Monthly Archives: February 2012

Successes and failures

This has been an interesting month. Judging solely on words, I failed spectacularly. I wrote approximately 33,000 words, which puts me 17,000 words behind where I should have been. I think part of my problem is that my daily word count dropped from 3k to 1.7k, which made me feel like I could get away with skipping a few days. I probably could have caught back up had my boyfriend and I not started watching Chuck this weekend. We’ve watched season one and a few episodes of season 2 so far. It’s hard to write when I’m trying to concentrate on a new show, so I haven’t written anything for a few days (except for tonight).

The good news is that l have several ideas for short stories that I hadn’t had before. I used to really enjoy writing short stories for my fiction classes, but I’ve been so focused on writing novels that I haven’t had time. The past few days, I’ve been spending most of my commute thinking about different stories. The one I’m working on now is called A Departure, and it’s a little over 3k right now. I’m about 3/4 of the way through my outline, and I’m really enjoying discovering more about my characters. I also have two more short stories that are partly outlined (at least in my head), and there’s one I wanted to write in college that I never got around to rewriting, so I think I’ll work on that this next month.

Which brings me to my new goal for March: I will write 1k a day. This will make up for the 17k I didn’t write this month and still get me ahead of my yearly goal, as my original goal was to just outline novels this month. I’m still going to do that, but I will also try to all these short stories written. Including A Departure I have four short stories I want to write this month. I also want to try to finish upThe Story of Emthis month. I still need to work on that outline a bit first, but I’m hoping I can get that worked out in the next few days.

I’m a bit worried because we’re starting the busy time of work, but I’m going to try to force myself to write every day, no matter how tired I am. I can write 1k in 15 minutes when I’m focused and know what I want to write, so this shouldn’t be a difficult task. Besides, I’ve won NaNo before when I had to work full time. I can surely write 31k in a month while working 40 plus hours a week.

Book 9: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Title: Summer Knight, book 4 of the Dresden Files
Author: Jim Butcher
Page Count: 371
F/NF Fiction
Genre Urban fantasy/mystery

Rating: 9/10

Warning: Review contains possible spoilers for books 1-3 of the Dresden Files

Ever since his girlfriend left, Harry Dresden has been feeling out of sorts. He doesn’t shower. His apartment is a mess and devoid of food. He’s been wearing the same clothes for days. His friends are worried about him, but Harry has much worse problems than odor. The White Council is in town, and they are furious with him for starting a war with the vampires. The only way Harry can survive is if he discovers who killed the Summer Knight and why, but doing so means getting mixed up with faeries, something that has never really worked out for him in the past. Will Harry be able to solve the mystery before it’s too late, or is he in too far over his head?

I have read several Dresden books before, and it’s hard to say if any of them is any better or worse than the other because they’re all so enthralling. The books are told in first person from Dresden’s point of view, and the sarcastic tone used keeps you laughing even through some of the more suspenseful scenes. The book was a fairly quick read, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t require my full attention while reading it. There are so many different characters and threads to keep track of that you can’t afford to merely pay half attention. I did see a few things coming before Dresden did – mostly in the later scenes – but there was still so much that was surprising, and I was on the seat of my chair so much while reading it that it didn’t bother me that I saw some of it coming.

I definitely recommend this series. While its probably possible to read them out of order and still mostly know what’s going on, since he summarizes a lot of information in the beginning, I still think you’ll miss out on the bigger picture plot if you skip around.

February update

I am 7,301 words behind where I am supposed to be for FebNoWriMo. The main reason I am not freaking out about that is because I finally did what I was supposed to do a month ago: I finished draft 2 of Tilt Your Head and Smile. I can’t believe I finally did it. I actually mostly like the ending. I managed to include a scene I had meant to include earlier but never got around to. It actually works much better where it is now.

