How Debate Team Changed My Life

Just over a year ago today, I opened my e-mail inbox to find this:

Hi guys,

I just wanted to let you know that the three of you have been selected to represent [our school] at the [SEA forensics] competition this year. You three have incredible potential and I’m really excited about working with you to grow and hone your skills over the next few months.  Congratulations and see you Thursday!

 

My first reaction, however, wasn’t a fist pump, an excited grin, or anything like that–I was mostly confused. I’d auditioned for OO and OI earlier that day, having decided that I probably wasn’t cut out for debate; I expected debate to be like every other category and have an audition–as it turned out, my performance at the informal debate practices had been my audition.

I’d just accidentally joined the debate team.

My befuddlement quickly melted into discouragement; I wasn’t very good at this whole “arguing on the spot” thing. I constantly felt like the weak link; my teammates Kyle and Aaron had a knack for thinking on their feet while also managing to be funny.

I fiddled with buttons on my shirt.

I laughed at my own jokes.

I struggled to keep up with political concepts and foreign affairs and what does the UN even do?

The only thing I really had going for me was my semi-decent ability to act like I knew what I was talking about. I was standing on a bridge, gripping the handrails and wondering how I would ever escape the waters below.

Week after week, I would mess up. I might say something that contradicted an earlier point. I might make a bad generalization. I might use a fallacy without realizing it. It got to the point where, every time I sat down after a speech, I’d lean forward and whisper, “What did I mess up this time?”

But then something changed.

It wasn’t like a Rocky montage where electric guitars blared, I lifted weights, and after 30 seconds of hardcore music I was ripped and ready to debate ISKL. Hardly. My first year, we didn’t even place–actually, the only debate we won was when the other team didn’t show up and forfeited the round–but that competition, that experience of awe and nausea and wonder, allowed me to blossom.

After the tournament, we could say nothing but compliments to one another–”You handled that POI better than I ever could have!” “Are you kidding? Your reply speech absolutely wrecked them!”

We walked away with empty hands and overflowing hearts.

Come next year, though… I was back to feeling like a weak link. After not having practiced, I was back to stuttering, filibustering, fighting to fill 5 minutes when 8 had been an easy breeze just months before–and Aaron and Andrew were just as good, if not better! Would I ever be ready for this competition?

I would be. I just needed to put my back into it.

Hours spent around coffee shop tables and Chile’s bottomless chips; late nights, 3 hour skype call histories, silence on all ends aside from small Kelley’s trombone practicing and the occasional quarter three cold sniffle. A 6 hour van ride down to KL spent hypothesizing immortality and drugs and Donald Drumpf.

Then came the early morning queasiness I’d grown all too used to–you know, it took me two years to figure out that it was nerves and not actual illness. (I still can’t eat Indian food for breakfast, though–it actually triggers debate nausea.)

If you’d told me all the work we would have to put in–if you’d told me that we would debate the two winning teams from last year, the teams we watched in jaw-drop shock and awe–I would have run the other way (I almost did when we walked through the door and saw the Great Thevesh Himself writing the prompt on the board).

But the feeling of shaking these revered idols’ hands? Of hearing them whisper “that was tough” upon sitting down after our thorough questioning? Of wishing one another good luck–as equals? Incredible. Absolutely incredible.

This year, we walked away with gleaming brazen bronze and hearts so full we were fit to burst.

It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if I told you that debate has greatly assuaged my fears of public speaking–or at least made me better at hiding that fact that I’m terrified.

But would it surprise you to hear that debate team has changed my life?

Without debate, you wouldn’t be hearing me speak like this. When I first started, I s-stuttered, said ahh and er a lot, couldn’t quite… articulate my…. thoughts. Brevity is the soul of wit–and not only was I not brief, I fidgeted and half-chuckled and was generally a very cringey person.

Additionally, I used to be really emotional. If someone couldn’t understand me in the heat of an argument, I’d start crying or yelling or say something stupid in a Hail Mary attempt to get my point across. You can’t afford to do that on the podium! I had to learn to channel my arguments through logic, not emotion. Instead of crying, I had to start thinking.

Lastly, debate has restored something I never thought I’d have–self-confidence.

As I’ve already described, my self-esteem was low. It always has been. I used to walk around the playground in elementary school singing to myself, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.” I cried after a class party because I couldn’t work up the nerve to talk to anyone–after 4 years of being their classmate! I spent so long looking like The Glass Menagerie‘s overbearing Amanda on the outside and painfully shy Laura on the inside–and debate, in part, helped me break free from that.

I can talk to other people with confidence. I can give this speech while smiling without fiddling with buttons, slouching, or banging on the desk in awkward rage. And I can sit down in a few seconds and not feel the urge to turn to someone and ask, “What did I mess up this time?”

Today, I am a confident speaker, a rational problem-solver, and an abuser of parallel structure. That last one, I owe to my beloved English teacher–and the other two, I owe to my teammates, my coaches, and those who supported me every step of the way.

Today, I look back and see that my bridge is behind me. But I can also peer into the distance and see more in front of me. I’ve crossed one. It was hard, painful, full of late nights and Indian-food-induced nausea–but it was incredible. But there are more, and I have no doubt that each of them will be just as difficult; and just as rewarding.

