Westwind

writing advice

Post by Anayib Figueroa

NaNoWriMo, which stands for “National Novel Writing Month”, is a creative writing project that takes place over the course of the month of November, starting November 1st and ending at 11:59 pm on November 30th. During this month, some writers attempt to write a 50,000-word novel, while others choose to pursue other creative writing projects, like finishing a script or writing a series of short stories.

So what makes NaNoWriMo appealing?

Part of its charm is the sense of solidarity that comes with it, especially in knowing that there’s a larger writing community undergoing the exact same process you are. It also gives you a solid deadline to help hold you accountable and even if you don’t finish in time, it encourages you to write more than you normally would.

That being said, if you decide NaNoWriMo sounds fun and want to give it a try, here are a few tips I’ve learned through my own trials and tribulations, regarding how to not fail.

1. Set a realistic daily word count goal. Stick. To. It.

The standard daily goal for NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words (assuming you’ve chosen to tackle the 50,000-word novel, which for the sake of this tip, we are). If you stick to 1,667 words per day, then by the end of the thirtieth day, you’ll have a total of 50,010 words. While you can modify your goal based on your writing availability (because some days leave more room for writing than others), you need to stick to it so you can stay on track. Be honest with yourself. Are you really going to do better and write more tomorrow? Or are you just procrastinating and hoping that tomorrow will bring more inspiration on what to write?

2. Prepare ahead of time

Simply put, know what you’re writing. Thirty days is already a very limited amount of time to begin with, so taking a chunk of that time to try and hash out what your novel will be aboutits plotline, conflicts, and twistswill set you back if you don’t do it quickly and efficiently. That being said, if you’re struggling to figure out what the story you want to tell is, get back to the basics and ask yourself: Who are your characters? What do they want? What is standing in their way? That should give you a foundation to start off with and just take it from there.

3. Schedule Time to Write

If possible, set aside a couple of hours every day during the month of November and dedicate that time exclusively to writing. Physically block out that time in your planner or your calendar and respect that writing time. That would be the best case scenario, but at the same time, I’m very aware of the fact that NaNoWriMo does not align itself well with the quarter system since it falls in an awkward middle ground between midterms and finals. So if you can’t afford to block out entire hours at once and you have to schedule your writing time around studying for exams, then so be it. Just be honest about when you will actually have time to write. Early morning, before you start your day? If you have the willpower to get up earlier than absolutely necessary, then why not. At the end of the day when you’re tired? Sure, so long as you aren’t too tired to form coherent sentences. Like I’ve said before, just be honest with yourself and find what times work best for you.

4. Find a support system

Writing is hard (duh), but it gets easier if you have people around you who are also taking on NaNoWriMo or who encourage you to keep writing because they want to know how the story ends. Find those people. It makes a world of a difference.

5. Use Your Available Resources

If after all of this, you still want to try NaNoWriMo, then here are a couple links to use along the way.

For more information on NaNoWriMo itself, go to their website. It answers FAQs, has a community of fellow writers, and also works as a source of inspiration to keep you going.

For a step-by-step outline to guide you during your month-long journey, check out Better Novel Project. They make writing a novel seem less intimidating.

All in all, good luck and may your inner muse be present, pleasant, and ready to work.

Post by Jessica Humphrey

Originally from Wisconsin, Mona Simpson is a novelist and short story writer, as well as an English and creative writing professor at UCLA. As an undergraduate, she studied poetry at UC Berkeley then pursued an MFA in writing at Columbia University and served as an editor for the literary magazine The Paris Review. Her acclaimed 1987 debut novel, Anywhere But Here, follows a dissatisfied mother and reluctant daughter on their ambitious trip to California. Her most recent novel, Casebook, depicts a young boy’s tumultuous journey into the depths of the adult world as he seeks to understand his parents.

How would you describe your writing to someone who has never read it?

