doing is just as valid and important as anyone else. If it’s what you want to do, it’s inherently super cool!
  • I understand everyone can’t take my advice on this, and I’m sorry. Obviously some people don’t have the freedom to choose whatever they want to study. I have friends whose parents have threatened to literally cut them off if they don’t stay pre-med. Sometimes factors are outside of your control and that really sucks. What i want to say to you is that, again, nothing is permanent. Someday you’ll be financially independent, living alone, and won’t have to rely on your parents. Their opinions won’t matter. Even if you had to get a degree in mechanical engineering or bio, you don’t have to pursue that. At least not forever. You really just have to look at the light at the end of the tunnel. Your major in college does not define you or your future. 

I hope this maybe helped ease some of your worries concerning college majors! Remember what you want is what’s most important. Post on deck: advice on surviving orientation week (including move-in day and first day of classes)! 

Previous post: Application Advice

For @kkkkkelsy who asked;

Hello!☺️ It’s so nice to visit your studyblr. I think your studyblr and notes are so awesome. 😍 And I wonder how to take notes with color pens. Because my notes are always too colorful to review but if I only write in black, I can’t find the key point easily.

Hey! Oh god yes, sometimes I’ll be so engrossed with annotating or highlighting with different colours that when I step back to review my notes, it looks as if someone’s vomited a rainbow over my page.

Here are my three tips to avoid looking like your page has been destroyed;

1. Create a legend

  • Useful for 
    • Note taking
    • Annotating articles/notebooks/journal articles/ cases ○
    • Language Study 
    • Speed reading large chunks of text 
  • Method 
    • Assign a label to each colour
    • Each colour will correspond to a category of information
    • This will help you find all the key points related to a particular topic
    • (So if you write in black, you can write all your keywords/ definitions in colour)
  • Examples
    • Here: yellow=section, blue = grammar structure, orange = particle, pink = new vocabulary, green = things I already know. 
    • Here green = legal issue , yellow = legal principle, blue= argument, pink = application to facts

2. Limit the colours you use

  • Useful for 
    • Review sheets
    • Chapters/ large topics
  • Method 
    • Pick 2-3 colours for each chapter 
    • Write all the sub points in the other colour / black or blue pen
    • When you change chapter, change to different set of colours.
    • The key is to limit the colours you use per page, thus making it easier to read
    • Useful for exam revision - in theory, the headings are used as memory prompts
  • Example
    •  Here: three branches of government, three different colour schemes for each one

3. Colour each section or heading in a completely different colour

  • Useful for 
    • Comparing /Contrasting perspectives 
    • Timelines
    • Essay plans 
  • Method 
    • Colour each paragraph/chunk of notes/ section in a completely different colour 
    • Each viewpoint has a different colour 
    • Each time period has a different colour 
  • Examples 

Which one should I use?

The method I choose will depend on the subject, the type of content, and what I’m going to do with those notes (e.g. use them as revision, exam notes, or use them to write an essay). I will also combine two methods.

Why bother colour coding?

It may prompt your memory. When you have 200+ pages of notes for exams, its easier to locate key points. It makes it easier to organise and plan an essay.

What if I don’t have colourful pens?

Don’t fret! Got a pen and a pencil? Alternate between the two. Underline key points. Write keywords, headings etc in UPPERCASE and associated points in lower case. Experiment with different handwriting styles and sizes.

This is all nice and well, but I type my notes!

So do I! The heading options, customising my keyboard, shortcuts and the ToC have been my bffl throughout law school. Seriously.

Other tips I have found useful: 

In the end, its not the sheer number of colours you use but the ease of access that’s important.

If you have any questions about this feel free to ask here!

Hope this helps!

- fuckstudy.

*the notes supplied are for demonstrational purposes only. TL;DR these notes are old as fuck, there will be errors, and are used for example purposes only