A Luddite’s Case for eReaders: 8 Reasons I’ve Embraced Digital

I love using my eReader for so many reasons.

Bear with me – I realise that I’m so late to the party that the decorations are on the kerb, but for the first decade of the eReader’s commercial availability, I had zero interest in using one.

Traditional books are just so tactile. I love the smell, the feel, the heft of holding a bunch of paper and ink in my hands.  I love the beautiful colours and typography that a well-designed book brings to my shelves. I love the whisper of pages as I rifle through a hardcover, and the satisfaction of progressing from cover to cover. Reading from a screen, no matter how ‘paper-like’ it appeared, was just about the least romantic way to consume a story that I could imagine. I wasn’t opposed to other people using an eReader – using one just didn’t appeal to me. It seemed like the difference between an mP3 and a live concert, or at least an mP3 and the warmth of a tube amp.

Last summer, I borrowed my Mum’s eReader out of curiosity, and it was only a matter of months before I decided to shell out the cash for my own device. Here’s are eight reasons why I chose to incorporate eBooks into my daily life.

1) There’s a library in my pocket.

I’m impressed by the sheer convenience of being able to tote around 300+ books in my purse. To someone who brings two books to the doctor’s waiting room (just in case I change my mind about my first choice) a portable library that takes up less space than a single trade paperback is pure gold. Not having to worry about running out of reading material during a two-week vacation last fall (or spending hours deciding which books to pack) was a luxury I’d never before experienced. Five stars. Would recommend.

2) I can tread off the beaten path.

With the success of digital publishing and hybrid authors, sometimes a book just isn’t available in a hardcopy format. Digitally published short stories and serialised novellas are a growing market. Buying an ebook for half of what a paper copy would cost (or less if I can catch a sale) also allows me to take some risks, and to support indie authors.

3) It expands my access to the public library’s collection and eliminates fines.

On top of their stellar print collection, my local library boasts an amazing selection of eBooks and other digital media. Using an eReader means that I can get popular titles more quickly, try out random stuff free of cost, and find titles that I can’t get elsewhere. I’m also notorious for letting borrowed material accrue hefty fines. Borrowing digitally means that I don’t have to think twice about what’s due – when a digital loan has expired, it’s automatically returned. For me, that’s money in the bank.

On a side note, I have a lot of anxiety about bedbugs, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve cracked opened a library book and had some stranger’s food crumbs fall out over my sheets. The sterility of borrowed eBooks eliminates that anxiety.

4) STATS!

I love personal data. I can see how many pages I read per minute and how many hours I’ve read that month, and that’s as good as candy.

5) A myriad of font and formatting options.

This isn’t a feature I would have imagined myself using, but I’m a slow reader and a larger font increases my speed. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s nice icing.

6) I can read articles away from my computer.

I hate reading at my desk, and so my TBR list for online articles was growing outrageously long.  I can now automatically sink my device to the app I save my articles to and reference them later from the comfort of my sofa.

7) I can read my own stuff.

I still do most of my work at a desk but sometimes I just want to read my manuscript through without being able to change it. It allows me to see my work in a way that a reader might see it, and gives me a fresh perspective that I just can’t get in Scrivener. I don’t own a printer and the library is a bit of a hike, so having an eReader fills that niche for me.

8) It takes up less space.

I don’t identify as a minimalist, but I am trying to pare down on the sheer amount of stuff that lines my walls. Earlier this month I wrote about culling my personal library, and a big impetus for making that cull was being able to incorporate eBooks into my collection. There’s something to be said for having beautiful objects around one’s home, but having the option to buy a book that doesn’t take up any physical space has been freeing for me.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love print, and I have no plans to stop buying hard copies of certain books, but what I’ve learned over the past 6 months is that there is a place for digital and analogue in my collection. And so long as the words meet my eyes, I don’t really care how they get there.

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My Favourite Reads of 2016

2016 was a pretty good year for me, both with reading and general living, and while I didn’t finish as many books as I’d hoped, I did read some really good ones.

