Misc. Helpful Advice

Improve Your Writing with a Little Fan Fiction

Fan-written fiction (fanfic) means taking a story someone else wrote and making your own version of it without requiring permission or seeking profit. It’s usually done by amateurs, though some pros go at it too. While you can argue it’s been going on informally since the beginning of storytelling, modern fanfic is mostly posted on the Internet.

And, lately, fanfic is finally getting some respect as a sort of underground writing movement. It’s sedition against the corporate ownership of stories. It’s personal expression gone wild. It’s exploration of modern culture motivated by shared interest and decidedly not overseen by The Man.

More to the point for this blog, it’s also a good way to work on your writing.

Limitations

 

Let’s get it out of the way that I’m talking about using fanfic as a writing exercise, not about writing fanfic for the rest of your life (though you certainly can if you want to). Writing fanfic helps with some things, but it isn’t a good way to work on the incredibly important business of establishing plot, character, or setting. After all, those are what you steal when you write fanfic.

Figure Out What Inspires You & Copy It

People write fanfic because they feel inspired by the original material, whether it’s Star Trek, The Simpsons, Harry Potter, The Catcher in the Rye, or March of the Penguins. Fanfic means trying to continue those qualities you feel inspired by, and this can help you figure out who you are as an author.

I’m not going to resist the metaphor of the aspiring painter who makes copies of the masters to learn techniques and to see why and how things work. Put Indiana Jones or Elizabeth Bennet at a dinner table (or on a battlefield) and see if you can keep them in character with your own words. Take the Tolkien universe and add your own monster. Is it as scary as the orcs? Write your own mystery with Sherlock Holmes. Can you come up with an appropriately clever crime?

Improve Your Dialogue

This one’s a beaut. A problem almost all writers struggle with, especially new writers, is making their characters sound like different people. I highly recommend reading dialogue, others’ and yours, out loud. Writing dialogue for someone you can clearly hear in your head (say Mary from Downton Abbey or Tony Stark/Iron Man or the Wicked Witch of the West) can help you learn to stay in character with every word.

For extra points, learn to do with without catch phrases. No “Beam me up, Mr. Scot” or “Vodka martini, shaken not stirred.”

Get Feedback

Writing can just be so damn lonely. When you write fanfic, you don’t have to post it for others to see, but you certainly can. It’s free and it’s fun. And no, you don’t have to join any sort of cult.

The best place these days is Archive of Our Own (https://archiveofourown.org), an open-source, non-commercial, non-profit archive for fan fiction run by the Organization for Transformative Works. You just register and post your story with the online template. If people like it, they can give it “kudos.” And if they really like it, you’ll get comments.

If you do want to join an online community, there are many on Twitter (https://www.twitter.com) and Tumblr (https://www.tumblr.com). There’s also Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com), which allows large posts and encourages things like fanfic challenges and hooking up writers with “beta-readers” (people who will read your work before you post and give you feedback).

Isn’t Fanfic All Kinky and Weird and Stuff?

Yeah, yeah. People on the outside of anything are only interested in the weird bits, but, believe it or not, a lot of fanfic out there reads like mainstream TV episodes or movie sequels. While to a lot of people “fanfic” instantly equates to “Kirk and Spock get it on,” there’s really every variety you can think of, and quite frankly more.

In fact, it’s a little overwhelming at first. That’s why most fanfic archives have “warnings” and “tags” so that you know exactly what sort of thing you’re going to read. You can also use these yourself to tell the world what sort of story you’ve written and thus attract the audience you’re looking for. Here’s a brief into:

Gen

Short for general audience (aka G-rated, no sex, no major violence, etc.). At Archive of Our Own, 334,424 of the current 1,341,499 stories available are tagged “Gen.”

Het

This means the story will feature a relationship, most likely romantic, between a man and a woman. “Het” by no means equals “Gen.”

Slash

Yeah, let’s get it out of the way. It’s a romantic pairing between two people of the same sex.

Crack

This one’s actually my favorite. It means a story written like the writer’s on crack. Read (or write) about your favorite characters as cats, or dogs, or Martians, or Girl Scout Cookies. Done poorly, these stories can be pretty lame. Done well, they can be awesome.

Fluff

A light and sweet story.

Dark

Not fluff.

PWP

Stands for “plot, what plot?” Usually a sex scene, but sometimes a gag or just thinking out loud.

AU

Stands for “alternative universe.” This means a story where the characters from one fictional universe (say, that high school in Glee) are put into another universe (say, one where everyone’s a vampire).

IMWWALF

Stands for “improving my writing with a little fanfic.” Hm, well, this one isn’t actually a standard tag yet, but it could be!

