Respect Your Project, Finish Your Story

No real writer likes what she’s writing ALL the time, or even MOST of the time. The important thing is to stick with your story until the end. That’s when the magic happens. – Meg Cabot

It’s so easy to give up on a project. You’ll get stuck and bored, and you’ll want to stop. You get another great idea and you’ll want to chase it. But finishing the story you started is so important, here’s why: 

Respect the project:

When you start a project, you’re responsible for it. A project is like a child: it’s born, it needs someone to take care of it and help it grow, and then one day, when it’s developed, it’s sent out into the world. It’s your job to make sure it survives and prospers once you release it, making you proud. You gave the project life and now you have to take care of it. If you don’t, if you’ll simply let it die on the shelf, you’ll rob it of its potential. 

Respect your time:

Think of everything that you could have done if you weren’t writing. You could have spent time with your pet or talked to your spouse. You could have watched a movie or read a book. You could have napped or gotten drunk. There was a lot you could have done, but you chose to write. You chose to spend your limited time on Earth doing this activity. You’re investing your most precious resource into this. It’s like paying for a membership for the gym, showing up, and sitting there for an hour without using the equipment and going home, then being upset because you aren’t seeing any results. Respect your time. Finish your work. 

Okay, let’s say I convinced you and you’ll pull out that half-finished project and write to the end. But where is the end? 

Honestly, you can end a story anywhere (even in a mid-sentence), but that would be disrespecting the audience — unless it’s a really good half a sentence. When the reader starts reading your work, you’ve made a promise that you will give them a sense of resolution, enjoyment, or fulfillment. You don’t want to disrespect your reader’s time either. You want them to come back one day and read your other works. With an honourable completion in mind, there are places that make sense to end a story. 

And as the writer, you get to decide: do you want your story to have an explicit ending or an implicit ending? 

Explicit ending:

When there is nothing more for the reader to know, when all the questions are answered, then it’s an appropriate ending. This type of ending is a nice little bow on a wrapped up story. 

I like to think of these as success or failure stories: 

Did Rocky win his match? Did we save Private Ryan or kill Bill? Did the lovers get together? If your story is about a specific mission, then at the end, the audience should know whether it was accomplished. Did the hero get what he or she wants? Did good conquer evil? 

These types of stories tend to leave the reader satisfied. 

The other type of endings are…

Implicit ending:

Often known as open-ended stories, these endings leave the resolution up to the reader’s interpretation. 

One main example is a…

Cliffhanger ending: 

Which leaves the reader wanting more.

As one mission ends another begins! What adventures are your characters up to next?

A cliffhanger can have the character literally hanging off a cliff, Or it could be done subtly: 

The last scene can be of a man calling his ex girlfriend. Throughout the story, we learn that the man is overcome with guilt. He wants to make amends with his past lover. The story ends before she picks up the phone. The reader wonders, did she answer? Was it the right phone number? If not, what would the man do? The reader draws her own conclusion. 

These types of stories will leave your readers thinking about it even after they’ve put the book down. 

If you are struggling to finish, aim for one of these two endings. Yes, they’re broad, but they will give you a lot of room to make adjustments and edit when it’s done. 

Write to the end (even if it’s bad): 

It’s going to be bad. There’s no avoiding that, so you might as well get over it. After all, that is what editing is here for. The faster you write to the end, the faster you can start editing. Wouldn’t that be nice? 

Remember as the writer, you are the first reader. The first draft is a discovery. You don’t really know what your story is about before you get to the end. You don’t know if it’s going to wrap up nicely or leave the reader wanting more, but having a target gives you direction. 

Let yourself discover, because that is some times where the best words come from. Don’t give up on your writing, no matter how small the project is. Write to the end. 

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What Does “That’s Deep” Mean?

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

When Peter read that passage from one of his favorite books, he paused for a moment and processed the words on the page. On the surface, it was merely describing what Samwise Gamgee saw and how it made him feel. 

Through the cloudy gloom, up upon the mountains, he saw a white star — and that star gave him hope because it shone through all the darkness. 

Yet, there was something more. Something underneath the literal. To which it made him say out loud, “Wow… that’s deep.” 

But what did he mean? Why did that passage out of the thousands of passages in the trilogy stop him? Or better yet, how did it stop him? 

The phrase “that’s deep” when we hear it in a literal sense, sounds like someone’s talking about the ocean floor. While that might sometimes be the case, what Peter meant when he said that’s deep was that the writing was profound. So in order for us to understand what makes something deep, we must understand what makes something profound. 

The word profound has many definitions, but the one we will be relying on is this one: going far beneath what is superficial, external, or obvious.

Yes, Sam Gamgee saw the star — but it was what the star represented that made the passage profound. It was so beautiful that it smote his heart and even looking at all the destruction, he had hope. Perhaps we have all been where Sam Gamgee was — not literally, not Mt Doom — but we have all been in a situation where we felt as though we were ready to surrender. There were moments where we felt hopeless.