Hmmm. That’s a good question. It would be a useful skill for any writer on a book tour who goes onto a radio show. The first question the DJ asks is, “So you’ve written a book. What’s it about?” In a way, that’s kind of a nonfiction question. It works really well if you’ve happened to write about your year covering ISIS recruits, or the current state of forensic mental health facilities, if the excavation of the story is really the most interesting and important thing, but with novels, the story isn’t always what matters. I could be describing either a great novel, a mediocre novel or a bad novel. Job’s story in the old testament is pretty much the same as The Perils of Pauline. Many 19th century novels could be described as “an orphan grows up” or “a young woman without a dowry is wooed by a cad and then gets married.”

I ask because I see that writers often feel pressure to develop a unique writing style, so that they can stand out when pitching themselves. For example, a professor once told me that I should have a mini bio of myself and a logline of my most recent story memorized just in case I run into some publisher in the elevator.

I’ve heard people say this, but if you could compress the story into one line, you wouldn’t have needed to write the novel. Also, that’s sort of other people’s job. I’d make a poor publicist, clearly. In terms of a writing style, I think we each do have a personal style, but I don’t know if we develop it so much as get out of its way.

Since you’re a novelist and a short story writer, in your opinion, what is special about the short story form?

It’s transporting and very unforgiving. A short story really has to take your breath away. As a reader, you live with a novel because you’re together much longer. The novel is more congenial if you tend to believe in incremental change, whereas a short story really requires revelation.

In terms of writing a short story?

Well, I’ve never certainly sat down and written out a first draft of a novel in one sitting, but you can do that with a short story, and that’s thrilling.

That reminds me of a quote from T.C. Boyle where he says, “The joy of the novel is that you know what you’re going to do tomorrow.”

Exactly. [Short story writing] is a much more high-wire act. A virtuosic performance.

What do you find to be the most difficult part of the overall writing process?

Really the most difficult part of writing is the most difficult part of life—that is to remain hopeful despite innumerable obstacles, including the seeming cruelty of fate, the randomness of luck, the disappointments of beloved people. To write a book, a great amount of faith is required to sustain one through days of completely hidden work, invisible to the world and even perhaps to one’s own friends. All that keeps it together is a fragile vision only occasionally glimpsed.

Because a lot of Westwind’s readers are college-aged, do you have any advice for aspiring writers that you think they haven’t heard before?

You know, you’re coming to me, as it happens, the day after Philip Roth died, so I’ve been thinking a lot about Philip Roth and his life as a beautiful example of work. If this is what you want to do, then put it at the center of your life and just do it every day, for years and years. However, you choose to get better, if you choose to go to graduate school or if you choose not to, none of those choices really matter nearly as much as just doing it every day. There’s no such thing as a writer who’s not an autodidact. You teach yourself what you need to know ultimately, you read the books you need to read to write the books you want to write. I hope you’ll also find a way to be happy. There are different kinds of writers; some people will find success in the world and some people have fewer readers, less success, but if what you mean to do is die with a shelf of books that you’ve given your life to, then you’ll want to find a way to live among people who will understand that impulse and mission.

That’s a beautiful answer.

Aww, thank you.

If I’m correct, you have been teaching short fiction at UCLA since 2001. Because I know you’ve taught elsewhere, how has that experience been for you? Is there anything specific about UCLA students that you’ve learned?

One thing I like about teaching writing is that fiction is not a competitive sport. The best story Jessica can write is not the same story as the best story Abraham or Jodi can write. I mean I went to UC Berkeley, so I was a UC student, I’m familiar with UC students, I love teaching UC students, and that’s not to say that there aren’t talented students at other places too, but I think what distinguishes UCLA students, to me, is that we’re a very diverse group. You’re going to meet people who have very different backgrounds. There’s always been—in my classes when I was a student and in my classes as I teach—there’s always somebody who’s living at home, helping out their parents with their produce store and then commuting into UCLA, and there’s always a rich girl who drives her own convertible, and everything in between. You have a great variety of life.

