You Are a Warrior

I like to think of the Avengers as warriors, instead of soldiers.

Soldiers are noble—they fight for their country, to protect those they love. They have honor, and camaraderie.

The Avengers…we are different. I was not surprised when we fought each other over the Sokovian Accords. Warriors have their own personal reasons for fighting. A sense of responsibility. Of past trauma.

Someone like Steve fights because he cannot help it. He needs a purpose for his strength. Why have abilities if you do not use them to help people?

Stark fights because he feels guilty about his past. Thor fights to protect a realm he cherishes. Each of us has a reason. I can see them all like fault lines in our minds. Are we each broken in a way that makes us strong, or are we on the verge of shattering entirely?

It is a delicate balance.

I think writers are the same kind of people. Warriors. Each writer has a reason. A deep, driving urge that encourages them to put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard. When you are a warrior, sometimes you must fight alone. Sometimes you must push on past your fear, past your uncertainties. Sometimes you are very lucky, and someone like Hawkeye tells you to put the past behind you, to fight for the present.

So you step up. You become an Avenger, or sign up for NaNoWriMo. You commit to use these maddening, frustrating abilities in a world that doesn’t make sense. Because you are a warrior.
That is what NaNoWriMo is all about. It gathers up all the lone warriors, driven by individual motivations. Whether you have a detailed outline or absolutely no plan how to defeat the robot horde you helped create—you are a warrior, and telling your story is one of the most important battles you’ve ever faced.

Do not lose heart. It is a big job, and scary. But you control your own fear. And you can win this battle.


Plotting and Planning and Being a Slow Writer

In the grand scheme of Team Iron Man and Team Cap... I'm not sure where I stand. I Follow Mr. Stark and understand his point of view, but Captain Rogers... his point of view is different yet also makes sense.

And yet, this isn't really about teams. This is more of "what do you believe" separated into two groups. I don't like being made to choose when I understand and don't have a problem with either choice.

Thankfully, there's absolutely nothing in writing that is like that. Or is there?

Two teams: Pantsing or Plotting.

I used to say I was a pantser, or one who wrote "by the seat of their pants". I hated outlining. I hated the thought of outlining.

But then I looked back at my notebooks and realized that I did indeed plot. Just not the whole thing before I started. And I felt lost if I didn't know what was going to happen.

I tried plotting a book last summer. An entire book using the J.K. Rowling method. I plotted it and it was beautiful. And then nothing else happened with that outline. I tried writing the story a few times, but never really got going.

Another division that doesn't get talked about a lot in writing: the people who write fast and the people who don't.

A lot of the time, it seems like I am a really slow writer. But I just finished a novel (well, 32K words...) and it took me about two months. Which to some is really fast.

Like with the dilemma between the Avengers, I don't know where I stand.

But may I submit that it doesn't matter?

The point of being a writer is to tell a story in your own unique way with your own process. I am a writer who plans a bit, getting what I need to know of my story, and then writing, making things up and planning more as I go. I write at my own speed with my own length of novel. I do not need to compare myself to other writers, unless I wish to learn from them.

NaNoWriMo is coming up. I have managed to write 50K during November once, last year. And now I have a novel I don't really want to go back and edit. Not entirely, perhaps, because I wrote it all in one month. But I don't want to try writing a novel that fast again for a while.

Instead, I am going to use NaNoWriMo to my advantage, not worrying about how many words I write in a month, but using it as a tool to encourage me to work on whatever story I'm working on.

Good luck in all your writing endeavors, no matter what your process is.

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Vision out.

Write What You Love

Sometimes, I get a little tired of what I’m working on. It feels like all I ever do is write the same stories over and over, just in different formats. As if I’m never producing anything exciting or original to share with the world. Of course, I’m also trying to save the world at the same time...but that’s beside the point.

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We’re already more than a third of the way through October, and many of you may be preparing for NaNoWriMo in November. In fact, preparing for November is the exact reason that I’m writing a shorter post this week - it takes up more time than one would think.

If you’re losing interest in your work, or if you’re unsure what to do, let me ask you this:

What stories do you love?

Is it the exciting stories where every action flows into the next? The suspenseful stories? Stories with complex characters? Ones with bittersweet endings?

Many writers are also avid readers (although it’s not a prerequisite!) and what we enjoy reading tends to affect what we enjoy writing.

So today, I’ve got two tricks of the trade for you to try, tricks that I myself have used more than once. Sadly, they aren’t impressive fighting maneuvers. (I’m still trying to learn those.)

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First, there’s a brainstorming technique.

Make a list of the following:

~ What book clich├ęs frustrate you?
~ What topics do you feel aren’t written about?
~ What were the flaws in a book you didn’t like?
~ What were the virtues of a book you did like?
~ What books would you love to read?
If there’s a book out there you want to read, then write it! It’s as simple as that. Don’t wait for someone else to write it for you.

