Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What Editing Feels Like

Oy. So clearly, I haven't been very good about getting back to my posting schedule. Real life seems to keep trying to get in the way of blogging. But, today, I thought I'd share a few thoughts on editing.

Have you ever taken a drawing class? There's a recommended way to draw the picture. First, you lay in your basic lines and shapes, then start to sketch out what you want the picture to look like. Then, you go in and refine and finish your picture. The refining and finishing takes the longest, and you can spend a long time fussing with one tiny little area trying to get it look just right. If that little bit is off, it can mess up the whole drawing. 

This is very much what editing is like. Your first draft is the basic skeleton, and editing provides the finished product.Or, to pick up my theme from last week, your first draft is like learning a music piece, and editing is like going back and adding dynamics.

So, which is easier? Writing the first draft or editing?

Honestly, they are both difficult. But if you want to talk about time investment, editing takes a lot more time than writing does. Sometimes, the difference between writing and editing feels a little bit like this:

Little people are courtesy of Microsoft Office ClipArt. I did the rest.

But don't despair - editing might seem fruitless and frustrating, but what actually happens during this process is an amazing thing. You watch your skeleton turn into a fully realized living thing. You listen to the once choppy sound of your first draft turn into beautiful music. It's really incredible.

So if you're intimidated about editing, or discouraged because editing feels to you like that little cartoon, keep in mind that you're crafting something even more amazing than before.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Thoughts on the First Draft

I don't have much of a Word-Craft Wednesday for you today. These are just some thoughts on writing that have occurred to me over the last few days. They're unorganized, but I thought I would share them with you anyway. 

I’ve been working on learning a new musical piece on my guitar. Learning the piece is just one step, though. Once you know what to play, you have to focus on how to play it.  It’s not enough to know, “Okay, I hold ‘B’ for an eighth note, then ‘E’ for a dotted quarter note.” Granted, that’s a huge part of it, but there are other factors that go into performing. For example, which note should be played more loudly? Is one accented over the other? Sometimes, the composer writes this type of information for you. Other times, well, you just have to figure out what sounds good for yourself.  

I was working on this piece the other day, and suddenly it hit me that I was playing all of the notes equally loudly – to where the canto forte (“strong song” or melody) was totally lost. It should have been totally obvious to me that this was happening, but it wasn’t until I’d practiced the thing a bazillion times before I’d noticed it. Then I felt kind of dumb. Now I’m realizing that I’ve imposed absolutely no dynamics (volume changes) on the piece whatsoever. It’s totally flat.

The writing process is very much like learning a new musical piece. First, you have to have all your mechanics in place – who does what, what happens, how long, and so on and so forth. This is what happens when writing the first draft. At least for me, when I write my first draft, I feel like I myself am learning about my story for the first time. I’m not always sure where it’s going, and sometimes it surprises me.  

Once all the mechanics are in place, you have to revisit your writing. This is when you’ll notice that the story might have a theme – a canto forte, if you will, that you didn’t even realize that you’d put in. You need to rework your writing so that this shines through, but you also don’t want to drown out the other elements. Everything has to blend harmoniously. This is what the second draft is about.Unfortunately, you'll probably notice lots of things that should have seemed obvious and you might feel kind of silly about the whole thing. However, it's fun to watch your second draft come together as you watch it improve.

But what you’ll notice about all of this is that before you can tweak the dynamics and really bring it to life, you have to have the mechanics in place. In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. You can’t have your second draft before your first draft.

So, when you write your first draft, you ought not be thinking about it as something that people are going to read, just like when you first learn a piece, you aren’t going to perform it until you’ve polished it.

This is something that it took me a shockingly long time to figure out, believe it or not.  I wrote with the idea that I needed to polish as I go, so that when I was done writing, all I’d need is a quick once-over and Bam! my writing would be ready for publishing.  As a result, it took me a really, really long time to get everything written. There was so much pressure that writing wasn’t even fun, and consequently, I got very little writing done. Telling yourself that you need to get your writing right the first time is about as much fun as sitting down at a musical rehearsal with music you’re looking at for the first time and trying to play it in front of people. It’s stressful and embarrassing.

