When In Doubt is a passion project of mine that I’ve been working on since the idea had popped into my head one cold, random day in February, 2018. It’s going to be a fictional New Adult (NA) contemporary series that will be inspired by my years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I’m currently planning on four volumes, and each one will represent a year at school for my six young characters as they all embark on their own crazy journeys, make new friends and enemies, fight for their dreams, and discover more about themselves than ever before.
It’s a coming-of-age story filled with laughs, tears, parties, all-nighters, new friendships, secret hookups, found families, and finding yourself during what is supposed to the best years of your life. Six complete strangers arrive onto the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus ready to begin their freshman year, each having their own reasons for being there:
Matt Anderson wants to come out of his shell and find a sense of belonging, but has to confront a part of himself that he’s kept hidden for too long…
Madison Parker wants to succeed in all ways possible, but struggles to balance schoolwork, sports, and her social life…
Luke Mitchell has made terrible past mistakes, losing the trust of those closest to him, and wants to turn a new leaf in order to redeem himself…
Heather Gracie wants a fresh start after a dramatic betrayal that’s left her shaken to her core…
Jared Mikaelson wants to become a campus legend, but might have to rethink his plans when the right girl comes along…
Eden Harrington struggles to gain confidence when her artistic ability is called into question, does she have what it takes to become an animation artist one day?…
…It’s going to be an eventful year for these six new incoming freshman; it will bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “When in doubt… go to Stout.”
Warning: This story has strong language, sexual content, drug & alcohol use: for mature audiences only. Locations are actual places, but used fictitiously within the setting of the story. The University of Wisconsin-Stout is not associated in any way with this project!
I have a playlist for my books! It’s filled with a variety of music: top hits from the years I was at UW-Stout, memorable songs that popped up over those years, party hits, songs that remind me of certain people, songs that make you want to lie down and just think about the complexities of life…Hope you enjoy if you give it a listen!
The Cast of Characters:
Growing up in Eagan, Minnesota, Matt is someone who has always felt like he’s just a background character in every other person’s life-story. He’s never felt like he’s belonged; he has some friends, but never felt like he was fully immersed into the groups and always felt more like a loner because of his own paranoia of rejection that turned into social anxiety. Shy at first, but when he feels comfortable around you, he is witty, sarcastic and has some quick, sassy comebacks. He’s also a huge foodie and will do just about anything for some pizza, or a ride to get a Chipotle burrito!
Everything has a specific order and place where it belongs, at least according to Madison. Growing up in Beverly, a wealthy suburb of Chicago, Madison grew up being exceptional in all her ventures: she was in the top 10% of her class, captain of both Volleyball and Track & Field, and lead editor of the school yearbook. She wants to go into Industrial Design to help people like those in her community that suffer everyday tasks, and decided on Stout for it’s stellar reputation with it’s Art & Design program, and for its affordability for her family, who’s run into hard times in recent memory. She hopes that she won’t be one of only five other black students on a campus in small-town Wisconsin, USA. Incredibly driven, smart, and highly fashionable, Madison has a no-nonsense attitude that sometimes has her competitive side come out too much.
Growing up in Milwaukee, Luke has always had some major shoes to fill within his family. Constantly under the shadows of his successful two older brother’s, Luke began to resent his father’s obvious disappointment after pushing him so far, but never seeming to meet his expectations. Full of resent, Luke started to run with a different crowd, and made some terrible choices. He comes to Stout because it’s his family’s alma mater, and he’s determined to turn over a new leaf in order to prove to himself that his mistakes are in the past. A man of few words, Luke is someone who is calm in every situation.
Heather comes to Stout in the hopes of pursuing her passion for filmmaking, and to get away from a majorly toxic betrayal in order to start over. Heather has a take charge, upbeat, compassionate personality that naturally draws people in, and is always happy to help others in need, so long as she can keep herself at an emotional distance, not putting herself in a vulnerable position. She is warm and social, but has a hard time letting people in because of broken trust, but betrayal never comes from your enemies. An adventurous spirit, Heather wants to see the world, and is more likely to flee the country than to actually confront her issues.
Growing up as a country club exclusive in the ritzy Madison’s neighborhoods in Wisconsin, Jared grew up used to getting whatever he wanted. He was that guy that all the girls wanted, and all the guys hated but wanted to be their friend. Frustrated with his life always being planned out for him, Jared decides to switch it up and go to UW-Stout to further his desire for freedom, find the next biggest party, and explore the world. Some would call him cocky and arrogant, but he calls it having an excess of self confidence and only wants to have a good time, hook up with the hottest coeds on campus, and not have to deal with anything that’d bring down the party vibe.
Calling St. Anthony Falls in Northern Minneapolis her home, Art has always been the thing that Eden has had a special talent for. Inspired by her favorite animated films when she was younger, Kiki’s Delivery Service & Finding Nemo, she wants to take her talent to the next level and become a professional Animation artist to someday inspire young girls like herself. Having a bright & bubbly personality, Eden always has a smile on her face, wine or coffee in her hands, a floral print on some article of clothing, and her tattoos visible to show off to the world! Beneath all that, she hides her insecurities and self-doubt that constantly makes her question herself and her abilities. She’s a go with the flow kind of gal, but can get spacey from time to time, is a huge book and animal lover, and doesn’t like labels when it comes to relationships and sexuality.
