Updates

2021 Writing Goals

Welcome to the doorstep of 2021! If you’re like me you dragged yourself bruised and battered to this point, but are thankful that you somehow survived. This didn’t seem like the kind of New Year’s Eve to make resolutions that weren’t purely for things that I enjoyed, so I thought about how I could become a better writer and have fun doing it.

My book is still in progress, and while I usually write it in a rush over my summer break, I’ve decided to attempt a VERY SMALL daily word count to give myself a head start. 150 words a day to get me 20,000 words deep into a third draft ahead of the summer should give me the breathing room I need.

I’ve joined Susan Dennard’s Story a Month Challenge which will ask me to write a short story every month this year based on a monthly prompt. 160ish words per day should get me there, and writing this way might give me a selection of stories to submit to wherever you submit short stories for publication.

On this site I will be posting my responses to The Severed Moon prompts, a year of journaling prompts provided by the amazing Leigh Bardugo. These should give me practice with the art of the personal essay, which I could also send out for publication elsewhere if they seem to be good.

And of course I will be writing book reviews, recipe reviews, and other stuff over at my review site angryangelbooks.com.

I’ll be doing a LOT of writing in 2021. I can’t wait to see what it all will be!

Transformation

I had an epiphany this morning about the structure of my book. The craft books I have been using say that the opening scene and the closing scene should be mirror images of each other, only the closing scene should show that the main character has changed to learn the theme or the lesson. The midpoint of the novel is a time when the main character seems to have solved their problem, but it’s the wrong solution. I think I may treat this as another mirror scene, as a pivot point into the danger zone. That feels good in my brain so I’m going to write it later and see how it sounds.

This made me think about my own transformations through time. I’ve learned a lot about what I want and need and what the difference is between the two. More importantly I’ve learned who I become in certain situations. Everyone becomes who they truly are when they face high levels of stress or fear, that famous fight or flight response. Since I was very small my response has been to fight. I thought I had this instinct beat out of me in my traumatic teaching positions in the beginning of my career, but in actuality I just learned to be quieter in my fight. The fire burns just as brightly, but only I get to see it.

I’ve experienced a lot of stressful and traumatic situations in the past 37 years, but looking back I cannot think of a time where I feared for my life. My sanity, my physical safety, my health – sure, but never my own death. I have made every effort through personal growth and therapy to become more self-aware so that I can more clearly communicate my needs as well as understand the effect I have on others, even in times of stress.

I do not know the person I am when I am facing my own death. I do not know how I behave towards people who are putting my life in danger, putting the life of the husband in danger. Threatening my pets, my livelihood, everything I have struggled to build to a point where we have enough money to live and put a little away in savings. I do not know who I am to the people who would so carelessly throw all of this away while I watch. I do not want to find out.

I am a good teacher. I am not a popular teacher, I am an efficient and effective teacher. I have a routine that kids rebel against and then settle into, eventually commenting that they like that my room is predictable and that they like knowing what is expected. There are no surprises in my room – only learning and growth. I’ve been teaching for 15 years and I consider myself a professional who is always looking for ways to make my process better, both for myself and for the success of my students.

That Mrs. Nissen I know. No one has ever met the Mrs. Nissen backed into a corner, forced into a room where a virus could attack and kill her. I don’t know that person. Yet. Many teachers will be discovering how their relationship with their students and their jobs will be altered because their first priority will be their own lives. What will that fight or flight response look like in the teachers who did not have the option to resign?

People often become completely different in times of high stress and not everyone is ready to face that mirror. Perhaps we are only at the midpoint, and in the process of solving the problem the wrong way we see someone we do not like, or we are forced to become someone we don’t recognize to survive where the plot is steering us. I see another option: maybe we can just skip to the closing scene, where we solve the problem the right way and we transform education and teachers to a distance model that works for all students and keeps everyone safe. We get to see the new face of education in a world of pandemics and school shootings where kids are safer at home.