Peter certainly did. He was neck-deep in student debt and looking for employment in the entertainment industry. Of course, the world was not looking for another filmmaker, and any project he wanted to get off the ground was consistently met with rejections. He was in the clouds on the dark tor, ready to quit. 

But the star, a light of high beauty can never be dimmed by the shadow. The shadow in Peter’s world was the debt. No matter how deep he falls into debt, his love for filmmaking and storytelling will never die. The star was his passion and when looking up upon it, he remembered the feeling he got when he premiered his first student film in high school. The audience laughed and cheered. It was what he loved doing. It made him happy. It fulfilled him. It kept him warm and made him feel as though life, his little life, was worth living. And that life — that will to live — hangs so high above the debt, that he knew poverty would never make him hate his passion. For he was living for his passion, not for his debt. 

He closed the book and placed it to the side. Peter, filled with hope and inspiration, his white star visible through the darkness, goes and picks up his camera and starts filming. He didn’t ask for permission. He didn’t ask for a budget. He didn’t go get approval or a permit. Like Sam, he’s focused on the twinkling star and not on the forsaken land beneath. 

For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was a small passing thing. 

We all have a Shadow — a capital problem that follows us — but Tolkien doesn’t make it obvious, he layers it with imagery and symbolism. 

Imagery is vivid and descriptive language. It creates visuals in the reader’s mind by appealing to the senses. In this case, sight: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.” 

Symbolism is the use of characters, settings, or objects to present an abstract idea. It holds hidden meanings and requires some deeper thinking to identify. In this example, it was the star and the Shadow. “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Of course, Tolkien didn’t have Peter in mind when he wrote the story. But by using imagery and symbolism, he was able to emotionally impact a wider audience and his writing has lasted generations. That is what profound writing can do. Profound writing transcends time and space. It captures what it is like to be human without ever stating the obvious, “here, this is what you have to do. These are the facts.” It lies not on the surface and requires the individual, with their own values and personal experiences, to dig underneath. And it’s the process of digging that makes a piece of writing deep. 

Is there a profound passage of writing that really resonated with you? I’d love to read it, so please share it in the comments below. And if you’ve enjoyed this article, check out these two other posts in the series:

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Improve Your Writing By Copying

Three weeks ago, I started my journey to type out The Great Gatsby. I remember reading an interview from Johnny Depp saying that this was something Hunter S Thompson did because he wanted to know what it would be like to write a masterpiece. Since then, I was eager to give it a shot, thinking that it would be an enlightening experience. As unpleasant as the current situation is, it had given me some extra hours in the week to put my anxious energy into a new project, so I decided, now is the time.

I’ve read The Great Gatsby exactly ten years ago and remembered feeling little about it. That goes to show how little I knew when I was younger. It was like listening to The Beatles’ Hey Jude and then going, “Who’s Jude?” I’ve missed the point. 

It takes practice in order to have an appreciation for craft, especially when the world is full of junk. Like food, after you limit the amount of sugar you consume, you’d begin to appreciate the complex flavour of vegetables. It’s a beautiful moment when that happens. The same goes for art. When we start noticing the qualities of a craft, we begin to see junk lacking in substance. 

I was confident there was something I could learn from copy The Great Gatsby, as there is copying any masterpiece, regardless of the craft. Learning by replicating is an effective way of recognizing the little details that make up a full piece. A great piece of writing, in the end, is just a combination of words. When you acknowledge each individual word, giving a real moment to type it out, you see each brick for what it is — a unique piece in a mosaic that is easy to miss when looking top down. I wanted to see everything Fitzgerald put into his story that I wouldn’t if I was speeding through it, as I did a decade ago… 

With all that in mind, here are six key areas of The Great Gatsby I wanted to focus on while I’m going through this copying process: 

Word choices: 

Vocabulary is to a writer as to what colours are to a painter. From descriptions to dialogue, I was curious to see all the words that Fitzgerald chose. Some, I’m sure, will confuse me and others will surprise me. When writing, I find myself using the same words over and over again — using colours I’m comfortable with — but by typing out every specific word in someone else’s novel, I’ll hopefully discover new ones and widen the spectrum of my vocabulary. 

Variety of sentences and paragraphs: 

When we read, we are absorbing information, but at that speed, we might miss the rhythm of the language — or at least not be conscious about it. By typing out a story, I will slow down the process of consumption and see the varying lengths of words, sentences and paragraphs. If this was music, I’d not only focused on the lyrics, but I’d also be hearing the tempo of the drumbeat, the harmony of the bass, and the cadence of the melody. I’d see how Fitzgerald draws out a detail in a long expository sentence or increases the pacing in a heated dialogue. 

