Quarterly Goals: Spring 2017

Update on Last Quarter:

Winter was a bit of a toughie, but I did pretty well on my quarterly goals. There were a few slip ups, to be sure—I canned nothing, revised only one short story, and my blogging fell by the wayside when my mood disorder flared up—but I still ticked most of the boxes I set out to…. I had more game nights and watched more new films. I read 6 books. I learned three new recipes, one of which even earned a permanent home in my go-to collection. I wrote letters and short stories and holy hell I even finished a revision pass of my latest novel, Steep. I wrote every day, finishing the quarter with a total word count of 68,126.

2017’s theme is SIMPLIFY—and part of that means downsizing our possessions so that we (a) don’t’ have to pay to haul them across the country and (b) don’t have to pay to put them in storage once we get there and into our much-smaller home. With the big move happening next year, I’m particularly cognizant of just how much crap we have tucked into the nooks and crannies of our current home.  I ‘m a dyed-in-the-wool packrat, and getting rid of things can be painful, but I trounced my goal for getting rid of stuff. Not just 12, but 17 bags of clothing, yarn, and assorted items left my home and were donated, as well as two pieces of defunct furniture and a half dozen bags of papers to be recycled. Feels good.

This Quarter:

I’m keen to keep up my momentum on downsizing, and maybe even pick up the pace with the advent of open windows and longer days. Here’s what I want to accomplish this spring:

  • Write every day
  • Complete Camp NaNoWriMo
  • Watch 3 new films
  • Read 6 books
  • Print a new zine
  • Try 3 new recipes
  • Seed the front lawn
  • Knit a sweater
  • Giveaway or recycle 12 bags of stuff
  • Have 6 dedicated game nights with John
  • Write or revise 3 short stories

After clearing out a bunch of my yarn stash, my knitting slate is also clean. I’ve got a couple of patterns on my wishlist of things to make, and I’ve got a new Cobblestone Pullover planned for my needles this spring.

Writing every day has become easier, in part due to the Magic Spread Sheet. I’m also getting back into drawing and having fun doing it, and I’d love to take part in a couple of zine shows this summer and fall. It feels good to be stretching my creative muscles after a dull winter, and I foresee the next three months being full of new creative endeavours.

Here’s to spring, and to the fresh start it provides!

 

 

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Advice for Camp NaNoWriMo

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I am participating in this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

Although I write every day throughout the year, I enjoy the sense of community and cocksureness that comes with a NaNoWriMo marathon. I go in every year for the November event and over the past couple of years I’ve tried a spring or summer challenge as well, so I thought I’d offer some advice to someone trying their hand at a Camp for the first time.

Write something other than a novel.

Novels are great, don’t get me wrong. Love reading ’em. Love writing ’em. But part of Camp NaNoWriMo’s charm lies in venturing outside of the noveling box. Try writing 30 new flash fictions. Crank out a dozen short stories. Craft haiku after haiku about pasta. Write a film or comic script. Draft a new blog post daily. You can choose any format you like, so don’t’ be afraid to go wild. Just as with IRL camp, Camp NaNoWriMo is a great time to step outside of our comfort zones and explore new territory.

Test the waters of a new genre.

NaNoWriMo is about challenging ourselves. Picking a new genre, format, style of writing, or POV is a great way to flex some muscle groups that might have atrophied in our day to day practices. I’m trying a sort of western adventure this time around (I read them, but I’ve never tried to write one) and from a first person perspective, which is another rarely-used tool in my arsenal. If not now, then when?

Raise the stakes.

50K is apparently a cake walk for some people. I’m sticking with the traditional goal this spring, but if you’re feeling frisky you could try a higher level of difficulty. See if you can’t do 60,000 (2000 words a day) or 75,000 (that’s 2500 words a day). Some people try 100K. Wild.

Lower the stakes.

If you’ve attempted the 50K challenge before but never quite managed to pull it off, then Camp NaNo is a wonderful thing.

Reaching your daily goal doesn’t need to feel like torture. You can set a total of 25K. You can try for 100 words a day. The real point of NaNoWriMo, I think, is to make the habit of writing daily, and whatever your word count goal: you’re working to build good habits that can last you throughout the year.

Join a cabin.

I’m a diehard misanthrope, but even I rush to get sorted into a cabin come Camp time. You’re not going to connect with every last one of your cabin mates, and the number of active members will have most likely dwindled by the end of the month, but those that chat back and stick around will prove to be a real source of support. You can choose whether you want to be matched with people of your same age group, or writing within the same genre or word count goals if you prefer, but whatever you choose I highly recommend settling into your digital bunk and singing songs with the rest of us. It’s fun, I promise.

All of the other advice applies.

If this is your first NaNoWriMo ever, then be sure to check out all of the resources at your disposal! There are a tonne of blog posts, videos, articles, and even a few books that will help you on your way no matter the season. I posted some tips on getting ready for the main event on my blog last year, and they most definitely apply this April.

Throw caution to the wind.

Try not to worry about whether your plot has holes or if your characters are rice-paper thin. Like most things, you can always fix it later. Right now—the first draft—is about getting the story down so that you can change it. Swat away any mosquitos of doubt. This month is about laying down a base to build future story upon. It’s about creating something that will inform your later drafts—even if all that means is letting you know what isn’t going to work. In the immortal words of my favourite fictional teacher:

“It’s time to take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”

-Valerie Frizzle

 

It’s already April, and the first few days of camp are happily underway, so slather on some sunscreen, hike up those socks, and let’s get our hands dirty. With words, I mean.

If you’re taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo this April, let me know in the comments below, and include any tips of tricks you’ve discovered in your travels.

Last one into the water’s a rotten egg.

