Friday, April 11, 2014

Moving along in March

It was two years ago when we moved to San Diego with a sense of determination. My husband found a great programming job that was the same that he had in Fargo. I was fortunate enough to stay home and work on my dream of writing.

Two years later, a lot has happened. Joey has grown as a programmer and has his sights on developing his own Android applications. I've written three more books and have worked hard at revision. I've also grown in how I want to work on future projects.

This March, we moved into a bigger space where we originally wanted to live. One of the highlights of the place is more room-- including a patio to relax in the sunshine. There are some improvements to be made in this new place, however, this place feels more like ours. I was unpacking boxes to find things I almost forgot about like a tablecloth! We also have a ton of art that we didn't hang up, and now we have ample space. It's a different feeling, one that I missed.


Now that we're a bit more settled in, I can get back to placing stickers on my calendar. I didn't do such a bad job with a last minute move arriving out of nowhere. However, it's almost halfway through April and I need to pick up the pace!

Lately, I've been looking more at articles on productivity than actual writing. I've become more aware of the faults in my process over the past two years. I'm determined more than ever to remedy them. For example, I do need to take more time to structure my novel. I've found some great books as resources to help me sort through the ideas in my head-- and give me room to improve. It also means that I might not participate in NaNoWriMo like I have in the past. I sometimes don't give myself enough time beforehand, and then find my novel suffering. I have two of them ready for revision-- and I'm dreading it.

We'll see how it goes.

My April goal is to write the second part of a short story called The Rabbit Hole for my Stone Circle group, and to finish the revision outline for Bright World. I do see some afternoons at Barnes and Noble in my future to accomplish this. It's so easy to look at a box right now and think, "If I do this one..."

Natasha

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Problem with Short Stories (and me)

Last night I went to a launch party for Shannon Messenger's LET THE STORM BREAK. There were great conversations about writing between the three authors in attendance (Kiersten White and Kasie West joined her for the event). But there was one moment that stuck out to me. Shannon spoke about her Keeper series and how it began with a short story-- and  now she has three 100,000+ word novels because of one little exercise.

And that's what is going on with me right now.

My NaNoWriMo project, DEATH NOTICE, started out with one character with a bigger story than I imagined. My Stone Circle critique partner told me there were two many open questions for a short story. I was developing another world. And he was right. I had two main characters with so much complexity, plus a side character full of mystery, how did I not see it?

That's when I knew there was too much. Now I have a novel written from both perspectives (that's in desperate need of repair).

Flash forward a few months. I promised my husband the story of a prominent character in KIN. Again, I sent a snippet to my Stone Circle group. After they read a page and a half, I asked them, "Seriously, how do I write a short story?" I knew, again, that there was too much going on. And they both told me you need a single, simple focus when writing on a shorter scale.

This is not how my brain works (and thank goodness for their divine wisdom).

After doing research, and thinking long and hard, I now have enough ideas for TWO novels in the same universe as my dear KIN. My lovely and clever husband, I believe, tricked me.

This is not what I expected from myself this year. I want to write a witch story. To revise the novels on the back burner. Now, I have two more novels with their gnarled fingers clutched around my heart.

They won't let go. Inspiration is around me and my brain is bursting.

And is this a reason to complain? Maybe a smidgen? What I do know is if I need a novel idea, writing a short story first might be the way to go. Sometimes, detours are part of a journey.

Natasha

Monday, March 3, 2014

Productivity Review

I've discovered something new to figure out this year with my writing: increasing productivity. In my previous post, I spoke about how I recognized how things needed to change. I've always prided myself on getting a lot done and people seem impressed by what I do. However, I feel like I squint back at them like they're seeing something I'm not.

The first thing I did in January was put myself on a social media retreat after I saw two Twitter friends doing one together to boost their writing. During that time, it really helped me not rely so much on social media and focus on my to-do list.

The retreat also made me realize that I needed to work on my social media habits. I started using an extension in Chrome called StayFocused where I could set a limited amount of time for social media websites on my computer during the day. I can also shut everything down for an hour if I really need to focus. (They do have a list of "allowed websites" if you want to listen to your music or have the thesaurus open.)

