On Writing: Can Anyone Become a Good Writer?

“Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.”

–  Stephen King

 

Well! I haven’t posted an official “on writing” blurb in over a month. That’s mostly because my writing posts tend to reflect my own progress in the journey to publication, and right now, I’m in the doldrums: agent-query land. But, as the rejections started trickling in (don’t worry, I’ll blog about rejection soon), it occurred to me that while I might not be a brilliant writer, at the very least I’m quite a bit better than I used to be.

Originally, the title of this post was “Can Anyone Become a Writer?” but I changed it, because the answer to that question is simple—yes. By the literal definition, anyone who has the ability to pick up a pen and form meaningful sentences can write. Heck, they don’t even need to pick up a pen…they can type it, or have someone type it for them. So that’s my simple answer. Yes, anyone (with a conscious brain) can write!

End of post!

Just kidding; I wouldn’t end the post at a mere 250 words. Especially because ‘can anyone become a writer?’ is probably not the real question here. The real question people wonder, I think, is, ‘can anyone become a good writer?’

Ah, here we go.

My answer, still, is yes. 

Surprised? Or maybe you think that I’m a terrible writer, and trying to make myself feel better by lowering my standards. That may be, but I have a bit more to say on this front.

Let’s start with a point we can all agree on: nobody can write beautiful prose straight out of the womb. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan and whichever writers you personally think are brilliant…none of them were cranking out Shakespeare at the age of five, or ten, or even twenty. And yet, today, their stories are lauded as being some of the best around. So, what happened?

Let’s examine a quote from Mrs. Rowling herself, taken from her Harvard Commencement Speech:

I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.”

She and the other authors I mentioned all have some tips for improving on writing. “Read a lot” is the first one, followed closely by “write a lot.” I know from experience that reading good books helps expose you to various styles, throws you in the middle of some of the best works out there. And then, when you go to write, you naturally mesh all of those styles together to form your own.

I don’t know if I’m making sense here. What I’m trying to say is that I believe everyone starts out terribly, and how good we become depends a great deal on how hard we work at it. Remember the expression, “this is 20% talent and 80% heart”? Writing most definitely fits that description.

Stephen King is one of many who would disagree with me. According to his book On Writing, he believes that you either have it, or you don’t. I, on the other hand, think everyone who can pick up a pen has equal chance of becoming great. I can’t prove it, but in an industry where chance is everything, how can anyone? At the end of the day, this is all subjective.

Let’s use an example! Rick Riordan, who started writing when he was in eighth grade, took ten years to write and sell the first Percy Jackson, and that wasn’t until he was forty. And yet, I most certainly wouldn’t complain if I ever got to where Rick Riordan stands now. His books have been translated into multiple languages, he easily makes enough to have writing as his day job, and he’s one of my favorite authors.

But he took ten years to get his story good! J.K. Rowling only took three with hers. Stephen King took less than that. Many would argue they have more natural writing ability, and I would agree with them. Riordan probably had to spend more time building his talent; had to revise his story dozens of times, and had a tougher time getting published than JKR or King. But he did it, same as them. So, what does that leave?

Well, for me, it leaves hope. And it leaves the belief that, to answer the initial question, anyone can become a good writer. It may be harder for some than others, depending on who picks up the talent faster. But I think it can be picked up by anyone who tries hard enough.

I’ll close by using one more example: myself.

I started writing my novel in eighth grade. I’d meant to do it sooner, but put it off because I was afraid it would be bad.

I was right. It sucked, and by quite a bit. So much that even I didn’t like it!

So I read a lot more, wrote a lot more, and revised a lot more. The second draft still sucked. So did the third, but much less so. I read every book I could get my hands on, spent half my Christmas money on writing guidebooks, and even contacted authors asking them for advice (and quite a few responded, including a certain Tom Clancy). I did everything I could to get my writing better. I felt somehow impaired when I thought of all the writers who sold their books in two years; the fact that I was fifteen didn’t strike me as a significant factor. 

