The Etymology of Villain

I just learned a fun new etymology that I wanted to share. The word villain actually comes from the Latin villānus, which simply meant someone who lives on a farm or country estate (like the word villa). So how did it come to be the word villain as we understand it with its modern meaning and negative connotations? Well, thank you for asking. It was from the point of view of city-dwellers!

If anything is going to convince and/or remind you to write complex “villains” with actual, relatable, and understandable motivations, then it has to be this etymology. It’s just the perfect reminder (or, at least, it was for me) that readers may only experience a story through a certain lens—omniscient narrators aside. 

Maybe the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist in your story simply comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of each other (like city vs. country). Or maybe your antagonist is truly evil (whatever that means in the context of your story). That’s great, too, as long as the characters all have the proper backstory and desires to motivate their actions, even if you as the author are the only person who knows them.

Writing as Self-Care

So, it’s official: The semester is finished! (*cue confetti canon*) Over the coming weeks, I plan to do some serious catching up on my reading and writing. The end of the semester is always stressful, and while I have always managed to get all my work done eventually, I let my writing fall by the wayside over the last month.

I was in this strange headspace where I felt anxious and guilty for working on projects that were not school related, but at the same time, not writing was making me equally anxious and guilty. Yet, because I had “real deadlines” attached to the school work, I forced myself to ignore the anxiety that came from not writing. In retrospect, I think this was entirely the wrong way to go about it because as soon as I went back to my drafting and editing, I felt a palpable relief. Writing is an essential part of my day, and I think it belittles my writing to act like it’s lower on my priority list than other things—namely school. 

Ideally, I’d organize my semester so that I didn’t feel so crunched for time during that final month, but realistically I’ll probably be faced with similar situations in the future. My hope is that I’ll remember to take better care of myself during that time—treat writing like I would exercise or eating proper meals (i.e. as an important part of my life)—because the truth is I’m so much saner when I write. Minus the times when I’m yelling at my characters, I’m as calm while writing as I am while doing yoga, and after writing, I’m as mentally sharp as I am after eating a healthy meal.

The point is that I shouldn’t treat writing like it’s “just a hobby” because it turns out that it’s actually one of the activities that keeps me healthy and happy. I don’t know if it became so critical only after I’d formed the habit of daily writing or if it was always like that and I’d simply failed to notice before. I suspect it’s the latter.

So, like I said, I’ll be spending a good portion of my upcoming free time reading and writing. But the trick will be to remember to stick with it even—especially—during the stressful times. When I feel like I can’t spare the time to write is probably when I need to do it the most.

A Change of Scenery

So, this week is my university’s spring vacation, and I decided to make the 17-hour drive back to Massachusetts for break. I was worried that because I wasn’t at my apartment with campus and all of its impending responsibilities looming a few miles away, I wouldn’t be nearly as productive. But I’m on day two of break now and have already discovered that I can, in fact, be very productive while staying at my parents’ house. School responsibilities aside, I’ve gotten more writing and reading (because yes, reading counts as work-ish when you’re a writer) than I usually do over weekends at my place.

While I don’t think it’s necessary, there is something to be said for a change of scenery. You hear about some writers traveling to remote locations to write or, like J.K. Rowling, just holing up in a hotel to finish books. Like I said, not strictly necessary—especially for people with more limited budgets than J.K. Rowling, which is everyone—but do try to change it up in some way every once in a while. You’ll find lists on the internet about places to write, including coffee shops (if you’re comfortable participating in a cliché), park benches, libraries, etc. I’m convinced it could even be something as small as moving to a different room in your house or turning your desk to face a different wall or, even better, out a window.

I think that if you’re in a rut or even just coasting along, a different perspective can go a long way in helping to lift you out of it. Of course, ultimately, it’s you who determines your productivity and, at some point, moving around just becomes yet another distraction. (And, we don’t need any more distraction than the internet already provides us.) But every so often, a new or altered perspective could improve your productivity or help your brain form different connections, you know for filling in plot holes or rounding out characters and the like.

*In full disclosure, I should mention that the internet’s been out in my parents’ house since I’ve been back, so that also hasn’t hurt my productivity… Regardless, I’m running with my change-of-scenery theory…perhaps in part because I currently find myself with the time and motivation to write a blog post.