Taking a Break from Perfection: Jumping On the NaNoWriMo Bandwagon — and How to Prepare

I’m a long-time fan of the National Novel Writing Month (belatedly called NaNoWriMo) challenge to complete 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. (If you want to know more about it, a recent episode of Annotated looks at the history of the NaNo challenge and why people dig it.)

I’m not entirely sure when I first starting taking part — probably around twelve or so years ago (way back in my LiveJournal days). I was immediately drawn in to the sense of camaraderie inherent in the challenge and often attended local write-ins, where I was able to sit down with a dozen other writers at a coffee shop and share in the experience of putting words on the page.

Some of the years, I completed the challenge, and some of the years I didn’t. Either way I always enjoyed the experience — regardless of whether I churned out anything editable or not.

It’s been several years since I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo (the last one being in 2014), and I’ve finally decided that it’s time I jumped back on the bandwagon.

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Learning to Grow, So You May Reap

Photo by Saira on Unsplash.

California has a tendency to fool me this time of year — days swinging into cooler temperatures one week and then quickly rebounding into heat. Summer clings, refuses to let go. Leaves rarely yellow or brown in the expected colors of the season. The Fall never really feels like Fall.

And yet, October is my favorite month. The advent of Halloween carries with it the whispering of spirits, the trickery of fae folk, the glowing of jack-o-lanterns, the dancing of skeletons. It’s a powerful time, a witchy time.

The days are dimming, growing shorter. The nights are darker.

This can be comforting. Darkness and shadow can be a fertile space for transformation — bulbs and seeds lie hidden within the earth, gestating, awaiting their moment to burst forth and bloom.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m feeling a desire to draw in, close off outside influences, and wrap myself in the comfort of hearth and home. I long for rich, warm foods, good books, and quiet.

What I’m desiring is not only an external drawing in, but an internal one. As I settle into what comforts me, I’m wondering what lies within the shadowy places within myself. What have I kept hidden? What fruits can I reap from this year’s work? What do I want to plant anew? What do I wish to nurture and grow?

What about you?

Note: This was first published in A Seed to Hatch, my (semi)-monthly newsletter on the writing life and things that are interesting to writers. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out the archives and/or subscribe:

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My Year in Review

Every year, I look back at last years goals and try to assess what worked and what did not work for me. 2018 was an interesting year, bringing a considerable amount of stress and anxiety — and I’ve noticed a number of others have experienced the same, if not more in that regard.

Just looking at my goals from the previous year, I can see that I’ve accomplished a couple of things: my blogging year was pretty consistent and I did manage to launch and successfully fund a kickstarter, among other things. But some of the major projects I was hoping to complete (finish the novel, run a half marathon) did not reach completion.

During the second half of the year, I’ve especially been felt a sense of stagnation. I stopped running, attending few writing events, and in general felt that there was little progress on my personal projects.

But this feeling of stagnation is a bit of self deception, because if I consider things as a whole, then it’s actually been phenomenal year for me in terms of writing and travel — a year I could and should be proud of. So, instead of worrying about what didn’t work for me in the past year, here are some of the good things that have gone down in 2018.

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2017 in Review

It’s been a rough year — and I know I’m not alone in expressing that sentiment. Putting aside the politics and news stream (which has been a constant barrage of stress and frustration), if I were to sum up 2017 in a single word, it would probably be: overwhelmed. As it turns out, this has also been my usual response these days to the question, “How are you doing?”

The year also presented a great family sorrow, as my grandmother, Florence Schlegel, passed away at the end of November. She had an amazing history — worked as a coat check Girl in NY, serving the likes of Howard Hughes and other celebrities; worked at Lockheed Martin constructing aircraft during WWII; lived on a homestead in Alaska and shot three black bears; served her community in Anchorage in a number of ways; and she was always witty and funny, and all around awesome. We miss her so much.

For all the stress and sadness that the year has yielded, though, it’s also offered up some wonderful experiences — adventures in travel and the writing life, some amazing books, and delightful moments with friends and family.

Below is some of my 2017 journey. If you’re inclined to share, then I would love to hear how your year treated you, as well.

Writing Life

I feel like I’ve done more writing than I’ve done in any previous year, although I don’t really have a way to prove that (and I’m not certain it’s true when I think about the multude of 30 challenges I did in 2016). I haven’t really been keeping track of word counts or other forms of tracking, partly because my work has been across so many diverse projects (poetry, script writing, fiction, etc.).

A part of why I might feel this way is that I’ve been trying to consistently focus on my writing in two ways — first, by getting to work early and using the extra time to write, and second, by using my lunch time to write. These little chunks have been helpful in not only getting words on the page, but also accomplishing the business side of writing, like getting work out on submission.

