April Showers and finding balance

As I sit here writing this before work, I can hear the rain outside trickling against the window and making me want to do nothing more than to crawl back into bed. Yet here I am, thinking about goals for the month!

Lately it’s been harder than I like to admit to make goals and go anywhere near hitting them—there’s always some excuse readily at hand: I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I’m too overwhelmed by all the stressors in life. And those are all valid points. We hear about self-care and avoiding burnout and we hear about keeping motivated and staying on task and we rarely hear about how to balance the two.

Am I not writing because I’ve burnt out (with everything going on) or because I gave myself a rest and I’ve fallen out of practice? Am I listening to my body to give itself rest rather than exercise, or am I being lazy and avoiding working out? The list goes on. To an extent, I don’t think there is a clear answer and it depends person to person (and day to day), but I’d like to have a clue!

Unfortunately, I don’t. So I’ll continue muddling through with the rest of you.

For April’s goals, I want to:

  1. Finish the Familiar re-read
  2. ”Exercise” 50% of the days
  3. Tidy out my apartment (see my last post)

Here’s to sunnier days ahead.

Tidying up your life…

On Sunday, I went to the barn for some spring cleaning–to help my friend and riding instructor get ready for summer lessons and pony camp, and because it was getting out of control (you could barely fit a horse in the front aisle). I spent five hours working on ONE section of the barn and we made a dent, but it seems like a cup of snow in a blizzard.

On Monday, I finished the audiobook I was listening to at Day Job (Second Hand by Cullinan and Sexton), so in a fit of tidying, I picked up Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. We’ve all heard about it, but it was interesting to learn about it from the source.

I have mixed feelings on her technique and the book in general.

The Book: It’s a bit repetitive as it tries to drive the point home. This could have been more noticeable because I was listening to it pretty much in two sittings, but I found it frustrating and it led me to tune her out at times. Sometimes this repetition felt like fluff to make this a full-length (if short) book. It also sells a pipe dream, which I’m always very suspicious about. She seems to be aware that she’s selling this pipe dream, but her saying it works and is not a pipe dream doesn’t really comfort me.

The Technique:

  1. The basic concept of keeping what brings you joy and getting rid of anything else is solid. To a point. People do tend to keep things long after the item has brought them any type of joy, and I think her process of going through EVERYTHING and handling it and making a yes/no call on it is good way to see how much we own and if it’s necessary to our lives or brings us happiness.

    However, I take some issue with her push to throw things out/donate etc. Because one of her points is “if you really want X thing, then you’ll buy it again and appreciate it more this time” – but this concept seems very grounded on a certain level of financial security (which I assume, to an extent, is the type of client she deals with, since people who worry about money don’t tend to pay people to sort their junk). Yes, I could throw away X and re-buy it if I really want it, but can I? I throw away X movie because I never watch it…but then I want to watch it, so I either buy it again or rent it….which feels like a waste of money when I owned the movie previously. And if I feel this way, I can imagine people on tighter budgets (like my riding instructor) would struggle even more with this. Especially with something as expensive as horse tack 😀
  2. I know the book world had a brief flurry of “GET RID OF BOOKS” upset that was quickly tempered by “KEEP THE ONES THAT BRING YOU JOY, FOOLS” and that about sums it up. She does say to get rid of books that don’t bring you joy, and I get the feeling she hasn’t really run into readers who will re-read a book six or seven times. But she also points out that everyone has things that they’ll have more of than other people, and that’s fine. So for readers, they’ll have more than average books that don’t get thrown out, because those books bring them joy. And that seems like a very healthy way to look at things.

    Especially since readers are well-known for hoarding books that they’ll never read. We all joke about it because it’s true. And I wonder if we did apply her technique to our TBR pile, what the result would be?

    I also wonder how this applies to digital hoards, but she doesn’t really talk about that, and since it’s so much less messy digitally, I’m not sure sure particularly cares 🙂
  3. I could see some Western people struggling with a few of the more Japanese-oriented elements of her teachings, because in some ways they are very different from what we know/how we think…sorta. The idea of things wanting to bring us joy like a living thing seems alien until you think about Stabby the Roomba and maybe not. But I do think there will be an element of feeling silly to some extent (and she recognizes this and addresses it). There will undoubtedly be some people who cannot get over this hump, however.