And, look where I am now. I might not be published, but I don’t think my writing completely sucks anymore. My book, after years of work, is finally in a place where I’m proud to let people—including literary agents—read it.

And what’s more, you’re reading this. You’re reading words that I wrote, and maybe you even like them! So, even if I’m not a good writer yet, I’ve made progress. Which is why I believe anyone can make progress. And I think that ‘natural talent’ is merely a measure of how fast that progress unfolds.

So, to summarize a long post: if you want to write, don’t give up. Please, please, don’t. It might take a lot of work, and you might have to practice a lot more than other writers, but I think that with enough willpower, anyone can learn what it takes to write well. And I think that even if you start out as a terrible writer, if you keep at it no matter what, you can make yourself into something better.

Believe me, I know.

Movie Review: Oz, the Great and Powerful

“I knew you had it in you.”

“What? Greatness?”

“No, better: Goodness.”

–  Glinda and the Wizard of Oz

  

ozposterSeriously, I’m going to change this category from “Movie Reviews” to “Late Movie Reviews.” I don’t think I’ve blogged about a single film within the month it’s come out since October. I’m going to give up on apologizing for that and just make it my new signature.

So then! This movie. I saw it recently and was pleasantly surprised. And not just because both of the Tripplehorns from Date Night played the main roles.

The premise: A Wizard of Oz prequel! I’m surprised no one thought of this sooner (excluding “Wicked,” which is a very good musical but was never adapted for film). This film follows Oscar, a magician from Kansas whose balloon is swept up and dropped in the land of Oz. The people of Oz have been waiting for a great wizard to free them from the Wicked Witch, and they believe he’s arrived.

(I should note that from here there are spoilers.)

What I liked: the storyline. This is one of those things that’s really easy to butcher, but not so in this case. I loved how the production team took the characters from Oz—mainly the three witches—and created an elaborate backstory for them. Theodora is an innocent witch who meets the Wizard, and after they fall in love, her sister Evanora (which, in case you’re wondering, is the one who gets the house dropped on her) manipulates the relationship. As the Wizard is off drawing up a battle plan with Glinda, Evanora reveals herself to be the Wicked Witch and rallies her army. At the same time, she convinces Theodora that her love with the Wizard was a lie, and Theodora’s rage twists her into the Wicked Witch of the West. Together, the two sisters go to attack Glinda and the Wizard.

I loved all of that. It had a very Alice in Wonderland feel to it, which makes sense, because this film is from the same production team.

I also liked the little touches like Theodora’s tears leaving scars on her cheeks, as an allusion to water killing her. By the same token, I enjoyed how the film started in black and white and the color kicked in once Oscar arrived in Oz.

And finally, I enjoyed the acting. James Franco was his usual awesome self, Mila Kunis solidified her platform as someone who can act outside of voicing Meg in Family Guy, and the actresses who played Glinda and Evanora were restrained yet charming in their opposing roles.

As I said, this is the kind of movie where it’s really easy to take a good concept and screw it up. The production team didn’t do that at all. They highlighted all the right things, like the effects or fantasy feel to it, while reinventing the best parts of Oz. The dialogue only slipped into cliché a few times, and overall it was a fun fantasy ride.

My only complaint: it takes way too long to get into Oz. The film’s two hour length could be trimmed down by a bit if only it hadn’t taken half an hour to get to the good part.

In conclusion: this is a movie that lives up to the expectations and ends up being fun while doing so. Nothing to freak out over, but still worth seeing.

Rate: 7 out of 10.

The Day I Used Karate in Freshman Shop Class

“I’ve no regrets. You take responsibility for your actions.”

–  Ron Moody

  

I’ll admit up front that the title of this post makes the story sound a lot cooler than it actually is. Sorry about that. But, I did use Karate in my Foundations of Tech class…which is saying something, considering I’m a second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Let’s talk about Foundations of Tech class. The generic term for it is “Freshman Shop,” because all you do in there is build stuff, and 99% of people take it when they’re a Freshman in high school.

Well, not this kid.

