Each month, I’ve been focusing more on one goal for the year over the others, setting aside a few hours a week to one goal instead of trying to fit them all in. This has… More
The Walking Dead
One of my favorite shows on television is The Walking Dead—I’m a big sci-fi, dystopia fan, and zombies are an always fun, often disgusting time. The show is based off of a series of comics by Robert Kirkman, a series I didn’t start getting into until way after the show. I’ve been reading the comics in the 6-issue bind-ups and I’m only on volume seven, but they’re great. It’s cool to see the differences they’ve made with the show—characters added or taken out, storylines differing—and they’re really quick reads. I’ve been buying them when on sale and picking a weekend to enjoy a few issues. As an adaptation, it’s really incredible. I think the show takes a lot of risks and is incredibly well-made—the effects work alone is worth watching.
I’m a huge fantasy fan, and though I haven’t yet read The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien (I’ve seen all the films), I read The Hobbit a few years ago and loved it. Because I never saw the first trilogy in theaters, only later when on DVD, I’m glad I was able to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in theaters (I missed the third movie while it was in theaters, but have it on DVD) because these films were so incredible to watch on a big screen. The adaptation of the book was really well done, though I’m not certain an entire trilogy was necessary—the structure of the book seemed more like a two-parter. At any rate, it’s one of my favorite adaptations.
The Hunger Games
I’ve only seen the first two films in the quartet (for no other reason than neglecting to see them in theaters at the time, always forgetting, and just never remembering to pick them up on DVD), but I’ve read all three books, and The Hunger Games is one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen and certainly the best YA adaptation. It’s so perfectly adapted, getting everything just right, being as faithful as possible to the source material, having a really awesome style, and having some killer performances, especially from Jennifer Lawrence. Though, as a film, I enjoyed the second one more, but as an adaptation, the winner is the first in the series.
A Single Man
After hearing about the film starring Colin Firth, I read A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood one summer day and liked it—but then I saw the film and loved it so much more than the book. The film is very stylistic and Colin Firth’s performance is incredible and heartbreaking and I could watch it again and again. Honestly, it’s the rare occasion where the adaptation is several times better than the original book.
The Magicians is one of the coolest, fun shows on television right now. It’s funny and magical and disturbingly creepy at times—it’s like all the best parts of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia but for adults. It’s based on a trilogy of books by Lev Grossman, and though I haven’t read them yet, I have the first and plan on reading it this year. This is the only adaptation on my list that I haven’t read yet, but because I love the show so much, I’m assuming I’ll love the books even more.
As one of my favorite films of all time, Atonement definitely needs to be mentioned even though I’ve never read the book—though I plan on it! The film is beautiful; every scene, every shot is stunning. And the performances are incredible—Keira Knightly does some of her best work, as does James McAvoy, and Romola Garai gives one of my favorite supporting performances—and of course Saoirse Ronan is so young and so brilliant in the film it astounds me. Everything from the style, the era, the score—which I still regularly listen to—is just perfect to me. And I’m sure the book will be just as incredible.
For a long time, I’ve been wanting to eat vegetarian, or at least partially. And recently, I’ve been wanting to go vegan (or at least try to get to like 90% of the food and meals I consume to be vegan). However, still living with my parents, who buy most-to-all of the food, made it more difficult—even having the items in the house made it easier to just say “forget it” and eat meat again.
Then, about two months ago, my parents wanted to start eating more healthy (as a family, we never really ate terribly, just not very well) and together, we decided to start eating more plant-based foods, bringing in more vegetables and fruits into our diet, and less meat and dairy. I took it as an opportunity to start transitioning slowly to pescatarian, with the goal of trying out being vegan afterward, and so I have taken over all the meal planning and cooking for the last two months.
So far, it’s been going really well. We’ve cut out beef and pork almost completely from our diet (we have free days, where we care less about what we eat, and sometimes whatever we have left in the freezer, from before our change, is eaten) and we have chicken occasionally. We have eaten fish the most out of all the meats. I know that cutting out beef is the best for helping the environment, so that’s what I want to really focus on cutting out completely. But as someone who still likes meat, who still occasionally craves it, I’m not willing to never ever eat it again. Even while trying out being vegan, I’m probably going to end up having at least one burger, even if it’s just once a year on my birthday—I don’t think I’d be capable of going 100%. But I think that’s okay. For now, I’m just going to be putting in the effort to reduce the amount of meat I consume. Maybe I’ll get to a point where 100% vegan fits with me, maybe I’ll find it just won’t work. Giving it a chance is something I think is best.