So you have to let go and give yourself permission to make mistakes, because right now, you’re just learning what your story is all about. Don’t go in expecting the literary equivalent of a concert performance – right now, you’re just practicing and learning.  Don’t worry about the dynamics until you have the mechanics.  Hey, that could be a slogan or something, huh?

I’ll write more about how to change the dynamics next week, but I wanted to really emphasize the fact that your first draft is your playground. Have fun. Experiment. Nobody is watching you but yourself, so write with your eyes closed and your imagination open. 

Share any thoughts in comments. 

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mythic Scribes Re-Blog: Understanding How Readers Read

Hi there! Sorry I missed yesterday's post. I was busy doing really important stuff.

~Stares at the ground~

~Bites lip~


I kind of spent half the day binge-watching Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix with my husband.

I used to worry that maybe my stories were too violent. They aren't. I mean, one character gets eviscerated (that means his intestines get ripped out), but at least I've never had a dude get decapitated by another dude repeatedly slamming his head and neck in a car door.  Not to mention that I got kind of light on the description of that scene, whereas you actually get to watch the spray of blood in Daredevil. It was a straight-up gore-fest, let me tell you. They weren't joking around with the TV-MA rating on this one. Yikes. So it should go without saying that if you're under 18, you darn well better have your parents' permission to watch Daredevil. It's an intriguing story and all, but...oh man. I had to avert my eyes once or twice, and I usually don't shirk violence in movies. 

What's that? Of course I'll be binge-watching more today! Why wouldn't I?


I got on one of my favorite websites, Mythic Scribes, and stumbled across this article. I thought it was really interesting, and I wanted to share it with you. So, without further ado...

When I started writing – three, maybe four, years ago – I just wrote. I didn’t really think much about it as I sat there with my laptop, tapping down my stories and making things up.

I was happy with how they turned out. I had a good time, and I made up some really cool characters – most of which are still around in one form or another.

Then, eventually, I joined a writing forum and began to share my work there. I discovered there were a whole load of do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing […]

It turned out there are rules for how to write that I didn’t even know existed. I barely understood what deep point of view was, and it took a lot of explaining before I finally figured out the difference between passive and active voice (and I’m still hard pressed to explain it to someone else).

These “rules” of writing seem to pop up a lot wherever aspiring writers show off their work or ask for advice. I guess that’s fine – or at least understandable. The way I see it, the rules of writing are there to help writers produce better stories. […]

There is a lot of talk about how writers ought to write, but very little about how readers read. [...]

Check out the rest of the article on Mythic Scribes:

Did you enjoy the article? Share it - but be sure to share the actual Mythic Scribes article, not my blog post. I mean, you can share my blog post, but credit where credit is due and all of that. Don't share my blog post without sharing the Mythic Scribes post. Thanks! You're the best!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Word of the Week: Hirsute

Word: hirsute

How you say it: [hur-soot, hur-soot]

What it is: adjective

What it means: 1.) hairy; shaggy. 2.) Botany, Zoology. covered with long, rather stiff hairs. 3.) of, relating to, or characteristic of hair. (Definition courtesy of

Use it three times and it's yours! Using a word three times can help it stick in your memory.

Huskies are a very hirsute breed of dog.

She was embarrassed by how hirsute she was, so so shaved her legs every day.

Some people are extremely hirsute thanks to their genes.

Share your three sentences in the comments!

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Moor Word Usage Errors

There are a lot of word usage errors out there, largely due to the fact that many English words look/sound similar to each other. (If you haven't seen my other post on usage/spelling mistakes, check it out.) I thought I would do another post on these tricksy little fellows. Be sure to watch out for these mistakes in your own writing!

Materiel / Material:

Materiel with an ‘e’ is pronounced with the same inflection as personnel.  It’s a military term, and it refers to physical things such as rations and ammunition and the like. So, what do you need in warfare? You need both personnel and materiel.  Materiel is a non-quantitative noun like corn or wheat – so you can’t pluralize it. 

Material with an ‘a,’ on the other hand, is the word you’re most familiar with. It can mean fabric or whatever something is made out of. You’ve probably heard the expression “raw materials,” meaning the basic components of something before it’s made or assembled.

