2015 Reading Challenge- Halfway There!

The two pieces of advice I have heard over and over again for people who wish to be better writers are as follows:

1. Write more

2. Read more

So, at the beginning of this year, I decided to really commit to reading more. And not just in terms of volume. I consume books at a really fast rate, but when I’m not thinking about it, I tend to gravitate towards the same types of books over and over again. Now, there is nothing wrong with reading in the same genre, especially because it gives me insight into what works and what doesn’t, but if I really want to push myself as a writer I would be dumb to ignore the plethora of other genres and authors out there. In the end we all have access to the same words right? It’s just about putting them in a different order.

I stumbled across this really diverse list of book suggestions from Popsugar over on Twitter and was interested at once. It had categories such as: “A book you were supposed to read in high school but didn’t” and “A book with antonyms in the title”. The categories seemed fun and not too specific, so I felt I was up for the challenge.

2015-reading-challenge

In actuality, you have to read 52 books as one of the categories is a trilogy, so that evens out to one book a week for the year. I had a friend on Facebook who was able to complete a 100 book challenge last year, so I thought ‘hey- this will be a cakewalk! I read really fast, and what is a book a week?’. As I have come to find out, it is really easy to fall behind, and my reading isn’t very consistent. I tend to go through binges where I will read three or four books in a week, but then I only read one book in the months of June and July because I was busy visiting family for the summer. (more on those adventures here!)

As of September 1st, I find myself having completed 25 books, marking the halfway point (kind of) of the challenge. Due to the large amount of variety in options, I haven’t really felt restricted in my book choices, and have been able to read pretty much whatever I wanted, worrying about fitting them to a category after turning the last page.

The complete challenge list, with the books I have read so far crossed off.

Things are getting a little more difficult now, as I am having to search harder for books that fit the categories. (Anyone have a suggestion for a book set in Camden, NY? My hometown is seriously small!) I’m still having fun though, and Goodreads is more and more helpful when searching for books with specific characteristics.

The following is a list of the books I have read so far. You can also check out my bookshelf on Goodreads dedicated to the challenge for my personal ratings on each. I hope you find some new reading material here! There are some real gems in this bunch!

1. A Book you were supposed to read in High School – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
2. A Funny Book – The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
3. A Banned book – Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
4. A Book published this year- The Heir by Kiera Cass
5. A Memoir- Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
6. A book with more than 500 pages- The Firm by John Grisham
7. A book that became a movie- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
8. A book with nonhuman characters- The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
9. A book by a female author- Imitation by Heather Hildenbrand
10. A mystery or thriller- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
11. A book with a one-word title- Younger by Suzanne Munshower
12. A book set in a different country- Animal Farm by George Orwell
13. A book a friend recommended- Raven’s Gift by
14. A book based on a true story- Night by Elie Wiesel
15. A book that scares you- Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
16. A book you can finish in a day- Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm
17. A trilogy- The Selection by Kiera Cass
18. A trilogy- The Elite by Kiera Cass
19. A trilogy- The One by Kiera Cass
20. A book with a love triangle- The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons
21. A book set in high school- The Second Ship by Richard Phillips
22. A book with a color in the title- Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
23. A book that made you cry- The Gemini Effect by Chuck Grossart
24. A book with magic- The Einstein Prophecy by Robert Masello
25. A book by an author you’ve never read before- Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

The next book on the list for me? Geek Love- a book published the year I was born. It was re-released as a ‘vintage contemporary’ (1989 is vintage now???) but I’m counting the original release for the purpose of the challenge.

Are you doing any type of reading challenge? Let me know about it in the comments below!

Camp NaNoWriMo Prepping Fun!

It’s been a while since my last writing update, and with only a day left before Camp NaNoWriMo begins it’s perfect timing for one. My goal was to write every day after November, figuring that I would have a really great habit going, but it didn’t work out. The holidays were a perfect distraction, but I am happy to say that I am writing more, it not every day. Actually writing down brainstorm ideas (keep a note going in your phone- it’s always with you anyway!) alone was a big step in the right direction- inspiration is everywhere. I also worked on a couple of shorter length pieces, and prepped for a couple new novel ideas.

Editing has proved to be tougher than I believed. I can see the problems with my novel, but it just seems so much more overwhelming than writing. It’s a slower process, and I may need a little more time away from it. The most frustrating thing is how illusive the right title is. I’ve been through about five at this point and it sounds like a little thing, but without a title I’m having clarity issues. I keep plodding through bit by bit, and plan on using it as a distraction when I want to work on something other than the current project.

Overall, I find I’m happier when I’m writing and accomplishing things, so I make sure to make time to sit down and actually put words on the page.