The second piece of advice that I have to offer is this: Look at your manuscript with the eyes of a fan.

It may sound silly, but I’m my own biggest fan. Of course, I’m my own biggest critic as well. But when I’m losing motivation, when I don’t feel the same love for my work as I normally do, I have to take a step back.

Imagine your favorite fandoms, the way that you react towards the stories you love - and then imagine someone applying that same love to your novel.

Yes, there may be flaws in your plot, uncertainties in your world-building, problems with your character development. But every author's work has that. No one writes a perfect book, not J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling or any other famous author.

Your story has merit - and someday, I hope to be one of your fans.

Announcing October Twitter Chat

Hello, readers.

I'm here to announce that this month's Twitter Chat will be on October 22 at 8:30 PM EDT. We will be discussing NaNoWriMo preparations and strategy.

We hope you will join us!


Trust Your Instincts

One thing I've learned in my life as a soldier is that you have to trust your gut instincts. Sometimes there isn't time to make a decision and you have to react quickly. In those instances, you sometimes have to rely on your gut and just hope for the best.

Writing isn't terribly unlike that. You can read dozens of blog posts and books about the craft, you can take webinars and classes and attend critique groups. And there isn't anything wrong with that! But when it comes down to it, sometimes there isn't a clear-cut solution to every question or choice. And choices? Writing a novel is full of them.

What POV and tense should you write your book in? Is your beginning strong enough? Should you keep this character or nix them? What about this plot point where there's a fork in the road? What do you do?

Even the most famous authors or the best writing classes can't tell you what to do because it's all subjective. It's your story. It's your writing. And the only one who can make that choice is you. 

Making those choices can be difficult, though. I can't tell you how many times I've let a WIP languish while I tried to decide what to do with it. However, my mindset changed when I joined the army, and it changed even more when I became the Winter Soldier. In a way, my time as the good old WS meant that all I could do was rely on my gut and my base instincts. Though I'm not the Winter Soldier anymore (at least I'm trying not to be), I try to trust my instincts still. (Like I trusted my gut instinct that told me I knew Steve Rogers, for example. Except not at first...)

Still sorry about this, Steve.

Even if you're scared, that's okay. Writing a book is scary stuff! But know that you are perfectly confident and capable to write this story. It's a story you came up with for a reason, and you've got what it takes to make all the right decisions. And even if you don't, there's always a second draft. And a third. And on and on... You don't have to get it right the first time.

No matter how many drafts it takes or where your writing journey takes you, trust your instincts. Trust your story, too. As Madeleine L'Engle said:

"If the book tells me to do something completely unexpected, I heed it; the book is usually right." - Madeleine L'Engle

Your story telling you to do something? That's your gut instinct. So go with it and believe in yourself. You are more capable than you know, and this story is yours. Do whatever you want with it. Chase the stars, aim high, and trust your gut. As Amy Butler Greenfield said in her interview with Loki...

“Trust your deepest instincts. Write the book that only you can write.” - Amy Butler Greenfield

Don't worry. I believe in you. You've got this.

- Bucky

Education for the Modern Hero

Write what you know, conventional wisdom says.

We've all had problems with this advice.  I used to hate it.  These days, I interpret it differently.  Write what you know-- and what you can infer.  Write what you can assume, based on the things that have happened to you.  Write what you can guess.

I don't know what happens when a dragon breathes fire.  But I know what fire does, and I can guess.  I, personally, haven't felt the power of a wormhole-- not like Tony has-- but again, I can guess.  My writing would be pretty boring if I just wrote about basic training and being frozen.

I guess a lot of stuff, but in almost every area, I try to make it as educated a guess as I can.

How do you make an educated guess?  You already know the answer: educate yourself.

Book Learning

Read!  Attend classes!  Be scholarly and all that.  It takes time and dedication to the topic, but it's usually worth it.  I once read Moby Dick because I thought I was studying the whaling industry.  I never used that information in a finished book, but I did learn a lot.

Be smart about this, though.  If your story really needs an in-depth understanding of Kantian ethics, go for it.  If not, just get the overview.  There is no limit to what you can learn, so be careful with what you choose to pursue.  Advanced differential equations?  Not much use in literature.  Basics of astronomy?  A little more useful in the sci-fi realm.

Is it worthwhile to take classes geared toward writing?  Well, I'll let you figure that out for yourself.  I'm a special case-- I chose to join the military rather than take a single writing class.  Who knows what would have happened had I pursued a liberal arts major instead?  I probably would have enjoyed myself, and I'd probably be a better writer.  But to me, this experience was worth it.  And that brings us to the next point...


Try stuff!  Ask people to show you things!  Get out of your comfort zone.  It's easy to study a million different topics, but actually getting yourself elbow-deep in a profession or an activity is a different thing altogether.  Sometimes this isn't practical-- space, for instance, isn't something you can jump into, per se.  But there are plenty of things in this world that are worth experiencing.  Each of those experiences allows you to infer a little more about the rest of the world.