To remember the difference, link materiel with an ‘e’ to the word personnel, and link material with an ‘a’ to ‘raw,’ which also has an ‘a.’

Lightning / lightening

Lightning is that stuff that strikes down from the sky and causes thunder.

Lightening, with an ‘e’ in there, is the participle (or the gerund, depending on context) of ‘to lighten.’ When something lightens, it gets lighter – so hair lightener makes you hair lighter.  What are you doing when you’re using lightener to make your hair lighter? You are lightening your hair. Or, if something is heavy and you want lighten the load to make it lighter, you are lightening the load.

To remember the difference, link the ‘e’ in ‘lighten’ with the ‘e’ in ‘lighter.’  If there isn’t an ‘e’ in the word, get ready for the thunderclaps.  For example: after the dark clouds of a lightning storm, you can see the sky lightening.

Site / sight

Site refers to a location. A construction site is a place where construction happens. Somebody might say, “This is the site of the battle of Gettysburg.”

Sight can mean many things, but it all has to do with seeing.  Somebody who is sighted is not blind.  If something is within sight, you can see it. If you are looking at something through crosshairs, you are using a sight. This is what people mean when they say, “target sighted.”  Since sights are something that is common on guns, you can link the ‘g’ in sight with the ‘g’ in gun.  Just remember that sight can mean all those other things that have to do with seeing as well.

The expression “shot on sight” has to do with shooting somebody the minute you see them. I once mistakenly believed that the expression was “shot on site,” thinking that it meant you shot them right there on the spot.  If you have trouble remembering which, try to think of the phrase “If somebody is shot on sight, they die right there on the site.” This should help you remember that ‘site’ has to do with location, whereas the expression has to do with seeing.

Pore / pour
Pore has two meanings.  One is a noun, meaning a tiny little hole.  You’re probably already familiar with this meaning. You’ll see skin products that promise to clarify your pores, and when your pores get clogged, you get a blackhead or pimple. Something full of holes, like a sponge or pumice, is porous. The second meaning is a verb, and it means to examine something very closely.  If you ever hear somebody say, “I was poring over the dictionary,” it means they were looking very closely at the dictionary.  To remember this, link the ‘e’ in pore with the ‘e’ in examine.  Then, remember that you can also examine the pores on your face.

Pour, on the other hand, is when you transfer something between containers. If you pour something out, you are emptying the container of whatever substance was in there.  Of course, if has to be a substance that can flow, so usually this is liquid. When you pour a glass of water, you pour water from the pitcher into the glass. To remember this, imagine that the ‘u’ in pour is a little glass of water.

Awe / Aw

Awe is an experience of wonder, generally with an implication of speechlessness or the inability to put it into words.  It is the root of words like awestruck and awesome. Awesome has lost a little of its original meaning – we just use it to mean ‘cool’ or ‘neat,’ but it once meant that something’s substance was awe-inspiring. There are a couple of ways to remember this, most of which include linking ‘awe’ with a word you’re familiar with, such as awesome. Or, if you like, you can link the ‘e’ at the end of awe with the ‘e’ at the beginning of experience, since awe is a feeling or experience.

Aw is an interjection used to express delight or dismay. “Aw, that’s so cool!” “Aw, that’s sad.” “Aw, that’s adorable!” “Aw, that’s terrible!” And so on. The correct spelling is with one ‘w,’ but we frequently append more ‘w’s to indicate how drawn out the interjection is: “Awwww, do I have to?”  It does not have an ‘e.’ To remember this, imagine that it’s one of the drawn out ‘aw’s, with lots of ‘w’s. Just remember that the ‘correct’ spelling only has one.

Awe-full / awful

This one is similar to awe/aw, and you can pretty much use the same tricks to remember it. Awe-full is hyphenated (this is important) and it means that something is full of awe or awe-inspiring (sort of like awesome). Note that it has the actual word ‘full,’ complete with two ‘l’s.

Awful, on the other hand, means that something is terrible. Remember that ‘aw’ can be used to express dismay? Well, imagine that the ‘aw’ in awful is that kind of dismayed aw, and that the whole thing is so full of dismay that it’s just terrible. It only has one ‘l,’ just like the word ‘beautiful’ or ‘frightful.’ This is because it is a compound word, whereas awe-full is a hyphenated word.