During the year, I sent out 47 submission packets (with anywhere from one to five poems or short stories — nine more than previous year I received 42 individual rejections and had a total of ten poems and one short story published. Not bad. Nowhere near the 100 rejections I was aiming for, but still not bad.

This does not include the collaborative poetry, submissions, and publications that have occured over the past year. I am so grateful to Laura Madeline Wiseman for being my partner in this work, and an inspiration in general. Together, we have had eight poems published in 2017, and have received an acceptance for our chapbook, Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, to be published by Finishing Line Press.

Blogging

For a couple of years, I have been doing weekly updates noting writing progress, books read, goals for the week, and other tidbits. The idea of these posts was to hold myself accountable for the progress (if any) that I was making, as well as keeping the blog itself active. I started off 2017 continuing these posts, but stopped doing them about halfway through the year when they began to feel more burdensome than helpful. Rather than spending time crafting an obligatory weekly post, I tried to focus on posts with more content to them, like my revisit of The Dark Tower book series.

In total, I shared 45 blog posts, about half the amount of posts from the previous year. I’m okay with the lower number, since it’s more important for me for focus on finishing my existing poetry and fiction projects than sharing things on the blog. However, I would like to share more (hopfully) thoughtful posts in the coming year.

Top Five Blog Posts from 2017 (By Views):

Reading

Normally I share my top reads in a longer, separate post — but I’m starting to run out of spoons to make it through the end of the year, so here’s a truncated version.

My reading stats are they lowest they’ve been in probably a decade. In years past, I’ve averaged about 90-100 books per year, this year I’ve managed 45 (as of this posting), which kind of pains me. The reason for this significant drop in my reading rate is because of how I refocused my time at work (taking up my lunch to write instead of read) and the introduction of Netflix into my home life (and the subsequence TV binge-watching that that implies). That said, I’ve managed to read a number of books that have delighted me this year, which I present below.

top ten fiction books read in 2017

Top Ten Fiction Books (with series books counted as one)

  • The Obelisk Gate & The Stone Sky (Broken Earth Book #3) by N. K. Jemisin
  • Binti & Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Tender: Stories by Sofia Samatar (my thoughts)
  • Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez (my thoughts)
  • Bone Gap (audio book) by Laura Ruby
  • A Tale for the Time Being (audio book) by Ruth Ozeki
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle (audio book) by Shirley Jackson
  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

to poetry collections read in 2017

Favorite Poetry Collections

  • Let it Die Hungry by Caits Meissner
  • Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament by Kolleen Carney (poet spotlight)
  • Shopping After the Apocalypse by Jessie Carty (poet spotlight)

Favorite Graphic Novel

  • Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Running

It’s been an interesting year for running. On the one hand, all totalled up, I ran 73.63 miles over the course of year — which sounds like quite a bit. But most of those miles were in the first half of the year with March being the highest month at 17.58 miles. All of this is reflective of how my motivation regarding running shifted throughout the year (with an impact on my body health).

One of the highlights of my running practice this year was attending the She is Beautiful Run in March (despite being incredibly hungover at the time). My sisters came along and we took part in the joys of this event. I’m looking forward to finding more events like this next year.

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Travel

The day job certainly kept me busy in travel and sent me on some great adventures, including some good times in Nashville, Tennessee and most notably a two week trip to Dubai and Singapore, during which I fit in a short hopover to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I loved the cultural experiences of that trip, although the heat and humidity was so intense that I was soon happy to head home to more moderate weather.

And just for funsies, my sister and I put together a two week trip to South America, squeezing in a few days in Peru (including Machu Picchu), Chile, and Argentina. Since our time was so short, we only saw a fraction of these countries, each of which I would like to take far more time to explore.


Well, that’s my year in a snap shot. How was your 2017?

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On the Art of Making a Living as a Writer

“I feel strongly that we’re only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money. There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million! We don’t have any standards in that way, and we probably never will. There will always be such a wide range of what writers are paid, but at least we could give each other information.” Cherryl Strayed in conversation with Manjula Martin, published in Scratch

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a LivingScratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin (founder of now-closed Scratch Magazine), presents a mix of interviews and essays on the act of trying (sometimes succeeding) to make money as a writer. These perspectives come from writers of varying backgrounds, from novelists and poets to news and creative nonfiction writers, to filmmakers. A number of writers I’m fond of are included in this book — such as Austin Kleon, Malinda Lo, Roxane Gay, and Daniel José Older — as well as many writers whose work is new to me.

Readers of Scratch will not find a step-by-step guide on how to “make it” as a writer. This collection of essays never reaches a consensus, except perhaps to say that the pathways to making a living as a writer are multitudinous and have not all been discovered yet. Lacking any one clear answer, the reader instead of directives, the reader is given personal journeys (sometimes deeply so). It’s not a matter of “this is how you should do it,” but rather “this is how I am doing it”.

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