During the change, we have eaten eggs a lot during the last two months. I still love cheese but we’ve eaten very little dairy, and I don’t miss it or crave it like I used to—and regular dairy milk just grosses me out now. The other vegan thing I think I would struggle with is honey. It’s easily substituted, I know, so I want to work on it, but it’s often the cheapest option at the store (agave is almost twice as expensive and real maple syrup is way way way too expensive, and I don’t want to buy the artificial stuff.) A few obstacles, but I think the transition will be easy as long as I go slow and not worry so much about not following the “rules” exactly, just be more mindful of what I’m consuming.
Because of these changes—along with going for a one to two mile walk everyday—of eating more vegetables, less meat, and almost no dairy, I’ve lost twenty pounds in just a few months (some of that loss was before the dietary changes, but most was after). So, for now, I don’t think I can call myself anything yet. I’m not vegetarian, definitely not (yet) vegan, and only occasionally pescatarian. But it’s a start. And I’m really happy with that for now, especially because I can now wear shirts and pants I haven’t been able to in a while. I’m really excited to start living a more healthy, active life—one that will hopefully, one day, no longer do harm to animals.
May was SO FULL of favorites, y’all, I can’t even believe I discovered all these things this month. I actually cut two out because it has to stop somewhere, otherwise I’ll be just listing things I’ve done or used all month. There’s basically two categories to this month’s favorites: apps and podcasts, with a TV show thrown in accidentally. Here are my May favorites:
Trial & Error
This show was supposed to be one of my April favorites, but I completely forgot to add it. The mockumentary comedy stars John Lithgow as an eccentric and oblivious man accused of killing his wife in a small, Southern town, accompanied by a ridiculous set of characters. It’s hilariously written and outrageously, ridiculously silly. It’s a fun time.
Eating healthy is hard. Losing weight is hard. Keeping track of calories and protein and fat and blah blah blah, you lost me, get me another burger—it’s hard. I’ve struggled with my weight and staying healthy a long time. And thanks to starting to use MyFitnessPal app on my phone, I’ve been able to keep track of what I’m eating, the calories, fat, sugar—not just trying to keep it under a certain number (which has been a struggle in the past) but keep in a healthy “zone.” I want to post about my new dietary changes in another post, but since using the app, I’ve lost 13 pounds. The app makes it easy to enter what I’ve eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and it breaks everything down for me, so I know if I’m getting enough protein, having too much sugar, everything. It’s one of the coolest apps ever, and the best part for me, it syncs with my Fitbit, so it accounts for the steps I’m getting and automatically logs my calories into my Fitbit app, so it’s all together and organized to help me stay on target.
I’ve had this on my computer for a while as a 30 day free trial, losing a day every time I open it. After a year or so of wanting to use it more, I finally paid for it, and have loved it even more than I thought I would. It’s a program (by the same company who created Scrivener, my favorite writing program) that makes it easy to brainstorm digitally. You can write notes, connect them to each other with lines, use arrows, pin images. It’s amazing. I’ve been using it for writing books, creating family trees and diagrams and outlines. It’s such a great tool that now allows me to be free of wasting pages and pages and pages of paper in a notebook. Let’s be real, I’ll still do that anyway, but Scapple makes it easy to save to Scrivener, so I have everything I need right in my file for referencing. It’s awesome.
And, the nerdiest thing on this favorites list goes to…Evernote. The best app I’ve ever found (sorry, Scapple, you work for one thing, this works for another) that I can use on my phone, as a Google Chrome extension, and as a program on my computer, all syncing perfectly together in harmony. Evernote is basically for note taking, but it can be used for anything. You can have folders with references, images, and notes at the ready. The Chrome extension is awesome for saving sites as simplified versions, which is great for articles you want to read later (though I also use Pocket for this) and recipes you find online (I do this a lot), quickly clipping the site from online and saving it to your notes in a folder you choose that can be accessed from your phone. The app for iPhone can take a picture of a document and essentially scan it, making an image you can save and reference back to. It would be great for receipts and important documents. You can make to do lists. Everything syncs perfectly, so you can work while on the go, at your desk, whatever. It’s incredible and I’ve been using it everyday for at least one thing since I downloaded it, and I haven’t even begun to start really diving in.
Recently, I’ve been getting into podcasts a lot. I’ve been listening to one every day while on my morning walk. Here are the few I’ve been listening to and loving this month:
Portrait of a Freelancer
One of my favorite YouTubers, Ariel Bissett, recently started a podcast about becoming a freelancer, documenting the journey and talking about the struggles and successes starting something new. The podcast is really great, especially because I’m also getting started with freelancing, so it came at the perfect time for me to be inspired and listen to someone else’s perspective on a similar path.