The order of information: 

Good communication is the delivery of information in a coherent and logical order. Good storytelling, however, is the strategic reveal of details that increases drama and evokes an emotional response. A good story isn’t simply a sequential order of events: this happened and then this happened and then afterward this happened. No! Great writing is magic, because like magic, the principles are the same but instead of sleight of hand it’s with words: hiding, switching and misdirecting. By typing out the novel, I’m hoping to catch F Scott in the act and see what tricks he used to keep us turning the pages.  

Narrator and characters: 

One of the biggest challenges while writing is making sure your characters don’t all sound the same, so that in the readers’ minds, they are all individual people, with personalities, feelings, and beliefs so realistic that they’ll feel as though they’re sitting next to them. It’s certainly a challenge I have, so I’m going to be paying attention to the character construction while typing out The Great Gatsby and see how Fitzgerald helped us identify with Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby. 

Hidden details: 

When you are writing, everything slows down, you begin to notice each sentence, each phrase, and even every syllable. This aspect is fun because you feel a bit like an archaeologist or like the Tom Hanks character in The Da Vinci Code. You study the writing, like The Last Supper, looking for hidden messages and wondering whether the creator expected it to be there at all. 

Is typing out The Great Gatsby as valuable as a creative writing course? Hmmm… That’s a question for another time, but I truly believe that there is a lot to learn from this exercise. You will see how the story is constructed. Like a painting, you’ll experience each brushstroke. Like a song, you’ll be able to hear each note. Like a house, you’ll notice each nail, and that is what copying a piece of work offers you. Additionally, it’s a therapeutic activity, much like knitting, building a LEGO miniature, and solving a jigsaw puzzle. 

If you are interested in following my typing out the Great Gatsby journey, please join me via my YouTube channel every Saturday at 11am PDT. We can chat about all things writing and creativity, or whatever else is on your mind!

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5 Productive Procrastination Tasks for Writers

Sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. You’ve been sitting in front of the computer and nothing is coming out. If you sit for another minute, it’ll be another minute wasted. You resist the urge to scroll social media or clean the junk drawer, because that is, for sure, a waste of time, but what is there to do? 

Stop writing. That’s fine. 

Today might not be the day that you get a lot of words down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a write-off. You CAN procrastinate and still be productive. I’m going to share with you five procrastinating tasks you can do that doesn’t involve increasing your word count. 

1. Research

As a writer, there is always something to research whether it’s detail for your story, publications to submit your work to, or events or courses that you might be interested in attending. What I like to do when I really don’t feel like writing is to find a writing contest and spend some time reading the guideline — and maybe a few of the past winners and the works of the judges. In fact, I procrastinate using this technique so often that I have a whole blog post dedicated to writing contests, check it out, the link is in the description below. 

So give this a shot, next time you don’t feel like writing, look up places to submit your work. It might feel as though you are putting the cart before the horse, but I don’t, I feel this is a good way to understand the market, especially if your writing goal is to get published. 

2. Organize

If you’re like me you may have multiple drafts, multiple stories, and multiple submissions all up in the air. If you do, then this is a good opportunity to organize your folders and make sure you can easily locate the most recent draft of your story when you need it. The better you have access to your work, the more likely you’ll be able to find it and work on it. 

I have a spreadsheet with all my work in progress on it. I have their status (is it still in the works, is the first draft completed and I’m letting it marinate before returning for a second edit, or have I submitted it to a publication and am awaiting the result). I also include other details about the piece including word count and whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you are using Google Drive, you can just add a link to the draft or the folder it’s in for easy accessibility. Staying organized had made my whole writing process so much more efficient, so I really recommend giving this method a shot if you feel like taking a break from actually writing. 

3. Consume

You should never feel guilty for taking a break from creating to consume, but that is only if you do it right. When I say consume, I don’t mean eating — I mean reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to music — in other words, enjoying something someone else made. And when I say you should consume it in a right way, what I mean is that you should do it actively. Approach it critically to find aspects of the work you like and dislike. Really absorb it so that you are able to reflect on it properly afterwards and record it so you can use some of what you do like in your own work in the future. 

Many successful writers will tell you that in order to be any good, you are going to have to read. Yes, you should definitely read, but there is certainly value in watching movies, television shows, and listening to music or audio books as well. This is if you do it actively.  

4. Revisit Old Work

Now if you really feel like punishing yourself for procrastinating, I recommend that you find a piece of work from your past and reread it. Approach it like you’ve never seen it before and enjoy it. It might feel like you’re taking a trip to cringe city, but there is always a lot you can get from this torturous exercise. 

First, you’ll get to see how your writing has evolved over time. The thoughts you had when you were younger might not be the same as the ones you have now. I like this because I get to see my progress. Second, if this piece is something that I gave up on, maybe now I have the ability to fix it and make it better. If I feel so inspired, I can take this procrastination opportunity to edit it, which would be incredibly productive. But don’t approach it with that intention, approach it as your ideal reader, not your critic. 