This doesn’t have to take the structure of a novel. We have the power to skip to the ending, to avoid the painful learning of lessons and reach a new normal where everyone is safe. Teachers already sacrifice enough. Please do not ask us to also sacrifice our lives.

Fun and Games

I am currently working on the Fun and Games section of my novel, which stretches from the 20% mark to the midpoint at 50%. The idea of this section is that the main character is in their new world and learning to navigate it. Think Katniss competing in the Hunger Games or Harry Potter taking his classes and learning magic in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone for my overseas readers). They have been ripped from their status quo and are messing around in a new reality.

I am struggling a bit with making this section as long as it needs to be. I reached the 30,000 words mark (30%) this past Tuesday (6/30) and I don’t know how I’m going to write 20,000 more words of this.

Something that has helped is to outline the things that I need to have happen prior to the midpoint. My main character needs to get better with her weapons of choice. She needs to learn her particular magical skill. There need to be some foreshadowing elements showing that she might be able to do more than she realizes, and that there is a larger evil than anyone realizes. The only question is how to make all those happen in a way that is interesting and keeps people reading.

I’ll make a list of things she needs to do, then try to hit word goals for each of those events. Mathematically this will help me get words on the page. A list of ten events means I need to average 2,000 words per item. If I can imagine a string of events 20 items long, each will have only 1,000 words as a goal. To inform my writing over the next week or so I will be spending today brainstorming this list and informing my choices based on some of my favorite books. My desk is scattered with books turned upside down to the section that I am currently working on so I can pick them up and see how their fun and games was handled, and trying to emulate that same progression in my own work.

It’s difficult trying to teach myself how to do this, but it’s also fun. This draft makes a lot more sense than the first, and I can’t wait to finish this draft so I can learn how to edit, cut, and rewrite instead of starting from scratch.

Be safe out there.

Everything I Do, I Do It For You

I’ve never worn makeup. I’d love to say that it’s because I couldn’t afford it or I was a super duper tomboy but I think the honest answer is that no one ever showed me and I never asked, so sitting here at the age of 37 it’s just not something that I value. I see commercials for airbushing foundation or sculpted eyebrows and I wonder why anyone would pay $19.99 (plus S&H) to spray stuff on their face, not to mention paying for the makeup itself. Foundation and eyeliner and mascara and lipstick or lipgloss and eye shadow and it goes on and on and on. It’s exhausting to think about. For me though, it’s something I don’t have to worry about, because it’s outside the Venn Diagram that depicts my life. Of all the societal bubbles that I brought in to overlap to make ME, makeup did not float anywhere nearby.

On the other hand the circle for “Reading” or “Books” and the circle that just says “Amanda” are almost entirely overlapping. When I moved to Arizona by myself and began to make friends at work, I first asked where the nearest library was before I asked for doctor and dentist recommendations. I curate my holds list very carefully and make sure that only three books ever come available at any one time. I peruse the internet for recommendations by the authors I like or “best of” lists by different publications like Variety or Bustle. Reading calms me, it excites me, it inspires me. It takes me into other worlds, it makes me believe that I’m not alone, and it shows me how life could be or how it shouldn’t be. If you took all my books away and my Kindle and my access to a library and said I couldn’t read anything anymore, I truly believe something irreversible would happen to my psyche that would make me a completely different person.

When I see people truly losing their shit about not being able to get a haircut or color, when I see women getting into fistfights for the privilege of eating at a Red Lobster, when I see people coughing and spitting and sneezing on others because they aren’t allowed into some retail establishment to get ice cream or costume jewelry or Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels, I cannot believe what I’m seeing. Now, I don’t want to seem naive, I understand what I’m seeing, I know why it is happening, I just can’t believe that everyone isn’t as terrified of this virus as I am. The behavior I understand – white people in this country have proven time and again that they revert to toddler tantrum status immediately if they cannot get the Red Robin bottomless fries that they get every Tuesday night with a beer. I have seen so many videos showing this behavior that I don’t even feel bad writing it here as fact. These videos and situations have been shown on the evening news. It’s happening.