See, I was too busy cluttering up my 9th grade schedule with other stuff like Global Studies and AP World History, so I didn’t have time to take FOT. It kept getting pushed up the grade ladder until finally, this past summer, my counselor informed me I needed to take it as a Senior. It was, after all, a required class for a high school diploma.

Which is stupid.

If this class sounds like a relatively pointless one, don’t worry: it’s every bit as useless as you’re imagining it to be. The point of building a project in there isn’t to create a well-working, useful products; rather, it’s to document your brainstorming process the entire way. Because, you know, in real life, it’s not about how well you can do your job. It’s all about the journey.

I’m sorry if I sound bitter. It doesn’t help that I’m one of three seniors in a class that’s 90% stupid Freshman. I would yell at them, but some of the Freshman are older than me—nineteen or twenty. I swear, only in this class can you hear someone say, “Man, jail was a rough time, man,” and not be quite sure if they’re joking or not.

So anyway. My story.

We had to build bridges out of popsicle sticks this week. And if you think I didn’t type that with a straight face, you obviously aren’t used to the ridiculousness of this class. By now, using Elmer’s glue and popsicle sticks seems perfectly normal with Freshman FOT. So I took the project home, dutifully constructed it, and brought it into class yesterday.

After my teacher checked that it met the specifications, he told me I could go ahead and destroy it. Most kids just took their bridge and stomped on it, which was my plan.

My friend had another activity in mind.

It came up casually. I set the bridge down on the workbench, shot it a look of disgust, and said, “I should just Karate chop this stupid thing in half.”

To which my friend next to me shouted, “You’ll never do it!”

Me (insert adrenaline rush): “OH YEAH?!”

(YELL, CRACK).

Which was stupid.

Do you remember that classic moment in a movie where a character punches something really hard, yells in triumph like a Karate master, then looks down and realizes their hand is covered in blood?

Yeah, that happened to me.

And yes, there was blood. Not tons, but a bit. See, the popsicle sticks themselves weren’t that bad. It was the fact that they were all structured, layered and held together so the bridge could hold 21.8 pounds. And the fact that the entire thing was covered in Elmer’s wood glue. Which, despite its comic title, hardens to the consistency of plastic.

And then there were the splinters.

I pulled most of them out as everyone’s cheering turned to screams at the blood. To be honest, I was one of the calmer ones (“It’s only a flesh wound!”) Luckily, the teacher was too busy to notice.

After washing everything off, I found that I had three neat nicks across my knuckles, a scratch running down my pinky, and an abrasion on the side of my wrist. It stung, but didn’t look too bad once the blood was washed away.

IMG_0273

Not one of my brighter moments.

ReBlog: In Order to Write, Writers Have to Live

“In order to write about life first you must live it.”

–  Ernest Hemingway

 

Hi everyone!

I’m sorry I can’t write a proper post tonight, but between the agent search, a few writing projects and of course school finals coming up, I don’t have time to write a new blog entry. Rest assured I have some great material for future posts (Prom was indeed amazingly perfect, in case you were wondering). But for now, I’m re-blogging one from Nathan Bransford, author of the Middle Grade Jacob Wonderbar trilogy and creator of the very first “The Writing Process Told Through GIFS.”

This one is very much in the spirit of a post I would write; so please, check it out! I promise a plethora of awesome posts in the near future.

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2013/04/in-order-to-write-writers-have-to-live.html

(Unfortunately this is a link to a link from a link…re-blog-ception. Sorry about that).

Have a great day!

Pre-Prom Post: My Last School Dance Ever

“You’re right. But this is the last night, and it’s the last dance. And for that one night, who we were for four years of high school…it doesn’t matter. It’s just all of us together in one perfect moment.”

–  Nova Prescott, Prom

 

Yes, yes, I’m a high school Senior guy who just quoted a Disney movie rated PG for “mild language and a brief fight.” It isn’t an excellent movie by any stretch, but I do love that one line from it. Especially since my last school dance ever is in around five hours, and I still can’t take in the fact that I’m about to go to Senior Prom.

