Mid-Year Writing Update

I know, I know. We’re already well past the year’s midpoint, which makes the title of this post kind of pointless. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s never too late to check in on my writing goals, celebrate what I’ve accomplished, and decide whether there’s anything I need to re-evaluate.
Between the New Years Resolutions I posted on my blog, and my personal business plan, I wanted to accomplish some big things with my writing this year. Here’s a quick breakdown of how those big things are going so far.
Goal #1: Begin querying Facing the Music
Progress: I’m almost afraid to say this, but . . . I think I’m going to meet this goal this year. The first 18 chapters of the manuscript are FINISHED. I still have to write in the necessary changes for the last six chapters, but I’m not expecting that process to be as agonizing or as time-consuming as I originally thought it would be. I have a solid draft of a solid query letter that needs one more pass each from myself and my CPs. I’ve got a list and ranking system for possible agents, and a whole bunch of research to back that list up. And, for the first time in years, I finally feel like I have the courage to dive into the slush pile without turning into an anxiety-ridden mess.
Goal #2: Finish drafting a new manuscript
Progress: Barring a minor miracle, this just isn’t going to happen. I set this goal for myself back when I thought I was ready to commit to my YA contemporary romance. Although I have no regrets about setting that story aside because I wasn’t passionate enough to stick with it, I also don’t have any other ideas that are close to being ready to draft.
Goal #3: Revise a draft of my mystery and send it to my CPs for feedback
Progress: Considering the last novel I revised was an unmitigated disaster for 90% of the process (here’s looking at you, Facing the Music), I was determined to make a plan for revising my mystery before I changed a single word of the first draft. There are so many great resources out there for approaching revisions, and I culled a bunch of different strategies from authors whose blogs–and books–I read and respect. I reverse-outlined my book for the very first time and wrote out a plan of attack for myself, so that I knew what the steps of my revision process would be. I went back to the drawing board regarding my characters and plot, and did some thinking and free-writing about which aspects of the story I want to focus on and what I need to build into the next draft.
And then I sat down to begin re-working the arc of the actual mystery, which I’ve known has needed work from the very beginning, and . . . I stalled. Not indefinitely. Not even for longer than a couple of weeks. Just long enough to do some serious thinking about how freaking hard it is to write mysteries, and how I might need to fix both the starting point of the mystery AND the starting point of the story in order to make things work.
Once I came to that conclusion, everything started flowing. My absolute favorite thing about revising is watching the fragmented pieces of a story come together and build on each other and grow closer to the initial glorious idea that I had in my head. The story’s new beginning doesn’t fix every problem there was with the mystery’s initial draft, but it fixes a lot of them. And for the first time in ages, I can’t wait to dive back into writing once the mystery is fully fleshed out and the outline is complete.
Goal #4: Have something new ready to draft by November (and National Novel Writing Month)
Progress: Unless that something new winds up being the revised version of my mystery, it isn’t going to happen.
Goal #5: Write and submit 2-3 things that aren’t one of my manuscripts.
Progress: Not terrible. I finished the first draft of a short story back in June and did some research on potential markets not long after, but I also haven’t given it much thought since. I do plan to go back and revise it before the year is out, but it isn’t my top priority right now. Considering the whole purpose of this goal was to keep me writing and submitting, and I have a manuscript that’s close to being submission-ready anyway, I think that’s understandable.
That said, I would still like to draft and submit something else before the year is out too, just because it should be possible and there’s no reason not to.
Goal #6: Blog at least once every month.
Progress: Knocking it out of the park. 🙂
If you’re a writer, how’s your writing coming? If not, what have you accomplished this summer that you’re proud of? Let me know in the comments.

Currently . . .

This has become my go-to format for when life gets busy, apparently. 🙂

        Loving

What can I say – I just love summer. The warm, sunny weather, how much easier it is to spend time outdoors, the way the light lasts and lasts. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I use this time of year to recharge and refresh myself after the long, Midwestern winters. I’m also at my most productive when the days are longer, which feels great.

And speaking of productivity, I’m also loving the food blog Smitten Kitchen, which is the source of most of the new recipes I’ve tried so far this summer. The blogger organizes her recipes both by calendar date and by season, which makes my anal-retentive little heart happy.