As we continue to watch all this go down, I ask the husband once in a while what he would lose his shit over. Or I ask it like: what do you miss the most? What would you break quarantine for? And whenever we talk about it the answer continues to be: nothing. There is nothing that we would lose our minds over to get from the outside world and risk getting sick from this virus. I’ve begun to think about it in these terms: what would you feel comfortable having people say at your funeral was the reason you got infected. “If only she hadn’t gone out for that Baskin Robbins two scoop cone!” “If only she didn’t have that girls’ night out at that bar!” “Why couldn’t she have eaten at home instead of that Applebees?”

Note: I feel it necessary to mention that only one of these funeral statements is an actual possibility because for the last two weeks all I have been able to think about is non-grocery store ice cream. Fro-yo toppings places, soft serve, flavored hard serve in a waffle cone, banana splits, sundaes, you name it. Still won’t risk my life over it though.

When the mandatory lockdown went into place here in Florida, the libraries shut down too. You could return materials but no one was there to check them in or sign them out. Shuttered. For almost 2 months the best you could get was a folding table out front with unemployment applications for the community and that was it. I had a few books already checked out that had their due dates changed to July in the system, but on top of that I had all the books at home that are either favorites that I would love to read again, or books I’ve never read that have always taken a backseat to library books that have a deadline. So I was only very mildly upset that my routine was interrupted, but I understood what was going on and honestly between my Kindle and my bookshelf and the library books I had, I was probably set for at least year or more depending on how long things lasted.

Did I not go to enough restaurants as a child? The bar scene is another Venn Diagram circle that doesn’t even touch me. I like going to the beach but for the past week it has been in the high nineties in Tampa Bay, with heat indices of 105F+ degrees. That sounds like hell and I haven’t even wanted to go in the backyard pool I have. It’s too hot and there is a killer virus on the loose. As much as I like the beach, I’m not going there this year either. So I cannot understand the anger, the vitriol, the absolute obstinate behavior of people insisting they be given access to all these things, putting their lives and the lives of others at risk, and I’m not even talking about the widespread refusal to wear masks and how governments are just shrugging and saying “well I guess we have to trust people to make good choices!”

I don’t need makeup, but I understand that for some/most women it’s a part of their identity. It’s something that makes them feel beautiful or in control, it’s a hobby, something they like to do, it’s an art form. I’m not here to shit on people who like makeup, and I’m only here to make a little bit of fun of people who still like Applebees in the year 2020. I learned long ago to not yuck another person’s yum. (Not yumming another person’s yuck is just as important. Just because you feel a way about a thing does not mean you have to go and convert everyone to that way of thinking – people are different.) But even when it’s a part of your life, are you able to go without it for a bit for the safety of everyone?

All of this comes down to the death question. What parts of your Venn Diagram are you willing to die for? And considering this pandemic, which parts are you willing to kill for? Even during regular times there are very few parts of my life that would answer those questions, and even if they do I’m probably just being overdramatic. But look around you. Every person packing an airplane or a restaurant or a bar is saying “I would die to be here. I would murder to be able to get this IPA stout on tap” or “I would die to be on this beach in the sun, and kill all those around me to feel the ocean waves crash against my legs.” Would you though? You had to go without these things for like two months, this isn’t Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

I took this situation as a personal challenge to find out what I could live without. I didn’t stock up on flour and yeast to experiment with sourdough, I did it in case we run out of bread and it’s not safe to go to the store. I love pizza, but I didn’t want to order out because every time something comes in from outside, it’s another chance to catch it. So slowly over the past two months I’ve been spending Saturdays learning to make my own pizza dough, my own pizza sauce, and get a large pizza baked just right in my oven at home. Can we grow vegetables on the patio so we don’t need to order canned stuff? I headed over to Burpee.com and checked out their patio-specific seed collection and ordered soil directly from Miracle Grow’s website. We got a treadmill so we could cancel our gym memberships to stay safe and still have a way to exercise, although I do admit this was kind of a splurge because I have enough exercise DVDs and weights to get a good workout, I just wanted to be able to take walks because my legs bother me a lot and the husband likes to run.