I don’t remember if I’ve ever talked about Spirits before, but it’s honestly my favorite podcast right now. I absolutely love mythology and legends, and hosts Amanda and Julia are hilarious, making the drunken storytelling podcast both highly entertaining and informative in my favorite area of history.
Story Not Story
Hosted by YouTuber Craig (WheezyWaiter) and his wife Chyna, the two tell bedtime stories, off the top of their heads while in bed, and record it for the podcast. They’re both funny and the stories vary, from the planets reacting to Pluto’s demotion to a story about the first water slide, ridden by micro-organisms, all ridiculous and hilarious.
Recently, I’ve been getting into the idea of printing—both relief printing and screen printing. If you don’t know what those are: relief printing is like a stamp, using linoleum or rubber or wood as a surface to carve into, and using ink or paint to print the carved image onto paper or fabric using pressure; screen printing is using a meshed screen in a frame, having the image displayed through a hardened emulsion layered on top of the mesh, allowing the ink to go through where the emulsion hasn’t been hardened—it’s a complicated process, and if I didn’t explain that very well, Google it, it’s cool.
Anyway, I’ve been following a few printers on Instagram and have been inspired to try it out. There’s some awesome DIY ways to go about printing, so I’ve been doing a lot of research on the best way to do it and most cost effective way to get the supplies I need. I never had a chance in school to do any screen printing before, though I have done some relief and have all the tools needed to do it, so I’m excited to give it a go. I have plans to design a lot of different things in the future and would love to be able to print them myself, giving them a more handmade, personal quality to them.
For now, I have most of the thing I need to do some relief printing, so I think I’m going to work in that medium for a while and get to screen printing later (I’ll have to gather the supplies needed for screen printing gradually because of money). There’s a lot of choices to make and I need to save a bit of money for the supplies, but I’m excited to work on some stuff and document my journey on here.
Though I haven’t read as many books as I’d like to have by this time in my life, I’ve read a lot compared to most people I know. Compared to most readers, I’ve read close to nothing. But the point is, since I posted my Top Five Favorite Films, I thought I’d do the same for my favorite books…except it’s actually my Top Ten because I couldn’t decide on only five and some of them are series…so it’s more like a lot. Anyway, here they are in no particular order:
A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
The Shades of Magic trilogy is my favorite book series of all time, by my favorite author, Victoria VE Schwab. It’s an adult fantasy series about four connected Londons in parallel worlds with varying degrees of magic. A one-of-a-kind magician who can travel between them from one London and a pickpocket from another meet, travel through worlds together, and general chaos ensues. Schwab’s writing is incredible, the best I’ve ever read and these books are dark, fun, and exciting.
Vicious by VE Schwab
Another book by my favorite author, Vicious is about two college students who deduce that superhuman abilities can derive from near-death experiences and do it to themselves in order to gain such powers. Jumping back and forth in time, the book explores the dynamics of superheroism and villainry from an interesting perspective.
The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Yet another Victoria Schwab book—I swear there’s more than just hers on this list. The Archived is the first in a series of two YA books about a girl who is a Keeper for the Archive, an otherworldly library where the dead are shelved like books, and must keep those dangerous dead, called Histories, from entering back into our world. It’s like a light fantasy and murder mystery book all in one. The sequel, The Unbound, is also a favorite—and I’m still holding out for a third book, no matter how long it takes.
Saga by Brian K Vaughan
This series is actually not technically books, but comics. I’ve never been a huge fan of comic books, only recently getting into them—thanks, in part, to this series. I’ve been reading the six-issue bound volumes as they come out, reading mostly in the summer—which is my favorite time to read graphic novels and comics. Saga is about two soldiers from opposite sides of a galactic war falling in love, having a child, and going on the run from the war and those that want them, and their half-breed child, killed. It’s like a full-on adult Star Wars space odyssey with some of the most incredible artwork, which creates a vivid landscape for an awesome, kick-ass story about a blended alien family.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
I fell in love with The Name of the Star and its two sequels (I believe, as of writing this, a fourth is on the way) a few years ago. It’s the story of a teen girl from the South of the US going to London to start her new life at a boarding school at the same time as the city relives the horrifying events of the Jack the Ripper murders as someone begins to mimic them. The book somehow balances being funny and creepy perfectly—the main character is relatable, Maureen Johnson’s writing is both dark and hilarious, and the book’s plot is often-times creepy and fully intriguing, with twists and surprises I didn’t expect.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This book surprised me—I hadn’t expected to love it as much as I did and I hadn’t expected to finish it so quickly. I read it in only two days; I couldn’t put it down. The story goes back and forth through time, before and after the night a famous actor dies on stage from a heart attack at the same time the world begins to fall from a deadly virus. All the characters have some connection to the actor, the main character having been in the same play as a young child actress, later growing up to travel through the desolate land of the northern midwest with a theater troupe called the Traveling Symphony, who plays for the small communities having survived the pandemic. It’s a beautifully written, poignant novel about the little things we’d lose just as much as the large things during such an event.
