NaNoWriMo 2017 Update – Week 3 and the Beginning of Week 4

Writing Progress

The final week of NaNoWriMo is here and three days remain until the clock strikes midnight and the magic of November is over. It has been a while since my last update and that’s because I’ve been busy. The number of social commitments I’ve had this last week or so has meant that I have had five days where I have written nothing at all. Indeed, in the first half of Week 4, I have only managed to write 984 words.

Fortunately, the situation is not so dire as to be irretrievable. Thanks to a period of writing 2,000 words a day in Week 3, and a day in which I wrote over 6,000 words, I only need to write a minimum of 1,711 words a day in order to win. It is more than the daily average you need to win, but it’s not a horrendous amount of words and, as far as I’m concerned, I can still make it if I try. I might just have to suffer a couple of late nights.

Writing Inspiration

It’s hard to write of inspiration when I’ve just had a four day break from writing. That being said, a four day break may have been what I needed to refresh my mind and return to the pages with a cobweb-free head, and enough energy to charge onwards into the final few days.

One the main hurdles I’m facing at the moment is just being too tired to write, particularly after a long, cold day at work. It’s hard to find the motivation when you just want to be asleep under the duvet. While having naps may not be the best idea in the evening, letting yourself switch off for an hour or so after a busy day is vital for letting the brain get into the creative zone. Some people enjoy a walk, others a long, hot bath. For me, it varies. Often-times, I find that just watching an episode of a show will suffice. Once that hour is up, I am ready to make myself comfortable (often with a blanket if it’s one of those chillier days), get a cup of tea and start writing.

Writing Plans

Today, my push for victory begins. As I’ve said, I need to write a minimum of just over 1,700 words a day in order to win and win I intend to do. It is possible, even though I do have plenty of other things which need doing this week, and it is going to be my priority. To achieve this, I decided to look back on the days I wrote the most.

On a few, the words came from having no words at all. I started writing about something which I had experienced, such as a headache or being cold, and those ended up turning into more and more words, all perfectly relevant to the story. On others, I wrote in focused time periods, using the Pomodoro technique. I’d put on some background sound and write for 25 minutes, then took a break to do something completely different, before starting the 25 minutes again. This technique helped me write 6,000 words in one day. Other times, it was simply the goal and the story which got me to 2,000 – I decided to write that many words and so I did.

So, this week, I am going to do a combination of those. I am going to sit down to an empty page, and let either the story or my experiences guide me. I will write in sprints, with regular breaks for both eyes and brain, with the final goal of the day being 2,000 words. Some days I will succeed, other days I may fail but so long as I write more than 1,700 words a day, I should be okay.

Let the final days of NaNoWriMo begin.

 

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NaNoWriMo 2017 – Week 2 Update

Writing Progress

Today brings about the start of a new week of NaNoWriMo; more importantly (at least in the context of this post) it means that Week 2 of NaNoWriMo is over. I survived. As I mentioned in my last NaNo update, Week 2 and I are not on the best of terms and, so it was, I went into it with some trepidation. Admittedly, I did have some off days – including the first day this month that I wrote fewer than 1,000 words. But those were thankfully only one-offs and this week was also filled with milestones and achievements.

The main achievement being that, after writing 12,771 words this week, I am now over the half-way mark to NaNoWriMo’s final goal of 50,000 words. My new total is 25,815. NaNoWriMo isn’t all about the numbers though, or at least it shouldn’t be. There is also the story you’re telling. The first week was a week of discovery, exploring the ideas I’ve had and meeting the characters. This week, those ideas started to finally feel like a novel. This feeling grows more and more solid with every word I write. Admittedly, a lot of it still feels like a puzzle with only a few pieces in place and a lot more to find, but there is an end-point out there and the final image is slowly revealing itself.

Writing Inspiration – Beating Writer’s Block

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a short book, but an inspiring one. It’s a book filled with the passion of writing, all told through essays and anecdotes in Bradbury’s hand. What it isn’t, however, is a book of writing advice. Yet it is this book which helped me overcome the demon that is Writer’s Block (capitalisation intended).

In this book, Bradbury talks of experiences. Experiences, even the smallest or seemingly inconsequential ones, fuelled a large part of his writing. He would pick a moment, or a thing relating to a moment, that he had experienced and write around that. In the end, a story would emerge.