On too many others the lockdowns had the opposite effect. One giant chorus of “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD!!!” rang out from sea to shining sea and only got worse when states decided to give in and start reopening too soon. You know the stories, I don’t have to recount them here. People decided they could not live without anything and no one, not even the Wal-Mart greeter, could make them wear a mask while they were out getting what was owed to them.

I can live without makeup because it’s not a part of who I am. I can live without a library because I have other ways to get books for myself. I can live without eating out because I can get it delivered or make it/grow it myself. I can live without movie theaters because I have so many DVDs and streaming subscriptions. But I think that at the heart of all of these decisions is that I can live. That is what guides all my decisions in this moment – if it puts my life or the lives of the people I love at risk, it’s a firm NO.

What are the people around you saying they are willing to kill and die for? And I’m not talking about working to support your family or going out because you need to. I’m talking about the wants, not the needs, and maybe that’s where the problem lies. Maybe people don’t know how to separate those in a meaningful way. No matter what the reason, unless we learn to prioritize or governments force us to with lockdowns (again), we’re in for a pretty bad time.

2020 NaNoWriMo Summer Camp

Camp NaNoWriMo 2020

NaNoWriMo Twitter

I have reached the 25% mark in the second draft of my novel, despite battling some health issues over the past week or so. It turns out that a multi-day headache/migraine doesn’t really inspire sitting at a computer and writing. I did it anyway, because my time is limited. The school year is coming and once it starts, the consistent writing usually stops.

I loved the #1000wordsofsummer event. I got 15,000ish words done with that motivation. It’s a 14 day event every year and Jami Attenberg even said she’s going to run a 7 day #1000wordsofaugust that I am already pumped for. But there is a giant, gaping void of July in between those two, and for that I’ll be using the summer version of National Novel Writing Month, Camp NaNoWriMo.

The traditional event that is held in November each year, asks participants to write 50,000 words (the average novel length) in 30 days. That averages out to about 1,667 words each day, then BOOM you have a first draft of a novel! Well, November isn’t the best time for me to participate. I always start with the best of intentions (although I forgot all about 2019 NaNoWriMo!) and then like 7 days in I forget or work is too much or I’m exhausted and then I feel like a failure.

Camp NaNoWriMo is in July every year, lasts the entire month, and as far as I have explored on the website you can set your own word goal, join write-ins in your area (which with the pandemic will probably be different this year), and create ‘cabins’ which are writing groups that you can join and encourage each other and post your word counts. I think I might join one this year so I feel accountable to someone. Since I know that 1,000 a day works for me, I set my word count goal for the month at 31,000.

I’ve linked to both the website and the Twitter handle if you’re interested in trying this event out for yourself. Don’t forget to set a reasonable goal so you feel successful – these events should move you forward in your project whether that’s 100 words or 10,000 words. Just because I’m able to set 1,000 per day doesn’t make you less because you can do 200 per day. If this was September I’d be doing 0 per day and looking at your 200 words with envy, which I shouldn’t do! Do your best, that’s all you can do, and write your story.

Working Summer

Well, we certainly find ourselves in interesting times right now. The husband and I are on day 93 of ‘safer at home’ behavior – schools went on spring break on March 14th and never came back. We transitioned to distance learning through the end of the school year, at which point I was immediately launched into this year’s #1000wordsofsummer. I came out of my Twitter hiatus to participate and am now back in protected tweets status. It’s nice to see posts by the writing community, and it’s easier to keep up with news and local information related to not only COVID-19 but also the protests. I am never going back to Facebook or Instagram, there be dragons.

My official second draft of my novel is now at about 16,500 words and growing. I’m using the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel book to help me structure and outline this time around as opposed to writing everything as a kind of stream of consciousness, what writers call ‘pantsing’ or “writing by the seat of your pants.” I stand by pantsing for a first draft to get all the ideas out there, but I am a huge proponent or organizing those thoughts into a real outline for the second draft and beyond. It’s going to make editing a lot easier. I’m not going to fully scrap anything from here on out – only editing, cutting, and expanding.

