Handwritten Notes

Do you have any saved?

I’m currently in the process of going through everything I own (for reasons). The first things I tackled this morning were the three boxes I’ve been keeping in the back of my closet for the past seven or so years, all filed with cards and other memories from high school through college.

I am surprised at how many handwritten notes I found tucked away in there – for a number of reasons.

For the record, I graduated in 2014 – so it’s not like using paper and pen to write notes to each other was still an everyday necessity. But I’m glad so many of my friends gave me notes, and even more grateful that I kept them all – handwritten things mean so much more to me than anything digital.

It’s so easy to delete emails and text messages and forget about Facebook posts. I couldn’t throw away something handwritten from someone who matters to me if I tried.

It’s the handwriting itself, I think. Everyone’s handwriting is unique. On a screen, everything looks the same. On paper, it’s all different.

All this (of course) got me thinking. What if one of your characters wrote you a note? What would it say? What would you write back, if you could?

Because your characters aren’t just words on a page, you know. To you, they’re people. They have stories. Things happen to them that leave a deep impact on their souls. What if they just want to take a moment to thank you? Or yell at you for being mean? Or both?

Sometimes we forget that in order to write believable fiction, we have to tell stories as if we are recounting the events of a real person’s life. An audience cannot relate to a character who is just another story element being dragged across a sea of pages. They relate to people like them – people who grow and change and make mistakes and, sometimes, succeed.

Treating your characters like friends, like real people – it works. Every time I start to lose interest in a story, I have to take a step back and think about the characters I would be letting down if I gave up on them too soon. I care about them – sure, they’re not technically real, but they are products of my creativity – those things can and should be extremely important to you. That is how you stick with stories even when you’ve hit a creative dry spell (or so it seems).

And if you’re really stuck, and still want to spend time with a story without actually writing anything, go back to creative writing class – figuratively. Sit down and physically write a note in your character’s voice, as if they’re sending you an informal memo about their concerns regarding your story. (I have a little too much fun imagining my characters filing complaints when I throw in a not-so-nice plot twist.)

Does it get you any closer to finishing your novel? Maybe not technically. But it’s better than bowing to your excuses and not writing anything at all “because you don’t feel like it.”

I’ve now fit all of my friends’ notes from college into one little box that I can easily take with me wherever I go. They remind me that the past is not something to avoid – it’s OK to remember the good things that have happened to you, and the people who loved you despite everything. It’s a major writing motivator for me. Because all characters have pasts that shape their futures, and as a writer, I’m (mostly) in control of where my characters end up – whether they like it or not. I’m in full control of where they have been, and how it has changed them.

Change is good. We have characters – real and fictional – to constantly remind us of that. How lucky are we?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Why We Keep Writing About Characters in Pain

Pain is the most difficult prerequisite of growth.


I’ve been trying to write the same story for over four years.

Different characters, different settings, but the same main idea: people do bad things. It doesn’t mean they are bad people.

I became overly frustrated with my novel this week – so much so that I’m now 10,000 words behind schedule, which has never happened to me in any of the previous 8 NaNoWriMos I’ve done. I’m terrified, and angry, and fed up – because from somewhere in my head, these same storylines have emerged again. Not the same characters with the same personalities or strengths or flaws, but pasts. They all made this big mistake, and they’re trying to rebuild their lives in the aftermath. I’m so tired of always writing about this.

And yet, it needs to be written, from my perspective. Because there are things in my personal life I stubbornly have yet to deal with, and my brain isn’t going to move on from this theme until I do. That’s not so important right now. What’s important is that we’re way too hard on ourselves. We’re our biggest writing roadblocks. I used to get upset when I realized how dark all my stories were. Then I realized how much more realistic that made them. This is my style because this is who I am. I am who I am because of the pain I’ve endured. It’s all for the better.

Why do we keep writing about characters in pain? Because all humans are in pain. Not all people, all the time, read to escape their pain. They read because they seek to be understood. The same way you write to grasp a clearer understanding of the things you’ve been through.

You can’t write a book featuring characters without flaws, without putting them through difficult situations or having them come to terms with some past mistake or unfavorable circumstance. It’s not a good story if there isn’t growth. There are cliches within that requirement you have to learn to avoid, but that’s just something you learn how to overcome the more you write. People struggle. If you want your characters to be realistic, you have to make them struggle.

I never judge anyone for writing something dark. I’m guilty of it 500 times over. You can’t separate yourself from the stories you tell – not if you want to make them emotional and relatable; not if you want to take your readers on a journey. If you’ve lived, you’ve been through stuff. It doesn’t matter if it seems minor – it’s a big deal to you. And it’s very hard to avoid that when you’re writing. Your characters are created from the same brain that processed, or is still processing, whatever bad things have happened to you. You can use that. You should. You’re allowed to. It’s not overdone. It’s human.

I promise to keep writing regardless of how tired I am of these stories, if you promise to do the same. Whatever your hurdle is, you can climb over it. You’ll end up with scrapes and bruises and it’s not going to be an easy climb, but you’ll do it. We all will.

Your characters are hurting because they’re waiting for you to help them grow. Keep writing. Don’t abandon them. And know that you’re going to grow as you write, too. It’s a long process. It takes time. But I’m sure, as sure as I can be where I stand now, that it will be worth it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.