Tag Archives: claire staley

Fixing writer’s block

By Claire W. Staley

As a writer, I am familiar with this common ailment: Writer’s Block. When it attacks it can make your manuscript seem like the worst in the world. It’s frustrating, miserable, and kinda makes you want to throw your entire manuscript out.writersblock

Don’t do that. Instead, breathe, and then think about the following.

First of all, keep writing. The most important thing is not to stop and take a break. Set a timer for yourself and keep writing. I don’t care if you write four paragraphs of “la, la, la, la, la…” or “weeeeeeee,” you need to keep putting letters on the page, because if you stop writing you may never return.

Second, my moments of inspiration often happen when I’m neck-deep in other, necessary, work. For example, my most creative inspirations often come while I’m in my calculus II class. I’m so disinterested in what I’m supposed to be doing that my mind finds an alternative, which usually comes in the form of storylines. I am also inspired when I have three tests and two papers that I should be working on.

Funny how that works.

And, for me, I let it flow. Mostly because I’m passing calculus with no problem, so taking some time in my mind to fix my entire plot problem is not an unworthy cause. Listen to your body, your mind, and the little beast inside you trying to sort through millions of plot lines and make it into a seamless story.

Someone once said that what you do when you procrastinate might be what you should do for the rest of your life. Now me: When I’m listening to music I’m thinking about what scene in my book it would go with. When I’m rushing to class I picture myself as my main character running to/from whatever she’s running to/from. I do my homework and I think about if my character’s love interest would need to know it. I read other books and I look for inspiration for plot lines and characters. When I walk around at night I put myself into the scene where my character is sneaking around to spy on someone.

It’s my procrastination. It’s my second world. My split personality. Is it yours?

If not, that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be. But it certainly helps. I don’t know why you are writing a book, story, poem, song, or anything else, but trust that your reasons for starting are good enough to finish.

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When it’s time to break the writing “rules”

By Claire W. Staley

There are specific rules that are almost always followed in fiction, such as no adverbs, show don’t tell, and don’t overwhelm your readers with too many characters at once. Agatha Christie broke all of these rules in And Then There Were None, a mystery novel involving ten strangers with shady pasts on a deserted island. And yet, she is praised as one of the greatest mystery novelists. After reading this novel, she had me question my own past. Was I a murderer, too?Christie,AndThenThereWereNone

The reader is immediately introduced to all ten characters at once, and the reader gets multiple points of view. It’s chaotic, but I kept reading. She uses adverbs all the time, and yet it seems appropriate for the story type. They did not jump out at me as usual. She tells the reader what is happening and how the characters are feeling instead of showing them, but it works because the reader is never supposed to understand the characters to their fullest extent.

There is a time to break all the rules. There is a time to do what feels right instead follow conventional norms. There are times it makes sense to forgo the common, but the decision should be made intentionally. The author should know why he or she chooses to break the rules, and he or she should understand why the rules are put in place. That being said: listen to your gut and remember that writers are artists, and artists are supposed to do whatever they want with their art. Go forth and be free, and write something amazing.

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Slytherins Unite! The good and the bad of the “dark side” of Harry Potter

By Claire W. Staley

Hello all you Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins, and welcome to the Slytherin common room, or as I like to call it, this blog post. I am a proud Slytherin, though it has taken me some time to learn to love it.

I struggled to accept the fact that I am a Slytherin, because I wanted to be a Hufflepuff, but I couldn’t deny all the tests I took and retook on Pottermore. I am a full-blooded Slytherin. My heart broke when I learned this; my soul died a little, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

And then I started researching. I reread the Harry Potter series, noticing more about the Slytherin house and who inhabited it, and I became more intrigued. The house with the worst reputation, with the most evil students, and with the most haters, was my house. How could I ever be proud of that?

I detest most Slytherins in the books. I really do. Many of them are vile and horrible, but they are also the ones most visible. They are the ones we’re familiar with, and we don’t really get to know many nice ones. We know who Draco Malfoy is and we know who Pansy Parkinson is because Harry hated them with almost every fiber of his being.

But there are plenty of Slytherins in the background that are not evil. To start off with, there is Severus Snape: though despicable in nature and rather unpleasant, he is not evil. There are plenty that are intelligent, stubborn, kind, and compassionate. Because if there weren’t, Draco would never have had the kind of power he does. Someone with a blacker heart would have stepped up to compete. But to be honest, no one wants to be Draco Malfoy, not even Draco Malfoy.