So the question comes up: Will I be applying Kondo’s method to my madness?

A soft yes, I think.

  • I will go through all my clothes and sort out what I don’t actually want. This is her recommended first step because it’s generally the easiest, and probably something we all want to do 😀 I don’t think I’ll get rid of twelve bags of clothes or anything like that, but I’d like to get rid of enough to give myself some breathing room in my closet/dresser. How well this goes will probably determine if I continue…
  • But the next plan will be to go through my DVDs and books. I have a bunch I will likely never read/watch again, and I think it would make me happy to be able to fill my shelves with books I want to see and that bring me joy just to think about. Right now I have all my DVDs visible, but I’m running out of room. I can also see myself selling a few of them to people, so giving them a good home. 🙂 Meanwhile, I have at least two large plastic tubs FILLED with books (and possibly a box at my parents’ house) of books I never look at. I definitely need to cull the herd. It’s not going to be easy.
  • Finally, if I survive this far, I will cut back on knickknacks. They are a pain to dust around, and while many of them brought me joy when I bought them, so many just sit around gathering dust and cutting them out of my life will clear out a fair amount of small clutter. Possibly even more than I realize, once I get started.

I do not envision this to be an easy task I have planned for myself, even if I’m not going to do a huge overhaul like she generally seems to do with her clients (her thing is “make it perfect or don’t bother, since you’ll backslide” but I’m not entirely sold on that).

I guess we’ll see. Anyone want to de-clutter their lives with me?

On the Shelf

^ I hate creating blog titles

I realized that I haven’t done any updates since the new year, and we’re now in March. Whoops.

After I finished one of my side projects, I hit a bit of a writing stagnation, which I followed up with doing the heavy revisions that needed to be done to The Miracle Man. That felt AWESOME (after avoiding them for a year, what), but was followed by another stagnant period where I didn’t know what I wanted to do next.

All of the things and none of the things and should I stop writing romance and yet as soon as I think that I want to do nothing but write romance. It wasn’t conducive to writing, to say the least!

However, I have been doing a bit of reading, which has been a whole different struggle in life #AlexWhining.

After watching all the Father Brown available on Netflix, I picked up the copy of The Innocence of Father Brown that I had lying around, since that character was the inspiration for the show. It’s very different, of course (they updated the show to after World War II, rather than early 1900s), but I can definitely see the character inspiration (as well as some of the story plots). It’s one of those books that I pick up once in a while, but I don’t think I could read through. Thankfully the stories all mostly stand alone, so they are easy to pick up and put down. They’re all also rather slow-moving, so stopping in the middle of a story doesn’t hurt much either.

I’m perpetually in the middle of The Left Hand of Darkness, and I’m not sure why I’m struggling to get through, except that I have such high expectations for it that if I don’t love it, I’ll feel like I let everyone down. Anxiety is weird.

I started Stephen Fair when I failed to read more of Left Hand and thought a YA novel might fix that. I was doing good, and then a m/f love interest was introduced and I lost interest. I don’t think it’s going to be problematic as my first impression gave, so I’ve been reading a little bit at a time, but while the idea has hooked me, we’re fumbling around in the real world too much and I need to sit down and just read it!

Black Torn, White Rose is my most recent purchase. It’s a collection of “adult” fairy tales by various authors. It’s a nice dose of short fiction in semi-familiar worlds (and settings I enjoy). I’ve read through two stories and look forward to the next. I’ll probably end up finishing this book first, because the short stories are engaging and easy reads and encourage me to pick up the next one.

Finally, this old “family” cookbook from the fifties isn’t really a “read” but I went through and found recipes that might actually be edible (spoiler, I skipped all the entrees). Maybe these bread recipes will work for me!

Quietly writing…

Back in the beginning half of the year, I was working on a project I was super excited about. I was so excited, in fact, that I broke one of my cardinal rules: don’t talk too much about a project.