We all have bridges to cross. We all have things that require wise uses of our time, energy, and resources to overcome. It is a truth universally acknowledged that, in order to succeed, we must be faith stewards of our assets. Where are you putting your time and talents? What bridge could you be crossing?


Adapted from a speech I gave about how debate changed my life. This is all true, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my amazing forensics coaches and teachers. PTL for stories of growth!😀

Neither Jew nor Greek: The Church and the Civil Rights Movement — mwsasse

Check out my guest post on author Mark W. Sasse’s blog about the Church and the Civil Rights Movement!

I appreciate Kimberly Horton allowing me to publish her very interesting paper on various Christian denominations’ responses to the Civil Rights Movement. It’s an area I had not previously given much thought to, but as you will see, it’s an area where the view of the church and Christian charity towards equal rights for African […]

via Neither Jew nor Greek: The Church and the Civil Rights Movement — mwsasse

Forensics Tips: 2017 Edition

Last year, I wrote a post entitled Debate Team: What I’ll Do Better Next Year with advice for next year’s me. Well, I guess you can say that it worked, because when ISKL’s SEA Forensics Tournament came back around this year, our debate team won bronze! 

Our entire school did really well–as a school we won 3rd place for participation overall, and most of us made it to semifinals if not the final rounds. I made Oral Interpretation finals (though I didn’t place, just like last year) and our very talented Solo and Duet actresses Lexi and Yzzy placed in their events! I’m so proud of how far we’ve all come as a team.

forensics team 2016

The 2016 Cr3w

Ah, yes. Advice.

I’d better address some of the tips I gave last year, then move onto advice for the coming one.

I can get a couple points out of the way pretty easily: bring colorful pens  and prepare for the crappiest topics first. Aight–first off, regular old pencils worked just fine for me this year. I actually didn’t use anything other than my 0.7 mechanical from Tesco, so that point’s a no-go. Also… it doesn’t really matter what order you prepare the topics in, so long as you have a good grasp on all of them by the time the competition rolls around.

Also, POIs. They were my weakest point last year, but I feel like I did a lot better this year. The only real way to get better at these is to 1) know your topics really well, and 2) practice with your team. Getting a feel for pointing out logical fallacies or defending your own points just takes time and practice.

smile squad

Alright. Onto forensics advice for next year’s competition.😀

1. Prep, prep, prep! It was an issue last year, and while we did a much better job this year, we still weren’t entirely on top of the ball. Hindsight is 20/20, and I can definitely see where we needed to do more planning. More Christmas Break work, more weekend Starbucks meetings, actually getting on Skype *coughAndrewcough*. We still ended up doing prep on the van ride down–though none of us actually minded–but it all turned out okay. Next year, though, we need to try not to cut it so close again (so as not to have a Politicians repeat.)

2. Stats, stats, stats! Another repeat point from last year, but oh-so-important! We had way more stats this year (special thanks to Malcolm Gladwell and the CIA World Factbook!) but once again–we could have had more. Applicable examples are crazy important, and they’ve consistently been a weak spot for our team over the years. We’ve gotten so much better at this–we’re quoting MIT studies and country GDPs!–but there’s always room for improvement.

3. Be confident (without banging on the table.) My teammates know this point is pretty much only for me–but when you get up to the podium, don’t be nervous… and at the same time, don’t just try to channel your inner fury and pound on the table, even if you’re trying to highlight the force of the word “demand”. (Ahem. Sorry about that, Hong Kong.) Nervous habits suck, and I’ve been known to get pretty sick before debates out of anxiety, but remember that your teammates have your back, and your opponent is merely a dissenting voice to the truth that you speak. I came out of this year’s competition with the ability to work under pressure and a bucket-load of confidence; and that has made all the difference in how I carry myself, at the podium and away from it.

4. Memorize contentions! I still can’t believe that we didn’t fully memorize our contentions the first year of debate. We just sort of went, “eh, we’ve got the main ideas down, we’ll just wing the specifics in the prep room.” This time around, we memorized each contention and quizzed each other on them regularly. Waiting for our topic in the prep room? Quick, what’re the three prop arguments for drugs? Sitting around the lunch table? Same thing. I can still list off most of our contentions, and it’s been a week or two since the competition! We did so much better by doing this; it’s non-negotiable for next year.

5. Use prep time wisely! I remember the prep time in 2015 going by quite fast, which is funny–this year, we’d be nearly done prepping, look up, and go, “oh, we still have like 20 minutes left!” It was great. One of the keys to this success was probably grabbing the quiet study rooms in the library instead of the tables outside–those were really nice–but a big thing I remember saying before the competition was, “we need to communicate better during prep,” and we did just that. When we prepped, we didn’t just stare at our separate papers and develop points ourselves–we bounced ideas off of each other, practiced our opening lines (well, I did, anyways), and played Devil’s Advocate to help each other get ready for the opposing team.

We also had two rituals at the end of every prep session: prayer and reciting a quote from The Great Debaters. Prayer gave us all God’s peace and strength; and the quote just made us feel like we could conquer the world!

Who is the judge?

The Judge is God.

Why is he God?

Because he decides who wins or loses, not my opponent.

Who is my opponent?

He doesn’t exist.

Why doesn’t he exist?

Because he is merely a dissenting voice to the truth that I speak.