You mention often in class that you hope we form bonds with the other writers. What else do you hope students get from your workshops?

I would recommend staying in touch with the teachers you love. But if there’s one thing they could take away from my class, well, I’ll say three things. You have to find the books you love to read and read them every day, you need to write every day, and you will want to keep yourself in a state to write every day—you can’t let yourself become depressed, overly critical or self-destructive. You need to have some fun with it. Make some friends, start a magazine, organize a student reading series, fall in love with a poet, make this your world.

Post by Amara Trabosh

Tropes can be really fun. However, tropes can often be raised to the level of cliché in our eyes. There are many tropes, especially in college student writing, that are inherently awful or sexist. Here are six you should definitely avoid.

Courtesy of Flickr

The Friend Zone

If I never read a story about a boy stuck in the friend zone again, my skin will clear and my grades will be perfect. This kind of story is just so tired. A boy likes his friend and whines about it. Sometimes we get to see her date someone else instead of the nice boy who’s been there all along #tragic. Sometimes she eventually realizes the error of her ways and they ride off into the sunset affirming said boy’s creepy obsession and his patriarchal expectations. While the friend zone can suck, it’s not a story anyone needs to hear if one or both of them are not zombies.

Too Good for the Club/Frat Party

Oh my god, the music is soooo loud, and the people are just waving their hands and hips around not even properly dancing. This must be the end of culture. If a zombie or alien attacks at this party, sign me up, but if the super cool and super smart person just stands in the corner and judges everyone else, please just take a minute and add some zombies.

The Isolated Intellectual

The plight of the man who is just too smart for everyone else around him and unfortunately cannot make any friends is not a real problem. We all know a boy who’s read one book and turned into a TED Talk. Just don’t write from that boy’s point of view. I don’t need him to explain how women work to me. Unless he’s a zombie in disguise, let’s just agree to not.

Courtesy of Pixabay

The Deep Revelation (to a privileged boy)

Not all representation is good. Having a fairly privileged boy realize that a construction worker can be smart too or that prostitutes are also people inside of their commodified bodies can come off as offensive to those groups. If you want to have more representation, try telling their story through their point of view not the perspective of an outsider. We don’t need any more stories in the world about white boys learning their privilege and thinking they’re going to change, but if you can show some real change in a non-condescending way, like being eaten by zombies in punishment for his privilege, then go for it.

The Not-Like-Other-Girls Girl

It might sound like a compliment, but it’s not. This kind of phrase or description of a girl (i.e. “unlike other girls she eats anything!”) is extremely misogynistic putting all girls into a lump group and placing this single female character on a pedestal as the only superior girl who can ultimately rise above the unfortunate fact of her gender. Maybe just try to not describe her at all if you know you end up going in that direction often or she’s not like other girls because she’s secretly a zombie.

Courtesy of Pexels

The Ugly Duckling

She takes off her glasses, and she’s beautiful! OMG. While we all love a good Freddie Prinze Jr. film, She’s All That is the worst plot hinging on beauty as women’s only value, so please don’t emulate it. Just try to write women that are real, you know like actual people and not sex objects. But if she takes off her glasses and becomes a zombie who all the boys and girls are into…

Tropes are trends for a reason. Not all of them are good reasons, but if you truly think you can bring something new to the table without reverting to sexism or racism, you should write away. Just be careful with tropes like the ones above which by nature lean towards sexism and have been used by white men for centuries. To be safe, ask yourself will your trope use really stand out of the trash heap?