Reading

In general, I’ve been gravitating more toward contemporary YA and romance. (i.e. stories with depth and drama but a higher probability of happy endings.) I’m reading The Season of You and Me by Robin Constantine, which is a love story that takes place in a beach town. I’m also working my way through Shades of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, a collection of short, poignant poetry that I’m really enjoying. And despite my preference for lighter, fluffier books right now, I’m also deep in the middle of As I Descended by Robin Talley, a delightfully chilling gay Macbeth retelling that takes place at a Southern boarding school.

Listening To

It has been a long time since I’ve checked out CDs from the library, but I did it this month because I was desperate to find some new music for my iPod. I’m super into Mary Lambert’s “Heart on My Sleeve” album, which I discovered on Spotify months ago. “So Far Away” was my gateway song, but they’re all really great. I’ve also been listening to the Pretty Reckless album “Going to Hell,” which is fueling my twin desires for songs written by women and harder rock music.

Working On

So. Many. Revisions. I’ve almost (cross my fingers, knock on wood) finished re-plotting the mystery arc of my mystery WIP, which is doing wonders for the rest of the story. It’s like I can feel the pieces falling into place. I still have to re-work the rest of my outline to accommodate the new mystery plot, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to start the actual rewriting required after that.

I’m also continuing to work sporadically on my Facing the Music revisions, because what else is new?

Thinking About

On a more serious note, I’ve spent most of the last few weeks mulling over how fleeting life is, and how impermanent so many of the things we take for granted really are. My fiancee and I spent this past weekend celebrating the life of a close family member who passed away, and it really forced me to consider how little time we all have on this earth, as well as how I’d like to spend that time.

I’ve been working toward weaning myself off social media and developing better habits for managing my time for a while now, but I’ve gotten a lot more serious about it recently. That may be the subject of a future blog post, depending on how it goes.

Anticipating 

Our upcoming trip abroad at the end of the next month! (Which is going to be my default answer until the trip actually happens, let’s be honest.) We’ve got our itinerary finalized, and all our reservations made for lodging. We’re also most of the way to having transportation figured out, because my fiancee’s uncle is a saint and has tackled most of the legwork. Since the planning is more or less finished, all there is left to do is get excited about going. And I’m VERY excited.

On a smaller scale, I’m also looking forward to a visit from my parents sometime this month.

Wishing

That I had more hours in the day to make use of. Because even when the days last this long, it never quite feels like I have enough time to do things.

If you’ve done your own currently update, or you’d like to let me know what you’re up to, drop me a link in the comments.

Spiraling

Because it has been a chaotic few weeks (or months, let’s be real), I thought I’d blog about something a little different. Something that impacts my life as much as it impacts my writing.

Anxiety.

I’ve been pretty open in the past about having Tourette’s Syndrome, but I tend to push my anxiety disorder under the rug. That’s partly because I have GAD–generalized anxiety disorder–which is fairly standard as far as anxiety disorders go. I have no past trauma that’s weighing me down, a good therapist, and a medication regime that works. The ways in which I manage my TS can vary on a day-to-day basis, but I generally feel like I’ve got my anxiety under control. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on what it’s like to have anxiety, or how anxiety is impacting my life. And most of the time, that’s a good thing.

Then, there are the times when ignoring my anxiety keeps me from realizing just how anxious I am. When everything in my life feels like it’s spiraling out of control, and it takes me far longer than it should to figure out why. I know that anxiety looks and feels different for everyone, so let me start by explaining what a typical anxiety spiral looks and feels like for me.

Maybe I have a bad couple of days. Or a week that I know is going to be more hectic than usual. Maybe it’s that time of the month, and I’m not watching for the usual mood swings that accompany changes in hormone levels the way I ordinarily would be. Maybe I get busy and take on too much, or maybe I take on too much because I don’t feel busy enough. Whatever the reason, I usually spend my days racing from task to task, never giving myself adequate amounts of time to slow down and catch my breath. I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything, despite the fact that I’ve been productive–or at least busy–from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I finally force myself to sleep. I fail to do the things that bring me peace of mind and make me happy, or I consciously choose not to do them because I convince myself that being happy isn’t as important as Getting Things Done. I’m wound too tight to sleep by the time my bedtime rolls around, so I skip bedtime and stay up too late doing nothing at all. Then I sleep in the next morning because I’m exhausted, panic because I haven’t had time to do things before work, and spend the rest of my day in hyper-drive, trying frantically to get caught up.