Heck yeah. Still one of my favorite quotes to this day.🙂

da super crew

Forensics laser tag and Nando’s is pretty great.

We had a great run this year, and I couldn’t be prouder of everyone. We worked our tails off, and boy, did it pay off. This team will always hold a special place in my heart, and our trip to ISKL this year was one full of memories I’ll always treasure. We’ve come so far–here’s to hoping we’ll go even farther, whether on the debate team or off into the wilderness of Texas.😉

And if you’re a budding debater reading this for some advice, I have seven words for you: stay organized, stay logical, and stay awesome. Debate is a game–albeit a sometimes stressful one–and the best way to play it is with a clear head and some insatiable wit. Ignore the dissenting voices and go for it!

da real db8 crew

Bronze medals!! No doubt one of my proudest moments ever. I love these guys!

Everyone’s Guide to Fanfiction [Fanfic Friday]

This is a repost from my DeviantART account, but I’m proud enough of it to put it up here on the blog (along with a few minor edits for readability.) Enjoy!


 

As someone who’s in too many fandoms to count, I’ve had a lot of dealings with fanfiction over the years; and as someone who loves to read and write it (and have been doing so since grade 1/year 2, when I wrote myself into the Kim Possible world… because, ya know, my name’s Kimberly) I feel qualified to help others in their quest to write fluff, adventure, and all sorts of other things using pre-built worlds and well-loved characters.

Contrary to the belief of some, writing fanfiction is a perfectly acceptable form of writing—no, you might never be able to publish it, but it is good practice all the same. Think of it like a warmup jog. You’ll never make it to the Olympics as an expert jogger, but by jogging you’re building muscles and endurance so that you end up getting better and faster at running and sprinting. And really, you’ll never find an Olympic runner who doesn’t warm up with little jogs and sprints. So don’t feel ashamed that you write fanfiction! After copious amounts of writing the stuff, I’m proud to say I’ve won NaNoWriMo thrice, entered contests with short stories, and been bumped to higher-level English classes because of my love for writing. (That’s not to say fanfiction alone got me there… it’s just helped fuel my passion for the written word.)

So without further ado, I present to you my tips for writing good fanfiction of any genre!

1. Keep them in character, but not too in character… ya feel me? What I mean is, keeping the canon characters in character is important. Obviously Bombur isn’t going to suddenly give up food, nor would Sherlock fall in love in a week, nor would Edward (Elric, not vampire) let one little “short” comment slide. You get the picture. But at the same time, Bombur’s not constantly eating, and Sherlock doesn’t overuse the word ‘obviously’ to the point where it loses its meaning. The point is, I’ve seen a lot of OOC-ness, but there’s also a fair amount of character exaggeration. Steer clear of both.

(Side note: yeah, sometimes Anime characters can do this even in canon. My personal recommendation, though, is to avoid this if you want to make the characters seem realistic—I’m looking at you, Hetalia fandom. Yeah, America loves video games and cheeseburgers… but he wouldn’t be quite that obnoxious about it if he were a real high school-aged guy. Same applies to most every exaggerated character in anime or manga.)

2. Author’s notes are a no-go. How many times has this happened to you? You’re reading through a fanfiction and everything is going smashingly—suddenly, a wild author’s note appears! Author’s note uses Break the Fourth Wall! It’s super effective! Fanfic reader fainted!

… Basically, any author’s note that isn’t explaining the meaning of a term or clarifying something that would have been really hard to guess otherwise is really, really unnecessary. For instance, telling everyone you “laughed out loud while writing that bit” after something funny or “by the way, this character is really short” after they have to use a stool to reach the counter isn’t helpful or needed. Most people just find it annoying and distracting from the story. Think really hard before including an author’s note. (a/n: LOL now I’m using an author’s note to be IR0N1C LULZ !!1!!!1 jk jk, now back to the article lol)