5. Be Creative

If the words simply aren’t coming to you today, but you still want to be creative, you can! Draw a picture, paint a painting, play an instrument, grab your camera and take some photos, film a video — there are many things you can do to still be creative and through those other artistic endeavours you do to see the world in a different way. 

After all, the way you show something in writing may be very different from a drawing. What I’ve been doing a lot of is trying to illustrate an idea I have. I’m not a great illustrator, but it takes my mind off of words for a bit. If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, that’s a really good way. 

There you go! Those are 5 productive procrastination ideas for when you don’t feel like writing. Are there any you are currently doing? Let me know in the comments! 

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What is Pretentious Writing?

What makes one writer formal, important, talented, and cultured — and another pretentious? 

This is a tale of two writers. Devon and Jessica. 

Devon is an aspiring novelist, he has this epic fantasy novel in his head and has spent many evenings and weekends outlining and drafting. He’s an enthusiast of all things mythology and considers himself a primo expert in medieval weapons. But he knows something is holding him back. Gatekeepers. He simply needs to meet the right people and get them to read his work. 

Jessica is an accountant and has never thought of herself as much of a writer. It was only when her grandmother started feeling ill that she even considered picking up a pen. After visiting her grandmother one afternoon and hearing her stories about her childhood in Vietnam, she decided that it was a story worth recording. 

Devon and Jessica although had different intentions for their writing, found themselves both applying for a spot in the local university’s creative writing program. One of the requirements for admission was to supply a 300-word essay explaining their writing goals and what they hope to achieve from the courses. 

Reid is an administration associate for the university and it’s his job to review the applications and create a short list of applicants. First he read Devon’s and it went like this:

As I commence my journey to ascertain knowledge to optimally communicate my story with the citizens of tomorrow, I aim to transcend the lives of those I have yet to meet as the literary legends I applauded had accomplished for me. 

Reid looked up from Devon’s essay, opened and closed his eyes to clear his vision and looked down at it again. Reid doesn’t say it out loud or announce it to his colleagues. He didn’t pass the essay around so it could be ridiculed, but something was glaringly obvious about Devon’s writing: it was pretentious. 

But how? 

While Reid avoided over analyzing the essay in the moment, there were a few aspects of Devon’s writing that couldn’t be ignored. 

1. Lack of Clarity

Big stuffy words made the writing hard to read. Although long complex words can often accentuate a piece of writing, like a pinch of salt can bring out the flavour of food, overdoing it can leave the meal inedible. The same goes for writing. 

2. Attempting to Be Impressive As Opposed to Expressive

All the choices made in the writing is in an effort to impress Reid. Devon was clearly flexing his vocabulary muscles — perhaps writing with a thesaurus beside him — and in doing so, failed to express himself in a genuine way. It comes across as inauthentic, as though the essay had been written by a robot programmed for optimum results, as opposed to a human aimed to connect. 

3. No Awareness of the Reader

Perhaps Devon had misinterpreted what the essay wanted. Reid was not looking to be blown away, but rather, he simply wanted to understand the person behind the submission. He wanted to get an impression of who Devon was. And perhaps he did. Devon is someone who, despite his insecurity as a writer, deems himself to be an intellectual specimen. However, by using words one wouldn’t use when speaking, Devon doesn’t appear smarter, but rather confused. 

Pretentious writing is unpleasant to read. It’s often composed with the attempt to stump the reader, giving the writer a feeling of superiority, like a specialist (a mechanic, a lawyer, or a politician) who uses jargon. However, all it achieves is a failure in communication. Pretentious writing stems from lack of confidence, where writers feel as though their ideas, as is, are not strong enough, so they need to juice it up with words or concepts that don’t serve the story in order to give the material bulk. 

Reid placed Devon’s essay to the side and picked up Jessica’s. Here’s a passage from it:

When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I was going to lose her right away. But while some misfortunes take loved ones away quickly, my grandmother stayed strong and remained. Long enough for her to tell me the story of how she immigrated to Canada. Through this heart-wrenching process, I realized that I was given a second chance to know the woman that was my hero. Now knowing the stories she had in her, I feel it is my duty to capture them and share them with the world. 

One word popped up into Reid’s head after he put Jessica’s essay down. Vulnerability. It was not brilliantly written, but it captured why Jessica had decided to take on the gruelling task of writing. Where Devon was insecure, u sing his words as a shield to protect himself, Jessica was emotionally exposed on paper for Reid to see. 

Perhaps that’s the essence of pretentious writing. A piece that strives to impress but fails to connect. 

What do you think? Is there a piece of work you find pretentious? Let me know in the comments below.

If you want more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel. 