My Work Timeline:
Starting with the spark of inspiration that came to me on a random day at work back in February 2018, I immediately got my hands on a small journal and pen and began to write down all the random thoughts running through my mind. Reminiscing about my time at UW-Stout: all the crazy stories, the parties, the coursework, the people I’d met, coming to terms with my sexuality, and growing up left a gigantic mark on me, and it felt like a story that I thought was worth sharing!
I wrote down all the memories that I could think of whether it was a good or bad, and then I began to organize them into what year at school they occurred, then did the same with people I’d met along the way and all the roles they played, whether I was extremely close to them or they were a fleeting, but memorable impression.
I also saved room for any random plot ideas and/or story arcs that pertained to either my time at school, or any random occurrences that could possibly happen on a college campus (no matter how ridiculous, even one of them getting a teacher pregnant. No, I’m serious! Get every idea down, even the bad ones!) This led me to getting back into the mind of college student and remembering every possible issue they worry about: financial issues, mental and physical health, academics, choosing a major, sleep, drugs and alcohol use, my generation’s “hookup culture”, the spectrum of sexuality that had blown up during these years, politics, making and losing friendships, social media, sex, and eventually graduating and finding that “big boy” job.
My next step was creating a reference list of books, tv shows, movies, etc. that would get me into the right mindset when writing this story. Some choices that popped up were Blue Mountain State (tv show), Dear White People (tv show), Pitch Perfect (movies), That 70’s Show (tv show), Friends (tv show), and plenty of others.
I then went into thinking about character archetypes and thought of all the types of people you’d see on campus; student athletes, frat bro’s, sorority sisters, art students, hipsters (and all the possible subcategories of that now broad term), International students, gamers, LGBTQ, stoners, and whatever you can think of! A college campus is one of the most diverse environments you could immerse yourself in!
Elijah Pollesch, who is probably my best friend and was a part of my senior film, was a big help during this whole process by always willing to help out with getting together to talk, ideate, critique and help develop to make it a better story.
Certain songs also came to mind because I love music, and certain bops definitely bring me back to my years at college. Songs like “Wobble” by V.I.C, “Thrift Shop” by Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis, “Booty Wurk” by T-Pain, “Classic” by MKTO, “No Interruption” by Hoodie Allen, “All Night Longer” by Sammy Adams, “Beam Me Up” by Cazzette, Frozen’s “Let It Go,” “Hooked on a Feeling” by Bjorn Skifs, and plenty more came up that are attached to all my memories at UW-Stout.
With all this material to use, it was then that I started to develop my final characters. I wanted to have six characters that could each represent a certain aspect of the college experience, and be able to represent most of the more influential people I’d met along the way. After doing some research into personality types, psychology, and using astrological signs, Hogwarts Houses, and Myers Briggs personality types to design their traits and personalities, I made my main cast of characters. Once my cast was assembled, it was time to give them life, to give them hopes, fears, favorite food to eat, and what their majors may be (or the five other things they’d change it to), and the kinds of relationships they’d have amongst each other and all the other characters they come across. Some characters were even crossed over from my senior thesis project, Thank God It’s Friday. (Check out the post I made with the script and final film on my writing page Here).
My next step was to begin to plot out the first novel. Color coding each plot point based on the character, the storylines weaved around each other as they each developed, some more prominent at certain times than others. This surprisingly took longer than expected, so I didn’t finish this until the end of that summer, thus allowing me to actually start writing the story come September 2018.
I have been slowly writing it ever since. I’ve sent it out to others for in progress critiques, and those that actually got back to me, specifically Allen, Curtis and Monica. I love you guys, and your critiques and advice meant the world to me! They all took time out of their lives just to help me as I moved forward in terms of overall story structure and add initial reactions towards my characters and how they come across. Did they match up to what I want their impressions to be, or did I need to make some changes?
November 16th, 2019:
The date I finished my first draft. It was an amazing weekend that involved going back to college and having a big, unofficial reunion with a lot of people I’d gone to school with, party it up, take over Menomonie for the weekend, and finish my draft about my time at that very same school.
Page Numbers: 706 Word Count: 190,153 Time Spent: 14 Months, 2 Weeks
I went back through my draft to do an edit in order to clean up the grammar and try and cut it down a bit, as the word count was pretty substantial. I mean, that many words is the same size as a Harry Potter novel, or something written by George R.R. Martin. I wasn’t on that level yet, so some downsizing was in order. I started to look around for beta readers to take a look through it to offer some constructive criticism and feedback, and while they read it over, I plan to start plotting out the second book: Sophomore Year!
