Sunday, September 16, 2018

4 Ways to Find Time to Write

I tend to have two types of schedules: busy and not busy. Either I can afford to spend all day working on my novel, reading a book, and traveling to whichever castle or library I want; or I have to go to work, rush through my lunch break, finish my schoolwork, teach a class, and maybe squeeze in some family OR reading time.

Right now, I have the busy schedule. I’ve heard of writers finding time during their lunch break to write a page or two, but seriously, sometimes I barely find time in my lunch break to eat. I work part-time, so I only get one 15-minute break a day. That and I decided to teach two online writing classes, and I’m finishing up my latest master’s degree. Hahaha! What have I done?

Where in the world do I find time to write?


I’m still keeping up with my blog posts, so obviously, I’m still writing. No, the answer is not a time machine. I seem to have lost that in 1942. Don’t ask.

Here are just a few of the ways I find time to do what I enjoy:

1)      Make the Time

Okay, so I can’t just go to work and say, “Hey, right now is my prime writing time, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to pull out my laptop.” That’s rude. Instead, I take the time I have outside of work and fit it in then. For example, I spend less time on Pinterest and more time writing my novel in my physical journal or typing up a blog post on my computer.

I don’t find the time to write. I make the time. I have to prioritize. (This doesn’t just apply to writing but also to reading. I usually pick one or the other on the days I work.)

As such, I’m no longer cooking as much. I throw some pasta on to boil or some schnitzel in the oven and get work done while the food is cooking. Similarly, I don’t take the dog outside as much anymore. Poor pooch. Don’t worry, though. My sister is still on summer break, and I have recruited her in the family attempts to get her out of the house.

2)      Daydream

Exercise your imagination. The advantage to this method is that it can be used almost anywhere. Back when I was studying for my MA in English Literature, my brain would come up with the best plot lines or characters while I was working on essays.

Writing for me is 50% typing or scratching with a pen and 50% daydreaming. A lot of times, I’ll write poetry or catchy lines in my head while I’m out and about, then come home and write it down later.

If you can, pursue activities that encourage thinking. For me, this is primarily biking to work. I get all my best ideas when I exercise or do the housework.

Don’t forget to carry a notebook with you. I do. Unfortunately, I’m the worst at actually keeping notes. I’m more likely to type up notes on my computer and later jot down the basic overview of stories in my notebook for portable writing.

3)      Write Uninterrupted

Put up a do not disturb sign. Turn off the internet. Move to a deserted island and correspond with people via passenger pigeons. (Yes, I know one of those is an impossibility.) Do what you have to do to write without distractions.

Find your writing niche. For me, I like to write from the desk in my room and read on the couch downstairs. That way, my brain associates my room with work and the living room with leisure.

Once you find what works for you, go from there. It takes some practice, sure. But your stories will thank you despite your schedule.

4)      Read

Wait, I thought I was talking about writing? Yes, but writing without reading is like exercising without stretching or drinking water, like cooking without any dishes, like traveling without taking any money. Can it be done? Sure. Should it be done? No.

Reading is a great way to feed your imagination, to expand your knowledge, to hone your style.

If you can’t find enough time to read, make the time.

Let’s chat! Is your schedule busy or leisurely? How do you make time to write? To read? What does your writing space look like?

***

Sunday, September 9, 2018

7 Settings as Vivid as Characters

Settings, quite like various foods and plots, tend to vary (see The Potato Chip Plot). On one hand, a setting can be as simply stated as two different countries (The Alliance series), a village full of crows (The Vile Village), or somebody’s hometown (some contemporary YA books). On the other hand, in some books, the setting is so dense that there’s an entire chapter dedicated to the Parisian sewer system, *cough* Les Mis *cough* and readers wonder “Is this really necessary?”

Finding a balance between too much detail and too little is hard, and preferences differ from reader to reader.


I lean more towards the literary, weighty settings when it comes to books. So I might dock a star if the setting is vague, especially if I’ve been to the book’s location and still can’t picture the place (eg. Oxford: a small, easy-to-navigate college town next to the Thames River that’s full of students and tourists, bookshops and libraries, and various colleges built from white stone.) Books that describe a setting so vividly it brings back memories or makes it so I can image I’ve been there are likely to receive an extra star from me. That’s just my personal preference.

Here are just a few fictional and nonfictional settings that I’d like to visit!

Green Gables in Anne of Green Gables



“To the west a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky. Below was a little valley and beyond a long, gentle-rising slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it. […] one away to the left, far back form the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it, in the stainless southwest sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and promise.”

One of the things I enjoy about Anne of Green Gables is how rich the text is. Another is how the book describes the beauty and complexity of the “simple life” and how even everyday tasks become adventures and everyday ponds and fields, the backdrop.

