A Few Interesting Curations

People both hate and love Pinterest. Some pay hundreds of dollars to learn how to use it so they can make a living pinning things for others (tempting). While some readers of this blog (hi Dad) have no idea how to even use it or why it might be helpful.

My take on it: it’s an amazing tool to scrape away cynicism. It’s all about searching for things you love, and saving them so you can return to them. (That link goes to a tap essay that has changed the way I see the internet world. It’s worth your time.)

IMG-1829Here’s a peak into my most-loved Pinterest boards. (I tried really hard to not make the title of this post click-bait. “Ten Pinterest Boards You Didn’t Know You Needed” just made me want to apologize to librarians* everywhere for even thinking it.)

Ultimately, we should all be less afraid to love and appreciate small wonders. It is not childish, nor is it a waste of time. It is time spent cultivating joy and empathy. So despite all it’s annoying attributes, (like the fact that I can’t post a link here to my Pinterest profile and instead have to post an image which is basically a QR code) there’s a lot of good to be had here.

1. Old people goals

There are so many adorable pictures of elderly people, it warms my heart to know that getting older can mean happiness. Whenever I look at my board for this, it helps me keep things in perspective, that I don’t have to live my entire life right now, and that there is old age to look forward to.

2. Romanticize the present

Search for pictures of writing and you’ll get tons of pictures of laptops at a beach, cute little nooks devoid of any screens with journals and fancy pens, and completely impractical flowers scattered everywhere for no reason. Writing today no longer looks like you stepped out of an anthropologie magazine. It sometimes looks a lot like carefully balancing a laptop on one knee while eating a sandwich and trying not to get crumbs on the keyboard. I started thinking about how things of the past are often romanticized and how little we romanticize technology. So I started a board that showcases what writing actually looks like today. Sometimes it does look nice. Other times it doesn’t look very romantic at all. But through curating this board, I’ve become more grateful for the tools at my fingertips and feel more like I am living an achievable ideal instead of some fairy tale impossibility. I highly encourage you to take pictures of your daily life, especially the parts that you don’t think are very glamorous, and see if you can find an angle that helps you see the good side of it. Sure, a cold, heartless monitor might not seem very romantic. But if it’s real and you appreciate the ability to have the internet, go ahead and Pinterest that. Maybe in the future when everyone has implants in their head and writing doesn’t look like anything except staring into space, people will start to get romantic about monitors and screens and resolutions the way they get about fountain pens. Who knows?

3. Things your person likes

I kind of like to think of this as my form of a mixed tape. Sometimes I try to pay attention to the kinds of things someone likes and then curate a board just for them. At the very least it’s practicing empathy by putting myself in their shoes. At the best, it will make them feel special for having someone who thinks about them. Find a friend, significant other, or dog and create a board just for them to look at that will make them smile.

4. Calming secret board

I know you probably already have a Pinterest board filled with images that are pleasing to you or calming. But is it a secret board? Because some of the things that make me feel calm I get self-conscious about if anyone else sees them. I needed a place just for me to collect the things I want to look at, not the things I want other people to think I’m looking at. It was easier to be real with myself by making it a secret board. Because there’s some things on there that just don’t seem like they belong. But I like it, and I don’t want to feel like someone’s looking over my shoulder in the middle of trying to silence my anxiety. Give yourself permission to feel basic. Give yourself permission to pin the stuff that ten million other people are pinning but you like anyway, because this is just for you. Don’t worry about standing out or making it perfect. If it makes you feel happy, pin it. (And by the way, my calming board is mostly just pictures of mugs with hot drinks in them. I’m more embarrassed by its lameness than anything else.)

5. Word definitions

The two most embarrassing moments in my life came from asking for the definition to words I had no clue about. I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say that if you start pinning definitions to words you want to use in conversation more, they’ll probably stick with you. Keeping a handy pocket list like this on your phone can give you that feeling of mindless scrolling while increasing your intelligence at the same time.