There were a few occasions this week where I sat at my laptop and just stared at the empty page, unsure of what to write. This was despite the novel plan that sat at my desk. I simply had no idea where to start or even how. The first time this happened, I remembered what Bradbury had written and was instantly taken back to earlier that day when I had sat, freezing, at my desk at work. I started to describe how it felt then, before long, I lost control of the story. It grew, expanding from a simple feeling to a chapter which would ultimately turn into a villain reveal. I used the technique twice more in the week, including on the day I had a migraine. Those three days were the only days I wrote more than 2,000 words and were the writing sessions I was probably the most happy with during Week 2.

It would appear that the masters do have handy tips from time to time.

Writing Plans for Week 3

For me, Week 3 is the big one. I’ve surpassed the half-way point and am now heading towards to the finish line. Unfortunately, towards the end of the journey are three days in which I will be away and have very little writing time. Enter Week 3. This week with be the big push towards 50,000. I want to get as far ahead as possible so that I can relax a bit while I am away and during the last few days. By the end of this week, I want to have reached and beaten 40,000 words. At a minimum.

This will be a challenge, not least because my writing session for today is going to be shorter than normal (a combination of staying late at work, exhaustion and writing this post). But I do have an entire weekend of very few plans in which to write, and I know that, if I push myself, I can get up to 3,000 words in a day. Given I need to write 2,000 words a day on average to reach that goal, it should be achievable. Although I may need that holiday by the end of it.

 

 

 

Q2 2017 Goals

Q1 of 2017 has come and gone, and, with it, the resolutions I made for that time period. I decided at the start of this year that, due the inflexibility of having year-long goals, I decided to create my resolutions on a quarterly basis, giving me a chance to reflect and set new resolutions accordingly. The reason this one is slightly later is because I decided part way through Q1 to shift each quarter by a month; this was to avoid the burst of energy which comes with new resolutions from clashing with the energy needed for all the quarterly reports and tasks at work.

These have been divided into three categories:

Creative Pursuits

  • My first resolution was to send off my manuscript to at least one agent.
    • This did not happen. I found that, in trying to achieve this, I was rushing what I was doing and not giving myself the time or space to get it right. This quarter, I am aiming to completed the final checks of the manuscript and complete the needed research before starting querying in the summer.
  • The next was develop my social media presence.
    • I have started picking up my social media a little bit – I try to tweet on a regular basis, although I am yet to reach at least once a day. I have also started picking up my YouTube channel again and building on my video editing knowledge. I will be continuing this at a similar pace this quarter, with the goal of bringing my twitter, YouTube and blog together into one central brand to work from.
  • The third was to get back into art.
    • My art did suffer a little this quarter. I encountered the problem where I would pick up one project, receive a burst of inspiration for another and so on and so forth. This has resulted in a lot of half formed ideas and projects. This quarter, I will take that list, determine which to focus my efforts onto and develop a plan for delving into them so that, by the end of July, I will have a number of projects completed; be it sewing, painting or general crafts.

Reading

  • Reading gets its own section because it’s a big part of my life, not least because of the sheer amount of books I own. The first resolution with this was to have read at least one shelf’s worth of books on my to-read bookcase.
    • This is quite hard to judge. While I am fairly sure I have read a shelf’s worth of books, very few were actual physical books I own and I am nowhere near clearing a space. Most of my reading the last few months have been kindle-reads, audiobooks and borrowed books. This quarter I am going to continue the resolution but with the goal of actually clearing a shelf of to-read books.
  • The second resolution under reading was to read more variety in genres and diversity, reading at least three different genres a month.
    • With regards to genres, this was a success. I have read and am still reading a wide range of genres each month and am really enjoying it. I’ve felt like my resolution to read more diversity has not been quite so successful, and this will be my goal for Q2 2017.
  • Finally, my resolution was to restrict my book-buying to only buying one or two books a month maximum.
    • I have achieved this, simply put. The only times where I have bought more than two books a month were when the extra books were gifts, and I don’t think that counts. Despite achieving this goal, however, I am going to continue with it in Q2 as it’s quite an easy way to save money and I want to prove to myself that I can continue the buying-restriction.

 Personal Development

  • Improving health, both by eating healthier and doing more regular exercise, was the first resolution at this point. This was also the one goal I thought would be the hardest to fulfil, and I was right.
    • The first few months were, admittedly, a struggle. It didn’t help that it was dark outside. However, last month, I successfully completed 30 days of yoga and that has given me the motivation to continue; that, and the decision that I will go and trek up to Machu Picchu in the next two years. I have started Couch to 5K, am continuing yoga and have also continued my walking although on a more regular basis.
  • My second goal was about learning code. I hadn’t decided on which code to start learning at the start of the year, but I knew I wanted to go about learning one.
    • This particular resolution has been partially fulfilled in that I have decided which code I want to learn and have started it. As well as continuing to learn Excel VBA, I am also starting to learn Python. These will both be continued this quarter, with the goal of applying it either at work or at home, depending on where it would be most useful.
  • Finally, my last goal was, simply, get out the house more. I do enjoy ‘me-time’, where I’m curled up with a book or in front of a movie; but I do know that getting out and about, meeting friends and experiencing culture are all really important for a fulfilled existence.
    • I will admit, when the winter months were still upon us, I did not do this as much as I would have liked. That being said, now that the weather is much nicer, I have started doing a lot of these things, with the goal of doing one social activity and one film a week (I’ve got a Cineworld Unlimited card so I don’t have to worry too much about the cost of film)