One of the reasons I have this rule is because it gives my audience expectations of something coming, and I don’t want to let anyone down. A few teases? People will likely forget. A tweet every day for a month? They’ll remember that (hopefully).

The other reason is the same reason I previously never outlined/plotted stories, and even now have to be very careful: if I know too much about the story, my brain decides the story has been told/heard/figured out and doesn’t need to be written. (I do not agree with my brain on this, but ultimate the brain wins.)

So a month of following a hashtag and answering questions about my story and plotting it out…

And I found a little plot hole in my planned outline, and I tried to think of a solution. And I thought and thought and eventually wore that story out in my brain. It’s not dead, I don’t think, but it’s also not in an exciting part of my brain where I have to write it down.

So I set it aside (and barely wrote for several months….), and when I started my new piece, I’ve said not a thing. I know it’s silly and superstitious, but that seems safer than risking it, right?

The new piece was mostly started on a lark, a “what would happen if I took this setting that takes place in a Victorian-esque world and put it in the modern day?” And I started writing, just throwing whatever I wanted at it. No plotting, just adding pieces as they came. Some plots have begun to appear, but I’m not thinking too far in advance.

It was supposed to be a straightforward “MC meets LI” story, but then the LI has this friend and the MC has a weird connection with the friend as well, so now I have no idea where these folk are taking me. This is a truly magical world 😀

So we’ll see where it goes, we’ll hope that I’ll be more diligent on working on my revisions, and if everyone could send me some positive vibes to get through this dark, cold season with my depression, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Taking a Breather

It’s been a long, long while since I had a really relaxing weekend (where I relaxed rather than slipped into a unproductive puddle). This weekend was one of those weekends. I’m still flipping out about the writing funk, but I’m using the time to do things rather than obsessive over it too much.

  1. As mentioned prior, I’m re-reading Sunshine by Robin McKinley. It’s been a while since I read for pleasure and actually found the reading to be an intense pleasure. I had begun wondering if I’d lost enjoyment of reading. This has reminded me that maybe I do still love it but I’m not picking books that really grab me.
  2. I watched a ton of anime (only 2-4 episodes of each, which is how I consume most things)
    Yakitate!! Japan – This show is very much a precursor to the more modern Food Wars, and it suffers a little from me having already seen Food Wars and the humor being dated. It’s sub-only, and really slow, but kind of enjoyable if you just go with the flow.
    Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing – I probably should have rewatched the first series, but this does stand alone. I generally don’t like anime with a ton of young girls, but this handles it well, has them be strong and mostly not annoying, and while slow-moving, it’s involving politics and war, so is fitting (and matches the first series in this).
    Magical Girl Raising Project – I’m really enjoying this, although before recommending it, I’d warn that it’s dark! Viewers of Madoka Magica will probably find this a natural fit, although I’m enjoying this more, as the writing feels tighter and the characters more enjoyable/relatable to me (possible because we get more variety).
    Spice and Wolf – I’m not particularly in love with this show, although I’m only two episodes in. It doesn’t fall into the “naked wolf girl” problem (thankfully), but it does suffer heavily from talking head syndrome (which is a neat trick in a visual medium!). I think my issue is that the guy is okay and the goddess is on the other side of okay, so I’m not really engaged in them, so their talking heads are boring and talking at me rather than inviting me to contemplate with them.
  3. It’s really expensive to have 1 niece and 2 nephews with the same birthday and then an honorary nephew born the day after (5 years later). I got a lot of shopping done. My wallet wept 😀 (And that had nothing to do with the oh this yarn is on sale, I swear).
  4. A good chunk of my weekend was spent reading the Changeling: The Dreaming core book and plotting. And then replotting. Painting stones. Rereading that one section. Wondering if I actually know how to play games at all, really.

I’ll get back to editing and writing in serious form soon enough, I hope, but this was a much-needed break from reality, where I got in touch with my roots.

