Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

The Promised Changes Arrive March 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — katblogger @ 2:10 PM

In my last few posts – from quite a while ago, I apologize – I talked about blog structure changes. Utilizing my spring break, I finally got them rolling.

I started a personal tumblr this summer and found the interface a lot simpler and more welcoming than WordPress’s format. It’s better for shorter posts or links intended to share a trick or two, which is what I’ve found myself gravitating toward. College life, you know. (And sometimes I really don’t have that much to say.)

In summary, I’m shifting home base. If you’re interested in following, my new location is There will probably be content more frequently, but it’ll tend to be information gleaned from other sources. I’ll still be making my own observations and posts, but they won’t make up the entirety of the site.

If you’re interested, give it a follow. If you’re not – thanks for coming along for the ride. I wish you all the best and remember – keep writing. Especially when it hurts. 


March 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — katblogger @ 4:27 PM

Lately I’ve been tackling applications for some writing internships (solicitation letters and press releases, mostly, nothing too exciting, but still experience) so I’ve been absent. The constantly shifting nature of WordPress hasn’t made anything easier, either.

Keep an eye out, though. I have some plans for changes to my blogging structure, which I hope to work through once spring break finally arrives.



If It Hurts, Write About It February 27, 2013

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:54 AM

I had a fight with a very good friend yesterday. It was over the internet, which in some ways is better, some ways worse. No matter the medium, I ended the day upset, tangled, and sick to my stomach. I can’t stand arguing with friends and family.

It wore me out, in other words, and all I wanted to do was curl up with some hot chocolate. I did so, but after quelling my distress-induced stomachache, I did something else. I wrote.

Writing is many things to me. It’s fun. It’s a career I hope to purpose. It’s a device to survive dull times. But it has also always been a catharsis. I have dashed out angry prose, classically teenage anguished poems, even a few lines of an enthusiastic play. Strong emotion, particularly negative, wants to get out of me and onto paper. This frequently manifests as crappy poetry. I remember scribbling down something about the presumptions of Zeus after the third Clery report of an assault popped up in my email and something inside me snapped. I remember playing with double voice structure as I struggled to convince a friend not to end her life. Last night, I produced twenty or so slanting lines in a purple and white notebook.  They were angry, maybe, but not fiery anymore. More tired. I was tired. Despite my attitude toward the occasional internet troll, I do not relish conflict.

Still, I’d written something. That meant I’d taken all that stress and ickyness and made something with it – maybe not anything good, but it was there. It’s still there,tucked between my alarm clock and a box of almonds.

Better than nothing, anyway.


February 20, 2013

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:54 AM
Tags: ,

(Sorry I’ve been missing for a while. I had a rough week or two of exams and papers, and this fell to the wayside. I’ve also been contemplating changing this blog’s structure a bit, but I’ll wait on that until I have more free time.)

They say the best thing you can do to improve as a writer is to write. That is definitely true. It’s like anything else – practice makes you better. Imagine you have some kind of writing muscle in your brain. You need to keep that toned!

Reading is also a good way to improve your writing. It shows you what works, what doesn’t, what you like, what you don’t… we frequently learn through imitation, and picking up snatches of other people’s styles can help us discover our own.

There’s one thing I don’t see a lot of people encouraging that I think is really helpful: editing.

No, I don’t mean editing your own work (although that helps too). I mean looking over something by someone else. How can you do this? It’s easier if you’re in school. I’m in a creative writing class where we workshop each other’s stories. I’ve also become a reader for the undergraduate literary magazine, which means going through lots of submissions to find the decent ones. In both of these scenarios, I get to look at what writers do well and what they don’t. Even better, in discussion I hear other people’s opinions on the same things. Yesterday we debated the merits of a rather grating meta narrator and agreed that anyone using the phrase ‘a single tear’ needed to be thrown into the reject pile. Having disagreements over a piece is good too. Sometimes I can learn more about what doesn’t work, or sometimes we simply have different tastes. In the end, though, I pick up a lot about what makes writing ‘good’. Then I can take those lessons and apply it to my own work.

I’ll tell you one thing – I’m far less nervous about submitting to our literary magazine next year.