6. RPG ideas

If you are in an RPG group or just enjoy the genre/medium of it, Pinterest is actually a great source to find homebrew material, and sometimes just downright funny stuff. I never would have thought about this until my DM began sending me pins of items my character had received in-game. You can pin anything from character specific boards to items to DM ideas and advice. I have an entire board filled with abandoned castles for inspiration just in case I’m DMing a group that decides to randomly exit the plot I’ve carefully laid out for them and go wander the countryside.

7. Recipes you have actually made

I know you probably have gobs of recipes of things you want to make, but what do you do when you already made a recipe, and want to go back and find it? Do you have to scroll through a plethora of hopeful dreams? Of things you will never make so that by the time you do find the recipe, it seems lackluster? Take the time to go back and re-pin the recipes you’ve actually made that you want to make again. It will save you so much time. And sure, Pinterest has a neat little feature where you can mark what you’ve tried and leave notes and stuff. But it requires that you take a picture and it’s not intuitive. Until they redesign the interface, it’s easier to just create a separate board.

8. Search for Bullet Journal and Dragon. You’re welcome.

9. APOD

Everyday for the last 24 years, NASA has posted an Astronomy Picture of the Day. This is my go-to for desktop backgrounds, but not all of them are things I want to look at constantly. There’s over 8,000 pictures after all! Every time I find a picture I like while browsing their archives, I pin it so I can find it later. And I usually try to enter something into the description from the explanation NASA gives about the picture. Anytime I need to be pulled out of my cynicism and witness something totally awe inspiring, I just pull up my APOD board.

10. Your life in pins

If you’re too busy to journal, just quickly search for an image that relates the most to how you feel or what happened that day, and pin it with the date and a short description of why that’s your pin for the day. When, during New Year’s celebrations, you get contemplative and wonder how your life’s been going lately, it’s a quick reminder of everything you’ve been through and overcome and done. Images are recalled much more easily by our brains than words are, so if you don’t feel like reading back through 365 pages of bad handwriting (I’m still working on mine), start curating this board, pinning one thing per day right before bed.

 

And finally, one last bonus board idea for those of us who are writers/readers: Book Covers!!! I have boards for each book idea and what I want the cover to look like, I have boards for book covers that are all wrong, boards for book covers that impress me, and even a board for book covers that use geometry for their entire design. You might find your next good read from doing this, but more importantly, you are allowed a chance to unashamedly judge books by their covers.

*Why librarians? I mean this in the broad sense of the word: Anyone who helps direct people to material or materials to people that they need or that they didn’t know they needed. In this age of technology, we are going to need librarians more than ever before. They are very important. And putting click-bait titles is just one of the many things that can really muddle up their efforts to help create a world where we can find what we need instead of what others want us to see.

MA2 Update and Spec Fic Showcase

Hey friends, sorry I just kind of skipped July there for a moment.

Two quick things:

  1. I have started writing Memory Aether 2 (hence the lack of updates) and am about a third of the way through. There is so much stuff in this second book everyone, it’s going to be quite the read when it’s all done.
  2. I was interviewed and Memory Aether was featured in the Speculative Fiction showcase blog. Check it out! I was asked some really interesting questions and it was a lot of fun.spec-fic-e1564771695915.png

Now on to what it’s like so far writing a second book………it’s hard, as expected. It’s been five years since I had to forge a new narrative path. I’m carefully laying down the bones of the skeleton in order so I can add muscle and tendon to it, and I find myself rearranging them all the time. This book hasn’t told me what it wants to be like yet, and while it’s a fascinating process of discovery, sometimes I wish it would just make up its mind!

I’m also realizing there is hardly anything I can say about it, because it would spoil the twist ending of the first book for those of you who haven’t read it. Dang it. Kinda shot my marketing engine in the foot by doing that. Oh well.

What I can tell you is that I don’t plan to stay in Alexia’s point of view the entire time, and we are going to get to see things on an alien planet from someone else’s point of view. Someone who was mentioned at the very end of Memory Aether 1 whom I shall not mention in case you haven’t read it yet.

Alright, back to writing now. And you, back to reading all the things!

Memory Aether is published!

MA Final Front Cover

I am super excited to say that I am officially published now!

Here’s the link to Memory Aether. eBook version is up, paperback version to follow in a couple of days.

