Tag Archives: books

Writing

Success: Sam actually sleeps a few hours each day! haha. So I’m still exhausted, but finding some time to read and to write (and eat and nap and maybe even take a hot shower once in a while).

Blogs are one of the many things I’ve been trying to catch up on–both writing my own and reading some of my favorites. I love to read blogs written by authors, about their writing process, upcoming projects, and the quirky details of their lives. Neil Gaiman is always a good go-to, and I find Kristin Cashore and Jane Lindskold’s fascinating, too.

But Laini Taylor and Sarah J. Maas have been the most inspirational to me lately.

Laini Taylor has a blog post where she writes about her editing process: that she’s never been good at the fast, NaNoWriMo-style drafts and instead writes slowly, trying her best to get it right the first time.

Sarah J. Maas’ was not actually a blog post, I’m just remembering. My taking-care-of-a-newborn brain is always scattered. She recently gave a talk through Facebook Live at her alma mater, Hamilton College, and discussed how she needs to write every day, needs to always be working on a project, because writing is like a muscle that needs exercise. If one gets out of the habit, the muscle atrophies enough to make it that much harder to jump back into an effective rhythm.  And I will take any advice she gives, because she is one of the most prolific writers I can think of, with spectacular fantasy books!

All that to say: I think I need to back away from my NaNoWriMo-style writing for a bit and see what that does for this draft. Write slowly, write the scenes in chronological order, making it feel right before moving on, and making the commitment to write every day.

Furthermore, I think I need to stop thinking in terms of numbers, of giving myself high-pressure stakes. It can make the process too intimidating. I’m not in a period of life where I need any additional pressure or intimidation; I have to keep an infant alive, and attempt to get food and sleep myself once in a while, and keep my house relatively clean and running, and somehow face the impending return to work and all of the responsibilities that teaching high school English involves. Writing needs to be one of my bright spots, and that means being something fun to look forward to.

So my current goal revolves around just… writing. Plain and simple. If I write something every day, then I’ve succeeded. Sometimes that will mean working on my novel, but even on the days like yesterday when I only fit in 300 words, that’s fine. That counts. Some days that means working on a blog draft (this one blog has stretched over two days, so even though I didn’t have two posts in a day, I did some writing both days!) and that counts too. I don’t know yet if I’m going to count journaling in here… but for now, let’s say yes, if I find time to write in my handwritten journal, that was better than nothing.

As far as novel writing/editing, I currently have a thorough outline, and “progress” now means slowly but surely checking off each bullet point (which is a scene, basically) as it’s written. I’m not going to keep track of my word count throughout. Too often, I think I hit a mental roadblock of thinking that I need to get to about 80,000 words to be marketable, and sometimes start to write filler scenes or blab on and on about unimportant details just to fill up space. Not good–and all stuff an editor would probably say to cut anyway, ruining the point of the word count. So I’m sticking to the outline and trying to make sure it’s all action-oriented and moving the story forward (of course). At the end, we’ll see what the word count is like… if it’s suffered, well, at least the story will be tight. A beta reader can help me figure out where things ACTUALLY need to be fleshed out.

I don’t know how much this post makes sense to people who are outside of my head (that’s most of you. haha) but it can serve as a reminder and promise to myself of my current writing goals. I’m excited! Some of this motivation has been helped along by Gabriela Pereira’s “DIY MFA,” which I’ve been reading in the times I can steal during Sam’s naps that aren’t devoted to writing or eating. I just found out that she’s doing two talks (and workshops) in southern California this week, and I can make it to the Tuesday one! Will try to report back… :)

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Strange the Dreamer

Oh, Laini Taylor. Will you be my friend? I just want to hang out with you and your amazing brain.

(Seriously though.)

Laini Taylor is the author of a spectacular trilogy, starting with “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.” I think the covers are horrible and don’t at all reflect the deep nature of the stories. I’m sure there are potential readers out there who were off put by the appearance of the covers, which make it look like a fluffy, girly story. (It’s not.)

Anyway, it is a beautiful, epic trilogy and as soon as I heard she was writing another novel, I knew I’d be reading it the second it was available.

The problem is, I have a newborn, so getting my butt over to Barnes & Noble to purchase “Strange the Dreamer” was much more complicated than usual. I ended up bailing on that plan and ordering it off Amazon a few days after its release date. Then Sam wouldn’t sleep (as usual), so I had to put him in his wrap and walk around my house, carrying him, while I read the book. Worth it!

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“Strange the Dreamer” is kind of a weird title, and I imagine once again there are a few potential readers who would love the story itself who don’t give it a chance based on that name. “Strange” is the character, a librarian, who is labeled “dreamer” for all the time he spends reading, dreaming, escaping his lousy life by being inside the happy places in his mind instead. The grand adventure he ends up undertaking is where the magic of Laini Taylor’s writing really unfolds: she has a way of world-building that is completely immersive. Even though it’s clearly fantastic and impossible, she treats it so realistically that your mind can visualize and accept it all. Her characters, their flaws, their abilities to love, their hopes & dreams… all so beautiful! I was engrossed from page 1.