Here are 5 of my favourites, with links to their pages on Goodreads in case you want to look into them further:

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Short, original, and beautiful, Binti was a great read. Okorafor works all kinds of unexpected magic with the science fiction and fantasy genres, and I’ve yet to be disappointed with one of her stories. She builds worlds that are both believable and unreal, and writes characters that are likeable despite (and often because of) their flaws. Although Binti reads well as a solo book, I’m pumped to read Home (Binti #2) when it comes out later this month.

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler

I haven’t shut up about this novel since I read it last February. It’s a brilliant work of speculative fiction that explores American slavery in the antebellum South through the eyes of a modern black woman inexplicably sent backwards in time. The writing is breathtaking and the events are heartbreaking. I’m inclined to suggest that this would make my list of Swiss-Army recommendations, and I think about Dana and her experiences regularly – sure signs of a great book.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

Funny and bittersweet, this novella tells the story of two sisters with a sinister secret and an unconditional love for each other. I was surprised to find myself reading it for the first time this past year – and happy to experience it without having the plot spoiled for me. How I went two decades as a Jackson fan while skipping over this, I’ll never know.

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kakfa

While the Metamorphosis is open to a myriad of interpretations, I quickly saw shared aspects of my own struggles with mental health and depression in Samsa’s condition. It’s a morbid and darkly funny look at how families deal (or don’t deal) with tragedy, and considered a classic for good reason.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

I loved the setting, I loved the plot, I loved the Crakers, and I even had a curious fondness for Snowman. It read like a short story despite being 400 pages, and the ending was deliciously ambiguous. The payoffs, the technology, the bizarre dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting, were all wonderfully fun to read about and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the rest of the trilogy.

I hope you had some gems grace your shelves last year, and here’s to more great reads in 2017!

 

 

How I Culled My Library with Ruthless Precision (And You Can Too)

Books are among my favourite things and I’m a packrat at heart. This means that my homes have always been overrun with reading material – books piled on side tables, spilling from the shelves, and tucked into corners like Easter eggs.

I’ve been more and more interested in experimenting with minimalism lately – or at least a version of minimalism that suits my family’s lifestyle. We’ve been ridding ourselves of clothes, media, and furniture that we don’t use/need, and I’ve got to admit: it feels as good, if not better, than getting something new. Honing my belongings down to only the useful and beloved has freed up more space for living and given me a better appreciation of the items that I choose to keep.

We have two large bookshelves in our home, and they were full to the brim. That meant that new books were stacked on the sideboard, on the couch, on the coffee table – I’d even brought home a smaller bookshelf (and then another) that I crammed into the bedroom. You know, for more books.

It was an impressive, and overwhelming, collection.

I decided to cull as many books as was needed to fit my collection onto only the two big shelves in our home office. I rounded up every book in the house and then asked myself a few questions, book by book. Here’s how I decided what made the cut, and what you might ask yourself if you’re wanting to do the same:

1) Does this belong to me?

People know that I’m an avid reader and so I get loaned a lot of books. I made the decision to remove anything that doesn’t belong to me –  whether I read it or not – to be returned to its rightful owner. As much as I appreciate someone lending me a book, and my own good intentions to read it aside, if it’s made it onto my shelf then I’ve had it too long.

2) Is this something that I enjoyed?

If the answer is ‘no’, then that’s easy. Only keeping books that we enjoy, or plan to enjoy, makes a collection unique to you. To me, there’s little sense in keeping anything in a personal library that doesn’t speak to its owner. I believe this across the board – from novels to cookbooks to reference material. If it doesn’t feel good in your hand or make you happy, chuck it*.

3) Is this something that I plan to enjoy/ Is this something that I will enjoy again?

I have a lot of unread books in my collection, and some of them were just not appealing to me anymore. Some were gifts or impulse buys. Some interested me at one time but have since fallen completely off my radar. If it’s just taking up space, or aspirational, say goodbye.

If reading it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you have no emotional attachment to the book (or its contents) then let it go. I culled quite a few books that I’d enjoyed as airport reads, 3-star ARCs, and novels that I had once loved but since outgrown.

4) Is there someone in my life who might enjoy this more?

I have some beautiful kids series that I don’t see myself ever rereading. They’re good books in good shape: wonderful candidates for being re-homed among my friends or family. This is not a call to saddle your loved ones with crap you’re too guilty to throw away – only if there’s something in your collection that someone special to you might genuinely cherish should you consider passing it along as a glee-maker.

