IWSG Post #12

DECEMBER QUESTION: As you look back on 2017, with all its successes and failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

When it comes to writing…

I could not be happier with my NaNoWriMo success this year. A lot of it was building on my momentum from last year, which is ultimately what I want to do. I need to just finish a project, and then I can go from there! And the way I want to get there is writing a little bit every day.

Planning ahead of time and getting a complete timeline worked out for the story really, really helped.

If I’d thought of it more ahead of time I might have spent more time researching baseball teams and all that. My main characters are happily bonding over things I know nothing about, haha.

#catsofinstagram #christmascookies #catmascookies

A post shared by Jean (@cat_in_the_ciderbarrel) on

When it comes to everything else…

I would go back in time and start actively balancing my checkbook earlier in the year. At least that would have felt like the sky was falling all at once when financial disaster finally hit.

Most everything I would do differently has to do with how I’ve been spending money.

One of the things I wanted to do this year was get more into yoga, and it happened relatively late in the year but it has happened! We made a friend who is now hosting a yoga group in the loft of her house. I finally have a reason to dig out my yoga mat. Success!

I’ve been baking and cooking more lately. The only thing I would change about that would be to start doing it sooner. It’s been very therapeutic, creativity inspiring, and also a lot of fun to share the recipes here.

And I’m not going to lie, the only way that could have happened is if I’d quit my job earlier. It had just become a place I didn’t want to be anymore, and was running me into the ground.

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Stopping in the middle of NaNoWriMo to draw a floorplan

Thank you, Internet, for providing me with the means to look up a colonial house layouts with a specific square footage that I can base this on. The characters are going to spend a lot of time in here, pulling out carpet and replacing it with hardwood floors.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 4.16.08 PM
First floor
Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 4.16.19 PM
Second floor

Fun times when I realize I forgot to put in the door to the master suite. You enter by climbing in through the bathroom window!

Also, that unlabeled space across the hall from the master bath is a walk-in closet.

Research Help Needed!

I posted this on the NaNoWriMo forums as well (here), but…

I’ve decided to set my novel in New Hampshire despite never having set foot in the state. I also live in California and don’t really know what real weather is. Please help with the following!

  • What’s the weather like in July, August, October, November, and December?
  • What baseball team(s) do people follow?
  • What styles are most of the houses?
  • What is the LGBT scene/atmosphere  like?
  • Slang people use
  • Anything else I should probably know

NaNoWriMo 2017

I’ve finally made a few decisions about what I want to do this November.

ONE:

I will definitely do NaNoWriMo. My novel is already announced on the site and I’ve come up with a working, if stupid, title that I got from googling “how to come up with a good book title.”

… It’s “Good Book Title.” Which probably won’t stick, although one of the main characters is a published author so maybe I can actually work that in.

The temporary cover image is one of the stock drawings from the how to come up with a good title wiki page.

TWO:

It’s definitely going to be a second draft of the novel I was working on last year, which crept along so slowly that partway through I had to do an emergency retcon just so I could get anywhere near the end of the story by 50k. Despite that, I think there probably still are some bits I can still use, but a lot needs to be changed/rearranged and there will be a lot of new stuff to fill in the gaps.

THREE:

I’m cheating a little and already writing. At the moment it’s mostly backstory shorts that wouldn’t necessarily be in the novel though.

… I say that, and yet it’s vital character building stuff for the main character’s later struggle with his sexuality as an adult. So I don’t know.

FOUR:

Boy howdy do I write better if I treat each scene like a short story. So for now I’m sticking with that, and filling in later. If I can spend November just getting down the most important bits, that would still be great progress.


So there’s that. Let me know if you’ve tried the each-scene-treated-like-short-story method and how it worked for you!

Tomorrow’s post will be about the fires in Sonoma County, where I happen to live.

Polishing poetry

I’m not much of a poet myself, but these are some really helpful guidelines for good poeming.

Druid Life

For many people, poetry hits the page in a rush of emotion and/or inspiration. Developing it beyond that point can feel a tad sacrilegious, and I remember it took me quite some time both to learn how to do it, and to be willing to do it. I’ve tried writing the kind of poetry that is tinkered out in a calmer and more intellectual way and I can’t honestly say I like the results. As writing poetry is something I do for myself, I don’t have to be workish about it, I can wait for the lightning bolt to strike.