WriteOrDie is also a savior when it comes to making myself sit down and work. Coupling it with StayFocused really pushes me when I need it most. It gives you warnings if you're going too slow. I rewards you with cat pictures if you reach your goal. I've found that writing sprints, or being timed, is a great way for me to dive into my work.

Lists are also great for me. I went back to using my whiteboard above my desk. The way I have a visual of everything I've done over the past week and it makes me sit down to get the bigger picture (more on that in the previous blog post).

On days where I need to keep an eye on how long I work on other things, the Pomodoro technique really comes in handy since it allows me to split up my time in chunks. There's an app on my phone that I use for it on my Android phone. I also have a bad back so it reminds me to get up to stretch, as well as rest my eyes. You get a longer break after two hours so I then go out for a walk. I allow myself to take my time since it's an easy way for me to get in my daily exercise. 


And, lastly, the Sticker Method that I've written before. Here are my stickers from January and February. Not too bad! They're not all for writing, but what little writing related goals I set out. For example, doing so many chapters in an outline.

Nothing is more fun than picking out that sticker I've earned at the end of the day. At the end of the month, sitting back in my desk chair, I can really see what I've done for my work and for myself.

And I love this calendar of fantasy authors. There's something about having their eyes fixed on me while I work or place the stickers in the little square that helps keep me moving along.

I think I've finally found some ways to really help me keep on top of my work and feel proud of myself, and not as full of dread. It's wonderful to have people cheer me on or say wonderful things about how I'm doing. However, I really needed to feel it more within myself. There is probably some more tinkering in the future in how I manage my time and writing, but this is a great start.

One of the last things I need to work on a bit is flexibility. Does it really matter what order I do things? Guilt has a way of finding its way through the cracks, and this is where learning to breathe (or meditate) might come in handy. Life is always in flux and I can't beat myself over things I can't control. 

If you're interested in more tips on increasing productivity, I definitely recommend checking out this article by Susan Dennard over at Publishing Crawl. The author also has some wonderful resources if you want to read more, as well.

Lifehacker is another great resource that I love to follow on social media. Their articles are sometimes just what I need on a bad day.

What methods do you like to use to increase productivity?

Natasha

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Positive Reinforcement of Checkmarks

It's been almost two months since we've cracked open this new year of 2014. In these two months, I've had to re-think how I do things and what I want to do now.

I don't have everything figured out.

I have to tell myself that isn't the point.

NaNoWriMo was a great month for me. I bonded with fellow writers and I wrote many words. Words that I actually liked. Then, when December hit, something changed inside of me. This went into January-- and it wasn't all good.

I didn't finish my draft when my January 15th deadline rolled around. The novel changed and morphed with my mood, and I finally finished it with a question mark at the end.

I told myself the story is there-- I can go back.



This was the red flag-- I somehow gathered bad habits. I was only seeing what I needed to do rather than rewarding myself for what I have done. My lists were on my computer/phone, so once I checked things off, they weren't visible to me. All that was left was everything that wasn't getting done. At the end of each day, when I closed my eyes, this was all I could see. It was what I woke up to each morning.

I'm a fan of lists and goals. It's one of the reasons why I'm dependable. Except, there's something about seeing the checkmarks, the scribbles, the exclamation points, that soothes me. Handwriting them out, to me, makes a world of difference. I can sit back in  my chair and take a deep breath. It's the equivalent of giving myself a thumbs up.

Granted, the sticker method helped. I could see my writing progress, but there's all those other things. Writing articles for YA Interrobang. Critiques for my writing buddies. Cleaning.

That's when I brought out the markers and erasers, and started again with my whiteboard. Each Sunday or Monday morning, I sit down to write all the things I want to do that week. I check everything off while I do it. My goals and accomplishments are plain sight each night above my computer. I also share them with one of my writing groups so they can see what I'm doing. It's a way to keep myself accountable.

I sleep better at night. I do my work without even thinking about it. I just do it. I'm excited to look at my list since I can see what I can accomplish when I use the whiteboard and place my stickers on my calendar. I don't use the every day to lose what I've done and pile on more items on my list. Instead, I do this each week with not just the thoughts I can do this, but I have done this.