3. So are timeskip notifications. Just skip an extra line and start writing. The reader should be able to infer that time has passed or read something like, “A few hours later, Sam and Dean went to…” No published book I’ve ever read announces when time has passed between scenes. It’s unprofessional and distracting—writing the transitions takes a little practice, yes, but once you get it down it comes easily and flows naturally.

~~~ TIME SKIP BROUGHT TO YOU BY ELEVEN’S BOW TIE LALALALA ~~~ does not look natural.

4. Give original characters strengths and weaknesses. Despite what a lot of fanfiction guides will tell you, original characters are not at all a bad thing. In fact, they can make the world seem a little bigger than just 221B, Mycroft’s warehouse, and perhaps a visit to the police department. New characters can open different doors, send the story in a new direction, and make your story more believable.

It’s when these characters become unrealistic that the problems start.

Mary Sues, Gary Stus, self-inserts… whatever you’d like to call them, these are characters that tend to fulfill the wishes of an author, tend to always know what to do, and they tend to meddle with canon.

A disclaimer: self-inserts are not always bad. Writing yourself into a fictional world is not a bad thing. It’s only when “your” character is very obviously fulfilling a wish or behaving in an unnatural way that isn’t realistic for the story. Reader inserts are also self-inserts–follow the same sorts of rules, although canon relationships are much less frowned upon in these situations.

An easy way to fix this is to give your characters strengths and weaknesses and make the weaknesses actually hinder the character at some point in the story. Sally might be really bad at math, but unless not being able to do math actually has hindered her (she didn’t graduate high school, therefore she’s working in fast food, she now doesn’t have a lot of money) it doesn’t really count as a valid ‘balancing’ weakness. Additionally, it’s not about checks and balances, either. Don’t add a weakness for every strength. There’s no magic formula. Just make sure your character is like a real person. They’ve got their problems and need to deal with them over the course of the story.

For more tips on making people actually like your character (and not flame you with comments accusing you of writing a Mary Sue), please read MissLunaRose’s guide on making your character likeable: Nobody Loves My Character! It’s a great guide, and I don’t think my little point here can do it justice.

5. For the love of Loki’s hair grease… pay attention in English class. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are just as important as plot and characters. If I click on your fic and find a huge block of text, no entries between new people speaking, or (God forbid) improper capitalization (shudders), I’m going to skim and then click away; or perhaps, if it’s salvageable and I’m feeling patient, comment something about how it was good but your grammar needs work.

6. Under no circumstances should you re-write an existing canon scene to include a new character or romantic interest. “How it should have ended” sorts of things are fine because they don’t introduce any new characters, but sticking an OC or even a reader in a reader insert into a situation that already happened in the movie, show, or book is unoriginal and screams “Sue self-insert” like the Nazgul screeching from the rooftops. What happens nearly every time without fail is that this new character ends up saving the day, becoming an integral part of the plot and changing the canon story completely, or just generally adding a whole level of OOcness to the canon characters that cannot be matched by anything. It’s a mistake that beginners make often—the problem with writing a new character in is that it becomes breeding grounds for OOC canon characters and Mary Sues.

What I’m talking about, if you want more specifics, is literally taking the same dialogue and action sequences and then tweaking them to include your character. This does not make me think, “Oh, what a great idea! If only Kassy Mae had been there with a rocket launcher in canon!” I mostly think that whoever wrote the fic probably had a little too much time on their hands if they had time to go re-read or re-watch something just to type the actual words and actions used.

(A side note: this tip mostly applies to things that have a universe where this is plausible. Let me explain—most reader insert fanfictions I’ve read of The Hobbit take place with the company on their journey, and the reader helps out in canon situations like riding barrels and such. That’s become acceptable in the fandom-verse because it’s really hard to write in the reader on the journey without having actual canon events taking place. In Sherlock, on the other hand, it’s pretty easy to write the reader into the universe without borrowing other plot lines. A lot of it is dependent on the fandom culture in this case, but it was the best example I could think of. If you’re writing in one of these situations, it’s still best to avoid actual dialogue from the canon work. Paraphrasing is your friend.)

7. Buildup, buildup, buildup. How many times has this happened to you? You’re doing some boring, mundane task, and a cute guy shoots a look at you for no reason. You blush, and the guy comes over. Suddenly, you’re making out and nobody in the public space minds at all!

… Sorry for using that whole infomercial opening again, but I think it’s funny it demonstrates my point. That’s never happened in the history of the universe. So why should it happen in a fanfic? Sure, things like reader inserts sort of represent what you wish would happen… but there’s a concept called “suspension of disbelief” that all authors need to be aware of. Basically, the reader trusts you to give them a story that could actually happen—they’re going into the story with an open mind. By doing something totally not plausible, you’re breaking that trust and their suspension of disbelief.

This happens especially in romantic fanfics, where all sorts of seductive glances are thrown around willy-nilly until the sexual tension builds beyond belief and suddenly—random make outs! There’s another idea for a guide from me: proper romantic buildup. Alas, I must concentrate it into one point. If you’re going to try and build romantic tension, try your very best to do so naturally. Would he really get nervous around this random woman at the car wash? Would she actually give him a kiss after the first date? If they made eye contact, would both of them really get this flustered? Try reading some well-written romance novels or “good” fanfiction (I’ll mention some notable examples here at the end) to get accustomed to what natural romance is like.


 

