Writing: Planning a Scene

Tea in hand, Google Docs pulled up, Harry Potter soundtracks blaring through my headphones, and a desire to write (and hopefully motivation and inspiration to go with it). This is a common picture of how I start writing on whatever project on any given day. But lately, I’ve found myself sitting down and just staring…and staring…and staring…and then looking at the time and realising that I now have to go to work and have wasted my writing time for the day. I have the desire to write. But my motivation and inspiration have been lacking, especially when it comes to my novel. Which has forced me to take my usual “pantser” self and set it on the shelf, replacing it with a planner.

I’m pretty awful at planning and outlining most of the time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. But frequently, I find it to be necessary to get any writing done.

I find planning scenes to be even more difficult than outlining my novel most of the time, which is the exact opposite of what I would expect. However, when writing a scene, you need to be certain that everything that is happening (or not happening) is exactly as it should be so that it can properly support the rest of the chapter, the book, the themes, and most importantly the character development.

I’ve found it easiest to work on particular scenes that fit my mood or my fancy on a given day, instead of trying to write through my book in order (this will most certainly make it rather difficult to edit later on, but hey! You gotta do what you gotta do!). But even when I work on a particular scene, my brain can be going a million different directions and make it very difficult to actually get any words onto the page.

So I thought I’d share my tips for plotting a scene.

 

  • Figure out what theme is important to the scene.

 

Sometimes this is your main theme for the novel; other times, it might be one of the minor themes. Whatever the case, think about what actions and dialogue will help present it to your characters/readers. What are your characters’ opinions about the theme? Do they support what you are trying to portray? Are they against it? Have they ever thought about it before?

For example, if you have a theme regarding the importance of family, you may have one character who’s experienced unconditional love and support from their family. This character may be open to whatever is happening and the lesson that can be learnt from it. However, if you have a character who was abused, neglected, orphaned, or abandoned, they may not be able or willing to comprehend the theme. This character may even try to influence the other characters to agree with them.

 

  • Pay attention to which characters are there and how they interact with each other.

 

Going beyond how the characters may react to the theme and what’s happening around them, look act their personal interactions with each other. Do the characters in this scene get along? Are they soul mates? Best friends? Mortal enemies? Complete strangers? Is one of them hiding a big secret from another?

 

  • Write down the first thing that happens.

 

Do you know the first thing that happens in this scene? Write it down! Get it out on paper as quickly as you can. I like to use telescopic text when writing like this. In other words, I write down the simplest sentences about what’s happening, and then I go back and add detail, and I’ll continue going back with more detail until I’m satisfied. But getting the first bit of the scene out can help you figure out what comes next.

 

  • Write out the end goal for that particular scene/chapter.

 

Now that you know how the scene begins, where is it going? Where does its action end? Knowing the beginning and the ending will help you clarify what can happen or needs to happen in the middle.

 

  • Ask what can go horribly wrong. OR Ask what can go wonderfully right.

 

This is a pretty common piece of advice for writers, or at least the first half is. Sending the characters and plot into chaos is a great way to add drama (and interest) to your story; however, sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. You don’t want only bad things to happen to your characters…do you? Finding out what can go wrong can you give great ideas, but so can asking what can go well. I personally don’t like deus ex machina for helping things go well for characters; I prefer the characters’ past actions or present decisions to lead to good things happening. Also, finding ways to show the joy and love that characters can experience can help your readers fall more in love with them and, as a result, the story.
I hope these little bits of advice are helpful!
What are some of your tips for plotting scenes? Let me know in the comments below!

Pursue

Technically I’ve already written about yearly goals. But this isn’t just about the resolutions and goals I have for this year. It’s about the resolutions and goals I have for my entire life and what I’m doing now to work towards them. It’s about pursuing my dreams and thriving in every moment along the way, hence my word for the year: Pursue.

I tend to over-plan and set too high of expectations for myself, especially in my creative efforts. Considering how I’ve done the last several years in achieving the goals I’ve set, I don’t have a chance of coming close this year.

But I’m doing things differently.

Not only am I setting goals, but I’m also planning everything out in detail—scheduling my writing, editing, posting, and sharing; creating rewards for my accomplishments and punishments for my failures; and finding people to hold me accountable, inspire me, tell me off, and rant with.

If you aren’t already aware, I have five major writing goals for the year:

  1. Post at least one blog a week.
  2. Finish the rough draft of my first novel by the end of June.
  3. Write, edit, and post at least one video a week.
  4. Write at least one poem a week.
  5. Write at least four short stories this year.

I know there will be times I exceed these goals, and I also know there will be times that I fail gloriously. But the point is to keep creating, no matter my mood or lack of belief in myself because these are my dreams. And I will not let myself give up the things I love because of my own self-doubt.