Natasha

Note: Look for my upcoming blog post of other ways I helped improve my every day habits. I'll include links to some of the articles that proved helpful during this process.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Heroine's Favorite Books of 2013 and onto 2014!

It's been two weeks since the 2014 has broken into the scene. However, my reads from 2013 haven't been that long forgotten. Here are my fave picks for 2013, along with my hopefuls for the new year.

Contemporary
Just One Day
Just One Year by Gayle Forman
This series is similar to Forman's first series by having one book cover one point of view of the romance. And it really works. The characters are so different from eac
h other, and their encounter something straight out of a--- wait, these are novels! What's different about these is I love that they don't take place mostly in America. There is a different feel to them, which adds a million points to the romance of it all.

Biggest Surprise
Pivot Point by Kasie West
I really loved the use of the character's ability, which affects the story timeline. It was well-balanced and I couldn't put this down. I'm ready for the second book, Split Second, that comes out this year.

Sequel
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
The writing in this book was a lot stronger than the first, and I'm completely sold on the series. If you're missing some fantasy from your life, you need to pick these up. I also recommend novellas to everyone because it adds layers to the books!

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan
This series speaks to me so much. I think it's because I feel like Kami is Lois Lane, one of my favorite comic book characters of all time. It also helps that the romantic tension in this series is a thousand fold. Also, WITCHES!

Best End to a Series
Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
I read this series the week after this book came out. I enjoyed it even more than The Mortal Instruments. I'm not a huge fan of steampunk, but you don't need to like it. This series has it all--- including stunning covers.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
The end of this series was painful for me because I want it to keep going! Each book was better than the last and I was on the edge of my seat. This is a fantasy series that I can see myself reading over and over again.

Debut
Transparent by Natalie Whipple
I've been following the author's blog for a few years and I'm so thrilled to read her first book. I loved how she handled the character--- who just so happens is an invisible girl. She found a way to give her an identity and lots of conflict that kept me flipping through the pages. I look forward to reading Blindsided, as well as her other two releases this year.

New Favorite Authors
Rainbow Rowell, author of Fangirl, Eleanor and Park
I met Rainbow Rowell at Comic Con this year and I was so impressed by her! Eleanor and Park is one of those books I wish I read as a teenager, an
d Fangirl spoke to the Midwestern geek girl in me. I'm ready to stand in line for whatever she writes!

Victoria Schwab, author of The Near Witch,Vicious
It wasn't that hard for Victoria Schwab's witch book to win me over since I dearly love witches. Then there is Vicious-- which is pretty much a "hero" and "villain" story. Even with concepts we're used to reading, her writing kept me turning the pages and planning on giving her books away as gifts.

Favorite Book of 2014
Starglass by Phoebe North
What can I say about this book? I've read a few books about being trapped in a ship in space in the past few years. I admit, it made me a bit hard to win over in reading this one until I kept reading about people enjoying it on Twitter. I'm so glad I listened to them! I love the use of culture on the ship, and how it feels like a real home. It isn't written by an outsider-- but by someone who grew up on the ship. This actually developed a stronger story to me since it showed the character growing up by looking at her surroundings in a different light.

2014 Hopefuls
There are so many great books coming out this year! Here's some of my top picks that I can't wait to get my hands on!
Avalon by Mindee Arnett
Extraction By Stephanie Diaz
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Written in My Heart's Own Blood by Diana Gabaldon
Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
Landline by Rainbow Rowell

I do hope to re-read some books and add in some older ones, as well. I want to throw in a bit classics because I want to expand my reading list.

Is there anything you can't wait to read this year?
Natasha

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Sticker Method and the Guilt-Free Jar

I wrote this as one of statuses online and thought it was worth sharing:

The first week of 2014 is off to a whirlwind start: New Year's Party with friends, anniversary at Disneyland, hangout at Google Los Angeles, discovered more amazing vegan food, rejections, requests, preparing for contests and queries, finished reading a book, edited my column, catching up with friends online, found a dietitian, morning walks in the park, watched Sherlock, snuggling with kitties, wrote a poem, cried my eyes out after Saving Mr.Banks, lunch with a friend, singing "Let It Go" from Frozen over and over, writing at Barnes and Noble, watching Joey create a new app, and talking about moving. This is my life.