We Were Liars by E Lockhart
First: This book has a terrible title. I mean, a fine title that just doesn’t fit the book. That’s the my only complaint about it. This book is my favorite summer read I’ve ever read—and that’s what it is. A summer read. Read it in the summer only, trust me it makes for a better experience. Also, don’t read into the book at all, don’t look it up, don’t spoil yourself. Don’t even read this paragraph, just skip it. This is all I’ll say: The book’s about a family who have summer homes on a private island and it’s suspenseful and beautifully written. That’s it. If you love YA and suspense and beautiful writing, READ IT.
The Forest of Hands & Teeth by Carrie Ryan
This is a book that I read a long time ago, in high school, and have sort of forgotten all about it—time for a reread, I guess. However, I do know that I loved it and everything about it. It’s a very unique spin on the zombie genre, with a similar vibe to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village crossed with The Walking Dead. It’s been on my favorites list since then, so even though I remember so little, I still have it on my top ten because I do remember that it was great and I loved it.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
I’m a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo and her work. The Grisha Trilogy she wrote is one of my favorites YA series and Six of Crows is part of the same world. I thought that the Grisha Trilogy was so fantastic and then I read Six of Crows and was blown away. It’s even better than the trilogy and is so unique. It’s set in the same “Grishaverse” so several people within the world have special powers, but in this book, the focus is more on a different set of skills: thievery and conning. A gang of young criminals work together on an impossible heist and it’s a blast. It’s one of the most fun books I’ve ever read. It’s just a straight up cool Ocean’s Eleven-esque fantasy book.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
And finally, though this list is not in a particular order, The Raven Cycle is my favorite YA series of all time. It’s just the greatest series ever. I love the characters, the world Maggie Stiefvater has created, and the entire series itself. The Raven Boys and its sequels tells the story of a group of private school teenage boys and a girl named Blue, obsessively searching for the legendary Raven King, who is likely buried nearby, in hopes to be granted a wish—all with the help of the psychic family of women Blue’s grown up with and set in a town situated on a “ley line” of magical energy. It’s a book series I wish had come out while I was in high school, because I would’ve been all over it obsessed—I mean, I still was while in college, but still.
For the past few months since my last update about my journey in bettering my illustrating skills, I’ve been incredibly busy. Because March was busy and April was spent focusing solely on reading in my spare time, my sketching every day streak I had going dwindled to a few times a week. And, I’m behind on doing a full color illustration a week—by like ten. But! That’s okay! During the month of May, I’m going to be focusing on hand-lettering (another one of my goals for the year, I’ll also have a full post about this after the month is over) and in June, I’ll be focusing more time on illustrating specifically. Instead of trying to do all of it all the time, I’m going to work on one more heavily than the other in certain months, which is why I have very few works in this post. But still, I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made these last few months despite not being able to put the time I want into it.
I definitely have a tendency to draw exclusively people, so in June, my hope is to illustrate more animals and objects. And, all of the self-portraits of myself seem to have much larger heads than they should—I don’t know if I’m just bad at proportions or my brain just knows I have a large head and is making fun of me. I think that I’m starting to develop a style, at least somewhat of one, which is great. The floating heads all together with names are characters from one of my book, a little series of sketches that have been so fun to do! Anyway, my skills are improving, I’m still learning a lot, and most importantly, I’m enjoying the process!
Alien is one of my favorite horror/space movies of all time. There’s a special place for it in my heart. Though I’m not such a fan of its sequels, I am a huge fan of the recent connected series that began with 2012’s Prometheus and the sequel to it, the upcoming Alien: Covenant. I don’t know where I’ve been, but the trailer for Alien: Covenant has been released for quite a while, but I just found it online. It looks amazing. I can’t wait to find the connections to Prometheus—I know Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace may be reprising their roles, and that there will be a second sequel, set between the first two films with them in it—and a prologue was just released online with them in it. The film looks great and I can’t wait to see it.