5) Is this something that can be easily replaced?

I owned a generic, paperback copy of Mario Puzo’s the Godfather. I reread it every few years, but there was nothing special about the particular copy on my shelf. It’s an easy book to find, be it at the library, borrowed from a friend, or at almost any second-hand bookstore. I donated my copy, and when and if I want to read it again, another will be readily available.

6) Can I replace this with a digital copy?

There were a few books that I would like to read again but that I didn’t feel particularly strongly about having as a hard-copy on my shelves. Classics, especially, are easy to find as inexpensive/free ebooks. Some of my old, scruffy paperbacks were just asking to be replaced with digital copies, and doing so freed up valuable shelf space.

7) Is this something I can replace with a nicer copy?

If there are beloved stories in your collection that you can afford to upgrade, don’t be afraid to do so. My copies of the His Dark Materials Trilogy, by Philip Pullman, are from three separate editions. I picked them up second hand. One of them is a different size than the other two. The cover art is nothing special, and the books themselves have all seen better days. Even though I love the series, and will read it again, I donated the copies I had with the plan of replacing them in future with copies that match one another and have cover art that excites me.

It’s still a big collection, but winnowing away the chaff has made the real treasures shine. It’s also changed my mindset about what I actually need to keep going forward. I’ve gotten rid of the secondary shelves and the entirety of my library can now be found in a single room, which makes choosing a book easy and enjoyable. Letting go is hard, but I think it’s a great way to start a new year of learning and reading.

* I realize that with school, or certain jobs, there comes the necessity to keep some books that don’t make us happy. That is, of course, a different story, so chuck accordingly.

Image credit: original image by George Gross, and has been cropped

Quarterly Goals: Winter 2017

It’s the start of 2017’s Winter Quarter, and here’s what I’m attempting to pull off over the next 3 months:

Read 6 books

I fell a little behind on my goal of reading a book a week in 2016, so I’ve set my total a little lower this year. I’m using Karen Kavett’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ calendar to track my resolution of every day throughout the year, which is all the easier with the little e-reader I bought for myself as a New Year’s gift.

Write/revise 3 short stories

This is an area I really want to focus on improving – and will be a challenge as I’ve been neglecting my short stories while I work on a novel. Rewriting/revising is not my strongest skill, but I’d like to get some shorts up to snuff for posting online (as well as submitting some for possible publication) and putting it off isn’t helping anybody.

Complete an Online Course via Coursera

I absolutely loved the Chicken Behaviour and Wellness course that I took last summer through the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera module, and I’m looking forward to doing another course this winter. Maybe Paleobiology?

Can 3 recipes

I expect I’ll be talking here more about canning this year as it’s a growing interest. My fall fruit preserves were a success and I’m excited to try some condiments and brines this winter. Mustard is very much on the to-do list.

Finish 3 knitted objects

I blew my knitting goal out of the water last quarter (the only goal I actually met/surpassed) but I’ve set it a little lower this time around to leave room for some larger projects – namely another hard-wearing pullover.

Write 6 letters

I’ve got some fantastic new penpals to add to my buddies that I write to, and I managed 8 letters last quarter (not including Christmas cards), so this goal is not daunting.

Learn to make 3 new meals

I recently scored a cast iron skillet at 70% off and I’m enthused about learning how to cook with it.

Complete my QoL score every Sunday

I’ve written before about the Quality of Life Score tool that I use to help manage the symptoms of my mood disorders. This one’s straightforward, but important.

Watch 3 new movies

I don’t watch many films. The last movie I saw in a theatre was Pacific Rim. I would like to watch more films. I should be able to manage one a month, right?

Play 12 gaming sessions with John

We got some great new board games for Christmas, as well as the beauties already present in our collection, and while we play pretty often, I’m aiming for a game at least once a week this quarter. Some current favourites: Mysterium and Sushi Go Party.

Send out the first chapter of Steep to my Beta readers

I’ve been dragging my heels pretty hard on this one. It’s a missed goal from last quarter and the quarter before that. Right now I’m struggling with whether the manuscript actually still needs work or if I’m just scared to get feedback. I’m giving myself to the end of this quarter to figure that out.