Now onto week two.


One of things that has kept me going during NaNoWriMo in November was not just the people--- it was the sticker method. I've mentioned in past posts, but here it is again today! 


I have my calendar and kitty stickers all ready to finish Death Notice this month. I want as many kitties, clouds, and hearts littering the month of January. I'm excited-- and nervous! For some reason, this novel is really hitting me in the gut so I'm trying to use whatever tools that will get me to the finish line.


This year is also one where I need to work harder with my health. I found out I have a condition that requires me to adjust how I eat and exercise. It's so easy to let myself browse on the computer and remained cooped up in the house. I must work harder! I was thinking today, what kind of sticker method could I use for exercise?


I've seen a variety of blog posts where they use jars for different purposes for goal setting. I found a jar, grabbed my pen, and scribbled little "rewards" for myself. I can give myself between a half hour and an hour doing whatever the paper says-- with no guilt



My calendar with its first sticker! Kitty stickers and my jar. Happy dance!
What's great about this are these are things that I put off, or won't "let" myself do because I need to this or that instead. I have two weeks worth of them to rotate through of different things from drawing, browsing Tumblr, a cheat day, write a poem, and, my favorite, "Treat Yo Self".  

We'll see how long this experiment lasts, but so far, I'm pretty excited about what I will pick tomorrow!


Here's to a productive New Year!


Natasha

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Review and 2014 Goals


I've neglected this blog a bit more this year. I've been lost in revisions most of the year, and wrote a NaNoWriMo novel. Then there's life! I've done my best to up with updates, so here's a 2013 recap!
Google+ made this neat video of my year in pictures and some video that I thought would be fun to share! 

video

There's not much I can complain about when you look at such a list and the video! This is our first full year in San Diego, and from what you can see, it's been a whirlwind. We're so thankful for new friends and the old ones who traveled to see us. 

Now what about those goals I set out for myself?

2013 Goals
1) Organize writings. Make a Scrivener document with ideas and clean out my Google Docs. Let's see what kind of treasures I can find!
2) Write more short stories. Once a month I'm going to open a Scrivener document to write a short story and they will be collected in this file, along with first liners and ideas. The Merry Fates book, The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories persuaded me to try something different now that I'm writing full time. It'll also keep me writing even when I'm revising. 
I started one short story, and the other became my NaNoWriMo project. Hmm.
3) Submit! I feel I'm very close to having something ready for submission and this is the biggest (and scariest goal) I want to see happen this year.I'm in the waiting phase right now
4) Climb a mountain. I grew up on the prairie and surrounded by hills. Fargo was flat. It's strange living somewhere with mountains and I would like to go hiking. It will also help me continue to get my health on. 
We did plenty of climbing on our San Diego Country trip. See blog post above.
5) Rewrite my life list.I found my old one and was surprised by how much I crossed off since getting married seven years ago. It's time to look at the bigger picture.
6) Attend a writer's conference. Now that I'm on the West Coast, there are more to choose from. I would love to go to the summer SCBWI since I'm less than two hours away. Let's see where I'm at in eight months! 

I didn't attend one in person, but I did participate in WriteOnCon. So, for now, I'm going to count that!
7) Get involved in a writer community like AbsoluteWrite. I'm finding YAHighway as a wonderful resource in the meantime, but would love to get in more discussions and ask/give help. 

I've met so many wonderful writers this year online. I'm so excited to see people achieve their goals and dreams in the coming years. Next year, my first column for YAInterrobang will be published about YA fanart. 

Now that I look at this list, I think I've done fairly well for myself in 2013. I will admit, I was a little bummed since I feel like I could have done more. That's one of the reasons why I write posts like this--- it sheds some perspective on that sullen point of view. 


Now what should I do next?