Peak is an app I saw advertised on Instagram. I usually never click on the ads, but it looks interesting, and I’m all for these kinds of games. The app sets up a brain game schedule for you (I chose to do it every day) where you play four games (or if you go Pro, six, which I think is a little too expensive for what it is, but whatever) that help sharpen your mind a little each day. So far, I’ve been gradually making progress with some of the games, and I’m having a lot of fun. It’s basically just really fun puzzles and number and words games that you play, then it tells you how your improving with different skills, like memory, problem solving, and focus, and compares you with others in your age group to see how your doing. It’s mostly just fun.
So Says I – the Shins
I’d heard this song on an episode of Gilmore Girls a long time ago, and with every rewatch of that episode, I like the song more. The band plays it live in a bar in the show and with my recent rewatch of the episode, I just had to find it and buy it. I’m glad I did, because it’s been on repeat the last few weeks—a new favorite that I’d had all along and didn’t know it.
The epic poem taught in high school is boring—but only boring because it’s in your high school english class, which makes everything, no matter what the topic, boring. But reading it for pleasure is a whole other experience. We only read passages during school, and though I did enjoy it at the time, it’s something completely different reading it all together. Seamus Heaney did a brilliant job translating it to modern english for us to enjoy today.
Since I was a kid, watching movies has been a large part of my life. I’ve wanted to act and direct and write ever since first understanding that it was someone’s job to make films. I watch films of any genre, independently made or major wide-releases, animated or live-action, comedy or drama—I don’t have a “type” of movie I like watching, I love everything. And because of that, my Top Five Favorite Films are just as varied:
A few years ago, I heard of the film Another Earth and later watched the trailer, falling in love before even watching the entire thing. It’s the film I give as an answer to the question “What’s your favorite movie?” Another Earth is a thought-provoking independent science fiction film co-written by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling (who also both directed and starred, respectively) about a woman in her twenties who is released from prison after a drunk driving accident when she was seventeen, which happened on the same night a discovery of a twin Earth was revealed. I instantly became a fan of Brit Marling (she’s seriously awesome) and, as an aspiring filmmaker, Another Earth inspired me more than anything I’d seen before.
This film is actually a recent find—like, this past month. I’d heard of Frances Ha many times, especially when Greta Gerwig had been nominated for a Golden Globe for it, and always planned to eventually see it. I’m glad I waited. Had I seen this film at any other time, I don’t think it would have spoken to me as it did, I don’t think I would’ve related to Frances as I did at this point in my life. I’m not a dancer and I’m not currently in an apartment hopping phase, but the feel of the film, the arc of France’s character, her maturing, her living her dream, her life during a time of change, is exactly what I feel right now. And because of that, watching at the right time, it will be a favorite for life.
Atonement has been my favorite film since high school. Before I saw Another Earth, this is what I’d say is my favorite when asked. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and brilliantly acted—it’s where my love of the young actress Saoirse Ronan first began. I also saw a lot of myself in her character, Briony, as we’re both writers and the worlds of reality and fantasy often blurred—though I have never sent anyone away to prison, I had certainly lied frequently and made up stories as a kid in a similar way. The musical score is still one of my favorite aspects of the film, one of my favorite scores of all time, and I still often listen to some of the tracks, especially when writing.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a dark, thriller, mystery film with an incredible performance by Rooney Mara. I love the aesthetic of the film, the direction by David Fincher, the score (my actual favorite score) by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, everything. The whole film is just cool, it’s dark and intense—there’s a certain scene, however, that I’ve only watched once, the first time I saw the film, and can’t watch again as it’s just too difficult to sit through. I could watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo again and again, despite knowing all the twists, and not get bored.
To be honest, if you don’t have an animated film as one of your top favorite movies, I don’t trust you as a person. Because not only is The Incredibles my favorite animated film, it’s one of my favorite films of all time. Ever since I was young, I wanted to have special powers—which often pops up in my own writing—and so I love most superhero and fantasy and magical fiction. The style of the film has a 60s vibe and the background story to the characters, how superheroes have to go into hiding, and the whole family with each unique power—it’s all just so good. The Incredibles is funny, brilliantly written, so unique, and I can’t wait to see the announced sequel.
I have been writing consistently, with a goal toward being a published novelist, for almost ten years. I am in no way an expert, but I’ve written for long enough and have written enough books/stories to have developed a process of how I write, from the initial idea to typing up ‘The End.’ All writers have a process, and all of them are different, unique to the person. A process is developed over time, with many projects, and what works for one writer may not work for someone else. And not every project follows your usual process accordingly, I’ve written most stories starting with a concept (“I want to right a book about witches!”) but I’ve also written stories based on a single character idea, not knowing anything else, not knowing where to put them or what to do with them, and built the story from there. I’ve read and listened to many other writing processes and I thought I’d share my own here for fun.