That just about wraps it up for this general guide to fanfiction.🙂

One of the most important things you can do is read good-quality fanfiction or literature with the content you want to produce. For romance, Christian fiction is actually the way to go—it sounds weird, but even if you’re not religious there’s some pretty great romance (and take heart—the novels aren’t meant to convert, so they hardly ever get too preachy). Many authors go to Christian fiction when they want to find examples of well-written buildup and such. A great author to read is Dee Henderson—she does an excellent job of tying an interesting plot (usually murder and other crime mysteries) with romance. As for good examples of fanfiction, I’d recommend reading one of the 50k word ++ Dramione fics on Fanfiction.net. All of those are fantastic and amazing; some of my favorites are Broken, Knowing You, Isolation, and The Cure for Crupulus. (Warning: all of these are NC-17 except for Crupulus.)

The other most important thing for writing good fics is to keep writing. No matter how much you feel like your stuff sucks, it can only get better. By continuing to practice, getting feedback from others, and reading others’ fics, you’ll grow and get so much better at writing. I believe in you (and so does the tiny potato)!

Keep making awesome fan content, and don’t give up!

Fans Just Wanna Have Fun: The Case for Fanfiction [Fanfic Friday]

“As far as lack of originality goes, fan fiction is the only thing worse than tribute bands.”

“I have a definite idea of who… the characters in my books are and which direction they are heading… and I don’t want somebody else coming along and making them behave in a way that is totally wrong for them.”

“Fan fiction doesn’t allow creativity. I think of it as plagarism [sic], because you’re using someone’s ideas to fuel your own.”

A quick Google search gave me these lovely quotes from a Goodreads forum on the topic of fanfiction. An obligatory definition for those not caught up: fanfiction is a genre of writing where a writer takes stories that already exist and makes new ones with the setting, characters, and/or other story elements. For example, I could write my own story about Harry Potter and some adventure he has in Hogwarts; or some adventure he has in the muggle world; or even some adventure he has in space meeting Spock. There are really no limits to what people write fanfiction about.

You probably fit into one of three categories after hearing this:

  1. Fanfiction is awesome!
  2. Not my thing, but I can’t see why anyone would have a problem with it.
  3. This is incredibly pointless, unoriginal, and/or a copyright violation!

That’s fine. Everyone in the fanfiction-writing realm understands that not everyone likes fanfiction. The only problem comes when you have a problem with it and proceed to vocalize about it. While the quotes above weren’t directed at a specific fanfiction writer, comments like those often are. So whether you’re wondering why people would have an issue with it, looking for arguments against a flamer, or someone adamantly against it yourself, I’d like to explain the reasons why people like fanfiction and why it’s not really your a problem.

There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with fanfiction. This is the most important point through a technical lens. Fanfiction isn’t illegal, infringing on copyright, or doing anything to assault you personally. Most fanfiction authors publish their works with disclaimers reading something like, “I’m not JK Rowling, and I don’t own Harry Potter”, and even these disclaimers aren’t necessary. As long as you’re not selling the fanfiction for a profit, you are not breaking any laws. I repeat: as long as the piece of writing isn’t making you money, you’re not in the wrong. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Additionally, fanfiction isn’t “plagiarism.” Plagiarism means that you’re claiming the work is entirely your own. Again, unless you explicitly say, “I am Arthur Conan Doyle, I hope you like my new Sherlock sequel!” you are doing nothing wrong. Even if an author has expressed their dislike for fanfiction, you aren’t breaking any rules (though in that case it would be best to stick a disclaimer in there to be sure.) From a legal and moral standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with fanfiction being written and posted online.

Fanfiction is never written for personal gain. What I mean by this is that, unlike other forms of writing, no one has ever written fanfiction for any reason other than, “this sounds like a cool idea, and writing it would make me happy.” Fanfiction writers write fanfiction because it makes them happy.

They’re not writing to make money. They’re not writing to be famous. They’re not writing for a project or because they have to. Every fanfiction ever written has been penned because the author simply finds pleasure in the act of doing it. It’s a hobby like any other. You write poetry for fun? You garden? You knit little hats and scarves? Cool–I write fanfiction. Just like you wouldn’t yell at the little old lady that “no one’s ever going to wear your scarves, and also that color combination is copyrighted by Liverpool”, you wouldn’t tell a fanfiction writer that they’ll never make money or do anything productive with their stories. The little old lady didn’t make those scarves just because she wanted people to wear them, and… no, Liverpool isn’t going to stop her from using the same colors they use on their jerseys.

Yes, this mentality can (and has) resulted in some terrible fanfiction that absolutely butchers characters, stories, and human sanity. Is that annoying? Yeah. Is that wrong? Nope. I mean, there’s been worse literature published from real publishing houses over the years. Obviously, to people who don’t want to see their favorite stories tampered with, fanfiction like this can be very upsetting. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about it. There will always be bad writing in the world. The best thing any of us can do is leave a constructive review and move on.

Fanfiction is excellent practice for writers still gaining their footing (and all writers, actually.) This is the coolest part about fanfiction. You’ve probably heard all of the famous authors who got their start in fanfiction: Rainbow Rowell, Neil Gaiman, and even Orson Scott Card. Yours truly wrote a self-insert fanfiction starring Hannah Potter, Harry’s twin sister (who everyone magically loved for some reason.)

The genre of fanfiction is open for anything and everything. It gives you what you need and lets you play around with the rest. Are you bad at developing original characters? Take Sam and Dean Winchester and plop them in a new plot. Need a setting? Write about your own wizard attending Hogwarts with a completely new class. Have you always wanted to see Eragon meet Legolas? Well, you can write about that.