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How to Record Your Ideas With a Messaging App

When I have a great idea, it’s often hard to pull out a notepad, grab my pen, and find a flat surface to write on. All those little elements are friction and even the act of pulling out my notebook makes me question… is this idea even good enough to write down? Is this worth it? 

Recording, organizing, and revisiting your ideas is a very important part of being a writer, so this was something I wanted to figure out. How can I make this a part of my process? 

This is how: messaging apps. 

I learned about this method from how Judd Apatow wrote Knocked Up. During breaks while shooting 40 Year Old Virgin, Apatow was emailing himself story ideas on his Blackberry. I thought that was brilliant, because email is already a platform that organizes content for you. You don’t need an extra note-taking app for that. It’s also up in the cloud or whatever, so you can access it on your phone, computer, tablet, whatever. 

For me, I felt that email was even a step too far. For initial ideas, I use something simpler and more informal and that’s messaging apps. 

I’m currently using Facebook Messenger to track all my ideas when I’m away from my computer which is very often. I like Facebook Messenger because I can access it on my computer easily and it allows me to delete messages too. It’s more personal preference than anything else. Here’s how I do it. 

First, I set it up as though I’m having a conversation with myself. I’m the only one I’m talking to. 

Then I treat it as though I’m telling the idea to myself. It’s a little conversation. You know how you sometimes talk out loud to yourself? Do that, but message yourself. 

It can be anything from a question, to a title, to a paragraph. Sometimes I jot down a theme or something interesting I saw. 80% is nonsense, but 20% are pretty good ideas and stories I might pursue. This one for example: A boy going off to buy clothes for himself for the first time to impress a girl. 

I don’t know what I’m going to do with that, but it’s definitely something I can expand on if I’m ever feeling completely drained on ideas.. 

What’s great about it is that these ideas are all kept in chronological order like a message thread, so I’m able to scroll back and find the date when I jotted it down. It actually brings me back to that moment where I came up with the idea: waiting for the bus or walking or having a drink at a bar. It’s a little snapshot of a moment in my life that I get to revisit, even if I was alone with my thoughts. 

I have been using this method of tracking down my ideas for over a year now and I still have ideas in here that I haven’t gotten to yet. It’s fun to scroll back and see what I wrote. 

It might seem sad as though you are having a conversation with yourself, but this is very useful for me. So I recommend giving it a shot and if you do, let me know how it goes in the comments below. 

I made it my goal this year to come up with an idea — regardless of how bad it is — every day. If you want 10 measurable writing goals? Check out this video here. 

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Read This Before You Quit Writing

You’ve written a story over and over again. You’ve written many stories over and over again. You’ve persisted as long as you could and you cannot handle another rejection. You feel it’s time to quit. 

That’s a very natural feeling. When we try to do something that is very hard it’s easy to feel as though we are wasting time or that it’s no longer fulfilling and we are not seeing progress. We are essentially beating our head against a brick wall, torturing ourselves to make something that nobody else wants to consume. 

You’ve given it your best shot, but you are still so far from your writing goals.

Before you quit, hear me out. It is completely fine to quit. I’ve quit many things in my life and when I quit something I hate doing, I found myself gravitating to something I enjoy. So quiting is good! But understand why you want to quit. Are you quitting because you hate doing it? Or are you quitting because you feel as though you are not good enough to advance to the next level? 

I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I wanted to be a director and an actor. The thing is, the more I did that: the more I hated being on set and memorizing lines. I put three full years into pursuing those two careers, but in the end, I came to the realization that I didn’t even know what those jobs required to begin with. It took the doing for me to understand the industry I was getting into. 

See, I was thinking about that as a job, something I HAVE to do every day. Something to pay for all my expenses. Thinking of it as a job sucked the life out of it, especially when I was starting out. It placed so much pressure on me because I wanted to do well and impress people so they will hire me again. Not everything you do needs to be a job! 

I like to play hockey. And I’m at the age where it’s incredibly obvious that I’ll never play it in any professional manner. I’m too old and I’m not that good. Still, I like to play it. I’m a part of a beer league and it’s a big part of who I am. Does anyone aside from my team care if we win or lose? No! Sometimes I feel like we don’t even care. We just like playing. 

The same goes for writing. 

Not everything you write needs to be for a professional reason or to get published. You can still do it! You can still be a writer and not publish your work. You can still be a writer and not share it with anyone. You can just write because it’s something you enjoy doing. 

Don’t let external pressure force you to stop doing something you enjoy. If you have a day job and you want to write on your free time, do it without considering where you are going to publish it. People watch movies and play video games and scroll social media. So don’t feel guilty for wasting your time doing something you enjoy. Do it for yourself. Everything you do, do it for yourself. 

And the beauty of writing is, it’s not like hockey, there is no age limit or physical requirement. You can do it until you are old and withered. 

If you want to quit publishing your work. Fine, but I encourage you not to quit writing because writing is to the soul what eating healthy and exercising is to the body. 