CAMP NANO PREP

Originally I was going to use the more flexible camp format to work on an Adult Sci-fi idea that I was developing. With an ensemble cast of 7 characters I was going to work on their backstories so I had a strong base to begin writing.

But things rarely go as planned right? Since finding out I am pregnant my sleeping patterns have totally changed. I have a harder time getting to sleep, and tend to sleep in, lingering in bed late, especially on weekends. On one such weekend, I woke with a great idea forming in my head. The setting was inspired by an article about overcrowding in New York City, and I had characters, a loose plot, and a great setting in mind. I grabbed my phone and typed it all in. I was so excited. Everything seemed to work and it was more solid than the idea I had been developing, so I made the choice to switch ideas.

My (much smaller this time) scene breakdown I printed for my Camp Novel.

My (much smaller this time) scene breakdown I printed for my Camp Novel.

Since the synopsis I wrote is available publicly on the Camp site I would share it here as well:

————

16 year-old Kaitlyn lives in a future NYC where the buildings have literally grown into every possible space, looming overhead; an interconnected conglomerate of brick and steel fire-escapes.

Suffocating in the middle of a brick tomb, Kaitlyn must get a job to help support her family when her mother becomes injured. She turns to the Runner’s Agency; a group that hires out fearless runners to navigate the city’s dangerous steel avenues to deliver goods to it’s citizens with enough money to stay safe inside their upper level homes.

Kaitlyn soon meets Archer, a top-level boy while running errands for his family. Sheltered by his family’s wealth he nurtures a love for history, art, and tales of the world beyond New York. He helps fuel Kaitlyn’s dreams of escaping the smog and everyday perils of the city. What she doesn’t know is that danger lurks in more places than just the hostile cityscape.

Kaitlyn’s determination to save enough money to leave causes her to rise through the runner ranks rapidly- upsetting those at the top of heap. And the consequences could be deadly.

————

I’m excited to take what I learned in November and apply it to this novel. Always looking for ways to improve and get better!

Are any of you going to Camp as well? What kind of projects are you working on? I would love to hear about it!

Home Inventory

I was inspired today when reading a blog post from the awesome Cunningham Family in Bush Alaska Blog. That family has been living in the bush for several years and I am an avid reader, always hoping to glean tips from them! Today she talked about taking an inventory of household items so that they knew what they would need after summer break. I had not thought of that, but it is brilliant! There is no way that I’m going to remember what I have in my pantry here after two months away.

So I quickly flipped over to google and tried to find a good template. Unfortunately, although I found many beautiful templates, none of them were exactly what I was looking for. Fortunately, I know my way around Excel, so I hunkered down and started formatting what I would need. All of my stage management skills are paying off on this one!

Inventory start

This is the start of my home inventory. Over the next couple months I will be filling out each section. What you can’t see are my sections for Office Supplies, Pet Care, and the ever-important Misc section for the things that don’t fit elsewhere! I’m confident that this will help so much when planning our Bush Orders and shopping trips in Anchorage in August. I even put a column for how many we will need to buy, so half of my shopping list will be done before I ever have to worry about it.

I would be happy to share my completed template with anyone else who needs one. You can find the file on dropbox for download here. To add more rows in any section simply click in the section you want to add to Click HOME > INSERT > INSERT SHEET ROWS as many times as you need.

I hope you enjoyed the inventory! Have you ever done a home inventory before? How did you organize it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

DIY Laundry Detergent Powder

Laundry Soap

I used to be the type of person who just grabbed whatever the cheapest cleaning supplies and laundry detergents at the store. When I learned that the village we were moving to in Alaska didn’t have a traditional grocery store, and that the nearest dollar store was in Anchorage over 400 miles away I admit that I panicked. I didn’t know what I would do. But then I jumped on over to Pinterest and found a plethora of different DIY recipes for cleaning supplies.

Specifically, I found this really great laundry detergent powder recipe from the Liz Marie Blog. It was all dry ingredients that I could ship in and supposedly lasted a year! It was the perfect solution. With a little work, I wouldn’t have to worry about paying over $20 for a bottle of liquid detergent several times a year.

I made only two small changes to Liz Marie’s formula. I could not find the fels-naptha laundry soap bars, and ended up with some pretty fabulous bright pink Zote Soap and it has worked great! I also decided to forego any scented crystals. The formula is as follows:

1. Three bars of Laundry soap. I used the pink Zote Soap.
2. One four pound, twelve ounce box of Borax.
3. One four pound box of arm & hammer baking soda.
4. One box of arm & hammer super washing soda. (Large box- one size only)
5. Four pounds of Oxy Clean.

Grate the bars of laundry soap (careful not to cut yourself- I scraped myself on the grater a couple times!) and then mix all of the ingredients. I used a really large trash bag so that I could mix it well. It is very heavy and difficult to mix in a container.