This draft is 101,484 words long. The original draft was 103,000 words. Considering the first month of this draft was about 14k, I am extremely glad that this draft is a bit shorter than the original. I was afraid it was going to end up being 200,000 words or something like that. I know I am going to have a lot of editing to do with this draft, but I definitely have the events in order now, and I’m proud of the work I’ve accomplished so far. I’m just going to let this one sit for a few months before I edit, though. I think part of my problem this time was that I didn’t let it sit for long enough between the first and second drafts.

I had several other problems writing this, but I think I have a better grasp on what I need to do now. Part of my problem – perhaps the biggest one I have as a writer – is that I keep trying to include too much. I’ve had this problem since I started writing in second grade. I still have that first “novel” I wrote, where a family was going on a camping trip and found a leopard (and the main character’s long lost twin brother. It was a really bad story.). In it, I listed everything that each family member had brought with them, even though it wasn’t relevant to the story at all.

I don’t do that same thing anymore, but I still have the problem of including too much information. I’ve always had a problem writing description, so I think I overcompensate a bit by including other details that aren’t as important. I can’t just write April parked her car and walked up to the front door; I have to write April parked her car. She turned off the ignition and got out of the car, locking the door behind her. Then she turned and walked up the steps to the front door. I don’t do it to pad my word count; I do it because some part of me is afraid of leaving out details. It’s stupid on so many different levels that it’s not even funny, but that’s how I write. I don’t include physical descriptions of my characters. I don’t describe their surroundings. But I write down each little thing that they do and every thought that passes through their heads.

It’s crazy. That’s part of why I feel that this 52 books in 52 weeks challenge is so important. The more I read other novels, the more I’m learning what I can and can’t leave out. It’s stupid that I’m almost twenty-three years old and haven’t learned that yet, but that’s okay. I’m definitely getting better at writing. I just need to work on it a bit more and stop writing down small details. I think I had more trouble writing this one than I have other stories because there’s not really a strong plotline to balance out the characters’ thoughts. The novel’s about a college graduate facing unemployment. There’s not really much going on but having April sitting alone in a room thinking about things.

Anyway, I still have a lot to write tonight. I also have to make a birthday cake for my boyfriend’s mother, so I know I won’t get it all done tonight. Since I get to wake up late tomorrow, though, I’m planning on getting at least 3k more written tonight. I’m hoping I can get caught back up tomorrow since all I have between 8 am and 5 pm is an hour meeting at work. After that, I plan on getting a lot more writing done.

I still haven’t decided which story I’m going to work on next. The original plan was to work on The Story of Em, which was my 50k weekend novel. However, now I also have the novel I started last month and the fan fiction piece I started during NaNo when I was stuck. I’m not sure which of the three I will focus on first. Maybe it’ll just be the first file I come across. Who knows? As long as I’m writing something, I’ll be happy.

Book 8: The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

Title: The Almost Moon
Author: Alice Sebold
Page Count: 291
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Literary fiction

Rating: 6/10

Helen Knightly has never had a normal relationship with her mother. While other kids’ parents hug them and tell them how much they love them, Helen’s mother taught her to keep to herself and made her doubt herself. She longed for the day when she would be able to break free of her mother’s grasp, but that day never came. Even now, as she’s standing over her mother’s dead body, she’s held captive by her mother.

Helen used to dream about killing her mother, but now that she’s done it, she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. The Almost Moon follows forty-nine-year-old Helen Knighly through the twenty four hours following the death of her mother, exploring current and past relationships that have helped shaped the woman Helen has grown to become.

I remember loving The Lovely Bones when I read it in nineth grade, so when I found another book by that author on sale at Borders for four bucks, I was ecstatic. It’s taken me a while to get around to reading it, but I’m definitely glad I did. I’ve always been fascinated by mother/daughter relationships, and this book definitely does a great job at showing one. It’s easy to say that we hate our parents, but it’s another thing to actually stick with that hate, and Alice Sebold does a great job at showing how sometimes love and hate are so intertwined it’s hard to tell them apart. I also enjoyed the way she wove together present and past scenes. We see her murder her mother before we really know anything about the woman, and I love the way we slowly get to learn about what Helen’s life was like growing up. It’s also really interesting how reasonable Helen views her actions, even thought the rest of us can see how crazy she is at times.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would, but it was still an interesting read.