The Jungle of Faloiv in A Conspiracy of Stars



“My father and I live under different suns. In reality, it is the same: red and hungry, an intense crimson eye that sends the sweat fleeing from my skin. It’s as beautiful as it is harsh, but my father sees none of the beauty. The past has dulled his wonder, and so the light of this planet shines differently on each of us. For me, it is part of home. For him, it is a beacon over a prison. Like others in N’Terra, he had his heart set on another sun. This one is a poor replacement.”

I want to visit another planet! Unfortunately, astronauts haven’t even been back to the moon in years, so the likelihood of visiting another planet in my lifetime is slim. *tear* At least I can experience what another planet might be like through fiction. Olivia A. Cole’s A Conspiracy of Stars has an excellent description of what another planet and its flora and species might look like. Though it sounds hot—the characters live in a jungle after all—there’s just so much to learn about!

The Mountain Ranges in The Books of Pellinor



“Just before they arrived in the village, the sun sent its first rays over the edge of the earth, and the grasses, bent with heavy dew, sparkled alive in prisms of fire. Far away in the north the snow tips of Osidh Elanor, the Mountains of the Dawn, flared red and pink like the edges of petals.” —The Bone Queen (The Books of Pellinor, book 0.5)

This series can be a little slow at times, but I like it perhaps for that very reason. The settings are so vivid that I feel like I’m there. I already enjoy visiting the Alps. Why wouldn’t I want to visit a mountain range where I might encounter a bard capable of magic?

The cockpit of an airplane in Code Name Verity



“One moment flying in green sunlight, then the sky suddenly grey and dark.”

For somebody who’s afraid of heights, I’m not afraid of flying. Of course, I’ve never actually been in a cockpit, unless you count a grounded plane at a museum. Elizabeth Wein, author of the Code Name Verity books, actually is a pilot. As a reader, I can tell. While she includes some of the technicalities of flying, the passages that take place in the planes are never boring. Quite the opposite!

Hobbiton, Lothlorien, and Rohan in The Lord of the Rings



“On the land of Lórien, there was no stain… Frodo looked and saw, still at some distance, a hill of many mighty trees, or a city of green towers: which it was he could not tell. Out of it, it seemed to him that the power and light came that held all the land in sway. He longed suddenly to fly like a bird to rest in the green city.” —The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, part 1)

I tried to narrow it down to one and failed. I’d thoroughly enjoy picking up some gardening tips in the Shire, though I’d probably hit my head on the doorways or chandeliers in a hobbit hole. Let me ride with the horse masters of the Rohirrim. You may even find me exploring the heights in the beautiful trees of Lórien while hopefully not panicking about the heights.

The Isle of Thisby in The Scorpio Races


“As the sun shines low and red across the water, I wade into the ocean. The water is still high and brown and murky with the memory of the storm, so if there’s something below it, I won’t know it. But that’s part of this, the not knowing. The surrender to the possibilities beneath the surface.” —Sean

If you manage to overlook the gray and the damp and the flesh-eating horses, Thisby actually sounds pretty nice with its towering cliffs, the smell of the sea, and the taste of November cakes.


Alaska in The Snow Child



“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable? You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite.”

Hey, look! A setting that actually exists. (I know, I know. Airplanes exist too.)

I’m not usually much for the cold, but the author describes Alaska in such a way that makes winter sound beautiful and cruel, mysterious and terrible. Even without reading the author’s biography, I could tell she lived there.

While it’s one of my lifelong dreams to one day see the Northern Lights, and they make an appearance in the book, they’re not the main feature. There are the first snow of winter and the frozen river, the mountains and the animals, the solitude and the local community.

Then there’s the whole magical realism element of The Snow Child that left me wondering whether the snow child herself wasn’t a part of the Alaskan wilderness.

Let’s chat! What are some of your favorite fictional or nonfictional settings? Like any of the above? If you could travel in person to only one fictional setting, which one would you pick?

***



Literary references: L. Nicodemus Lyons’ The Alliance series, Lemony Snicket’s The Vile Village, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Olivia A. Cole’s A Conspiracy of Stars, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Poem: Waking Up

Some days are harder than others, it’s true. Some mornings, especially when I have to work, I’ll wake up before my alarm, water my plants, and bike to work. Other days, when I have the morning to spare, I may hit snooze again... And again… And again. I wonder where the time goes and why I don’t want to face the day.

I particularly struggled with this when I was living in England and studying for my Masters in English Literature. Because my classes were so late in the morning or in early afternoon, I had no obligation to keep a regular schedule. I set my alarm for eight anyway, though I found myself more often than not getting up at nine and my actual work starting at ten. I’ve gotten better, especially since I’ve graduated and since my new phone has a snooze function with ten-minute intervals instead of five. But I’m not always there.