After everything was mixed I put it in a container with an airtight seal to keep out moisture. About half of my mix fit into the jar, and I clipped the trash bag closed and I stored it in a small trashcan.

I did my shopping at Sam’s Club in Anchorage, and was able to find all the ingredients in bulk. In fact, the box of Oxy Clean was even more than four pounds, so I have extra left over.

Laundry Soap2

Six months later of using the soap I still have just over half left. Each load I use half a scoop (I got the scoop from the large Oxi-Clean box.) I have a frontloading HE machine and it works fine. Once or twice I found a sliver of undissolved soap, but 99% of the time it has dissolved completely and cleans great. I’m very happy with it. It is great on my sensitive skin, and I plan to make more next year when this runs out.

Have you tried a DIY Laundry Powder? What about other cleaning supplies? How did you like it? Let me know in the comments below!

Flying by the Seat of Our Pants

lessons-learned

If I have learned anything by living out in the bush, it is that mistakes are expensive, and by golly you are bound to make mistakes. Traveling home for Christmas wasn’t a mistake, but I sure learned some important lessons that will hopefully help me save some money in the future.

Lesson Learned #1: First of all, if you plan on moving to Alaska (and I might have said this before, but it begs repeating) get the Alaska Airlines Credit Card. You will be flying a lot, and the points and miles add up. There are also a lot of other benefits if you have the premium card like companion fares, etc. Okay, now that I have made my little advertisement (I swear I’m not getting paid, but wouldn’t that be cool) let’s move on to booking flights.

Lesson Learned #2: In October there are PFD Sales all throughout Alaska. The PFD is the Permanent Fund Distribution, or oil dividend money that every resident of Alaska receives if they have been living in the state for more than 1 calendar year (Jan-Dec) and have the intention of staying. Because of this money being injected into the economy, everyone is vying for a piece of your PFD and the sales abound. We were given a heads up about these sales and that they were the perfect time to buy your tickets home for Christmas.

Lesson Learned #3: The time of day you fly out of your hub DOES matter. I scheduled our Christmas flights for just whenever, and it ran into some expensive problems. To get from the village to Bethel you have to travel by frozen river or plane. The planes only fly at specific times, and the first flight out of Bethel from Alaska Airlines is scheduled before any of the small charters can get you into town. So I had to travel in a day before and get a hotel room. Which of course was about $200 for a single night, and the only place in town that would accept my dog. Like I said, expensive mistakes. At least with the extra time I was able to get my Alaska driver’s license! Looking on the bright side of life!

Lesson Learned #4:This one only applies if you are flying with a pet, but it was an expensive mistake. If you book multiple airlines (a common thing when going from AK to the East coast) you have to pay EACH airline’s pet fee. So we paid Alaska Airlines AND Delta BOTH WAYS to take our puppy for the holidays. She is wonderful and we love her so it was worth it. (and would have cost the same to board her in Anchorage or Bethel) From now on, we will fly into a different airport on the East Coast in order to stay on Alaska Airlines the entire trip.

Lesson Learned #5: You will rationalize overspending when visiting the Lower 48. Grocery stores and the mall were dangerous, sneakily expensive places over the holidays. Prices looked so good in comparison to Alaska that I didn’t keep track of spending like I would have normally. It adds up.

Life is about the adventure, and hopefully you can learn something along the way. I am already planning a trip to Tampa to see my sister’s Master’s Thesis Defense, and have made much better choices in my flights- hopefully saving time, money and a little bit of my sanity!

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: Crickets

So after the craziness of NaNoWriMo died down, I was looking for another community based writing event. I stumbled upon NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge through Twitter (I think!) and was intrigued. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the annual Challenge the rules are as follows: (paraphrased of course)

– There are three rounds. To advance you must be in the top 5 of your round
– Each round you will be assigned a genre, character and subject that must be included in your story.
– Timelines / word counts for each round vary. Round 1: 8 days, 2,500 words max. Round 2: 3 days, 2,000 words max. Round 3: 1 day, 1,000 words max.

I was excited to try writing in a new style as I am used to long-form story telling. I was assigned to Heat 10 in which we were given:

Genre: Romance
Character: A Single Mom
Subject: Gluten Free

And the following is the short story I came up with! Please enjoy!

CRICKETS

Hannah sat with a bump on the hard boards of the bench. The wind whipped through the three sided lean-to that served as the public bus stop. She pulled her jacket around her tighter and shoved her hands in her pockets. Her finger found a hole in the lining. It figures, she thought. When it rains it pours. Glancing at the posted bus schedule she tried to see when the next bus was scheduled to come by. She had never taken one in the middle of the day before. 1:36pm. She looked at her watch. Twenty minutes to go. Sliding back down onto the bench Hannah hung her head and braced herself against the wind. How would she explain this to her son? She had to find a new job and soon. The small amount of money that she had squirreled away wasn’t going to last forever.