Surprise! My writing process (and probably all writing processes) actually start before there’s even an idea. Before the muse inspires, before I can let out a creative breath, I first have to breathe it in. Just like you can’t breathe air out if there’s nothing in your lungs, you can’t create if there’s nothing in your creative well. That’s where inspiration comes from. That’s the muse. If I’m creatively blocked, it’s because my Well has gone dry. I need to experience – I need to read, I need to watch, I need to see, I need to hear, smell, touch, feel. So before anything, I’m constantly taking it all in – with every book, every film, painting, photograph – filling the well from which I can pluck out my favorite bits of everything I’ve ever experienced, scramble it around, spin it my way, and create something entirely new.
Here’s where things get interesting. This is where the actual writing process of a story begins for me. Out of nowhere, whether I’m working on something else or searching for an idea, I’ll get a spark of inspiration from that well I’ve been filling. An eerie photograph, a scene in a film, a concept of a book, or a want to delve right in to a genre and do it my way. I’ve been inspired from a dress I’d seen in a magazine, a tree in the woods, an overheard conversation. I don’t plan these “sparks” of inspiration. I get them all the time.
“Oh, that scene between those two characters on Orphan Black would make an interesting dynamic for a pair of demon hunters.”
“That older woman walking by has such a cool coat, she looks like a retired spy…or is she retired…”
“Man, that new Star Wars trailer was good. I want to write an entire YA book series set in space.” (<— This was recent.)
These sparks of inspiration happen to me everyday, all the time. Some are fleeting thoughts, some make me excited enough to jot them down only to forget them or dislike them when read later, and some – very few – become something more.
Now the next two stages sometimes don’t happen. Sometimes it goes straight from the Spark to the Flood. But a lot of the time, a single spark will stick with me for a long time. It worms its way in the center of my brain and stays there, poking its head through my thoughts every once in a while. “Hey remember this idea? That’s still a cool idea you should do it.” Often times, I’m working on another project so I let it stay there—mostly because all it does is remind me of that first spark, but nothing comes of it yet as it’s still just a tiny little thought of something that could be a fully formed idea. I keep thinking about that photograph I saw or that scene in a show but there’s no meat to it. No story, no actual idea…until, suddenly, there is.
It usually hits like an explosion. One minute all is well with my brain and then I happen to think back on that worm that’s been swimming around my head for a while—BAM! The idea takes shape. I get a flood of characters, story, several scenes, bits of dialogue, the world starts growing. It’s the main bones of a story in my head that forms, the actual idea, much more than the spark. It all comes to me in waves—sometimes it’s an entire day, sometimes an entire week of writing things down, connecting the dots. I usually write a paragraph or two, a list of characters, of scenes, a bit of the world. Whatever comes to my head, I get it down on paper or type it up. And then, the flood is gone. I’ve written all I can for now. Sometimes, this is the end of the road. Usually this is as far as a story gets. I get the idea down and never get back to it—I might go back and revisit and find it’s something good or something terrible. But sometimes…
…I become obsessed. I can’t let it go. This is the stage where I think about everything that didn’t just “come to me” before. All the connective tissue starts forming over the bones of that first idea—it could last a month, a year, several years while working on other things. I’ll think back on the story, maybe think of a few more ideas on plot, character, world—I’ll write it down with the rest and continue to think. It can simmer for a long time—or not at all. Sometimes after the Flood, I have everything I need and I want to start right away, so I essentially skip this step—though the next one takes much longer without it.
Next comes the outline. If I haven’t let the story simmer, this stage could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Usually, if I have, it takes about a week—maybe two. Now I write the outline in one of two ways. The first way: I write an outline, a list of short sentences (sometimes only a few words or, if I’ll know what I’m talking about, one word, like “Tunnel” or “Murder”) and string together the story that way—these end up usually as either scenes or chapters. These are easy to rearrange if I need and I can look at the story from a bird’s eye view in a very simple format (I use Scrivener sometimes for this, but more on that later). The second way: I write less of an outline and more of a summary. I write two to three paragraphs of everything that happens from beginning to end. This is what I do normally when I’ve skipped the “simmer” step, though not always.
