Another try at this

Today I commence on 100 Days of Writing—Take Two. This time around, I’ve decided to change things up a bit. I’m giving myself 14 days off instead of 10, hoping that it helps with the quality of what I’m writing. Last time there were days when I just wrote something (usually a blog post) so that I could tick off another day. And there is something to be said for making yourself write, but 14 days off still amounts to, essentially, writing 6 days every week. This, I think, is a bit more realistic to what I have going on in my life, what with work and all (i.e., I already spend 35ish hours every week in front of the computer).

Also, this time around I’m eliminating the time and word count requirements for counting each “day” of writing. I know what a good amount of production is, and sometimes it doesn’t conform to either of those requirements I’d set for myself. Some days, for instance, I’d rather spend brainstorming and jotting down notes for a story or my book. Some days I’d rather go back and reread a particular story or passage because what’s getting me down in my writing is something I’ve seen somewhere else. Both of these things are, to me, essential steps in my writing process. I don’t need to do them often—writing is usually better for me—but some days those things are needed.

I’d like to eventually add a reading requirement to all this, too. Maybe the same requirements for writing: 6 out of 7 days each week. After all, reading (anything) is vital to improving as a writer, but I’m not ready for that yet; I have a hard enough time tracking one set of requirements.

Anyway, so this marks my first day of this next 100 (or, 114 if you want to get specific). My specific goals for this iteration are as follows: write a new book review, clean and submit a new story for publication, start and finish a new story, and work 20 days on my book.

Here I go!

Taking my own advice

It’s halfway through April, and I’m doing dead awful when it comes to my yearly reading. In my first month of this new year, I doubled my goal. February was okay, but March was horrible. I don’t think I’ve finished a book in three weeks or so. I’m rather ashamed, truth be told. Especially since I wrote that post a while back about finding more time to read.

I’m working on a book review right now, which means I’m reading a bit slow (and trying not to distract myself with other books), not to mention all the insane drama that’s been going on in my life the last few weeks (dog almost died, two family members have had to go to the hospital, and I had to take my car in twice for repairs). But still, these are excuses, and I recognize that.

So. There are 18 days left in April. And I’m setting myself a goal of finishing 7 books in that time. I’m going to start reading more in those spare moments that crop up in my life rather than surfing the Internet, playing Dragon Age, and just generally stalling. But I’m writing this from Florida (got in this afternoon), which means I’m on vacation, which means I’ve got some spare time on my hands (especially the next two mornings since I’ll be hanging out at my cousin’s apartment while she works).

But you know what would really be good for me? If I turned off Food Network, grabbed a book out of my suitcase, and read awhile.

Day Zero: One year in

March 1 marked my one year anniversary of Day Zero, so I thought it was time for a general update.

When I started this project, it seemed like a cool thing to do, and while I was careful to set goals I could conceivably accomplish (after reading the lists on the Day Zero site, I realized that a lot of people don’t take practicality into account), but I worried that I would eventually lost interest in the multi-year project. However, looking at my stats, I feel that I’m actually doing quite well, both in quantity (how many goals I’ve accomplished, how spread out they’ve been) and quality (how I feel this project has helped me at an emotional or mental level).

I have 28/101 goals completed. That works out one goal completed about every 13 days. Quick math for the project shows that I should be hitting one goal every 10 days, but I’m really not worried. A lot of my goals are for doing something over time, and so when I set the goal, I tried to think of what I could do in 1001 days. So in addition to those 28 completed goals, I have started another 15.

Finally, I have lately been giving some serious thought to changing some of the goals. Not because I think they’re too hard but rather because my life in the past year has taken me in a different direction. One example is my goal to apply to another Masters program, or to a PhD program. This is still a goal of mine, potentially, but as I plan out my education/career/writing goals, I’m finding that this isn’t something I want to tackle quite yet. Another example is my goal to travel to Vegas—I’m really just not that interested in Vegas these days. I’ve been toying with the idea of changing these (and possibly one other) to different yet similar things. For instance, “Go to Vegas” won’t become “Go to Detroit,” but rather some other destination that requires planning to get to but that I’m much more interested in seeing.

I’m still undecided about whether I’ll be editing my list. On the one hand, the official Day Zero site lets you edit even after you’ve begun, and it seems like the spirit of the project to set goals and meet them, generally, not to set one specific set of goals and go after those no matter what other paths life may open for you.

