Monday, December 2, 2019

NaNoWriMo in Review // 2019

Back in 2016, I wrote 606,606 words, which is the most I have ever written during a NaNoWriMo. I had a lot of fun at the time, and even pulled three 50K days, but it also sucked in the aftermath. My wrists took forever to recover, and they are still a lot more sensitive. My brain crashed. I just majorly burnt myself out.

NaNoWriMo 2017 was discouraging for me. I had never written the bare minimum before. I had never existed outside the identity of Over Achiever. Granted, I had set editing goals for a Camp NaNoWriMo, which I hadn’t met. While it was still discouraging, it had been different. In 2017, NaNoWriMo didn’t feel like it was my element anymore, didn’t feel like it was mine. It felt like someone had crawled inside my body and taken over the controls.

Last NaNoWriMo was a victory for me, up there with my first NaNoWriMo, when I discovered that I could easily write more than 50K. It was also a better victory for me, because I learned that I didn’t have to write as much as humanly possible, that taking care of myself was also important. But the best thing about NaNoWriMo 2018 was that I got my writing mojo back; I got back into the swing of writing every day (or almost every day), and I learned more about my writing process than I had known before, lessons that helped me when I moved on to writing my next book, and the one after that.

I know everyone’s writing pace is different and success is all relative. I think I used to feel like I had to prove I could be, if not the best, then one of the best. Now I’m just happy doing what feels comfortable and relaxed and fun.

This NaNoWriMo, I worked on two separate projects, ZOMBIE FARMHOUSE and BLACK MARKET TIME, and collectively I wrote 81,818 words (I can’t resist pretty numbers, okay). I didn’t finish either project. I still have a fair amount I have to write if I’m going to meet my self-imposed deadline. But I am happy with what I wrote.

I talked about Zombie Farmhouse a bit before, in this post, but as a quick review, it’s about eight insane people attempting to survive the zombie apocalypse. Victoria Jackson and I came up with the characters and scenario when she visited me from Australia, and she asked me to turn it into a book.

There’s something especially freeing about writing something just for fun. I’m still going to do my best; I’m still going to edit it, but I don’t have any plans to try to publish it traditionally. This frees me up to experiment with writing style and technique, to write without any fear whatsoever, because there’s absolutely no opportunity for failure. I may eventually publish it on my blog, but I’m not even holding myself to that.

I’ve talked about Black Market Time a bunch as well. It’s changed a good deal over the years, and it’s changed even more—significantly more—since I resurrected it several months ago. I’m not going to lie, even though I am satisifed with what I accomplished in November, I am a little disappointed that I didn’t finish it, mainly because that means it’s now kicked my butt for three separate NaNoWriMos. The longer it goes unfinished, the more I am afraid that I will never finish. Considering what progress I did make this November, that fear is a little bit ridiculous, as it is fairly obvious now that this project is not only turning into a book-shaped thing, but it is becoming something I truly love. But I have found that the hardest part of writing, for me, is overcoming irrational fear, and I have to write quickly before my fears have a chance to accumulate.

I thought about sharing excerpts for each project like I did last year, but for whatever reason, I don’t feel ready to do that yet. I think maybe when both books are closer to completion, I’ll do a more in-depth post about each one of them. Right now I’m pretty focused on finishing their first/second draft hybrids by the end of the year.

Over the next few days, I’m thinking I’m going to give myself a sort of working vacation. I’ll read through what I’ve written so far, to get a better feel for where I’m at, catch up on some other reading, posts some blog posts, and watch extra TV. I don’t want to take too much time off, because ideas are still coming for both stories and I don’t want to shortchange myself, but I can also see that I need to stock up on words.

What about you? How was your NaNoWriMo? What are some projects you’re excited about?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Wait, It's Almost NaNoWriMo?

It’s pretty characteristic of me to know for a whole year that NaNoWriMo is coming, and then to be shocked that it’s almost here. *wails* I thought I had more time! Also, I can't believe this is going to be my sixth NaNoWriMo.

Last year, I worked on a couple projects: PLANET EYES, which I finished and queried, and BMT, which fought me, and which I did not finish. This November, I am going to tackle BMT as a NaNo novel for the third time. (At this point, medical professionals swarm me, straightjacket and cattle prods at ready. As I’m dragged away, you hear me screaming that I can do it, no, I really can do it.)

Last November, I had a small breakthrough where I figured out all the things that were driving me nuts about the story. I even made a list. It was a very long and detailed list, and while it was helpful to know the problem, the project stalled at that point. Knowing the problem doesn’t constitute knowing the solution.

