5 Writing Lessons from Wicked

For my birthday this year, I got to see the musical Wicked for the very first time. I’ve been a musical fan my entire life, and I can’t believe I never got to see this show until now. Honestly I was a little disappointed, but I think that’s just because my friends hyped it up too much. Or maybe because I’ve seen Idina Menzel in concert and you can’t beat the original Elphaba. However, while I was watching the musical I realized that you can learn a lot about writing from the show. Here are five writing lessons from Wicked:

1. “Once you’re with the wizard, no one thinks you’re strange.”

Most people think writers are weird. At least that was my experience growing up. I was the super shy girl who read and wrote in notebooks all the time. And then once I got serious about writing and changed my college major to creative writing, nearly everyone asked me But what are you going to do for a living?

The sad truth is that no one is going to take you seriously until you publish something. Being a creative writer is like being an artist, and it’s a tough business to get into. But, like Elphaba, you have to realize that your talent is incredibly important. You will make a difference in this world if you don’t give up.

2. “I’m defying gravity, and you won’t bring me down.”

There will be lots of people who tell you you’re not going to make it as a writer. They will say you’re not good enough or that it’s too hard, that getting published is impossible.

Don’t listen to them.

You can do this. Put in the work. Don’t give up. And defy gravity.

3. “Maybe I’m brainless. Maybe I’m wise. But you’ve got me seeing through different eyes.”

One of my favorite parts in Wicked is when Elphaba says she wishes she could be beautiful for Fiyero, and that he shouldn’t lie and say that she is. But he says he’s just looking at things differently. I think this concept of looking at things from another perspective is so important to writers. That’s our job—to look at topics from different angles and tell a story. And that’s what the musical Wicked does—present another perspective on the story you already know to show you that the villain might not actually be the villain.

Wicked Stage

These last two come from the structure of the story rather than the story itself.

4. Villain Story Arcs

Prequels and retellings seem to be pretty popular these days. Wicked is an awesome example of retelling a familiar story from another viewpoint. The show gives you the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, and then runs parallel to the story we know of Dorothy’s adventures in Oz to tell the audience what really happened when a tornado brought Dorothy from Kansas.

If you’re like me and love making fairy tales your own, try taking a familiar story and looking at the story behind it. This is what Gregory Maguire did when he wrote Wicked the novel. You never know what you might uncover.

5. The Importance of Backstory

Not only is Wicked interesting in the way it gives you the backstory of a character you already know, the musical shows just how important backstory is in general. Backstory is whatever happened to your character before the story opens. For Wicked, the entire first act is the backstory to The Wizard of Oz, and the second act runs parallel to the familiar story. The backstory sets up the story better and gives you greater insight into who the character is.

However, that doesn’t mean that readers want to actually see the backstory. The point of Wicked is to show the backstory, but in regular books the backstory should be hovering underneath the surface of the story. You as the author should know a lot more about the story than what goes into the book. You should know your characters’ history and why they act the way they do. And this knowledge should infuse every word you write about those characters. As Wicked shows, knowing a character’s past can change the whole story.

It’s Okay to DNF a Book

Part of Gabriela Pereira’s DIY MFA mindset that I wrote about here is to read with purpose. Because you are taking your education into your own hands, you must pick which books to read. Reading is so important to writing. Through reading you can discover what works and doesn’t work in stories, you can pick up tips from both old and new writers, and you can see what’s current in your genre. And while reading is important, your time as a writer is limited (you know, with writing books of your own on top of life) and you must learn that it’s okay to DNF a book.

DNF stands for “did not finish,” meaning you give up on reading a book. There are only so many hours in a day, and you should be using those hours to your benefit. Most writers start out as bookworms, and they feel obligated to finish each book they start out of respect for books themselves. But some books just aren’t going to resonate with you and you shouldn’t force yourself to read them.

In fact, doing so may be harmful. For me, reading books I didn’t resonate with ruined reading for me for many years. Growing up you couldn’t find me without a book in my hands, and I’d read a book a day if I could. But I just don’t like most books that are considered “classics,” i.e., the books you read in school. I had so much trouble relating to those stories that they made me hate reading for a long time. But after I graduated from college and had time to actually pick what I wanted to read again—everything YA—I fell back in love with reading. And I think that’s why the DIY MFA mindset works for me.

I usually only read the first chapter of books before deciding if I’m going to continue with reading it. I value my time and choose only to read books that will benefit me or entertain me. As Pereria states in DIY MFA, “Choosing to go the way of DNF is not a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t mean you are not smart enough to understand great literature. When you DNF a book, you are showing respect for your time and efforts. Life is short. Read with purpose” (177-78).

Pereria DNF

You don’t have to feel obligated to read everything you start. You don’t have to keep reading books that don’t resonate with you. It’s perfectly okay to stop reading a book and pick up something else that will be of a greater benefit to you.

5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing

Being a writer is a lifelong career. I’ve loved books my whole life, and I started considering writing back in the fourth grade when my teacher noticed my interest in stories and started giving me extra prompts to work on. Almost ten years after that I changed my college major to creative writing. I had been planning on becoming a high school math teacher, but I realized I needed to follow my dream.

