My Quote-Worthy Twenties

To my disbelief, I’m well into the last year of my twenties. In retrospect, I’ve learned a lot about myself and life, discovering things like one’s supposed to in the decade. Some matters in my life haven’t turned out the way I wanted, while others have far exceeded my expectations. Like Allen Saunders once said, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

In preparing this post, I found many quotes like that of Saunders, and they aptly represent some of the gems of wisdom I’ve picked up during this time. Truth be known, I’m not very familiar with each figure who spoke them, but their words resonate with me, and I’m sure they do with those of all ages.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
~George Bernard Shaw

Because of the limitations my disability has inflicted on me, I wasn’t sure if I could enjoy the self-discovery and new experiences many do in their twenties. I feared my lack of independence would stint me in this area. Gradually, I’ve come to appreciate the truth in Shaw’s statement.

Sure, life hands out some surprising opportunities and gifts you never thought to seek out. For the most part, though, you have to create those chances and the things that give you purpose and joy. Nobody’s lived your tomorrow—including you—, so even if you choose to follow someone else’s example, you still need some creativity and flexibility to make your path work for you.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
~Douglas Adams

Growing up, I, like every kid, had all kinds of thoughts about early adulthood. I even recall an assignment in eighth grade where I was asked to write about what I’d be doing in ten years. In an ironic twist, I refrained from saying I’d be an author, figuring that’d be too unrealistic, while I predicted achieving other goals—none of which actually transpired.

Again, I didn’t grasp Adams’s sentiment overnight. For half of my twenties, I struggled to find a publisher, and not meeting any of my other goals, I was nowhere near my intended destination. When I signed my first book deal, I thought I had this lesson learned; my dream didn’t come true as soon as I’d hoped, but it came true when it needed to. In reality, the point didn’t hit me like it did two years later, when that company dropped me and any hope to publish the series I began with them. Here, I thought I’d be putting out a book every year for the next few, but instead, I was back on the market.

In this instance especially, I truly agree with Adams. No, I didn’t end up with what I had in mind, but matters turned out just as well, if not better. I found a new publisher I enjoy working with and released a book I once thought would never be anywhere but my shelf. This and other experiences have shown me that some endeavors take time to be realized, and some never are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of wherever you land.

“Don’t let people change the loving and caring person you are. Don’t let anyone get you down. Use the love and goodness inside you to stay strong.”  

~Brigitte Nicole

This one’s the hardest one of all, at least for me. The world tells high school and college graduates they can be whoever they want to be. In theory, that’s true, but in everyday life…

Like it or not, society and its attitudes rub off on us to various degrees. I walked—honestly, rode—into my twenties believing I could make my life what I wanted just by showing the most care I could. I’d been privy to the opposite, uncaring side plenty already, and I wanted to reach out and show people love. Isn’t that all you need, Paul McCartney?

In short, no. During the past couple years, I’ve observed the world doesn’t reciprocate your kindness. Your smiles often net frowns, and kind deeds don’t always elicit words of appreciation. That can be draining and frustrating, making it easy to conform to the majority. As Ms. Nicole urges, however, we can’t let it. If we adopt the prevalent mentality, we could miss out on someone else’s kindness to us, thereby embittering them.

“Life is a book and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read.”
~Cassandra Clare

I realize turning thirty doesn’t make me an expert. I have a lot of growing to do, and I doubt I’ve even come close to mastering the lessons stated above. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone at any age does, as we experience many eye-opening changes and discoveries throughout a lifetime. To go along with Clare’s comment, we can only keep reading with anticipation and find joy in every chapter.

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The Timeline: A Plot’s Unspoken Character

As readers, we come across a different timeline in each book we pick up. Some stories span just a day or two, others a weeks, and many longer. Because they’re well-crafted and edited by the time we get to see them, we take the element for granted and allow the author to take us however far he or she wishes to.

Coming from the world of a reader to that of a writer, I had a pretty lax view of my stories’ timelines. With my first few manuscripts, I didn’t plan out how long a span I wanted a plot to elapse, that I’d figure it out once I neared the end. Between scenes and chapters, I randomly chose how much time had passed since the last, and often, it was pretty fluid. I carried that through my next two, as it seemed to turn out perfectly fine.

I learned after finishing my second—which took place over a four year period—that my personal style wasn’t suited for a long-term storyline. Some authors pull it off very well, but the lack of structure made me lose my focus, and the end product showed it.

My biggest wake-up call, though, came when I worked with an editor on Husband in Hiding. The mystery followed tampering that was going on in the NBA, and in the first draft, the foul play began long before the playoffs began and lasted through the finals in June. Since the perpetrator’s motive appeared to be knocking the Orlando Magic out of contention, my editor thought it best to center the story around the playoffs, which go on for a long time as it is.

This led to my most difficult challenge to date, given I had to chop off more than a month of my plot; I once deleted 4,000 words with a single stroke. It hurt to watch my hard work vanish like that, but afterwards, I appreciated the value in it. Before, it dragged and was unrealistic, even if I didn’t realize it. Now, the stakes were high and it would keep the reader engaged, as opposed to wondering, “Why haven’t they caught this slow-poke yet?”

Looking back, I suppose I thought the longer it went on, the better. I felt like it somehow reflected my talent as a storyteller. I came to realize, however, that what makes a good storyteller isn’t how long he/she talks but it’s how he/she makes the tale interesting. No one’s entertained by hearing phrases like, “And then,” “The next day,” and “A week later,” time and again. Sure, every book—novels, especially—needs its fair share of transitions, but we never want our readers to see a book’s last page as long-overdue. It we’re tired of writing more filler, they’re probably tired of reading it.

Another factor that needs to be considered is your genre. Some call for a shorter timeline than others. For instance, I recently learned cozy mysteries showcase a week or less of a character’s life. Looking at it realistically, that makes sense. After all, one would expect a crime to be solved faster than a couple to fall in love.

All this said, it’s hard to plan out the exact timeline of a story from the beginning. You have to get a feel for the plot and characters first and go from there. Readers depend on authors to take them on a journey, whether it be a pleasant drive through the country or a wild safari. Wherever you choose to take yours, make it full of unforgettable scenery and figure out where’s the best place to conclude the adventure.

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