Over the past year, I picked up the story off and on, only to find myself burning out repeatedly. I loved the concept of BMT, or at least, I felt like I still loved it. Everything else I had started to hate. When I opened the Scrivener file, my brain would grind to a halt and refuse to produce words, any words, until it had recovered from the shock.

During that time, I was more heavily focused on several other projects, the primary one being the book I plan to start querying soon. Then, almost out of nowhere, I had a breakthrough and I was sure, sure! that this was the breakthrough I had been waiting for. And I did ride a little momentum, but again, I lost traction after a few scenes and felt myself spinning away endlessly.

In August, I took a break from writing to do a seven-books-in-seven-days reading challenge with my sister, and after that, it felt like my brain switched into high gear. I had yet another breakthrough, this one building on the one from before. I switched out the narrator, reimagined the characters and the direction of the plot, and just like that, I was able to write about 20,000 words.

This NaNoWriMo, I plan to finish the first/second draft hybrid of BMT, and if that means drinking seven cups of coffee a day, then so be it. *starts screaming uncontrollably*

I don’t exactly have a set word count goal, but I guess if I had to pick something, I would say I want to write no less than 50,000 words, preferably more than 100K. I’m not trying to push myself to perform some fantastic feat of literary showmanship—I just want to complete at least two drafts.

Aside from BMT, there’s another project I want to tackle this month. From now on, I will refer to it as ZOMBIE FARMHOUSE, because it doesn’t haven’t a title yet. It will probably be the most ridiculously unpublishable thing I’ve ever written. I’m so excited.

When Victoria @ The Endless Oceans of My Mind came all the way from Australia to visit me this summer, she introduced me to a game where you write jobs (like doctor or janitor) on slips of paper and put them in one bowl, and attributes (like, is afraid of lightning, or, has killed seven men) in another bowl. Then you draw pieces of paper, one from each bowl, until you end up with a list of people (like, a neuroscientist who believes she’s a mermaid, or, a surgeon who doesn’t believe in germs). You have a scenario—in this case, you’re trying to last the night in a farmhouse besieged by zombies—and from your list of people, you have to pick the team you think will help you survive. This is not necessarily as easy as it sounds.

We played several rounds of this game, but one in particular had us laughing uncontrollably, and Victoria told me I should turn it into a book. So that’s what I’m doing. There’s a chance it will be even worse than I could have ever hoped. There’s a chance I may even publish it on my blog, if I feel like risking my writing career. Who knows? But I have character and story notes, I have an outline, and I am ready to see what happens. *cracks knuckles* Plus I love zombies. I get the feeling zombie books don’t sell as well now that the market is saturated, so this is the time to do it, while I’m unpublished and don’t have to worry about deadlines.

If I end up running out of writing material mid-month, I’ll think of something else, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself. I really liked how last year went. I got a lot of writing done, but I didn’t get stressed out like I did the year I wrote 606,606 words, so I’m going to try to do that again. Here’s to another relaxing year. *raises mug* *accidentally spills coffee on keyboard*

What about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? What are your projects and goals?

Friday, August 16, 2019

August 1-7 // The Week I Read Seven Books and Didn't Die

Back in 2016, I remember pushing myself to read as much as I possibly could. I read 175 books and ended up burning myself out before the year was even over, to the extent that I’ve had trouble regaining that reading speed. When Abby and I decided to have our own private readathon at the beginning of the month, my first instinct was to pick three books that would fit all seven challenges so I wouldn’t have to push myself too hard or risk failing. I didn’t want to be reminded of how much my reading speed still suffers. But I ended up deciding, mainly because I’ve been feeling the press of my overwhelming TBR, to aim for seven and forgive myself if I fell short.

The challenges were as follows:

1. Read a book with purple on the cover.
2. Read a book in the same spot the entire time.
3. Read a book you meant to read last year.
4. Read an author’s first book.
5. Read a book with a non-human main character.
6. Pick a book that has five or more words in the title.
7. Read and watch a book to movie adaptation.

At the beginning, I had grandiose dreams of finishing exactly one book per day. Simultaneously, I also figured I would be less likely to get bogged down if I had multiple books going at once, this all while working full time. Those two visions didn’t coexist well. Had I had the whole week off, I could have sped through the reading material more quickly, but that would have made the challenge less…challengy. It did begin on my two days off, where the only break from reading was hanging out with a friend for seven hours, as you do. After that, I used the time in the morning I typically devote to writing. I had a couple hours every evening as well, although it’s a little distracting trying to read when your kitten keeps biting your book (or you), so I spent a good deal of time outside, where her teeth and claws couldn’t find me.