Unanticipated Illuminations February 2, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — katblogger @ 3:45 PM

Not long into my winter break, I started getting a little concerned. I’d been feasting on my mom’s cookies for days, and I hadn’t ventured outdoors very much at all. (Cold weather is my kryptonite.) The extent of my exercise was climbing the stairs. This would not do. Eventually I allowed my mother to drag me to the community center, where I learned the (very) basics of some of the equipment. I also learned – or really remembered – something else: exercise can be really good for ideas.

Now, I’m not talking serious exercise. Whenever I’m forced into a shambling run, my brain can’t produce much more than ‘Auuuuugh!’ Walking or jogging, however, is different. My body is in motion, but I don’t have to pay much attention to it. My thoughts are free to run around. There’s none of the guilt when you ‘should’ be doing something else, either. After all, you’re doing something constructive already. The brainstorming is extra.

There may be some brain chemistry explanation for why I have sudden epiphanies on the elliptical. My suspicious nature leans toward a different reason – it’s inconvenient. Haven’t you noticed that you have breakthroughs at terrible times? I can’t count the occasions I’ve rolled out of bed to scribble something down, only to find it illegible or insane in the morning. (I have something scrawled on the back of one of my rough drafts, the product of some nightly dream. The only words I can make out are ‘ninja turtles’. Yeah. I think I’m happier not knowing.) If you’re comfortably ensconced, otherwise occupied, or don’t have pen and paper handy, I can almost guarantee that you’ll come up with the solution to all your plot hole problems. It’s the gift and curse of an always active mind.

What activities help you brainstorm? How do you remember good ideas?


Skip a Year… or Two… or Five January 27, 2013

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:17 PM
Tags: ,

I’m going to continue my character-based woes today with an interesting little exercise. Believe it or not, I picked this up from fanfiction writers. I’ve seen it used a few times and snagged it as a character development tool.

The idea is to create the written equivalent of a scrapbook. Pick a decent time frame in your character’s life, and then chop it up into segments. The examples I saw used 5, 10, 15, and 20 year marks. Depending on how old your character is, this can be adjusted.

The gist of the exercise is this: for every ‘milestone’, write a quick little scene. Drop in on their tenth birthday party. Graduation when they were eighteen. Whatever on earth they were dealing with at twenty five. You name it. Imagine that their life is a hallway, and you’re sticking your head through various doors to take a peek. (Girl in the Fireplace, anyone?) This will help you flesh out their backstory.

Now, I get frustrated with writing that doesn’t make it into the final product. I spent time on this and now no one will read it. What a waste of time! Complaining aside, it is helpful to know more about your character than you put in. Their pasts shape their actions and reactions way down at the subconscious level. It’ s important to understand them. If you do, your readers will feel it, and your characters will seem a little more real.


Secondary, not Two-Dimensional January 19, 2013

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 4:01 PM
Tags: ,

Secondary characters are my fatal flaw. Or maybe not ‘fatal’ flaw. I have a whole host of flaws raring to go, jostling in line to see which one gets to trip me up next. Right now, it’s this.

See, the dilemma of secondary characters is obvious from the name. They’re secondary – out of focus, not the most important, not major. It’s easy to brush past them.

Then we hit a snag – the second word. They’re still characters. Their secondary status may mean that they’re not narrators or heroes, but they’re not filler like the minor parts either. They need to have personalities, quirks, and objectives of their own.

This is where I trip up. I’m preoccupied with the main characters. Their epic battles, quests for identity, etc. are what I’m concerned by. Who cares if the kid who runs interference has dreams too?

They need to be fleshed out though. Hollow secondary  characters are like poorly painted backdrops in a play. If you’re caught up in the story, they look ok. Once you start paying attention, though, you realize how flat and washed out the story-world is. It’s fake.

I am very guilty of this. My secondary characters only show up when the plot demands. They pretty much disappear when they’re not in my main characters’ lives. It’s annoying, it’s wrong, and it’s something I need to pay more attention to.

The best way I’ve found to address this problem is to pull secondary characters into the limelight. I’ll rewrite – or just re-imagine – a scene or a day in their shoes. While my main character is off getting herself killed, what is this secondary character doing? What do they want? How do they feel about being dragged into the thorny entanglements of my plot? It’s not their story, after all. Doing this helps me figure out how to treat these characters, and sometimes it opens up fun new plot threads.

