Taking a Break

Lately I’ve been a little frustrated with my own writing progress. I’m still in the enviable position of being able to make my own deadlines, but the flip side of that is that I can procrastinate endlessly with minimal consequences. Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on ways to give myself more time and motivation to write. I’ve decided that the best thing to do for the time being is step back from this blog a little. I am going to be slowing down the posting schedule pretty significantly. I’m not sure what the new schedule will be, or if I’ll be sticking to this format.

Thank you all so much for hanging with me so far. This isn’t the end, not by a long shot. The best way to get updates about the future of the blog is to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

A little more about my thought process behind this decision, and about how I am trying to take better care of myself:

When I started this blog back in December, I meant for it to serve my writing. It was a way to build a platform and gather an audience, but also an opportunity to work on my short-form writing. Blogging would be a welcome break from noveling.

I didn’t know what the blog was going to be, in terms of content. I had a general idea—I wanted to write about books, definitely, but also have the flexibility to discuss writing or food or whatever else I was working on at the time.

Now, five months later, I’m still not sure what it wants to be. I don’t feel like I’m creating the kind of content I would want to read, which means it’s time to step back and figure some things out.

One thing has become clear: this blog, as I originally envisioned it, is a huge time commitment. Researching, writing, editing, posting, and promoting a post can take up a whole morning or afternoon. That’s a potential day and a half of my workweek lost from fiction writing time.

When I first decided that I wasn’t going to teach this year, I had so. Many. Goals. There is an actual page in my journal from the end of August where I wrote down all the stuff I was going to do in the next twelve months. It’s kind of funny to look at now. Not only was I going to finish my novel, I was going to do it in a very short amount of time, writing for a lot of hours every day. In between that, I was going to get SO MUCH BETTER at all the other stuff I do. Run faster, practice instruments more, keep the apartment clean, crochet a ton of blankets, learn to speak Italian. Then I tossed the blog on top of that.

I was ambitious, which is not a bad thing! But I have a lifelong tendency to overload myself. It usually works out okay for about a month. “This is great!” I tell myself. “I’m creating art and enriching myself, this is what I’m meant to be doing.” Then, I start to get tired, or I’m not progressing as much as I think I should be. Angry at this show of human weakness, I push myself harder, which leads to burnout. Eventually I freeze up, terrified of failure, and do nothing, which is the worst possible outcome.

I was getting pretty close to the freeze-up-and-nothing stage not long ago, and here’s what I’m doing to prevent that from happening:

  1. I hired a cleaning service to take care of our bathrooms, floors, kitchen, and dusting. Having a clean, organized space to work and live in is so so important to me, but I am very bad at keeping it that way on my own. I know hiring someone to clean isn’t an option for everyone, but I can afford it right now and it’s already doing wonders for my mental health. Two professionals take two hours to do what would take me two weeks.
  1. I’m waking up earlier. Or, more accurately, I’m actually getting out of bed when the alarm goes off instead of just snuggling back down and playing on my phone for an hour plus. Seriously, that’s become way too much a part of the routine. Deleting a bunch of apps and not sleeping with the phone right next to me helps, too.
  1. I’m going to spend less time working on this blog, as discussed above.

None of this is to say that I haven’t enjoyed this blog. It’s been so much fun. I love hearing from people who are reading it. I treasure the discussions I’ve had, online and off, that started from posts here. When I see that one of my friends has added a book on Goodreads after I review it here, it fills my heart, it really does. Yelling about The Magicians was really fun, like so fun I am actually contemplating buying the DVDs so we can yell about the extras together (I haven’t bought a DVD since 2012, the last one was City of Lost Children). After I wrote this, my husband’s aunt and uncle sent us a box of Godiva hot chocolate mix, which was honestly the best and nicest thing. Not that I’m saying I need people to send me presents in order for an endeavor to be worthwhile, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

That’s why this isn’t goodbye, it’s just the beginning of a bit of a transition. Hopefully on the other side, there will be more, better content for you to read, and also a novel full of words and characters and a plot by yours truly. Keep in touch in the meantime, and thanks for reading!

Workshop

Last weekend I went to the Writers’ Workshop of Asheville to take a class called “Writing the Novel.” People have asked me about this and other writers’ events that I’ve done, so I thought I would do a post. I’ll give you an overview of the types of stuff I’ve been up to, and then I’ll talk specifically about Asheville.

A little background: Up until recently, writing was strictly a hobby for me. I wrote for my own enjoyment, and for my friends. I took three writing classes in college. Four, if I count the English 101 from freshman year. Only two of those classes had anything to do with writing fiction, and it was always short stories. I was taught zero things about how to write a novel during my formal education. I read a bunch of them, for sure, but that’s it.

Lately, I’ve been seeking out chances to learn more about writing craft. Doing NaNoWriMo back in November was actually a great way to get started. The municipal liaisons in Wilmington organized weekly write-ins at libraries or bookstores. All the participants would go hang out for a couple of hours and write.

After November, I started going to local workshops and a critique group. A writers’ workshop is taught by one person and geared towards a specific topic—something like “writing your memoir” or “editing your work.” The participants write, share, and discuss their work during the allotted time. A critique group, on the other hand, is a little more free form. Members bring completed work to read, and the group gives them feedback. Every workshop and group can be different, but that’s the general idea.

The benefit of all this, for me, has gone beyond just learning to be a better writer. Before moving to North Carolina, I was a teacher. Before that, I was a student. I was used to spending my days surrounded by people and constantly getting feedback about my performance. Suddenly being alone all day was a bit of shock. Writers’ groups are a way for me to meet new people and get feedback on my work. They also keep me accountable, especially the critique group—I want to get the most out of it, so I have to read, so I have to write and revise between meeting.