Post by Jessica Humphrey

Has the Great Mental Flood™ blocked you from writing for 40 days and 40 nights? In other words, have you been Noah’s Dark’ed? As you can tell from that last line, you’re not the only one. It’s a fact that every writer deals with writer’s block, especially if you’re a full-time student who doesn’t have the mental capacity to think of anything besides schoolwork. Regardless, here are 15 prompts that will most definitely rocket launch you onto The New York Times Best Seller List. Disclaimer: Westwind expects a writing credit and a mention on the dedications page.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

1. #RainbowGate

Randomly, UCLA’s inverted fountain starts spouting iridescent, rainbow water instead of its usual yellowish-brown water. Students rejoice and start skipping class to splash in the magical oasis. Campus police soon arrive at the scene and manage to find a freshman who witnessed something odd happening on school grounds the previous night, “I can’t even begin to explain what I saw.” What did the student see? Uncover the Roy G. Biv mystery.

2. Just Shut Up

Tell a story involving no characters or dialogue. The plot must be developed through changing imagery.

3. Multiple Personality Poem

Write a poem with two narrators. Each line is written by a different narrator and they are fiercely bickering.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

4. Stumped Trump

Write something that Trump would have submitted to Westwind in the 60s. Also, write his reply to the rejection email.

5. For sale: vegan food, never eaten

Hemingway famously wrote this six-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Write your own, but “vegan” must be one of the words.

6. A Fanfic Fanfic

Fanfic writers are some of the most creative writers in the world, but they relish in making things awkward. For revenge, write a fanfic involving two fanfic writers.

Courtesy of Flickr

7. Professor Relish with the Ketchup Bottle

Clue’s murder mystery game will always be a classic, but what really happened in the ballroom between Colonel Mustard and his lead pipe?

8. Single people on Valentine’s

Write a version of The Christmas Carol with a Scrooge but make it another holiday.

9. Be unoriginal and dramatic

We all hate when a TV episode starts by showing us a snippet of a catastrophic event, only to rewind 24 hours. Do the same! Write a two-part story where the first part happens 24 hours after the second part.

Courtesy of Pixabay

10. #CocaCola2020, #BlueTsunami

All polar bears suddenly decide to storm the U.S. because they are absolutely sick of climate change. Where do they set up camp, and will they join politics? 

11. Please Subscribe, Comment, and Die

YouTube shuts down and its stars flock the streets, Purge style. Write a screenplay for this event in vlog form.

12. Gene Writer’s Block

Write a story about the time you walked into Gene Block’s office hours to discuss a very important school matter and walked out with a job offer and an expulsion.

Courtesy of PxHere

13. Photoflash Fiction

A photographer visits the same place three times in her life: once as a child, then as a teenager, and lastly as an adult. While she aged, how did the setting age?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

14. Incredible Mystery

Incredibles 2 is coming out soon, but there are still some questions about the first movie that need to be answered. For example, what’s the background story behind the neck-braced man that sued Mr. Incredible for saving his life, what made him attempt suicide, and how was he in therapy?

15. Lost in Assumption

Write clashing points of view from characters who experienced a profound miscommunication (Doctor/Patient, Student/Teacher, Father/Daughter, Country/President, etc.).

Now that your head is swarming with ideas, scribble away, Hemingway! Of course, don’t forget to submit your masterpieces to Westwind…or else!

 

Post by Abigail D. Hernandez

There is no doubt that the world of publishing is drastically changing, foregoing its traditional publication routes and instead, replacing its techniques with more modern and up-to-date approaches to publishing and marketing books. The introduction of digital media such as Amazon and E-books has made it possible for the business of publishing to flourish at such a rapid pace, that in many instances, traditional publishing houses seem disarrayed in trying to keep up. Present-day modifications are altering the ways in which readers interact and purchase their daily doses of novels and textbooks. They also bring major changes to the ways in which writers and publishers try to present their works in the best possible light.

For hopeful writers and artistic creators, this modernized change may seem overwhelming with an endless array of options presenting themselves for the sole purpose of publishing and marketing books and creations. Yet, from an optimistic standpoint, many hopeful creators can learn and adapt to these changes in order to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that digital media has paved in the art of modern publication.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of interviewing my Alumni mentor, Jules Hermes, who has worked in publishing and marketing for well over 25 years. With ample experience in publishing, she has generously provided me with helpful advice for any future writers who are hopeful about seeing their work published. I have categorized her advice into three main points that all writers should be aware of, especially if they want to navigate and conquer the world of publishing.

