Category Archives: Writing

New post ideas

I wanted to write a clever post on why I don’t update so often. It’s not like I don’t have time for my site, and it’s not like I’m not interested in jefflion.net anymore. And it’s not like I don’t have ideas: I have tons of ideas.

I just… Can’t. It happens to me when I’m depressed, or anxious, or when I worry. I become so fucking unproductive in those situations. I also suffer from insomnia. I can’t sleep at night. I just can’t.

But to make this post somewhat positive, here are some post ideas:

Race & yours truly (race blogs, racism, and what’s in it for me, because I’m white and I’m non-Westerner, so it’s not an issue that usually affects people in my part of the world. Unlike, you know, almost all the other issues you can think of).
Movie reviews (I love doing movie reviews, and I don’t even care if a movie is new or not. I’ve been planning on doing a review for In Bruges for so long, and there are also some new films I’m interested in: new Sherlock Holmes or Tin Tin, or just some little independent movie I watched and loved).
Stereotypes about Eastern Europeans (that are actually true).
Novel writing (How to and How Not To)
Vampires and the Balkans (and the way popular representations of vampires, based on stories about Dracula, were actually formed as cautionary tales about the wild Balkans, a dangerous region that can corrupt the West – yes, that’s right kids, there’s an ugly story behind this).

Anyway, this song always makes me feel better for some reason:

NaNoWriMo is here again!

There’s a reason for not blogging so long. I’ve been busy with NaNoWriMo, first outlining and doing a research, and then writing. To be honest, I’m still busy, but I felt like ignoring this blog wasn’t the best idea.

So, I present you my NaNo novel, The Demise of the Elm Trees (it’s a working title but I like it).

This novel is special for a couple of reasons. This is the first time I write in English (and yes, I’m shit scared of it, thanks for asking). My level of language self-esteem is quite low to non-existent. But if I ever think to grow as a writer I need to learn now to do this, so NaNo seemed like a good opportunity to try.

It’s also the first time I write a YA (Young Adult) novel. Consciously, at least. I believe many of my early novels (those beautiful and embarrassing and amazing and face-palm and nostalgic teen efforts) were also YA, but I was unfamiliar with the label back then. Why YA? In part, because I’m a sucker for coming of age stories, and in part because YA doesn’t require complicated style or advanced English.

I’ll share more about the story later (if there are people interested to read about it), but for now, I present you the writing rules (or you could say it’s more of a process?) I set for my NaNo novel:

1. Write now, worry about grammar later. Try to record your thoughts on the electronic paper without worrying about the grammar structure, appropriate words and idioms, and especially not about that fucking thing called “past tenses in English language”. (Or the most evil aspect of them, the Present Perfect vs Past Perfect issue). Oh no, don’t worry about it now.

2. When first draft is finished, write a second one. Fix the plot, characters and stuff.

3. Check your information Do your research again. Check every single thing, from school policies, drama classes and copyright to pop cultural references and important events. Make sure everything is plausible.

4. Speaking of which, make sure it seems like 1994. Do a double check on slang (especially regional, including, but not limited to Seattle). Do a double check on technology. Fashion. Pop culture all over again. And then, slang one more time.

5. Fix your grammar the best you can. (There’s no point in doing this before the step 5 if you need to change your sentences and write new ones).

6. Grow a pair and ask a few unsuspecting victims beta readers to read it. They will have a demanding task of checking your story/writing, your information and your grammar, but that’s what friends are for, right?

Choosing Character Names

Choosing character names for your story/novel can be a lot of fun… or incredible pain in the butt. Some writers obsess about it, trying everything to get the names absolutely right, to the point of being unable to outline or write the story until they choose a name that fits the character perfectly. Others don’t bother that much, and will instantly know how to name a new character. Usually, writers encounter both of these scenarios.

Names are important. Serious academic discussion/research show that words in general have power to shape people’s view of the world. And names are often important part of people’s identities. So it’s understandable that a writer wants to pay attention to this.

A character name should be, first and foremost, appropriate to setting (such as time, place, culture – unless you purposely decide against it). It should also be easily distinguishable from other names in the story. But other than that – and this is where it gets tricky – it should “fit” the character.