As you might imagine, this sort of thing is hell on my writing, on my relationships, on my sleep schedule, and on my sanity. When I’m acting this way, whether I consciously recognize it or not, all I can focus on are the things that I’m NOT doing. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been spending my time on useful, productive stuff, or if I’ve had to squeeze in my responsibilities between enjoyable social events. If I’ve managed to finish planning a trip–like I more or less have this week–I berate myself for not taking enough time to write. If I’ve spent a lot more time with friends than usual, I berate myself for disregarding my SO.

Those anxiety-induced thoughts and behavioral patterns are as unhelpful as they are unpleasant, and they can get out of hand in a hurry if I’m not paying at least SOME attention to where my anxiety levels are at during any given week. Which, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I’ve been terrible at doing for the past month or so now.

So, what does it take to pull myself out of an anxiety spiral?

As cliche as this sounds, the first step to solving any problem is admitting that you have one. I always start by readjusting my own perspective–trying to examine my actions and behavior from a place somewhere outside myself. This has gotten much easier with time, practice, and introspection, but when I’m deep in those spirals I tend to ask myself whether I’d be worried about a friend who was acting like me. If the answer is a big, emphatic yes, then I know I’ve let my anxiety swallow me and I need to start taking the steps to get back on neutral ground.

The next thing I’ll do is take a look at my calendar and designate an upcoming day as a reset day. Reset days tend to be weekend days, when I have no external plans and no one depending on me. Once I’ve chosen my reset day, I’ll make a list of all the things I want to accomplish. Some of them can be productivity oriented, like mopping my floors or revising for a certain number of hours or writing a blog post. But most of them focus on self-care strategies that I’ve been neglecting in favor of productivity–like going to bed by a certain time, locking myself off the internet, or cooking a favorite meal.

My reset days give me the chance to slow down and breathe deep and re-evaluate my own priorities. I try not to make too many life changes at once, just so I don’t overwhelm my brain, but I will make a list of the good habits I want to re-implement and the order in which I want to implement them. Last week, for example, I began setting a second alarm for myself so that I’d have to get out of bed at a reasonable time. Next week, I’m going to try and get back in the habit of shutting my computer off at least half an hour before bed. Both of those things are steps toward rebuilding my schedule, and a schedule goes a long way toward keeping those anxiety spirals at bay.

And with any luck, all of these strategies will leave me feeling better and more stable next month than I have so far this month.

Good Things

I don’t know about you all right now, but with the political climate in the US being what it is, I’m finding it harder and harder to stay positive on a day-to-day basis. That’s not to say there aren’t good things happening to me, or to the world at large. But when your healthcare is in jeopardy and your state has just defunded Planned Parenthood, when your government is trying to roll back important environmental protections and you worry weekly about nuclear warfare, well . . . everything else kind of pales in comparison.

Although it’s important to prioritize and address the big, ugly problems facing this country and this planet at this point in history, I would argue that it’s equally important to take the time to appreciate the good things in our lives, no matter how small they seem.

So, without further ado, here’s a not-so-short list of the things making me happy right now:

1. Warmer weather
2. How freaking green it is where I live right now
3. How beautiful the neighborhoods surrounding my workplace look now that EVERYTHING is blooming
4. The fact that school’s out for the summer, most of the college kids have gone home, and I’ll be able to find parking downtown again
5. Sitting on the patio at my favorite summer coffee shop
6. Awesome-sounding frappuccino flavors at Starbucks
7. Coming home after work and being able to open my windows
8. Evening walks as the sun is setting
9. Looking at the clock around 8:30 and realizing that it isn’t fully dark yet
10. Having my car paid off
11. Being able to actually save money
12. Knowing that I have over half the PTO saved up that I’ll need for time off this summer
13. Fresh fruit galore at the grocery store
14. The return of the local farmer’s market
15. Driving with my windows down
16. All of the spring cleaning I’ve accomplished
17. This new dumpling place downtown that I’m obsessed with
18. The prospect of shopping for new summer dresses
19. My belly dancing classes (I’ve taken 3 sessions so far, and I love it!)
20. The fact that my favorite custard stand Dairy Queen is open
21. More excuses to go out for ice cream/frozen yogurt because it isn’t freaking cold anymore
22. Planning my trip to Bavaria (among other places)
23. The smell of freshly mowed grass
24. Lightning bugs
25. Waking up in the morning when it’s light and not needing to put on a sweatshirt or bathrobe to ward off the chill

I realize that the majority of this post is basically just a love letter to summer, but I find it a lot easier to be happy and positive around this time of year than I do in the dead of winter.