Even though I have a degree in creative writing and have been trying to write pretty much my whole life, it has been a very long learning process and I am still continuing to learn to write every single day. Here are five things I’ve learned that I wish I’d known when I started writing:

1. It’s Okay to Not Write Every Day
The most common piece of writing advice I see—and one I disagree with—is that you should write every day. I don’t. And I think it’s perfectly okay. Personally, I get burnt out if I write something every day. And I’m not the kind of person who can just force the words to come.

It was a hard lesson to learn that it’s okay not to write every day. I think the better way to think about it is to stick to whatever schedule you’ve made for yourself. I’ve made myself a goal sheet with how many hours I want to work each week, and I check them off as I complete them.

It’s also important to recognize that a lot goes into writing other than the actual typing of words in a draft. There’s brainstorming, editing, marketing, learning craft, and, of course, lots and lots of reading. Writing doesn’t always look like writing, but all of those things together add up to this job of being a writer.

2. No One Cares if You Write
This one came from my favorite college professor. It sounds harsh, but what it means is that no one’s going to pat you on the back if you get your work done or shake their fist at you if you don’t. Writers are on their own for the most part. And if you don’t have a burning desire to write—if you don’t have to do it—then you’re most likely not going to do it.

3. Social Media Doesn’t Have to be Scary
I don’t like the Internet. I’ve had to learn how to be online in order to connect with my readers. And what I wish I had known before I started was that it’s not as scary as it seems. I had to learn to take things slowly, learning one network at a time and then taking my time with creating my website. And it was way less scary and overwhelming this way.

4. It’s Okay to Invest in Yourself
This was probably the hardest lesson for me, because I don’t like to spend money. I feel really guilty if I buy anything for myself. I’m a frugal person and am always on the hunt for sales. The last thing I’d want is to spend money for a job in which I haven’t made any money (yet). But I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to invest in myself. It’s okay to take an online marketing class. It’s okay to buy those books on craft. It’s okay to pay for a web domain and a photo editing service. I’ve had to learn that I need to treat my writing like an actual business, and that I need to set myself up for future success by getting the right tools.

5. It’s Going to Take a Long Time
Being a writer is a lifelong career. We live in a culture where we feel like we have to have everything right now. But writing is a slow process. It takes time to learn how to write. It takes time to actually write a book. It takes time to publish a book. I’ve had to learn to take things slowly and realize that I’m in this for the long haul. So I’m going to keep learning and I’m going to keep writing, and I’m going to keep trying to get published through a traditional publisher. And it’s okay if it takes a long time.

Hemingway quote

While I wish I had known all of this back when I started writing, the most important thing I did know was that I had something to say. Everyone has something to say, some unique perspective that they can offer to the world. And I knew from the beginning that I had a lot to say and that I could say it all through writing. I don’t think I would have made it this far if I hadn’t known that.

Favorite Book Feature: The Selection by Kiera Cass

I’ve really enjoyed rereading and featuring one of my favorite books the last Friday of each month this year. You can find the full list of my favorites here. September’s Favorite Book Feature is one of my absolute favorites by one of my absolute favorite authors—The Selection by Kiera Cass.

My blog’s very first post was about the amazing Selection Series and how getting to speak to Cass was what gave me the kick I needed to write my debut novel, Somewhere Only We Know. I had so much fun rereading The Selection this month and am excited to tell you why it’s one of my favorite books.

The Selection

America Singer does not want to join the Selection. She doesn’t want to leave home and her secret love, Aspen, even though he is caste below her in their dystopian society and it would be difficult for them to be together. But she is chosen to participate in the competition to win the prince’s hand in marriage and must leave everything she knows behind. Then, when she arrives at the palace along with the 34 other girls in the competition and meets Prince Maxon, America realizes that the life she had always imagined for herself may not compare to the new possible future available to her.

The Selection is the first book in the original trilogy of the Selection series. The series follows America’s journey as she leaves her home province behind, moves to the capital of Angeles, and enters a competition to become the future princess. These books are filled with sparkling gowns, decadent food, mysterious rebels, and plenty of swoon. When I first picked up the book I heard it described as The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, and that is so true.

Reading The Selection is like getting a hug from your best friend. America is one of the most endearing narrators I’ve ever read, and her story captivates me from the very first page. This is my fifth time returning to this book, and I love it more every time. If the combination of a dystopian society with all of the glamour of princes and princesses weren’t enough, the book’s main theme makes this story truly shine.

America had always believed that she would marry Aspen. She dreamed of being his wife even if it meant enduring life in a lower caste and giving up her beloved music. It was all going to be worth it for him. But then when the circumstances change and she finds herself in the palace, she realizes Prince Maxon isn’t who she thought he was. They even become good friends, and eventually America sees another possibility for her life—one in which she could be the princess.

I love this idea of possibilities. I love watching America discover that the world is open to her and that maybe what she thought were the right choices weren’t right at all. The Selection is an amazing book about this discovery.