What challenges are you facing as a writer? Please let me know in the comments below.

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What is Catharsis?

Leonard planned the funeral when his mother passed away. Near the end, there was this moment at the crematorium where he was assigned to push the button that initiated the furnace that would torch his mother’s corpse turning it from flesh and bones to ash. 

At that moment, all he could think about was the button and whether it was real. Does it actually do anything or was it all a show for his relatives all of which were standing behind him… sobbing. Leonard was not sobbing. He looked at his father, who was weeping quietly in his wheelchair. He looked at his aunt who was breaking down into the chest of her husband. Friends and family all gathered to watch him push this button. They were all in a different state of grief. So he took a deep breath and he did it. He pushed the button.

The crematory initiated. His mother’s coffin disappeared behind the oven’s door. A blind to the window looking into the crematorium was lowered. The show ended. Leonard and the rest of his family returned home. He will never see his mother’s face again. 

A month later, Leonard goes on a date with a former co-worker of his, Sarah. She wanted to see this academy award nominated movie. Dramas were not Leonard’s thing, but he was willing to compromise. He’ll get to pick the movie next time. They bought tickets and popcorn and Leonard held Sarah’s hand as the movie started. 

At the one hour twenty two minute mark, Leonard clenched his teeth and pursed his lips. He even placed his finger up against his mouth. This was unusual. He didn’t usually cry in movies. But here he was… 

On the screen was a hospital scene. The adult children were looking down at their dying mother as she told them all about her regrets. The tragedies of her life. Her missed opportunities. Her unrequited love. She tells them of how she had let them down. How she wished she could have been a better mother to them. How she wanted to be a better listener. It was all too late. 

As the first drop of tears left Leonard’s eyes, an image flashed in his mind. The button. While the rest of his family had been sobbing, he was stoic. Now, in the theater… the floodgates opened. 

What Leonard was experiencing as he sat there holding his date in one hand and keeping himself from crying out loud with his other, is catharsis. 

Catharsis is the process in which we release our pent-up emotions. Some define it as a purification or purgation of emotions as though it is some sort of cleansing. It’s as though we have poured Drain-O through our response system, unclogging the months and years of built-up feelings, so it can function properly again. 

Works of literature, television, cinema, and music that are deemed cathartic are often praised for being good for the human soul. It is often seen as therapeutic, as many of us like Leonard have repressed memories that we have not properly come to terms with. In this way, the artform allows us to “let it all out.” 

While Leonard had certainly felt sad that his mother had died. He was immediately tasked with coordinating her funeral. He had to call friends and family members and fulfill all his mother’s wishes. Letting it out then simply wasn’t a priority. There was no time for it. And so it goes with many of our own emotions. 

After the adrenaline of a car accident, we are immediately faced with dealing with insurance and maintenance. After losing our jobs, we are immediately faced with the pressure to get a new one. And on it goes with every emotional experience, we are often expected to respond with another action and rarely are we offered the luxury of time to assess what we’ve just been through. These moments afterward, can often compound in dangerous ways as we bury the feelings or deny them. We hold them tight and pretend like they aren’t there. We stuff them into a compartment in the back of our brain like a messy miscellaneous drawer. 

There is no time to clean that drawer. How selfish would it be… especially when we know what’s in there can’t be changed. No amount of crying will bring Leonard’s mother back, so why bother? Especially now that he had so much to deal with. Real life comes rushing back. Where was he supposed to find time to cry? In the morning before work? While brushing his teeth at night? No… there’s simply no time to be emotional about that stuff. There is no point. 

If this is the case, emotions can erupt at inopportune times. That is why people break down at the office. This is why we see people sobbing in the milk aisle as the sudden memory of a brand of milk triggers something about a long lost cat. 

What cathartic work can do is allow us to unselfishly release these emotions in a controlled environment. To experience what the characters in the story is experiencing as opposed to ones of our own, we are given a separation. We are allowed to feel the feelings without having to dig within ourselves. Leonard could cry about the dying mom on screen and not have to think directly about his own. It is true that when it comes to these deep seeded emotions, it’s often easier to feel someone else’s. 

As Leonard and Sarah leave the theater, they give each other a hug and a kiss. She tells him how much she enjoyed the movie. He tells her about the hospital scene. She listens quietly as Leonard talked, he feels a weight lifted from him. The conversation about the movie transitions to his mother and how they have grown apart in the last few years. He told her about how honoured he was that she wanted him to manage her final wishes. He wished there was a way he could have told her that. Sarah held Leonard’s arm as they walked towards the bus station. She looked forward to the movie he’ll pick next time. 