10 Wise Steps in Writing a Dissertation

Step 1

    • Ask your department chair if you can skip the dissertation and get a Ph.D. solely on the strength of your winning personality.
    • Okay, so it’s never worked before. It’s still worth a shot, isn’t it? Think positive!
    • Or, if not your winning personality, some previous work, work experience, body of work—anything at all!
    • Okay, so that rarely works either—but it does and has worked for some people, depending on the strength of that previous work.

FRIENDS JOEY AND CHANDLER REGRET NOTHING

Step 2

  • Make a plan and stick to it!
  • Plan to spend more time finding a manageable dissertation topic than researching that topic, and more time researching it than actually writing the dissertation.
  • Plan to spend more time revising the dissertation than writing it, and more time writing it than researching it.
  • Spend more time researching it than finding out what your topic is.
  • To help with the organization of your thesis, consider hiring a logician. I did.

that's the plan dr. horrible neil patrick harris

Step 3

  • Make sure you and your thesis advisor are on the same page.
  • Make sure to tell your thesis advisor what page that is.

matt bomer always on same page

Step 4

  • Abandon all hope of reading everything that’s germane to your chosen topic. Eventually you’re bound to discover that somebody has already said everything you want to say, and in the very words you were going to use. Scary!
  • However, don’t be alarmed by this. Remember: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “Of the making of books there is no end,” and “So, the heck with it, what’s one book more?”

silver linings playbook throwing book out window

Step 5

  • When you’re ready to write, strike while the iron is hot.
  • If the iron is not hot, heat it. By … any … means … necessary!
  • If you don’t know what the iron is, forget about a career in academia. Consider becoming a professional golf caddie, instead. (“Here’s your 5-iron, Tiger.”)

jim carrey bruce almighty typing

 

Step 6

  • Be sure to follow all of your department’s specifications for formatting your thesis, no matter how difficult they are.
  • When in doubt, hire a reputable editing service to do this for you.

Andy-Samberg-Wink-SNL

 

Step 7

  • Prepare for your thesis defense as if your life depended on it. As a matter of fact, your career does.
  • Anticipate every possible question. Now is the time to do the research I told you not to do back in Step 4. Quickly, quickly.
  • However, on the day of the defense, relax. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. There’s nothing more you can do.
  • Try to enjoy your defense. If you have some ability to make people laugh, make your committee members laugh. If they’re having a good time, the defense might be a breeze.

 i've got the power boom bruce almighty jim carrey

Step 8

  • Answer each and every one of their questions politely and thoroughly.
  • If, after 45 minutes of politely and thoroughly responding to each and every one of their questions, they still maintain that you’re talking gibberish, remember your Samuel Johnson. Say, as haughtily as possible: “Sirs,  I am required to furnish you with an explanation. I am not also required to furnish you with an understanding of it.” (This will sound twice as impressive if you happen to be wearing a powdered wig.)

samuel johnson book perplexed

Step 9

If at some point you find yourself at a complete loss for words, quote the lyrics of some Broadway or Hollywood musical. I have found that there are surprisingly few things in life, academic subjects included, that have not at some point been made the subject of a song. A comforting thought, no?

Step 10

Okay, here it is, my final word of advice, the fruit of my years of experience as a dissertation editor: take pride in writing your dissertation and do the very best you can do. It’s a reflection of you. So cherish, respect, and enjoy the entire process for it should be a labor of love. If it’s not, then you’re not doing what you should be doing with your life. Tough love words, I know, but the absolute truth of the matter.

big bang theory sheldon that's how its done

Time Out for Camping

Cooking outdoors over a campfire

Are you attracted to the thought of stargazing on a quiet, cool night while sitting beside a crackling bonfire? Are you tired of concrete, traffic and streetlights? Then consider camping. This vacation alternative has a lot to offer and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of experience or budget.

Life can get complicated, sometimes to the point that we lose perspective on its priorities. When that happens, it’s often best to take a step back to regain perspective and re-evaluate. There is probably no better way to do that than to go camping. At the campsite, we return to basic routines that meet essential needs and satisfy simple pleasures. For this reason alone, for generations in countries around the world, camping remains one of the most widespread vacation pastimes.

The countless amount of choices and distractions we encounter everyday can sometimes prove exhausting. Camping not only simplifies life, it fosters relationships. With all the demands on our busy schedules at home and in the office, it can be very difficult to spend quality time with those that we love most. At the campsite, away from the computer and television, conversations come naturally over the bonfire, barbecue, board games, and even while sharing daily chores like chopping wood and washing dishes.

Couple lying in a hammock in the woods

While temporarily shutting the door on our workday world, camping also opens the door to other worlds of adventure. If you’ve ever wanted to drop a line into the water and test your luck with the fish, camping provides the perfect opportunity. You will find base camps for just about any outdoor activity, whether it be mountain-biking, hiking, boating, rock climbing, beach combing, or golf. Camping can be the first step to jumping in with both feet into many of these outdoor recreation activities.

