In Love With Writing Again – Writing Update

Writing and I have always had a love for each other. Even in the bad times. But this year, I’ve truly been questioning whether I love the idea of writing more than actually writing.

 

I know that last time I posted about writing, it was about how I write through a creative slump. That was in June, I said I was just in a slump. Well, that slump turned into something much worse for me.

It’s been a ridiculously fast-paced, busy summer and being able to carve out time to write became even more difficult than usual. To be honest, I started to fall out of love with writing a little—I started to get frustrated with not having time to write, and when I did have brief moments to do it, I’d get frustrated because nothing I wrote came easy, it wasn’t good, it didn’t feel right. I longed for that time to write, but when it came, I regretted opening my computer or notebook. And so, I think I actually started pushing it away, purposely letting some extra free time go unused. I started to wonder if I just loved the idea of writing more than actually writing. If I loved the story, loved the ideas, but hated the actual act of getting it from mind to paper. Because I’d become so disinterested in sitting down to do it, so resentful for having this be my passion, that I started to regret my decision to even pursue it.

And then, this September, while the summer’s busyness died down, I started to finish the novel I’d started during NaNoWriMo last year like I’d planned to do since the beginning of the year. I wasn’t expecting anything special about it, I just thought I’d trudge through the last few thousand words so the damn thing would be finished and I could check it off my goal list, not liking it, just doing it because I thought I had to. But once I got back into it, once I had more time to do it, once I fell back into the world with those characters, I unexpectedly started to enjoy it again. I started to love it again. I fell back in love with the words, with the routine of sitting down every day for an hour or more, and even fell in back in love with the mental exhaustion that comes with it. And I’m so happy that I’ve found that love again.

I found my passion again, I’m excited to write every day, and I’m constantly trying to sneak in an hour or two to write. It’s something I haven’t felt in months and months and I’m so overjoyed that that feeling is back.

So now that I’ve fallen back in love with writing, I have so many plans—most of which is a renewed excitement for the goals I’d already set for the year.

I posted a while ago about writing a new story (about Book E) and my plans for the rest of the year with my writing goals. So far, I’ve been doing fairly well. The summer was very busy, so the first draft of Book E has been on the back burner as of late, though I’ve finished a few chapters and like where it’s going (well, where it will go because I started, as I usually do, during the climax of the book).

But, for the month of September, I took even more time away from Book E because I wanted to finish my NaNoWriMo novel from 2016. I finished last November with 50,000 words, however the book was far from finished. So, I’ve been working on finishing the first draft all of September and hopefully will be done by mid-October.

So this month, I want to focus on two things: 1) coming up with a story and outlining for NaNoWriMo 2017 and 2) write a few short stories. I’ve written short stories in the past, but really haven’t in a long time, and want to do more. So then in November, I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo 2017 with a new first draft of a book and then in December I’ll get back to Book E. That seems like a long time to be away from it, but, honestly, that’s how I work on most projects. I do write them in chunks, when I can, jumping between projects.

Well, those are my goals for the rest of the year, but I also wanted to post about something I’ve been doing a little on the side. After watching Ariel Bissett’s video about her buying a typewriter, I decided to dig out my grandfather’s typewriter that he gave me—also, the very same typewriter I started my very first written story on—and started writing. I set it up at a special desk and used it a few times a week, for about a month. I wrote mostly a history of the world in which several of my books are set, writing it in a short story format. It’s been a lot of fun. I love the typewriter, I love the no distractions, I love the permanence of the words, and I honestly feel like I write better, more purposely while using it. Though, because I’m just learning to peck at the keys, I’m much much slower!

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2017 Favorites: August

August rushed by quicker than any month this year. Going on a vacation in the middle of the month always does that—the first week was planning and packing and getting ready for it, the week after spent catching up and recovering. Then, all of a sudden, August was almost over. Yikes. But in there somewhere, I was able to read a little after BookTube-A-Thon in July and enjoy some music and films. Here were my favorites of August:

Logan

Hands down, this has become my favorite X-Men film in one viewing. It’s violent and rough and raw. It’s heartbreaking. First of all, spoiler alert if you didn’t already know, this was the perfect end to Wolverine’s story arc. Hugh Jackman has played him perfectly for seventeen years and this was the most fitting, perfect end to his time in this cinematic universe. Same with Patrick Stewart’s Xavier, but I have a feeling that won’t be the end of his performances as Professor X. The films itself is beautifully done, the action sequences were incredible—especially with the character of Laura. The young actress playing her was brilliant. I loved every second she as on screen. Everything was just so so so good about this film—except for the end, though I thought was beautiful, just didn’t feel finished. We didn’t see the children Logan was helping reach their destination, only that they all survived and started on their journey again—but to where? They never showed if the place they’d been trying to get to is even real. It didn’t feel completely finished, but in a way, I kind of liked it that way. It lead us to think that the story isn’t completely finished, whether setting up potential sequels/connections for down the road with other films or simply stating that mutants will survive, they’ll continue to be. Either way, it didn’t feel complete. Even so, I loved it. It’s my favorite X-Men film ever.

Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift

Unashamed to say that I’m a Taylor Swift fan. She’s a problematic fave and I love this new persona of hers, even if it’s petty. I’m here for the drama. I’m here for this new sound. I love it all. The video rocked, the song is cool. That chorus is such a dramatic reverse to anything she’s ever done before, unexpected and rad. The song’s not perfect by any means but it sounds good. It’s fun. It’s crazy. I love it.

Malibu – Miley Cyrus

Completely different from the previous favorite, this is a song that came out a long time ago but I haven’t heard yet. Miley Cyrus has swung back around to a more calm, mellow persona (which was so obviously her genius plan to follow the footsteps of other pop stars to make a bigger name for herself) with a new album. The song has a mellow, Sheryl Crow vibe that I love. It’s a perfect summer song (I’m angry I hadn’t heard it ’til late August) that has a beautiful vintage-sounding guitar riff in the chorus that I love.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is one of my favorite young adult authors. Her Grishaverse books (starting with the Shadow & Bone trilogy and then with the Six of Crows duology) are an imaginative world of magic that reminds me of the books I’m writing. I obviously fell in love. And although I really liked the first trilogy set in this world, the duology Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom have hands down been her best work yet. Six of Crows is one of my favorite books of all time and Crooked Kingdom follows close behind. It’s a great book, and because it’s the second, I’m not going to go into too many spoiler details about it, but the story wraps up perfectly in this book and kept me surprised the entire time about the plot. All the characters are so well crafted, the story could’ve gone in any direction, and I probably still would’ve enjoyed it just to spend more time with the characters. It’s so good.

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Switching over to an adult book, Vermilion by Molly Tanzer is not a book at first glance that I would’ve chosen. Well, technically it was because I bought it solely for the cover—but if it had had a less beautiful cover, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. Not from knowing the surface material: it’s a western. But not just a western, it’s a paranormal, steampunk-esque book about a young woman who dresses as a man and deals with sending ghosts off to the afterlife. Then? I’m totally in. But if I’d known it would’ve been a much more fantasy, queer-heavy, mystery novel, I would’ve read it immediately after purchasing. It’s so so good. I’ve heard word of a sequel and I’m all in. Especially if the covers match and the second is just as beautiful as the first. Then I’m doubly in.

And that’s what I’ve enjoyed in the month of August!

BookTube-A-Thon 2017

BookTube-A-Thon was recently! Actually, a while ago, at the end of July. Anyway, it’s one of my favorite events to take part in, having done it now three years in a row. The main challenge is to read seven books in seven days. And I did not accomplish that — but, I did accomplish all the other reading challenges and read quite a lot for a single week, so I’m proud of myself.

My official count is six and a half books read. Which isn’t terrible! That’s awesome! But also so close that is makes me so mad! I had an opportunity to have a fun night away and instead of saying no, I did it and ended up spending almost 24 hours of that week not reading. I definitely could’ve made it to seven had I not done it. But it was still fun so I don’t regret it. I still read more than I ever usually do in a week.

Here’s the breakdown with challenges:

  • Read a hyped book:
              The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – 3/5 stars

  • Read a book with a protagonist very different from you AND read a book with a person on the cover:
              Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – 4/5 stars

  • Read a book in a single day AND read a book entirely outside:
              Saga, Volume 7 by Brian K Vaughan – 5/5 stars

  • Read a book you bought because of the cover:
              Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli – 4/5 stars

  • Read seven books:
              This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – 4/5 stars
              The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket – 4/5 stars
              Vermilion by Molly Tanzer (the half a book, but I’ve recently finished and gave it 4/5 stars)

I also switched Seven Brief Lessons on Physics in for Behold the Bones by Natalie C Parker because it was shorter and I wanted to get my sixth book in on the last day!

Anyway, I had a good time reading — this is the second year of getting six and a half books in (the other year I only read three) but I’m still happy with the results. Next year, I’m totally making it to seven! I’m determined!

2017 Favorites: July

July simultaneously felt really long and felt like it flew by — I don’t know how, but it did. My monthly focus for July was reading, and I did a fair amount of it, so most of my favorites this month are book related.

