Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reading and Writing Recap 2013

Whew. I feel like the start of 2014 rolled over me like a speeding freight train. But one that you don’t see coming, like some sort of sneaky ninja freight train. 
Okay, I am going to write the rest of this post later after coffee or the similes will only get worse. 

Writing performance was… decidedly mediocre. I never came to a screeching halt, so I’m glad I still got writing done every month, but I was definitely dragging myself along. I only subbed 9 short stories when I was aiming for 20, and none were accepted (yet, anyway). I did win NaNoWriMo, but I somehow still feel utterly lost with that monstrous mess-uscript.

My journaling plan went much better. Committing myself to only writing a few sentences a day worked really well, and I made it smoothly through the year. I rarely fell behind, and when I did it was a snap to catch up. I don't think I've ever consistently journaled for a year, so yay!

For 2014, I’m combining the two goals and keeping a writing journal inspired by Susan Dennard. I already keep a notebook with random ideas for the novel, but now I want to use one to also document more of my process and keep myself accountable. The rule is, I must write in it every day, even if it’s just “I didn’t write today because work was long and puppy was distracting and the latest episode of Project Runway was about to expire from my Hulu queue. I hereby deprive myself of leftover Christmas chocolate in penance.” Good old fashioned guilt motivation. 

My overall writing goal for the year is a simple one. Finish the *&%$ novel. Please oh please.

I’m also totally using the calendar method again. I got off to a good start and wrote 1000 words yesterday, but sadly my calendar hasn’t arrived in the mail yet. I WANT MY STICKER, DANG IT! Ahem.
2013 was a great reading year. I completed my 50 Off the Shelf Challenge, though it went down to the wire: I had to read 18 books in December to catch up (thank you work-cancelling snow storms, winter vacation, and long airplane flights!), and I *might* have even snuck off from our New Year’s Eve festivities for half an hour in order to finish the final book on my list before midnight. (Why yes, I *am* always the life of the party.) I ended up reading 112 books total for the year, exceeding my goal of 100. An absurd number of them were excellent, so picking my Top Ten was nearly impossible... and in the end I had to cheat a bit and group some by author:

1. Laini Taylor: Days of Blood and Starlight; Lips Touch Three Times
I named my dog Karou after reading the first book in the series, so obviously I had ridiculously high hopes for Days. It exceeded them. And knowing how picky and curmudgeonly I get about romantic stories, the fact that I admit to loving a book of kissing stories called Lips Touch is nothing short of a miracle.

2. Maggie Stiefvater: The Scorpio Races; The Raven Boys
I listened to The Scorpio Races on audiobook and it was stunning, literally: there were scenes that made me stop walking my dog and just stand there, overwhelmed. The Raven Boys showed the same talent with character development and unique fantastical elements... It's going to be a great series.

3. Holly Black: Doll Bones; Black Heart
Doll Bones is the kind of creepy-charming middle grade book that I would love to write. And man am I going to miss the Curse Workers series like crazy.

4. Kristin Cashore: Graceling; Fire; Bitterblue
This is the epic, expansive, unique, unapologetic fantasy series I’ve been waiting for. All three books are exquisite both on their own and as a collection.

5. John Gardner: Grendel
A little literary fiction gem. The prose is so incredibly stunning. I just wanted to savor every sentence, then go reread Beowulf, then reread this again...  

6. Bill Bryson: In a Sunburned Country
Bill Bryson in Australia and at his best. I always learn from and laugh embarrassingly loudly at his writing, but I think this might be my favorite of all of them. 

7. Derek Landy: Skulduggery Pleasant
All of my students seemed to be recommending this one, and they were right. It is absolute hilarious genius, especially when narrated by Rupert Degas. I am currently halfway through the second book of the series and loving it just as much. 

8. Allie Brosh: Hyperbole and a Half
I have loved Allie Brosh's crazy brilliant work for so long, and it's fantastic to have it in book form. Her honesty and humor are like nothing else.

9. John Elder Robison: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s
Such an entertaining and moving memoir that gives great insight into Asperger's but goes well beyond it. Robison has a fascinating life history and heaps of talent.

10. Christopher McDougall: Born to Run
I found this book interesting on all fronts: as a travel narrative, a memoir, a history, a suspense story, sports journalism, an evolutionary hypothesis, a running text, a revolution in athletics and lifestyle. You definitely don’t need any ultramarathon aspirations to learn something fascinating from this one.
And the Pleasant Surprise of the Year Award goes to…

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
This was that last book that I snuck off to finish. I actually planned to read it much earlier in the year since my mom had recommended it, but I just couldn’t get into it then. I almost swapped it out of my list altogether, figuring I'd have to drag myself through it, but thank goodness I gave it another shot. It was incredible, moving and charming with characters that you never want to leave. I mostly read the paperback version, but I also listened to a bit of the audiobook from the library website, and it was excellent as well. I break out into a smile whenever I think about this book. Good call, Mom :-).

In 2014, I again want to read at least 100 books total, 50 of those off of my shelves - the list will be under my Reading tab soon. (Isn't it embarassing that after doing three years of OTS, I again have enough unread books on my shelves to take part again? Yes, yes I think it is.)

How did your writing, reading, and living go in 2013, and what are your goals for this new year?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tips and Tricks from this Year's NaNoWriMo

No matter what kind of draft I end up with by the end of November (messy melted swiss cheese comes to mind) I always come away from NaNoWriMo having learned something. 