Here’s a quick review of each book I read (in the order I finished them), along with their corresponding challenges.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman—Read and watch a book to movie adaptation.

The Golden Compass had potential, and I liked the steampunk elements and the action, but there is something a little nauseating about setting out to teach children that evil might actually be good. I know that Pullman wrote Compass as a response to the Chronicles of Narnia, and I envision some future writer penning a series in response to His Dark Materials, followed by another response from a different writer, and on and on, for the rest of publishing history.

Room, by Emma Donoghue—Read a book you meant to read last year.

This was a hard read, one I wanted to pick up but found myself actively avoiding. The fact that it’s narrated by a five-year-old is meant to shield you from the horrors of what is actually happening, but speaking as someone who was once five, I think it makes it more painful. You have to lean into the nuance; you have to pay more attention to see past what he’s saying. You have the option to look away, but he’s so guileless, you don’t know to in time.

Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green—Read a book in the same spot the entire time.

I was slower to attempt this one, since I’d read some negative reviews, and I’m not a super committed John Green fan in the first place. But Abby read it and recommended it, so I decided to give it a go. It was well-written, and it was a quick read. The plot fell a little flat for me, but the mental work was worth it. I think this would be an eye-opening read for people who want to understand OCD and anxiety.

Jack the Ripper and the Case for the Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect, by Robert House—Pick a book that has five or more words in the title.

This is another book I was hesitant to read, and it was a last-minute choice for my reading challenges (I’m going to just refer to it as Jack the Ripper for brevity). I’d already read another, more comprehensive book on Jack the Ripper, covering all the murders and several suspects. I bought this book before I determined that Aaron Kozminksi, the suspect this work puts forth, could not possibly be guilty, so I wasn’t sure I would learn anything. But the tone of Jack the Ripper is pretty calm. The author is not trying to force you to believe anything; he is merely presenting the facts as he sees them.

He included details that had been swept aside or simply excluded in the book I’d previously read. The problem with reading anything by Ripperologists is that there are so many emotions involved. Everyone has their own hill they are perfectly willing to die on, and that means they are willing, even if they don’t believe they are, to twist and present evidence to support their personal beliefs and disbeliefs.

Before reading Jack the Ripper, George Chapman was my strongest (though still only circumstantially-likely suspect), but after reading it, I realize that there is more evidence supporting Kozminski’s guilt than I had previously thought, and somehow arriving at that conclusion was perfectly satisfactory for me, even though I left with no real answers and no final resolution. 

(Quick content warning: If you’re squeamish, it does included a horrific crime scene photo and a disturbing post-autopsy photo. But like, you’re reading about the world’s most famous serial killer. What did you expect?)

Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer—Read a book with a non-human main character.

If you read and loved The Southern Reach trilogy, also by Jeff Vandermeer, then this book will be right up your alley. It’s weird and trippy, and the writing style is amazing. There’s an enormous flying bear, too, if you’re still on the fence about it.

The Truth About Keeping Secrets, by Savannah Brown—Read an author’s first book.

So I got into Savannah Brown when I watched her slam poem, Skinny Girls Bleed Flowers, on Youtube, but I didn’t keep up with her as faithfully after that. When Victoria @ The Endless Oceans of My Mind visited, she told me about it, and I didn’t even finish listening to her tell me what it was about before I bought it. It has some of the weaknesses of first novels, but the writing—I mean, that’s some really good writing.

A Room Away From the Wolves, by Nova Ren Suma—Read a book with purple on the cover.

Not going to lie, I’m always nervous starting a Nova Ren Suma book, not because I don’t know if I’m going to like it, but because I know it’s going to be good and disturbing and it will be a while before her next one comes out. This one had a similar feel to Imaginary Girls, with a somewhat ambiguous ending where you kind of think you know what’s happened, but also you have to sit there for a few minutes trying to figure out what Suma just did to your brain. You should definitely read it.

So how do I feel after the readathon?

There’s the fact that I may or may not have drunk more coffee than was good for me. And maybe I slept less than was good for me, too, but be that as it may. I wouldn’t do this every week, or every other week. But I didn’t burn out or lose interest in reading. I’m still maintaining a faster reading pace than I had pre-readathon, and I would say that I feel the lightened load of my TBR, but actually, almost as soon as the readathon finished, I’d already added seven more books to the list.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

2018 Reading // Wait, It's Already 2019?

I know it’s a little late for a 2018 reading recap, but I am moving at my own pace, so fight me. Last year, I didn’t read as many books as I had planned. In fact, I ended up changing my Goodreads challenge from one hundred books to eighty. I spent the majority of 2018 (and 2017, but I digress) in a reading and writing slump, and it wasn’t until around September that I felt like I was picking up speed on either front. After work, sometimes the easiest thing was just to climb into bed and let myself get thoroughly distracted by Youtube. 

