One Little Word for 2016

This year I’m fully committing to Ali Edwards’ One Little Word project. I’ve already gotten a lot from the workshop so far, including tips on how to select a stellar word. I have to say, I am head over heels in love with mine (though it balks at being called “little”).

forge

I thought a lot about what I wanted to accomplish this year, capitalizing on a great 2015 and pushing myself forward.

In fact, I considered “push” but found it to be wanting: negative, overly forceful, discourteous, and lacking respect. I wanted something with force, with momentum, and I sought similar words: drive, strive, propel.

Forge took hold of me and I gave it my consent. Not a soft, sweet “yes” like with my word for 2015, an “oh, you’ll do quite nicely;” instead, a loud, hearty bellow of agreement, the kind that echoes in your core.

My word is active, and that is one thing I want to define 2016. I have grown complacent in my adulthood, borderline lazy and certainly passive. I will give up easy comfort this year. I will work hard. I will hustle. I will earn.

It can also be grueling: hammering metal, bearing that awesome heat. Dangerous, repetitive, but a skilled act of creation. The same as writing, if you’ve been doing it long enough that it smolders within you and you have to find the right way to temper the flames, to let it burn without consuming.

And the seeming contradiction; the softer, human side that is less industry, more emotion: forging relationships. Something I have neglected somewhat, being an independent introvert. But something I will challenge myself to do. I let people in more in 2015, but I know that I am the friend valuable in the present, forgotten in the future, left behind in your past. I accept that, but I also commit to changing it, to creating stronger relationships and being a better partner.

To forge ahead: 2016 requires it. I loved 2015, but I know I can do better. I can make better, more often, with more people. There is more to achieve, and I will do it.

I will.

What’s your word for 2016? How can we support each other this year? 

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Favorite Reads of 2015

I didn’t read as many books as I have in years past, partially because I incorporated podcasts into my listening rotation and partially because I didn’t read a page during my spring sabbatical (aka wedding and honeymoon). I’m still glad I managed fifty books (hopefully fifty-one, as I want to finish a book this afternoon). It didn’t seem right to say that almost a quarter of what I read was a “favorite,” so I broke my long list of twelve favorites down to the five I loved most.

I don’t have a hands-down favorite, so these are in the order in which I read them this year.

Pointe by Brandy Colbert: An early favorite, and one I remembered fondly throughout the year. Read my character study post and the Women in Fiction guest post from 1:1000 editor Dot Dannenberg to see why it’s such a special, beautiful novel.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates: One of the most uncomfortable books I’ve ever read, but all the more valuable for it. I highlighted my copy like crazy. I could say so many things about this book, but please go read it and discover its message and value for yourself.

Uprooted by Naomi Novak: A touching fantasy story with a wonderful protagonist, this is a surprising delight of a book. The whole thing feels warm and lived-in and real, the kind of book you can just curl up and enjoy.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert: Highly recommended for creatives, especially writers! Gilbert’s advice was a much-needed punch in the arm. It may not be for everyone, but it was the inspiration I needed.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison: A late read courtesy of an io9.com recommendation, I haven’t had a chance to blog about this one yet. It’s a quick book with a hard, brutal core shot through with streaks of bittersweet, hopeful moments. A must-read for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and last year’s hands-down favorite, The Girl in the Road.

You can check out my original long list on Instagram.

Which books did you love reading this year? Leave a comment!

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2015: A Year of Exploring?

Last year, I half-heartedly committed to focusing my efforts on one little word.

explore

When I selected the word, I wrote that it was “about challenging myself, breaking out of my comfort zone, and immersing myself in experiences…Instead of staring at an obstacle and backtracking, it will mean finding a new route. It means breaking new ground and finding untapped reserves.”

I’m honestly not sure if I achieved that, but I think it’s partially because I didn’t commit to the One Little Word concept as much as I could have. I’m participating in the community/workshop aspect as well this year and I’m hoping I get more out of it.

I will say that I feel like I challenged myself this year, and more often than not I rose to meet those challenges head-on. I learned about the value of having a buddy system, a writing tribe, and collaborating with others. My exploration was less personal than I thought it would be, and more about expanding my relationships and letting other people in to help me navigate those new routes.

I had some lofty reading and writing goals, too.

I more than achieved my writing goals with NaNoWriMo: I let my characters breathe, and I gave up on such tight, controlled narrative outlines. I also wanted to find my voice, and not manufacture it. I know I’m on my way, and it’s come across in some of my more successful 1:1000 pieces and personal feedback I’ve gotten about my writing/blogging.

