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.

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.

Iterating the Writing Process

I’ve been reading Gabriela Pereira’s wonderful book DIY MFA in which she outlines a do-it-yourself alternative to a traditional MFA program. I’ve chosen not to continue with my education with an MFA program. One reason is because of the cost, but I’ve greatly enjoyed pursuing continued education on my own through reading lots of books and would rather not go through the rigidity of another university program. DIY MFA has been a great alternative with being just a $20 book (which I got half off).

What I love most about this book is that Pereira approaches the DIY MFA like it is a startup business. She uses many terms and concepts throughout the book that relate to a startup business, and focuses on iteration. Iteration, in relation to writing, is when you take your process and test and improve it over time in order to become a more productive and better writer. The key is to take a step back and look at how your process works, and then make small adjustments accordingly.

A while back I wrote about how I had been struggling to stay motivated and had come up with a sticker reward system that was working well. And it did work well for a while, but then it stopped working for me.

Then, when I started reading DIY MFA and learned about iteration, I realized how I needed to step back and look at my writing process and make small changes to figure out what would work for me. I’ve since gone through three other versions of my sticker system, each of them being a different way for me to lay out my work week. I’ve used iteration to find the right total number of work hours and the right balance of writing and marketing and craft and reading hours, and I think I’ve finally landed on a system that works for me. And if I find that it’s still not working, I’ll use the process Pereira outlines in order to keep honing in on the best method for me.

I love the DIY MFA mindset because it’s all about finding what works for you as an individual. I highly recommend this book to every writer. It is full of advice on everything from writing with focus to reading with purpose to building a community, which are the main principles of an actual MFA. This book has been a great alternative to going back to school for me, and I can’t wait to finish reading it.

DIY MFA my copy

Finding Motivation

Being self-employed is hard.

Getting to work from home and write is what I’ve always wanted to do, so of course I’m incredibly grateful. But a lot of days it’s difficult to get to work. It’s hard to sit down at the computer every day and write when I don’t often get to see visible results from the work I do.

I was called to do this, I know that. The only career that ever spoke to me was being a writer. I know that this is what God intended for my life. But then I’m alone at home during the day, and it’s really quiet with just me and my dog, and I have so much trouble focusing. The publishing world is so hard and most days seems impossible to break into. It’s hard to imagine myself getting a literary agent and get a book deal trough traditional publishing, like I’ve always dreamed.

Last week I read The Bestselling Author Mindset Formula by Jennifer Blanchard. Blanchard talked about how if you’re ever going to make it, you need to believe it. You need to have a bestselling author mindset. You need to tell yourself, “I will be a bestselling author,” because once you believe that, you’ll finally be willing to take the steps needed to get there.

BAMF-Cover

So after so many years of self-doubt, I’m choosing to believe it. I will be a bestselling author. I will one day get a traditional publishing deal and I’ll be able to walk into a bookstore and see my name on the shelves. My books will one day bear “New York Times bestselling author.” It will happen if I believe it. It will happen if I trust that this is what God has called me to do and I follow him to get there.

To help me stay motivated, I’ve made a reward system for myself. One sticker if I write so many words and one if I work so many hours each day, and I earn prizes if I fill out a sheet. I always thought it was a little silly when my professor said she used a sticker system, but I’m six days in already and I’ve noticed a huge difference.

Give a sticker or some other reward system a try if you’ve been struggling to find motivation to work. And try believing in yourself. Say to yourself that you’ll be a bestselling author. If you believe it, then you’re already on your way.

My Fitness Journey

On July 1st last year, my husband and I had to go get a health screening done for his insurance. I was pretty nervous for the appointment. I’m terrified of doctors and needles. But I think subconsciously I was just terrified what the results would show. And they ended up confirming what I was already pretty sure about.

I was overweight. No, not dangerously overweight. I wasn’t obese, but my body mass index was up there. And seeing what that number was confirmed what I already knew—I didn’t like my body.

I haven’t been too vocal about my weight loss journey because I haven’t wanted people to get the wrong idea. Let me say this: every body is beautiful. You are beautiful, just the way you are. No matter what size clothes you wear or what the number on the scale says, you are beautiful. I was beautiful, even at that weight. But I wasn’t happy with myself. I knew I could do better.

And so my husband and I set out together on a fitness journey, and we’re never turning back.

Our journey started with one very simple thing—we downloaded the app “My Fitness Pal” by Under Armour. This app has literally changed our lives. We use the free version of the app, which allows you to track every thing you eat. You can scan food packages, enter the portions you eat, and set your calorie goals. This app makes it so simple to lose weight, because it lets you plan out your food for the day so that you only eat what you need in order to have a calorie deficit. Five hundred less calories a day equals 3500 for the week, or one pound lost.

fitness 3
My Fitness Pal

Now of course it takes a lot of strength and commitment to follow this meal plan. There have been days when I still eat emotionally and go way over my calorie goal, and days when I eat out and (though many restaurant menus are available in the app) I haven’t kept track at all. It’s also been really hard for us to learn to make better choices with what food we’re eating. The first things to go were sodas and sweets. But once you get into the routine, and when you mess up sometimes and see how bad your body feels after eating food that’s not good for it, it becomes pretty easy to stick to it.

The other simple thing we did on our fitness journey was to join Planet Fitness. This gym was the simple choice because of the cost. It’s only $10 a month, and it is so worth it. My husband works out more than I do because I am restricted from asthma and bad knees, but I still go a couple times a week to do a walk on the treadmill. I really love Planet Fitness because of the attitude and atmosphere they promote. They want to provide a positive, comfortable, and judgment-free environment in which people can develop an active lifestyle, and that is exactly the kind of gym my husband and I needed.

It’s been about 8 months since we began our fitness journey, and the results speak for themselves. Both of us have lost just under 40 pounds, getting back to healthier body mass indexes, and we’ve learned to control our portions and eat a lot healthier. We didn’t like something and we chose to change it. We’re happier now and we’re not turning back.

fitness
Me holding the weight I’ve lost (36 lbs!)

 

Getting healthier has also affected my writing life because I feel better and have more energy. It is so important to be active when you have a job that requires you to sit at a computer for hours.

There are so many ways to go on a fitness journey and try to lose weight. I just wanted to share what has worked for me. Counting calories and doing what I was physically able to to work out were small, simple changes, but they’ve made all the difference.