BookTube-A-Thon

My favorite read-a-thon to participate in (and really the only one I do participate in, though I plan on doing more in the future) is BookTube-A-Thon, hosted by Ariel Bissett. You don’t have to be a BookTuber to participate and I do it every year – it’s so much fun and a little stressful. It’s a week long, with many challenges, but the main challenge is to read seven books. I did not. I plan on writing a wrap up post soon.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

One of the books I read during BookTube-A-Thon was by my favorite author Victoria Schwab titled This Savage Song. It’s set in an alternate future of the United States, telling the story of two teens from opposite sides of a divided city, crossing paths long after “the phenomenon,” an event where monsters are created from acts of violence. It’s such an imaginative, cool world and the story was engaging from start to finish. It’s just a really awesome book and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Another book I read for BookTube-A-Thon was the novella Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a sci-fi story about a girl named Binti, chosen to go to the best university in the galaxy, having to survive an attack by an alien race on the ship taking her there. It’s one of the most interesting, imaginative stories I’ve ever read, from an incredible perspective of a black woman that doesn’t often get the attention from the mainstream as it should, especially in this genre — it’s the only one I’ve ever really heard of, but I know there is more out there. I’m excited to find more stories similar and I’ll be starting with the sequels to Binti.

Call Me By Your Name (Trailer)

Technically, the trailer came out in August and I’m writing this in August, but I don’t want to wait to talk about this film. I’m incredibly excited to watch Call Me By Your Name, a gay-themed drama starring Armie Hammer (one of my favorite actors). I’ve been waiting for this trailer for so long, ever since hearing about the film — I’ve watched it a dozen times already. And, it’s an adaptation of a book, so I’ll be hunting for that to read in time before the film is released.

In A Heart Beat 

This entire list is either something book related or something gay. I’m not mad about it. In A Heartbeat is the most adorable gay-themed animated short about a school kid who has a crush on his classmate and his heart becomes anthropomorphic, chasing down his crush, risking the boy being outed. It’s adorable, the music is perfect, and it’s an instant classic up there with some of my favorite animated shorts like Paperman, which has a similar vibe.

So that’s all my favorite books/films/etc. things from July!

2017 Goals: Checking In – 6 Months

2017 is halfway over and I’m in a constant state of panic because of it. June was the most insanely busy month I’d ever had (the small business I co-own launched another product) and went by as quickly as if it were a week long. Around the end of April, I decided that I would break up some of my goals and focus on one more than the others during each month, and so far it’s been working…sort of okay, mostly not. Anyway, it’s time to go over how well I’m doing with my goals for the year.

Design & Illustration

In the month of May, I focused on practicing hand lettering! It went fairly well, though I didn’t do as much as I wanted—I’d wanted to do one piece a day, but only ended up doing about half. Still, I definitely see an improvement in just that short of time and want to do more to get even better. I’m still not great at it, but a few of them turned out great. Along with this, I’ve been wanting to redesign book covers of some favorite books for two reasons: 1) to do more design projects in between other work that I’ve been doing and 2) to get more works that could go in my portfolio, specifically because I’d like to start marketing myself as a freelance designer that does book design covers (as well as branding and marketing design). It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and think it’s a good time to focus on it more. I’ve done one book cover with some hand lettering on it (still in the works, will post along with whole hand lettering post). In other ways, I’ve done very little design work outside of my day job (and even within that, hardly any) because June was so chaotic. And guess which month I chose to be my month of illustration focus? That’s right! June. I did very very little sketching and illustrating. But it’s okay, because I plan on choosing another month to focus on illustrating later in the year. Disappointing, but okay. I just have to press on!

Writing

Guess what I’ve been doing very little of? That’s right! Writing. But it’s okay. I posted about it last month here. July is writing and reading focused, so I’m going to be taking some extra time to write. Do I try to do to much? Too many interests? Probably. Anyway, my other writing month is September and then again in November (NaNoWriMo baby!), so I know I’ll be doing a lot more later in the year. Hopefully, July will be good to me and I’ll be able to care out the time to write.

Reading

Don’t look at me. I’ve only finished five books. FIVE. The year is half over and I’ve only read FIVE BOOKS. How does this happen to me? I feel like I read all the time but I just…am not. Again, hopefully July will be super great with reading. Well, I know it will be, because BookTube-A-Thon is this month! It’s my favorite time of year, where I stress myself out trying to read every extra minute I have for an entire week straight. I don’t sleep enough, I stop functioning as a normal human adult. It’s great.

Film: Import

I’ve actually watched a lot of films this year! I’ve seen almost 15 already. However, none in theaters—yet. I planned TWICE to go see Alien: Covenant in theaters, but couldn’t make it both times for dumb reasons (like work and stuff, ugh) and now I have no money to see any films in the theater. I do want to see Atomic Blonde, Valerian, and Baby Driver but I don’t know if I’ll be able to. But there are even more films I want to see in the fall, so I’m not worried. Five films in the theater is manageable, I don’t know I’m struggling. Stay tuned.