I’m also working towards doing yoga and other forms of exercise more regularly, eating healthier, saving up money (which is difficult when I might not have a job after next week), and taking time to relax. Doing all of this and trying to achieve my creative goals may be awful on occasion, and I’ll definitely want to give up sometimes. But I won’t. I won’t be happy if I do. Goodness, I’ve already fallen a bit behind. Even so, I will not stop trying to accomplish these dreams. I will work to catch up when possible, and I will continue turning to people who can keep me accountable.

I did the cliche thing and started most of my goals at the start of the year, even though doing so is rather arbitrary, because it feels easier and somehow more inspiring. Also, it’s just loads easier to track my progress when I start a goal at the beginning of a year instead of the middle of a random month.

Anyways. Whatever goals you set for yourself at the beginning of 2017, I truly hope that you are able to meet them. In this third week of the year, when motivation and inspiration start to fade and you start thinking about giving up on those goals, know that they and your dreams are attainable. Don’t give up on yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your goals or terrified of what others’ opinion may be, think of how you’ll feel if you give up and then think of how you’ll feel if you push through and achieve those dreams. Because very few things feel as good as meeting goals that you once felt were impossible. And, love, you can do it.

What are some of your goals for the year? Let me know in the comments!

Anxiety and Job Searching

Last name. First name. Address. Phone number. Why did you leave your last place of employment? What experience do you have? Why do you want to work here? Where do you see yourself in five years?

These questions are only a few that are permanently seared into my brain from the endless hours of applications that I always seem to be filling out. I recently started a part-time seasonal position. I love the job so far, even with being completely exhausted at the end of my shifts, being hit on by complete strangers, and awkwardly trying to talk friends into buying things when I used to be the one talking them out of their impulse buys. But because it is a seasonal position, I still need to find another position to start come January.

The majority of looking for work is just mind-numbing monotony, but it becomes a whole different thing when you add a mental illness to the mix. Having anxiety disorders can make submitting the applications and resumes, making follow-up phone calls, and being interviewed nearly impossible.

Because of facing the seemingly impossible time and time again, I’ve started noticing patterns in my application processes and anxiety levels.

The constant uncertainty of applying and interviewing in exhausting and worrying as it is. But when an anxiety disorder is added to the mix, the nervousness becomes a toxic fear. You constantly worry if you put down the correct information. You wonder if you smiled enough during your interview. You dwell on how well you shook the interviewer’s hand and if you should have done it differently. You think about whether you called too soon or too late to check on an application. You are terrified at the thought of going into an interview and forgetting the answers to basic questions. You overthink the pre-interview exams, wondering if you had typed just three more words if you would get the job. You obsess about whether your outfit was too colorful, too dull, or too casual for the interview.

But these aren’t things you can control or change.

However, these are some of the tips I’ve gathered for myself as I’ve looked for jobs over the last few years. I hope they can be of some help.

Searching for jobs to apply to:

Start specific and move towards generalized positions.
If you start with specific positions that you believe you will love, you may just get a dream job of yours because you took the time to look and apply. If you don’t find a dream job, look for another in your field. As you go along and apply to those positions, start looking at more general positions that might hire you on the spot. I usually aim to apply for five specific positions for every general position I apply to when I’m first looking. Then as time goes on and I’ve applied to the specific positions, I switch to one specific for every five or so general applications. That way I am always applying to the jobs that most appeal to me while I seek potential employment in the meantime.

Check at your local library and in the newspaper.
There are still several companies and small businesses that do not have job listings posted online, let alone online applications. Going to a library and looking in the newspaper is a great way to see when those companies are hiring.

Filling out applications:

Set a minimum and maximum number of applications to apply to in a given day.
Job searching is a job in itself. It can potentially take hours of work just to finish one application. Make sure you’re filling out applications. But make sure you are taking the time to make them and your resume look good and for you to take breaks. Applying can be mentally and emotionally draining, so be sure to get some fresh air, sleep, food, and relaxation.

Organize the applications.
I usually start off organizing the applications by due dates, then interest, then company/position. It isn’t often that applications have due dates, but I have applied to many. These jobs are usually highly competitive, and even if you don’t think it’s worth the effort because of lack of experience, you should apply. When organizing by interest, I simply go by the job descriptions that are readily available and start with those which seem most aligned with my goals and interests. Once I’ve done that, I go through and look at the companies and what they stand for and what perks are available for employees.

Submitting applications:

Double check everything.
I’ve realized while or shortly after submitting applications before that I’ve made a mistake. This can not only be embarrassing, but it could also cost you a position. When filling out paper applications, I prefer writing everything out in pencil first and then going back through and looking over it all before I fill it out in pen.

Try to make your resume unique to the company and position to which you are applying.
This isn’t always possible, and I’m beyond aware of that. But when you are submitting applications to companies and positions that you are truly interested in, it helps when you have things that stand out to HR.