Aside from that big news, here’s two more exciting things happening:

  1. I’m going to be at 4th Street Fantasy Convention this weekend, and on a panel titled “Non-Written Structural Memory”. Like last year, I’ll try to take detailed notes and post them here on what I learned and discovered. I’m especially excited to get to meet Arkady Martine, author of A Memory Called Empire. I didn’t know I wanted BeurocracyPunk in my life, but now I do.
  2. No more ads! I’ve upgraded this site so that you don’t have to be annoyed. You mean a lot to me and I want you to stay. ❤

Thanks for reading!

Remember Good Things

Hi friends.

Spring and summer are coming and leaving at the same time, getting tangled up in each other! One day it’s almost 80ºF, the next it’s rainy and dropped to 37ºF. But my favorite thing about this time of year is the tree in our front yard.

I’m not even sure what kind of Maple it is, but it has these gorgeous dark red leaves. Before the buds break open, they look like flowers. And when they finally do open up, the tiny leaves unfolding look like butterfly wings fresh out of cocoons, wet and wrinkled, hanging out and waiting to dry.

In the evening, right when I usually cook dinner, the sun shines into our kitchen and I can see it shining through the leaves, making them turn bright burgundy and it takes my breath away every time. It’s not because I’m surprised to see it. The tree is always there. It’s because I tend to forget what that moment is like. Experiencing it is different than remembering the moment.

Burgundy Leaves

I recently had that experience with my own writing. I just finished editing the final pass of Memory Aether (woohoo!), and I was surprised. I had forgotten what reading the ending was like. Even though I’ve read it over and over again countless times, there it was again, as satisfying to me as ever.

It is so easy to forget the good things we experience. Can you try something with me to help mitigate this? Post a comment below about some good moment or experience you had this past month. Something that you want to remember the next time I post to this blog. I’ll remind you. Then we can all take a bit of time to appreciate what our memories sometimes hide from us.

Cover Reveal!

MA Final Front Cover

This fantastic cover was created by Sarah Nelson of Auslandish, Co. I am so happy with what she’s done! Working with her was pure joy. Thank you, Sarah!

Memory Aether

As a memory modification specialist, the last thing Alexia expected was for her boyfriend to be her next patient. Michael insists she must erase his entire memory of her. Funny thing is, she believes him. With Earth at war, she knows it’s likely due to a top secret government mission he’s been assigned to, and looks forward to when the mission is over so she can restore his memories.

But Michael is captured and taken to an enemy camp on a distant moon. Alexia doesn’t know if that was part of his plan or not. She’s the only one alive who knows his past, and she must reach him before his brain degrades too much to reinstate his memories. A mysterious government agent with his own agenda shows up at just the right time, equipping her with what she needs to go after him. She doesn’t trust him, but it’s the only way she can save Michael.

I’ve been working on Memory Aether for almost five years now (seven if you count the very, very beginnings of the idea). I’m really excited to share it with you when it’s done. Currently, this novel is in the last stages of polishing and revision. I’m not close enough to the finish line to have a publication date, but you’ll get a newsletter as soon as I have one! (Sign up for my newsletter here.) I have a self-imposed deadline to attend Fourth Street Fantasy convention in June as a published author, so hopefully sometime before then.

Time for me to get back to editing! Thanks for reading.

Quick Update on all the things (and a recipe)

Hi friends. A quick update on what I’ve been up to.

First, my novel! It is nearing completion. I am about halfway through the final version. I will be able to show you the cover soon. So close!!! Keep a lookout for more news about a publication date.

Next, my children continue to be adorable. My little man just turned three, and my one and a half year old has entered the velocibaby stage where she screams randomly, and very loudly. They bring sunshine to my life every day. Most excitably, my three year old has started to tell stories. I am so proud and thrilled and while I can’t wait for the day when we can discuss novels together, I wish he wouldn’t grow up so I could always hear him tell me things with his little boy voice.

Reading: I’m making my way through Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee, Eleanor Oliphont is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and Annabel Scheme by Robin Sloan. I’ve also been consuming a lot of short stories at tor.com and uncannymagazine.com. (Mostly because I am stalking Mary Robinette Kowal for her short stories. I can’t get enough of them).