Here’s the thing: last year, for Junior Prom, I was excited beyond belief to go. I remember getting dressed—to ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” by the way—and I just said under my breath, “Prom” and shook my head, in the what am I even doing? kind of way. I went with one of my best friends I’d met in middle school. I hadn’t hung out with her in a while, and it was a great night. No drama or anything, just plain fun. And I remember as it ended that I would be really sad next year at this time, because it would be my last school dance ever.

Which is all fine and dandy, except it feels like Junior Prom was literally a month ago. In fact, all of eleventh grade feels like no more than half a year ago.

I plan to have even more fun this year than I did last year. Heck, I’ve always had high standards: I plan for this to be the best dance ever. If it’s my last one, then for the love of the Lord is it going to be good. The music could be terrible, the decorations could make me want to throw up…it doesn’t matter. I’d like to believe I make my own fun, but more importantly, so does the incredible girl I’m going with.

Maybe it should throw my nostalgic gears out of sync since the girl I’m going with (my girlfriend) is the girl I went to my 9th grade Homecoming with. My date for my first high school formal is also my date for my last dance ever. And I couldn’t be more ecstatic. It’ll be awesome to take pictures and compare them to old ones, see if we still struggle to get the wrist corsage on and still talk about how bad (or good) the music is.

I’ve blogged about dances before. Before my last Homecoming ever, I shared my list of Getting Ready for Dances: Guys vs. Girls. More recently, I blogged about Asking Girls to Dance(s). And now, I’m blogging about Prom. This is all tied up in a neat little bow, isn’t it?

What I’m trying to say is, this night is going to be the culmination of the best parts of all dances I’ve been to. Ever. I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just happening on its own. Okay, a small part of me is easing the process along. For example, today I repeated the daily routine I conduct before every school dance. And, because I have space to fill up, I’ll list it for you:

  • The night before, watch the Yule Ball scene from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
  • I wake up and listen to a part of the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” audio book  from the part at the Horcrux cave to Snape revealing that he’s the Half-Blood Prince. I did that my first Homecoming and have done that for every dance since.
  • I go pick up my date’s wrist corsage from this sketchy (but good) flower shop in the middle of town. I started this my first Homecoming, and got attacked by this cat who lived in there, too. I’ve tried not to repeat that one.
  • I have lunch at this amazing Greek Pizza restaurant
  • I chill out and write in the afternoon
  • Starting last year, I also use this time to wash my car, since I drive now and the inside of that thing could be on an episode of Hoarders.
  • Because I was so nervous my first Homecoming, I spent the late afternoon watching Lizzie McGuire reruns while eating pan pizza. I minimally repeat that one.
  • Get ready, go, and have an awesome time.

So far today, I’ve done everything on that list up to the car washing, which I’ll go do as soon as I post this. I got a beautiful wrist corsage for my girlfriend, and I think the cat that attacked me in the shop Freshman year has since died, because it was nowhere to be found.

Also last year before Junior Prom, the night before actually, I watched the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster (loved it), then the movie “Prom,” which I quoted above. I have to admit, that one got me pumped up even more now than it did last year.

I’m rambling now, so I’ll get to my real point. My real point is, we do a bunch of things in middle school and high school that we forget, even if they seem fun at the time. Parties, casual dances, trips, summer camps. But if you ask almost any adult, they’ll remember exactly who they went to prom with. They probably even have pictures, still. This is one of the first events of my life that everyone remembers for the rest of their lives.

Prom commemorates school dances, which in my opinion are the most fun social events out there. And I just wanted to take a moment to post before it happens, because in twelve hours, it’ll be over. Tomorrow at this time, Senior Prom will be just a memory, something for me to blog about and look at pictures of an remember fondly. But right now, I can sit here and type and tell the world that I haven’t experienced it yet. And that’s a beautiful thing, I think. Being able to look forward to living in the moment rather than look back at having done it already. Because I do plan on living the moment tonight, probably (I’m sorry…PROMbably…snicker snicker snicker) more than I have in a long time. That way, when I look back and it is just a memory, I can know without a doubt that it’s one of the best memories of my high school years.