And that’s what I’m aiming for this winter. If you’d like to share some of your Winter Quarterly Goals, please do so in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

 

My 2016 Christmas Book Haul

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a book lover or that my Christmas wish lists are usually thick with the things. My family outdid themselves this year and got me nearly everything on my (long) list. I feel super spoiled, and I’m thrilled to tuck into this stack.

Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam, by Margaret Atwood: I read the first in the series over the summer and fell deeply in love with the universe that Atwood created. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Maddaddam world and what becomes of the Crakers. The first book was deeply satisfying, despite having an ambiguous ending, and I’m hopeful that the second and third will leave me with the same sense of satisfaction.

Summerlong, by Peter S. Beagle: This has been on my TBR list since I first learned of it. I enjoyed Beagle’s word-play and humour in The Last Unicorn so much that I’m confident I’ll enjoy this. Admittedly, sampling an author by choosing two books with nearly a 50-year publishing gap between them is perhaps an odd way to do it, but how could I resist such a beautiful cover?

The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes, by Amy Bronee: I borrowed this book from my local library in the fall and thought it was a great primer. Focusing on water-bath canning, Bronee explains the finer points of making jams, pickles, chutneys, relishes, mustard, and all things tomato. Full-colour pictures of every recipe is a must for the cookbooks in my collection, and this one has gorgeous full-colour photos of each and every preserve. There’s a beer-honey mustard in here that I can’t wait to try.

Words are my Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin: I’ve got a pretty good collection of Le Guin going, and she remains one of my favourite authors of all time, so I’m very happy to have more of her essays on my shelf. Her non-fiction is just as sharp and clever as her fiction, and I learn something new every time I read something of hers.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, and Ripley’s Game, by Patricia Highsmith: These novels will make excellent binge reading. The Price of Salt has been on my shelf and marked as TRB since the fall, and I’m grateful to have more of her work without the movie tie-in covers.

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo: This was a surprise gift from my brother, and it looks adorable. I’m a little surprised to have not read this before, as it’s so clearly in a favourite vein, and I’m glad to have been gifted it now. He knows full well that I’m a fan of talking, politicised rodents/rabbits.

Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer: I read the first two books of the Southern Reach trilogy the summer before last (has it really been that long?!) and loved it. I recommended the first book to anyone who would listen. I also made the brilliant decision horrible mistake to read them – at night – while camping in the Northern Ontario wilderness and they scared my frigging pants off. I will be reading the conclusion to the trilogy in the comfort and safety of my living room. During daylight hours only.

Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal: I learned of Ghost Talkers from an interview with Kowal on ‘Writing Excuses‘ and thought the concept sounded amazing. I don’t often read a lot of historical fiction, or war fiction, or ghost stories, but the idea of fallen soldiers transmitting front-line intelligence through mediums appeals to me greatly.

It was a book-heavy December, especially when I consider the e-reader I bought myself as an early Christmas gift (and the half-dozen ebooks I picked up during a holiday sale). I didn’t read as much or as often in 2016 as I would have liked, but 2017 is going to be a good year for reading in the More-Lucas household and frankly, that sounds terrific.

bookpron

Managing the Winter Blues

Full disclosure: A few years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, general anxiety disorder and a severe case of social anxiety disorder. Things can be tough sometimes, and medication (so far) hasn’t been a good option for me, but most days are good days. Cognitive therapies have helped me a lot, as well as a supportive partner and family, and things have only gotten better since my diagnosis. It’s easier to cope with an illness you know.

Still, winters are hard. Whether it’s the blues (or the mean reds) winter amplifies whatever negative emotions I’m feeling so that it’s hard to hear anything else. To whit, I’ve come up with some tools to help me manage and quiet those negative emotions, and I thought I’d share them with you in the event that they might help you as well.

Routine

The most important tool in my arsenal. It’s hard for me, because I’m not a big fan of routine, but I’ve found it to be integral to my mental health. Getting up at a similar time each day, going through a morning routine, a work routine, an evening routine, going to bed at a similar time each day – it takes some of the guess-work out of living when living is hard, and it gives me a framework to hang my emotions on so that I can examine them better.