So here’s my question to my readers: What do you think about potentially editing the list a year after beginning? And if you do think it’s within the spirit of this project, what types of goals are similar to “apply to another masters or PhD program”?

2010 books: the best of the best, the worst of the worst

Now that I’ve gone through all the books I read in 2010, it’s time for a roundup of those I enjoyed the most and those I enjoyed the least. At the end of the post I’ll have some stats on how many books I read total and how I did on meeting my goals for the year. But first, in no particular order, my top five new reads. For those of you that saw my list on Bark, I’m aware that this probably doesn’t match. Different day, different state of mind, different thoughts.

5 Favorite Books of 2010

1. Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
2. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (though to be honest I have a very difficult time picking a favorite in this trilogy; I sort of picked this, the first book, by default)
3. The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
4. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

4 Most Disappointing Books of 2010

1. Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul
2. Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster
3. Wittgenstein’s Mistress, by David Markson
4. Girl Trouble, by Holly Goddard Jones Continue reading “2010 books: the best of the best, the worst of the worst” »

2010: A year in review in books (part III)

Read part I and part II.

September

September was the start of Spartan football, and at halftime of the first game, I came down with a mysterious illness. This was perfect timing, since I lost my health insurance about ten days later. Of course, at that point we still thought it was just a cold. I canceled my birthday party and had two job interviews, during which I tried my best not to sound like death. It must have worked, however, because I was hired as a contract writer and editor with the State of Michigan. Six days after my interview, I started work.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
The second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy, I didn’t feel the letdown so common to sophomore trilogy books. This book was intense and surprising, and the characters took even more shape. I can’t really talk specifics without risking giving away the first book, but in a general sense, I continued to be impressed by the risks Collins took in developing such an unusual and intriguing heroine. Plus, this book ended on the gutsiest of all cliffhangers. But lucky for me, I had the third book ready to go.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
Ah, the book that started it all for me. Thankfully, when I picked up the book, I didn’t remember a serious spoiler I’d accidentally happened across a few weeks before when, like an idiot, I’d decided to read a review. Like Catching Fire, this book took risks, and there were times when I wasn’t sure what to think. But it was a good feeling, because the author had succeeded in leading me off the beaten path of cliche and archetype. Characters faced choices again and again that, not only was I not sure how I’d react, I wasn’t sure how I wanted them to react, or even what I thought the best choice of action was, proving that Collins had successfully complicated both her story and her characters. Some people have made complaints at the ending of the book, and at the way this book deviates from the previous two, but when I put it down, it felt right to me. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part III)” »

100 Days of Writing

I have decided to start 100 Days of Writing. Haven’t heard of it? No worries. I just made it up.

It started like this: I learned about the 10,000 hour rule. Basically this rule claims that to become an expert in something, be it playing the French horn, playing soccer, or writing (three hobbies of mine at various points in my life, though obviously the writing thing is much more current—say presently relevant, even), you need to put in 10,000 hours of work toward it. Well, I did the math, and that means that in a decade you need to spend about three hours every day—EVERY DAY!—working toward your chosen skill. I don’t know about you, but between working, sleeping, feeding myself, showering, and occasionally remembering that I have friends and a family that would like to spend time with me (the friends more than the family at the moment), I don’t really have three hours left over every day. So there goes my expert-in-a-decade idea.

But then I remembered that, for my chosen expert field (writing), I’m hardly starting from Hour Zero. So maybe it was possible after all. No sooner had that happy thought kicked in, however, then I remembered something slightly less thrilling. Namely that I’m not exactly doing everything I can to make sure there’s a spot for writing in my schedule. So I should probably start with something a little more realistic than between two and three hours each day. And so I thought up 100 Days of Writing.

Here’s the deal. Out of the next 110 days, I will write for 100 of them (or declare myself a 100 Days of Writing Failure). I can skip any days I want, but starting today, I’ve got to hit 100 out of the next 110.

For a day to count as a Day of Writing, I must do one of the following:

  1. write a completed piece (blog posts count, but emails, no matter how lengthy, do not);
  2. write (or revise) for a minimum of 30 minutes; or
  3. write a minimum of 500 words

Writing at work does not count, but if I bring optional writing home from work, it does count, provided I double the above mentioned provisions. Also, for work pieces, revision does not count.

And I think that just about covers it. My 110 days are up in early May (the 4th or the 5th; I have the date written down upstairs, but I’m feeling too lazy to go and get it). If anyone would like to join me on my journey, just say the word. Happy writing!