Minor detail though: it’s the first of a two-book series!!!! ARG I don’t believe it was advertised that way at all, so I had no idea until I turned to the final page and saw the evil words “to be continued”… total cliffhanger, even worse than how Leigh Bardugo ended “Six of Crows.”

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Still, I highly recommend the novel. It’s a joy to read, and very creative and original. How refreshing when we have films out like “Pirates of the Caribbean 5” and “Fast and Furious 8” out! Haha.

I currently have new novel reading on pause while I reread Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” in preparation for the final novel in the trilogy, “A Court of Wind and Ruin,” which comes out on May 2nd. I will probably just buy that one on Kindle, which makes it a tiny bit easier to read while carrying my baby around. The cover of “Strange the Dreamer” was too beautiful to pass up a hard copy, though–although I’m jealous of the UK cover, which is way prettier!! Reason #309 that I should live in England instead of California…

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How Books Are Like Babies

My baby is here! Sam was born right on his due date, and is a happy, chill little guy… most of the time. Except that he hates sleeping yet fusses when he gets overtired, so it’s quite the battle for nap time every day. Motherhood is very exhausting, seeing as he eats every 2 to 3 hours around the clock, but it’s totally worth it.

I thought maybe I could get some writing done on my maternity leave, but I’ve been too exhausted to accomplish much. About 4 days ago, I decided I NEEDED to try to do some during the tiny pockets of time when I’m on my laptop. I’ve written a little bit 3 days in a row now! So that feels good. I’m extra desperate to make money as a writer because daycare is ridiculously expensive.

Anyway, in my sleepless (i.e. delirious) state, here are some silly ways I realized books are like babies:

  • Babies grow bit by bit every day, and it takes a while before you notice how much they’ve truly grown. Books can be the same: just keep writing bit by bit and suddenly you will notice how much you’ve actually written.
  • Babies are so dependent on their mom; she needs to take care of herself or else she won’t be able to provide properly for them (I write from experience here… every time I skip a meal or fail to drink enough water, Sam gets frustrated from my lack of milk). Similarly, if writers don’t take care of themselves–whether that’s taking the time to read good books, take walks to refresh their minds, consume something besides coffee, and so on–they will have nothing with which to fuel their writing.
  • Babies, being a combination of the genetic material of both mom and dad, look a little bit like both parents in some way. A book, coming from the brain of its writer, will incorporate his/her voice and the various influences and experiences of his/her life.
  • Both babies and books might cause screaming if dropped into a bath.
;) Happy writing!
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whoa oh, here we NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words around/around/around the world

^I don’t even know what song I’m changing the words to, because my husband listens to weird things on the radio. Renegade, maybe? I rarely catch the artist/titles.

Anyway…. November 1st has arrived. I think most of my readers have figured out what that means.

NaNo-2015-Participant-Banner

Here is what I’ve accomplished today:

  • hiked 3.5 miles with Benny Dog
    • and we saw this egret! I think his name is Ichabod Crane, haha.
    • IMG_2572
  • cleaned the upstairs bathroom
  • took a shower
  • made coffee
  • did 3 loads of laundry
  • graded 15 essays
  • roasted broccoli & bacon for lunch
  • WROTE 1800 WORDS
  • vacuumed upstairs, the stairs, and most of downstairs
  • did the dishes
  • went to my nephew’s first birthday dinner
    • isn't he cute?!

      isn’t he cute?!

  • went grocery shopping
  • cleaned the kitchen
  • cleaned the fish tank
  • sat down to write this blog

What do you notice about this day? That I like everything in multiples of 3! Just kidding (though not really…). That I was super productive with my extra hour? (Thanks, Daylight Savings! The one day a year that you’re helpful to me!) No no. In all seriousness, I AM prepared for November. The house is clean, my mind is set, and I’m launching NaNoWriMo once again. My daily word count has already been met! Just 29 more daily word counts to go!

I’m doing it differently this year, though. I’m at a point where writing a new draft of something is “easy,” where hitting 50,000 words is not that daunting. What is daunting is tackling a revision and letting other people see my stories. So this year, I’m using November to complete a revision, to polish up that darn Copper manuscript once and for all, and get it out there. No more fuzzy awkward middle section. No more love triangle (those things are so damn overdone and unrelatable). No more long introduction. No more weird twists (though there’s still a twist… maybe. We’ll see). Will this work? I don’t know. But I’m not as confident going into it as I have been the past few NaNos, and I kind of think that’s a good thing. Just like people don’t run 5Ks forever without starting to think about 10Ks and marathons, I can’t treat NaNoWriMo as an easy first step and never take the next one. I wouldn’t let a character get away with that, so I’m not letting myself get away with that.

Of course, I still have to teach 3 different English classes and grade all their papers and keep my house semi-clean (but at least it’s starting strong, so all the neglect to come won’t be the end of the world)… AND pay attention to my husband and dog and various other relationships, but November is mine. One month of putting myself and my goals first is allowed, I think.

So here we go! Keep me accountable!

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farewell, August. (Wake me up when September ends?)

