Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Joys of Reading Aloud

Focus on the Family Radio Theatre has absolutely ruined audio books for me. Not to worry, I mean that in a good way. Back when I was a kid, we lived in Washington State, where my dad used to take my brother and I to visit Mt. Rainier, and along the way we would listen to The Chronicles of Narnia.
The audio dramas were and continue to be fantastic, more so than any of the films. Why? Because each drama mirrored the books practically word-for-word. And the books weren’t just read aloud. Each character had a voice, and several scenes had music, heightening the drama or the tension. It was like watching a film without the visuals.
So it was that at eight-years-old, I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia, and regular audio books were ruined forever. How could I listen to one person on a CD read on an on after that? But my delight in being read to was different whenever family members or teachers read aloud. In third grade, one of my teachers read Junie B. Jones and Methuselah’s Gift to the class, and at home my dad read The Hobbit to my brother and me.
As a child, I grew to enjoy books so much that I tried to read way above my reading level even when I didn’t understand what I was reading. And today, my family continues to read aloud. Last summer, we took turns rereading the entirety of The Hobbit as a family, and every year we read the Bible together.
But not all of my experiences listening to books have been rewarding. While my brother is an auditory learner, I am a visual and kinesthetic learner. My brother can recite most of any film after watching it once, but I find it difficult to retain whatever I hear aloud.
Often times whenever somebody is reading aloud, my thoughts wander. This can even happen, believe it or not, when I’m reading aloud. While my voice is saying the words on the page, my thoughts are somewhere else completely. Talk about bizarre.
Nevertheless, I have found ways to concentrate whenever somebody else reads aloud. I fiddle with something in my hands (a slinky, an eraser, a candle, etc.) or I read along if another copy of the book is available.
Of course, I still like reading silently. I do it all the time. But there is a certain joy to reading aloud. It can bring people together into a narrative, and each story becomes a shared journey instead of a solitary one.
Coffee and stories?
What a perfect combination!
Not only is reading aloud great for readers, but it’s also beneficial to writers. Reading an unfinished draft aloud can help writers catch their mistakes, or reading a polished piece to others can be a great way for writers to share their work.
Back when I attended Evangel University, I was on staff for Epiphany, the university’s literary magazine. Once a month, we hosted Epiphany Coffeehouse in the student union where students and professors would read their original poetry, stories, or essays.
At first, the prospect of reading one of my stories in front of my peers and professors was quite terrifying. But after several months, sharing my stories with others became quite fun, and I always relished listening to works by my friends and acquaintances.
So if you’re a writer and find yourself with the opportunity to read aloud at an open mic event or at a coffeehouse, go for it! There’s nothing quite like hearing writers read their works in their own voices. You never know what kind of people you’ll meet or what kind of friends you’ll make. 
As for readers, remember that reading can be a relaxing, solitary experience, but it’s also an excellent way to spend time with others. Statistics even show that children who are read aloud to are more likely to enjoy reading throughout their lives. If you don’t believe statistics, take my own story as evidence. Who knows, you might instill the love for reading in a child or two. They’ll thank you for it one day.
Which books (if any) have you read with your family? Has reading aloud increased your delight in reading?
Literary references: C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones books, Mary Elizabeth Edgren’s Methuselah’s Gift, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and the Holy Bible.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Published

What writer doesn’t want to see their name in print? As a teenager, I was determined to publish my first book at age 14. Instead, my first short story wasn’t published until I was a freshman in college. That’s not to say that dreams can’t come true. Things just didn’t turn out the way I had expected. Here are just a few of the things I learned along the way that I wish I knew beforehand:

1) Publishing is a long process.

And I mean long. Okay, not like getting your doctorate long (though it could be…). But publishing a short story can last 3+ months, and that’s not including the writing or editing processes. Although I have not yet published a novel-length work, simply writing one has taken months. I can only image how long it takes to publish something of much length.

So you’re thinking about publishing a Christmas story? You’d better start writing it in September or sooner.

2) It’s okay to submit more than once.

Some magazines or publishing houses don’t accept simultaneous submissions but others do. Make sure you check each company’s guidelines. When it comes to publishing, it’s important to be persistent. Keep submitting for publication after publication. As I mentioned before, I didn’t get my first short story published until I was a freshman in college. After that, I didn’t get another short story published until my senior year.

I wish I had submitted more often and before I reached college. Even if the only tangible results meant more rejection letters, at least I would’ve had the experience.

3) Not everybody will read my story.

We live in a world where (sadly) not everybody enjoys reading. Just because I got a short story published didn’t mean that every person I met would demand to read it. While I thoroughly enjoy reading, many of my family members will never read for pleasure. Even though I have three short stories published, some of the people I know well have never read them.

4) Rejection will happen.

Rephrased: rejection may happen to some stories and not to others, but it will happen. Before I got published, I acknowledged rejection as a fact somewhere in the back of my mind. I was fortunate enough to have my first submission published, but afterward I had multiple rejections. Each publication is fantastic, but it will not guarantee the next one.  

5) Acceptance will happen.

Unless you give up, you’re likely to get something published if you’re persistent enough. But wait? Isn’t acceptance the goal of submitting a story? Well, yes. But it is also quite terrifying. Publication means more people will read my work, and I always wish I knew what they will think. Will they like it? What if they don’t? And so on. If there’s anything more terrifying for me than getting rejected, it’s getting accepted.