People who call this “copying” or “plagiarism” aren’t getting the point. These words have a negative connotation, and what fanfiction does isn’t negative–it’s incredibly positive. It’s giving the author the tools they need to practice instead shoving them from the nest and saying, “Fly! Be free! Get published!” Many other authors have gotten published without fanfiction for practice, true–but is that really relevant? They still got feedback, used it, and improved: which brings me to my next point.

Fanfiction allows for instant feedback. Once you post a chapter, thousands of readers can read it and tell you what they thought. Writers can be praised, critiqued, given advice, and asked questions all through websites like FanFiction.net and Archive of Our Own. Writers get better because readers tell them how. Every author has gotten advice from someone; fanfiction is a fun, safe way to do it. Let me tell you, my prose has gotten infinitely better since I first started writing.

His hair was a darker brown, and he had an odd light in his eyes, though he looked normal in all other outwardly ways.

… Eugh.  Here’s a line from something I wrote a little more recently than 2011:

He flashed another smile, taking the book from her and turning it over in his hands curiously. “So if you’re not studying, what are you doing, then?”

A faint smile hinting of melancholy graced her face as she replied, “I’m distracting myself, I suppose.”

I’m not trying to promote myself or my writing at all… but I will have you know that the first line was from something original, and the second one was from a piece of fanfiction I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. (It’s between Fred and Hermione.) Fanfiction can be well-written, it can be constructive, and it most certainly will make you better as a writer–all practice does.

All points aside, obviously fanfiction can be horribly written; or you might just not like it. That’s totally fine! I didn’t write this to convince anyone to love the genre. I wrote this because I’m tired of people saying things like, “Fanfiction is a waste of talent” and “using other peoples’ characters is pointless.” In all actuality, it’s a form of writing that lets the writer experiment, get feedback, and have fun.

So this is my plea: the next time someone mentions fanfiction or you stumble across it somewhere, don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, remember its purposes and uses–and remember that it’s not really a big deal anyway.🙂 In the end, fans just wanna have fun!


Hey, welcome to Fanfic Fridays! Fanfiction is what got me started, and I have a real passion for the genre and helping others get better at it (so that I can read all their great stories once they write them😉 ). Thus, I decided to make it a weekly feature!

Every Friday, you’ll get an article about fanfic, some cool links and recommendations, or my own personal writing advice related to fanfiction. Just another reason to say TGIF😉

 

A Ravenclaw’s Guide to Finals Week

Finally.

The weeks of tea, late nights, frantic note-taking, and falling asleep on random people in the common room is over. I finally finished taking my Sickeningly Awful Testing exam (SATs) and let me tell you–our entire house is beyond relieved. When they say Ravenclaws are intelligent, they’re not lying. But that also means there’s a ton of pressure on everyone to get Es on our exams, since we’re supposedly really clever. Well, clever doesn’t always mean intelligent (I didn’t feel very confident on the Arithmancy sections, but then again I never have excelled in that area), but when everyone around you is studying like their life depends on it, you tend to get some death glares when you’re caught scrolling through Reddit. So I studied too and did fairly well on everything.

However, as one of the Ravenclaws who falls more under the “creative” label of our house rather than “clever,” I didn’t always make the greatest study decisions. I stressed out and ended up cramming a lot during the end instead of preparing well, so as a result I lost sleep and didn’t take care of myself really well. So here’s a reflection to help any exam-takers (whether you’re attending a magic school or a regular public one) the next time you have a big test coming up.


 

1. Start studying as early as possible. We had people in year 7 studying for NEWTs like two months before their tests, and a few of my room mates started cracking open to older sections in textbooks to start reviewing a few weeks later. It’s always, always better to start studying as early as you can. Next year, I’m planning on taking really detailed notes and studying on a regular basis to keep up my memory. (Especially American Muggle Studies… Professor Sasse gives awful tests.)

2. Figure out what actually helps you to study–not what people say will help you study. I grew up taking lame “study skills” classes once a week before I transferred to Hogwarts, and they all tell you the exact same things. “Make flash cards, listen to recordings, watch videos, read the text book, take good notes…” That’s not bad advice, obviously. It’s just advice that literally everyone has heard before. And that’s a problem, because the fantastic truth is that every single person is an individual and studies differently.

What does that look like for me? Well, I study better alone, at a clean desk, with a mug of tea. The way I study to remember the information is usually re-writing the material into detailed notes and making flashcards for things I need to memorize. Others study better with other people to keep them on track, or they might do better re-reading the textbook cover to cover. Some like to make colorful charts or find online videos and songs with the information they need to remember. Experiment a little and find something that makes you feel the most confident and knowledgeable. If you’re walking into tests truly worried about how you’re going to do, you’re doing it wrong.

3. Make a plan. This might be something that mostly helps me, because I’m a very list-oriented person, but making a schedule or list of all the things you need to study is really important. If you just say, “Oh, I need to study for Potions,” and then you sit down at your desk with your book and cauldron, you’re going to have a pretty foggy idea of what studying for Potions actually entails. Pay attention to what you’ve been struggling with in class, and take that list into your study session. Practice and study what you normally forget, and give yourself permission to skip over things you already know pretty well. You can come back to them if you’re still worried, but start with the hard stuff and then move on once you’ve got it down.