I’ve only taken one day off from writing since May 29th. As I’ve mentioned before summer is the only time that I have all of my thinking brain to myself and so I can dedicate the time and creativity to this project. Save the Cat says I’m almost to the end of Act 1, and I’m hoping to get there this week. If you are a beginning writer I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve read other books that have inspired and motivated me, but this book has been instructive and a guide that has kept me from going off the rails.

We should know by July 1st whether we are returning to face-to-face instruction or continuing distance learning in the fall. Other than the anxiety related to that announcement my focus has been on having enough supplies here for both COVID and hurricane season and writing this book. Can I reach 100,000 words by the end of the summer? We’ll see! Just remember that no matter what you are writing, set a reasonable goal and write a little bit every day. Even ten words every day will add up eventually. If I can do it, you can do it too.

Working Writer

We are on day two of NANOWRIMO – National Novel Writing Month – and I have to admit that I totally forgot. This school year has been much better than previous ones, but I’ve been taking on more leadership roles so I have been very busy. It’s making the time pass quickly, which is nice, but I’m also exhausted at the end of the day. I manage to squeeze in a couple of chapters of a book before I fall asleep, but that’s about it.

When I sat down to write this post this morning and I realized that it was NaNoWriMo already, I started to feel really guilty. I haven’t touched my book since school started in August, so this is when writer me starts to talk to herself about how bad a writer she is. Why am I not writing every day? How hard is it really to write like 200 words so you’re at least making forward progress? You think about this story all the time and how it works, why can’t you take 30 minutes to put some of it down?

Valid questions all, and perhaps if my only job was writing I would feel like giving these more space and credence. I read the blogs of full time writers, writers who have children and families, and seeing how they manage their time, how they get up early in the morning to write or go to the library or coffee shop, how they managed to write a book little by little, and I am inspired and motivated. I reserve study rooms at the library, I plan to stop at Panera on the way home and write a bit before I enter the house, I think I might write a bit at school before I even leave for home. Even writing it all right now sounds really good and doable, and I want to run out and do these things to get back on the writing train.

I don’t have to go far before my own personal reality hits me in the face. Like so many other writers I am an introvert, so much so that teaching all day drains my energy to the point that most days I’m almost falling asleep in my recliner within ten minutes of arriving home. I’ve been going to bed between 7:30 and 8:30 at night, sleeping through the night, and then waking up the next morning feeling like the sleep I got wasn’t nearly enough. And when my depression or anxiety comes to call, the work that is required to manage those things along with all the other normal day to day activities, makes all of this even worse.

I’m not sharing these things to make excuses for myself. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that the bulk of my writing will happen over summer breaks when I have the mental space to sit and write without distraction. I am sharing these things because you’re going to feel guilty anyway. You’re going to see other writers who write a thousand, five thousand, ten thousand words a day and wonder what you’re even doing. You’ll never reach those numbers, you’ll never finish this book, you’ll never…

Don’t let what other people are doing affect what YOU are doing. Only you know how important your writing is to you. Only you know what your life can support and when you can fit in writing among all the other things. Just because other people write their way, doesn’t mean you have to write that way too. Figure out what works for you and your life, and then stick to that. When summer 2020 comes around, I have to write. Until then any writing that happens is a bonus for me, but I can’t get down on myself for not doing so because that would be unreasonable. I am not other writers. I am me.

My book is going to get written. I have a story. I have something to say. It’s just going to take some time because I have small windows in which it can come into being. Search your heart and ask yourself when your realistic windows are for writing your story. Then hold yourself to those windows and write like wolves are nipping at your heels.

Second Draft

I am surprised, although maybe I shouldn’t be, by how closely my experience with a second draft mirrors what I have read about in all the craft books I have explored. My first draft might as well be a bucket of vomit that I can throw out of the top window of the tallest tower before returning to the lectern, lit by a single candle, to write the story I actually wanted to write.