Those are where I am with my resolutions from Q1. As you’ve probably noticed, I decided to continue them into this quarter as I did not get off to quite the head-start as I would have liked. That being said, I am hoping to have a achieved a lot of these by the end of this quarter which would allow me to change them up a little in the second half of the year. I have found that this way of doing things has given me a touch more flexibility in my approach which I am enjoying, although I’m not quite full-agile yet.

Here’s to the next few months!

 

Tome Topple April 2017 – TBR

At midnight on 7th April, the Tome Topple readathon begins, continuing on until midnight on 20th April, two weeks later. Unlike other readathons, Tome Topple isn’t about reading as many books as possible. Instead it’s for tackling those large, daunting books on your bookcase, just waiting to be read.

Tome Topple was created by Thoughts on Tomes on YouTube and the main goal is to read books that are over 500 pages long (not including bindups, although graphic novel bindups do count). It’s a fairly relaxed readathon where there is no pressure to finish a book; if you just make a head start on that 800 page novel you’ve been putting off for a year, that’s fine.

However, there are a few reading challenges for those who are interested in a bit more of a challenge:

  • Read more than 1 tome
  • Read a graphic novel (graphic novel bindups count)
  • Read a tome that is part of a series
  • Buddy read a tome
  • Read an adult novel

I’m only going to try and attempt three of those challenges: Read more than 1 tome, read a tome that is part of a series and read an adult novel. This is mostly because I’m focusing books that I already own, none of which are long graphic novels. I’m also not doing any buddy-reading with anyone because, while I will have a TBR list, I’m going into this with an open mind and, if I’m not feeling in the mood for a book during the readathon, I’m not going to read it as I won’t enjoy it as much.

So, now we’ve got the background covered, here are the books I’m planning on reading:

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – 532 pages

This book was one of my most highly anticipated books of the year, as I loved Laini Taylor’s previous series Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It follows a daydreamer, Lazlo Strange, who longs to discover what happened to the lost city of Weep. A hero called the Godslayer appears and Strange realises it’s his chance to fulfil that dream, or lose it forever. At least, I think that what’s the book’s about based on the summary. It sounds really intriguing and is the first book in a new duology so fulfils the challenge to read a tome that is part of a series.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – 722 pages

This is a long one, but also one I’ve been desperate to read for a while. It’s the third book in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence and, with the fourth book coming out later this year, it’s about time I get caught up. I won’t give away any plot-points, but this series follows Locke Lamora, a highly skilled con-man, who ends up getting on the wrong side of the Bondsmagi of Karthain. I love this series, however have only listened to it as an audiobook. I have this book in both paperback and audiobook format, so I do have options on how I will read it during the readathon. I would, however, like to see how I enjoy the printed version of this series in comparison to the audiobooks. This book will, hopefully, fulfil the read more than one tome challenge. It will also fulfil the two other challenges I’m doing – read a tome that is part of a series and read an adult tome (this is an adult fantasy novel).

As well as the two books above, I have the following back-up books. These are there for if I find I’m not in the mood for fantasy or if, by some miracle, I finish the two books above and have time to spare.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – 635 pages (although I only have it on audiobook). I’ve already started this book and will be listening to it in the background throughout the two weeks as I want to be ready for the tv show at the end of this month.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – 554 pages. I’m surprised by how long it is taking me to get started on reading this book, and I would like to read it soon, although I know it’s probably going to be quite intense.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – 534 pages. Of all the books listed, this is the one I know the least about but is also one of the most intriguing. I’ve enjoyed the Margaret Atwood books I’ve already read and am looking forward to reading more.

I could go on – I have a lot of books that are over 500 pages long that I would like to read, but I think by including them all, my choice on what to read might be too impossible to make. That being said, I did find it difficult to initially start deciding what books I wanted to read for this readathon. As, while I do have a lot of books over 500 pages long, I also have a lot of books which are just under 500 pages and nearly impossible to tell them apart just by looking at the book on the bookcase.