So, wish me luck for a perfect night, everyone. I know it will be.

Right now, though, it hasn’t happened yet. The night hasn’t started. Right now, I just have a car to wash.

And I seriously couldn’t be happier about it.

The Strangest Hallway Conversations I’ve Overheard/My Solution to Slow Walkers

“The line’s pretty clear, zero tolerance for walkers.”

–  Daryl, The Walking Dead

 

Tonight’s post is for a limited audience: high schoolers. Specifically, those who go to a high school large enough that the hallway crowds can get a little interesting.

I love my high school. It’s a great place. And most of the time, the crowds are fine. After four years of navigating through the corridors, I know my way around the annoying groups of people between classes. Which is saying something, because the halls can get interesting when there are masses of students all forcing their way through.

Freshman year, I went with the flow. I would get shoved a bit—not maliciously, it just happened. Sophomore year, I moved firmly enough not to get shoved. Junior year, I did the occasional pushing past people.

And now, Senior year, it’s something like this:

But, there’s one group of people which no hero can defeat. The sect of high schoolers that instill general loathing in the rest of the population.

Curious? Well, I’ll describe this group of people in just a minute. First, I want to list the strangest snippets of conversation I’ve overheard while walking through my school hallway. I’m sure this list will grow, but for now, here’s what I have to start with.

  • “And that’s why it sucks to spend the night in jail.”
  • “If my brother walked in here, man, I would kill him. All. Over. Again.” (Though I read that one somewhere else, so hopefully this gentleman was just quoting that?)
  • “I’m so excited, all of my friends have birthdays this year!” (You don’t say?!)
  • “And that’s why I only waxed half.” “Seriously? You are so sleazy!” “I know, I know!” (Shudder.)
  • “My teacher broke up one of them fights the other day. She had to go to the hospital.” “Oh my God, did she get hit?” “Nah, nah…BIT!”
  • “Come on, it’s fine if everyone’s doing it!”
  • “Hey guys! ¡Me lave, comedores de verduras!” (Which I’m fairly certain translates to, “I wash myself, vegetable eaters!”)

Like I said, that’s just a working list.

And now, to the main topic of tonight’s post. My solution to the group of hallway people who no one else can stand.

They are…the slow walkers.

Anyone who goes to a large high school knows exactly who I’m talking about. The line of people who take up the entire width of the hallway, end to end, trudging along as though they’re being marched to their execution.

They’re a strange group of people, these slow walkers. I’ve tried to understand them over the years, but I can’t. I just can’t grasp how people who have five minutes to get to class just take the route at a leisurely stroll. If you want to skip class, that’s totally your call, but couldn’t you at least pretend you’re going to go do something productive? And why do you feel the need to take up the ENTIRE hallway?

I treat slow walkers in the most passive-aggressive way possible: I walk at normal speed until I’m approximately six inches behind the slow walker, and maintain that distance. If I’m feeling creepy, I’ll breathe really heavily, too.

I do this until a gap opens up. At that point, I speed through like I’m being chased by bounty hunters, and I go on my way.

I think I have a solution to this infernal problem. I know of one way we can keep letting the slow walkers do what they do while at the same time keeping everyone on the same page, socially.

WE WIPE THEM OUT.

Just kidding! Here’s what we do:

Instill “traffic monitors” in especially slow-moving portions of the hallway. These staff members have the job of looking out for people who walk slower than two miles an hour. Anyone they spot going at this pace will be issued with a warning. The second time, a “non-speeding” ticket. And the final time, they’ll be issued a tall, embarrassing-looking top hat which screeches unpleasantly and is filled with blinking orange arrows. This way, even if the slow walkers continue their slow walking (because I’m thoroughly convinced nothing will change this), they’ll at least be aware just how annoying everyone else thinks they are.

And yes, that plan would be easier than just telling them to get out of the way.