2010: A year in review in books (part II)

Continuing from where I left off last time.

May

May was the month of full-on thesis panic. First, I had my committee changed, then we couldn’t agree on a defense date, and for a bit it looked like I’d have to defend the first possible week, meaning that I’d have to turn my thesis in at the beginning of the second week of May. Since I was still having trouble finding that magical rightness for the final 35 pages or so, this was not a happy thought. However, my wonderful committee members ended up going out of their respective ways to make sure that I had a little extra time to get it right. That meant that the panicked phone calls to my parents where I broke down and claimed I was just going to drop out—with one month to go—ended. That was nice for everyone involved. On the downside, though, my work with Willow Springs was coming to a close, and though we were still in full swing getting the next issue to print, it was very bittersweet knowing that it would be my last issue with the magazine.

Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster
Still in thesis reading frenzy, I picked up this Auster book for two reasons. First, I was concerned that my thesis list was leaning heavily toward female authors. Second, I’d read Auster before (The New York Trilogy) and enjoyed him. This book, however, was anything but enjoyable. I was so bothered by the book, in fact, that I wrote a blog post about it for Bark. Talk about overusing device! For a bit I thought about taking the book off my list and replacing it with something better—and the lateness of the date be damned!—but then I remembered that we learn just as much, and sometimes more, from the books that fail. So I kept it. And it ended up being an interesting discussing topic during my defense.

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
To put it succinctly, this book was amazing. I read all but the first dozen or so pages in one sitting, unable to put the book down. For those that don’t know, the book is about the suicides of five sisters, which take place over the course of approximately a year. This fact is presented practically on page one (maybe it’s even on page one, I can’t remember exactly). There’s no melodrama here, no wondering will-she or won’t-she. Rather, it’s the story of a family’s struggles and missteps, as observed by the neighborhood boys (the book is told in first person plural). In some ways, I think putting the fact of the suicides up front goes a long way toward forcing the reader to look at the lives of these girls, as well, and that’s one reason why, though I know there’s a movie version of this, I have no intention of seeing it; that’s something that I can’t imagine will translate well to screen

The Great Hunt, by Robert Jordan
This is becoming something of a yearly thing for me, so I won’t talk too much about these books other than to say that I still love them. This is the second book in the Wheel of Time series. I needed something to read that wasn’t related to school. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part II)” »

2010: A year in review in books (part I)

First, my apologies for not posting here in so long. I’m going to try to post weekly in 2011, at the very least. We’ll see how that goes. It occurs to me only now just how horrible I’ve been. For instance, I never posted the pictures from my Europe trip that I promised. I got back on the last day of June. Yeah. I’m a horrible person.

But this post is not about apologies. It’s my 2010 year in review post, and it’s largely centered around the books I read. So sit back and enjoy, or skip. Because it’s going to be a long one.

First, the goals. For 2010 I set a goal of reading 52 books and 20,000 pages.

And now, the books (with a few life notes for reference).

January

My wonderful parents payed the change fee on my return ticket back to Washington and allowed me to stay in Michigan over the new year. Back in Washington it took a bit of getting used to to be in the apartment alone, but I settled in as well as can be expected. I worked on my thesis and on Willow Springs. I also finished two thesis books this month, since despite all my assertions to read like mad over the summer and through the fall, I was a bit behind.

Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul
I picked this up before flying back to Michigan because I wanted something completely mindless. Plus, it had a cute picture on the cover. But silly me thinking that something shelved in the fantasy and science fiction section would be primarily fantasy. This author couldn’t have been more blatantly preachy if she’d chucked a Bible at me. I finished the book (obviously, or it wouldn’t be on my list) because there was this one tiny humming dragon that was super cute, but it was propaganda to the point where I was actually moved, for the second time in my life, to go online and post a book review on the seller’s website. Now, I can stomach religious mythology (I’ve read the Narnia books, for instance, and will probably read [most of] them again at some point) but this was overboard. And what’s the author’s response to reviews that politely pointed this out? Well, apparently I’m a God-hating cretin (not her words, but very much the sentiment).