I find solace in the fact that the kind Slytherins help keep everyone in check. They have to, because they have to balance out the not-so-good ones. All Slytherins are expected to go dark from the very beginning, even by adults, making it much easier for them to go dark. They are surrounded by people telling them they’ll be evil. People judging and hating them because of the house they are a part of, and this comes from fellow students and adults. Imagine what it would take to combat that and fight to be good?

So to those kind and compassionate Slytherins, you fight a hard battle. You fight to be good when no one gives you the chance.

I think the Slytherins can be pretty amazing.

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Traveling Episodes: Caye Caulker, Belize

By Claire W. Staley

I adore island countries. They remind me of something that many people forget: taking it slow is okay. As a college student, I’m surrounded by many driven, career-oriented peers who can have a tendency to be judgmental. I am also familiar with people who elected not to go to college, and instead plant themselves somewhere and get a minimum wage job while they enjoy the nearest ski resort or coral reef. And it astounded me that these ski bums and island creatures really bother some of my friends. “What are they doing with their life?” they ask.  “They’re going nowhere. Why didn’t they go to college and study something?”

Perhaps it comes from insecurities almost everyone has about their futures. When someone works so hard at school and they still face an uncertain future, maybe it feels unfair that someone who didn’t “work as hard” could be completely fine.

Others are jealous and wish they had a lifestyle like that. I know I do. I could easily see myself working at a dive shop in the Caribbean for minimum wage. But this stigma our culture has about education makes me stay in college. (Ok, maybe I really like learning through books and classes as well).

Does every person have a deep-seated need for adventure? Surely the ski-bums are living an adventurous life on the border, rebelling against society norms. Sitting in chemistry class three days a week doesn’t always get the blood rushing. The SCUBA diver in Costa Rica is probably marching through a jungle and discovering great things. Having an adventure.

Some talk about those people and say this: “It’s fine, I mean do whatever you want, but what are you DOING with your life?” And then they huff, pout, and sigh about people who have no drive or sense of future. That’s a lot of energy to put into someone else’s life, especially someone you might not even know.

In truth, at least to me, these people are neither here to be admired nor disliked. They do not want nor need the approval or opinion of those they do not know. They simply are living the best way they know how, and perhaps they have the right idea when it comes to life paths. Who knows? Instead of worrying so much about the future, perhaps we shouldn’t worry about anything at all for a bit. And if that means chilling out for a bit in Africa, it’s really none of my business.

“You do you, and don’t forget to go slow,” as they say on Caye Caulker, Belize.

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Why I believe in magic and fairytales at age 21

By Claire W. Staley

When one turns 21, as I did recently, one is expected to indulge in the “adult” practices of alcohol, practicality, and business meetings. After all, I am no longer a teenager (which brought on a brief existential crisis at 20), and I am far beyond the time when I believed fairies existed under each flower petal and mermaids swam in the oceans (although I’m still not prepared to give up the latter). I am a fully functioning college student beginning to understand financial aid, cooking, and her own bedtime…sort of. The fact is, Santa Claus isn’t real, my pet dragon is actually imaginary, and true love’s kiss won’t break any spell.

What confuses me most is that I barely noticed these changes as birthdays passed. I can’t pinpoint the moment when my dolls became plastic instead of people, when I stopped looking for faerie circles in the woods, and when creating my own elven language lost it’s thrill. They just faded away, and I miss the sense of adventure they brought to my life. I miss the way it made anything exciting and created a world that only I could see. Something I could understand.

And now I have term papers and tests and loud dorm mates that make me question my belief in not killing people. My willpower against the latter prevails.

However, as I was rereading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time, I realized something. Perhaps my way to find magic had just changed. There was certainly magic in these books, because the magic was happening inside my head and I was living it. And that is real. It is a tangible thing to be captivated by a book, to be so entrenched in the story and the characters that you cry and laugh and mourn them, to feel the real and powerful sadness that comes with a certain character dying, to love Isabella in The Pirate of Panther Bay like a sister, and to feel as in love with Augustus Waters as Hazel Grace is (in The Fault in Our Stars).

Perhaps, as an adult, magic has just changed. And who knows, really, if there are fairies underneath flower petals. They wouldn’t let us see them anyway, so does it matter? Perhaps I should just remember that not everything in the world needs or wants an answer. And perhaps I am quite happy with filling that space with this particular kind of magic.