So what’s your current pet peeve? How do you handle it?


Fiction and Creating a Better World January 13, 2013

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 9:37 PM

A few days ago, I ran into this comic. It’s kind of upsetting (particularly if you own cats) but I really liked it. What I found most interesting was a line near the end:

“I paint portraits of fiction, sometimes to cope, sometimes to escape, and sometimes just because it makes me happier to constantly think of a bunch of crazy made-up shit. But, sometimes fiction is not necessary. Sometimes real life has happy endings too.”

Throughout the comic, whenever something bad happens, the narrator imagines a whimsical, preferable alternative. As he says many times over: “This is not what happened, but it is how I like to remember it.”

I think a lot of people start writing to run from something. It might not even be something bad. I know that when I was younger and bored, I’d make up a story. Lots of people do. I was simply one of the ones that took a step further and wrote it down.

Fiction allows us to live in a world of our own creation, one where we make the rules. (Although sometimes I resent being constrained by the very rules I set up. C’est la vie.) It gives us the illusion of control, and sometimes it makes life a little easier to bear. When times get rough, we  can escape into a world where we call the shots – even if it can be frustrating for its own reasons.

Now writing isn’t always somewhere to hide. It can also just be a fun world to play around in, a break from mundane reality, a place where we can do whatever we feel like. That’s what’s so great about it, and why I keep coming back – no matter how many times I lie on my floor and scream “I hate this” in despair.

Writing makes us all powerful (or close enough). In a world that is so often beyond our control, it’s nice to get a little power back.


Wasting Time January 9, 2013

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 1:19 PM

(Yikes, I missed the weekend again. This is what happens when you go on break. You lose track of time.)

Today I’d like to talk about time. Specifically, wasting it. We’ve all been told we’re wasting our time – maybe while watching a favorite tv program, browsing the internet, or simply enjoying doing nothing. Why aren’t we working on homework or overtime or schedules for our next busy, busy day?

I’m here to tell you that when you’re doing those things, you’re not wasting time. Slaving away at jobs you don’t like, sleeping through classes you don’t  need, talking to people you don’t care about – that’s a waste. We waste enough time with our daily inescapable duties. Alleged time wasters are what we do for fun.

Some people say life is short. Others point out – reasonably enough – that it’s the longest thing we do. Either way, it will end. What would you rather do with the time you have? In the end, what will you remember?

Lurking internet forums or trying valiantly to understand Doctor Who isn’t on par with writing a novel or composing a symphony, I’m aware. However, indulging can lead to inspiration – or even just entertainment. That’s allowed!

So don’t let other people – or your conscience – guilt trip you for having fun. Enjoy the things you enjoy. Just make sure you get life’s necessities done too.


December 29 and I’m Still Here December 29, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 2:21 PM

Humans have a certain preoccupation with destruction. We turn out films like 2012 and Armageddon. We write book after book about post apocalyptic landscapes. Even kid shows like Adventure Time have an end of the world flavor. And, of course, every few years some crackpot predicts the apocalypse. I’ve lived through more end times than Buffy the vampire slayer. If they’d all happened, I’d be the toughest girl around.

The interesting thing is that some people seem to look forward to the apocalypse. Dystopias are the new hot literary craze. There are television ‘reality’ shows about doomsday preppers. And amid the sarcastic Facebook and tumblr posts about 2012, I got the feeling that people were rooting for something to happen. Winter break can be pretty boring, after all.

So what leads to a fascination with the end times, particularly among young adults? I have a feeling it’s because our future doesn’t look too rosy, Armageddon or no. The job market is terrible. Our economy, questionable. The planet is ravaged by war and environmental disaster. Is this really a future we want to inherit? Maybe we’d rather go out with a bang. An identifiable catastrophe – be it an Armageddon style meteor, a zombie apocalypse, a tsunami, etc – would give us something to blame. It would give us a way out of acknowledging the mess we’ve created. Instead, we’re going to have to face that the world – while not optimal – is going to stick around. It’s our job to patch it up.

You’ve almost made it to the new year. We’ve survived Y2K, the Rapture, 2012, and probably several other ends of days no one bothered to inform us about. For better or for worse, we made it to 2013.

Let’s make this year worth living.