On Dunkin’ Donuts

I love Dunkin’ Donuts for a few reasons. First, the iced coffee is 10/10 (and cheap). Second, I can sit there for seven hours and they don’t kick me out. You may think I’m joking. I’m not. My friends have started referring to Dunkin’ as my office just because of the amount of time that I spend there.

I’m not an ‘aesthetic writer’ – as in I don’t sit in elegant coffee shops with notebooks and contemplate the universe. Yes, that’s a stereotype. But really, I think a lot of people actually believe that stereotype. I like to think I’m a nitty-gritty writer. I write anywhere, whenever I can get time. And a lot of time, that just happens to be Dunkin’. It’s nice to have one specific place carved out where I can go for a few hours and force myself to be productive. It’s like keeping a sacred place. When I go there, I know I’m going for a long time, and I’m not going to mess around. I’m going to write. It helps that there isn’t good wifi.

I understand that this is a bit of a contradictory post. My main piece of advice here is to find somewhere that you’re very comfortable spending a few hours, but not somewhere where you feel pressured to conform to some sort of idea in order to write. Don’t force yourself to be a perfect writer. I find that my best writing happens when I’m comfortable. Find a place where you won’t get distracted and it doesn’t feel to stiff. Once you find that happy writing comfort zone in a physical space, it will be easier to replicate that mindset in other places.

On Editing

As usual, I’m procrastinating what I should be doing (hint: it’s part of the title). I just wanted to take some time and talk about my editing process and how it works. When I first started writing, editing terrified me. To be honest, it still kind of does. Once I figured out my process, it became a lot easier to tear my work apart and build it back up. Editing is daunting. Here is some advice to get you started.

  1. Read through in a format where you can’t actively change things. I prefer to print off my document to do this (don’t worry, I recycle) and go over it with a red pen. I don’t physically change anything in the actual text during this step. I comment and circle and correct as much as possible, but the removal from the computer helps me to focus more on the big picture and less on nit-picky tiny things. Those come after I’m done rearranging the plot. I personally like red pen because it’s easier to see against the paper and I feel like I’m accomplishing something.
  2. Keep a copy of every version of the draft/document. This makes changing things easier if you get easily attached, like I do. For example, in the draft that I’m editing now, I reconstructed the entire plot of the beginning. I still have a copy of the original just in case there’s something that I need to change back that isn’t working or if I want to see how far the draft has come since its first iteration.
  3. Open up to your friends. I’m not telling you to push drafts at people but if you have one friend who is a dedicated reader, it can be invaluable. I had a hard time opening up to people about my writing. First, I thought I was a horrible writer, and second, I thought they wouldn’t be interested. My friends have found some very bad grammatical or structural errors and found plot holes that I never thought of. Having a second pair of eyes is insanely helpful when you’re too close to the project.
  4. Kill your darlings. This is my biggest piece of advice – and the hardest to do. If something is not working, cut it. Don’t look back. That is when having a clean, original document comes in handy. Those characters that don’t matter can live on in your memory or whatever, but if they’re not adding to the story, they don’t deserve to be there. Do some exercises in reshaping plots while cutting characters or scenes out. Ask yourself what the scene adds to the plot. If you don’t have an answer or if the purpose can be achieved in some other way, the scene should be cut.
  5. Remember that you are the editor of your own story (until you have a real editor, of course). If you desperately think that something belongs in the story, it probably does. Read things out loud. See how they feel. See how the story feels without them, and revert back if you need to.

That is a not-at-all comprehensive list of how I edit. I hope this helps! Good luck!

On Forthcoming Projects

In writing, you have really good weeks and you have really bad weeks. Or really bad months. Or really bad years. Anyways. This has been one of those really good weeks – at least, from the perspective of a beginner – and I’m happy to share it with you!

I added a page so that I can post links if my work gets published. This week, I had two poems accepted to different journals. “English Major” will be printed in Rat’s Ass Review this spring and “Vinegar” will be in Gyroscope Review. I will post links when those are published. In addition, I added a link to a previously published poem. There’s another anthologized piece of fiction coming out sometime this year, so I’ll keep that updated as I (hopefully) get more pieces published.