The following poem is about that struggle. But I also like to think that it’s more than that. I’m more than that. It’s dedicated to those who don’t want to get up in the morning, those who’d rather sleep just a little later than deal with the coming day. You’ve got this.



Waking Up

I’ve stared at my calendar,
            but…   somehow…
I cannot seem to circle the day
            not when
today—tomorrow—is like a pool,
            and I
am lying on its edge.

Please don’t ask me to swim.
            not now—
not yet—just five more minutes,
            and I
promise I’ll get up—I’ll crawl
            across
the shore and plunge into the depths.

I can swim—stroke after stroke—
            it’s not
hours of swimming but just
            one arm after another.
I can do that. I can breathe.
            Lay on my back and feel
the rain patter down.

***

Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? Are you a morning person, or do you struggle with waking up?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Book Review: A Thousand Perfect Notes

Today, I rarely buy books. Especially books I’ve never read before. It’s sooooo hard when I live in a country that doesn’t speak English, and the nearest bookstore that carries new books happens to have a tiny English section only has the occasional book I might pick up but not want to own. Instead, I tend to get most of my books from the library, and even then I’m still picky.

To say that I bought A Thousand Perfect Notes on a whim and thoroughly enjoyed it… Wow. Just wow!

Who am I kidding? I’ve been following Paper Fury’s (C. G. Drews) blog for a while now, so I shouldn’t be a surprise. I like to support debut authors, so I’m proud to have bought a copy. The cover is gorgeous, and the book is even more so!


Book: A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
My rating: 4/5 stars
Awards: None (yet!)
One-word description: cake

No, I am not reviewing this book in August simply because one of the characters is named August. It just sort of happened. Actually, most of the book takes place in July, so there you have it.

The characters were definitely one of the best aspects of the book. Beck is such a cinnamon roll, and I would definitely give him all the cake! He could use some more sweetness in his life. Seriously, his friend August and her family were so good for him! I wonder how he’d like the German cakes…

Another reason I enjoyed this story so much was the writing style and all the talk of music. Books about music are so fun! I only wish I could listen to some of the songs. This book would make an excellent movie.

To summarize how much I enjoy this story, here’s an actual conversation I had with my sister:

Me: This book is so good!
Sister: *reads opening line*
ATPN: What he wants most in the world is to cut off his own hands.
Sis: Why does he want to cut off his hands?
Me: Because his mother is insane.
Sis: Oh.

Is it weird that she took that as an actual reason? Wow, we read too many books. She doesn’t read nearly as much as I do, but I try to pass on all the best books.

The only thing was that I had only the faintest idea that the book was set in Australia until three fourths of the way through the book. There was more talk about Beck moving to Germany than there was of him actually living in Australia. As somebody who’s never been to the latter and actually lives in the former, I would have liked to know more than it’s cold there in July. Of course, settings don’t tend to be the focus of young adult books.

Some of the plot twists were fairly predictable, but I enjoyed the ending all the same. Sort of? I mean, I almost cried, so there’s that. It was so intense I was definitely fangirling by the end. Definitely qualifies as a well-written ending in my book!

In all, I gave A Thousand Perfect Notes 4/5 stars for relateable characters and an enjoyable story despite any predictable moments. I’d recommend it to any fans of contemporary YA novels, and I look forward to C. G. Drew’s next book!

Interested in A Thousand Perfect Notes? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims, and Made You Up by Francesca Zappia.

Let’s chat! Has A Thousand Perfect Notes made it to your to-be-read list yet? Anybody out there read it? Have any contemporary YA recommendations?

***

Sunday, August 19, 2018

How to Write What You Know Without Writing Nonfiction

“Write what you know.” This phrase has inspired and haunted writers all at the same time. It’s limiting, yet it helps us work within our experience.

I’ve heard it said that writers who finally wrote what they knew finally knew what it meant to write. At first, I didn’t get it. I tried to write what I knew, but it all sounded like a boring journal entry that was actually worse than my actual journal entries. I usually quit about 1,000 words in, assuming I made it that far. I tried writing a story about transitions and having no friends. Depressing. A story about a dinner party. No plot. A story about living in Hawaii. Too many scattered ideas.

Perhaps that was part of my problem, I started with a concept without a plot or a character without a definitive goal. Whatever the reason, I thought I couldn’t write about my own experiences no matter how I tried.

Until I wrote Origami Swan.


Believe it or not, the initial idea for Origami Swan came from a movie (The Labyrinth) and way too many unrelated emotions. I was just finishing up my master’s degree and had no idea what I was going to do next. Then I started thinking. What if life had a maze for those who didn’t know what they were doing next? What if “life’s choices” wasn’t just a hallway with an open door indicating “THIS IS IT! Go this way!” but rather a series of puzzles that each person has to figure out on their own. Thus, the Labyrinthe de Napoléon was born.