I guess that’s not fair. It’s also true that without the word vomit that was the first draft I could not have identified the themes and storylines I was looking for in order to make the story more clear and structured. People talk about plotting and pantsing, outlining and freestyling, but to me this process feels a bit like reading entrails. Out of the bloody, wet, tubular mess of my first draft I have drawn the future of my second draft, and it’s coming together so nicely.

Granted, it’s not coming together as quickly as I would like. I am finishing the ‘first act’ this week and will have about 25,000 words into the draft. I’ve been going to the library 2-3 times per week to write in the quiet of their study rooms and it is the most productive I have ever been in my young writing career. Still a long way from being finished with the draft by the end of the summer. I am hopeful though that I can continue this habit into the school year. The library is on my way home on the right side of the road, so pulling in two days a week to write for two hours should be an easy add into my routine.

What gives me hope is that my experience mirrors the experiences of so many others that have moved from a messy first draft to a second. If a first draft is pouring a bucket of legos onto the floor, the second draft is organizing them into categories so we can see what we want to work with. Right now I actually feel like I’m writing a book and that is so encouraging.

Based on my experience and the experiences of many others, if you are reading this and are trying to write your own story, I cannot recommend enough the idea of WRITE UNTIL IT’S DONE for your first draft. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, you’ll have let all the ideas out of your head so you can see them on the page, and you’ll feel like you have something to build from. Do not get bogged down by edits – just write. You’ll be surprised how much easier your next draft is when you do.

Quiet Time

The school year is winding down and in 14 days I will be free of work for 9 weeks. I’m already planning ahead, setting up time to write and revise in this golden down time that I get every year.

Libraries are truly the best community resource. When I was in my local branch the other day, I noticed a sign for a new online program that allowed patrons to sign up for study room time in the study rooms. I didn’t even know that there were study rooms, but the librarian that was checking out my holds explained that I should sign up for the D study room because it was in the quieter area of the library. (Yes, I giggled about the D study room.)

So Monday through Friday, depending on study room availability, I’ll be traveling to my local library to spend 2 hours working on my book. I want it to feel like a little part-time job. I’ll work on it at home too, but these two hours are going to be guaranteed work time. This is also how I’m going to get myself to go to the gym. After my 2 hour shift at the library, I’ll drive down the road a piece and spend an hour or so at the gym. Last summer I barely got out of the house and wrote at home every day to get my first draft finished.

This year is going to be different and I am very excited.

Social Media

I’ve been having trouble deciding if I should completely remove myself from social media. I left Facebook in September of 2018, but there are a lot of authors I follow on Twitter that have a lot of good advice to give on writing and publishing so I am hesitant to leave. I am reasoning that they all also have websites that I can access where they give advice also, and we are entering a time where a lot of people have tinyletter newsletters that they send out automatically via email too. So maybe being sucked into Twitter every day isn’t so necessary to move forward with my learning.

I’m worried that without any connection to social media I might be hurting my chances at getting an agent or being published, but all the knowledge I’ve seen says that if you are writing fiction a social presence isn’t necessary. I want to believe it, but I also worry that bad advice is everywhere. I have seen across the board that having an author website is essential, so this website will remain and I plan to keep it updated as often as possible.

At the heart of all these decisions is my desire to stay focused on writing my book. With a full time job it’s already very difficult to find the time and the energy to work every day. The temptation of zoning out on Twitter or other areas of the internet is so great that often I find myself at bedtime without realizing it, having spent the 3 hours between work and sleep staring at my tv or a timeline. If I can get one of those two out of the equation, I’m sure I can replace it with revisions and outlining and excellent word counts.

I have a book, it has its first draft, and I’m moving forward. I know I can work all summer on it, but if I want to try to query before I am dead I need to figure out a routine that works during the school year too. Eliminating Twitter seems to be a good first step in bringing my focus around to where it belongs. As many of the authors I admire say, you should do whatever is necessary to insure your best work is being produced. The truth is that I think social media is in my way.

Time to clear the way.