After, I write the fully-formed outline. If I’d started the first way, I take that list and bulk it up to a paragraph per chapter with notes for what I want to add or specifically show. If I’d started the second way, I take that summary and break it down into the same thing, one paragraph per chapter with notes. It ends up looking like this:
Here is what happens to the character in this chapter. Then the character makes a decision, which makes a secondary character feel something. The two characters discuss what had happened but it is clear that it will come up again later. Then, a twist! (Add in the subtle hint about an object that is possibly important.)
More stuff happens and then…
Now, I’m not a “pantser,” as evidenced by the fact that I outline to begin with, but I’m even more of a Type A mega-planner. Depending on the story, I use charts and spreadsheets and a whole lot of outlining techniques. I have spreadsheets about the days of the week, weather in the scene, time of year, month, all things that I would write in the story so that I don’t accidentally make it a hot, perfect-for-swimming day when it’s supposed to be January—unless it’s in set in Australia. One of my favorite things to do, especially to make sure the pace of the plot if working well, I set up a chart using this technique written about by a favorite author of mine, Carrie Ryan:
Depending on the story, I might add another column to create a five-act structure with a midpoint adjusted to be in the actual middle, which is sometimes needed, but mostly I use this as is. It has helped my plotting so much.
After the outline is complete, the stars have aligned, I start the drafting process. Sometimes I start on Page 1 and sometimes I start in the middle of Chapter 21. Wherever the winds take me, I start—usually this is because one scene (often one of the first that I envisioned) is really vivid in my head and I’m excited about it. It’s also hard starting at the very beginning. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die and never want to write another thing ever again because Chapter One followed by an empty void is terrifying. The first draft is the most inconsistent part of writing for me, time wise. I’ve written a first draft in two and a half months, three years, and even 30 days (NaNoWriMo). It’s never the same. The drafting stage is usually when I change a lot, too. And often times, the first draft is incredibly short—I’ve had a 90,000+ word final book started as a 59,000 word completed first draft. I just worry about getting all I need to get down on the page and worry about the rest later. With rewrites, I bulk up scenes, add more entirely new scenes, sometimes entirely new chapters (sometimes I cut a lot out, but there’s mostly adding). The first draft is my second favorite part (first favorite is outlining, when anything could happen) because it’s the easy part, the fun part. I’m just writing whatever I want without thinking about if it’s good or not—because it isn’t, it’s a first draft. I’ll fix it later, right now it’s time to enjoy the story and the characters and the world.
After the first draft, I take a break. I put the project away and never look at it and think about something else—usually this is a time for refilling my depleted well of creativity. I always make sure that there’s a break between the first draft and the rewriting process. Fresh eyes are best. This break between can last a long time—sometimes I wrote an entirely different first draft of a new story between finishing a draft and returning to it.
And when I do return to it, I read it and weep. “Oh yeah,” I think. “First drafts suck. That’s right.” After crying about how terrible it is, I immediately get to work on the fixing. Starting with the major plot problems and subplots that don’t work in hindsight and eliminating characters, pulling all their threads out of the story, or adding characters and working them into it. Then I get into the small stuff, the chapter by chapter rewriting, then the scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word. I often open a second window or split the window (I love Scrivener a lot, y’all) and actually rewrite the entire thing while following along. Sometimes I just cut the bad, rewrite to make it better or delete it completely, and add some new. The rewriting is the hard stuff. It’s the work. It’s the reason I cry a lot. And then…
I bet you’ve heard the phrase, “Writing is rewriting.” That’s why there’s two of this stage—there’s actually a lot of this stage. It takes a long time. It’s hard. It’s work. I cry a lot.
After all the revising is done, I write “The End” on the bottom of the last page and sleep for a while. Then, I start all over again.
Bonus: The Where/When/How
Where: I write in several places. If it’s nice out, sometimes I’ll sit outside on my deck. Sometimes I sit at my desk. Sometimes in a car, the couch, a coffee shop, my bed, the bathroom (I’m not kidding), my other desk at work, the dining room table. Mostly, I sit on the couch with a laptop table and the dining room table—for some reason, I end up in those two places the most. The dining room table especially if I’m outlining—remember, I’m a mega-planner, so I have charts and maps all on paper all over the surface of the table.
When: In a perfect world, I’d write every day starting at 12pm and ending at 5pm, non-stop and perfectly with a Coke and some snacks on hand. But it’s not a perfect world, Coke is full of sugar, I have other jobs and responsibilities. But usually, I try to write in the afternoon (that’s when I write the best, I’ve found, and most excited to write) and sometimes I’m just drinking water or tea (thanks, diet plan). Because of all my other work I do, I have to carve out time when I can—which is usually in the afternoons on weekends like I love and at 8pm for only an hour on weekdays, which isn’t ideal, but I make it work.