Let me know what good things you’ve got going on in your life right now, or link me to your own list in the comments.

Currently . . .

Because I’ve seen this particular format floating around the blogosphere for a couple of months now, because I’ve wanted to try it, and because I’ve got nothing more pertinent to post this month. Enjoy!

Loving 

Up until recently, I would’ve mentioned the warmer weather we’ve been having. But then it got rainy and cold and, you know, generally more like the Midwest in late April, which I’m not loving as much. But when it was sunny and warm and I could sit outside for lunch and soak up Vitamin D? That was pretty great.

I’m also really loving thredUP, which is a secondhand online clothing retailer that I signed up for based on recommendations from a couple different friends of mine. Their selection is huge and well-priced, they’ll do free return shipping in exchange for store credit within the first fourteen days, and they’re Eco-conscious when it comes to the clothes they can’t sell. What could be better?

Reading

I just started Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman because a friend of mine raved about it. (She was also kind enough to loan me her copy.) I haven’t read far enough to form solid opinions just yet, but the writing is gorgeous, and I love how this thrilling sense of danger pervades every page. It’s definitely one of those books where you know that the characters are going to blow up their lives in a monumental way, but you’re looking forward to the fireworks.

I’m also re-reading Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits, because I love that book and I finally own my own copy. Still enjoying it just as much as I did the first time, too.

Listening To

On the rare occasions when I get to choose the music at work, I’ve been really grooving on (pun intended) some of Spotify’s seasonal playlists. There’s a morning acoustic one that is a perfect blend of upbeat and quiet songs for starting my day, and a springtime acoustic one that goes hand-in-hand with this weather I’m loving.

Working On

I recently began the first round of revisions on my mystery WIP, which I’m super excited about. I finished this manuscript back in September, and the many months I’ve had to forget how much I struggled with it have done wonders for my motivation and my level of enjoyment for the story itself.

That said, this is the first time I’ve even attempted to revise one of my manuscripts with some sort of plan in mind, because I know how fast I’ll fail without one. Right now, I’m in the process of reverse outlining the whole story, using a combination of Susan Dennard’s revision workbook and Katherine Locke’s reverse outlining strategies. I don’t tend to think of myself as a tactile learner, but I have to admit that the note cards make my whole messy manuscript seem a lot more manageable.

My fiancee and I have also cleaned a bunch of crap out of our closets and desks in the past couple weeks, which feels good and productive. The next step will be to take a closer look at my bookshelves and see if there’s anything else I’d like to weed out and donate.

Thinking About

I’ve spent the last couple months mulling over my job situation. and turning over future job possibilities. There are lots of things I like about my current administrative position, including but not limited to the variety of work that I’m doing, the majority of my coworkers, and my boss. (Seriously, you guys, having a good boss is such a wonderful feeling.)

At the same time, I know this isn’t what I want to do forever, and I know the work isn’t intellectually stimulating enough to keep me entertained and invested for the rest of my career. The problem right now is that a bunch of real life circumstances make it easier and smarter to stay put than start searching. Not to mention that I’m still not 100% sure what it is I’d like to do next.

Anticipating

Have I mentioned summer enough for you all yet? 😉 All kidding aside, I’m also incredibly excited for summer vacation . . . in four months. And on a much shorter timeline, I’m really looking forward to taking the gift card I received to a local bookstore and blowing a whole bunch of money on new books.

Wishing

One of the things I don’t love so much about my current job is the hours, which fit my natural sleep schedule quite nicely but don’t leave me any time to volunteer. I miss the animal shelter where I spent 6 or 7 months walking dogs one day a week. I miss the endorphin boost I got from spending time with all those puppies, and the self-confidence that came from knowing I’d played some part in getting them adopted.

More than that, I wish certain real life stuff–two international trips in two years, a wedding to plan, the whole money thing–wasn’t interfering with my ability to adopt a new pet. Sigh . . .

Winter Re-cap, or Battling the Blahs

I have two posts-to-be-written in my blogging queue right now, and instead I’m starting a new post from scratch. If that isn’t an analogy of my year to date, I don’t know what is.