4. Actually stick to the plan. Here’s where you have to hold yourself accountable to actually sitting down and using the study methods you know work for you. This step is about getting rid of distractions and actually making time to study.

I tend to be distracted by a lot of internet-related things: Tumblr, Facebook, DeviantArt… In the past, I’ve actually gotten someone to change my passwords for me so that I don’t log in at all. It’s very annoying, but very motivating. Turning off internet or blocking access to certain sites is also really good. I use a Chrome extension called StayFocusd, which will give you a certain number of minutes to browse blocked sites and will then shut you out from them when time’s up.

Additionally, just getting away from the distractions is the best option. Whenever I’m on a computer, distraction is inevitable at some point–I like having my notes on paper so that I can take them somewhere computer-free to study. The best way to get rid of distractions is for me to sprawl out on my bed with a textbook, my notes, and some colorful pens; do whatever you need to to get away from procrastination temptations–which leads me to my next point.

5. Location is key. Some people study best in their room, surrounded by books and other comforts of home. Others like to study at their desk where they usually do homework. Sometimes a simple change of surroundings will get you in the mood–perhaps moving from your desk to your dining room table. Other times, though, you need a drastic change of scenery. Whenever I’m feeling particularly unproductive, I like to grab a few friends and go to Hogsmeade to get a mug of butterbeer and sit down to study. Coffee shops and cafes are perfect study environments.

6. Don’t stress yourself out! I see this all the time when NEWTs roll around–7th years begin having panic attacks in the Ravenclaw common room staring as far back as March. You’re never going to retain information when your body is pumping adrenaline in a fight-or-flight response; if you’ve followed all of these tips (or even if you haven’t) the best way to study is to just relax and just do it. What’s done is done, and there’s no need to stress over what you can’t do when it’s more productive to plan out what you can.


 

I wish you the best of luck in your own revising endeavors! You don’t have to be a Ravenclaw to do well on your exams–you just have to have determination and organization. So what are you waiting for? Pace yourself, get organized, and get studying! Oh, and make a cup of tea while you’re at it. It helps more than you’d think.😉

Another “New Year” Post! aka What Am I Doing? [Blogging U Day 1]

I created this blog in November of 2014 in a vain attempt to procrastinate writing for NaNoWriMo. So… I started a writing blog to avoid writing.

Since then, I’ve written a total of 19 blog posts, 14 of them in the last year, and it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that hardly any of them are actually about writing. I started this blog intending for it to be a personal author’s blog that posted writing-related things occasionally; and I suppose that’s what it’s turned into. The problem with that is that it doesn’t have a very clear focus. And focus is precisely what a successful and helpful blog needs.

So now this begs the question… what is this blog’s focus? This year, that’s something I’m going to hash out. For now, though, I’m going to lay out the basics and give all my 2016 readers (all 12 of you! Fantastic!) a glimpse of what this blog is and where it’s headed.

Of Wit and Writing, titled in honor of the Sorting Hat’s description of Ravenclaw house, is a blog run by me, Kimberly Horton, originally intended to be a personal blog of sorts. Since no one was actually interested in my personal life, however, I spent most of 2015 putzing around, posting about whatever I felt like. This didn’t really attract much of a readership. The post that I feel really took off and managed to get people to look at my blog, though, was called How to Win NaNoWriMo: An Unofficial Guide. I’d originally written it as a paper for my English class, and we were all asked to create blogs for the assignment. I posted it to my already existing blog here, and my teacher suggested that I start blogging solely about writing—it seemed to get me a larger audience, and so far my blog didn’t really have a specific category.

I’m going to see how that goes for 2016.

I’ll be relegating all personal things to my blog over at kimberlyhorton.wordpress.com, and I’ll be trying to dedicate this blog here to only writing. I’ve signed up for WordPress’s Blogging U 101 course and plan on finishing that before settling to blog at least twice a month (biweekly is the idea.) Those two goals, blog biweekly and blog about writing, are my 2016 blogging resolutions! A pretty short and pretty manageable list, if I do say so myself.

Along the way, I’ll be trying to find my niche in the blogosphere. There are already bajillions of writing advice blogs out there—what can I do to make this one different? That’s the question I’m going to try and answer this year.

Thanks for sticking with me so far—here’s to another year of wit and writing!

Future NaNoWriMo Advice: 2015 Edition

Last year, I wrote myself a few pieces of advice to follow to win this year’s NaNo. Funnily enough, I didn’t actually follow much of it, but I decided to write out the best lessons from this year for my 2016-NaNoing self (and anyone else who’s looking for some advice from a three-time-winning veteran!) Here we go!

1. Plan ahead of time, please.

This is a repeat from last year’s advice, but it’s true. Most of the time when I was struggling to come up with things to write, it was because I didn’t have any direction for where the scene was going. I like to let my characters drive the story, but when it becomes too character-driven, things start to lose direction in terms of the plot.

Next year, I should definitely try mapping out a few of the beginning scenes and scribbling a few notes each time I sit down to write. Aimless writing isn’t fun writing, and it’s a pain to edit later.

2. Build your NaNo spirit on the NaNoForums!

Another repeat from last year because it works! I love hanging out on the forums before NaNo and during while we’re all slowly losing our minds. I’m quite easily distracted, so I need to be careful not to browse too long. It’s a great source of motivation, though (as is the @NaNoWordSprints twitter!) Whether you’re in the mood to complain, despair, celebrate, or laugh about your weird Googles (my weirdest from this year was ‘lunar cycles in 1977’) the forums have you covered!

3. Get ahead and stay ahead.

The first few days of November, I actually managed to write a few thousand more words than I needed to. Those words carried me through some of the busyness of the month, and they really helped me. If I can do the same thing next year, I’ll be set to win even earlier! Starting out ahead and then writing nearly every day, even if I only got in a couple hundred words, kept my enthusiasm and excitement higher and my stress levels lower. Getting ahead early on will be key to ensuring victory!