Writer’s Block, What Writer’s Block…

At the end of April I finished a project I was working on. It was a full novel and I was super excited about it. It was fun to write and hopefully will stand-up to being read. I finished it on the first morning of vacation, so I didn’t expect to write much for the rest of that weekend.

And then it happened.

I had planned on jumping back into my not-a-rock-star-any-longer story. So I brewed on it. Thought on it. Reread it. But didn’t write a darn thing. Bit of a slump, I thought after the first week. Just coming down off that finished-book high.

By the 13th I was getting worried. I hadn’t written a word all month. I wasn’t going to hit my monthly word goal, THAT was for sure! (The creeping panic of I’m never going to write again was screaming in my head, but I’ll ignore that.)

Then I saw a submission call retweeted about an alien romance. I happened to have an alien romance that I wrote yonks ago. It was roughly 2k and pretty much skipped all of the story except them meeting and the fun alien sex. So, hey, I already had a basic plot! I could write that. Not fret about it too much, get me writing again.

Golden.

Right?

Well, it sort of worked. I wrote a little, then a little more, then a little more. All told, I wrote just under 4K. And then I heard about a holiday submission call, and was like this alien story isn’t due until later, let me work on THAT. And I wrote just over 6K.

In the end, I met my word goal for the month (I snuck in with 10,003) and I have two possible stories started. They might both be terrible and uninspired (one is definitely depressing), but I wrote. And that’s a big step of the process–because once you start writing, it’s easier to continue. It’s that lethargy of not writing that drags you down.

Or at least drags me down. I don’t write every day, but getting out of habit of exercising my writing gives me weak writing–in that there isn’t any writing at all.

To my brother: Yeah, you were right, I did it.

A Progress Report: April

A progress report! (And an aside to say I had a couple post ideas to do this month and somehow failed to do any of them.)

WIP: In the month of April, I wrote 13K on my hot motorcycle boyfriend with tattoos story (…which needs a title) and finished it off on the first morning of my vacation (before my devices all decided to NOT recognize the hotel internet). It comes in at 62K and I hope readers will find it as sweet, funny and sometimes emotional as I did writing it. (WARNING: PUNS)

Also, check out the sweet setup I do most of my quick morning writing on (using Google Docs): iPad with a keyboard case. Works best with tiny hands, but is better than booting my laptop in the morning before a busy day.

Revision: I still have ONE scene to write to finish out the revisions on my trans cowboy story (totally not writing this post to delay doing that, I swear….). I’m definitely going to need another beta read, because it went from 26K to 40K. Which the story definitely needed, and hopefully it satisfied all the issues the beta found (and a shout-out to my beta for this, who was awesome and pointed out some weak points).

Knitting: I’ve also sorta started knitting for profit, but it’s not really a venture, so much as when I can’t decided on my next project I’ll start knitting a pride scarf and make them available for purchase. I started with asexual pride, because I’m biased (and aces don’t get nearly enough merch love!). I have three for sale (one with vertical stripes like pictured, two with varying thickness of horizontal stripes). But the pictured one has a “defect” that might not be noticeable but makes me feel guilty. I’ll either keep it or sell it for less than the others.

Publishing: Nothing at the moment. One story I’m still brewing on publisher comments (and is with another reader for some more thoughts). One is still in a pub’s submission pile (no word back yet). Have a few stories that might be ready soon to go out, but will probably be making a call for beta readers too.

Elsewhere: I also went to a small anime convention in Lancaster, PA, this past weekend (see the above comment about trying to sell scarves), which was a good time with friends, although exhausting as always. I was smart and took Monday off though, which is rocking.

Now I just wrapped up a WIP, will be wrapping up a revision WIP, and finished a knitting WIP. So I’m a little lost right now! (And I have plenty of new projects/currently projects I need to get back to, so no worries there….but I’m floating at the moment.)

Finally, if you want to see more random pictures from my life, be sure to follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alextherate/. Mostly pictures of food and horses, with some proof of me writing/revising, and a game of Where’s Alex Now.

Happy New Year!

Normally I do a review of the past year and if I hit my resolutions and all that, but I really don’t care this year. Instead, I’m just going to look at the highlights:

I published two novellas: Second Skin and A Christmas for Oscar.