Quality of Life Scores

CIHR and Crest.bd have a great online tool for measuring and tracking the overall quality of life of people with a bipolar disorder. It’s meant to be used once a week by filling out a short questionnaire about habits and moods, and it stores that data for comparison. I’ve found it to be a crucial tool in objectively measuring my disorder, and that it’s given me great insight into what is an acceptable quality of life for me. If my score is too low I know that I need to focus my efforts, change my tactics, or get outside help. It also allows me to hone in on problem areas in my life as they arise, which helps me to manage my symptoms, especially in winter.

Light Therapy

My Mum bought me a Litebook last winter and it’s helped immensely on dark mornings. Light therapy has been a great way to help me manage my sleep schedule when it threatens to become erratic. Litebooks can be pricey, but the odd sale at Costco or Amazon can bring the cost down immensely.

Healthy Foods

Eating well is particularly hard for me to do during the winter months, so I make it easier on myself by eliminating some of the prep work. I know that buying pre-sliced vegetables or bagged salads or bottled smoothies aren’t the most environmentally friendly options, but sometimes that’s the only way I can muster a reasonable diet. I allow myself to buy a little more ready-made during the winter, and use my waning fall energy to can or dry or freeze a store of food to get me through winter.

Exercise

I’m lucky enough to have been gifted an exercise bike, and keeping my heart rate up while the snow’s flying past the window has never been more convenient for me. Before the bike, I made time in my schedule for yoga, or running in place, or repetitions of basic strength exercises while I watched an episode of the Simpsons. Anything that gets my body moving also helps my mind. I’m a couch potato by nature, and I absolutely prefer sitting still to moving around, but I’ve learned that physical exercise in integral to my mental well being and so I treat it like medicine and dose it out accordingly.

Colour

In Ontario, the Big Grey starts around mid-November. The sky is grey, the trees are grey, the ground is grey. It’s abysmal, and energy-draining, and so I like to inject a little more colour into my life starting in late fall. I use my favourite rainbow facecloth in the shower. I put the bright throw blanket on the couch. I change my desktop to something vibrant. I bust out my paintbox, or play pinball, or knit wild patterns. Anything to counteract the greyness accumulating outside my doorway. Snow helps with the grey, but has a different negative effect for me, and I have very little control over when it falls.

Keeping in Touch

My social anxiety makes this especially difficult, but the insulative powers of a snowfall makes it absolutely necessary. My natural inclination is to hibernate through winter, to shut out everyone and put my head down and wait for it to be over, but it’s neither reasonable, nor safe, to do so. Reaching out to friends and family, regardless of how sick the anxiety makes me, is the best way to keep my head up, and it makes winter seem to pass faster ( win/win).

My arsenal shifts a little with the seasons, but it all boils down to good self care and trying to stay as aware of myself and my surrounding as I can. I realise that mental illness manifests differently for different people, and what works for me might not work for you. If you’re struggling, please reach out for professional help – it took me a few doctors before I was able to start making steps towards managing my illness myself, and I still have regular check ins to that end.

Wishing you stability, clarity, and safety this winter.

Writer’s Wishlist: Gift Ideas for the Writers in Your Life

Image credit: “A Million Hearts of Love” by JFXie is licensed under CC BY 4.0

With the winter holidays approaching, my mind is fixed on what I want to gift my loved ones this year. If a writer is among your loved ones, here are some ideas you might want to look into:

Pens/Pencils

Even if they don’t do the bulk of their writing by hand, chances are that your writer has a preferred brand or model of pen(cil) that they could use more of. If you’re unsure as to what that is, casually ask if they have any writing tool suggestions based on their own experience. Get ready for heady opinions. If their favourite pen is reusable then refills, or a compatible ink, could make a useful gift.

Their Favourite Beverage

Whether it’s tea, coffee, booze, or soda, most writers have a go-to drink. A canister of their favourite tea is sure to be a hit. A gift card to Starbucks or David’s would probably go over pretty well, too.

A Book-Store Gift Card

Buying books for book-lovers can be a daunting task, and odds are pretty good that your writer has an obscure wishlist you don’t even know about. You can’t go wrong with adding to their coffers so that they can finally buy that hard-to-find hardcover they’ve had their eyes on.