Again, be smart.  Don't hurt yourself.  Don't spend so much time trying things that you forget to write.  And don't try to do the same things you put your characters through.  That could prove fatal.

Classroom learning cannot substitute for experience.  If you have a choice between the two, choose experience.


If you're at a loss for what to try learning, try some of the following: for book learning, psychology and social sciences are always fun.  History can inspire some good stories.  Languages are a ton of fun.  It doesn't really matter what you learn, however-- a better understanding of the world, people, and past will always help flesh out your writing.  For experiences, try martial arts, visiting new places, and different styles of living.  You might end up finding a lifestyle you'd like to pursue, rather than putting your characters through it.

Finally, let me reiterate: exploration and learning are fun, but keep your goal in mind.  If you spend all this time discovering the world and yourself, but not writing, you're not moving forward on that path.  Maybe you're okay with that.  Maybe it's time to hang up the writing costume for a while as you pursue other things.  But if your goal is to improve your writing through expanding your mind, you need to keep writing.  Writers write.  Just keep that in mind.

This post was partially inspired by Iron Man's post from years ago, about learning languages.  This is still one of my favorite pieces of advice, and while I haven't settled on a single language yet, I'm working on it.  I encourage you to reread that post if it's been a while.

Write!  Live!  Learn!  But mostly, write.

~Captain America

What is holding you back?

If I may ask a question, what is holding you back? 

Imagine, if you will, that you are writing your novel (or short story or poem or whatever) and everything is going marvelously. Words are flying out of your fingertips (figuratively speaking, of course) and the writing is all coming together. 

Then, quite suddenly, something has happened. You know what you are planning to write, but the words have stopped flowing. 

[Open W/ A Member of Team Cap ] “Yes, I understand what your point is, but signing the Accords could prevent many horrible things.” His forehead wrinkled and he looked at them with slight understanding. —“There is a point to my actions.”

This is a bit of a problem.

If you've been writing for a while, you may decide to just take a break. (We're still imagining this scenario.) You take a break, have a cookie, get some fresh air. You come back ready to write. Fully prepared to attack this thing on which you are stuck. 

You attack with all the grace of a two-headed hippopotamus. (It's a metaphor... I think.)

The words are coming. But they don't flow like before. You have to force them out. They feel wrong. Then the whole story feels wrong. 

You doubt yourself. Sometimes, it will get to the extent of wondering if you even can write or should you. 

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Now, sometimes this is just writerly doubt. All writers, even published ones, go through this. Sometimes this is just you not being excited about the thing you have to write. Sometimes this is your subconcious telling you something is wrong with the story.

There are many reasons why this writing is not fun at the moment. But there is one specific reason that I would like to address.

Who are you writing this story for? 

I am not speaking of your general audience. I am not speaking of whom you plan to dedicate this story to.

Are you writing for yourself?

If you are stuck and you begin to fear that someone will not like this story, whether that be a specific person or a general someone, then there is a problem. That is not writing for yourself.

You cannot write a story under the fear that you are writing things no one wants to read. You cannot write under the fear that this is bad writing, even if it actually is bad writing.

In the terminology of author John Green, you must allow yourself to suck. (This is from the same man who says "Don't forget to be awesome.")

What does this mean? It means that it is okay to write badly, especially in a first draft.

First drafts are full of potential. Much like a cake mix.
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You have eggs, sugar, butter, flour, oil/butter, and baking powder. Then you mix those things up. You have a bowl of goop that might taste good, but will taste much better once you pour it into a pan and cook it.

But if you spend the whole time you are mixing it up thinking that eggs are terrible and flour is bland and sugar is the only good thing-- how could these things ever come together to make something good and what if this person doesn't like it... you will not enjoy baking.

Likewise, if you spend writing time worrying, you will not enjoy writing.

So, what do you do?

You don't worry.

1.You write this story for yourself. Right now, you are the one hearing this story. Write it to entertain yourself. Find out what makes you excited and write that. You don't have to keep your writing and the process to yourself, but bear in mind that if you share too much, you may be putting too much pressure on yourself.

2. Allow the story to feel wrong for now. Everything is fixable. Chances are that your writing is not as bad as you think it is. Writers have a tendency to overreact sometimes (we have a good imagination). 

3. Writers also have the tendency to take things personally. After all, what you write is a small piece of you and something you've worked hard on. But just because someone dislikes your writing does not mean they dislike you. This is very good to remember if the person you’re worried about is someone whose opinions you value, like those of a parent or a good friend.

Your job right now is to not worry about anyone else. You can burn that bridge when you get to it. (Are my metaphors getting any better?)

Your job is to write your story and have fun doing it.

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What is holding you back? 


Postscript: Our September Twitter chat is next week! (Friday, the 23rd, 8:30-9:30 PM EDT)  Join us!