It wasn’t as if it was her fault though. All it took was one rich, irate customer and as the waitress she took all the blame. Despite two years of busting her ass, she was tossed to the curb like garbage.
The wind picked up again, rustling papers tacked to the wooden trim of the lean-to. A neon yellow flyer broke free and flew into Hannah’s face. She grabbed at it and pulled the struggling paper in front of her.

Need Money Now?
Have a Great Idea or Invention?
We May Have a Deal for You! Come With Your Pitch to City Hall!

Hannah crumpled the paper and laughed bitterly. It was probably just a scheme to attract desperate people. She looked around for a trashcan but didn’t see any, so she shoved the paper into her pocket and continued to wait for the bus.

***

Standing in the small entryway to her apartment she could hear her son laughing in the other room. Calvin was the single ray of sunshine in her life. She may not have much, but he was enough.

“Ms. Roberts is that you?” Tina, the babysitter, called.

“Yes, I’m home a little early today.” Hannah shucked off her jacket and let it fall over the back of a chair. She walked into the living room and Calvin catapulted himself at her, and she caught him in a bone crushing hug.

“Tina and me were playing pirates!” Hannah laughed and looked at the joy radiating from her son’s face. His dark curly hair, which he had inherited from her, shook as he spoke and it made her smile.

“Well, Mr. Pirate, I’m sure all that sailing has made you hungry. How about some lunch? Mac and Cheese sound okay?” Calvin cheered and ran into the kitchen. He loved helping his mom cook. She turned to Tina. “Would you like to stay for lunch?”

“Thanks Ms. Roberts, but I’ll probably just head home. I’m on this gluten free diet now anyway, so pasta is off the menu.”

“Okay. Let me just grab your money, and you can be on your way.” Hannah went through the pockets of her coat. She pulled out the neon flyer from the bus stop and tossed it aside. Finally she found a bill and handed it to Tina.

“Is everything okay?” Tina asked taking the money.

“It will be… I’ve always figured things out. Thanks Tina.” She said closing the door behind her.

***

“Okay mommy, open your eyes!” Hannah’s son Calvin stood with his arms spread wide, and a huge smile plastered on his face.

“Oooo sweetie, this is beautiful.”

“I made cereal and toast!”

She laughed and sat down in the chair her son pulled out for her. He scrambled into his chair at the other end of the table and scooped a spoonful of Fruit Loops into his mouth. The LED candles flickered across the table, illuminating the chipped blue bowls that Hannah had picked up secondhand. Her first mouthful of cereal was soggy. Calvin looked at her expectantly and she smiled. He was trying so hard to make her happy. She was sure that he had been able to hear her tears earlier in the other room. He was only seven, but had always been so in tune with her after his father left.

“Thank you so much for dinner sweetie. I appreciate the help and you did a great job.” She could see the blush bloom on her son’s cheeks.

“But wait mom- you haven’t tried desert yet! And that’s the best part!” Calvin scrambled down from his chair and raced into the kitchen and out of sight. Hannah chewed her cereal as she listened to her son in the other room.
He came out clutching two pudding cups in his chubby little hands. He set one down at her place and then sat back down with his, hardly waiting to dig into the chocolate. She licked her spoon and pushed the cereal aside.

She took a scoop of the pudding and relished the chocolate. She paused as she felt something crunchy in the smooth pudding. It had an interesting savory flavor.

“Honey, did you put something extra in the pudding?”

“Yeah, it’s the secret ingredient!”

“What is it?”

“If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret anymore!” He squealed. Calvin dug back into his pudding, getting almost more of it on his face than his mouth she thought. Hannah looked back down at her pudding and took another spoonful. Nothing crunched this time. She probed the cup with her spoon. She landed on something, and pulled it up to examine it more closely.

“Sweetie… is this… a bug?” Calvin giggled. Her stomach turned.

“Mr. Cecil loves them! And I do too!” She put down her spoon.

“But Mr. Cecil is a lizard. He is supposed to eat bugs. We aren’t.”

“That’s not what Tina said. She said people have been eating bugs forever, and that crickets are the best because they are gluten free!” Hannah would have to speak to his babysitter. But as she watched her son practically lick his pudding cup clean, she thought maybe there was something to it. The neon flyer from earlier flashed in her mind. Perhaps this was just what she needed to happen.

