Clues to a Great Story: The TED Talk

“What this scene is doing…is making a promise that the story will lead somewhere that will be worth your time.”

The brilliant filmmaker behind stories like WALL-E and Toy Story, Andrew Stanton, brings us a TED Talk about learning how to tell the best and most effective story. He shares his insights on writing and drafting and using your own experiences to gain inspiration. I plan on listening to this Talk more than once, because even during my first listen, I could tell that this successful man had some amazing tips to share.

Aspiring writers? This one’s for you.


The Mind of a Wavering Future Author

How is that every time I think I know what I want,
I don’t?
How can half my life be devoted to one thing


And one thought can upset an entire dream?

I want to write


But what to write about? What for?

I could be a screenwriter,
A writer of films.

I’ve always loved movies. Why not?

I could write children’s books,
the next J.K. Rowling.

I like kids. Kids like me. Why not?

I could write textbooks,
The How-To of life.

I hate textbooks. Better job security. Why not?

I could write reviews for a magazine or paper,
Ebert for a new age.

Maybe they’ll give me free things. Opinions are nice. Why not?

I could be a film director, photographer, artist,
But just maybe on the side.

I don’t know enough about those things to do them for a life.

I could work in a bookstore,
Just to get me on my feet.

What if I end up liking it? Owner of a bookstore. Why not?

I could be an editor,
Of a magazine or for publishing.

But really that’s not writing at all.
And what I love is that I love to write.
And despite all these questions, that’s what I want to do.
But how do I know if what I’ll write is right?
Will it make me happy

And if I finally do decide on a job, where will I be jobbing from?
Probably in the same place
Where all the jobbers go.

What about books? That’s what I’d always planned to do,
Is it bad to have these thoughts,
To feel like I’m cheating
on my dreams?

And what is it about college,
where you’re supposed to

Find yourself,

that makes you question


I’m Sorry This is Late Deadline Writing Memes

Due to reasons which I will discuss in next week’s post and reasons I will not (I had a test this morning and spent the greater half of the day in the car), this post is being posted very late in the evening. In the spirit of lateness (and exhaustedness), here are a few deadline-inspired items you fellow writer-folk might enjoy.


“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” — Douglas Adams

Here Kitty, Kitty

Here Kitty, Kitty

Moderately Meditated: Self-Editing

English: Hands collaborating in co-writing or ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why is it so hard to self-edit?

Most people would say that it’s important to be able to shut off the inner-editor so that writing quickly and freely becomes a much more manageable task. But what do you do when your editor needs to be switched on?

One of the hardest parts of writing isn’t actually the writing itself, but the editing. This is especially true for authors trying to edit their own pieces. It’s very difficult to critique something you put your heart into. But if you are lucky enough to notice that something is wrong with your piece, you may not be lucky enough to know exactly what it is.

Last night I found myself grappling with a self-editing issue. My solution? Ask someone else. After emailing a friend and persistently knocking on the door of a fellow English major, I got some feedback. Even after a really helpful editing session with my friends, I still had a hard time fixing my piece. How do I figure out exactly what my story needs to be better?

I finally managed to fix a few of the issues my classmates pointed out, but only after staring at the screen for a long time (maybe longer than necessary). Eventually I sat myself down (literally) and asked myself what it was I wanted to communicate with this story. What’s my point? What’s my conflict? Why should anyone read this?

I’m not sure if I can answer those yet, but I did “finish” my story (are they ever finished?).

Fellow writers! Help! Any insights? How do you go about editing yourself? Helpful tips are welcome!

Quote #10

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” — Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

DIY Old Bookshelf Facelift

Having just sat through an hour and a half long class with no air conditioning and a blistering 100 degree, high humidity heat, I can really appreciate the perks of the colder months. Yes, I’ll probably be complaining about nose-cicles once winter finally does come around, but right now I’m seriously craving the relaxing ease a good book and a blanket will bring.

And what better way to display those books than on a beautiful bookshelf? Though it’s a simple piece of furniture, a good bookshelf is a writer’s secret pleasure. Bookshelves are built to hold what we writers hold most dear, and we often take great pride in owning one of these structures.