There are some things I relearn the hard way every year, like (1) first drafts always suck, (2) with great stubbornness, I can achieve massive word counts to come from behind, and (3) Holy Everything why can I never learn to properly outline these beasts ahead of time? Also, (4) creative burnout is a very real thing, which is why I’m blogging about NaNoWriMo almost two weeks after it happened and why I still haven’t reopened the Draft of Doom.

But I also always pick up some new tips and tricks every year. I test them out during the chaos of NaNo and then usually continue to use them in my less frantic writing life all year round. Last year it was Rachel Aaron’s Triangle and a few related strategies, which I still use. 

And this year I had two new magical totems of productivity in my writing corner:

The Hourglass

Well, technically it’s a half hour glass, which works perfectly for me. When the sand is flowing, I can do nothing but writing (or thinking about writing, but no internet etc.) Thirty minutes of writing doesn’t sound super daunting, right? Sure, sometimes I’m slogging through and I look up at the hourglass and think HOW IS THERE STILL SO MUCH SAND LEFT ON THE TOP? But I force myself to keep going, and somewhere along the way I usually get swept up in the writing so that I don’t notice when the final grains are tumbling out. Once I do, I'll take a break if I need one and then flip the glass over and keep on writing.

I’ve used this method in the past with the timer on my phone or computer, but the alarm at the end was always so jarring. I also know people who use an egg timer, but the ticking would drive me nuts. The hourglass is soothing and charming and works as office decoration when I’m not using it.

The Sticker Calendar

I’ve been meaning to try this one ever since I saw Victoria Schwab blog about it, and I plan to continue using it every month now. Gotta love visual accountability and cute stickers! 

I gave myself a monster sticker for every 1000 words written on a given day. (And no words were allowed to ‘roll over,’ which is why I have fewer than 50 stickers even though I did write 50,000 words total. You’ll notice that (1) I probably should have chosen smaller stickers or a bigger calendar and (2) there’s a clear sticker clustering trend. Obviously that’s because work got in the way of writing during the week and I got behind and had to play catch up monsters like to party on weekends and the end of the month. 

My creative tank still needs some refilling, so I’m content to let my writing rest for another week while I travel for some pre-holiday family time. But then I will be right back at it, hourglass and sticker calendar at the ready. 

How about you? Tips? Tricks? Epic NaNo stories of triumph and/or exhaustion?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Me as Little Red Riding Hood with my not so big or bad Wolflet.

We didn't have a great showing of trick-or-treaters this year, nom nom nom more candy for me though I did enjoy the nerdy accountant who said he was there to "collect the required candy tax" from us, and then chose a box of nerds "because I'm a nerd, I guess." 

And since Halloween is all about nightmares, I'm now off to read more of Stephen King's IT before bed (after years and years of avoiding the book because I am a horror wuss with no desire to develop a fear of clowns*). I should also do something resembling more outlining so that NaNoWriMo won't be quite so, yaknow, scary. 

How was your Halloween? 

*Which is why I still never ever plan to watch the movie. The book is excellent so far though!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Where I've Been

So, Jillian, you haven’t been around here in FOR-EV-ER.

Did you get eaten by a bear?

Nope. Though thanks to my husband's misguided dream to someday bicycle in the frozen Canadian/Alaskan wildernesses, I have been reading some amazing(ly terrifying) bear stories lately.

Did you fall into a pit?

Not unless it's a figurative one where I am buried under the stuff I have to do. Or a metaphor for how addicting Parks & Rec is now that I am finally watching it.

So then what HAVE you been doing?

Mostly working at the two part-time jobs I started at the end of Spring. (Yaaaay additional employment!) One was a promotion of sorts; previously I was tutoring student-athletes at the community college, now I’m advising them and overseeing their tutors. The other job is with a private company helping individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum improve their school, work, and social skills. I honestly never expected to use my psychology degree in this way, but I’m so, so happy that a string of lucky circumstances put me in this part of the field. The learning curves for both jobs have been intense, but they feel like the right sort of challenge, and I’ve met some freaking fantastic people so far.

I’ve also been enjoying walks with spastic puppy, crisp autumn rides on my new road bike, cooking competitions with friends who share our Gordon Ramsay obsession, a ton of physical therapy for all my random injuries, and the time-consuming joys of home ownership. (Refinishing the garage door! Crying over old, persnickety plumbing! Trying to make our overgrown front yard less of an embarrassment to the neighborhood! It’s an exciting life I lead, I tell ya.)

Have you still been writing?

Errrmmm. Yes? Some. Not nearly enough. I’ve finished and subbed two or three short stories over the past few months (no luck yet) and I’m currently wrestling with another outline-shaped-monster for version number forty-two million of Impossible Novel.

Have you still been reading?

Yes! Lots, actually. I’ve even kept the Reading tab here updated, because I like lists and progress bars far too much.

Do you plan to return to blogging? Like, more than once every few months?

Definitely. I’ll never be one of those bloggers on a frequent, predictable schedule, but I plan to hang out here more often. I missed you guys!

And what about that NaNoWriMo thing coming up that you seem to do every year even when it doesn't seem like the best idea?

I am a creature of addiction masochism competitive stubbornness habit, so there is a very good chance. What about you?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Kid Who Went Down Fighting... and Didn't Really Lose

When I saw this video posted on a few friends' profiles, I almost didn't click on it because I was afraid it would turn me into a weepy ball of emotions, sobbing my way through our last box of tissues at 11:00 at night. (That prediction, by the way, was 100% accurate.) But it is, in more inspiring and unique and uplifting ways than I can count, absolutely not to be missed.

I hope it inspires you, too... to appreciate beauty, share happiness, tell your story, and live your life more fully. Thank you, Zach.