***

Hannah looked down at her blazer and picked at a loose thread. She hoped that the lace tank top underneath wasn’t too unprofessional. Most of the other people in the waiting room were men in suits and crisp white shirts. She clutched the manila folder and tray of cookies in her hands. This is crazy. I can’t possibly go in there and ask for people’s money to make food out of crickets. They would laugh her out of the room.

“Hannah Roberts.” A short assistant called from the door. She stood and took a deep breath and smoothed out the wrinkles in her skirt the best she could.
A group of four people sat at the long desk at the bottom of the amphitheater. Hannah felt it took an eternity to traverse the space between them. She carefully picked her way down the stairs and took her place in front of the panel.

“Welcome Mrs. Roberts.”

“Ms.” She responded without thinking. The man on the end of the panel looked up from his notes for a minute, and she flushed. What did it matter if she was a Ms. or a Mrs.? She kicked herself mentally and tried to move on, hoping they would forget her faux pas. “Thank you all for taking the time to be here today.” She started. “I’m here seeking an initial investment in a line of gluten free products that are also packed with protein, vitamins and flavor. I have done some preliminary research to show that there is a strong and growing market for these products and with the right marketing my brand has unlimited potential.”

Hannah approached the desk and passed out the information packets she had put together. When she handed the final packet to the man on the end, she caught her breath. She hadn’t noticed from further away, but he had piercing blue eyes that seemed to cut right through her. He cleared his throat and she snapped out of it, turning to stand and address them all.

He was hovering there in her peripheral vision throughout her presentation. It gave her a nervous energy that excited her.

“In the end, if we can’t stand up for our health, let me ask you- what can you stand for?”

***

Walking down the hallway, headed for the door Hannah felt lighter than air. She could skip if it wasn’t for her high heels. The panel had responded positively to her idea, and wanted to fund it.

“Ms. Roberts!” she heard her name called from behind her. “Wait, please.” She turned to see the tall handsome man from the panel. Her breath caught. What was he doing? Weren’t there other people to see in the meetings? “You forgot your tray.” He said, extending it out to her.

“You didn’t have to run it out to me.”

“I know, but I wanted a chance to speak to you again.” He said. “I’m Titus.”

“I know who you are.” She had realized it halfway through her pitch. Titus Johnson was one of the biggest names in the city. He owned the newspaper and was on half a dozen boards or committees. Everyone knew who Titus Johnson was. What Hannah didn’t know was why he was still standing there, staring at her. His eyes were bright and his smile seemed to stretch to both his eyes.

“May I call you Hannah?” He asked. She nodded. “Well, Hannah” he said, as if testing out her name, “Your passion in there really struck a chord with me. It’s been a long time since I have met someone so on fire, and well… quite frankly so beautiful too.”

She felt her heartbeat quicken. She didn’t know how to take the compliment. She wasn’t sure of what she was doing- just that she would do anything for her and her son. Titus plowed ahead. “I wanted to see if I could see you again… maybe try some more of your cricket food?” He grinned at her and any walls she had came crashing down.

“Absolutely.” She said, as she took the tray from him and turned to go. Her face hurt from how much she was smiling.

***

Hannah was running around making last minute adjustments to the dinner, lighting candles and watching the clock. She hadn’t been this nervous since she was dating her ex-husband back in college. She felt giddy.

She hadn’t told him about her son yet. It would be obvious once he walked in the house, despite all her efforts to clean up his toys, she couldn’t erase the evidence. Not that she wanted to, but it was a difficult subject to broach.

Just as she ladled the final scoop of steaming tomato sauce over the pasta the doorbell rang. She threw off her apron, tossing it over a box of live crickets in the pantry, and hurried to the front door. She took a deep breath to calm herself, and checked her hair and makeup in the entryway mirror. Her hair was a little frizzy, but she couldn’t help it. Opening the door, she saw Titus standing on the step. Everything about him was perfection. A crisp green shirt complimented his dark tousled hair, and made his eyes seem to glow. He revealed a bouquet of flowers, and a grin.

“They’re beautiful. I can’t tell you the last time someone gave me roses.” She ushered him inside and took the flowers. “Let me find a vase for these. They would look wonderful on the table.”

“Speaking of wonderful, you look great tonight.” Titus said. “Not that I didn’t like the skirt suit, but this is definitely a more flattering look.” Hannah was happy that her back was turned as she thanked him. Blushing as much as she was couldn’t be a good thing on the first date. She had to try and keep it together.

“There. Perfect.” She said as she placed the crystal vase in the center of the table. It really did complete the spread. Titus pulled out her chair and she sat. Joining her, he placed his napkin on his lap and she followed suit. “I hope you brought your appetite, because I ended up making a whole lot. I’m still trying to get portion sizes right. You’re not afraid to eat more crickets are you?”

