Reviewing for Dummies

I am sorry, but I’ll admit beforehand that this is not really a guide as to how to review anything. I am not a reviewer myself, so it would be strange for me to try to do so. Instead, I would like to note something about reviews, which may sound a little harsh, but I don’t read them. Ever.
To be honest, I haven’t read many books, at least not adult literature. I am a children’s writer. I know this is terrible, as every writer should probably start at the highest level and dial back from there, but I can’t. I generally don’t like it. Therefore, I’ve almost never heard of the books that are touched upon in reviews, no matter how popular they are. In fact, doing so would probably negatively affect my view of a book I haven’t even given a try yet. If the reviewer is negative, I will be intrigued, but there is no way I am going to read something that is completely bashed by multiple people.
Of course, there are some great reviewers out there, who know how to be critic without being overly harsh. They are witty and interesting, and even more important, they know their audience. Most people aren’t inclined to read about a book they’ve never heard about. I like reviews about Harry Potter – which I loved – or about Twilight – which I hated – because I already have an opinion about them. Popular book reviews do draw my attention, mainly because everyone has a different opinion about the same book. In the case of not-so-wellknown works, chances are that opinions are not going to vary much. I like depth. If it isn’t in there, then reading the review isn’t worth it to me.
Blogs about reviewing aren’t necessarily bad. However, I am getting the feeling that most of those start out as writers’ blogs, until their creators gradually start to slip up as they find out there isn’t that much to write about. That isn’t true. Writing is everywhere! Of course, writers and other people’s books are connected, as those books are what we strive to create – or absolutely not to create.
In the end, I am a liar and do think I have some tips: don’t overdo it, be creative, be relatable. The last one may sound like horrible advice, as the creative mind isn’t always relatable, but at least pick a subject that is relatable. Something that people can think about on their own. Maybe they will pick up that book that you criticized, just because some just criticism can stimulate them to come up with ideas of their own. Get your readers to read. Some people, like me, don’t do it enough.

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Stonecoal English

The Dutch call it Stonecoal English. In English, this form of broken English is sometimes referred to as Dunglish. When two languages seem quite alike, like Dutch and English in this case, it can be difficult to learn both of them. This is something many Dutch people “walk against” (which is a monstrosity and should be read as “have trouble with”).
I have come across this problem many times, especially since Dutch and English words often sound alike without sharing their meaning. “False friends” is what these words are called. For instance, the Dutch word “eventueel” does not mean “in the end”, like the English “eventually”. Instead, it is used to indicate a possibility. This is one of the words I struggled with for ages, until I finally realised that maybe I should look it up in a dictionary. After all, all those English sentences sounded very strange to me…
As a writer, this is something I’ve had – and probably still have – to overcome. I cannot just drop my native language like it’s nothing and start over with a blank slate. It is easy to make the same mistakes over and over. It is easy to slip up and ignore all rules of the English language. I am not going to do that, but at the moment I’m not even sure anymore if what I am saying is actual English or yet another instance of “Stonecoal English”.
However, this is not to say that Dunglish is all that horrible. It has its positive sides. For example, back in the early 1900s, it allowed the Dutch harbour workers to communicate with the English merchants who came to their harbours. Although they did not speak English, both parties were able to understand this cross-breed, no matter how strange it sounded. Nowdays, most younger people are able to speak English relatively fine, but the problem can still be seen, especially in the older generation. It may be a stupid, crude example, but almost everyone knows the tale of the two politicians. “What are your hobbies?” president Kennedy supposedly asked the Dutch minister Luns, to which Luns replied: “I fok horses!” (“Fok” means “to breed” in Dutch). “Pardon?” Kennedy said. Luns enthusiastically said: “Yes, paarden!” (“Paarden” are horses.) I am not sure how much of this is true, but it is one of the most quoted examples of Dunglish, albeit very humiliating.
As a student of the English language, this shouldn’t happen to me. I know what English sounds like and I usually know what not to say or write in order to avoid confusion. It is still stresful, though, as writing a novel in a language that’s not your own feels slightly unnatural. I have to “let on” (“opletten”, “to keep an eye on”) both the language diffences and the cultural ones. For instance, I’ve learned that cursing in English is almost unforgivable, whereas in Dutch words like “shit” are hardly offensive at all. Having a kid in my story use the word “crap” felt like a sin. I’ll probably have to remove it, although it seems a little overbearing to me. Don’t even try to use “funny” curse words in front of Dutch kids – they will mock you. Knowing the difference is an important aspect in avoiding to speak Dunglish. While this is not a case of broken English but a cultural difference, it still is one of the mistakes often made by the Dutch.
All in all, learning a second language is quite difficult, especially when the two languages are as alike as Dutch and English. It can be dealt with, though. Some people like to make fun of their Dunglish. Others just have to work hard in order not to embarass themselves.