Courtesy of Pexels

1. Self-publishing is the Future

Long ago, self-publishing was considered a risky move that would inevitably lead to debt with mediocre success. Now, the whole realm of self-publishing has been restructured with rising media platforms, such as Wattpad, taking center stage and dynamically changing the ways in which people seek to publish their own works. Hermes reveals that most big publishing houses now look on such media platforms to identify the most popular digital works, many of which are published and sold in popular bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Self-publishing also allows the writer to have more control over their work by cutting out the middleman or literary agent. Many writers are now seeing a rise in their income due to a much bigger turnover for each copy sold. Hermes wants young authors to understand that publishing on free sites such as Wattpad can actually result in many benefits. As a free marketing tool, it can propel authors to outstanding heights without them having to shovel out money from their own pockets to buy ad space and advertisements online. Self-publishing may seem like a daunting task, but nowadays, creators can instantly access digital platforms that allow them to jumpstart their writing careers—with a lot more control in the hands of the writer.

Courtesy of Pexels

2. Always Write for a Specific Audience

It’s no secret that writers should be aware of who they are writing for and what specific audiences are attracted to their style of work. First-time authors probably won’t have the necessary cash to shell out mounds of advertisements for their works. In which case, the best form of advertisement comes from word of mouth, where readers recommend works to other readers. Word-of-mouth recommendation is made easier by such sites as Goodreads, where it is easy for an avid reader to match a genre of writing they enjoy with specific authors or various book recommendations that fall under a specific category.

Since book recommendations play a big role in what type of books are generally successful, future authors should be aware of what specific genres are the most popular within a certain category. However, Jules relayed to me a hard truth: if you can’t convince people to buy what you write, you’ll have to write what they want to buy.

In general, certain genres seem better suited for self-publishing. Genres of self-help and nonfiction books are usually an easier sell since they can tap into a market need that is almost unquenchable. If future writers want to work in the genre of fiction, works that appeal to a built-in fan-base are usually more pampered for success. Trilogies and duologies in science fiction or fantasy tend to sell better than strictly literary titles since the arc of a story can slowly progress between two to three publications, giving it a greater chance of attracting a fandom.

Writers should ultimately focus their attention on one specific genre instead of switching back and forth between different styles of writing. Strictly sticking to one specific genre will actually help an author in advancing and crafting their writing style to suit that genre. Writers should also have a clear sense of what an audience expects to read within a certain genre and what trends or clichés need to be refreshed in order to really grip the audience’s attention for the full length of a novel.

Courtesy of Pexels

3. Be More than Just a Writer

The last piece of advice I received from my mentor was to become more than just a writer.

Inspiration for writing can bestow itself in many forms including inspiration from digital outlets like television, movies, and music. Hermes emphasizes the need for people to step out of their comfort zone and confront everything life has to offer. Hopeful authors need to network, go to events, listen to speakers, travel to distant places and interact with different kinds of people in order to broaden their viewpoint on life. Getting out of your comfort zone will not only gain you valuable contacts and networking, but it could also lead to new ideas or a new path that could lead to some additional success. Author events and conferences are great ways to connect with like-minded people in the industry and to also receive publishing or writing advice from experienced industry professionals. Becoming more than just a writer will definitely take some time since there is much more to experience than there is to write about. Yet, being a writer is one of the most important professions that utilize all kinds of experiences to retell a story through the eyes and control of an author—a job unlike any other!

The world of publishing can seem scary and confusing at times, especially for new and aspiring authors. Nevertheless, it is possible to conquer such a business and succeed while still having complete ownership and control of ones written work and creative compositions. Writers need to remember to be confident in their own work and after that, almost anything is possible.

 

 

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