2017 Wrap-Up

I’ve got to be honest: 2017 was a hard year for me. It was hard to stay on task and hard to keep moving forward and hard to focus on things that weren’t the ever-burning dumpster fire that is American politics right now. Usually, the new year is a time of celebration and rejuvenation and re-invigoration for me. This time last year, I had a hard time feeling anything beyond anxiety and despair.

All of this is just to say that if you, like me, struggled with meeting your goals for this year or sticking to your resolutions, I understand. I achieved so much less in 2017 than I did in 2016 that it kills me a little to even compare the two. At the same time, I’m proud of my hard-won successes and I do want to acknowledge those, whether they’re goals I set on this blog, goals I set for myself, or additional accomplishments that I never could’ve predicted back in January.

I’ll be publishing a separate post for my New Year’s resolutions in another few days, but in the meantime, here’s a brief rundown of this year’s resolutions:

1. Begin querying Facing the Music.

I said back in January that this year would be my year, and I was right! I sent my first queries back in September after wrapping up my final revision pass, and I was SO excited. Even though querying is no more enjoyable now than it was during my first go-round, it still felt amazing to take the plunge.

2. Finish drafting a new WIP.

When I first wrote up this list, I was drafting a YA romance that I fully expected to have finished by spring. Instead, I wound up setting it aside around March for a variety of good reasons, even though I had no new ideas waiting in the wings to take its place. I’m still weirdly proud of myself for not wasting the better part of my year on a story I wasn’t passionate about.

3. Complete one round of revisions on my mystery and get CP feedback on it.

This was . . . ambitious. Basically, I over-estimated the amount of work I would need to do to clean up my mystery, as well as how much time it would take me to re-plot. I’m happy with the progress I did make on this story, and I do think it needed more time to bake, but I still can’t help wishing I could’ve started the actual re-writing/revising process, at the very least.

4. Practice being a good ally and learn to be a better one. Stay politically informed and politically active.

Although being a good ally is as much a process as becoming politically active, I feel like I did a MUCH better job at both these things this year than I have in, oh . . . my entire life. It was exhausting sometimes, to stay abreast of the news and all its many chaotic developments, but I’m glad I did. I’m glad I went out of my way to listen to others, to try and help without demanding their emotional labor, and to stay present and involved even when it was hard.

I’m going to continue my activism and allyship in 2018, and hopefully expand upon them too. I’ve considered volunteering for several months now, and as soon as I figure out where my time and talents might be most helpful, I’m going to give it a try.

5. Donate to at least one charity every month.

Done and done. My SO and I have been regularly donating to two – our local food pantry, plus one additional organization that we decide on each month. I’ve made extra donations on months where I’ve had more cash, and set up an automatic monthly donation to Planned Parenthood. This is another resolution that we’re definitely planning to keep in the coming year.

6. Focus on being more present and spending less time with technology.

I feel like I would’ve had a much easier time with this if it weren’t for the current political climate. On the one hand, I did put real effort into curbing my online time and avoiding gratuitous web browsing for the sake of procrastination. I learned that I’m capable of forming good online habits and capable of sticking to them, if I monitor my own behavior.

On the other hand, I still had the tendency to get dragged down into the never-ending spiral of bad, scary, or downright upsetting news more often than I would’ve liked. In 2018, I’m going to try and cultivate a better balance between staying informed and staying sane, which is going to mean refining my approach to social media more than anything else. It’s going to be a long process for sure, and one I plan to blog more about in the coming months.

Resolutions aside, I also:

Served as a juror for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in Iowa, and had my mind blown by a handful of high school short story writers who are a hundred times better than I am.

Completed and submitted a short story of my own to a couple different publications.

Booked my first paid sensitivity reading gig, for a contemporary YA romance that I’m going to talk more in depth about once it comes out. It was EXCELLENT.

Experimented with certain aspects of my creative process and settled more fully into others. Avoided panicking and beating myself up when I didn’t accomplish a few of my major goals for this year.

Read and reviewed a whole bunch of awesome books. Got over my own mental hurdle about re-reading, and let myself revisit some old favorites.

Submitted Facing the Music to a couple different contests, which took a lot more courage than I remembered.

Did you accomplish your goals or resolutions for 2017? What did you do that you’re most proud of? Let me know in the comments!

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NaNoWriMo Updates: Wrap Up

November is over, and I . . . didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I hoped for. Life happened, I got busy, and my somewhat lofty goals were no longer attainable within a week or two. However, I still made far more progress than I would’ve if I’d chosen to set no goals at all this month, and that–more than hitting 50k and claiming a winner’s certificate–is what NaNoWriMo is really about. 🙂

Here’s where I stand on this month’s goals:

1. Research

I finished the book I was reading and turned it back in to the library on time. (#winning) Best of all, this particular book really helped me refine my story’s world, as well as the villains who inhabit it. Writing antagonists is not my strong suit, so I’m pretty freaking excited to have a firmer grasp on their motivations and strategies. I’m still planning to work my way through the rest of my current list of research materials, but I probably won’t continue that research until after the first of the year.