Film: Export

Though I haven’t made any film-based projects this year so far (my camera has been hijacked by a relative who needs it for work, as her camera broke, so I’ve been unable to really do anything yet) but I plan on doing some later in the summer. But—as I said in my last goals update post, I finished writing a short film called Anya, and I spent some time in May editing it. So there’s that.

Exercise

THIS IS THE ONE I’VE MADE MOST PROGRESS ON! I’M VERY EXCITED ABOUT IT! I made a post recently about changing up my diet and how I’ve been walking/jogging nearly every day (except for most of June and the first week of July, but I’ve been getting back to it now) and have lost a total of 25 pounds! That’s the most I’ve ever lost! I’m extremely happy and pumped up to keep going. I’ve reached my first weight goal, so now I’ll be targeting a second goal and aiming for it to be hit by the end of the summer!

Instagram

I’ve still been posting every day (or at least having one post per day, sometimes catching up with two or three a day) and I’ve been really loving it. I’ve almost hit 200 days and love a lot of the photos I’ve posted. Some are just okay, needing something to post or just posting a fun memory, less of a Photograph but it’s been a lot of fun.

2017 has been a difficult, busy year. But it’s all exciting! And hopefully worth it! I do know that I’ve already decided to lessen my goals next year. I have so many interests and things I want to accomplish, but I have to remember and realize that I can’t do it all. I can’t fit everything in one year. Doing two “everyday” projects in one year is too much (sketching daily and an Instagram post daily) and pressuring myself to create a certain number of illustrations, books read, and movies watched is taking the fun out of it. So I know what I want to change for next year, but want to finish this year out before doing anything different. Hopefully I don’t start to feel burnt out by the time 2018 comes along…ha ha…

Writing While in a Creative Slump

I’ve been in a creative slump.

For the most part, I try to write as often as I can. It’s what I love to do. Sometimes I write for hours, every day, for a week straight. Sometimes I write for twenty minutes on only one day of the week. It all depends on how much time I’m able to carve out for myself. It’s all about carving out time, making it work, doing what I can.

With doing anything creative, there needs to be a balance of creativity coming in and going out. Refilling the creative well is important: soaking up from all sources (books, films, art, television, life), taking in inspiration and creative energy in order to focus it and use it to produce, to let it flow out. Whenever I’m in a creative slump, and nothing else is working, I know I need to fill the creative well.

But the last few weeks, I’ve been incredibly busy with work—the small business I co-run launched a new product, so we’ve been busy promoting and making the product and sampling at stores a lot. I haven’t had much time to work on anything else, especially writing. I’ve had to make choices with my time and writing hasn’t been winning the time slot. A few times, I carved out a bit of time to write, but sat down and couldn’t get it going—and I knew it was because my creative well was dry, that I was in a creative slump. But I barely had enough time to read or watch anything, let alone write.

A few times, I could’ve carved out more time to fill the well or maybe even try to write, but I chose to do something like getting other work done or spending time with family or watching a few YouTube videos before going to sleep instead. One such YouTube video was by my favorite author, Victoria Schwab. In her video, she talks about when a writer is at their computer, they’re really just transcribing and that writers write all the time, whenever they think about their work—plotting, creating, building. That’s all writing, too. And that had me thinking about my writing time.

So what do I do when I’m unable to carve out writing time and unable to refill the creative well? There’s one thing I know I can do:

Not write. Or, I should say, not transcribe. Seriously. I just don’t do it. I don’t sit at the computer, I don’t pick up a pen. Because sometimes it’s not feasible to do so. I’m not a full-time writer, it’s not my job, so I don’t need to do it. So I don’t.

And that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean I’m not making progress. Because no matter how busy I am, how hectic life is, my brain is always with me. I always have a few stolen minutes to think while doing mundane tasks—showering, driving in the car, lying in bed at night, walking the dog. I always have time to think about the story, the characters, the world—and maybe jot down a note or two. And that keeps it going. Even when I don’t have time to sit at the computer and type out the actual words, just keeping the wheels turning is all I need to do—it’s still being productive, it’s still writing.

Favorite Book to Film/TV Adaptation

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.

The Hobbit

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

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.

Atonement

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.

Top Ten Favorites Books

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.

2017 Favorites: April

Alien: Covenant

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

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.

Beowulf

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.

My Writing Process

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.

The Well

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.

The Spark

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.

The Worm

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.

The Flood

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…

The Simmer

…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.

The Outline

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:

Chapter 10
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.)

Chapter 11
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:

Slide1

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.

The Draft

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.

The Break

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.

The Rewrite

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…

The Rewrite

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.

The End

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!