I have a couple of book anniversaries from when I finished reading books a year ago and they are overdue by about a month. I’ll be playing catch up with book reviews and get those written soon.

Otherwise, creative projects abound. I’ve been making meal plans and enjoying new recipes. I’ve been coming up with new art projects to do with the kids. A knitting project here, a short story written there, a crafty thing everywhere. There are things in the pipeline coming your way, and I’m excited to share them with you.

In the meantime, please enjoy this recipe as an “I’m in-between posts” excuse, and as a thank you for reading this far.

It’s one of the many I’ve discovered and tweaked in the past couple months. I am purposefully NOT including a picture of it because I am really growing tired of Pinterest recipes, and just want to keep this simple. One batch is usually enough for me and my husband to have for lunch every day for five days. Enjoy reading this recipe without a million ads, pictures, or a lengthy explanation of it.

Turkey Chili – takes about 1.5 hours

Ingredients:

Some amount of olive oil

About two chopped onions

Some amount of minced garlic…measure this with your heart

4 chopped bell peppers of any color

1 lb. ground turkey

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 can red kidney beans, rinsed

1 can of corn

2 cups chicken broth

1 tbsp hot sauce of choice (I use Frank’s Red Hot)

1 tbsp of each of the following: basil, oregano, salt, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder

  1. Heat oil in a large pot, add onions and bell peppers and cook until soft. Add ground turkey and cook until browned.
  2. Add in canned tomatoes, kidney beans, corn, chicken broth, hot sauce, and all spices. Stir it well.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Book Review: Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael: Daughter of the ClayrFormat: Audiobook, Rating: 5/5 stars

I loved this second book in the Old Kingdom series. It was even more enjoyable than Sabriel (the first one), and has remained my favorite in the entire collection (with Clariel being a close second). First of all, the narrator, Tim Curry, did the best job with voicing Lirael. It is the best example of voice acting I have experienced to date. I especially loved how he depicts Lirael as she’s whining to her dog about life. It’s adorable and spot on.

When I first read Sabriel, I fell in love with it so much that I seriously considered naming my daughter Sabriel. (There’s still a part of me that wishes I had, though I’m sure she will thank me for not doing that later in life.) I was prepared to have this second book not be quite as good because the first was the best thing I had read ever. But it surpassed that. Also, I completely forgot that I had read this years ago. As I started reading, my mind accessed all these prior images I made up for it and it was a wonderful rediscovery. (Hence my new implementation of reviewing books a year later.)

***MINOR SPOILERS***

As soon as I started it, I recalled an image from memory of a prince and a girl on a mission floating together in a bathtub down a dangerous river. And I thought “That can’t be right. My crazy brain must have jumbled things up since I read this.” But then that exact thing happened and I couldn’t believe it, because it actually made sense, and I had to jump up and down with delight. I love that ridiculous scene so much.

***SPOILERS OVER***

Lirael is a girl who desperately wants to be like all the other girls around her, but her right of passage mysteriously hasn’t happened yet. Most girls in her society are chosen by a mysterious “sight” or prophetic gifting at varying ages, but usually quite young. She is nineteen, and still not able to enter into her community’s version of being a grown up. She is very upset by this, and becomes a solitary figure in a dangerous library.

If you are as much a reader as I am, those two words alone should have you running to pick up this book and it’s predecessor. The library…oh that library!

The journey she takes from outcast and lonely girl to strong heroine with agency over her own life and that of others was the most pleasant and refreshing thing I’ve read in a long time. It felt wholesome without dripping sentiment. The whole book felt dangerous and on edge, like something could happen at any moment that would frighten me, but then delivered something amusing and truthful. I am definitely going to give these books to my daughter (and son) when they get older.

Lirael, along with the other Old Kingdom books, have earned a permanent place in my library and I will eventually be collecting print versions just so I can stamp them with my personal library stamp (my husband gave me one and I love it), and then loan them out.

You do not have to read Sabriel first to understand or enjoy Lirael. However, the story does end in the middle. Nix originally intended Lirael and Abhorsen to be one book, but it was too long. So beware, if you do pick this up, you will likely pick up Abhorsen as well.