Well, I thought it was a good idea.

*Just to level with everyone, this was a parody and shouldn’t be taken as a literal suggestion. Though that would be interesting…

Movie—Erm, Trailer—Review: Evil Dead

“The most terrifying film you will ever experience.”

–  Tagline

 

Evil Dead posterFirst things first: I didn’t see this movie! Nor do I ever intend to!

I like to keep up with popular hype, and this movie certainly had some before it was even released. But, I’m not much of a horror movie fan, and the one kind I entirely refuse to watch is the genre with the blood and gore oh-that’s-really-disgusting effects.

So usually, I wouldn’t be talking about this movie at all. But, a few weeks ago I had the delicious experience of seeing the red-band trailer for the film, and it was such a disgusting, vomit-inducing, holy-God-why-would-you-see this chunk of two minutes that I just had to blog about it. So, instead of giving a review of this movie that I didn’t see, I’m just going to do a breakdown review of my experience with the horrifying trailer. If reading about blood and gore makes you nauseous (I took the liberty of excluding any images), you might want to close this out and do something else.

Enjoy!

Up until a month ago, my brush with Evil Dead was limited. Other than hearing about it and deciding to ignore how bland the name was, I wasn’t familiar with it. I saw the green band trailer in theaters and thought it looked like a scary/gory movie, and vowed not to see it. Then one day over Spring break, I was sitting at home just watching my Criminal Minds marathon while paroozing YouTube, and somehow the red band (restricted) version of the Evil Dead trailer came up. I wouldn’t have clicked it, except right below it were a bunch of “Evil Dead trailer reaction” videos. Being a teenager, I was naturally curious. What was there to react to?

And so I clicked.

The trailer starts off solid enough. It shows the main character girl, Mia, talking about something that attacked her in the woods, and how it’s inside she and her friends’ cabin now. It flashes to snippets of one of the friends as they read from a book that specifically says “leave this book alone” on the front page.

That’s the first minute. Only 1:21 left, right?

After that comes the first cringe-worthy image: said girl now has yellow eyes, blood all over her face, and a black tree limb is sliding out of her mouth like a snake. Ick.

Then it really jumps up a few levels. Almost immediately after this is the possessed Mia leaning over her friend. They just stare at each other for a few seconds, taking in the sights…

And then Mia slow-mo vomits blood all over her friend’s face.

Well that escalated quickly.

My reaction:

Ewgif

The next thirty seconds are flashes of random stuff as one of the friends talks about how this thing is attached to Mia, and how they think she might be possessed.

you don't say

Next disgusting image: a girl is standing in a shower with a bloody knife. It’s kind of hard to tell if it’s the same girl or not, because she has just used said knife to remove the lower half of her face.

Me:

hidingeyesgif

That’s at 1:41 in the trailer. And from exactly 1:41 to 1:53 is a segment with the highest grossness-per-second ratio I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I cringed and made nausea sounds through the lighting everyone on fire, the explosions of blood that cover the walls, and what I think is someone pulling a string out of someone else’s eye, but I really don’t want to look back and check.

Then the title! Granted, it’s presented while the possessed girl sings a creepy song, but thank goodness, at least the trailer is over, right?

WRONG.

So comes the most disgusting bit of the whole thing. In a post-title scene, the possessed Mia is standing there, holding up a knife, and licks the blade.

Me: Okay, she’s just licking a knife…wait…is the blade facing her? HOLY GOODNESS HER TONGUE ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE SEPARATED DOWN THE MIDDLE! WHY IS SHE DOING THAT? Wait, don’t eat that other girl’s face…ew…EW EW EW!

And then it’s over! That wasn’t so bad, right?

Conclusion: This is the reason red band trailers were invented.

And to make up for that disgustingness, here’s a picture of a baby chipmunk.

babychipmunk

Sorry this post doesn’t have more substance, but I’m a bit busy right now. I’ll blog again soon, with something that doesn’t give your lunch the urge to leave your stomach.

At least, I would hope not.