2. Continue brainstorming for my mystery

I’m in the process of outlining this manuscript right now, and it has been challenging. I’ve never gone into revisions with a plan before, and it has taken me a lot more time than I would’ve anticipated to figure out what I should focus on and how I should rebuild the story. I want to do this revision right though, and if that means slowing down and thinking about story structure and character arcs, and not rewriting the whole damn thing again in six months, then that’s what I’m going to do.

3. Finish critiquing a friend’s MS

Finished? No. Actually made some progress? Heck yes. I’m over a third of the way through and feeling a lot better about my odds of finishing before the holidays. I’ve started my edit letter as a preliminary approach to getting my thoughts down on paper, and I’m really enjoying my reading experience. Win-win.

4. Potentially write or start writing another short story

Nope. Expecting myself to start writing something entirely new with so many other things on my plate may have been a bit of a stretch. Oh well.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, how did it go for you? What else did you accomplish this month? 

5 Things I’m Grateful For: A Thanksgiving Post

I was going to do another NaNo update post this week, but I thought better of it. For one, because I haven’t made nearly as much progress on my November goals as I wanted in the last seven days, and I don’t want to give you an update that isn’t an update. And for two, because we’ve recently passed the one year anniversary of an election that exposed the ugliest parts of our society in the ugliest possible ways, and I’d rather focus on gratitude this week than focus on that.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are five things I’m grateful for this year:

1. My personal relationships.

I could easily write three separate entries for my family, my friends, and my fiancee, but I don’t want to bore you with my sappiness. Let’s just say that I’ve got some pretty amazing people in my life, and I do the very best I can not to take them for granted. They’ve celebrated the best parts of this year with me and made the worst parts more bearable, and I can’t even begin to describe how lucky I am to know each and every one of them.

2. My mental health

This year has been so rough on my anxiety, but it has also been the year where I feel like I’ve made the most progress in coping with it. I’m usually that person who pushes their mental health to the bottom of their priority list until it becomes a “serious enough” problem. But with the US political climate being what it is and impacting my anxiety levels the way it has, I’ve really had to get proactive about implementing and sticking with my coping mechanisms. And even though the world feels like a dumpster fire most of the time, I’m handling it a heck of a lot better than I would’ve three or four years ago, which is super encouraging.

3. My creative process

Seriously, figuring out how I like to create and what inspires me and how to optimize my working conditions has made SUCH a big difference in my writing life and my overall happiness. I’ve made less tangible progress toward my writing goals this year than I have in any of the years past, but I’m not freaking out about it. I’m coming to realize that progress shouldn’t always be measured in the number of words on a page. I’m taking more time to develop my manuscripts and move deliberately through them, and I’m happier with my writing than I’ve been in almost a decade. It’s pretty freaking great.

4. My job

I’ve been at my current company for just over a year now, and I still like my boss, still like my coworkers, and still like the work environment. It’s amazing how much better I feel about my life as a whole when I’m not stressing about or hating my job.

5. The resistance

Sometimes, the only thing that keeps me from completely losing faith in America is the people around me who are protesting and calling and organizing and fighting even when everything looks hopeless. I’m so thankful for those who lead by example and treat others with compassion and work their butts off to try and make our country better. They inspire me, and they push me to keep fighting too.

What are you thankful for?

NaNoWriMo Updates: Week 2

I’m off to a slightly better start this week, now that my last vacation of the year is behind me. Don’t expect any major progress at this point–I’ve only been back three days, after all–but at least I’ve managed to get some work done.

Here’s where I’m at right now:

1. Research

Although I feel a lot better about having one book to finish as oppose to having six, that one book is still taking a lot more time than I’d like. It’s fascinating but bleak, and I can only read in short 1-2 chapter spurts, which is slowing my process a bit. I am still aiming to be finished before this weekend is up though, if only so I can take a temporary break from researching and turn my attention to other things.

2. Continue brainstorming for my mystery

Once again, I’m hesitant to share too much in case I’ve completely misjudged my own progress (again). Let’s just say that progress is being made on my revision plan, and I’m very happy with that progress. If everything goes according to plan, this manuscript will become my number one priority once I’ve cleared a few other things off my plate.

3. Finish critiquing a friend’s MS

I have made some progress on this, and I’m hoping to make a lot more before the week is out. There’s always this stage when I start a new manuscript where I’m still learning the characters and places, still struggling to find my footing in the world of the story, and not one hundred percent sure whether the things jumping out at me actually need to be edited. I feel confident in saying that I’ve cleared that hurdle with this particular manuscript, and I know the editing/critique process will go a lot faster and smoother from here on out.

4. Potentially write or start writing another short story

Because the bulk of my energy is currently being directed to projects already in progress, starting a new project is pretty close to the bottom of my priority list. Let’s see how I feel once I’ve managed to finish a few other things.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, drop me a line and let me know what you’re writing. And if you’re not, tell me what you’ll be doing–or not doing–instead.

NaNoWriMo Updates: Week 1

It might be a good thing that I’m not aiming to write 50,000 words this month, because I wouldn’t be off to a very good start! Between preparing for a friend’s wedding and my usual pre-trip stress, I haven’t accomplished much of anything in the first full week of November.