I participated in Nano and hit the 50K goal!

I wrote a 46K novel before Nano started (er, I sort of finished it on the first two days when I should have been Nanoing).

I knitted a twin-size Spider-Man blanket.

I made various doctor appointments, donated to a bunch of charities, got new glasses, and spent lots of time with friends (and family).

I watched Yuri!! on Ice explode across my Twitter and Tumblr.

I came out a little bit more to my family.

I had my first In-N-Out.

I rode, I laughed, I wrote, I lived.

And for the new year?
I want to keep being better at my fitness ‘program’ and eating habits.
I want to write 10K a month every month.
I’d like to get three things published this year.

And I think that’s it for this year.

Let’s make 2017 as awesome as it can be.

When Winter Comes a Knockin’

I get a hidin’.

Or so it may seem. It’s actually just general malaise from the short, dark days (I think 75% of December has been overcast or raining), cold making it hard to move, and trying to be part of three tabletop RPGs, ride horses, and get ready for the holidays. But I think I’ve done it.

Point one: I’m ready for the holidays. All my presents are purchased, I’m just waiting for one to come in and only two need to be wrapped yet. Now, I’m only buying for eleven people, so it’s not that many.

I also knitted this scarf, since every Christmas my 4-H club goes around Christmas caroling on horseback. There’s a chance it’s going to be cancelled due to weather this year, but I’m ready! And festive. We always don our gay apparel, and generally go overboard, decking the horses in garland, antlers, and red and green until your eyes bleed.

My plan this year was to be more classy (black wool hunt coat, my scarf, and maybe a festive saddle pad with some red ribbons for the horse). The horse I plan on taking has been through this a lot, so I’m not too concerned, although with all the jingle jangle of bells, it gets loud!

But she knows what she’s doing. Of course, I rode her two weeks ago, but haven’t ridden her since. Last week the weather was terrible, and the ring a swamp, so I didn’t bother bringing her from the fields (it’s a ten-minute walk).

This week she had a cough, so wasn’t really fit to be ridden hard, but should be okay for an easy ride out caroling.

Here’s hoping!

A fair chunk of my time has been lighting a fire under my butt to finishing a big knitting project (it’s a baby blanket, but on small needles with a not-thick yarn). It was knit in the round (and around and around), and I want to give it to my friends for their newborn’s first Christmas. It’s taken a little longer than I expected it to (and I expected it to take a while!) but I’m NEARLY there. Just adding the outward black lines, then filling in the center, and then I’ll be done!

And then back to writing 😉

Having Survived NaNoWriMo

We survived NaNoWriMo.

I mean, I hope we did. Hopefully we also hit our word count (or got to where we wanted to be).

I wrote 50,075 words, and aside from a few days where I fell behind, I kept up the pace of 1,667 words a day.

It taught me a few things, or maybe it reminded me of them.

1. I can write that much in a month. It’s not easy and I couldn’t do 50K every month (without dropping other things in my life) but it’s not impossible. So maybe I need to aim a little higher with my word counts (especially during the winter).

2. There’s more to writing than making words. Yes, I hit the word counts and finished the story, but is the story good? I’m not a strong judge of my own stories, so I can’t say, especially right now, so soon after finishing it. But it does make me want to write a bunch of short pieces (5K-ish) and use them to hone my writing skills (through feedback from my writing group). Then maybe compile them into a book and self-pub them? I dunno, just a thought.

3. I really don’t mind writing vampires. I wouldn’t do it all the time, but it wasn’t a bad experience. I liked being able to fiddle with the myth and add my own twist to things.

4. There is freedom in just writing and not judging. I tried really hard (and think I succeeded) in writing without thinking “Is this any good?” It let me tell the story. Now that it’s done, I guess I can go back and fix things. HOWEVER, as noted above, I do want to improve my craft so that the first draft is stronger and requires less line-level edits (phrasing, structure, language use).

5. I still like writing 🙂

That’s all. Hopefully this exercise will mean good things for my future writing!