My reading goals were surprisingly unfulfilled. I haven’t run my numbers yet, but I don’t think I’ll be anywhere close to reading more diversely and exploring new genres and perspectives. If anything, I read comparatively little (I just hit my 50 book goal last night!) and mostly within my comfort zone.

I’m not sure what 2016 will bring, but I look forward to it. I may not have achieved every thing I wanted in 2015, but I’m ending the year happier, healthier, and more self-aware than I started.

How was your year? Did you participate in One Little Word?

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#InstaChristmas, at 1:1000

1:1000 is a website that pairs photography with 1,000-word prose. Sound like your cup of tea? Go to Pinterest and select an unclaimed photograph, then write your 1,000-word piece (fiction or creative non-fiction).

My latest piece is live over at 1:1000! #InstaChristmas is my latest attempt at integrating humor and snark into my writing. In-person, I feel like I’m fairly witty. In my writing, it usually falls flat. This was a rare success (at least with the 1:1000 editors). #InstaChristmas also includes a heartwarming, seasonal character arc and somewhat meta (self-)mockery of social media madness.

Have a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate, and don’t forget to tell someone you love them, or at least share that perfectly styled Instagram photo!

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Myfanwy Thomas, written by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook

I initially encountered The Rook on Kim‘s Instagram feed over the summer, and she blogged more about it here. With a description like “Ghostbusters meets James Bond meets Memento, if James Bond were a lady spy who is also a kickass administrative genius,” I kind of had to read it. And broke my only reading challenge for the year, but whatever, it was so worth it. I like weird fiction and fascinating female characters, and this book definitely hit the spot.

The book centers around Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas, who has to be one of the most unusual characters I’ve encountered. Myfanwy wakes up with no memory  and has to piece things together through clues her past self left (in the form of notes in coat pockets) and excellent deductive reasoning.

Myfanwy has a unique set of skills that would make Liam Neeson’s character from Taken shit his pants.

Literally.

Myfanwy can control people through touch, and her past self, whom Myfanwy calls Thomas, never really explored that power. The titular Rook, Myfanwy/Thomas serves as a member of the Checquy, a secret British organization responsible for keeping a lid on paranormal activity, conducting research, and offering support to those with powers.

The combination of Myfanwy’s narrative and Thomas’s letters allow the reader a unique perspective into one person whose selves are night and day. Thomas is more timid, a bureaucrat comfortable in a more diplomatic, sometimes soft-spoken role. Understandable — traumatic experiences growing up have made her afraid to use her powers.

Still, Thomas is a force with which to be reckoned. While she might not be an “action girl,” she doesn’t shy away from getting her hands dirty, especially when she realizes that she’s on the trail of something dangerous and potentially deadly.

Myfanwy, by contrast, is more outspoken and bold. She takes chances. She delights in her own capabilities and potential, because she does not bear the emotional trauma of learning to control them. She retains that keen sense of reasoning and intuition, and she finishes the investigation Thomas started.

But for all her blunt bravado, she’d be nothing without her past self’s guidance. It creates a beautiful narrative balance, with both characters reliant on each other and their strengths and weaknesses dovetailing nicely. Two different characters embodying the same woman, seeking to achieve the same goal. It’s a funny, charming, and oddly inspiring work, so I hope you’ll take a moment to sit down and read a few pages.

There will be fist pumps, because Myfanwy isn’t the only awesome character. You’ll see.

A final note: I listened to The Rook as an audiobook and while I really enjoyed it, I would recommend reading the physical book. The narrator, Susan Duerden, does a fantastic job, but the book includes a lot of longer exposition/back story breaks in media res, and I personally find those a bit tedious during a listen.

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Agnieska? 

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Last-Minute Holiday Gifts for the Word Nerd in Your Life

It’s time for another round of last-minute gift-giving ideas!

Donations. Unless your recipient is pre-redemption, three-sizes-too-small Grinch, donations are a wonderful present. My personal favorite is Reading Is Fundamental, but a local option may be a good route.

A box of books (and related bookish goods). Book subscription boxes are somewhat coming into their own. There’s the classic Book of the Month club, which offers readers a choice among five different selections each month and the option to add-on for $9.99. Book Riot and Book Riot: YA send books and bookish miscellany every three months. I’m also a fan of Muse Monthly, which sends a book and loose leaf tea pairing. Well done.

A Serial Box subscription. Fiction released weekly, harkening back to the days of Dickens (or the Serial podcast obsession of Autumn 2014). I’ve got Bookburners queued up!

A box of writing supplies. I haven’t ordered from Paper & Pen, but a box of paper goods and writing utensils sounds like a unique gift for someone who loves organization, trips to stationery/office supply stores, or old school writing.

A magazine subscription. Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers are two of my absolute favorites, and they’re packed with relevant advice and opportunities.

Classes or workshops. Local universities or artistic communities may have in-person opportunities. There are plenty of online options through Writers Digest UniversityLoft Literary CenterArizona State University’s Piper Writers Studio, and The Brainery.

Writer’s Market subscription. If your writer is looking to take things to the next level next year, gifting a subscription to Writer’s Market is your best bet – this website will help him/her find a wide range of contests and agents.

Membership to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. There are some sweet perks in the form of job postings, submission repositories, and scholarships. Plus there’s the fun

Choose-your-own-writing-adventure. This one is kind of my favorite: Purchase a gift card to your intended recipient’s favorite bookstore (many offer online certificates, so you don’t have to leave your computer) and include this list. The writer has the option of picking the books (s)he finds most relevant and helpful.

Feel free to share other ideas in the comments!

Thanks for reading! What’s on your list this year?

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What I Learned About My Manuscript During NaNoWriMo

Note: I am one of those weird people that subscribes to the notion that my work-in-progress should be called a manuscript throughout the development process. During NaNoWriMo, I follow the established nomenclature of “novel,” but I’m reverting back to manuscript.

NaNoWriMo is thirty days of frenzied writing that, in many cases, involves lots of caffeine, little sleep, and forgetting your characters aren’t real people and discussing them as though they are (“Yeah, Cassandra was a little difficult last night but I finally figured out that her driving relationship can’t be a love interest.”)

I truly believe writers are conduits for their characters and should follow their intuition, exploring development arcs and narrative quirks that arise during the writing process. Having a plan and a general outline is great, but adapt — especially for the sake of your characters.

God, writing in Arizona can be the absolute worst.

God, writing in Arizona can be the absolute worst.

Going into the month, I had an outline. Probably the best thing that happened is that I saved it in another Scrivener file by mistake and couldn’t find it. I had to remember major shifts entirely from memory, which meant if I didn’t care enough (or more likely, if the development didn’t resonate enough), I forgot it happened. What resulted was genuine characters driving plot.

I ended up finding the outline on November 30th — the timing couldn’t have been more perfect — and I was surprised at how “wrong” I’d initially called it. What I crafted was a much tighter narrative, with some characters lasting much longer than I anticipated and some not even appearing (yet). The interpersonal conflicts I outlined never made it onto the page. Some of the basic tenets of the plot shifted. Here’s a brief, broad example from the first act, designed to be alternating storylines featuring two female characters and their “groups” (one family, the other…loosely defined). Strikethroughs mean that the planned plot point didn’t happen at all, italics are for items that remain in some form, though were significantly different than planned.

  • Seaside w/ C
    • Decent conditions but writing’s on wall
    • Group comes
    • C escapes with S to forest
    • C & S — > capital
  • Mountains w/ B
    • Accepting, natural
    • Training
    • Rising
    • Departure due to family issues
    • B’s family — > capital

Or: the entire first act changed shifted in focus, tone, and narrative. Also, now there are three anchoring groups, not two (and those aren’t dominated by the characters B and C). The character dynamics have shifted and those groups are somewhat loose in the sense that it’s obvious what connects them, but the ties that bind aren’t always the strongest.

I initially planned for the manuscripts to be four acts, and it seems content with that so far. However, it’s going to be long. I didn’t anticipate finishing the writing during NaNoWriMo – I thought I needed at least twice that for a solid first draft, since I usually write all character arcs and dialogue and then go back and indulge the senses with imagery and the like. Most of NaNoWriMo was dedicated to the first act – and the aforementioned character moments – so this manuscript is shaping to be 150K in first draft mode, easily. God help me.

Oh, and a general tip: always back up your files. I read enough horror stories about losing tens of thousands of words that I didn’t want to risk it. So I also learned that my laptop is almost at capacity now. Thanks, NaNoWriMo!

Thanks for reading! What did you learn from your NaNoWriMo manuscript?

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