What a “name that fits” actually means depends on the writer. Some search for name meanings/origins and try to find the one that fits character’s personality or physical appearance. Others pick names based on people they know (and love… or hate). Some simply try to find a name that “sounds right”, for whatever reason.

I choose character names based on synesthesia.

I strongly associate letters with colours (same goes for numbers, months, days in a week, etc.) It’s always been like that for me. I guess all people do, but it’s quite strong with me that it often makes it seem like a name doesn’t fit the person just because it starts with a “brown” letter and they have blond hair.

Needless to say, my synesthesia influences the way I pick names for my characters. While I try my best to make them appropriate to the setting, the main thing I do is to see (literally) what name goes with their physical appearance (meaning: hair, eye or skin colour; sometimes the colours they like to wear). This way, I often end up with completely generic names, but they fit the characters (in my mind at least), because the colours are right.

For example, my main characters in the last year’s NaNo were named Sarah and Tom. “S” is yellow or light brown, which fits her hair colour. She has green eyes, so a name starting with a green letter (I or K) would also fit. “T” is a blue letter. Guess Tom’s eye colour. And so on. I even had huge problems with myself for naming a light haired guy Mark. “M” is a red letter. So I gave the guy red car to drive (and parade around). Yes, I go that far.

Similarly, if there’s a character that somehow ends up with a name that’s not appropriate for his colours, I will make him wear said colour often. I won’t necessarily describe this in detail, but it will be there in my mind.

I guess this method is as good as any other. But not many people mention using it, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit limiting. Or if it makes you pick a name that “sounds perfect”, but isn’t fully appropriate for your setting.

Jefflion.net Must-Reads

There’s a handy blog meme I’d like to use here. Tagged bloggers (or, self-tagged in my case) should identify and present posts on their blogs that fit certain types. I think the idea behind it is to promote your blogging and present some of the posts most of your visitors are unfamiliar with (be it because you wrote them a long time ago, or because they didn’t get the attention you feel they deserved).

It’s also a great way to think about your blogging in general, and see where you stand.

So, here’s where I stand: my early blogging (read: most of the things written in 2007, 2008 and, to a lesser extend, 2009) sucks. There’s no other way to put it. I had no idea what blogging was, or how to write a decent blog post – and it’s not because I’m untalented for writing. I guess I thought blogs were online diaries, and I was never good at writing a diary. Luckily, I realized blogging was different, and it made my posts better.

That’s why most of the posts presented in the meme are the newer ones, from 2010 and 2011.

Also, I’d like to use this opportunity to introduce some changes on the site. I added a new popular posts script, so you can find the most accurate and up to date list of most popular posts at the sidebar. Plus, I added the similar posts script that appears at the bottom of the each post, recommending you similar posts. Because it depends on the words I write, its choices might not be accurate, but so far I like the way it works, and I think it makes my posts more connected, which is a good thing. It can also make some of the older posts visible again. The only bad thing is that it also makes my early, random posts visible.

And now, the meme:

Most Beautiful Post

I think most of my reviews are beautiful, and I am quite proud of them. But I’d like to include another post here, because it is more personal than my usual posts.

Why I like(d) Disney movies

This post turned out to be more beautiful and more personal than I intended it to be. Who knew animated movies can have so much meaning, or to make you remember your childhood (and teenage years?)

I also thought the post might become controversial (because Disney movies deserve a lot of criticism), but that didn’t happen (not that I complain).

Most popular post

It’s definitely something about sex. Cliché or not, it does seem that sex and dating make very hot topics.

Women and casual sex

This is the most popular post on the site, and one of the few that get regular outside hits (which means search engines bring people here). The funny this is that it’s not a particularly good post: there are way too many things I mentioned here, but it’s not well structured and the thoughts are all over the place. I guess the main idea was that women often enjoy casual sex less than men not because their morality and sexuality are different, but because men don’t try to satisfy a woman they have a casual sex with.