2014 Goals
1) Finish writing my NaNoWriMo project Death Notice.
2) I will have three books to revise once I complete Death Notice. I would like to have two out of the three revised.
3) Write another book. I have several ideas in my head, and I'm thinking this will be the year I write about witches!
4) Write one short story.
5) I was diagnosed with a condition where I need to change my diet. I was at first a bit devastated since I'm already vegan and eat quite healthy. However, this will be the next step to get my body in best working order. I would like to have a handle on knowing on what carbs are best for me. Also, I'm determined to be consistent in walking 10 miles every week and work my way up from there.
6) Whale watching is something I can say we didn't have back in North Dakota and I really want to go out on the ocean for a look. It'll also be fun to go out onto the ocean in a boat for the first time!
7) I'm really in love with the YouTube cartoon Bee and Puppycat. I would love to make a costume for this! I probably should get ideas and update my Jedi costume for 2015!

Looks like I'm going for the number 7 again this year! 

I'm wishing everyone a great 2014 with much adventure and reaching your goals! I'm hoping for bigger things (like an agent), but there are things you can't control. I've learned that it's okay--- and to have the flux of emotions to come with it. My yearly goals have always had one purpose: Keep Moving Forward.

What are you looking forward to most in 2014?

Natasha

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Rest of My NaNoWriMo Check-In

Katniss special at my local BN.
This blog has taken a hit in entries for various reasons. The number one reason? I've done a lot of revising and writing this year--- and it feels great!

NaNoWriMo was in full swing in November. Once I finished writing for the day, I didn't feel like staying on the computer. I managed to get my writing done by sprinting with fellow writers and hanging out in the different cafes in my local area. One of the reasons why I love, love, love doing NaNoWriMo is the people. I met so many great writers this year and I'm so proud of the hard work everyone did. 


The thing about NaNoWriMo is it's about getting words on the page. More specifically, the first 50,000 words. For some projects it can be enough, but mine is about halfway completed. There's about another month or two worth of writing before it's finished. This is the first time that I've used an outline like this, and I have to say, it's working out really well. Usually when I hit the middle, I'm frantically trying to keep my confidence high enough to keep going. Reviewing over my outline again, I'm revved up to complete this story. I'm ready for more times in the cafe and crossing the next finish line--- a first draft. 

Congrats to all the fellow NaNoWriMo participants! I consider us all winners since we all worked hard and learned something from the experience. Even if it means finding out NaNoWriMo isn't the right thing for you. I believe finding more about yourself and your process is worth a lot. 

Here's to more writing and revision!
Natasha

BONUS! The top three songs from DEATH NOTICE'S playlist
1) Kill Your Heroes by AWOLNATION
Morana holds the life of her teacher (hero) in her hands if she fails her trial. 
"I say ya kill your heroes and
Fly, fly, baby don't cry.
No need to worry cause
Everybody will die.
Every day we just
Go, go, baby don't go.
Don't you worry we
Love you more than you know."


2) Just Breathe by Pearl Jam 
Morana also finds herself having the life of a human in her hands since she's training to become a Reaper.
"Nothing you would take
Everything you gave
Hold me til I die
Meet you on the other side..."

3) Live Your Life by MIKA
Mortifer, Morana's trainer, has to re-evaluate the end of his life and what it means. 
"You've got the whole world in your pocket
But you just don't know
Everybody's smilin' at you everywhere you go
It's like you've got that secret
That everybody else wants to know"

Friday, November 8, 2013

Week One NaNoWriMo Check-In

Five Random Things About my 2013 NaNoWriMo Project
1) I actually outlined. I'm a pantser when it comes to writing-- which means I write by the seat of my pants. I have no idea what it going to come out of this brain of mine. I write until it's done, sometimes stopping for research. Or better words. 

2) My NaNoWriMo project started out as a short story. After months of revision and query writing, I started a 21 Day Writing Challenge to get back into writing during September. During this time, I decided to work on a short story project. Once I handed in DEATH NOTICE to my Stone Circle critique partners, they mentioned that there were too many unanswered questions. How was I going to wrap this up in a few thousand words? (What would I do without these two? Seriously?!?)