Let me know if you’re going to be taking part in this readathon (or if you’re going to be taking part in any others) and what you’re planning on reading. I know I’m looking forward to having an excuse to do nothing but sit and read long books for two week (when I’m not working of course).

Things to do when you’re ill

Nobody likes being sick; it’s difficult to pluck up any kind of energy, things ache and there’s the guilt of not being able to do anything because getting out of bed is just impossible. Unfortunately, sick days also come with a touch of boredom – when you’re not sleeping, you’re awake but not really up to doing anything. That happens to me a lot – more so when I just want a distraction from being ill. So, here are some of the things I like to do when I’m not feeling well.

Read a book

Books are a brilliant source of escapism, even when you feeling perfectly well. I find a good fantasy story, which I can get into but isn’t overly complex, is usually just what I need when I’m feeling ill. Either that, or some easy reading. I’m currently reading The Best of Adam Sharp which is an enjoyable read that doesn’t require too much brain power.

If, however, reading hurts the eyes and the head too much, audiobooks are a life-saver. I have spent a number of hours lying in the dark with my eyes closed, letting my mind wonder into a world being described to me. I mostly use audible to get my audiobooks from but, for cheaper options, the radio can have a good selection if you look closely enough and there are always podcasts. One thing to be wary of though, audiobooks have a powerful tendency to lull you into sleep. I ended up missing about an hour or so of Truthwitch after falling asleep and ended up having to go back when I finally woke up.

Binge-watch a t.v. show

Sometimes, imagining an entire world is too much when you’re feeling ill, and movement is just not going to happen. In these cases, I find binge-watching t.v. to be a welcome time-passer. Netflix is usually my go-to site for this, but I’ve also made use of both Amazon Prime and my boxsets. Most recently, I’ve been watching Merlin – each disc contains three episodes which is about the maximum time I can watch something for and it’s a show I know inside out so I can appreciate it without actually having to follow the plot. I also find half-hour comedy shows to be great distractors as well, and these are incredibly easy to binge-watch. I got through five seasons of community in a couple of weeks and have now started on Brooklyn-99. Neither requires much thought so are great to watch when nursing a headache or just holed up beneath a blanket.

Easy fun

This one can be pretty much anything; it mostly depends on what kind of things you enjoy. I, for one, find that when I don’t want to look at a screen either colouring or a puzzle will take my mind off of things for hours. Something repetitive and mind-numbing also helps, so a game like bejewelled or something with a slight addictive quality such as the Sims. These are probably for those who are entering the recovery phase, as they do require a bit more thought, but they do pass the time pretty well and are fun in the process.

A touch of nostalgia

Everyone loves a good bit of nostalgia from time to time and when you’re ill, sometimes it’s all you need. Grab a blanket and some pillows and then curl up in front of your childhood films or tv shows, or read your favourite children’s book. When I’m ill, as I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy things which I already know the plot of, where I don’t feel the need to fully follow the story. Things with a touch of nostalgia allow that, but they also act a bit like a security blanket, or a warm hug. Rather than going out adventuring into worlds unknown, you’re back somewhere you know where everything is similar and where you can just relax. While I’ve mentioned books, films and shows, this really could be anything, from a teddy bear to a board game.

Those are a few of the ways through which I avoid the monotonous sick-day and make my recovery that little bit speedier. If I’ve set myself up right, it’s possible to do most of them without ever having to leave the safety of my bed, or my sofa. Normally, when I’m ill, I’m really only up to one or two things in the above, and they get chosen wisely (i.e. migraines mean nothing involving the eyes, so mostly audiobooks are used). What kind of things do you do when you’re ill? I’d be interested to hear your suggestions.

This has been a bit of a different post from me but, as you may have guessed, I was ill and that’s what the inspiration wheel landed on. I am trying to inject a bit more variety into this blog, so this was a step in that direction. I’m still deciding how I feel about posts which are more life-based than book-based, but I suppose only time will tell.

My Dream Book Conferences

Author events are something that most, if not all, readers get excited about. Be it a signing, a talk or a panel, it is an opportunity to see the authors you love and hear their thoughts on a variety of topics. Eventbrite reached out to me and I thought this sounded like a lot of fun so here are a few of my ideas of panels I would love to see, and some I know could never be.

In Conversation

One of my favourite type of author panels are those where one author is in conversation with another, or maybe two or three. I find that these allow you to see a bit more of the authors as people and also tend to be both more humorous and more interesting as authors bounce off of each other. Some ideas I have for these are:

–          Genres that rarely meet. It would be really interesting to see authors from different genres get together to discuss writing and the differences, if there are any, between them. For example, if historical fiction writer was in conversation with a science fiction writer.