Was there a piece of art that made you feel cathartic? Let me know in the comments below. For more videos about writing and the creative process, please subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Moleskin vs Leuchtturm1917: Which is the Better Notebook for Writers

All writers need notebooks. Even if you do the majority of your writing on the computer, you’ll want something physical to jot down your ideas. I find notebooks to be a fantastic way of qualifying an idea. It’s how I decide whether there is juice in it worth squeezing. 

If you talk to 10 different writers and you’ll find 10 different ways of using a notebook. But what is the best notebook? Two brand comes to mind: Moleskine and Leuchtturm1917

I’ve always wanted a really nice notebook, but I’ve never allowed myself to splurge on one — and I know a lot of you feel the same way. But then I thought, hey! I’m a writer. My expenses are pretty low (pen and paper, is really all I need), if I can afford it — and I feel like I’m going to use it all the way through, why shouldn’t I have a nice one. 

So, if you have that thought as well, now you get to pick: Do I want a Moleskine or do I want a Leuchtturm1917? Well… I did splurge and I bought both of them and I want to share my experiences so far with you. 

Moleskine

Moleskine Plain Notebook

This is the Moleskine Classic Collection: Plain Notebook with 240 plain pages at 13 cm x 21 cm (or 5×8.25 inches). It cost $24 CAD retail price 

Behind the label, it has this area for you to record your travels, so this notebook is clearly designed for someone traveling… although they didn’t market that on the front. It has one string bookmark and a foldable pocket in the back with a pamphlet that includes the history of Moleskine. 

It feels nice in my hand and is pretty solid and sturdy. I’m sure it can take a beating in my bag and survive, but honestly, the texture of the cover is a little underwhelming. Perhaps I expected it to be a bit softer, but maybe that’s just me. It has the standard elastic band strap to keep the book closed and like I mentioned the pages are all blank, which as a writer with messy writing, it’s not super ideal. 

When I open it, I find that the binding is a little tough. But I’m being knit-picky with that as the more I use it the more it’ll give. The paper, however, is a little thinner than I hoped for, but once again, I’m knit picky. Overall, it’s a pretty good looking notebook. $24, I don’t know. 

Leuchtturm1917 

Leuchttrum1917 Notebook

This is the Leuchtturm 1917 notebook with 251 dotted pages, and here’s the bonus: the pages are numbered. It’s 14.5 cm x 21 cm, so it’s slightly bigger than the Moleskine. The retail price is also $24 CAD.

It also includes a lot of features including a table of contents, which I don’t think I’ll ever use because my notebooks are never organized in any logical way, as well as: 12 perforated sheets, 2 bookmark strings, stickers,  and expandable pockets, much like the Moleskine.

Honestly, off the bat, I like the feel of this one a lot more. The cover does feel a bit softer which is what I like. However, I don’t necessarily want it to be bigger, but it is… The texture of the pages is less smooth than the Moleskine one so I can grip it and turn it a little bit easier. And the dots does help me write straight. I also feel that it folds open a bit better than the Moleskine one too, which is nice because I don’t have to break it in. 

I’m very impressed by this Leuchtturm1917 notebook to be honest. I hear a lot of good stuff about Moleskine, but for writers, I think this one may be my go to from now on. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Pen Test

Let’s put these two books through the pen test. 

I used 5 different types of pens on the book to see how each of them performs. 

  • Classic blue Bic ballpoint pen 
  • Papermate Ultra Fine felt pen
  • Papermate erasable gel pen
  • Energel metal point rollerball gel pen
  • Pilot Kakuno fountain pen

Surprise: The Bic ballpoint pen wrote delightfully well on both notebooks. It’s almost surprising how well it performed. If you spend all your money on this notebook, you don’t have to worry about the pen. 

Disappointment: The erasable gel pen was unpleasant to write with on both notebooks. Unless you are really worried about the condition of your notebook that you need to erase things instead of scratching them out like a chaotic good person like me, then go with another writing tool. 

Best: The best writing experience is with the Energel metal point rollerball gel pen. It’s so smooth, it looked and felt like I was writing with the fountain pen, but without the mess that comes with the fountain pen. 

Ghosting

However, with the pages, this is the ultimate test, the ghosting on the other side. If you plan on writing on both sides of your notebook, then this is important to know which holds the ink better. 

Here is what it looks like on the Moleskine. As you can see, all the pens are visible, but the one that got through the most is the Energel metal point rollerball gel pen. 

On the Leuchtturm1917, to me, performed a little bit better. The Energel metal point rollerball gel pen was still the one that got through the most. Overall, it’s just a little bit fainter than the Moleskine.

Verdict

Winner: Leuchttrum1917

At $24 CAD each, these are two pricey notebooks. To me, it is clear that the Leuchtturm 1917 gives me much more value for the same price. I feel like Moleskine has a lot of clout, maybe because they have a brand name that is easier to say, I don’t know. But when I’m done using these two books and I was to get another one, I am certain I will get a Leuchtturm 1917 again. 