I read the rest of this series in 2018, so you’ll see reviews of the other books come up now and then. But I do want to say regarding the series as a whole: each and every book in it is unique to itself and a gem. If you haven’t discovered this Old Kingdom series for yourself yet, add it to your list.

I’ve been reading some things

Thanks for sticking around, reader. I know it’s been awhile.

Since my last post I’ve done a lot. I’ve written several books to varying degrees of polish. I’ve read a lot of books that I’m dying to tell you about. I’ve parented two darling kids through lots of developmental stages. I’ve grown as a person, and I’m excited to get back to writing a blog.

img_0377

Update on the kiddos: they are still adorable. Even more so. Little girl started talking at 15 months. Little boy is not quite three and learning to read. They bring me joy every day.

Update on myself: I’ve discovered a lot of good things about myself and how I am at my best when I can maintain a routine. Part of that routine now involves early morning kickboxing, among other things. I’ll probably talk more about it in a different post.

Update on the writing: Back in November I wrote another book (fantasy) and am finishing it up now in January. My other book (cyberpunk) is almost done with final edits and I hope to have a publication date soon.

Now my favorite part: the reading.

In 2018, I managed to read 24 books. This year, 2019, I hope to read 30 or more. Part of this is because I set aside my writing completely in December and instead read like a maniac. Every time I itched to write, I read instead. It was a boon to my creativity. And after NaNoWriMo, I really needed the refresh.

Let’s step back a bit so I can talk about reading speed. I went to readingsoft.com to calculate my average reading speed and comprehension, and it turns out, I’m exactly an average reader. I read 251 word per minute on a screen, which is more than average, but only had a 60% comprehension afterwards. Part of that is because Little Girl decided to interrupt me halfway through, but since that is a factor in my everyday reading that can happen, I’m letting the number stick.

The site claims that reading from paper is faster, so my reading speed from printed books would likely be more than 251 wpm. And since I read in all three formats (audio books at typically 1.25 speed, eReader, and print), I’m going to say that between them I’ll have an average of 240 wpm, slowing down a bit to gain more comprehension.

Because the genres I read typically span about 70k-90k words per book, I can get an estimate of how many hours I’ll have to spend a day to read 30+ books in a year. But I don’t want to go for just an amount of books. I want to build a habit (as mentioned earlier, building up a routine and habit is important to me). So let’s calculate how many books I could read in a year if I spent an hour a day reading.

365 days a year times 60 minutes a day (21,900 minutes) times 240 words per minute (5,256,000) divided by average book length of 80k words = 65.7

You can go to the site linked above and figure out your own numbers for your reading speed. And your genre of books might not be as long as mine. Science Fiction and Fantasy tend to run longer than other books. If I were reading non-fiction, at an average of 50k words per book (or one NaNoWriMo novel), I could potentially read 105 books in a year.

So that’s my goal: read an average of an hour a day, and complete 30 books (or more). The reason I’m not increasing my reading goal beyond 30 is because frankly, even though the math tells me it’s possible, I don’t believe it. I believe I can read an hour a day. But the idea of reading 65 books is beyond me. I can’t even imagine it. Plus, none of these numbers are for sure. I may end up reading faster or slower than the reading test, or reading longer books. Also, I’m not sure I will finish all the books I start or invest time in. I want to give myself room to try books without feeling like I have to finish.

This is new for me. I used to be a stickler for finishing every book I started. But then I found myself not reading because I didn’t want to spend time slogging through something I found boring. I think there’s a fine line between being a wishy-washy, hard-to-please reader and genuinely giving a book a chance to succeed or fail. It will be ok if I don’t finish a book. Just like no writing is ever wasted, I don’t think any reading is ever wasted. I may not be able to quantify the amount of reading put into an unfinished book, but the benefit will be there all the same.

One other new thing for this year in my reading habits: I’m going to review the books I read last year on the date that I finished them. I don’t want to put all that time in to read and comprehend a book, only to forget it a year later. I’m hoping that by reviewing the books on delay I will both have more clear thoughts on them and increase the chance that I retain their benefit. It’s also a good marker for me to remember where I was at a year ago. For instance, a year ago today I finished reading Lirael (which I will post a review about separately), and I remember feeling, thinking, and doing life completely different while reading that book.