Write cover letters.
I hate this. I really do. I am awful at writing letters to my friends and family; writing letters to complete strangers and trying to convince them to hire me is even worse. However, this could greatly help when applying, especially to your dream positions. Make the cover letters very specific to the company, and if possible, find the name of the supervisor or manager that would be overseeing the interviews and hiring process. Doing so has gotten me a few interviews that I hadn’t thought I would ever be considered for.

Follow-ups:

Call the companies to which you have applied.
I hate this about as much as cover letters, but when you call a company to ask if your application has been reviewed and/or if interviews have started, it shows initiative. I tend to call anywhere from three to seven days after I’ve submitted everything.

When possible, walk in to ask about your application.
There are many places that do not allow this anymore for security reasons. But if it is allowed, walking in can show initiative as well as put a face and personality to your name.

Interviews:

Arrive early.
Not only can this show that you are prepared and diligent, but it also gives you time to stop and breath before your interview. Taking several deep breaths can calm you. I also tend to bring something relaxing to do or work on while I wait. Usually I take a sketchbook and a book with me and will pull one of those out until I am called for my interview. This helps me to relax and empty my mind a little as well as helping me to act a little more like myself than my panicking brain normally allows in stressful situations.

Come well-prepared.
Show up with a printed copy of your resume, a portfolio (if applicable), questions that you might have about the position and company, ideas for what you could do in the position to improve efficiency or set the company apart, an expected (and usually negotiable) salary, and a smile.

Save questions about things such as sickness policies for after you are hired.
There are many questions that I tend to have about companies’ policies that I want to ask during the interview; however, asking the right questions at the incorrect times can take a wonderful interview and ruin it in seconds. Stop to analyze the interviewer and the situation before you ask the question, and if needed, write it down as a question to ask later.

Be honest.
Yes, embellishing yourself can be good, but don’t overdo it. Tell the truth when you’re asked a question that is meant to analyze your leadership skills or your personal interaction. In my experience, even when the truth seems as though it could harm my potential for being hired, it has always been praised. I’ve even gotten further in some interview processes and even hired after/because of my responses. Obviously those responses weren’t the only things that led to my being chosen, but I have been told that my honesty is something that interviewers have admired.

 

What are some of the things you do that help you remain calm and diligent throughout the process of looking for a job? Let me know down in the comments!

Working in France

It’s been an amazing seven weeks in France. It’s been quite different than the staff and I had originally anticipated, but it’s been an incredible time despite the changes that have taken place. I’ve been able to participate at two local churches, a Bible study, and the Institute to learn more about the French spiritual condition and to teach about it as well.

The churches I have been able to participate at are both about twenty minutes away from the Institute, though in opposite directions and they are two of the only Protestant churches in the region. Though others do exist, they are few and far between. There are some people who drive around an hour to go to one of them because it is the closest Protestant church.
Last Sunday, we were able to partake in what is the near equivalent of a potluck at the smaller of the two churches. This church averages about ten people and has been without a pastor for nearly two years. They learn about God from having guest speakers who are willing to come for free and by listening to podcasts.The commitment they have to learning about God is incredible; however, it is extremely difficult when they do not have the resources available to them to learn in a clearly understandable and cohesive way.
The other church we attend is much larger averaging in about seventy people. The building is barely large enough for the size of their congregation, but it only encourages them to continue spreading God’s word and trying to grow in size. This church was able to host two services for Easter as well as help host a Southern Gospel concert put on by a group from Paris. It is a very charismatic church, full of people who want to see that all people know they are loved by them as well as God, despite differences in beliefs, religions, and lifestyle so that the people they encounter might come to know Christ.
The Bible study I’ve been going to is held at the university in Caen. Technically, it is not allowed, and it cannot be called a Christian group. Because of this, it is a group averaging around twelve people some Christians, some not. They go through different selections of scripture each week. They do this by reading through it two times and then going through verse by verse and asking questions, which may or may not have definitive answers. It is an amazing way for some of the very few Christians to interact with each other and a few who disagree with their beliefs in a friendly and intelligent manner. This group has become more than just a discussion group though as many of them have become close friends. They have become more willing to talk about religion, beliefs, and God, and this has opened many hearts.
The groups that come through at the Institute are mainly here to learn about the region and have a cross-cultural experience in France. While they are here, though, they are able to learn about the spiritual condition as well. This, combined with their many other experiences, leads many of the people to have a desire to learn French and return to study as well as minister. These groups have come to an end, and we are now preparing for the students who will be coming to study for the summer. These students will have a chance to impact the churches and the lives of people in France in combination with their studies, and I am excited to be able to work with them, even if only for a short time.
I do, however, still owe the Institute some money for my internship. I would really appreciate your prayers as I continue trying to raise the rest of the funds. I have raised all but $1600.
If any of you are interested in helping support me in my last month, please contact me.