Although we haven’t had much of a winter in the Midwest, my brain has still been behaving in the same way it does when there’s six inches of snow on the ground and temperatures haven’t crawled above forty in weeks. I’ve been lethargic, unfocused, and mostly unproductive. I haven’t made much progress on any of my various writing projects, because I’ve spent more of my energy trying to motivate myself to create than actually creating.

The only thing that’s kept me from freaking out or berating myself over my lack of forward momentum is reminding myself that I struggled with the exact same issues last year. Now that we’ve started Daylight Savings Time, I’m hopeful that an additional hour of light every evening might shake me out of my slump.

In the meantime, though, here’s a short list of things that I have been working on this winter:

1. Wedding planning.

I am super excited about being engaged, you guys, and even more excited to get married. What I’m not excited about is having to wrestle with all the logistical nightmares that arise when you’re trying to throw what’s essentially a giant party for your closest family and friends. My fiancee and I have our guest list made, our photographer selected, numerous offers of help from our loved ones, and a whole bunch of ideas that may not survive the planning process. What we don’t have is a date or a venue.

We did visit a couple of venues last weekend while we were visiting my parents, and we’re certain that one of those two will be suitable for our wedding and reception. Just don’t ask us to decide which one (yet).

2. Summer vacation planning.

Speaking of weddings, my fiancee and I are also in the process of planning a huge trip abroad this August for the purposes of attending his cousin’s wedding. We’ve got our plane tickets purchased, and our pre-flight arrangements made. What we don’t have is a rough itinerary, hotel/hostel reservations, or visas, which the current political climate mandates that we need. Which brings me to . . .

3. Being a general pain in the collective ass of our current administration.

One thing I am proud of myself for more or less staying on top of is regularly contacting my senators and representative. (Seriously, they’ve got to be sick of hearing my voice on their answering machines by now.) I’ve also been signing a bunch of petitions, writing letters, and attending a few protests/rallies as my schedule allows. I do have to take plenty of breaks from social media and the news, but I’ve been pretty relentless in my activism otherwise.

4. Not panicking over the work that I haven’t yet managed to accomplish as far as writing/revising goes.

It’s hard for me not to get frustrated with myself for not having finished my revisions, or not having written anything new. Taming my high expectations for myself and my creative output will always be a struggle for me, and I know that. However, I’ve done a much better job this year at separating my own worth as a writer from the work that I’ve done (or haven’t managed to do) on a day-to-day basis.

That said, I’m still chipping away at the first draft of my YA romance WIP, and I’m hopeful that Camp NaNoWriMo will give me the push I need to increase my word counts next month. We shall see . . .

How have you spent your winter so far? What are you hoping to accomplish in the upcoming months?  

Romance is Hard

I love reading love stories. There’s something captivating about watching two people fall for each other and fight to be together, even if it means battling their own insecurities in the meantime. A good love story can improve my opinion of a mediocre book if it’s handled the right way, and a great love story can make me a lifelong fan of an author or their work. (Here’s looking at you, Rainbow Rowell.)

That said, I have to confess that I’ve avoided writing love stories for years. Not because I hate them, or because my novels haven’t needed them. In fact, I’d planned to include major romantic subplots in both the series I’d begun with The Recruited and my first stab at a new adult novel. But neither of those subplots were ever fully developed, or integrated effectively into the over-arching plot, which is why I ended up scrapping them. The subplots and the stories, that is.

I know there are plenty of writers out there who excel at writing romance, but I am not one of them. It’s HARD for me, in a way that writing fight scenes and angst and good narration never has been. And I think the reason it’s hard is because of how well you have to know both halves of your character couples before you can accurately portray them falling in love with each other. You have to go deep–not just into the bright, beautiful parts of their personalities, but their ugly, jealous, resentful sides as well.

I recognize that you can make this exact same argument about writing long-term friendships, or close sibling relationships, or relationships between kids and their parents, but there’s something about romance that’s different. Maybe it’s that love stories are still so incredibly idealized, or that romance outsells every other major genre in book publishing. Maybe it’s that most of us are desperate to believe in the notion of happily-ever-after, and we all want to get invested in characters seeking their own fairy tale endings. I have no real way to know, and I could write another three blog posts theorizing if I had more time.

Instead, I’ll be sitting back down at my computer, trying to strengthen my drafting muscles on a new WIP that is–you guessed it–a love story. Wish me luck!