I’m about to go read the rest of the series again. And you should read them too. You won’t be disappointed.

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Fall Favorites

Today is the first day of fall! I love when seasons change. I like the idea of fresh starts and entering into new phases. And each season brings with it something new and exciting. These are some of my favorite things about fall:

Back-to-School
I love school. I love to learn and school was always so much fun for me. Sadly I’m not in school anymore. But my husband is, which means Saturday morning library dates. Wright State University has a beautiful library, and we love to go there on the weekends to enjoy coffee and catch up on work.

Fall Candles
I’m one of the few who actually don’t like pumpkin spice lattes and everything else they’ve added pumpkin spice to. But I love how it smells. I love the flowery scents of my spring and summer candles, but my favorites are all of the spiced and pumpkin scents.

Fall Candles

Sweaters and Flannels
I love sweater weather. Sweaters and flannels are just so comfy and cozy. I wish we didn’t have 90 degree weather here in Ohio today so I could wear a sweater.

Apples
Fall means apples, and honeycrisp apples are my absolute favorite. My husband and I are planning on going to an apple festival next weekend, so I’m definitely going to get a big bag of honeycrisp.

My Birthday
My birthday is in the fall, towards the end of October, so of course that makes me love fall even more. My sister also has an October birthday and tomorrow we’re going to see Wicked as an early birthday present from our parents.

Books!
Colder weather means spending more time inside, and I love to curl up with a good book when the weather turns cold. Some books on my fall TBR are A Lily at Dawn (a book by a writer friend of mine), The Selection Series (for I think the fifth time), and In a Handful of Dust (the companion novel to Not a Drop to Drink).

Fall TBR

Behind the Scenes of Somewhere Only We Know: My Interview with GenZ Publishing

I recently got the chance to do an awesome interview with my publisher, GenZ Publishing, and they just put it up on their website.

genz

If you’d like to get another behind the scenes look at my debut novel, check it out! I talk about everything from my writing process and my favorite authors to Somewhere Only We Know‘s capitalization and my Hope Bracelets. You can find the interview here. I hope you like it!

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Inspiration from My Favorite Movies

Writers can find inspiration from anything: books, nature, the people around you. Anything and everything that catches your eye can become a story. One of my favorite sources of inspiration is of course movies. I have trouble sitting down long enough to watch a whole movie and usually spread it out over a couple of days, but I still love the amazing stories that only movies can convey. These are some of my favorite movies and how they inspire my writing:

The Harry Potter Series
I’ll be honest—I’ve only read the books once over many years. Like I have trouble sitting down for a movie I also have trouble reading books longer than 300 pages. But I love how these movies bring this incredible world to life. The Harry Potter series inspires me with its expansive and complex world. Though I don’t plan on writing any fantasy, I love the world building aspects of these movies.

The Chronicles of Narnia
This is another fantasy series that inspires me with its world building, but I’m more inspired with the spiritual references. The symbolism and connection to Christianity that infuses this story makes me want to do the same in my own writing.

The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games series is an action-packed dystopia, full of rebellion and satire on reality television, and it has had a huge influence on my writing. While I’ve been a fan of these movies since they came out (and even dragged a friend to see the midnight release of the first one), I did not like the books when I first read them. My book club in high school read the first novel and I didn’t like it very much, and then gave up on the others. I didn’t actually read the whole series until this summer, and am reading Mockingjay right now. I just feel like this series and the essence of the story is so much better conveyed on screen than on the page.

Moana
Disney’s most recent princess (daughter of the village chief) inspires me with how strong she is. One of my main goals with my writing is to create strong female characters that girls can look up to, and Moana does just that. Plus the story is so fun and this movie has some of Disney’s best music.

Inside Out
Inside Out is by far my favorite Pixar movie. Not only is it a great story about emotions and memories, it takes you inside the mind of the main character and personifies the emotions that are hard to talk about in concrete ways. As a writer I found this movie so interesting with this look into someone’s mind.

Ever After
I love this film’s take on the story of Cinderella. Changing up fairy tales is something I enjoy doing, and I have always been inspired by fairy tales. I love how this movie makes Cinderella independent and strong.

Les Misérables
I’ve talked multiple times about how amazing this story is, so I won’t go on again. Check out these links if you want to know more: Getting Re-inspired by Les Misérables and Favorite Book Feature: A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher.

The Truman Show
This is definitely one of my favorite movies. I love how this film looks at reality television, perceptions of reality, and questions of identity. Jim Carrey does an amazing job portraying Truman’s story. This movie inspired one of the very first stories I created, and it continues to have an influence on my work.

Movie Souvenirs
Some books about and souvenirs from some of my favorite movies.

As Cheryl St.John says in her book Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict, watching a movie counts as work as long as you’re taking notes. Movies can have a huge impact on your writing, so try watching all kinds of films to find inspiration. I also love finding inspiration from television shows, with some of my favorites being Once Upon a Time, Jericho, Dollhouse, Firefly, Pushing Daisies, and Battlestar Galactica.