Ava, by Carole Maso
This was a reread for me, for maybe the third time. And I loved this book. Was completely captivated by it. However, when I picked it up in January, it didn’t sparkle like it had before. It’s a lyric novel that asks for a lot from the reader (for instance, there are no chapters, no paragraphs, even, and much of it reads more like poetry; the narrative structure is unlike anything I’ve ever seen) and perhaps I just was at a point where I couldn’t give it, because when I reread this book again a few months later (it was a thesis book), it had that old loveliness back.

The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Also a reread (it was only published in late October of 2009, but as it was the 12th book in what is perhaps my favorite series of all time—and super long—it merited a quick reread). I tend to blaze through books the first time I read them, so it was nice to go back through this monster of a book at a slower pace. And it was just as good the second time. Sanderson, the author selected to finish Jordan’s masterpiece after he died, doesn’t quite have the hang of some characters in this book (and who can blame him—there are hundreds of characters!) but the world itself felt the same, and I was able to let go and let him take me along for what was an awesome ride.

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson is one of those authors I kept meaning to get around to, and I was so glad I did. Glad enough that I added this book to my thesis list. Looking back, though, I can’t really say what drew me to her other than the fact she was one of those authors I was supposed to have read. Because if someone would have described her style to me, I think I might have run the other way. Long sweeping narrative (though that isn’t a great way to describe it either), lots of description—those are things I tend to avoid. In some ways, then, this book taught me to expand, that there are ways to make really anything work. That’s it’s not so much what you do, it’s how you do it. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part I)” »

“But you need that contrast!”

Today I was able to cross another goal off my Day Zero list—specifically, the goal about having an opinion on a poem in a Willow Springs meeting.

I consider poetry to be my weakest of the three genres we publish at Willow Springs, and though I’d been going to the meetings for a year, I had yet to have an unasked for opinion. Until today the extent of my contribution had been to raise (or not raise) my hand when voting on who liked a poem, or once trying to articulate something that sounded like an original thought after being asked what I thought. I’m not an authority on poetry and so I’ve always been afraid of saying something completely off the mark.

Today, however, I spoke up not once, but twice! First, to talk about how I thought we needed contrast between two adjacent images in a poem and second, to talk about how I’d had a very strong negative reaction to a second poem. (I don’t want to go into more detail here since these are submissions to the magazine.)

In other, less exciting news, Mid-American Review rejected my short story, so I think it’s now time for me to start submitting to magazines that are a tier lower in prestige. I expected this to happen (this is the second story I’ve ever submitted, after all), but it still makes me a bit depressed. What’s also interesting though is that none of the other journals that rejected this piece really bothered me that much until now. No idea why this was the one that incited that change.

Day Zero update: submissions and contests

I’ve never had more blog visitors than I did on March 1, the day I started my Day Zero Project. It’s inspiring to know how many people were interested in what I’ve decided to do with the next few years.

Technically I’m already a bit behind, since I need to be completing one goal every ten days, but I’m not concerned. Not only do I have something like 988 days left, I’ve also made some progress toward some of the bigger goals (such as blog posts [2] and massages [2]). I’ve also started filling a box in my room with items I want to give away (or get rid of). I haven’t counted how many things I have in there, but there are some books, some shirts, two sweaters, a pair of sweatpants, and some hats/gloves/scarves. I’m also preparing my old computer to be donated, along with an old router and modem.

I also submitted a piece of fiction to a new journal today. It’s a piece that’s been rejected twice already, but that’s just the way things go. And actually, now that I look at my list, that does cross something off, because I had “Resubmit something that’s been rejected.” Awesome!

I know that sounds like sort of a cop-out goal, but rejection is something that I’ve struggled with over the years. Namely, I have this crazy large fear of failure that often means I won’t try anything that I’m not positive I will be successful at. So to continue to send something out even after failing is a big deal for me. The piece is out at two journals right now and I have a long list of other places to try if I get more rejections (which I probably will because I’ve decided to start at the most prestigious places and work my way down).

I also am submitting a piece to a contest this week. As part of my nonfiction portfolio we have to send a piece to either a contest or as a general submission, and I decided, for the first time ever, to try a contest. Now nonfiction isn’t really my thing—if anything, the workshop showed me that I have a much stronger natural affinity/ability for fiction than I do for nonfiction. I have some theories on why this might be (one of which involves an unencouraging professor), but I’m really okay with being stronger in one area. Besides, I enjoy fiction more. This one, however, I won’t be crossing off the list, since what I really intended when I wrote item 12 was “submit to a fiction contest,” since I feel that will be a much better gauge of my skill level.