This will be an exciting and interesting journey, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

I would love to have you share your reading speed, reading goals, or ways you manage your reading time.

Happy 2019 and happy reading!

4th Street Fantasy convention recap

I had worked up the courage to finally talk to one of my favorite authors at the convention this past weekend. It was right before a panel was about to begin and I wasn’t sure there was enough time. Scanning the other seated attendees frantically, I was worried she might not be in the room. Perhaps she left the convention early?

Then I heard her voice directly behind me. I turned around and there was Mary Robinette Kowal, author of Shades of Milk and Honey and one of the voices on the Writing Excuses podcast. She said “You listen to my podcast, don’t you?” When I asked how she knew, she said because I had turned around when she started to talk and had recognized her voice. While she signed my notebook (because her books are on my kindle) with her own fountain pen, she told me a story about meeting one of her own favorite authors, asked about my writing, and talked about the crochet project in her lap. She is as lovely a person as you could ever hope to meet. In my notebook she wrote “Be kind to yourself”.

Another author I adore, Caroline Stevermer who co-wrote Sorcery and Cecelia (using the letter game!), wrote me a note saying it was lovely to meet me.

The panels were a gold mine for sure, but that was only half of what made 4th Street amazing. They’re just a bunch of lovely human beings who somehow manage to have a tight knit community that is still welcoming to newcomers.

4th Street Fantasy convention, to me, was like drinking from a fire hose while having an IV drip sustenance into my veins at the same time. There was so much to take in. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. But there was also something incredibly energizing about being immersed in the atmosphere of 200 or so other writers and readers. This was not CONvergence, which is my only other con experience, where thousands of people create a lot of noise and there is occasionally a panel on how to write. This was a little known gem filled with authors and editors who are dedicated to their craft. There was so much knowledge and experience in the room, that often the audience would take over the panel, offering comments and suggestions as well as asking questions. I’ll never forget when I saw one man interrupt the first panel I attended and the entire panel stopped to listen to him, and he had a lot of good things to say. I found out later he is a Senior Editor at Tor books.

I’ll probably occasionally rehash some of the panels here on the blog as I have time to decipher and type up my notes. No promises on accuracy, cohesion, or doing it in a timely manner. I have a lot to think about now and I’m excited to get back to writing.

And reading, of course. I came away with no less than 231 book recommendations that aren’t your ordinary recommendations where you put them on your list because you have a nebulous feeling that you ‘ought’ to read them. These recommendations each came with a reason, as they were mentioned in the panels as examples of authors who wrote a particular thing well. I know which books to turn to if I want to encounter well-written examples of moving the plot forward without the use of war or violence, realistic depictions of war and violence and the fallout from that, what books have good soft magic systems or hard magic systems, authors who have done well at restrictive writing and cutting things out. Even video games, plays, and podcast recommendations. There was talk about how to end a series, or kill off characters, the emerging genre tags Grimdark vs. Hopepunk and how they’re not mutually exclusive, and how cities are built in layers over time and how we communicate with people across time by what we leave behind.

There was even a lovely older gentleman whose hobby is finding toys and fixing them, who gave my ten month old daughter a Happy Apple that he had repaired. I also came away with a pair of dinosaur bone earrings made by Elise. Elise even had a piece of meteorite in a bottle sealed by wax from one of Neil Gaiman’s beehives, so it was pretty much straight out of the Stardust novel.

I cannot say enough good things about my experience and I hope that if you have any desire to further your craft of writing, or to discuss your favorite fantasy novels with high-minded thinkers, that you’ll take a good look at attending next year. (Especially if you want to meet Mary Robinette Kowal or Caroline Stevermer.)

Of course, since I’m all about reading, I’ll be posting the book recommendations soon, and hopefully with the reasons they were recommended. Stay tuned!

Trusting the future self

Something I discovered about how I write is that I find it hard to trust myself.

That is, it’s hard to trust both my future self and my past self.

I think I outline so much because I am scared that my future self will be some kind of uncreative zombie and I have to give her all the tools I possibly can right now. There is always an immediacy to my writing. If I don’t write it down now, it will slip away and never get written, or worse yet, I will try to write it later and it will be something completely different than what I want it to be now. As a result, my outlines tend to be around 40,000 words. (Ten thousand more words and it would officially be novel length, people. I’m crazy.)