My usual method (other methods no doubt exist and are just as valid) is to write in the heat of the moment, and then put the piece aside for a day or two. When I come back, I’ll read through and see how I feel about it. I then get…

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4 Things the Queer Folks in My Life Taught Me About Resisting Toxic Masculinity — Let’s Queer Things Up!

This community taught me not only what toxic masculinity demands of men and masculine people, but also the possibilities that exist outside of it.

via 4 Things the Queer Folks in My Life Taught Me About Resisting Toxic Masculinity — Let’s Queer Things Up!


A couple days ago I wrote a short story in which a young character is bombarded with toxic masculinity “life lessons” by his father. It occurred to me today, while I was reading this, that if I continue his story some of these same points will have to be addressed. And any explicit discussion of toxic masculinity will mostly come to him through members of the queer community as he grows up and begins to explore his sexuality.

He’s going to have to figure out…

  1. That it’s okay for men to hug and make other physical gestures of affection, platonic or otherwise.
  2. That he’s allowed to cry and be vulnerable when he needs to be, instead of constantly suppressing.
  3. That it’s totally unnecessary to feel uncomfortable when his boyfriend wears makeup. And/or offers to put some eyeliner on him.

As Sam points out in his post, “An essential part of dismantling toxic masculinity is men taking ownership over their own education around systemic inequality, and taking on the labor of educating other men about it as well.” And so considering this character learned most of this toxic stuff from his father, it seems fitting that he should unlearn it mostly from the guys in his life.

IWSG Post #09

(This post was written and scheduled in advance, as today I get to have a super fun endoscopy and expect to be pretty loopy from the sedation. Bleh.)

unnamedAUGUST QUESTION: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

These are all pet peeves that I attend to while writing, as well as editing and, to a lesser extent because it’s not like there’s anything I can do about it, reading.

They won’t suit everyone. I know that the first one probably lead to a lot of my peers in writing classes throughout the years lose patience with reading all the comments I left in the margins on their work when critiquing… For my part, I frequently felt like my stories weren’t getting enough scrutiny when it was time for my work to be critiqued.

  • Consecutive sentences and/or paragraph that all start or end with the same word or series of words. Exception: when it is done intentionally (and effectively) for emphasis.
  • Lack of Oxford comma. I like it, I use it, and I want to see it.
  • Dialogue where two speakers’ words are lumped in the same paragraph, making it harder to tell who’s talking if your brain skips the one or two cue words. Incorrect punctuation going in or out of the quotation marks — because if what follows the dialogue is a vocal action in any tense (said, says, etc.) it should always be punctuated with a comma, not a period, which then continues the sentence. If what follows is a physical action, then it should be a period.
  • Substitutions for said that don’t really describe a physically possible way of talking, like “smirked” instead of “said with a smirk” — because a smirk is a facial expression not a description of speech. Or “quaked” or “trembled” — also not speaking verbs. I got all of these examples from one of those Said is Dead posters, which tend to have mostly good suggestions with some real stinkers mixed in.
  • “As if” when it should be “as though.”
  • “Would of.” Are you kidding me?

#AtoZChallenge Theme Reveal *drum roll please!*

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This post is hilariously late due to a very hectic (yet satisfying) work week.

Last year I signed up for the A to Z blogging challenge on a complete whim. I had no plan, no theme, just a vague idea that I’d write short posts based on each letter of the alphabet, and that each would have something to do with life and the writing ideas that can be found in it, because this is a writing blog.

No wait, I take that back. I did have a theme. It was Samuel L Jackson saying “Hold onto your butts” because I didn’t know where I was going with anything.

For those that aren’t familiar with the challenge, it’s an event that happens every April with participants blogging from all over the word. You write posts that start with a letter of the alphabet. You post everyday except Sundays. It can be about your writing, or whatever theme you want if you want to have a theme. This is my second year participating and I’ve come back to it wiser and a little more organized.

A post a day is a lot of work, so this year I’ve decided that I need more of a strategy. Since one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 is to write more and I’ve kind of been interested in trying Camp NaNoWriMo for a while, I am going to combine the three and write short stories throughout the month based on the letters of the alphabet.