The Planner’s Flaw

Maybe I am overly perfectionist when it comes down to planning absolutely anything. For those who were wondering how I could write or post this while I am in Belgium without access the Internet; I can’t. In reality, I wrote this post a week before and requested WordPress to upload it for me at a certain date. I usually want everything to be perfect. My blog posts should be spread out evenly, I should write a story chapter a day, every task should be done before dinner… The list goes on and on. It might seem nice to be a planner, as you always know what you are supposed to do. However, there are many drawbacks to planning almost obssesively.

The first drawback to my excessive planning is that, once it does not go according to plan, I lose all will to continue as I regard it as failing. This is hard, especially during the holidays and vacations. I had been planning to finish the third book in my series when I went to Austria. The laptop failed and did not save the one chapter I had written… and I immediately could not do it anymore. I haven’t written a thing ever since. And just when I felt the desire to start again, the date on which I’d have to leave again was approaching. It all felt pointless. If I don’t manage to finish within the time range I’ve given myself, I feel like giving up.

The second drawback is that this amount of planning stresses me out more than it should. Planning is supposed to allow you to rest when you deserve to, right? I personally cannot feel rested when I know there is so much left to be done. At the moment, I am stuck with a terrible headache, just because I am stressing out. I actually had to leave my job early, just because this spot at the top of my skull was throbbing. As far as I know, that is a bad sign. It is not like I do that much in my free time, but just the feeling of never being actually free is enough to cause this.

Thirdly, certain things probably should not be forced, like writing. While I said before that it is a perfectly fine way of writing to just sit down and start, it does not always work. As it turned out for me, I cannot do that without stressing over it. What am I supposed to write today? What if I don’t like it and it is just pointless? What if I never finish it? I usually deal with deadlines fine, but not in this case. You cannot always force the creativity.

Sometimes the planner just needs a rest. No planning, no doing anything. Of course, that isn’t always possible. However, we should try not to overdo it. Not everything has to happen right the day we decide it has to. Not everything is as important. Pick your battles or you’ll end up sitting on the couch, almost unable to do a thing.

Breaking the Rules of the Writers’ Blog

Supposedly there are several rules for keeping a writers’ blog in order to keep it valuable to both other aspiring writers and publishers. Now, I definitely am not aiming at publishers when writing this – the other writers, and possibly readers, are the ones I would like to reach. However, I am getting the feeling that I break those rules too often.

First of all, every blogger needs to be cautious of their amount of posts. To be honest, if I notice people are posting their musings about ten times a day, it is doubtful that I am actually going to take a look at them. I am sorry for that, but such an amount becomes bothersome to keep up with. I try to make sure I don’t do that – in fact, I am pretty sure I don’t do that, as I am sadly in the opposing category of bloggers: those who post way too less and way too irregularly. In order to keep a steady base of readers, one must make sure to actually post to their blogs. While I try to make sure I do that, sometimes my enthusiasm just falters. Suddenly, I lose all inspiration and don’t even want to write a thing anymore. As soon as I stop for a few days, those few days quickly turn into weeks. This is something I should try to avoid, just by keeping up the stream of ideas.

Secondly, the main goal of a writer’s blog should be to either help other writers or to get help for themselves. However, my posts definitely don’t consist of any helpful tips. Yes, there may be some hidden in my posts, but they generally are not the main point. I doubt anyone actually sees them in there. Strangely enough, I am getting the feeling that my posts that aren’t focussing on writing tips are the most well-read. Maybe people just enjoy reading about my musings more, or it may be because I am not an expert, but it still strikes me as odd. I am defying the entire point of the writers’ blog by posting all of this nonsense, yet it appears that people enjoy that nonsense. At least, it is what I seem to get the most responses to. This is still a writer’s blog; I am going to keep it that way, but I am not afraid anymore of breaking the rules.

In the end, I am not entirely sure what the benefit of keeping a blog as a writer is. Nobody is going to find me this way. I am not going to posts my manuscripts on here, as that would cause publishers to never want anything to do with me. I do it, though, because it is fun to me. Keeping this blog is not so much a job as a nice activity to keep me writing. That is all that counts.

Why Having a Writers’ Mind Improves Your Life

Having an active life outside of writing stories definitely stimulates the creative mind, but the opposite is true as well; having a creative mind improves the quality of daily life for sure. It may be because I am still a kid at heart – from the American point of view, I still am a (college) kid, so this may be a strange thing to say. When I started going to the gym for the first time in my life a few days ago, I had been dreading the moment for ages. However, when I arrived it turned out not to be bad at all. I decided to just go for a run on the treadmill, as the other devices seemed a little threatening for someone without training. As soon as I got up there and started running, my mind went wild. Why was I running? Was I fleeing from someone or something? Who or what was it? Ignoring the fact that I actually did not move from my spot at all, it was a great method for keeping my mind busy while my body started to ache. I had to keep going, no matter what, or the enemy was going to catch up with me. I hope I didn’t say anything strange or made any weird noises, which I sometimes do when in thought, but at least my imagination made this physical torture a lot more bearable. I’ll go back there as soon as possible.