How do you finish a novel?

I’ve never been good at finishing stories. In fifth grade I wrote my first chaptered story. It was 14 handwritten pages long, but I wasn’t very happy with it. I wrote it again, and that time it was about 40 handwritten pages. I wrote the story several more times after that, and each version had a different ending. I couldn’t find one that I was happy with. In eighth grade I rewrote it as a 94 page screenplay, and I still wasn’t happy with the ending – I just went with the one that would be easiest to film with the resources I had available to me at the time.

I was also in fifth grade when I wrote my first fan fiction story. It was called “Voldemort Comes to the Quidditch Match” and was about, surprisingly enough, Lord Voldemort coming to a Quidditch match and trying to kill Harry Potter. It was supposed to be a short story about said Quidditch match and ended up being over a hundred pages long. I have no idea where the story went from there, as I no longer have a copy of the story, but I know that it kept going because I had no idea how to end it.

In ninth grade I tried my hand at fan fiction again. This time, I had a perfect ending in mind. It was still a Harry Potter story, and it was five chapters long. I was so happy when I finished it. Then I got a lot of reviews from people claiming that they hated the ending. No one liked it. Every review said that it was a disappointment, so I tried again. It went from 5 chapters to 28, and I still had problems ending it.

I’ve written a lot of fan fiction since then. As such, I thought that I would be better at ending stories by now. I thought I was having such problems with my current works becuase of the stories themselves, but now I’m forced to sit back and realize that I’m just bad at writing endings. I rewrote my senior thesis in college at least four times before I managed to find an ending that both my advisor and I could live with. I’ve reached the end of Learning to Lie twice now, and I’m still not happy with the way it’s ended.

And now here I am, 92,000 words into my second draft of Tilt Your Head and Smile, and I keep dragging my feet. I had five chapters left of my outline to write, but I kept finding more scenes to add. Did they actually work well with the story? Yes, I think they did. But the point remains that I keep trying to find ways to stall having to write the ending because I don’t really know how I want this to end. I had a plan before – she decides to go to grad school and try to become a teacher – but now I’m not so sure. Going back to school doesn’t guarantee anything, and it seems sort of like a cop-out to me when I’m writing a story about a young woman trying to find herself after college.

I’m still going to write that ending because it’s the best choice I have right now, but I’m still having issues writing it. How do you all finish novels? Do you have an ending in mind first? Do you make it up as you go? Are you writing and then suddenly realize that you’ve hit a good stopping point?

Book 7: Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson

Title: Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter
Author: Steven Johnson
Page Count: 211 (250 with Notes)
F/NF: Non Fiction
Genre: Social science

Rating: 9/10

Conventional wisdom tells us that popular culture – movies, TV shows, video games, and the Internet – are creating a culture of mindless morons with tiny attention spans. The nicest thing anyone can say about video games is that they improve hand-eye coordination. Johnson takes this argument and turns it completely on its head. He argues that the skills people learn while playing video games and following all the different plot and relationship threads in television shows actually help make people smarter.

I found this book in a used bookstore last year and finally found the time to read it. This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while. His argument in support of video games is one that I already agreed with. Having failed at most of the video games I’ve tried to play over the years (Portal and Portal 2 being the only ones I’ve ever played all the way through), I already knew that video games require much more work than conventional wisdom seems to suggest.

The part of his argument that I was most skeptical about going into this reading was the part about reality television. When I think of reality TV, I think of shows like Keeping up the Kardashians and Jersey Shore. Neither is mentioned in this book, but I have reasons to believe that both are the types of shows that he would consider actual junk. His argument is not that all TV is good for us but that we should reconsider the criteria that we use to judge what makes TV useful. He says (and I agree) that we should be focused less on the content of TV and more on the cognitive thinking it forces us to do while we watch them. One of the examples he uses is that we should watch Survivor (which helps to raise our emotional intelligence) instead of Fear Factor.