(And they’re just so pretty to look at. Ask us why we drool over libraries…)

All images from Buzzfeed’s “49 Breathtaking Libraries From All Over the World”

Unfortunately, bookshelves of this magnitude tend to be a little (a lot) out of the typical writer’s budget. Fortunately, I have a solution!

DIY Old Bookshelf Facelift!

I recently collaborated with my dad on a little summer project — something to contain my growing collection of books — and I thought what better project to share with my readers than this? (However, I apologize for no pictures of the process. I didn’t realize I was going to be blogging about it!) So here it goes:

Bookcase Before

Bookcase After

Step 1: Buy the bookcases.

I found mine (I bought two) in the warehouse of a company that was getting rid of some old office furniture. They were a nice solid wood and had very few scratches or chips, which are very important to avoid if you’re not looking to do a complete refinish of the surface. They were a steal at $25 a piece. If you’re lost for places to look, I suggest thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets.

Step 2: Pick a Primer and Paint

I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on painting and wood, so that’s why I’m just going to tell you to do the exact same thing I did: ask someone else. I went to my paint store prepared with a picture of my bookshelves so that the clerk would know exactly what I was working on. I even took a shelf off the bookcase and brought it in for him to look at. Once he gave me his recommendations, I ended up purchasing one quart of Multi-Purpose Interior/Exterior Latex Primer for about $11¬†and four quarts of Interior/Exterior Acrylic Latex Paint with a satin finish in 7566 Westhighland White for $6 each. (Note: Had we known in the beginning that these shelves would require that much paint, we probably would have went ahead and bought a gallon, which would have been cheaper in the long run. Note for the future!) Also, we had paint rollers and brushes already stashed around the house, so buying extra wasn’t necessary; however, if you need those supplies, be sure to add that into the overall cost.

Step 3: Paint it. Duh.

The first thing to do is to wipe down your surface. We had these stored in the garage for a while, so they needed to be wiped off almost every day. Trust me, you don’t want a dried up bug painted into your bookshelf. After that, you can begin priming. Cut in the corners and edges of the bookshelf with a brush first. This will make it easier on you when you start rolling. After that, roll. Make sure you get a nice even coat over the surface or else you will see un-primed spots beneath your paint later on.

Once you’ve primed and let your bookshelf sit for at least a day, it’s time to paint. Using a clean roller and brush, follow the same cut-in-then-roll procedure you followed for priming. This may take several days and several coats. We ended up doing about three coats on the shelves and two coats on the outer frame of the bookcase itself. Be patient. You may end up spending more time painting than you had first planned, but you will ultimately be happier with your final result.

Step 4: Seal (optional)

This step is entirely up to you. I decided that I wanted to go over my bookcase one more time with a sealant in order to protect the surface when I slide books in and out of it. For sealing, we found that a foam  brush like this (can also be found at a craft store for very cheap, close to a dollar) did the best job (though it takes a little longer than a roller). Simply use the foam brush as you would a regular paintbrush, and smooth the seal over all surfaces of your bookcase, careful not to make any bubbles. We used one quart of Minwax Water Based Polycrylic Finish in a clear semi-gloss, which cost us about $12.

Step 5: Decorate!

I had a little fun with this part. As you can see, I’ve got a few knickknacks spread out among the many books I’ve collected since childhood. I didn’t use all of my trinkets, but I tried to use ones I thought would look the most aesthetically pleasing together. Feel free to rearrange as many times as you feel necessary. I went through a few configurations before I was really happy with the end result.

Tray KnickKnack

Other Bookcase

Bird KnickKnack

And there you have it. All in all, this project took us a good month to complete. Although we didn’t work on it every day, it took a lot more time than I originally expected. But now I have two beautiful bookcases that I’m very proud of and I learned a little bit about furniture renovation along the way. If you’ve been keeping track of the numbers as you’ve been reading, you’ll know already that this project cost us just under $100, which is around half of what I would have spent for one lower-quality wood bookcase. We all know you’re procrastinating writing anyway, so you might as well get painting!

If you have any writer-related DIY projects (or any DIY projects) that you’d like to share, post about it in the comments below.