Literary Tees/Totes

There are plenty of vendors online that sell amazing tee shirts, sweaters, tote bags and socks with literary references galore. Get your writer a stylish scarf with their favourite author’s face on it, or a new library bag declaring their love of banned books. Out of Print is one of my personal favourites, and Book Riot has some amazing library themed items.

Museum/Gallery Passes

Writer’s need fuel, and what better to fuel a writer than some culture? A pass to their local museum, art gallery, or science centre will provide them with some exciting new ideas and a fun day of people watching. You could buy two and make it a date!

A Subscription

Be it to a sci-fi/fantasy magazine, a science/travel magazine, a time management site like Freedom, or a grammar checker like Grammarly, a subscription is a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

Memory Sticks/Data Storage

Writer’s can’t have enough backup. A new memory stick, or a half dozen, will give them an added feeling of security and allow them to transport their files safely if travelling. An external hard drive could also be a hit, or some additional Cloud storage.

A Fireproof Safe

Also in the realm of backup: a small fireproof safe can ensure that your writer’s ideas and stories remain unharmed in the event of a disaster. Those memory sticks? They can go in here, too. Be sure to get one large enough to fit a few reams of copy paper so there’s enough room for a few manuscripts.

A Donation in Their Name

Your writer’s local library is probably close to their heart, or they might have a favourite literacy program that they love to support. Making a donation to a cherished literary cause can be a wonderful way to show how much you care and bring a smile to their face.

So there you have it. Mileage may vary, depending on what type of writer you have in your life, but all of the above suggestions are a pretty good place to start for most writer folk. What’s on your wishlist?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned.

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2016: Post-mortem

Phew.

Well, that was one hell of a ride.

My ninth National Novel Writing Month turned out to be a doozy. My initial rebellious streak was quickly quashed, and I found myself reconsidering whether or not NaNoWriMo was indeed the right forum for me to try something as ambitious as marathon revisions – it certainly wasn’t a good idea this year.

I’ll admit I had an unforeseen hitch. At the end of October, I’d applied to (and been hired for) a part-time job that I thought would be a nice opportunity to get away from my desk. I’m incredibly introverted and home can be lonely sometimes; fifteen hours a week in retail sounded about the perfect amount of distraction, and socialisation, and I was looking forward to earning a regular income again.

I didn’t think it would get in the way of my revisions, but boy was I wrong.
In a series of unexpected events (namely half the staff quitting and the company being unable to hire new people to take their place) my part-time job quickly became full-time, and for the first time in years I found myself working 40 hours a week, spread over irregular hours, and at a job I had barely trained for. I was coming home exhausted. My sleep schedule was erratic – which is, I’ve found over the years, a sure-fire trigger for some of the nastier symptoms of my mood disorder. I felt frustrated and inadequate, and I most certainly didn’t feel like sitting at a keyboard and doing revisions after selling dog food for nine hours. My word count stagnated.

About half way through the month I conceded that maybe trying to work on an existing project was overly optimistic, and so I began on the first draft of a new story, set in a well-established world with a cast of characters that I know inside and out. This fresh-start helped, and my word count jumped, but I was so far behind that catching up still wasn’t going to happen. I might not have gone into November hellbent on meeting 50K, but I had hoped to write more, and more consistently, than what I actually managed.

So what were the good parts of NaNoWriMo for me this year? Here in December I’m content with the nearly 15K that I ended up with – it’s a good springboard for a project that I’m excited to examine more closely in the near future. I also made some writing buddies that I’m very much looking forward to getting to know better. I’ve since quit the retail job, and I’m happy to be getting back into the swing of daily writing again.

All in all, this November wasn’t the month I was hoping for, but it wasn’t a terrible experience, either. I think that might be one of my favourite aspects of NaNoWriMo: what I end up with at the end of thirty days might not be what I expected, but I’m always better, and wiser, for having written it.

How did your November go?

How I’m Doing NaNoWriMo Differently This Year

This is my 9th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and this year I’m doing things a little differently.

nano-rebel

See that? I ticked that box. I am now, officially, a NaNo Rebel.

I’d been hemming and hawing for weeks as to whether or not I should join in the festivities this year. I didn’t want to break my WriMo streak, but I also didn’t want to put my current manuscript revisions on hold to start a new first draft. After painful deliberation, I decided to just suck it up and try working on both projects simultaneously. Maybe it would be hard. Maybe it would be impossible; but really, who would care if I didn’t make it to 50k? It’s the effort that counts, right?