“I don’t see any crickets on the table.” Titus said, surveying the pasta and salad.

“That’s the beauty of it. They are combined with other ingredients in the pasta. You don’t see them, but all of the health benefits are there. And it’s all gluten free to boot.” Taking a bite of the pasta she could see Titus smile. “Taste good?”

“To be quite frank” he said, dabbing at his mouth with his napkin, “I tend to think most health foods are just shadows of the real thing. But this… this adds something great. It’s almost a bacon undertone.”

Hannah beamed. “I’m glad you like it.” They locked eyes for a moment and she felt an energy passing between them that had nothing to do with the food. A trace of sauce was left on his lips. She gestured to it, and he licked it off slowly. She had to look away. Raising her wine glass to her lips she tried to settle her breathing. What was it about him that made her come so easily undone? It had been a long time since anyone had made her feel this way.

“Hannah?” Titus said quietly, folding his napkin and placing it on the table.

“Yes?”

“Can I be frank with you? I came here tonight not interested in crickets, or gluten free food. Don’t get me wrong, you cook wonderfully, and I really think you have a great business plan, but… I don’t think that is all there is to you. From the moment you walked into that meeting with that nervous smile and unfailing determination… I was hooked.”

“Titus…” she protested. She didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t that she was upset with what he was saying; in fact it was quite the opposite. “I have a lot of baggage.”

“Don’t we all?” he said rising. He walked over to her and took her hand. “Please give me a chance. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I have a feeling that it will be worth it.” He took her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing it tenderly. The feeling sent shivers down Hannah’s spine.

“Yes.” She said with a smile breaking over her whole face. She stood and embraced him. His lips met hers and he pulled her in closer. The sound of crickets chirping enveloped them, and Hannah knew this was the beginning of something wonderful.

——————————
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share your thoughts and constructive criticism in the comments below. This was my first short story outside of school, and I had fun with it, but know I can still learn.

Post Mortem (NaNo Wrap-up)

Nano Post Mortem

post•mor•tem
pōstˈmôrdəm/

• An examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death.
• An analysis or discussion of an event held soon after it has occurred, especially in order to determine why it was a failure.

When I was attending college studying theatre, we would always hold a Post Mortem after each production. It was structured where we would ask three questions of ourselves and the department:

1. What worked?
2. What didn’t work?
3. What did I learn?

I think that this can be an excellent exercise for almost any project that you take on- whether you succeed or fail, it is important to be able to identify what things contributed to the outcome and learn from it.

My final word count as of 11/30 was: 60,577. I was a winner of NaNoWriMo, and met my personal goal of 60,000. I have not however, finished my first draft.

So, in this vein I will examine my first experience with NaNoWriMo:

1. What worked?

-Prep and Plotting
I did a lot of Prep (you can read about it in my previous blog posts) before NaNo started. I explored several different methods, and in the end, it paid off. I was able to sit and write without worrying about where my plot was going, or who the characters were. I had enough space to play and develop, but I had a roadmap as well. It also helped slow me down and not skip ahead to the next super exciting plot point. I have a good pace going where things are developing nicely.

-Writing in the morning
I have never been a morning person… but I can say, my best writing happened in the mornings. When I was in my routine and fully focused I could write and write. Not to say that I didn’t write at other times, but I had so many other distractions later in the day.

-NaNoWordSprints/Twitter
I turned to Twitter in the third and fourth week. Wordsprints and timed writing sessions were never about the high word count for me, but rather a focusing tool. I was being held accountable… sure no one would chastise me for not writing, but it was a little push I needed. I also followed a lot of different resources for writers, finding inspiration and great advice.

-Forums for Research
The Nano forums are a dangerous place… it is very easy to lose track of time reading there, but when I used them correctly they were great. Occasionally I would hit a place in my writing where I had a hole in my knowledge, and hadn’t researched. Usually it was something that a quick Google search couldn’t solve, so I would post to the forums and be able to breathe, go back to writing, and get some great responses.

-Writing goals were reasonable
2,000 words a day was a good goal for me. I picked it arbitrarily, but mostly because it was easier to do the math than with the standard 1,667. This goal kept me ahead of par, and I was able to take two days off this month for personal things, without falling behind and feeling guilty. Some days reaching two thousand words felt like scaling a mountain, but others it was so easy that I wrote above and beyond.

2. What didn’t work?

-Vague areas in my outline
I’m not sure how to fix this, but there were some places in my outline where I had ideas, but no actual scenes. I had written things like “Stuff happens here to show the disaster.” Great, but that doesn’t help when writing. I need to pay attention to where the characters are, and what the conflict is in each scene instead of just what it needs to accomplish. I had only some of the pieces and this made some parts extremely difficult.