–          New vs. Experienced. There are a massive number of aspiring writers in the world and I think a panel with a mix of both debut authors and heavily experienced ones could potentially be quite inspirational for those aspiring writers.

–          Authors meet their characters. This is a panel which is more based in a dream than reality. Authors know the worlds and characters they create intimately, but it’s often said that characters have minds of their own and can drive the story themselves. To see the two in conversation, the person who created the world and the one who lived in it, would be fascinating.

Panels

Deciding on specific authors I would love to see on a panel together was difficult – I have too many I would love to see and then deciding which would work well together was difficult. I think I would prefer smaller groups of authors to a long panel. You get to hear more from each author that way and it feels a bit more informal than just going down the line. So, in this case, I’ve decided to go with groups of three.

–          Heroines and Romance. There is a call nowadays, quite rightly so, for more female leads and more feminist novels. Unfortunately, strong heroines are often let down by the inclusion of romance where that romance takes centre-stage at the cost of both the story and the female’s character. Three writers who I felt managed to incorporate romance in to their novels while maintaining an intriguing story and great female leads are Jacqueline Garlick, Jamie Mclachlan and Christine Norris and I think it would be interesting to hear their thoughts on the matter.

–          Building Series. I love series. I love the idea of finishing a book and knowing there is more of that story still to read (which is why I am very good at starting series but not so good at finishing them). However, writing a series can be quite tough in getting the balance right with what to reveal and when, as well as making sure that the story and development is brilliant throughout. So for this panel, I will include three writers whose series I have thoroughly enjoyed for them to discuss the ins and outs of series-building: Trudi Canavan, Laini Taylor and Robin Hobb.

–          The Pressures of Fame. The world of today is heavily based in the concept of celebrity and there are a number of authors who have been shot into the limelight, helped by the role of social media promoting their works and adaptions of their work alike. This celebrity does come with a certain amount of pressure, however, as fans turn to their favourite authors for answers and apply a certain expectation about what the next book should be and when they want to see it. I would be really interested to hear authors in these situations discuss how they deal with the pressure of this celebrity and fans influence their work. For this, unsurprisingly, I would include J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin and, for a complete mix up of the genres, John Green.

So, as you can see, I don’t have one dream author panel, more a mix of themes and groupings that I would find really interesting to see.

If you are interested in finding or planning conferences, maybe even some similar to those suggested above, Eventbrite have a conference management page would could be a very useful tool in doing so.

Let me know if you would enjoy any panels I’ve mentioned, or share any ideas you have in the comments below. I’d love to see them!

Author Event: Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed

This time last week, I was on my way to the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, gripping my handbag in anticipation and barely able to contain my excitement. I was on my way to see Margaret Atwood give a talk about her new book Hag-Seed.

Hag-Seed was written for the Hogarth Shakespeare’s series, where authors take a Shakespeare play and writes a book based on it in a contemporary setting. This book in particular was based off of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Having studied this play at school, my interest in the book was certainly piqued, and to have Margaret Atwood be the author was just the icing on the cake. I have actually only read two of her books previously but was thoroughly impressed by both (her writing definitely lives up to its reputation) and now have a couple of others on my shelf to read, including Hag-Seed.

This was my first time seeing Margaret Atwood talk, but I am hoping it won’t be the last. I found the entire event fascinating. Margaret Atwood is one of those authors who is very intelligent yet is able to put that across in a manner that appeals to everyone. Whenever she spoke, there was a hush around the room and her words, spoken slowly and carefully, kept the majority of the room enraptured.   

As Hag-Seed had only just been released, and part of the ticket included a copy of the book, the discussion was very much aware that not everyone in the audience would have read the book, so very little about it was revealed. What they did discuss was the translation of The Tempest into a modern day settings, both in story and character, as well as Margaret Atwood’s career as a writer and some of her other projects, including the Future Library of Norway (which made me tragically realise that there would be a number of books written in my lifetime which I will never have the opportunity to read).

All in all, it was a brilliant event. The only way it could have been even better was if the person sitting in front of me, who kept moving and looking at his phone for the entire time, hadn’t been there. But, you can’t have everything.

If you are thinking of going to a book event, especially one with Margaret Atwood, I highly recommend it. They’re great fun and I’ve enjoyed each one I’ve been too.

Hag-Seed on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29245653-hag-seed

Hag-Seed on The Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/The-Hag-Seed/9781781090237/?a_aid=rosienreads (I get a small commission if you use this link)