How: I use a lot of the old staples, like a million notebooks and pencils and pens, but the one thing I absolutely need to write: Scrivener. It’s changed my life. It’s the best writing app for a computer ever. I don’t know how anyone can just use Word. Inside the file set up for your project, you have more text files with folders that can easily be rearranged. Sometimes I have a folder for each chapter with many text files inside for each scene, sometimes I just have a text file for each chapter. And the folders can go inside other folders so I can have several parts, chapters, scenes, separated however I want and all of it is still in one document one the “draft” view. It has a “composition mode” that helps eliminate distractions. It has a virtual cork board to help with outlining and brainstorming. It has everything. It is everything.
And that’s my writing process! Never exactly the same, never deviating too far from what I’ve explained. Again, it works for me, it may not work for everyone—and I love hearing about different processes, so I’ve read many that are similar to mine and some that are different. Like a “pantser”…I just don’t understand how they can do it so well without planning ahead. That’s some of the fun about talking to other writers—we all have our own way of doing it!
Three months have passed since the beginning of the new year, so a quarter of the year is over (how did that happen so quickly?) and I’ll be checking in on my goals I set for myself this year. Overall, I think I’m doing fairly well, though I could better with some. I have changed my goals a little (which I’ve posted about) and will go off of those.
Design & Illustration
I’ve been doing more illustration work lately, with a goal of sketching for a half hour daily (though it’s become almost every other day, when I can) and full illustrations once a week. I’m a bit behind on the full illustrations, I should have 14 done out of 52 but I’ve only done 9. However, I’m doing better and expanding my skills, which was the point, so I’m doing well here. I’ve also been working on more design projects, like a few prints, a calendar, and working on doing some screen printing, which is exciting. I haven’t done any freelance work or hand-lettering practice, but am working toward it still. Each month, I’ll be focusing on one goal more than the others, and plan to do this with hand-lettering. Overall, I think I’m heading in a good direction in this department.
Now, my writing goals changed significantly (as I wrote about here) and have changed my goals to writing one new draft, start revising it, finish the first draft of the book I did NaNoWriMo 2016 with, complete NaNoWriMo 2017, and continue working on the other books I’d been working on before, here and there. Still a lot, but I’ve already began the first draft of the new book. After realizing I need to schedule my goals a little, focusing more on one than the others in a month, I’ve planned for writing to be the focus in May—April is reading.
As I just said, my goal focus for the month of April is going to be reading. I’ve read one single book so far. Well, that’s not entirely true. I finished one book. Because I finished reading some of my 2016 reads in January (I read most of the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton in 2016, so counted it toward last year’s count, but it still took most of January to finish—it’s long, y’all) I haven’t had as much time as you’d think. So really, I started in February. And in the two months since, I’ve finished one book, but have started three—I’m still in the middle of all three, all long. It’s my own fault to starting out the year reading this way. But hopefully, I’ll be back on track by the end of April as it’s my goal to set aside a few of the other goals to spend more time reading (like sketching a few times a week instead of every day, pushing some time working on design projects, etc.).
I’m doing pretty well in watching films this year! I’ve watched ten films so far this year (though, sadly none in the theater yet) and have found a new favorite (Frances Ha). I’m halfway to 20 new films not in the theater, but still have seen none of the 5 I’ve set to see in a theater—though I have plans to see Alien: Covenant when it comes out, so I’m not too worried. And there are several other movies coming out later in the year that I’m more excited to see anyway.
I haven’t done any film projects as of yet, but again with the monthly focuses, I plan to do them during summer. However, I did accomplish something big! I wrote a short film. I didn’t think that I’d get it done so soon in the year, but I have, and I love it. It still needs a lot of work, especially because it’s my first finished screenplay, but I’m incredibly happy that I actually did it.
I haven’t done a lot of exercising lately, but with my Fitbit, it’s been easier to keep track of eating and getting more steps, which has brought my activity up a little. But now that the snow has melted and it’s getting warmer, I’ve been walking in the morning more and more, and have been more focused the last two weeks to keeping it up.
I have posted every day since the beginning of the year, almost 100 days in and still enjoying doing it. Though, I will say, sometimes I post for the sake of needing to post for the day, and not really stretching my photography skills with some of them—which was sort of the point. But I’m still doing it and hopefully will be able to focus more on taking quality photos and not just posting anything.
I think I’m doing well! There’s more that I need to do and focus on, but I think with focusing on something every month, I’ll be able to accomplish more. But so far, 2017 is going fine.