Are there shows that have no real value to society? Absolutely. Should people spend all their time playing video games and ignoring the rest of the world? Of course not. His argument is not that we should tune out society and focus on games, nor is that all shows on TV will make us more intelligent. He simply says that we should reconsider how we judge shows and games and remind ourselves that games/shows are getting more complex as the years go on, and that that complexity is what is helping to make the mass population better at problem solving and pattern recognition (among other skills).

My only problem with this book is that he dismisses the idea that the rise of television has decreased unattractive people’s chances of winning a position in politics. The idea doesn’t seem to bother him that much, but it’s one that really irritates me. Just because someone’s fat or unattractive doesn’t mean that he or she would make a bad leader. I would have listed this as a fault of current television, but he seems to think of it as a minor side effect that actually works as a positive factor most of the time.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. For anyone who already thinks that pop culture is a great thing, this book will provide them with studies and other forms of persuasion to make their arguments stronger. For anyone who thinks that pop culture is making everyone dumber, this book should make them reconsider some of their assumptions and maybe not think of pop culture as such a terrifying force in today’s society.

Book 6: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I’ll be honest – this wasn’t on my to-read list. The only reason I read it to begin with was because it was the end of the week, and I hadn’t started reading my book for this week yet. My sister was going through her books, finding some she wanted to give away, and I grabbed a few of them. This was one of those books. I’ve been meaning to read some of Neil Gaiman’s works for a while now, so I figured this would be a good place to start. Plus, a fellow NaNoer suggested that we watch the film version the next time we get together for movie night, so I wanted to go ahead and read this book so that I could compare it to the film.

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Page Count: About 200
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Young Adult/horror

Rating: 3/10

Young Coraline has just moved into a new flat with her parents. There are three other flats in her building: one below her that belongs to two old women who used to be in the theater, one above her that belongs to a crazy man with a strange relationship with mice, and one next to hers that is empty…or so she thinks. One day she walks through the door separating the two apartments, and she finds herself in an apartment exactly like her own, only creepier. There she finds her other mother and her other father, exaggerated versions of her own parents with black buttons for eyes. Her other mother wants her to stay and be their daughter. Can Coraline find a way to escape, or will she be trapped with her other parents forever?

I’ve heard so many great things about Neil Gaiman and this story that I was incredibly disappointed when I read this book. I was sort of interested in the beginning, when she first discovered the hallway to the other apartment. I was curious to see what she was going to find there and learn why the rats were so concerned with rising again. The problem was that I didn’t find the second half of the book nearly as interesting as the first half, and the first half hadn’t really been all that exciting to begin with. I kept expecting more from it. Maybe that’s because this is a children’s book and I would have been scared had I been ten. I’m not sure. I just know that I’m glad this novella was as short as it was. I only wasted a day reading it instead of more. I’m not going to let this color my judgment of all of Neil Gaiman’s work – because his adult novels sound a lot more interesting than this one did – but I will say that if you haven’t read any of his stuff before, this one probably isn’t the one you want to start with.

January wrap-up

I had two goals for January: write 100,000 words and finish draft two of Tilt Your Head and Smile. I’m happy to say that I at least accomplished one of those goals. I finished the month with 100,096 words. I managed 78k in Tilt, 9.5k in Em, which I wrote at the beginning of the month before I got back into Tilt, and 12k in my new story, which I’m calling Patrick/Jeremy right now because I can’t think of anything better yet.

I’m not really happy with the progress I’ve made with Tilt, but I’m going to try to reserve judgment until I actually finish the novel and leave it alone for a while. I looked over my original outline this morning and used that to make a new one. According to this new outline, I’m about five chapters away from finishing it. That’s my first goal for this month: finish this novel. Then, I’m going to try to finish Em. I’m also hoping to write 50k this month. It’s funny how 1725 (the minimum word count per day) suddenly seems to small. Four months ago, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write the 1667 a day needed for NaNo.

It’s amusing how quickly things change.