So consider checking those out. I can’t wait to share more work with you!

On Writing Poetry

I really don’t consider myself to be a poet. At all. I write poetry, but I think that poets are people that actually COMMIT to writing poetry. I feel like I write poetry because I have to write something to get out my feelings. I have a lot of feelings – just ask my roommates. They make fun of me for it all the time.

Anyways. I think that poetry is an art that I’m never going to fully master. I am not elegant when I write. Most of the time, it feels like I’m just slapping words on a page and seeing what sticks. A part of me thinks that there’s nothing wrong with that, but I feel like it would not be right to call myself a poet, out of respect for those who actually dedicate hours and hours to crafting a single stanza. I feel the same way about defining the fact that I’m an aspiring writer. I just don’t think I’ve paid enough dues to apply the label to myself yet.

Of course, I could just be romanticizing something which does not need to be romanticized. Then again, I’m a hopeless romantic, so you should expect nothing less from me.

On Museums

I really wish that more people casually went to museums. This is probably because I have unlimited access to a great museum (free admission to Carnegie with my Pitt ID) but I think that the appeal of museums has worn off on a lot of people. I’m a huge nerd, but I think that they are such an important part of human culture, faults included.

I’ve been to a lot of museums. They’re some of my favorite places to go, especially when I’m in a new city. I think I went to the Victoria and Albert four separate times when I was in London, and I didn’t see all of it.

Museums teach us something about the past, even if that lesson is that people in the past didn’t care about other peoples’ possessions. I felt very strange in the British Museum because I just felt like it was all of the important artifacts pillaged by colonization (does anyone else have thoughts on this?) but that’s just me. Even though I mostly talk about English on here, I’m also an anthropology major. I study people in my free time. Museums are absolutely fascinating to me.

I think an issue is that most people think about museums as places for kids to go. I don’t see it that way at all. I somehow managed to go when there were no student groups and very few small children, and it was incredibly peaceful to just roam through the halls. Carnegie has the art and history museums connected too, which is especially convenient.

If you have the chance, I recommend checking out a museum near you at some point over the next few months, even if it’s just a small local one. You never know what new piece you’ll discover.

On Being an English Major

Hello, readers! I figured I would give you a nice look into the life of a college writer. So I’m a junior this year, which means I have to actually put a lot of thought into my future. I would like to be a writer full-time but dreams don’t always come true. Sorry. I would be very happy as an editor, though, so that is my actual career goal for now. I’m looking into masters programs in creative writing.

If you want to be a writer, the main thing that you have to do is, erm, write. I know how obvious that sounds, but bear with me. If this is what you want to do with your whole entire soul, you can’t half-ass the actual work portion. Disclaimer: I’m not a successful writer (yet, but hopefully someday). I’m just passing on some information that I’ve had drilled into my head over the last few years.

I tend to write at least two hours a day, whether I’m writing long-hand in the notebook I keep with me or typing. It doesn’t have to be cohesive scenes. It could just be ideas. And don’t worry about structuring your notes a certain way – as long as you can understand them, they’re good enough. I’m working on a draft right now and I can tell you that it’s absolute crap. That’s okay. The actual magic happens during the editing process.

I try to write a couple of things at once. I have a primary project, which is a book series that I’ve been working on for a few years. I just finished polishing the first book and I’m looking to place that, so that’s a fun (and not at all terrifying) time. I also write poetry on the side. As a general rule, I try to submit poetry and short fiction to six different places a week. This allows me to consistently produce new material and feel like I’m legitimately working towards something. In addition, I’m currently reading for a fiction contest for a small press in my hometown, which is very exciting.

So that’s what I’m up to these days. Writing, writing, editing, writing, editing some more, submitting, and learning. One thing I encourage other English majors to keep in mind is that this isn’t something that you get good at overnight, or something that happens quickly. A finished and edited manuscript does not just land in your lap overnight. It takes time and effort and a whole lot of love. And editing. Don’t forget about editing.