I created my project on the NaNoWriMo website on October 31st, and rolled up my sleeves in anticipation for the break-neck month ahead.

Now, it should be noted that I am a planner, or at least a ‘plantser’, and in all of my hemming and hawing I hadn’t done any outlining on this supposed new project. Day one went by with a paltry total of 83 words written. Day two saw a minute spike in word-count, bringing me to a grand total of 256. I was chugging along on my revisions, but completely lost in this new first draft. By the afternoon of day three I was starting to wonder if I had lost my frigging mind. Then I perused the personal achievement badges on nanowrimo.org, and I had an epiphany.

I had never considered working on anything other than a fresh novel draft to be a legitimate option for NaNoWriMo, but when I saw those jaunty little sunglasses something clicked. Suddenly, I saw working on revisions as a valid choice. Surely, there must be other rebels out there, and surely I would still be able to partake in 2016’s writeathon as a member of the community. I felt vindicated. And relieved.

So… what exactly am I doing this year?

I am writing like I normally write. I’m working on revisions of Steep, and drafting short stories as palette cleansers, and I’m writing blog posts and dumb poems and letters to friends, and I’m counting it all. Everything I write during the month of November, I’m adding to my word-count. Don’t ask me how I’m going to verify it, because I haven’t quite figured that part out yet, but I’m sure it’ll be a blast.

It’s been said before that the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to write a novel in 30 days but to develop the habit of writing every day. Maybe that’s true. Right now I’m thinking that maybe the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo is to write your heart out in whatever way you see fit, and maybe, after all, the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo can be different to different people and that not one of them is wrong.

So write on, you crazy diamonds.

 

Organising the Writer’s Notebook: the Index (or Table of Contents)

I love writing longhand. There’s something deeply satisfying about filling up a blank page with words. Stuffing a notebook to the brim is better than chocolate, and I have dozens of the things, fat with ink, lining shelves and stacked in corners throughout my home. I also rarely write in order – a character sketch here, a bit of research there, and some stories can easily span multiple cahiers – and information can get lost pretty easily.

I’m a little late to the craze, but I recently started using a bullet journal instead of a more traditional day planner to organise my schedule, and with learning the system I also learned of a tool that I wish I had started using years ago.

We’ll call it an ‘Index’ here for the sake of clarity and continuity – it might be more accurately described as a Table of Contents, with it being at the beginning of the book and organized by page count instead of alphabetically – but what it’s called is less important than what it does, and what it does is wonderful. Indexing allows a writer to add on to previous stories and easily find notes and reference material without having to scour a notebook from cover to cover. It also prevents the user from losing writing entirely if it gets buried between unrelated content. Paired with pagination, a notebook’s index is a powerhouse of organisation, and it’s a simple, user-friendly system. Here’s how it works.

There are two main elements to an index system: pagination and the index itself. For pagination, you can either add page numbers to an existing notebook  or purchase a pre-paginated notebook (two nice but pricey options: the Leuchtturm1917 or Clairefontaine’s ‘My Essential’). The first few pages (or last, if you prefer) are set aside as the index. Each new section of the book, be it a snippet of dialogue, a single page of notes, or an entire short story, is then logged in the index followed by the corresponding page numbers.

For example:

  • Chicken Poem: 1
  • Blog Post Ideas: 2-4, 39
  • Hunter’s Moon: 5-28
  • Dot Kensington Story Ideas: 29-32, 34
  • The Manta: 33
  • Steep Sequel Ideas: 35-38
  • See You At the End of the World: 39, 41-50
  • Notes on Spaceflight: 40, 51

It does take a little getting used to, and if you’re using this system it’s important to build the habit of adding to the index regularly – it’s only as good as it is current. Some people prefer to add to their index every time they write, but updating it every few days is also an option. If you’re indexing a filled notebook retroactively, affixing a bifold of paper to an inside cover can buy you enough space to log your entries.

Overall, indexing is an elegant system and a great tool if you love writing by hand. If our notebooks are jungles, our indexes are our maps, and knowing where you are is never a bad thing.