Honourable mentions: A Long Penis Rant (once again, I wasn’t sure what was the main idea behind this post), Sunshine (my most commented post, though I’m not sure if it counts because half of it are pictures of Cillian Murphy and some heavy off topic discussion).

Most Helpful Post

Bad Writing Advice

I like this post because I’ve finally managed to formulate what I always found questionable about writing advice. I also discovered I love writing about writing (and my experience with it), so maybe I should consider doing more of those posts.

Honourable mentions: The best sites for bored people (check them out, especially tvtropes.org, which is probably one of my favourite sites on the whole net), Recover a (WordPress) site infected by a nasty iframe (this is an old entry. It worked back then; I am not sure if this advice is still applicable).

Post Whose Success Surprised Me

Things I don’t write about

I wrote this one to explain (mostly to myself) why I don’t like to write about certain sensitive/serious topics that I sometimes feel people expect me to write about. (Both in a blog and in novels). Some of these subjects include: Balkan wars and former Yugoslavia (or anything related to Easter Europe), my father’s death (and the problems I’ve had growing up without a father), etc. I don’t write about former because I am too sick of the subject, and I don’t feel any need to include it in my writing. I am aware that many people (both here and in the rest of the world) expect for someone in Serbia to deal with these issues in her writing (particularly when it comes to novels), but I just don’t find that topic inspiring. Same goes for my family. Some of the things I do find interesting and want to include, but the others aren’t something I want to write about.

I consider this to be a personal post, that wouldn’t make people interested. I was wrong. It turned out to be one of my most popular posts. I guess it’s because it’s more personal than the others. Some people said it made them learn more about me. I am glad, but I am still surprised this post gained such a popularity. (Plus, I had no idea my average reader didn’t have much chance to “meet” me or to learn anything about me and the type of a person I am).

Honourable mentions: Writing chapter titles (I wrote this for myself, to test what chapters of my novel “sound” in English. Who knew people were into that stuff), I’m a flexitarian (it was one of my first posts; it wasn’t much of a success, but it was my first post that got any sort of attention).

Most Controversial Post

The most controversial post I’ve ever written (American privilege) isn’t even on this site. I don’t think there are any controversial topics on Jefflion.net, but it’s not because I want to play it safe. I guess the blog isn’t popular enough to get many hits or commenters, because in order for something to be controversial, there have to be people who disagree with it or view things differently.

The only possibly controversial post is Kosovo independence, but it didn’t generate much buzz.

Post That Didn’t Get The Attention I Felt It Deserved

The Best Movies of the Decade I and The Best Movies of the Decade II

I really think it’s one of my best posts (and I find all of my review posts good). I’ve also taken some extra effort into making pictures to go with this post (and it was very time consuming to Google all the images, find the best ones, and then arrange everything in Photoshop). It’s not that I regret doing it, but I really wanted to discuss the best movies of the decade with my visitors, learn about their favourites and maybe get some good movie recommendations). (The offer is still good, btw).

Honourable mention: Writing Sex Scenes (I think this one is a very good post that deals with a legitimate problem in writing: how to make good, believable, non-cheesy/embarrassing/narmy/facepalm/wtf-was-the-writer-thinking sex scenes. I think it’s a well-written post, and people are usually interested in both sex and writing, so I was surprised it didn’t get much attention).

Post I’m Most Proud Of

A friend claims she’s proud of all of her posts (and I am happy for her), but I am sorry to say it doesn’t work the same for me. I am not proud of my blogging pre-2010 in general.

But there are some posts I am quite proud of. This goes, first and foremost, for my reviews (especially movie reviews). I link most of them at a separate page (Articles), along with some other stuff I’ve written (that I think deserve special attention).

Some other good posts:

Stereotypes About Americans

Women: How not to be seen as fully human

5 songs I like against all odds and 5 songs I dislike against all odds

Rules of a chick lit (and what can we learn from it)

PS- I’m supposed to tag five people to do this meme, but I think it’s too pushy. It’s better if people decide for themselves they want to do it. (And if you choose to do it, I’d love to see your list!)

My novel has arrived!