These are the guidelines I’ve set for myself:

  • Most of the stories will have an LGBT theme with a high chance of adult content.
  • Word counts of around 500 per post. I’ve written the first drafts of a couple already and that seems to be the average — plus I wanted a number for my Camp NaNoWriMo word goal.
  • Each story will be a complete snapshot, something that stands up well on its own but I can still come back to and write more about later if the mood strikes.
  • While I might do some of this anyway, I will definitely continue the three stories that get the most likes, comments, and views. So if you read anything you like and want to see more someday, do one or more of those things!

Check out this A to Z Challenge blog post, where there are links to other themes on other blogs in the comments.

I look forward to reading your comments throughout the month! ❤️

Wednesday Words of Wisdom #9 —Reality

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

Shirley Jackson

I keep meaning to read The Haunting of Hill House… That’ll happen eventually.

In the meantime, I just finished re-listening to the audiobook of Going Bovine, by Libba Bray. It’s one of those books where (no spoilers, kinda) you get to the end and wonder how much of it was real and how much was the unreliable narrator imagining things. It’s hard to tell what even he thought was real or not, in the end. But it’s a beautiful book that at its heart has to do with the stories we tell ourselves to make reality bearable, or worthwhile, or at least make some sort of sense.

The vocabulary I use for this idea comes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, particularly Hogfather which I recommend highly for its own merits and for being kind of a Christmas story.

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.

Hogfather

Another source is the incomparable Douglas Adams.

Trin Tragula, for that was his name, was a dreamer, a speculative thinker, or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he would spend staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake. “Have some sense of proportion,” she would say, thirty-eight times a day. And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex – just to show her. And in one end he plugged the whole of reality, as extrapolated from a fairy cake, and in the other end he plugged his wife – so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it. To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock annihilated her brain. But to his satisfaction, he realised he had conclusively proved that if life is going to exist in a universe this size, the one thing it cannot afford to have, is a sense of proportion.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (radio series), Fit the 8th

ZAPHOD:
The universe does that to a guy?

GARGRAVARR:
The whole infinite Universe. The Infinite sums. The Infinite distances between them, and yourself. An invisible dot on an invisible dot. Infinitely small.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (radio series), Fit the 8th

Absolute reality lacks meaning. Absolute reality is the universe before it’s been run through the filter of our perception. From the day we’re born we start hearing and telling stories, starting with nursery rhymes and “when you were a tiny baby” anecdotes and going from there. To be human is to be a storyteller.

I feel like I have written posts about this idea before. It’s something I keep circling back to, like an itch I keep trying to scratch, because it keeps coming up in my writing.

In the second draft of my NaNo novel I’m still thinking through the stories my main character tells himself about who he is, what he wants, whether or not he’s okay with how repetitive his life has become and why, and so on and so forth. People have been telling him stories his whole life about what is and isn’t okay, especially his father, and over the course of the story he needs to question and confront things that have seemed like solid reality but are in truth a lot more subjective. And that’s just the main character! I’m relatively certain of his character growth throughout the novel, but not so much with the love interest. I haven’t even tackled any of his stories yet.

The idea also creeps into a short (ish) story that I’m currently working on, involving dreams. I’m not going to say much more than that because I’m going to be posting it in April.

How do you think ideas about reality and the stories we tell ourselves about the rightness in the universe show up in your writing?

IWSG Post #07

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March IWSG Day Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Recently, actually. It didn’t work out, but I did end up rereading some short pieces I wrote in 2010 and probably haven’t revisited since. It’s fascinating to read stuff you no longer have any idea where you were going with.

The reason it didn’t work out is because the new idea that had inspired me to look through my old writing didn’t quite fit with the characters I’d been thinking of. Which is kind of irritating, because I miss them and had gotten all excited over the idea that I might be able to get down a new piece of their story… but when I read back over what I had so far, I realized it wasn’t something that would happen to them.

But that’s okay, because I still wrote the new idea. Part one, anyway. The rest is still in progress and was partly spurred on by wanting to find something new to ground the initial concept in.

Maybe I’ll pull the old story out and fiddle with it next, after I’m done with this new project. It’s nice to be reminded of a story that I know I’ll put down on paper some day but don’t feel pressured or rushed to do so. Over the past two years that’s basically what my NaNoWriMo novels have been — big fancy excuses . I haven’t finished them either yet, but that’s okay too. They’ll come together when they’re ready.

(I’m still coasting on the gleeful fact that in the past two years and even just the past few months I’ve done a lot more original creative writing than I have in years. This should last for a while and I’m content with that.)