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.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cute Kids and Transcending Your Target Audience

Every Monday I volunteer with a program at the local elementary school, reading with kindergartners in need of additional literacy and/or mentoring time. I mostly do it for fun and to give back, and I would recommend it for those reasons alone, but if you happen to be a picture or children’s book writer I HIGHLY recommend finding a similar program. Even as someone who doesn't plan to write for this age group, it's fascinating to see what grabs beginning readers, what bores them, what helps them learn, what they think is absolutely positively cannot-stop-laughing hilarious. 

(Topping the hysterical laughter list so far: a random scene in this Clifford book, Mo’s bus-loving pigeon, and almost anything with animal sounds.)

And yes, occasionally a kindergartner has me read and reread and reread a book that seems so inane I would rather hit myself over the head with it than go through it one more time, but that’s a good learning experience too. (Or maybe it’s just karma, since I recently discovered that all those Berenstain Bears books I requested ALL THE TIME as a kid? SOOOO NOT my mother’s favorite. Though I could have sworn it was spelled Berenstein, not Berenstain, so maybe my obsession wasn't as thorough as I thought.)

More often, though, my little readers make excellent book selections. Today's discovery:

The Bravest Girls in the World, Olivia George, Randy DuBurke
The Bravest Girls in the World is the story of Toshi, who adjusts to life in a new part of the city and overcomes her paralyzing fear of dogs with the help of her new friend Meeka and her dog Sugar; and in turn, Toshi helps Meeka overcome a fear of her own. 

The book is part of the Just for You! series, which is specifically aimed at an underrepresented minority audience. I love the idea that an African American girl living in a city apartment could pick up this book and immediately see herself in the characters more easily than she might with the usual children's book fare.

But you know which one of my students today picked out this story, really enjoyed listening to it, and chose it for the one book they’re allowed to take home each month? A white boy from the Oregon suburbs. 

He didn’t reject it as a “girl book” or get thrown off by any of the other ways the characters and setting were different. He just liked the story about dogs and tree climbing and overcoming fears. He connected to the characters and their emotions. And at the part where Toshi is trying to motivate Meeka to overcome her fear, my student chimed in, “Yeah, and she should tell her that you can do anything you want when you put your mind to it.” I wanted to hug him and whatever parent/teacher/book/movie planted those positive thoughts. 

When we reached the end of the book, he asked if the two photographs were of the mom and dad in the family, and I explained that they were actually the author and illustrator. 

“Well," he said. "They sure know how to write a good book.” 

This shows it’s possible to write what might be seen as a niche book (in this case an important niche, I think) and still connect with a broader audience if your narrative and characters are strong. And you also shouldn’t underestimate the potential open-mindedness  of your readers, especially young ones. Much as I try to fight against gender stereotypes, I never would have expected him to like a book with “girls” in the title, to be honest, especially since he usually chooses photo-dominated books about race cars, ninjas, or spiders. I’m very glad he proved me wrong.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Off Break and Off to Camp

Today marks the end of Spring Break, and as expected I didn’t complete all of my overambitious goals. But I did watch a lot of amazing basketball. 

Wait, crap, that wasn’t on my list. 

I did manage to read these:

All of which were somewhere between Good and Freaking Amazing, so yay!
And I kept moving forward on planning my WIP, slowly but surely, so that I’d be in a position to use Camp NaNoWriMo to the fullest instead of just churning out The Random. Yesterday was Day One and I found 1700 words to put down when my goal was only 1000, so here’s to keeping that pace and exceeding my 30,000 words goal! I can't seem to find a progress bar widget that links directly to my NaNo account. (Didn't they have those for regular NaNoWriMo? Am I missing something?) But maybe I'll put up a manual one.

It probably helped that I avoided much of the internet yesterday because I rarely find it worth the energy to separate fact from fiction on April Fool’s Day (though I did used to pull up those articles later when teaching students about evaluating claims and sources, hehe) but this one I like. 

Best of luck making your own words appear and characters develop and actions happen and complications arise and such...