Here’s a quick rundown of the work I HAVE managed to do so far:

1. Research

I actually came to a pretty important conclusion about my research on Sunday night, when I was lying awake at one a.m. stressed out to the max, and that conclusion is this. Nobody is forcing me to plow through six dense, depressing nonfiction books in the next month except for me. There’s no reason for me to break my own back trying to set deadlines on researching, especially when I’m already super busy.

I jotted down the titles and authors of all the books I’d checked out that I still needed to read, and returned them all to the library after work yesterday. Once I finish the book I’m currently working through, I’ll check out the next one on my list and start in on that. With any luck, I’ll finish Current Book in the next couple of weeks.

2. Continue brainstorming for my mystery

Let’s just say that I’ve done a lot more brainstorming than I expected to do and leave it at that. I don’t want to give too much away until I know whether or not my brainstorming is going to come to anything.

3. Finish critiquing a friend’s MS

I’ve made decent progress, but most of that progress happened over a week ago. This is my number one priority once the wedding is behind me, and I have actual time to sit down and read again.

4. Potentially write or start writing another short story

No dice so far, I’m afraid. Maybe in the coming weeks.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, drop me a line and let me know what you’re writing. And if you’re not, tell me what you’ll be doing–or not doing–instead.

NaNoWriMo Updates (Sort of)

A month ago, when I still thought I’d be participating in National Novel Writing Month, I was planning to post miniature updates on this blog as a way of charting my progress toward rewriting/revising my mystery and reaching 50k. And even though my NaNo plans fell apart, I still like the idea of holding myself more accountable to my various writing projects over the next 30 days.

Here, then, is a list of the things I know I’m going to be working on this month. There’s always a possibility that I’ll add or remove items as needed, but as of right now, these are my biggest creative priorities.

1. Make a serious dent in my research for an upcoming WIP. I have six library books checked out, and I need to get through those at the very least. Maybe if I succeed, I’ll check out some more new books or take my research online.

2. Continue brainstorming for my mystery, because I still think the right story is much closer than I realize.

3. Finish critiquing a friend’s MS.

4. Potentially write or start writing another short story, because I’m still itching to write something and I don’t have any longer works ready to go.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, drop me a line and let me know what you’re writing. And if you’re not, tell me what you’ll be doing–or not doing–instead.

Changing Plans

I’ve written before about being change averse, and learning to cope when my best laid plans are inevitably disrupted. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s a process I’m thrilled to have started, especially during months like this one.

Right now, trying to plan for anything feels like an exercise in futility. I was planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month, which is one of my favorite yearly traditions, and I thought it’d be no trouble to put the finishing touches on my mystery revision and have it ready to go before November 1st.

Yeah. About that . . .

When I went back to review my mystery outline with fresh eyes after months of working on other projects, I poked several enormous holes in my plot right away. I knew that the set up for the mystery element of my story was complicated, but I honestly thought it was the kind of complicated that worked.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. And, unfortunately, the process of trying to fill in those plot holes forced me to confront a few unpleasant realizations about this story and it’s future. Namely, that I’ve never felt like I’ve had a good grasp on what I wanted this story to be. I love the characters and the character arcs, I love the mystery arc, and I love the themes, but I don’t have a clue how to tie all those elements together into something cohesive.

I’m not giving up on my mystery, and I still WANT to write it. For almost a month now, I’ve had this niggling feeling that I’m on the right track, and that I’m closer to finding the right story than I’ve ever been before. I just need more time to let my subconscious mull over ideas, and I’m not going to have that time if I’m rushing to prepare for NaNo.

Instead, I’m going to spend as much of the next month as I can tinkering with a different idea. This one’s still in the brainstorming stages–and believe me, there’s A LOT of brainstorming involved–so I don’t want to say too much about it. What I will say is that I’m super excited to have something to work on, even if that something isn’t a brand new draft or a brand new revision.

The other recent change I’ve been dealing with has to do with my health. For the last three years, I’ve been working out regularly to combat some mental and physical health issues, and I’ve really come to enjoy it. I don’t do anything high impact because I’ve got too many bad joints, but the improvement I’ve seen as a result of my workouts is pretty staggering nonetheless. I always try to work out at least half the days of each month, and I was on track to meet this goal for October right up until last week.

I’ve been having trouble on and off with an old tailbone injury ever since my fiancee and I got back from Europe, but it flared up badly a week ago Sunday, and I haven’t been able to do much of anything since. Logically, I know that I have to be resting in order for the inflammation to die down and the pain to disappear, but I still hate being more or less confined my couch almost as much as I hate the thought of not meeting my workout goal. On the plus side, not being mobile has left me with plenty of brainstorming and plotting time. 😉

Because I have no idea how I’m going to feel in the next couple weeks, pain-wise or writing-wise or just about life in general, I haven’t made any long-term plans recently. Instead, I’m trying to take each day as it comes and focus on the things I can control moment-to-moment rather than week-to-week.

So far, I’m pretty happy with that approach.