As a writer, it’s everything I need and more. I’m really looking forward to filling it up with my dumb thoughts. 

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5 Types of One Star Reviews Writers Can Expect

Writers have to live through a lot of uncertainty. We need constant reminders that we are not BAD writers. One small criticism can cripple our frail confidence. We put so much of our humanity into the craft that sometimes we can lose ourselves in the process and feel we have little worth when our writing doesn’t turn out the way we’ve imagined. When those feelings grab a hold of us writers, it can be a slip down a dark and scary slide of sadness. 

One technique to combat this feeling and gain some perspective is by going to Amazon, clicking into a well-known, well-respected novel, and scrolling down to the 1-star reviews. 

Leonid Pasternak – The Passion of Creation

By reading these reviews, you’ll see where a lot of criticism comes from. Most often, it’s not even from the emotions evoked from the work… but rather, the critic’s own personal demons. This shows that no matter how harsh criticism can be, it is always simply another person’s opinion and you cannot take it for full value. In fact, you shouldn’t take it for anything.

In this article, we’ll look at some 1-star reviews that I screen captured from Amazon and examine why the reader wrote what they wrote — and maybe give some cheer to writers who are currently in a slump with their own works. 

1) Everybody is Stupid But Me

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: 

I call this the “Everyone is Stupid But Me” critique, because instead of looking for qualities in the writing and story, which had drawn in millions upon millions of readers, this critic chooses to belittle those who’ve enjoyed the book. This critic wants you to know that if you like this, then you are an idiot. Yes, it comes across as petty and envious. A good review doesn’t attack the audience or the fanbase, but give examples of where the story is flawed. All this critic did was address the unoriginality of the story, but never offered any examples of what the story was derivative of. These types of critics are bullies and it’s best to ignore them completely.

2) Bad Memories 

Pride and Prejudice:

There must be this book from your past where you felt so much anger towards that you stopped everything you were doing to go online and write a bad review. There must be! Or maybe not. Still, books can do that to people. It’s like a bad relationship. Suddenly you remember that horrible argument you had with an ex and you just want to go on social media and tell everyone what an awful lover he was. Wait… did you even remember it right? Maybe it was he that broke up with you… Whatever, the memory isn’t important. What’s important is that I’m angry and I’m going to take it out on Jane Austen’s book sales. 

3) It Doesn’t Match My Reality 

1984:

I kind of like this review because it’s full of optimism. The thing is, there is no way to argue with critics like these because they’re already set in their beliefs. They have a representation of what is an acceptable novel in their mind and if anything doesn’t match that then it’s deemed poor writing. This is a closed-minded person, unwilling to join in on a conversation — a conversation that is completely relevant today. This is an attack on building dialogue and sharing ideas. In the end, this reader implores us to let Orwell’s writing die just as an experiment so that the world only contains literature and other art forms that are suitable for this reader’s reality. What this critic is suggesting is book burning, which is a tactic used by some of the most malicious dictatorships in history. Just saying…

4) How Dare The Author Makes Money

Game of Thrones:

There is a lot being criticized in this review, but I want to focus on the sentiment that an author should be able to tell a story in “1,776 pages” and nothing more. Otherwise, you’re a greedy writer. This reader cannot believe the galls of a writer trying to make a living with his craft and doesn’t realize that George RR Martin had in fact written many standalone novels. This is an attack on the author’s merits, but knowing that George RR Martin spends up to a decade working on a novel in this saga, the sensible person knows that it was never about selling more books. When you put a piece of work out there, people will begin to question your intentions and come to their own conclusions about you. The moment you try to sell your work, some will consider you no longer an artist who performs a craft for the good of society, but rather as a sneaky capitalist out for their money. In comes this hero to warn the unassuming public of what is happening. There is more to say about this review, but I’ll leave it at that for now. 

5) I Like It, But I Hate It

Of Mice and Men:

Okay, so I’ve been on the fence about giving a service or product a five star or a four-star review, but I’ve never debated whether to give a one or a five star. That’s what the range of five stars are for. In this review, the critic claims to have found the story well-written and praised its honesty. The only reason the book got one-star was that it made the reader depressed. In this reader’s opinion: if a book makes one sad, then it is not a good book. This reader does not understand the range of star ratings or the range of human emotions and how sadness is reasonable, in fact, an important emotion to feel. Additionally, the reader does not want to view the world unless it is through diamond-studded 3D glasses. It’s worrisome to know that many are like this reader and will opt for entertainment that keeps them in their comfort zone. 

No matter how polished your writing is, regardless of what topic it is about, or how long or short it is… someone will have an issue with it. Of course, everyone has a right to give their opinion, however, we should understand where opinions stem from. Most of the time, it’s not even about your work, they simply have this little darkness in them that they need to share — and they’re using your work as the vessel… which is important. 

You’re doing important work. 

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