Photobucket There’s a reason for the lack of updates this time. I was planning this blog post for a long time, waiting for the proof copy of my novel to arrive… Only to realize I couldn’t afford new batteries for my camera to take pictures of it. But then I remembered there was a picture of the cover online, so… Here it is. The long awaited “my copy has arrived” post.

First things first: the proof copy looks amazing and professional. Better than I expected it to be. It’s a prize made by a NaNoWriMo sponsor, Create Space: whoever managed to write 50 000 words by the end of November got a free proof copy of her novel. Sounds great?

Well, to tell you the truth, it sounds both great and lame, because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not like you have your novel published, or in print (unless you decide to self-publish it with them). Still, it’s nice to have it as a real book, with your (pen) name on the cover.

And now, the bad news: the novel itself.

It is… Amateurish, to say the least. Well, it sure didn’t seem so when I revised it, so the only explanation I have is: I was stupid enough not to print it and revise a printed copy. Never, never, never attempt to judge your work unless you have a printed copy!

Sounds logical? Yes, but I skipped this step, thinking I was smarter than this (and I couldn’t afford to print 370 pages, but it’s not an excuse). I’m one of those people who have no problems reading text on a monitor, even a long one, so I guess I thought printing the novel before revision was unnecessary.

Wrong. Besides glaring mistakes in the form of “he looked at her with his eyes” (I shit you not), there are so many unnecessary and amateurish things, such as head hopping (sudden shifts in POV), awkward pace and repetitions. And it’s not like I didn’t try to fix those things in the revision! So I guess I’ve learned a valuable lesson: always, always, ALWAYS print your copy before you declare you’ve done with the revision.

Also, it’s slow. And not slow in a literary fiction, Ian McEwan “one day on 100 pages” kind of slow. Slow in a boooring kind of way. It gets better in the chapter 3, and particularly after the chapter 10, but people won’t read that far unless I make them interested in the story.

On the other hand, there are some good things. I’ve managed to capture the setting (a small town) in all its beauty (or lack thereof). Also, dialogue. I used to think I’m bad at it, but now I see it’s one of my strengths. I also seem to be capable of not revealing too much (and making the reader fill in the blanks, which is quite important, since the whole story is basically peripheral: we never learn the big things, only their aftermath, beginning, or consequences). I’m also decent at creating realistic characters, though I’d say I still need a lot to learn in that department.

This was such a good experience, the whole NaNo thing. First of all, it helped me in a very tense moment in my life, and it prevented me from becoming depressed. This fact alone makes the whole thing precious.

And I’ve learned a lot about writing, too. I’ve learned that it’s possible to write on command, so to speak, without waiting for your muse. It’s difficult to wait for your muse when you have one hour of free time to write per day, for example. So you just start writing and… It works. I never believed it’s possible, but it is. So it’s a good thing to know.

I also learned how to squeeze things, so to speak. I still ended at 90 000 words where 70-80 000 would be more appropriate, but I’m learning how to control my writing.

And I learned how to handle dialogue. And how to reveal, explain, and describe using dialogue and action, not mere description (the “show, don’t tell rule”).

I also learned how to write from a male POV, and make the guy seem and sound like a guy (even in sex scenes! Go me!), which is something many female writers are unable to do right (see Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry … or Twilight for that matter (or better, not). Though a guy sounding like a girl is not the biggest problem with Perfect Chemistry, but it’s another story). Writing from a male POV is very important for me, since my fantasy novel has a male protagonist.

Finally, I learned a few things from my mistakes. The biggest one probably being: print, print, always print your work before/during/after revision.

So I’d say the experience was positive. I will leave this novel for now (though I already penned a few things that are crucial for the second revision), and I’ll focus on the new stuff. I sure want to start writing my fantasy novel (it’s been 8 years and counting, and I’m still unsure if I’m ready), and for this year’s NaNo, I want to face what it seems like the biggest challenge: writing in English. I know I’m not ready for it, but I’ll never be ready unless I try, and fail, and try again, and fail a little less. I’ll probably start with something simple, a YA (young adult) story, and I already have not one, but two ideas (one realistic, and another with a premise so absurd that it begs to be explored).