This blog is good for accountability, too. Thanks for reading, guys!

Okay, back to the Asheville workshop. “Writing the Novel,” the class I attended, was taught by Brenda McClain (her website is down right now, but there is some information about her next book, One Good Mama Bone, at the bottom of this page). The workshop was held at the workshop’s Asheville headquarters, which are in a beautiful old farmhouse. After coming home I found out the house also serves as a bed and breakfast, which sounds magical. A little more character than the Holiday Inn Express I stayed at, probably.

There were seven people total in the workshop. There was a pretty broad range of experiences and interests. Some of us were just getting started on a novel, others were moving towards publication. We shared excerpts of mysteries, paranormal fiction, historical fiction, novels-in-stories, and humor.

After introductions, we got into some reading. The group gave positive comments only. In the past I might have been a little more cynical about that—how am I supposed to improve if no one tells me what’s wrong? But there are plenty of voices telling me what’s not working in my writing. Many of them originate in my own head. And when I really need that tough-love criticism, I have people I can get it from. It was refreshing and affirming to have people tell me what makes my style work so I can be energized to do more good writing.

We broke for lunch, then came back and did some writing prompts that Bren had prepared. Most of what I wrote during this time was developmental. It probably won’t make it into the novel itself, but it helped me sort out some things about my characters that I’d been struggling with.

For the last hour or so, we discussed publication. It was an open question-and-answer type of talk, and there was a lot of talk about how to pitch a novel to potential agents. Bren covered everything from how to write a query letter to the etiquette of meeting an agent in person (i.e., never, ever pitch your work in a public restroom). That was great for me, since my goal is to start querying agents by the end of 2016.

So, that was my experience at the Writers’ Workshop of Asheville. Every workshop is going to be a little bit different, but if you’re in a position to get to Asheville or Charlotte, you should check out their website. I also got to spend the night after the workshop barhopping downtown, so if you ever find yourself in Asheville, I have a couple restaurants/bars/breweries I can recommend.

Hope everyone’s having a wonderful week. I’ll see you in a couple of days with an update on what I’ve been reading.

Books That Made Me Want to Travel

A good book can transport you to a new place, sometimes literally—with a few intervening steps, like packing, of course. It’s immensely satisfying to see places after reading about them. There’s a flash of recognition, a feeling that you’ve been there before, if only in your mind.

I’ve been lucky enough to get my passport stamped a few times in the last decade, and my travel bucket list is heavily influenced by my reading list. I read a lot of fantasy, so sometimes I wind up visiting the real-world inspirations for imagined worlds. I’ve been known to pick up more realistic fiction and nonfiction, too, though. Here are some cities I’ve visited and the books that made me buy the plane ticket:

Istanbul, Turkey—The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

historian

This sprawling novel about academics chasing after a vampire takes place in several different countries, but the sections set in Turkey made me yearn to go there. Kostova describes Istanbul in the 1950s as a place that mixes the modern with the ancient. The two empires that ruled the city, Byzantine and Ottoman, both left their mark without managing to erase the cultures that came before. It’s all still there today: the Hagia Sophia, the mosques, even the skewers of grilled meat and locals selling talismans against the Evil Eye to tourists.

 

Athens, Greece—The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

thief

Part of what drew me to The Thief and its sequels as a teenager was my already-established obsession with Greek mythology. Attolia, the fictional setting of the books, isn’t Greece, exactly. It’s not Turkey either, although Turkish history also influences the novels. It’s more of an alternate history where neither the Roman Empire nor Christianity reached the region, and the culture mixes ancient governing systems with Renaissance technology (like primitive guns). All these disparate elements work together smoothly. The result is kind of like visiting Athens. Above the very modern city sits the Acropolis and some of the most iconic ancient ruins standing today.

Florence, Italy—Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King

dome

Kind of cheating here, because this book was gifted to me in college after I’d already decided to spend a semester in Florence. I had a nannying gig that spring, and while the kiddo napped I would sit at the kitchen table with this book and daydream about my upcoming trip. Filippo Brunelleschi was chosen to design a dome for the Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s grandest cathedral. No one in living memory had built a dome that large, and Brunelleschi had to solve the problem of how to do it without buttresses or scaffolding. Knowing the history of the Duomo made living in its shadow more exciting. The best part was climbing to the cupola and knowing that I was in the same spaces the builders used hundreds of years ago.

Venice, Italy and others—Kushiel’s Legacy Series by Jacqueline Carey

kushiel's chosen

The characters in these alternate history/erotic fantasy epics are well traveled. In the first book alone, the protagonist goes from living in alternate Renaissance France to being enslaved by a proto-Germanic tribe to negotiating a marriage treaty in England. I might never catch up, but I did go to Venice after reading Kushiel’s Chosen, the second book in the series. I was fascinated by the history of the old Republic and the contrast between the opulent masked balls and the wretched life of the state’s convicted criminals (although Carey’s prison, La Dolorosa, is markedly more isolated than Venice’s real-life Prigione Nuove, for plot reasons). Venice is very much in the business of preserving its Renaissance grandeur for tourist consumption, so I was able to get a mask, take a gondola ride, and peek at the Ponte dei Sospiri.

So far most of my trips have taken me to Europe. Even in Istanbul, I never crossed to the Asian side of the Bosphorus. I’d love some recommendations that would give me the itch to go to some new cities, countries, and continents. What books have influenced your travel dreams?