It’s way more fun for the world to have magic in it anyway. So who cares if there is or there isn’t any. I’m happy just believing that I can be flown on a dragon to a pirate ship in another world.

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Round 2 of modern fiction for the modern classroom

By Claire W. Staley

Earlier posts have discussed why incorporating modern fiction into the modern classroom is essential for promoting reading among today’s teens and the beginning of a list of novels that every teacher should consider (starting with John Green, The Hunger Games, and Divergent).  Today’s post focuses on three more books that teachers should consider adding to their required reading lists and classroom discussions.

  1. Crank by Ellen Hopkins. A good girl gone drug addict? This is totally relevant to teenagers today. Going beyond the physical and mental effects of addiction, this book could open discussions of rape, sexual assault, and their effects on a person. Discussions of how parental influence affects children, how and why a person chooses to love the people he or she does, and how to look forward again, can be used in classrooms. This book reminds me to take a look at where I want to be in the future and really think about how each of my choices are going to get me there.
  2. Uglies by Scott Westerfield. In a universe where a medical procedure makes everyone beautiful when they turn sixteen, two teenagers will figure out their place in the world. Corrupt governments, outlaws, and insiders collide to provide a cast of characters that are inspiring and different in a world of perfection. This is a roller coast dystopian YA novel that tests the characters strengths, fortitude, and courage constantly.
  3. Maximum Ride by James Patterson. This book attacks the whole “scientists were so preoccupied with if they could they didn’t think about if they should” problem. A group of kids go on daring quests to discover their pasts, their futures, and their purposes. Since beginning to read this series, I’ve convinced myself that the main character, Max, is a wonderful role model and her qualities of compassion, courage, and never giving up are a large part of deciding who I will be in the future.

I like to pick the first book in a series because if a student loves the first book they immediately know where to go for another one like it. If we would like children and teenagers to read more, perhaps starting them off with a first book in a series will help. If they liked the first, they have more to read, and from those books they can look for more. The domino effect is powerful, and in this case it might lead to a revolution in reading. For someone to read a complicated piece of literature, they must first enjoy the act of reading itself.

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The case for modern teen & YA fiction in school classrooms

by Claire W. Staley

Some people tell me that they wish they read as much as I do, but they either don’t have the time, or they don’t enjoy it. The way teenagers or college students see reading confounds me, especially when their faces are like most children’s when they are told to eat vegetables. Most students look at reading as a requirement for class, and most don’t even read those books. And yet, they want to read.

My friends believe they should read, and even have a desire to do so, but they haven’t had an experience with reading that makes them act upon this.

To enjoy reading, teenagers think they must enjoy all types of books, or, even worse, that they must enjoy the classic literature they are force fed from eighth grade onward. If students are not getting good books at home, the only experience with literature comes from school. I’m sorry to say that A Christmas Carol—or any other book by Charles Dickens for that matter—has done nothing to inspire me to pick up books and read them. And it has not inspired anyone else I know, either. If teachers honestly expect students to be avid readers after reading Shakespeare I think they are quite mistaken. I am not saying to this cut Shakespeare (or Dickens) out of the curriculum (I, for one, adore Shakespeare), but perhaps infusing it with modern YA books would create a new generation of readers.

Harry Potter got me started on books in fourth grade. The books taught me about the values of kindness, courage, intelligence, wit, reflection, loss, love, fortitude, standing up for my beliefs, and the power of a single individual. This is only a fraction of what I could say about Harry Potter, but there are a multitude of books that students love and are usable in the classroom. Divergent, Eragon, Artemis Foul, anything by Tamora Pierce, The Hunger Games, and countless others have created powerful role models that changed my life. When I have a problem I look to them. I look to Hermione, I look to Tris, I look to Peeta, I look to Percy Jackson, and I look to Hazel Grace. They always provide me with answers and support. They have never let me down, and I wonder why these characters aren’t a part of my education experience at school.

To pretend that John Green (The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) is just teen fiction and has no basis in a classroom because his books are not “old” or about certain subjects is to deny every student and what they love. It reinforces the idea that there are good books to read and bad books to read, and that only one kind has value. Once teenagers find books with relevance to their lives and are well written, then they will read.

My next blog post will explore this concept even more as I discuss different books that I recommend for classrooms.

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