It may be a little geeky, but I doubt I am much of an ordinary person. I know everyone likes to claim that about themselves, but seeing the other people’s faces around there allowed me to deduce that most of them were not having any fun at all. I guess that is the beauty of the writers’ mind; it allows us to turn an ordinary day into something amazing, even when nothing at all happens.

The Mighty Pen

I’ll be leaving on a second vacation on August 1st. Yes, I know I may be spoiled, especially seeing as I am not really looking forward to it. I won’t be able to write a thing for a week for the second time in two weeks – which may be the most confusing sentence ever. The point is that last time, it turned out that my laptop did not save any of my writings. It was all lost, maybe due to failure of Google Drive or of the laptop itself – I have no idea, all I know is that I did use Control + S. I probably won’t be taking my laptop this time, as it would be completely useless.

However, this leaves room for the mighty old pen and paper. Some writers say that every great novel should be written on actual paper with an actual pen. It is said to stimulate the creative mind to actually hold something. I am not sure how much of that is true, but it definitely is a nice theory. Sometimes it just feels good to actually see your creations on paper, almost like it could be an actual book. Still, I can see the drawbacks to it. Personally, my hand writing is horrible. I generally cannot decipher what I have written the day before unless I can remember what it is supposed to say. While I would like to applaud the professors who have to read my disastrous hand writing, I don’t think I should do the same to myself. I do like writing on paper, but afterwards I still would have to type it over. Also, I am too messy of a person to be trusted with important documents on a vacation – and yes, to me my stories are very important documents. Every time I lose what I have written, I just want to give up. I like my first drafts most and am not going to write that first draft a second time.

I am sorry for the rant, but I was wondering if there are any writers out there who still do it the old-fashioned way. Who still uses the mighty pen and paper?

Picture-perfect; Pictures in (Children’s) Literature

For the youngest children and the early readers, there is an abundance of picture books – the kind of book where pictures take up entire pages. They love them, as the images help them to create a picture of the scene in their own mind. However, as these children grow older, the pictures in their stories disappear, mainly because they want to feel “grown up” and not go back to the “childish” style of actual picture books. When I was a child, I thought this was a shame. I actually loved the pictures in my books, no matter what they looked like (black-and-white or coloured). Sadly, those books weren’t ever available, at least not for my age range. Sure, I loved reading and I would generally be content with the plain old written novel, but something often was lacking. I wanted to know what the characters looked like. I wanted to know where they were. Children’s books never went into detail, although that detail was exactly what I wanted, and still want nowadays. I believe that novels should start containing some pictures again, if only for the small group of people like me.

To be honest, I do not like comics. I also do not enjoy graphic novels. For my literature courses, I’ve had to read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which I thought was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen. Not because the story was bad – it was a welcome change in the depiction of war novels – but because I absolutely hated the (sometimes gruesome) art. Some books do not need pictures – not if they involve torture, murder or piles of burning mice. The same goes for comic books; to me, they are too picture-heavy and often too over-the-top. I do want to read an actual book, not a comic. I just wish that book would sometimes contain a simple pictures.

Maybe it is just me, but I actually do not enjoy having to think up a character’s looks by myself. To me, whatever I think of is not right. It is not what the author had in mind when they wrote it. It may sound pretentious, but I like the idea of actually looking into the author’s mind. Of course, this does not really work this way, as the author most likely is not the person to provide the pictures. Still, as far as I know they typically have at least some say in what the product is going to look like in the end. If the author agrees, I will agree that it is right.

Now, I have a question. Would anyone else like some visuals in their literature?

My Sources of Inspiration, Part VI: Night Terrors

Having a lively imagination is both a blessing and a curse, especially for those who aspire to use their creative mind. On one hand, it is an amazing ability to always be able to come up with new ideas. On the other hand, coming up with these ideas might not always be the best experience, even more so when they appear at night. I am prone to nightmares. It might be because horror is my preferred genre, but the mind is sadly stronger than most actual horror movies and books. Still, I cannot say I suffer from these dreams. I am pretty much used to them; they come to me daily, although “nightly” may be more fitting in this case.

I would like to advice those who, like me, love to write and experience the same as I do, to keep a dream diary. Having nightmares might not be a nice experience, but there is a good side to almost every bad thing. In this case, you could use these strange dreams to trigger the imagination even more to come up with the best idea ever. Alright, that may be an overstatement, but the point still stands. Keeping a dream diary – by writing in it right after you wake up or else the dream will be forgotten – is a great way to both train the mind to remember any form of inspiration and to have this notebook full of imagination-triggering adventures.