Alright / all right

These basically mean the same thing, and you may use them interchangeably. However, one is considered more formal. According to

“The form alright as a one-word spelling of the phrase all right in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as already and altogether. Although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing.”

I prefer to use ‘all right’ in every situation except for when it’s used as a sentence lead-in. “Alright, is everybody all right?” However, this is a personal preference. Just remember that in polished writing, such as an essay, you should use the full form of all right.

Of course, the most delightful way to use alright is in the phrase, “Alright-y then.”  This phrase is best accompanied by an eye roll or a look of disbelief.

Alot /a lot

Alot is NOT A WORD. For more information about the infamous alot, check out this post from Hyperbole and a Half. (This post is totally SFW, but some of the other posts have quite a bit of language.)

A lot, on the other hand, consists of two words: ‘a’ and ‘lot.’ You know what this means, but I see a lot of people who turn these two words into one compound word. Put a space between these words. To help you remember, go check out the post at Hyperbole and a Half. Not only will it help you get this set in your memory, it’s just plain funny.

What are some usage errors that you catch yourself making? Share any thoughts in the comments. 

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Monday, April 6, 2015

"Stealing" Ideas

Image courtesy of chanpipat at
What would you say if I told you that you could rip off major plot points from other sources and get away with it?

Would you say, “But that’s stealing and violating copyright laws”?

Would you say, “That would make me an unoriginal hack writer”?

What about, “People will know it’s a rip-off and no one will like my story?”

Let’s break this down.

“That’s stealing and violates copyright laws.”

Copyright laws are dodgy things. If you write a story that is basically exactly the same as somebody else’s, using the same characters (even if you change their names), then you have violated copyright laws. There’s no way around this. But if you were to look at Lois Lowry’s The Giver and think that forced hormonal therapy is an interesting concept, and you decide to use that in your story, that is not violating copyright laws.  You’ll probably want to do your take on forced hormonal therapy differently – that’s why it’s your take on it.

But isn’t it still stealing?

Let me tell you a secret. Nothing is original. Nada. Zilch. Zero.  Have you ever heard of William Shakespeare, a man still hailed today as a master of literary genius?

Yeah, he ripped off a bunch of other stories to make his plays.

So, yes, maybe it is ‘stealing’ story elements, but don’t think of it as stealing. Think of it as ‘drawing inspiration’ from another source. It’s not immoral or illegal – not the way that selling a story with Frodo the Hobbit in it would be.

I promise you, even if you come up with an idea all by yourself, the likelihood of seeing that somebody else has done something similar is really high. Does that mean you’re stealing? No. It just means that somebody else had a similar idea to you. Nobody has a monopoly on ideas, and nobody can copyright an idea like forced hormonal therapy. 

Now, if you put it in the exact configuration as The Giver, well…that’s  different story. Then it does become stealing.

You see, there is a definite difference between stealing and drawing inspiration from a source. It might seem fuzzy, but it is definitely there.

“That would make me an unoriginal hack writer.”

Was William Shakespeare a hack? The debate on this rages, but most people think highly of Shakespeare. Would you say Suzanne Collins is a hack? She borrowed a lot of elements for The Hunger Games from Roman history. Oh, and have you ever of J.R.R. Tolkien, a man widely regarded as the father of modern fantasy? He lifted a lot of stuff from Norse mythology. Does that make him an unoriginal hack writer? What about Rowling? Harry Potter took a bunch of stuff out of mythology, too.

So, what is it that makes these authors original, if they have so much unoriginal stuff in their writing?

It’s the way that things are configured. It’s sort of like starting with a ball of yarn. Give five different people a ball of yarn and tell them to knit a scarf. At least one of those scarves will be different than the others. It’s all about the way you tell your story – the way you spin a yarn, if you will. Yours will be unique, because it’s told by you, and you’ll make sure to tell it in a way nobody else has told it. That’s where the originality comes in.

As long as you tell the story your own unique way, you won’t be a hack.

“People will know it’s a rip-off and no one will like my story.”

Okay. This is just patently false.

Tolkien practically has a cult following, even after his death.