The first week of teaching is over… and it was exhausting. Despite doing my best to wake up early all summer, it did not at all compare to 4:45 a.m. Yeesh. I was blessed with the gift of Starbucks coffee twice, once from a co-worker and once from a former student. That helped.

Let me take a moment to complain and vent:

  • Public speaking is still terrifying
  • I can’t believe I’m teaching 3 different grades again
  • Marking essays is miserable
  • Certain adults are buttheads of the highest degree

BUT, the good far outweighs the bad, and it is important for me to record that (in case I need a gentle reminder later on, in those desperate hours of early November and mid-March…)

  • This was the easiest, smoothest start of the year by far. I knew which procedures I needed to focus on, I knew how to balance the boring syllabus stuff with ice-breakers and anticipatory sets, and I knew to get to the copy machine a week before school started so I could actually be prepared.
  • My co-workers are awesome. It was really exciting to return to work and be, on both the giving and receiving ends, surrounded by genuine camaraderie.
  • I appear to have a good set of students, who are going to behave and be open to all the stuff we have to learn this year.
  • Despite the stress of attempting to teach three different grades well, at least nothing is brand new to me this year, so I can focus on adaptation and improvement rather than creation.
  • My career allows me to be a lifelong learner (Ravenclaw nerd time)!!!
    • Over the summer, I read “Engaging Ideas: the Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning” by John C. Bean and discovered a lot of good ideas for writing prompts and grading rubrics.
    • Currently, I’m reading “Everyday Sexism” by Laura Bates and gaining a lot of good ideas (as well as depression and empowerment… oh the perilous highs and lows of embracing feminism in the midst of our effed-up society) for Women’s Literature.
    • Up next is “So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to be and Why it Endures” by Maureen Corrigan. That will help with my American Literature class, I expect. Gatsby is such an amazing book and I don’t think I’ve conveyed that well to high schoolers yet.
  • The work hours are insanely long, much more than anyone who doesn’t live with a teacher will ever truly understand, but the vacation time truly does help. 118 days until Christmas! ;)
  • I get to talk about books, writing, grammar, and communication and someone pays me for it! And I’m helping make at least a few of the future civilians (voters/procreators/leaders/etc.) not be complete idiots! Hallelujah.

Of course, writing always gets placed on the back-burner when my teacher hat is on. Perhaps this year, my third full year/fourth sort-of year at AHS, I’ll be able to make significant time to work on writing and revisions outside of NaNoWriMos. Let us hope…

and let us sleep. Good night.

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summer goals

So, in this crazy life, summer time has become writing time. Hopefully I will soon become a good enough teacher that I can spread writing time throughout the school year again, but for now, as a wee baby 3rd (4th-ish) year, this is what I have to work with.

Let’s lay out some goals for Summer 2015:

– I’m going to do Camp NaNoWriMo again (in July). The pacing and group encouragement of the program is incredibly helpful to my daily motivation. I am going to step aside from Copper again but not leave the world; instead, I’ll finish the story of another character from another city within that world, who actually can use magic (because I think telling the story and explaining the magic mechanics & history from someone who can use it will go more smoothly than trying to do it all through Copper, who hates magic). It will fit before Copper’s story.

– I also had ideas for 7 short stories, but since very few people played the inspiration game, I forgot about them. Haha. So I will work on those throughout the summer as well and post them sporadically throughout July and August.

– I have so much to read! I do read a lot throughout the school year, just not as quickly as summer time… and I have some exciting things stacked up. So my goal is to read at LEAST two books a week. We just did a loooong 12 hours in the car last weekend, and I finished a book on each leg of the drive, so I’m off to a good start! (One of the books was “The Girl with All the Gifts” — highly recommend!)

I think that’s it… time to get back to outlining!

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favorite author…(s)

Recently, a student asked me who my favorite author is… and I realized I don’t have an easy answer. So here are my musings on that question. I can name favorite authors for different aspects of the reading experience, and followed each label with the titles of the books that come to mind:

Favorite oeuvre, male: C.S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters, Of Other Worlds, Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man, An Experiment in Criticism, the Space Trilogy

Favorite oeuvre, female: Jane Austen
   Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park

Favorite prose: Ian McEwan
   Atonement, Sweet Tooth, Amsterdam

Favorite badass feminist protagonists: Tamora Pierce
   The Immortals, The Song of the Lioness, Tricksters

Favorite humorous writer: Christopher Moore
   Lamb: The Gospel of Christ According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal; You Suck, A Love Story; The Stupidest Angel; A Dirty Job; Practical Demon-Keeping

Favorite capturer of childhood: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
   Libby on Wednesdays, The Changeling, The Egypt Game

Favorite transporter to a magical, strange place: Neil Gaiman
   Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust, Good Omens, Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods

Favorite newest discovery: Sarah J. Maas
   Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, The Assassin’s Blade

There we have it… but even that giant list is not enough, because there are other authors swimming around in my head who I wish I had room for. I’m bad at making decisions, so choosing one “favorite” is, clearly, impossible for me to accomplish. I love hearing about other people’s favorite authors and books, though!

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