-Microsoft Word?
I use Word for everything. I’m typing this blog post up in Word right now. I have used it when freelancing in the theatre, and school for forever. I utilized a lot of the cool tools available, and yet, this is the first project I’ve attempted on this scale. It is getting unwieldy, but I’m not sure about switching to Scrivner or some of the other programs out there. I may try the free trial for the planning of my next plot and see how I feel about it.

-Oversharing
I started the month sharing daily updates in several places- Facebook included. However it started to feel like a nuisance and I was worrying more about what people would say, etc than it was worth, so I ditched the overshare, and just kept it to my daily e-mails to my family.

-Procrastination
Procrastination is an ugly beast, and I don’t think it will ever leave me alone. Sometimes it is just hard to sit down, focus and write, even with the best intentions in the world. Does that make me a bad writer? No, I think it only makes me human. I will continue to strive to do better.

3. What did I learn?
First and foremost, I can do this. I can easily write 2,000 words most days and write well.

Even the best plans are not a complete thing. I thought my outline was as good as it was going to get and couldn’t be any more specific, but when I started working it was vague in a lot of areas- This showed me that I can’t plan everything out and it’s okay. Sometimes you have to slow down, and the plot will unfold. Stephen Kings talks about this in his book On Writing as the ‘excavation’ of the story.

I still like to write. I have something to say. This is exciting. I don’t want to throw it all out, or never type another word again.

I work very well with goals/pressure. I always did in theatre and school, and because I have a relatively open schedule nowadays, the daily writing goals were great motivators.

In conclusion…
NaNoWriMo was overwhelming at times. I thought I would breeze right through, and I didn’t. I did meet my goals and persevere however. It was a great jump start to my novel writing and I will be forever grateful.

You will find as many opinions of NaNoWriMo as you will find people on this planet. I won’t bother to list the myriad of articles and blogs that love or hate it. You can procrastinate on google for a good long time doing that (believe me.) I would recommend someone try NaNo if it sounded like a good idea to them, and something motivating rather than crushing, but it depends a lot on your own personal reasons for participating. It isn’t really a competition against other people, so if you want to use the month as motivation to help you write, you shouldn’t really worry about what other people are doing. Is a fanfic writer really going to ruin your literary fiction novel? No. The point is to write. And if you were going to write anyway- great! Other people writing (whether it is quality or not) doesn’t hurt what you do.

Finally, I have upped my personal goal to finish this thing before I arrive on the East Coast for Christmas. That gives me 10 more days. At my current rate I should reach about 80K before edits which is still within the recommended guidelines for my genre (New Adult). Hopefully I will have one final update when that is complete!

How did your NaNo go? What worked/didn’t work for you? What did you learn? Let me know in the comments below!

NaNoWriMo Prep: Expecations (and Managing Them)

Nano Prep week 4

I looked at my calendar and couldn’t believe it; we are in our last week of prep before the main event! Hopefully you’ve got some sort of plan, and are still excited about writing. In this last week before the craziness unfolds I wanted to talk about managing expectations for the next month, and beyond. A lot of people don’t realize how much 50,000 words really is. You are not going to get there the first day, or week (as a general rule- there are always exceptions) and there will come a time in the month when you might want to throw in the towel, because all of a sudden writing is getting hard, you are running out of steam, and you are questioning why you even thought you had a good idea in the first place. That’s okay. That’s why you’ve put together a support system to rally around you.

However, if you are one of the many who manage to cross the finish line and become a ‘winner’ of NaNoWriMo, rejoice! But then remember- you do not yet have a novel. You have a first draft- or more realistically, you have a part of a first draft. As a new writer entering the exciting world of NaNoWriMo, it is easy to get pulled in to the fast paced forums, exciting word wars and start dreaming big about your novel. The adrenaline and ‘what if’s’ couple together to form an intoxicating dream of quick success and fame. Don’t let the excitement of NaNoWriMo give you unrealistic expectations about the publishing and writing industries though. NaNo is probably the only really fast paced thing out there.

Publishing is a slow industry. Reaching that NaNoWriMo goal will be exciting, and it’s great to dream big; we all want to be bestsellers. But there is a reason that books become bestsellers, and a lot of it has to do with the enormous amount of work that went into them. But don’t get discouraged! Your exciting writing journey is just getting under way! December will present you with a few choices:

1. Finish the first draft.
If 50,000 words were not enough to convey your story, that is okay. It is important to note that most published novels are at least double this amount. So if you need more time to finish your plot, do it! Just because November is over and you are a NaNoWriMo winner doesn’t mean you should stop writing, or abandon your book, half finished.