Well, it made finding my NaNoWriMo project easy enough. I took the few thousand words, and using various worksheets, and volia!, an outline was born (let's see if I follow through with it).

In Starbucks wearing my new glasses. 
3) Writing sprints! Write-Ins! Last year, I discovered writing sprints on Twitter. They helped save my word count and my sanity. There's no real competition with writing sprints. It's all about challenging each other and cheering the other people on. Write-ins are something I'm trying out this year. I'm not much of a coffee/beverage person, but I do love getting out of the house. I lived with various roommates in college so I think this habit of finding a quiet spot away from everything rubbed off on me even ten years later.

I attended the LA Kick-Off Party since a friend invited me. I'm so glad that I made the trek up there to surround myself with other writers! I wish we all lived a little bit closer. Thank goodness for chat and Twitter!
LA Kick-Off party with Corrie and Amy.
Found a San Diego mug! And my sticker!
Supplies-- laptop, notebooks,and tablet ready to go!
4) I do have a playlist for the WIP! I use Google Play All Access since I have all my music backed up on the service. My Iron Keys CPs recommended some music, and somehow a list was born! I plugged the different artists into the radio feature and was given similar artists so it keeps growing. I'll have to share it when I'm done since it isn't done growing yet!

5) Oh! And, yes, my WIP is about death. It's working title right now is DEATH NOTICE. For some reason, Death as a character is something I'm actually fascinated by (you can blame Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for that). When I started the short story, I didn't know exactly where it would go. Death isn't exactly who I thought it would be, and this is the first time I've written a dual perspective. I'm curious how the pieces will come together when I'm done writing! 

And here are the stats!

Week One:
Goal 11,669 
Written 15,622

I'm so proud of the hard work of all the writers I've been talking to over the past week.  We survived Week 1 and now onto Week 2! 

Happy writing, everyone!

Natasha

Monday, October 14, 2013

Writing Challenges

I completed my 21 Day Writing Challenge and I'm happy to say I'm feeling so much more creative than I have in a long time. Combining the challenge and doing the sticker calendar method has me really confident about doing NaNoWriMo next month. Also, looking back on my work, It's so great to see how my writing has grown after years of hard (and fun!) work with critique partners and exploring outside a single project. 

So here are my September stats:

Wrote 7232 words over 14 days
Average 516/day

And my October stats:

Wrote 3201 words over 11 days
Average 291/day

My average is lower for the second half, but there's a good reason. For the last three days of the challenge, I found an old notebook I used to write poetry in. For some reason, I never filled this one completely. I decided to change that and have written four poems so far. 

Not my poetry notebook. This one I currently use when I need a break from technology.
Also, my fountain pen of awesome. 
Here's one of the poems I wrote that came from a title I wrote a long time ago, but never the poem. This is what my mind came up with within minutes.

Green

The vines nudge me forward
Into the clearing where
There’s only a carpet of green,
the sun dazzling the diamonds
of dew from the morning
mysteries, and I wait
For another sign before
disturbing the splendor.
The grass yellows
and dies in the fall’s curse 
calling for winter.
Vines shrivel and die,
dust in the careless wind.
A white canvas stares
back at me, and I smile.

What about the other words I wrote? I used the different writing prompts throughout the challenge and worked on a short story. However, this short story has grown into something more. 

After talking to my Stone Circle critique partners, they pointed out there were a lot of unanswered questions that made it appear much bigger than a short story could handle. Thank goodness for their wisdom! So, I've decided to make it my NaNoWriMo project. I'm pretty excited about it so I'm using October to flesh out the world, characters, and possibly attempt an outline. I'm hoping I have a firmer grasp on this project than I did on my list NaNoWriMo novel. 


I'm also going to develop a game plan to revise/rewrite one of the books I wrote last year. So there's a lot of projects to work on for the time being. Each one is completely different from one other so it should be fun to explore and research.

I'm wishing the best to everyone as they plan for NaNoWriMo and their current projects. This is one of my favorite times of year since I love seeing how people progress on their novels. I'm so thankful to be part of such a great community. 

Feel free to add me on NaNoWriMo's website and share what you're most excited for in the comments below.

Write like the wind,

Natasha