Shakespeare is studied in schools all around the world.

People liked their stories. Even though they heavily borrowed from other sources.

So what is it that really brings the originality to these stories – what is it that makes them original?

Two major things: setting and character.

I’ll give you an example – and this was what gave me the idea for this blog post in the first place.  This story begins with me admitting to the fact that I occasionally watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (I’ve collected ponies since I was four, and I just never stopped liking them.)

Courtesy of Used for review purposes only.
On Saturday, a new season of My Little Pony started, and I decided to watch. It was actually a really interesting episode. The main characters went to a village where everybody had the same cutie mark. If you don’t watch the show, suffice it to say that cutie marks reflect each pony’s individuality and special talents.

Everybody had the same cutie mark so that no one was special.

Nobody had special talents, so that nobody was better than anyone else.

Everybody had to think the same way and have the same beliefs.

Is this starting to sound familiar?  The more the episode unfolded, the more this town started to look communist. They even called it a ‘utopia’ in one of the songs. But it was clear that it was anything but a utopia. It was a classic dystopia, vaguely reminiscent of 1984 and Animal Farm. Nobody could say anything that went against the status quo, and if somebody did, the other ponies were supposed to rat them out.

It started to have even more elements of dystopian novels, such as brainwashing. The main characters were locked in a room and forced to listen to a loud recording of what they were supposed to believe – things like “To excel is to fail” and various other maxims of this dystopian society.
Finally, the leader of everything was revealed to have her own unique cutie mark, which she kept hidden from everybody else. The first thing that came to mind when I saw that was, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” (That’s from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.) This pony argued that she had to have her special talent so that everybody else could ‘enjoy’ life without theirs. That made me think of Napoleon from Animal Farm, who argued that he had to have more power so that everybody else could live in harmony.
So yeah. An entire episode of My Little Pony that basically took classic dystopian novels, put them through the grinder, and reshaped them. They didn’t even try to be the least bit subtle about it. It was super obvious where they were getting this stuff from.
But you know what? I loved it. I bet the other adults who watched it still loved it. I bet the kids who watched the show loved it.  So what makes is special and unique?
Because it’s a show about frickin’ talking horses! With songs and dance routines! With magic! It’s the characters and the setting that makes it what it is, that makes it fresh and fun and original, even when it’s obviously a rip-off.
So there you have it. Don’t freak out if your idea is similar to someone else’s. Draw inspiration from other places all you want – just be unique in the way that you put it together.
 Don’t use talking, dancing, magical, brightly colored horses, though. I think that might have been done already.
What do you think about the idea of ‘ripping off’ other sources? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Metanarrative in Storytelling

Image courtesy of holohololand at
One of the coolest things about being a Christian is realizing that you are part of a massive story that has been going on since the dawn of creation.  This evening, I’ll be participating in a worship service that uses a liturgy that has been around for centuries, centering on an event that that happened two thousand years ago which fulfilled a prophecy that was given the day of the fall into sin.

I am a participant in a massive story—a story that many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, have referred to as the greatest story ever told.

If you think about it, we all are participants in one big story. Even if you’re not a Christian, you can see that your existence is little more than a snapshot in a huge, continuous story that has been going on…well, basically, forever.

We—every last one of us—are all elements in something which is called a metanarrative.  A metanarrative is a narrative which surpasses and encompasses every other narrative in existence – a ‘higher’ story, if you will, than what the regular narrative tells. I first learned the term from my husband, who learned it in one of his theology classes.  It’s commonly used to differentiate the overarching story of the Bible from the individual stories therein (the exodus, the times of the judges, etc.).  

You don’t have to be Christian to understand or agree with the concept of a metanarrative, but it certainly is one of the easiest examples.

So why am I talking about metanarratives? Well, I wanted something that I could tie in with Good Friday (I wish a blessed Good Friday to you all), but the concept of metanarrative is really important in storytelling.

Every story you will ever tell is an element of some metanarrative.

You’ll see the most evidence of this in fantasy storytelling—The Lord of the Rings is probably one of the best examples. In fact, Frodo and Sam even talk extensively about how they are just a small part in a much, much larger story.  Read The Silmarillion, and you’ll see just how true this is.