6) There’s more to being a writer than being an author.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be published. But the delight I felt after I received my first letter of acceptance didn’t last. After I finished the final edits, my involvement with the story was over. I didn’t go back to read my story, except maybe at somebody’s request to read it aloud. For me, that particular story was over, so I went back to writing.

This is not to say that publication is some evil dragon that destroys writing. It’s not. But it’s not a glamorized ultimate goal for writers. If you write and aren’t published yet, you’re an aspiring author, not an aspiring writer. Writers are called writers because they write whether they’re published or not. Publishing is just one way to share that writing with others.
My dear writer friends, here’s to more submissions, (hopefully) fewer rejections, and more writing! Don’t stop now!

What are some things you wish/want to know about publishing? What are your thoughts on the process?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Camp NaNoWriMo 2015

At the beginning of last month, I set out to write 50,000 words in one month. I’d always wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, held in November) before but never had the time. Until I learned about Camp NaNoWriMo, which took place in April and July (I opted for July due to college). So after 31 days, I have 50,038 words and a complete story, Visionary.

Here is the working premise: Sometimes, it only takes a dream to wake up. All Hannah Davidson has known is the life of a typical American kid. When she is thrust 2,000 years back in time with no explanation, she must learn how to survive on the streets. She hopes it’s all a dream, but when she finally gets to sleep, Hannah wakes up in yet another life with family members she’s never met. Hannah wonders if she will ever find her way back home, not realizing that her deepest beliefs are about to be tested.
Below are just a few of the takeaways from my experience during Camp this July!

Highlights from my daily journal of experiences:

Day 1: Our building caught fire! Usually, I write a scene with fire somewhere around the middle of the book when I’m stuck. Not at the beginning when the ideas are (semi) flowing. Ironically, a fan started the fire. No, the building did not burn down, and all my books are fine.
Day 13: Inspiration. This day was probably the day I wrote the most. I had a cappuccino in the morning, added some music, and wrote 3,000 words. I also took the time to write earlier in the day instead of trying to cram everything in before I went to bed.
Day 19: Discovery. As I tried to think of something to record for this day, I realized the opposite themes in the novels I’ve written lately (Visionary and Breaking a Thief). I’d worried that they would be too similar because both protagonists live double lives. This day I realized how they are different. As for the differing themes, well, I’ll leave that up to readers to find out for themselves (I wouldn’t want to give everything away).

Day 21: No progress. From July 20-22, the movers came to pack out our house (I don’t post this kind of thing at the time for security purposes). Although I didn’t write anything towards my story the first two days, I found packing to be very inspirational. And by inspirational, I mean boring. It’s amazing how many scene ideas I can come up with as I watch somebody wrap the 50th piece of furniture. Oh, and if velociraptors were still alive, I’m pretty sure they would sound like the tape rollers. Just saying.

Day 25: Catching up. This was a productive day, and I even got to relax a little. What’s more, I got to write something that didn’t involve this story, which was a special treat. Sometimes I feel as though writing can be more enjoyable if it’s not mandatory. For example, I come up with the best story ideas when I’m trying to write a paper. It just stands to reason that I can work on one story idea while I've promised to write another. I actually find this can be helpful. If I get tired of one story, I can just switch to the other and work on that one for a while.  

Day 31: Last day of Camp NaNoWriMo. I worked on a bunch of paperwork (4 hours’ worth! Ugh!) and finished my novel. Suffice to say, my post-paperwork writing was perhaps some of the best I’ve written so far because it had a scene with pancakes. Yum! 

For a full list of my daily reflections, you can check out my Twitter profile here.

Things I enjoyed:

Being able to write 2,500 words on some days because I have no life.

This blog post, which served as a welcome distraction from my story. Come on, you didn’t actually think I wrote this in one day, did you? (I also redesigned my blog as another means of procrastination. What do you think?)

Getting back into writing. For the longest time, I didn’t know which story I should write next. I’m still not sure if Visionary was the right one. But I came to realize that if I never actually decided on one and stuck with it, that I would never get anywhere. So here’s to projects that may not be used but help get writers out of their ruts.

My daily Twitter reflections. I stopped journaling every night because I began staying up until 2 a.m. at times, and it usually takes me 30 minutes to journal. The account helped me remember some things throughout this time.  

Things I would do differently next time:

Not move/travel in the middle of writing a novel. Seriously though, have you ever tried to pack all your household goods while trying to meet a daily word count?
Actually have an outline. In May, I had graduation, then I went on four international vacations, and I finished the second draft for my previous novel. I guess you could say I was too busy to write an outline. That’s not exactly true. I did have time, a little anyway, but I just didn’t use it to give myself the direction I needed.
Develop my characters more. This may have also kept characters from randomly popping up, though I’m sure they’d do this anyway. By the end of the story, I had 17 characters with names. My last novel (about 300 pages) had 9. Pretty sure some characters will disappear with revisions.
Of course, this story was like many first drafts: fun but rough. It will need revisions, but it was still good to write. Whether or not I will ever return to edit this story is another matter. Next year, I plan to take part in NaNoWriMo again, but I may choose another month due to grad school. Until then, I shall return to editing and plotting outlines.
If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo, what was your experience like? Did you have any insights, funny stories, or excellent lines?