2. Editing.
Now if you did finish your first draft (in however many words) you can choose to start editing right away. Some authors, especially ones with deadlines, jump right into edits. A lot suggest that you start first with just an overall read of the manuscript to catch any major problems. After that you can delve in deeper and do the closer edits.

Other authors however, are proponents for taking a break before edits. Stephen King’s book On Writing suggests that readers take a substantial break after the first draft in order to come at the edits with a fresh eye. I tend to agree with this school of thought, and practice it with my blog. Now, when I’m editing posts that tend to be 1,000 words or less I don’t let them sit for months, or even weeks, but it is amazing to me what a day or two can reveal. I catch a lot of small mistakes, delete unnecessary or redundant information, and rearrange content to make more sense.

3. Shelf the novel.
Maybe your manuscript wore you out. Maybe by the end of the month you hate your characters, and plot. Maybe the book just got away from your and you are frustrated. That’s okay. No one says that you have to keep going. You can put that novel away and come back to it later- or not at all. This was your story. I only suggest that you don’t destroy it. You never know what day in the future you will want to look back on it and steal a character, or maybe even start writing it again with a fresh perspective.

You might be looking at all of this thinking “Well, if what I produce during this month isn’t really a finished Novel, does this mean that NaNoWriMo isn’t worth it?” Not at all. This month pulls together people from all over the world to write- and that is exciting!

Single Step

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” Think of NaNoWriMo as that first single step towards your novel. Just because it doesn’t get you all the way to your goal of having a published novel doesn’t diminish its importance. Understanding that this is only the first step in what can be a long slow journey will help you stay creative, and positive during the trials to come.

What are your expectations for NaNoWriMo? Are you excited to finally start writing something? Share your comments and reasons for writing in the section below!

NaNoWriMo Prep: Write What You Know

Nano Prep week 1

A lot of people love the idea of the challenge of NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words in one month (and a month with only 30 days!) seems like a great achievement- and it is. It’s going to take a lot of persistence, caffeine and ideas to get to that goal. Fortunately, I’ve had a couple ideas floating around for a while; long enough that they are down on paper, plots are outlined, characters have some rough personalities mapped out, and now feel confident enough that I will be able to cruise across that 50,000 word finish line (and perhaps lap around again).

Not everyone comes into the game with this kind of prep work though. So what do you do in this situation? You could ask 100 different people, and you would get 100 different answers, but I think one thing is more important than anything else: Write what you know.

Now does this mean if you are 16 and in a suburban middle class high school you have to write a young adult novel about a middle class kid in suburban high school? Of course not. After all, if we all only ever wrote about our lives exactly as they are, there would be no great fiction. “Write What You Know” does mean however, that you maybe should think twice about choosing to write about an old man going through the difficulties of Alzheimer’s in Communist Russia. You need some frame of reference to work from, and writing about what you know will make you writing more three dimensional- you can give it more flavor, and create relatable, real characters. In acting this is called using ‘sense memory’ and is associated with method acting.

Now you might be thinking, ‘that’s all well and good for a realistic story, but I really want to write fantasy’. This method can work for Science Fiction or Fantasy as well, because after all, all stories start with some type of character or feeling. So start there, and let your imagination fill in the blanks.

Start by thinking of something that happened to you that gives you a strong memory. Perhaps you had a really great day with your family at an amusement park over the summer. You want to think of not just the sights, but how your other senses were effected. Was there music in the park? How did it smell that day? Was it bright and sunny, or cold and windy? Now take that memory and pull something from it. It could be the setting, or a person. Just choose something that made an impact on your memory. Now take that idea, and begin to ask yourself “what if” questions:

“What if there was a thunderstorm at the amusement park and the rollercoaster was hit by lighting?”

“What if that scary looking clown had a fear of clowns?”

“What if I ran into the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen over at the cotton candy stand, but then all of a sudden aliens came down from the sky and abducted her?”

At this point- let your imagination run wild. All ideas are good ideas. Brainstorm away and don’t edit yourself. Sooner than you think you will have a whole host of ideas that are rooted in something real for you.

Don’t forget to use your emotions as well! We have all felt anger, and sadness and happiness. Use those memories to fuel your characters and build a realistic story. This is writing what you know.

This is not to say that you won’t have to (or shouldn’t!) do research. There are always going to be things that you need to look up or reference to create a world that is full, rich and diverse. There is a difference though in researching to support your story, and having to research something that your story absolutely hinges on. Research is great, but you have to make sure you know enough to sound credible, and this can be difficult if your plot relies heavily on something that you have only a slight working knowledge of.

What experiences or feelings have you had that you use in your writing? Have you ever done something just so you could write about it? Agree with me? Disagree? I’d love to hear from you either way!