When I sit down to write from an outline later, I look back and think “who was the person who wrote this?” It feels contrived and false. Like I was trying to jam as much stuff in it as possible instead of letting it grow organically over time. I think I sense my former self’s distrust of my future ability and it dampens me.

I’ve gone back and forth with this ever since I started writing, until June 2015. We took a vacation out to Portland and Seattle. On the plane ride back, I was determined not to get motion sick like I usually do. So I had my notebook handy and tried very hard to only focus on writing. To just get stuff on the page and not pay attention to how the plane was moving. And it worked.

But it also worked for my writing.

I almost never write by hand anymore. It’s too slow and my hands are already hurting from working them so much that grasping a pen just seems like a silly idea. But I didn’t want to get out my laptop because I was in the middle seat and there was hardly any room. This also meant that I had no notes on the story I was about to outline. I was going to be starting Camp NaNoWriMo in a week and a half and still didn’t have an outline. This kind of freaked me out, so I was like “yeah, I better write this outline right here, right now, before we touch the ground.”

But I had to do it all from memory. The story in question is one I wrote many, many years ago, then stuffed it away because it was horrible. Still, it had some good stuff I can reuse (I hope), so I had planned to rewrite it during camp. I suddenly had to recall an entire, intricate novel’s worth of outline from over five years ago. This was the beauty of it: I was only allowed to write down the important things that moved the plot along, because I couldn’t remember all the other parts.

When I got home, I typed up the outline and was pretty proud of it. Then I looked back at the old version to see if there was anything I had forgotten or wanted to salvage. And I felt my inspiration faint on the fainting couch in a dramatic fashion: the previous version was not only pretty readable, there were some downright good parts I didn’t want to throw away. I told myself that my outline from the plane was rubbish and I was just going to have to keep the storyline the way it was from the old version, just make sure I updated the language and caught any inconsistencies.

I was tempted by the concept of an easy rewrite. I was also scared of my airplane outline because it was honest and I had to dig deep for it. It stripped out a lot of things I loved about the story, and I wasn’t willing to admit that it was better for it.

So camp started and I got about 15,000 words into my novel before I realized I was struggling. It was like pulling teeth to write even 400 words during a word war when normally I can beat out at least 1,000 in ten minutes.

Discouraged, I took an honest look at my airplane outline. I faced up to the fact that it scared me because it was so swift, lean, and clean. I was scared because with all the stuff I’d left out, it meant that my voice and good writing would have to carry the load, and that wasn’t the easy way to write a book. (But it is the best way.)

So I started over using the airplane outline, and things flowed so much better. I started to sympathize with the villain, care about the characters again. As to voice, well, I won’t know if I have that until I take another good, honest step back to look at it, when I have time to do that. But it sure felt good to drop all that baggage from the past and moved on with a trimmer, faster story.

Two take aways from this for me:

  • Writing an outline by hand with no notes is definitely something I will practice with my stories in the future. Even the language I used was different because I wanted to write as few words as possible. It made me say things differently, and made the outline come out so well. It also forced me to trust my future self a little more. Instead of spelling everything out, I had to just say one or two words to convey what was to be written next. Being that future person now, I appreciate the trust and the freedom to interpret it as I see fit.
  • Trusting my future self and my past self saves time and energy. And if for some reason I do turn into a noncreative zombie in the future, having a massive outline won’t help anyway. I need to consume some brains (aka, read other people’s good writing). A lack of an outline is not the problem, nor is it a very good bandaid for the problem. I need to look at other factors that affect creativity (health, diet, exercise, enough reading, enough rest, enough honesty, etc.)

In honor of my new discovery, this post is brought to you without an outline for once. 🙂 Hope it wasn’t too bad. If you need me, I’ll be over in this corner going through outline withdrawal. Please only talk to me in bullet points.

Also, I mistyped “bullet points” enough that autocorrect wanted to change it to bull sh*t. Lol. Please don’t only talk to me in bull sh*t. That will not help.