Even if you aren’t writing a fantasy story, it is still part of a larger story.

All right, you say, so this is all very fascinating and everything, but what’s the point here?

The point is that when you sit down to write your story, you should spend some time thinking about what part your particular story plays in a much larger story. Is it the culmination of a family struggle? The inception of one? Your story is not an island, so if you want your story to be rich and fulfilling, make sure that you have some kind of metanarrative that is happening over it all.

Obviously, your metanarrative is not something you will write down per se. You are just writing the snapshot, after all. But every picture has a background.

Also, your metanarrative should be something which meaningfully connects to the current narrative that you are writing.  For Christianity, of course, the promise of the Christ and fulfilling of that promise is the metanarrative.  Now, if your story is about a family that stops feuding after years of hatred, Christ’s death on the cross is not your metanarrative. No, your metanarrative is all of the events that lead up to this story. 

Not only should your metanarrative be pertinent to the story, it should be the other way around. Whatever you are writing, make sure it is the highest, most crucial point in your metanarrative. Anything less is, well, anticlimactic.

For example, the whole Bible is basically about Jesus coming to die on the cross.  It starts out with that as its focus and it ends with that as its focus. Yes, Christ’s impending return is a big deal, but it’s only a big deal because of the cross.

Or, as in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the story occurs at a crucial juncture in the overarching story. Everything before has been leading up to this one moment when the ring falls into Mount Doom; everything after happens as a result of it. A massive shift of power goes from Elves to Men. Yet everything that happens before and after is hardly as interesting as the pinnacle event itself.

That should be your model when you’re constructing your story and its metanarrative.  You want this to be the most exciting part of the whole story. 

And you definitely want it to be more exciting than this blog post has been. 

What do you think of the concept of metanarrative? Share any thoughts or questions in the comments.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Word of the Week: Exigent

Ready to expand your vocabulary? Word of the Week is back!

Word: exigent

How you say it: [ek-si-juhnt]

What it is: adjective

What it means: 1.) requiring immediate action or aid; urgent; pressing. 2.) requiring a great deal, or more than is reasonable. (Definition courtesy of

Use it three times and it's yours! Using a word three times can help it stick in your memory.

When Sally received the disturbingly large hospital bill, she knew it was exigent that she call her insurance company.

Of the ten things written on this to-do list, which is the most exigent?

Please send help; our need is exigent.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I'm Back!

Hello, Interwebz! I am back from my sort-of hiatus turned actual hiatus. I was busy with a big writing project that my friends and I challenged each other to.  We called it "NaNoTriMo," which was basically writing 50,000 words in three months instead of one month. It was a lot of fun, until I put off most of the writing 'til the middle of February.

So the last month and a half or so has been a lot of writing chaos for me. I didn't do an outline for this novel, so I was "pantsing" the whole way. Basically, I was doing most of my writing completely off the cuff. Now, I had a general idea of what I wanted, but not having an outline definitely slowed me down.

I learned some valuable lessons from this endeavor that I thought I would share with you.

1.) Slow and steady wins the race

In some ways, this challenge was harder than NaNoWriMo because it was spread out over so much time. On the other hand, not writing at the breakneck speeds required for NaNoWriMo helped me to focus on some of the finer points of my novel. I learned that a small daily commitment, as long as you actually keep at it, pays off just as much as a huge sprint. It also leaves you much less exhausted.

2.) Procrastination will bite you in the butt

My last two weeks of this challenge were really stressful. Even though I still didn't have to do as many words per day as needed for NaNo, the sense of being behind was not pleasant. Don't write tomorrow or when you 'find time.' Write now. Make time. Otherwise, your novel will take a lot longer than three months to write.

3.) Anything can be fixed with editing

Hate something about your story? Keep writing. Notice an error? Keep writing. If you obsess over these little things, you'll pysch yourself out and get stuck. Why, yes, I speak from experience. If you feel like there are big messes in your story, it's because there are. But don't worry! You can go back and fix them with the magic of editing. For now, just keep going. A lot of times, you won't even know what specifically needs to be fixed until you're done anyway.

So, that was my three month adventure, so I'll be trying to get back to my regular posting schedule.

Write on, everybody!