Types of Camping

There is a style of camping that suits everyone’s taste, experience and budget. Whether you want to sleep on a plush mattress in an air-conditioned bedroom or under the stars in a sleeping bag, tailoring the environment to your desires is an easy fix in the woods.

Recreational Vehicle Camping

 

  • If your idea of roughing it means going without cable television, there’s Recreational Vehicle camping. RVs and campers are basically homes on wheels. They can offer all the amenities of home or hotel, but have the value-added dimension of location and mobility. You can travel the country whenever and wherever you want, stopping at well-appointed camp sites all along your route.

 

 

  • By simply hooking up your RV at the serviced campsite, you are set to sleep, cook, shower, watch television and even check your email, depending on the level of luxury you seek. If you are not sure if you are ready to invest in an expensive motorhome, why not look into renting one? Many dealers rent them by the week or season.

 

 

  • For many people, especially retirees, “RVing” has become a permanent lifestyle. They have sold their homes and live nomadically in their recreational vehicles, moving with the seasons and following the sun. “Caravan clubs” have sprung up around the world to facilitate groups who wish to explore the country together.

 

RV camping

Car Camping

 

  • “Car camping” is a less expensive, more accessible and flexible option. You may opt to tow a trailer or pack a tent. Trailers come in all shapes and sizes and many of them can be towed safely by mid-size vehicles. Hard-sided holiday trailers resemble motorhomes in their amenities, but even most tent trailers come equipped with fridges, stoves and hook-ups for water, sewage and electricity. Most campsites offer sites serviced with utilities as well as fire rings, barbecue grills, bathrooms, picnic shelters and laundry facilities.

Tenting

 

  • More primitive campsites cater to the tenting crowd. They have sites that are not serviced with utilities and are limited to a fire pit and picnic table. You will have to haul water from a few pumps or taps situated centrally at the camp site and outhouses are usually the order of the day, although some locations offer central washroom facilities.

 

  • The beauty of these campsites is that they are usually located in quieter, more picturesque wilderness settings. They are rugged, inexpensive and bring campers closer to nature. It is as close to “getting away from it all” as most city-dwellers will ever experience and many camping purists makes this their style of choice.

 

Camping in the mountains out of a tent

Backpacking

 

 

  • Backpacking is one of the most exciting ways to experience nature, wildlife, and independence. In this setting, campers brave the elements, test their limits, and discover a world almost untouched by the modern society. Campers have nothing but solitude, time and space to enjoy life apart from the interruptions and distractions of urban life. By exploring on foot, you choose when you stop, where you pitch your tent, how long you stay and where you go next.

 

 

  • Backpackers use lightweight equipment that can be carried long distances on foot. The gear is more specialized and typically costs more than that for car camping, but it is possible to pack everything you need for a week in the backwoods in a comfortable, sturdy backpack. The cost, if anything, for staying overnight on backpack routes is far less than in developed campsites. Many national parks and managed trails offer information packages to get you started.

 

Other Speciality Camping

 

  • In addition to these basic camping styles, there are other unique modes of camping that may interest the intrepid explorer. Canoe camping is similar to backpacking, but uses canoes for transportation; much more weight and bulk can be carried in a canoe or kayak than in a backpack, although the possibility of having to portage will limit the weight you may want to pack. Bicycle camping combines camping with cycling. The bicycle is used to carry the gear and as the primary means of transportation, allowing greater distances to be covered than backpacking although less capacity for storage.

 

 

  • Motorcycle camping is more comparable to bicycle camping than car camping, due to the limited storage capacity of the motorbike. Motorcycle camping riders, as well as bicycle touring riders, often use some of the same equipment as backpackers, due to the lighter weights and compact dimensions associated with backpacking equipment.

 

Hammock camping in the woods

 

  • Among the extreme adventurers, such as those who prefer their nest in hammocks, survivalist campers learn the skills needed to survive out-of-doors in any situation. This activity may require skills in obtaining food from the wild, emergency medical treatments and orienteering, although with today’s GPS technology, this has become less of a challenge.

 

 

  • Camping needn’t be limited to the summer season. Winter campers and “snow cavers” head outdoors once the snow has fallen enough to provide shelter. They have adapted forms of camping and survival to suit extremely cold nights and limited mobility or evacuation. This involves building snow shelters, dressing in “layers,” staying dry, using low-temperature sleeping bags, and fueling the body with appropriate food.

 

So whether you want to start slowly and comfortably, or test your resourcefulness to its limits, camping offers the change that’s better than a rest when it comes to getting a break from the normal routines of your daily career and home life. Free yourself in its simplicity.