4. Pick a project you’re excited about.

This was my downfall in NaNos 2012 and 2013–I wasn’t passionate enough about my characters or projects. Honestly, it was the same in 2014, too, but I managed to slog through painfully. This year was so different because, even though I felt like I was copping out to write fanfiction, I was actually excited about writing it! I learned what I valued most in writing by discovering that I’d not had it in NaNos past. Deep characters and well-though-out plots and settings are what I love the most, and fanfiction gave me the opportunity to explore these elements that had already been laid out for me.

5. Find a way to keep it new.

This year I had my first ever 6k day (nearly 6.5!) I have in part to thank the folks over at 750words.com. I found their site five days or so before NaNo was over, but I couldn’t get enough. The cool stats at the end of the day? The simple layout? The badges? I was hooked! That new interface really changed things for me at the end. I excitedly pounded out another 1,000 words using the site, and then another.

Some people really like things to stay the same: write 500 words every morning before breakfast, drink some morning coffee, go to work, write a few more words, then do it again. For me, though, I like a little bit of spontaneity and excitement to keep me interested. At the end of the month it was a new word processor. Other times, it’s been Scrivener, a new music playlist, or an entertaining word crawl. Finding new things to keep me going was vital this year, and it’s something I know will be incredibly valuable this coming year as I try to stay motivated–for NaNo and for just trying to write every day!

NaNo2015 Final Graph

Compared to last year, I did so much better. I stayed mostly on track, wrote almost every day, and even managed a 6k day to finish early! Looking at all those crazy people in the Beyond 50k forums, though, I know I can push myself next year to barrel past this year’s record.

What tips would you give yourself or someone else for doing NaNo better next year? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! You might just help someone out.🙂

NaNoWriMo 2015: The Writer’s Journey

Anyone who’s done multiple NaNoWriMos knows that every year is different from the last.

Last year, I stayed behind on my word count, writing 20k in the last week to frantically catch up and finish on a nice Sunday afternoon.

This year, I stayed caught up until the middle of the month, slipped behind a bit, and caught up over the Thanksgiving long weekend with turkey and tea in Christmas mugs! (Our house is now decorated nicely for Christmas, and I couldn’t be happier!)

That’s the great thing about NaNo: every year it’s a journey, and every year it’s new and exciting. A new project, a new writing pattern, a new enthusiasm – for people who need a little change every once in a while (like me!) NaNo is the kick in the pants we need to jump start our writing into the new year!

My journey this year was an interesting one. You can see a lot of the highlights in the progress graph:

NaNo2015 Final Graph

I maintained my enthusiasm until around day 17 before I fell behind–and it never got as disastrous as my previous attempts (writing 20k in 5 days, anyone?) I also finished early this year, which is another huge first for me! I’m hoping to add another few thousand to my word count (if my tingling fingers don’t kill me, of course) before the month is over.

One thing I did differently this year was switch stories about 10,000 words in. I began with a fanfiction story I’ve been meaning to finish for about two years now. Unfortunately, it got very old very fast. Me from two years ago had failed to come up with a good motive or plan for the villain, and I began to realize just how terrible the plot was–so I switched over to my second project earlier than I’d planned and fell in love with it. Enthusiasm is one third of the equation of a hefty word count, and though there were still some rough patches, I fell in love with the characters and the story during the month, and I actually plan on touching it after November is over and finishing it, for a change!

And now, for a good and proper reflection, I’d better see if I followed my own advice from last year’s post-NaNo blog post:

1. Write every night, and forfeit your health a little if you need to.

Ah, well, I did stay up a little later occasionally; but I actually found it wasn’t 100% necessary. The only reason past!me recommended this is because I fell behind crazy early and was floundering to catch up. I stayed on target for the most part this year, so late nights weren’t needed! Hooray!

2. Write or Die. Enough said.

Actually… I didn’t use Write or Die at all this month! Huh.

What I did use, though, were a number of other handy resources: namely, Scrivener’s full-screen function and, for the last 3 days, 750words.com. One of my favorite bloggers, Thomas Frank came out with a video about his favorite writing applications. 750words was on there, and as soon as I started using it, I was hooked! I wrote so much with it that today I even surpassed its 5k word limit for non-members. I know what I’ll be asking for this Christmas…

3. Plan ahead of time, please.

This was the bit I struggled with again this year! I planned much more than last year, but I still found myself writing pointless filler scenes trying to figure out what to do next. The balance between letting my characters drive the story and making sure the plot happens is a tricky one to manage.

4. Write regularly outside of NaNo.

Did I write much after November? Well, I wrote more. But not much. *sigh* I’ll be adding this one to my NaNo 2016 advice post…

5. Build your NaNo spirit on the NaNoForums!

Finally, a piece of advice I actually followed! The forums were awesome as usual. I made some great friends and got some awesome advice there this year. SpaceFlowers, I’m lookin’ at you!😉 The “Get Your Butt Kicked Here” thread and the fanfiction forums were the most motivating this year. Gotta love fellow fic authors and a good kick in the pants when you need one!

This year has come to a close, and it’s bitter sweet. I’m incredibly busy in the following weeks, and I’ll be glad to have the extra stress off my plate… but I’ll really miss the community and the excitement of word sprints and updating my word count. I think nearly everyone feels this way at the end of the month; it’s a relief, but it’s also sad.

Congratulations, winners; and be proud, those of you who haven’t quite made it–you’ve got more words than you did before, and that’s the whole reason NaNo exists!

See you all next year!