But I did end up reading a lot of books that were new to me, and I branched out from my typical genres. I read more adult books, especially thrillers, and I even developed the taste for nonfiction.

As far as I can break down the numbers in my current coffee-induced trance, I’m pretty sure I read:

Forty-eight books on Kindle

Twelve books on audio (although five of those were rereads of the same book, Wolf in White Van, which requires a post of its own)

Twenty physical books

Those numbers are a little weird for me. For one, I never used to listen to books on audio. I’m still picky about narrators, but I’m becoming more comfortable with that platform. I did have to switch my A
udible subscription to once every other month, though, because I have a backlog of over thirty audiobooks. (They were on sale, okay.) 

Since I’ve always been a physical book person, why did I read more on Kindle last year? Primarily for convenience. It’s a lot easier to travel with your phone or your Kindle if you’re the kind of person who a) worries about damaging your physical copies, and b) would prefer to carry multiple books at once. There’s also the small matter that I don’t like reading books in public. I’m still too nervous about being judged on what I’m reading, even though that’s not really something I should worry about, and there’s also the fact that people often take what you’re reading as a conversation starter when you just want to be left alone.

There’s no way to talk about every single book I read last year—the post would be too long. But I want to highlight a few of the ones that stood out for various reasons.

The Man From the Train, by Bill James, was my first serial killer book in a while, and probably you are going to call the police on me for saying this, but it was so good. The research was thorough and impressive, and the psychology was fascinating. In fact, I liked it so much I decided to read another of James’ books, Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, which I ended up finding pretty disappointing. As far as the material goes, a lot of it was interesting, from the cases he covered to his ideas for reforming the prison system. But I couldn’t help but notice how, when critiquing popular crime books, he always comes down harder on female authors, even going so far as to call one a bimbo. Most of his criticisms weren’t actually helpful for determining whether or not I would want to read those books. Stuff like that leaves me a little sick to my stomach, not because I don’t think he’s allowed to have an opinion, but because I have encountered too many men like that who take it even further.

Moving on to happier things, A Thousand Perfect Notes was my first chance to read a full novel by Cait @ PaperFury, and I loved it. She did an excellent job handling the sensitive topic of abuse while balancing out her story with moments of light and beauty. Right now, I'm halfway through her second book, The Boy Who Steals Houses, which is phenomenal as well. Her blog posts are generally humorous and easy going, and you can see that same stamp in her novels as well, but they are also darker and deeper and so much more emotional. Just yeah, go read them. Please. 

Of course we can’t forget about Obsidio, the conclusion to the Illuminae Files, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. It, too, was amazing. I mean, I’m not going to lie, there were several plot devices they used in the other two books which robbed some of the suspense, but I give Kaufman and Kristoff a pass because their writing was stellar, as always. I don’t know what it is about that duo, but they’ve got it going on. Obsidio was full of snark and humor and heartbreak, and I enjoyed reading the physical copy as well as the audio version.

Usually I set my own pace in reading. I make my TBR based on the books that look good to me. If someone recommends a book, I put it on the list and then, usually, it gets buried by other books I would prefer. But last year I started prioritizing recommendations, and I discovered a whole new side to reading. It’s been a great way to broaden my horizons, and even though some of these books were not ones I would ordinarily pick up, it gave me a chance to appreciate stories outside my comfort zone. That’s how I ended up reading Twilight Eyes, by Dean Koontz, and Floating Dragon, by Peter Straub, two of my coworker’s favorite books. They weren’t something I would ordinarily pick up in a bookstore, but they were still enjoyable, and it was fun trying something new.

I also read the Southern Reach trilogy after Maggie Stiefvater recommended it on Twitter, which turned out to be really good timing, considering the movie came out as I was reading book two. (If you’re wondering how they compare, the movie was okay, but the books were better—weirder and more cerebral.) I’m in the middle of rereading the trilogy, because they feel like the sort of stories you need to reread to fully process. Also, the writing style is weird and intricate and amazing.

As far as everything else I read in 2018, you can find the full list here.

What were some books that stood out to you last year? Have you ever had a favorite book ruined by the author? What are some books you hoped to read last year, but didn't?