Personally, my nightmares probably are not that typical. They usually concern me being alone in a house that isn’t mine where I encounter ghosts, other strange beings or like last time, this horrible mannequin in an attick. Thing is, while it was one of the strangest dreams I had ever had, in the end only two aspects remained in my mind: a little girl ghost who loved to dance and play piano… and that horrible lifeless doll. As soon as I woke up, I loved it. I love having nightmares.

The Perfect Chapter

A question I see quite often on writers’ forums is that of the perfect chapter, or to be more exact, the question of what the perfect chapter looks like. To be honest, it’s one that has been bothering me a lot lately. Nobody seems to have the actual answer to this question, as it is very personal for both the writer and the reader, but I’ve found the ones below to be used most often.
Some say a chapter should read like a short novel; it should contain a beginning, a middle and an ending, including a climax. This works if your novel contains lots of long chapters. In this case, the entire story would be in perfect harmony – even better if every scene is built up the same way. However, I am not so sure about this technique. Do readers really want to read these novel-like sections? In a way, it takes away the anticipation of the next chapter, especially if the chapter ending is rounded off perfectly.
Some say a chapter should be nothing but a scene. It does not have to contain an actual build-up – it could start right in the action, in medias res, although the same goes for novels. This one seems to be the most useful in action-packed novels, which require a steady pace and the readers’ anticipation of what is going to happen next. I personally prefer this one, as it is not as demanding and longwinded as the first idea. However, the concept of longivity is relative in this case.
Some say a chapter should be long, as not to disrupt the novel’s flow and pace. This goes hand in hand with the novel-like chapter; it can be a nice read, but the writer needs to keep in mind that it could become tiresome for the reader not to have a break in there. I don’t see this one often in adventure-packed novels, but I may be mistaken.
Some say a chapter should be short, compressed and not contain any unnecessary information, in order to force the reader to keep reading and anticipating the next chapter. This may or may not work, though, as chapter breaks have several possible outcomes. While they allow the reader some breathing space, they may also cause the audience to stop reading then and there – just because they can. In that case, the writing probably is not interesting enough to grasp the reader’s attention, and the chapter may need to be longer to be interesting. Many chapter breaks also may cause the novel to appear overly simplistic or annoying to read. However, I still believe this is a great technique in order to keep the readers’ attention, as long as the writer actually knows what they are doing.
There are many answers to the question as to which is the perfect chapter. The only actual answer I can give is that the writer needs to figure out for themselves what works for them. Only they know their flaws and strengths, and only they know how to present their story in the most interesting way. The opinions above, whether they are valuable or not are just what they are: opinions.

Change of Scene, Change of Mind

I have to admit that I fail as a blogger. I know that posting regurarly is one of the most important aspects when it comes to keeping readers interested, which is exactly what I haven’t been doing. The vacation of last week has taken its toll on both me and my writing skills. To me, keeping a steady pace is what makes me go on. However, as soon as that rhythm is broken, writers’ block sets in and I can’t bring myself to start writing again. The same goes with blogging.
Even though I may be complaining about the vacation, I also know that a change of scene is what every writer needs once in a while. While I don’t think it is an actual saying, I would like to say that a change of scene brings an actual change of mind. Sometimes, we need to keep our minds of our work and just do something completely else. In my case, my trip to Austria has been wonderful in that sense – although the backache that set in after only three days completely ruined our walking schedule. Just being in a completely different environment, surrounded by people with lives different than my own, was enough to spark so many ideas. I couldn’t write them down as my laptop apparently refused to save anything, but I certainly had enough time to let them stew in the back of my mind. What came out was unlike anything I had ever thought of, forced out by the nightmares I get when I’m sleeping in an unknown bedroom. I wanted to write a family drama concerning the spirit of a little girl, forgotten by her family as time went on. I don’t think I will ever actually finish it, or even start writing it, as it was meant to be a Young Adult novel, starring a teenager who finds out the secret of her greatgrandmother’s daughter. I do not really enjoy YA, nor overly complicated storylines. However, knowing that it was possible to come up with one was nice.
A story closer related to my actual trip was the one about a family running a hotel in the Alps, based on the little girls I met in the hotel where we were staying. They had to help their parents with tending to the guests and cleaning the rooms, so I wondered how many strange things they must have seen. Not much, probably, but it was fun to wonder about someone else’s life. I came up with the idea of them meeting a Yeti – or whatever similar creature is supposed to be living in the area.
While my ideas may not be of much quality, it was a great sensation to know that I still had it – the power of strange, childlike creativity. It may not be worth much to others, but this is the result of travelling. Every new experience triggers a new idea in the back of the writer’s mind. Try to experience as much as you can. It’s worth it.