Making 2017 the Year of Rejections

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
Sylvia Plath

Rejection has been on my mind a lot lately. First there was this article by Kim Liao where she suggests that new writers aim for 100 rejections a year. There were the podcasts by Mur Lafferty wherein she talks about rejection as an inevitable, even desirable, part of being a working writer. As Calvin’s dad would probably say about rejection: “It builds character.”

I’ve been writing short stories and novels with the eventual intention of seeing them published for a few years now, and in all that time I’d only seriously focused on getting accepted as a measure of success. I was submitting infrequently and timidly, and the sting of a rejection letter was enough to scare me out of trying again for months. I was still writing, but nobody else was reading it, and eventually I retracted into my shell so far that I stopped submitting entirely. Even though I knew that rejections were part of the process, I hadn’t considered that they are progress in and of themselves.

A caveat. I have a pretty fervent anxiety disorder that likes to thrash me around with fair regularity. My inner voice loves to tell me—usually loudly and repeatedly—all of the ways that I’m a failure and that my work is garbage, but here’s the thing: I’m tired of listening to that voice.

Now, it’s not like I can turn my anxiety off, but what I’ve decided is that I’m going to just do shit anyways. I’m going to submit stories no matter how much it terrifies me. I’m going to collect those rejection letters as proof that I am a working writer. As the wise woman Carrie Fisher once said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident.”

Here here.

Rejection might hurt, but maybe it’s a good hurt. It’s taken me a few years to finally get comfortable with the idea, but it’s been a valuable lesson: you can’t succeed by not trying, and getting rejected means having tried.

So here’s to rejection, and here’s to Calvin’s Dad telling us not to give up.

character_building

Image from Calvin and Hobbes (January 1989) ©1989 Bill Watterson

 

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?

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.

 

 

NaNoWriMo Prep 2016

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month every year for the past eight years (and met the target goal four of those years). I love the sense of camaraderie and good spirit associated with the event, and the feeling of accomplishment for having met my goal has always been worth the strenuous daily word counts.

This November is different for me because I’m currently elbow deep in revisions on last November’s novel. I’m hesitant to start a new project and I’m struggling with the idea of counting 50,000 words of revision instead. I’m saddened by the idea of sitting this month out, but also questioning the wisdom in beginning a new manuscript. In short, I’m stuck.

While I decide what my November writing schedule is going to look like, here are some of the things that I’m doing in preparation for NaNoWriMo (just in case):

Selecting Playlists: I use 8tracks for my  music fix while writing. I can’t handle listening to lyrics when I’m in story mode but I love having some emotional music playing, especially during the really heavy scenes. Finding music that suits the tone and setting of your novel can be time-consuming, so getting a playlist together now is a nice way to help your future self out and try on the skin of what you’ll be writing next month. One of my all-time favourites is the Journey soundtrack by Austin Wintory. Seriously… so good.

A Full Pantry/Freezer: I’m a bit of a food prepper at the best of times, but with a chill in the air my foraging kicks into high gear. This impulse helps immensely come word-marathon season – any time saved on basic human need stuff can be used for writing, afterall.  Many meals can be made ahead of time and frozen, or you can spend these next two weeks testing some recipes for some one-pot meals that’ll cook up quick in between chapters. When possible, choosing whole, healthy foods can be a good way to save time on snacks and meals and give your brain a boost; I’ll be stocking up on nuts, dried fruits, and a big bag of baby carrots for snacks (plus a box of my favourite cookies as a reward).

Honing My Daily Schedule: I tend to use October as a month to reevaluate my daily routine and audit my behaviour. Winter has a different creative energy for me, so it’s useful to reassess my habits ahead of time so I can come at the darker months with my toolbox full. This could mean streamlining my afternoon routine, carving out some time for my morning SADS lamp, or adjusting when/how often I walk the dogs. Consider trying out some of my favourite productivity tools to see if they’ll work for you this November.

Wetting the Soil: This month I’m watching a load of documentaries, reading whatever I can get my hands on, and spending more time in the woods. A trip to the museum or library, reading scientific magazines, taking a free online course, or following rabbit trails on Wikipedia as your curiosity leads are all great ways to enrich your imagination and grease your creative gears. Drench yourself in trivia and histories this month. Consider it ample hydration for the soil of the story you want to grow.

Gathering Inspiration: I have half dozen books in my home library that I always pick up when I’m feeling down about my writing, and I keep them even closer during NaNoWriMo. If you have a book (or six) that reminds you of why you wanted to be a writer in the first place, gather them up. NaNoWriMo pep talks are great sources of inspiration, but you never know when you might need an added boost from one of your faves.

Now that I’m writing full-time, the pace of National Novel Writing Month doesn’t seem quite so breakneck, but I remember all too well a time when drafting 50,000 words in 30 days seemed impossible. If you’re new to NaNoWriMo or struggling with how this whole crazy thing is going to go down, watch this site for an upcoming post with some tips for getting the most out of your keyboard this November.

In the meantime, happy prepping!

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Playlists: October Edition

I like to listen to instrumental music while I write – most often something that fits the mood of the story I’m working on and gets me immersed in the scene. This autumn I’m doubly steeped in spooky as I prepare for Halloween and work on revisions for my supernatural murder mystery novel, Steep. Here are some of the 8tracks playlists I’ve got on this month:

scientists library 8tracks.jpg

The Scientist’s Library, a collection by yourfavouritechild. A chill blend of classic jazz that’s good for just about any situation.

secret

What we do is secret, a collection by boldly. Mellow and melancholy, with a touch of adventure.

thoushalt.jpg

I: Thou Shalt Hit the Books, a collection by Igniparous. A solid classically-themed instrumental collection.

librarymist-copy

A Library in the Mist, a collection by hulloemily. A little  mysterious. A little sombre. A little spooky. Good stuff for supernatural magicks.

What are you listening to this October?