March 13th, 2020:
My update here is back in January of 2020, I’d sent out my first draft to a couple beta readers in order to get some feedback on how the story was shaping up…and as expected, not everyone had been able to finish it. What’s a little frustrating is I’d given them two months to read it and some hadn’t touched it, but I can’t blame them as we all are adults now trying to live our lives, figure our stuff out, and deal with whatever massive curveballs life throws our way (I can attest to this as family drama has taken a turn for the worse). Anyways…I’d sent my first draft out for two more people to look over, theres another UW-Stout reunion in a month to look forward to, and while waiting, I’ve been dabbling over on Canva.com to do some mockups of some potential cover designs for WID. I can honestly say…they didn’t turn out as great as I’d hoped. Here are some examples, including the one on top:
I’m discovering I’m not the greatest when it comes to book cover designing, but never fear! What these have done is allow me to narrow down on what I do want. Going along the lines of the very bottom image of the three, my friend Lindsey helped me come up with a brilliant idea to have hand-drawn Instagram posts with the characters in some, along with some environment shots to add to the aesthetic, and I have the perfect artist to reach out towards to maybe commission this endeavor!
March 21st, 2020
My first draft has been posted up on Wattpad!
October 3rd, 2020
As we can all agree, 2020 has been one HELL of a year with everything that has been going on. I don’t need to go into it all, we’re all aware of it, but it’s been awhile since I updated how this project is coming along, so here we go:
In March, it took awhile to hear back from my several beta readers since sending out my first draft in January, with good reason too though!… I didn’t handle it the best–I was passive aggressive in my anxious head–and had to burn a bridge with one of them because while one person did get back to me and gave me some good feedback, mixed into that was personal bashing of the project and my questionable behavior. I get it, I could’ve been better about how I acted: it’d been four months since I’d sent out my draft and was super anxious, but was also impatient when some said they hadn’t touched my draft at all in that timeframe, and I was already hoping to be further along with it….Eventually, like I said, me and the one person were emailing back-and-forth and I apologized to them and thanked them for their feedback.
A week later I email back that person with questions after letting their feedback soak in, trying to push away my own hurt feelings since I suck at harsh criticism, but is it really feedback when one caption is:
“Your women are terrible and their conversations are ridiculous?”
…Okay, but how exactly are they horrible? What are some specific examples? What would you suggest? I emailed back these questions along with others to other things pointed out, to which they replied back a few days later maybe it’d be better to do a zoom call and talk that way. At the same time, Minnesota had its “Shelter-In-Place” in effect, I was put on furlough and was technically one of the many people unemployed, the George Floyd riots were happening, plus COVID was still a big threat, an my mind was a mess with all that happening plus including a bruised ego with doubting myself that this whole project was worth continuing to pursue if there were so many things wrong with it and it was “really difficult to read through.” I didn’t feel up to video-chatting with them, and ignored their email response. Several days–weeks maybe?–pass, and I get a notification that they unfollowed me on Instagram, and in a blind rush of fury, I unfollow them on pretty much any social media platform that I was connected to them with, and that was that…
…Again, I was not proud of how I handled that situation, but I recognize my bad behavior in all of it, got offended when the person didn’t even seem to acknowledge my apology, which they didn’t owe me a response, but I also got mad at their reaction of unfollowing me and did the same to me; bridge is officially burned, moving on!
Slicing through their words to get some of what was actually decent feedback, I went back through my draft, made another outline of summing up what happened in each chapter, and I was not happy with what I had. I know first drafts are never literary gold, but my WIP turned into some really trashy YA romance, and that’s not what I wanted it to be!
Over the summer of 2020 while dealing with everything going on in the world, I decided to step back from the project for some time. I was doubting every move I made, deleting everything and was seriously considering scrapping the whole project. Instead, I read several “how-to” books on the craft, read books similar to how I want my story to feel, wrote several daily short stories that I posted on my writing page, and slowly gained my confidence back as a writer!
Now in October, I have replanned out my outline for this first novel and am currently redrafting it. I’d say officially it’s the second official draft with some major changes. I went back to work in the beginning of August which helped give me a specific daily schedule to stick to, and I am just trying to work on this project as often as I can! I wish I could’ve completed it over my four months on furlough, but I didn’t. I was internally a big, fat mess, but now I’m realizing all the work that truly goes into making a novel nowadays!
Most importantly, I’m not giving up on this project, I care about it way too much and want to keep doing it until one day it gets published, I create the next books following it, and it gets out into the world and into someone’s hands who really needs it!
October 31st, 2020:
While I’m working on editing my current draft, I decided to post my first six chapters to give anyone interested a sneak peak of the project! It’ll allow you to meet my main characters as each chapter will follow one of them as they enter their first few days on campus, and catch a glimpse of what this first volume will include.
The content is still subject to change if needed, not that I’m planning on that happening for these first few chapters, but feel free to give it a shot and read a small piece of this project that I care so much for that I’m also slowly but surely still editing away on!
Chapter 1: Matt Anderson
Chapter 2: Heather Gracie
Chapter 3: Luke Mitchell
Chapter 4: Jared Mikaelson
Chapter 5: Madison Parker
Have a Pinterest? Follow Me and see all the Pins on my board for this project, plus most of my other interests! Click the Link Above!
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell