NaNoWriMo 2017 wrap-up

Writers WednesdayIn which I do terribly

No, really. A target of 50,000 words should have been well within my reach, especially as I was rebelling with a second draft, so I already knew the characters and the story inside out, or so I thought.

But by 30 November, I’d only managed to crawl through a total of 11,493 words. That’s my worst monthly word count, NaNo or not, since I started tracking.

What went wrong?

In short, November also happened to be the worst mental health month I have had for a long time. My concentration, motivation, willpower, pretty much everything was shot to pieces. It wasn’t only my writing which suffered; I barely read anything, struggled to keep on top of my bookstagram, let household chores slip and ate whatever fattening, sugary comfort food I felt like instead of making an effort to eat healthily and exercise at least a little.

Find the positives

Yes, there are some, even after that bleak description of the month.

  • I wrote 11,493 words.¬†Um, but Jamie, didn’t you just say… Yes, I know. It falls a long way short of the NaNoWriMo target. But it’s still 11,493 words I didn’t have at the beginning of the month. Yes, it will take me a hell of a lot longer to finish the draft at that kind of pace. But I will still get there. Honestly, it’s difficult to think in those terms. I have high expectations of myself and it’s easy to beat myself up when I fail to meet them. But it’s still true.
  • I kept writing even when I felt awful and was convinced I was never going to make it as a writer and had no inspiration. There were days I didn’t manage a single word. There were days I barely scraped 100. But I kept showing up at the computer, I kept opening the file, and I kept trying.
  • I’m actually pretty pleased with what I did write. It’s only a second draft and it’s hard sometimes to stop fretting over making each sentence or paragraph perfect before I move on, but it’s definitely an improvement over the first. The pacing is tighter, the characters feel more well-rounded with better motivations, the antagonist(s) are in play sooner. I wouldn’t be ashamed to let someone else read it.
  • I know what the problem was. I know (when I’m in a situation to think about it rationally, which isn’t all the time) my struggles weren’t down to a problem with the story, or with my abilities as a writer, but to a factor I have very little control over and which will pass. I’m not left staring at those numbers wondering why I’m not able to pull my finger out and push on. If I can be realistic about what to expect of myself, it takes the pressure off, which makes it easier to write… and there you have a virtuous circle instead of a vicious one. I’m not there yet. But I’m getting there.

What’s next?

I’m allowing myself a no-pressure break from the writing while I get my head back into a place it should be. That’s a slightly risky strategy – a planned break of one week quickly turns into two, then a month, and so on, but I think it’s a risk worth taking. I’ll be focusing on reading and preparing for Christmas (honestly, I’ve started wrapping already simply because with three kids and one husband to cater for, I’m running out of places to hide the presents) and on feeling better.

Then I’ll be ploughing on. I’ve started thinking about goals for 2018, and it should be realistic, even with my health the way it is, to get Sorrow’s Choice into a state where I can send it out for queries by next November. If progress is slow, so be it. It’s all progress.

How did your NaNoWriMo go? How do you balance health and writing? Have you started planning 2018 goals yet or have I just sent you shrieking to the hills in horror? Comment below and let’s chat.

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May and June Wrap-Up: That Writing Thing and My Never-Ending Draft

Writers Wrap-up (1)In which I get all nostalgic for September 2016

Why, you ask. Or maybe you don’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

In September 2016, I finished the first draft of Abriny. Oh, the sense of accomplishment. Oh, the congratulations that poured in from friends and family. At least two of them. Oh… I haven’t finished A. Single. Thing. since then.

Not the first draft of The Hunt/Sorrow’s Choice, which I started for NaNoWriMo 2016. Not the second draft of Abriny, which was my Camp NaNoWriMo project this April and I’ve been working on ever since. Not any of the short stories I had vague ideas of writing up and posting on here or Wattpad to start sharing my work with you guys. Not even the broad series arc I was supposed to be working out for my Skyships serialisation. Nope. Nada. Zip.

But that’s almost a year ago

Yes. I know.

So right now, I could do with recapturing some of the excitement of finishing that first draft. Not to mention the reminder that I know what it takes to not be a complete failure at everything. Maybe this is all more reflective of my mental state than the projects themselves, but it’s where I am right now.

So, what did you actually do in May and July, then?

I worked on Abriny. I rewrote some scenes which were hard, and some which flowed wonderfully. I wrote myself into a corner with the new Jadriel-and-Behsyan part of the story. I realised that despite having first hand experience of depression, it’s damn hard to convey it on the written page via a fictional character – especially if you want his story to be somewhat engaging as well.

I did also fall completely in love with some of my other characters all over again, and find new sources of conflict to keep the story’s momentum going. A pair of characters who became good friends in the first draft have decided that now they actually don’t really like or trust each other at all. Of course they still have to work together, so it’s all good fun, and their scenes are some of my favourites to write.

Overall, my rewrite now stands at 155K words – that’s almost 96K new words over the course of these two months. Unfortunately, it’s not looking like coming in as much under the first draft total as I would have hoped, so there’s still going to be a lot of cutting in later drafts.

But that’s not a problem for now. Now I have to deal with the fact that this second draft seems never-ending, and try and find some way to push through to the end of it. I’m hoping that, while still a long, looong way from a polished product, this draft will end up in a state where I can ship in out to critique partners and beta readers and get some external feedback on what’s good and what still needs work. I’ve kinda reached the stage where I’m snowblind with it myself.

Any good news to share?

How about some writing soundtracks? They always cheer me up. This first one isn’t from either of my WIPs but is a great, uplifting, encouraging piece of music that I like to listen to when I need to get myself in the mood to write. Oh, and it’s from Disney’s Moana. What’s not to like? (Side note: I actually saw this film IN THE CINEMA! I know! Shock, horror, etc. Kids are good for something.)

 

And then there’s this. Which… yeah, I’m sorry. But whatever you think of mutant, crime-fighting turtles, this speaks really clearly to a particular scene at the end of Abriny. Think messy, epic battle scene, collapsing buildings, narrow escapes, discovering how much you can rely on your partner and clawing back from the brink of apparent defeat.

And no, I’ve no idea why turtles would be using a squirrel formation, either.

How has your writing been going this last few months? Any soundtrack recommendations for me? Am I ever going to get this draft finished? There’s a comment button right there below us ūüėČ

What to do when you need to write ALL THE WORDS

Writers WednesdayA little NaNoWriMo update

A week in, and I’m already behind my word count. Quite considerably. Now, this is entirely my own fault. It so happens the beginning of November is also my wedding anniversary, and this year being our tenth (!) we decided to go away for a weekend. I could have taken the time to do more writing while I was there, but I didn’t.

Do I regret the decision? No. Writing is important to me, and NaNoWriMo speaks to my competitive spirit, but it’s only one part of my life and my mental health is not going to improve if I don’t learn to take time for myself away from the crazy self-imposed pressure of my goals.

Catch-up time

Does that mean I’ve given up on reaching the 50,000 word target for November? Hell, no. Did I mention a tiny bit of competitiveness? According to the official NaNo website, my daily wordcount to meet the goal has now gone up from 1,667 to 1,972. That’s still do-able. I think.

Word count booster tips

If all you want is to reach that magic 50,000, there’s all sorts of ways to stretch your wordcount. If you want to have something resembling a decent draft at the end of it, giving all your characters three-word names and making lengthy invocations to your fictional gods every time a bit of cursing is required won’t cut it. So here’s my take on how to bridge that wordcount gap:

  • Word sprints are your friend. @NaNoWordSprints runs sprints of varying lengths throughout the month on Twitter, or pop over to your regional forums or writers’ group to see if anyone else is looking to boost their word count. Even better, if there’s a local write-in happening near you, you’ll get encouragement, commiseration and a hot beverage of your choice along with your words. Maybe even cake.
  • A word sprint variation for the more solo writer: simply set a timer and write. Try to beat your last count, or aim for a 1K30 (1,000 words in thirty minutes – it’s harder than it sounds!). Really want a challenge? Tape over that backspace key, embrace the red squiggles of the spellcheck and try a fifty-headed hydra (500 words in five minutes).
  • Struggling to turn off your inner editor? Try typing in white or a pale grey to make it harder to spot a clunky turn of phrase you just have to go back and fix right now. There is a time for editing and polishing. Now is not it.
  • Know what you’re writing. Take five or ten minutes before you start a chapter or a scene to work out what’s happening in it. What’s your scene goal? What key things need to happen to move the plot forward? What’s the worst thing that can go wrong and how can you make it happen? Remember: conflict, conflict, conflict. As one of my favourite sources of writing advice, Susan Dennard put it: Everybody hates everybody (I can’t find this article to quote it properly. But all her writing advice is gold and you should visit. After NaNoWriMo.)
  • Give yourself permission to detour. Let a pair of characters go off on a rambling conversation. You might cut most of it when you come to edit later, but you might learn something important about them, or find a way to get to that next plot point you’ve been slogging towards. Write a lengthy, wordy description of your next setting, or a character’s outfit, or the history of the city your character is travelling towards. You can slim it down to the most pertinent bits in revisions, but the more you let your imagination have free rein, the more chance you’ll stumble across that next gem.

BICHOK

You’ve probably heard people say the first rule of writing is there are no rules of writing. I’ve paraphrased that. I’m pretty sure it was more elegant when I came across it.

In any case, it’s almost right. There is one rule I think is pretty much iron-clad, no matter your story, your method, which tips you’re trying or which stage of the process you’re at. Not all writing time is spent actually writing – brainstorming, mulling it over, refilling the creative well are all important. But at some point, you do have to show up and start putting words down in your document.¬†It won’t get written without Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. Or Pen and Paper, but let’s face it, BICHOPAP isn’t so catchy.

For me, that’s what NaNo is all about – a commitment to show up and write. No matter how far you are behind, if you keep showing up to write, whether you add 1,000 or 100 words to your novel today, you’re moving forward and in the end, you will get there.

So, how’s NaNo going for you? Let me know in the comments and share your wordcount booster tips.

Let’s talk NaNoWriMo 2017

Writers WednesdayWell, would you look at that. My first Writer’s Wednesday post falls conveniently on the 1st November. Let’s just pretend I planned that, shall we?

Since this is my first WW post, a quick explanation is probably in order. These posts are going to be (hopefully) a weekly feature. They’ll cover all aspects of writing life, depending on what’s going on in mine at the moment and whether I’ve got any burning writing issues to share with you all.

Welcome to NaNoWriMo 2017

Yes, it’s here again. For those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, a quick recap:

  • One month to write 50,000 words – 1,667 words per day
  • Thousands of writers worldwide
  • Online forums, local and virtual write-ins, word sprints and lots and lots of caffeine

Depending on your genre and age category, that might amount to an entire novel. For me, writing fantasy, not so much. But still, 50,000 words is a decent chunk towards one, and I often find I exceed that target once the momentum really gets going.

2017’s goals

This year I’m being a NaNoWriMo rebel. Instead of starting a completely new project on 1st November, I’m starting the second draft of my YA fantasy novel previously known as The Hunt. A second draft, for me, is effectively a complete rewrite with a better idea of the shape of the novel, so the 50,000 word goal still works. I even have a new title. because the story changed so much in the first draft (which was last year’s NaNo project), The Hunt no longer works. Currently, it’s going by Sorrow’s Choice, but I’m not confident that one will stick, either.

Sometimes I set myself a personal goal alongside the official one, trying to push myself to achieve as much as possible in the month dedicated to writing. This year, with everything else that’s going on in my life, I’ve decided not to. 50,000 will be enough of an achievement, and I really don’t need to set myself up for failure when I can avoid it.

Share the NaNoWriMo love

One of the best bits about NaNoWriMo is tackling what is a daunting project by any standards alongside thousands of others doing the same. There’s no shortage of support and encouragement, shoulders to (virtually) cry on when it’s going badly and folk waiting to cheer you when it’s going well. Stuck plot, writer’s block, lack of motivation? Someone, somewhere will be ready and waiting to be your sounding board or to push you through it. Tearing your hair out in frustration at 2am when all your usual writing buddies are long abed? There’ll be someone in another timezone – or maybe a friend you haven’t met yet with the same disregard for sleep in your own – to make sure you know you aren’t struggling alone.

So share the NaNo love here – let me know if you’re taking part, what your project is, whether it’s your first time or you’re a veteran looking to compare battle scars. Or add me as a buddy on the NaNoWriMo site and we’ll cheer each other on through the next thirty days of writing like our lives depend on it.

June Wrap Up: What I Read – Pride Month Edition

In Which My Library Surprises Me

June 17 Wrap-upI like diverse books. It seems obvious – are there really people out there who don’t? As a member of marginalised communities myself and (I hope) an ally of others, I was appalled to realise how many of the books I read and enjoyed were written from an overwhelmingly white, western, able-bodied, neurotypical and heterosexual worldview. If POC and LGBTQIA+ characters make the cast, it’s rarely as main characters. I’ve been making a concerted effort to improve that. There’s sadly still few really diverse books are out there, in proportion to the number being published overall, and I’ve had my eyes opened to how many harmful tropes and stereotypes are perpetuated in fiction, mostly through ignorance rather than deliberate prejudice.

So Pride Month was a perfect opportunity to fill some of those holes in my Goodreads shelves. One problem – I’d already realised my book collection wasn’t exactly swimming in diversity. Not that I have nothing, but nowhere near enough to represent the whole LGBTQIA+ spectrum in my Pride Month reading.

Step forward, local library. It isn’t huge, and the adult SFF section where I usually gravitate is, well… disappointing. But to my surprise, when I investigated their Young Adult section, they had a good range of books, including recent releases, and ordering from the other libraries in the network I managed to fill the gaps in my TBR. The reading, of course, spilled past June into July and August, particularly as some of the orders took a while to come in. But it was a far better selection than I’d expected, and I’ve continued to make heavy use of the ordering facility ever since.

The highlights

SAM_4565This Savage Song is the sort of book that makes me want to kick myself for taking so long to get round to it. I’ve had this almost a year. What was I thinking? The worldbuilding and concept are fantastic. A city where human acts of violence breed literal monsters, half controlled by a man who makes deals with them and protects those who pay, and the other by a man who fights them whatever the cost. Of course the two MC’s – August and Kate – come from opposite sides of the city and are thrown together as events escalate and it seems no one knows who’s winning the war. Or even who’s in control of it. Kate isn’t the kind of protagonist you instantly relate to. She starts off simply unlikable, but still so compelling; you know there’s more to her than meets the eye. August, though, is an adorable, tortured cinnamon roll. Their friendship, unlikely as it seems, grows so organically and fiercely and I would absolutely go down with this ship – not necessarily as a romance, but two people who belong in each other’s lives. The writing is dark and delicious and the action and intensity grows and grows as the book goes on. I definitely felt wrung out when I finished.

SAM_4639If I Was Your Girl, features an #ownvoices trans MC, and I would seriously recommend anyone with the slightest interest in understanding diversity to read the book on that basis alone. But it’s not just a worthy read to be ticked off a list – I was rooting for Amanda the whole way, the story (a YA romance) was engaging and well written, the supporting characters all felt complex and three-dimensional, and the family relationships were beautifully portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first page to the last – 4.5 stars.

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda has got a lot of high praise in the online book community. It’s a cute, funny romance, with a sparkling cast of diverse characters, and tackled a number of issues head-on without coming across as preachy. I’ve seen it take criticism for the way the MC is outed without consent, but (speaking from an outside perspective) I didn’t think it was treated lightly – on the contrary, the narration made very clear that it was a hurtful and unacceptable thing to have happened. I wouldn’t say this was an absolute stand-out contemporary, although I know a lot of bloggers who would disagree with me, but it was definitely enjoyable and I’ll be checking out Becky Albertalli’s other book ASAP. 4 stars.

SAM_4770

Been Here All Along is a a pretty simple story. The romance (m/m, one bisexual) is predictable but adorable, there’s a good vein of self-discovery and a range of family and friend relationships are explored. Four viewpoints seemed a lot for such a short book. Ezra’s in particular seemed unnecessary to the story, but it’s a minor quibble because I was in the mood for a short, sweet, easy read and really I loved this; it’s one I’ll probably return to for rereads. 4 stars.

 

The rest

Iron Cast was this month’s audiobook – not a Pride Month read but with a WOC as one of the main characters and more POC in the supporting cast. It’s fantasy with a difference, set in Prohibition-era Boston where painters, singers, actors and musicians known as hemopaths can twist reality as they perform. The setting was evocative and a huge contributing factor to the appeal of this book, but I never warmed to most of the characters and there were pacing issues – fast action in places then inexplicably slow in others, it never seemed to flow right. The plot was intriguing and dangerous, and pulled off the trick of not knowing who to trust. Also, it’s a standalone, a rare beast in fantasy, and had a nice balance of open and resolved at the ending. Overall, glad I read it but not one that will stick with me. 3.5 stars.

I have a difficult relationship with self-published fiction. I want to support the authors who are working their butts off and putting themselves out there. But I have no idea how to find the hidden gems in the vast sea of self-published works. Lambs Can Become Lions I stumbled across via bookstagram; it’s a f/f retelling of Robin Hood, with a fantastically diverse supporting cast. I really wanted to like it, but I found the writing a bit clunky at times, and particularly at the beginning the diversity felt more like a tick-list than an organic part of the story. However, the plot was good, I enjoyed the dual POVs, and once the characters were established they were endearing, although there’s only so much space in a (short story? novella?) to develop them. I’m pretty sure this author is only going to get better so I’ll be sticking around for the next instalment. 3 stars.

The Crown and The Arrow, and The Mirror and The Maze were both short stories set after The Wrath and The Dawn and its sequel. They were beautifully written but didn’t add much to the story, although it was interesting to see more of Khalid’s perspective and The Crown and The Arrow did answer a lingering question from the first book. 3.5 to 4 stars for both.

SAM_4583I’ve never watched The 100 TV show, but I know enough about it to be intrigued by the concept and when I saw the book in the library I had to give it a go. Sadly, it’s best summed up as a big fat meh. Far too much over-blown angst, and the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Bellamy and Clarke from the show turned into a much more cliched teen romance. The flashbacks weren’t well integrated into the story, the characters were mostly forgettable. I gave it 3 stars because it was a fun, quick read but it seems a little generous on reflection!

June book haul

SAM_4870Yes, I’m still hauling books at a much faster rate than I can read them, even on a good month like this one. What can I say? There’s a reason bookdragon fits better than bookworm – I can’t resist adding to the hoard.

Plus, a load of these were secondhand buys for series I’ve been eyeing up for a while, so it would have been rude to say no, right?

Let’s chat!

Have you read any of this month’s books? What did you think of them? Any tips on where to find the self-published authors worth reading? Is sixteen books in one monthly haul too much (spoiler – of course not!) or do you go bigger and better?

May wrap-up: What I Read, And Some Bookish Thoughts

In which I finally rediscovered my reading mojo

May 17 Wrap-upTen books in one month! I can’t remember the last time I managed that. Alright, a couple were short stories, but even so it was a pretty damn good reading month. As a lifelong bookworm, my loss of reading time and motivation has been a major disappointment over the last few years. I’m excited to get it back!

And as a side effect, I’ll no longer be combining my reading and writing wrap up. I can’t do either half justice without ending up with a post the length of the Nile.

What I read

The highlights

wp-image-1851831218Carry On is the spin-off from Fangirl – a novel based on the fanfiction a fictional character was writing about a made up book series based on Harry Potter. Confused? You needn’t worry; it’s fantastically readable, the characters are adorable (Baz is my new favourite vampire), the plot manages an unbelievable balance between being standalone yet feeling like the climax of a longer-running series; having enough Harry Potter vibe to feel nostalgic and familiar while being clearly its own thing. It’s like Harry Potter’s older, swearier and more self-aware cousin. And I loved it! The magic system was brilliant. Simon’s helpless, clueless sense of responsibility, Baz’s sass and Penny’s loyal friendship play so magically off each other. The romance is right up there with any OTP you care to name. 4.5 stars and instant favourite status.

wp-image-1164649329In my quest to figure out contemporary YA, I had high hopes for the concept of a modern Cinderella wrapped in fandom trappings and with a series of glowing reviews on Instagram. Geekerella lived up to the hype. Clearly it’s not the most original story, and sometimes the Cinderella references were maybe a little clunky, but it was cute, fun, funky and uplifting. The characters were real, brave, flawed and lovable. The romance was on point. And the fandom vibes really, really made it. A strong 4 stars.

Confession time: I hadn’t read Howl’s Moving Castle. I still haven’t watched the film. Now we’ve got that out the way, I devoured this book, and I can see why it earned its fantasy classic status! How such a cross, grumpy MC and a self-absorbed, dramatic wizard work so well together and create such a compelling story I’m not sure, but they do, to the tune of 4 stars. It had all the whimsy, fantastic imagery and magic I’d expect of Diana Wynne Jones, and reminded me how much I used to enjoy her books – I’m now making a point of going through her back catalogue and catching up with the others I missed.

wp-image--1865104853The Wrath and the Dawn wasn’t on quite the same level of ‘why haven’t I read this yet?’,¬† but it has been sitting unopened on my bookshelf for nearly a year. I gave it 3.5 stars, because while it was beautifully written, with a cast of complex characters and plenty of my favourite moral greyness, in places (particularly early on) the plot and character motivations felt confused or overly simplistic, and it lacked some sort of spark to lift it higher. Having said that, I’ll still be getting my hands on the second book in the duology as soon as I can!

The rest

I have complicated feelings about Sarah J Maas these days. If you’ve been around a while, you might remember me raving about her Throne of Glass series. That was a few books and a few controversies ago. The ACOTAR (A Court of Thorns and Roses) series I never loved as much, but A Court of Wings and Ruin was a serious disappointment. Plot, character development, writing style, lack of consequences, and by all the Gods could we NOT have a sex scene every time Rhys and Feyre are on the same page? Not to say there was nothing good about it, but overall, I almost feel like the 3 stars I gave it were generous. And then there’s the problematic aspects of how SJM handles diversity. ACOWAR is by no means a first offence, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever read another of her books, but that’s a whole other post (and will be, soon – keep your eyes peeled!).

EoaTSEmpress of A Thousand Skies was another 3-star disappointment. I’d looked forward to it since February; a space opera with a diverse cast and a gorgeous cover. But the plot was light, one MC never grew, the villain was almost pantomime by the end, and the big plot twist was obvious and infuriating. But I did adore Alyosha, the second MC, the world building was good, and it was fun and fast-paced. I hope the author gets over her habit of important events happening off page. Someone important dies, an MC failing to save them… and we hear about it after the event. What?

SAM_4422Holding Up The Universe I failed to click with. One MC was likeable, bold and sassy, the other was… okay, but the story fell flat for me. It was presented as a story of body-confidence, and it was great to have a protagonist with a body type often erased from media or relegated to comic sidekick status – especially as the MC tackled some of these issues head on. But it was undermined by so many other characters being reduced to caricatures and stereotypes, and the fact the MC’s self-worth was heavily caught up in whether she was attractive to boys. Not to say that’s unrealistic, but it didn’t fit with the story’s message.

Do you ever read books accidentally? By default, when you can’t find anything you really want to read? Our Endless Numbered Days was that book. Audiobook, as it happened – I needed a new listen for the school run, and lacking inspiration I picked the first one to catch my eye and have a bearable narrator (I’m fussy, okay?) It was an adult mystery-ish thing. The story of a girl abducted by her survivalist father and told the world has ended but for their pocket of a German forest was middlingly interesting, and the writing and narration captured her voice and growth as she grew up in her strange circumstances. I suspected where it was heading, and it was as disturbing as I’d anticipated, but an average 3-stars sums it up pretty well.

There are three Captive Prince short stories, and in May I read two of them – Green But For A Season, and The Summer Palace. What can I say; I wasn’t ready to leave Laurent and Damianos and their world behind. Green But For A Season took Jord’s point of view – as he and Aimeric were two of my favourite characters I definitely enjoyed the extra insight. The Summer Palace is described as an epilogue to the series, but while it was well written, tooth-achingly adorable and did cover one of the pricklier issues from the books, it was more or less fan service. Both were very short, and I’m still unsure whether I think they were worth the price. 3 to 3.5 stars each.

May book haul

I bought 15 new books this month, though 7 of them were ebooks, which might be a new record for me, one was the pre-order of ACOWAR and one was from my monthly subscription box. However I justify it, it’s clear I’m not getting on top of my TBR any time soon. I haven’t had a month yet this year where I’ve read more books than I’ve bought. Oh, and it doesn’t include my next audiobook, either, which I get through my Audible subscription.

Let’s chat!

Have you read any of this month’s books? Did you love them or hate them? Have I introduced you to your next read? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to know your thoughts on expectations – is it worse to expect to love a book and find it only average, or dislike a book you had no expectations of at all?

April wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Some Painful Honesty

In which Camp NaNoWriMo rolls round again

And this time, I actually used it for revision! The flexibility to use Camp for other types of writing project is one of its main differences to the main NaNoWriMo in November, but I hadn’t taken advantage of that so far due to my abominably slow writing speeds.

The reading thing

Five and a half books this month. You’ll have to wait until next wrap-up for the half, even though I put it in the picture in a fit of misplaced optimism.

The highlights

Alterations! ¬†Finally, a contemporary I wasn’t ambivalent to disappointed about. It’s not particularly complicated or deep (apparently it’s inspired by the movie Sabrina) but Amelia’s growth in confidence, finding her way and figuring out her dreams was just as important as the romance aspect. The cast was diverse and vivid, Amelia was easy to root for, and yes, the romance was adorable. It even managed to have a love triangle (or possibly square) without being obnoxious.

 

Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising were the second and third instalments of the Captive Prince trilogy. In March I said it was difficult to rate or¬†discuss the¬†first book on its own. The overview of the trilogy isn’t a lot easier, but I did enjoy it very much. The character development in these books is spot on, I was rooting for the romance the whole way through, I broke my heart over some of the side characters. All the elements of a great read. They were as graphic as the first but without the discomfort levels. It wasn’t exactly a shock to see the other side of Laurent – I knew it had to be there – but it was fascinating to watch it unfold. The plotting and intrigue maybe got a little far-fetched but it carried the story, which is really all about the romance. And the smut. Yeah, these are not YA.

And the rest

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the Iliad, from the perspective of Patroclus. If you know anything about Greek legends, you know how it ends. You’d think it would be less traumatic when you know it’s coming, but no. My poor heart was shredded to pieces. The writing captured the tone of an ancient myth brought to life, it really was beautiful, but it took me a while to warm up to the characters and the slow build to what we really wanted to see – the war at Troy – was maybe a little too slow.

fangirl book held against a cloudy skyFangirl. I really, really wanted to love this book. I had so much in common with Cath. I’ve seen people criticise her anxiety issues and anti-socialness as exaggerated, playing off cliches and stereotypes about geek girls, but I’ve been that person who would rather live off cereal bars than have to find the canteen and sit in it alone. But the romance lacked chemistry. I was more interested in seeing Cath negotiate college and her relationships with her friends and family. Overall, a like rather than a love, and I’m disappointed it didn’t live up to the hype. However, I do now have a very strong urge to read the Baz & Simon spin-off, Carry On.

So how was Camp NaNo for you?

I temporarily abandoned The Hunt, letting it stew while I figure out some issues, and instead used Camp NaNo to revise for my adult fantasy, Abriny. I did attempt revisions before but wasn’t getting very far. I’ve since had a couple of insights and the story’s going to change drastically in some areas, including the introduction of two new viewpoints in place of one existing. They’ll mean I can give the other side of the conflict, from the besieging army, so I’m pretty excited to have them in there.

This all adds up to more than tweaks and revisions, really. Instead, draft 2 has become an almost total rewrite. Even if I have a scene that’s staying broadly the same, I type it out from scratch. It’s been working pretty well. Still taking longer than I’d like, but I feel more like the revision is actually getting me somewhere and the story is starting to look more like a book.

You want actual numbers? At the end of April I’d written 58,364 words of draft 2. That’s not got me much past a quarter of the way in, so clearly I’m still going to have a lot of editing to do to get the word count to something reasonable, but it’s progress and I’m happier with the way things are going. I’ve discovered I have a tendency to write characters too nice, and in this second draft I’m making them more prickly and uncooperative. In other words: fun!

You mentioned painful honesty

Ah yes. And I wasn’t joking about the painful bit, so bear with me.

I have mental health problems. Specifically depression and anxiety. It’s not something I hide, at least not on my other social media, but I haven’t really talked about it here. It’s one of the reasons behind my often extended silences – I’m sure everyone worries about their writing (blogs, books or otherwise) not being good enough, or no one caring, but thanks to anxiety it twists into such a crippling mess I end up preferring to say nothing than risk it. The longer it goes on, the harder the cycle is to break.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point (we’re talking years, no exaggeration) but it’s been getting worse recently and enough is enough. I’ve been to the doctor, I’m on medication and I’m on the waiting list for counselling. And I wanted to share this with you, because what really pushed me to seek help was the people who are willing to speak up about their own experiences, to say, yes, I have these problems, and I refuse to be afraid of admitting to them because of the stigma society attaches. People ranging from my favourite authors to casual instagram acquaintances, who aren’t afraid to say it’s been a bad day, or their anxiety is making them think this bad thing.

From now on, I’ll be more vocal about my own experiences, to pass the good along the line. I’ll add my voice to the others already out there in the hopes those who are still struggling might find it and feel less alone, maybe feel brave enough to seek help when they need it. Here’s a few thoughts to be getting on with:

  • It’s not your fault.
  • If you were diabetic, you wouldn’t feel bad about getting insulin from the doctor when your body doesn’t produce enough of it. Why should the hormones that balance your thoughts and brain be any different?
  • You are not weak for admitting you need help. Given the stigma attached to mental health problems, it might actually be the bravest thing you’ve ever done
  • It’s alright to have bad days, to sometimes feel like you’re sliding backwards. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
  • It’s alright to have days where you can’t cope with the rest of life. You’re fighting battles in your head every day, sometimes just to be able to get out of bed. Of course you’re exhausted. Grant yourself the me-time, the space and the grace to put those burdens down when you can.

My comments are open! Chat about books, writing, mental health or anything.