As I think about my own stories and adding what I know, here are just a few things I’ve learned along the way:

Write in the genre you know.


Part of my problem in trying to write what I know was that I was trying to write nonfiction without reading any nonfiction. I didn’t know where to start. I had no plot. How do I add a plot to my own life?

In a sense, I was writing what I didn’t know. I didn’t know nonfiction. I’m trying to read more in this broad genre, but I haven’t yet made it into the realm of memoirs or autobiographies. Maybe I’ll get there one day.

Truth is, I’m more of a fantasy and sci-fi reader. It makes sense that I’d be more of a fantasy and sci-fi writer. I know how the genres work. Give me dragons and spaceships and explosions and intrigue and I’m one happy reader.

That’s not to say you can’t write in a genre you aren’t terribly familiar with. I grew up reading far more fantasy than sci-fi. If anything, the genre is more of a recent addition to my favorites. I’ve had to read a ton of sci-fi novels to catch up with those who were already major sci-fi fans, and I’ll probably have to read even more before I attempt to write another sci-fi novel. (I did try to write one already, but it was terrible. I’m setting that thing on fire.)

It’s okay that if have to do more research if you want to learn about another genre. If you want to write a fantasy novel, read more fantasy novels. If you think the idea of writing a romance novel is fun, read more romance. Reading is awesome! So go for it.


Draw from your own emotions/experiences and research facts.


When you draw from personal experience or emotions, you’re adding something to the story that research cannot possibly provide you. While you can search for a city on Google maps, the internet may not be able to tell you whether or not the local ducks like to sit in the street during rush hour until the cars honk at them. And while research may be able to tell you some of the cultural differences, it cannot tell you how the American Midwest smells different from the South.

No matter how familiar you are with a certain topic, you should still do some research. If I’m going to draw from a setting I’ve lived in, I still have to research it. Especially since I like to write about places I have been instead of wherever I’m currently living. After all, it’s not like I know all the types of trees or birds I want to include, or maybe I spent too much time in Europe and accidentally added a roundabout to an American town. Even if you’re writing about the place you live, research can help give you information that you might see as normal but somebody else might see as unusual, like roundabouts.

Whatever the type of story you’re writing, just remember to do your research. It might not all play into the story, but it helps immensely.

Add what you know as you go along.


Calm down, plotters. You can add this kind of information to your outline. What I mean: don’t start with writing what you know. Start with what you want to write. If you want to write about time travel, start with that. Then you can add your knowledge of jet lag or communicable diseases or foreign language along the way. If what you want to write just happens to be what you know, then great! For example, if you are a time traveler who wants to write about your experiences, then congratulations. *whispers* Tell me your secrets.

Write what you know, but don’t stop there.


Keep learning. Expand upon what you know. Like I mentioned above, experience can only get you so far. Each person has their own perspective, but unless you want all your characters to sound the same, you’ll have to branch out. Learn something new.

Of course, many “writing rules” are more like guidelines. If you happen to write nonfiction and it turns out great, then well done. What works for one writer may not work for another. Play with it. Most of all, have fun!

Let’s chat! How much of what you know do you put in your stories? Have you ever tried your hand at nonfiction? What genre do you like to write?

***

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Recommended Reading: Military Brat Edition

Military Brat: term commonly used to describe a child of a member of the armed forces, especially the air force, army, coast guard, marines, and navy. Doesn’t always refer to somebody under the age of 18. Typically lives in five or more houses (not to mention states/countries) and moves at least once every three to five years. Also answers to their name, sibling’s name, “military child,” or “ask me where I’m from one more time…”

Here are some works of fiction I’ve enjoyed for the military brats, their friends, and anybody who’s ever wondered what it’s like to move at least once every three years.


This post is not about books that accurately represent the lifestyle of the contemporary military brat. Rather, these books are a collection of books that I, as a military brat, have been able to relate to because of some element or another. I have yet to find a fictional book that actually describes this kind of lifestyle.

Books are listed in alphabetical order according to the author’s last name.


Ender’s Saga by Orson Scott Card (sci-fi)

Ender’s Game is good if you want to understand military tactics and psychology more, but the rest of the series is great. I actually enjoyed the later books more than the first one. The stories go on to explore the different mindsets between different cultures and what it’s like to move from place to place, actually showing different places, and how it changes family dynamics. Ender and Valentine are close as siblings, like my own sister and I are.

A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole (YA sci-fi)

With the mind of a talented scientist, Octavia wants to better understand the world in which she lives and those who lived there long before humans. I particularly like the way the story explores several generations of humankind living on the planet, which is also rather odd because I usually enjoy the whole initial discovery process. I found I could relate to Octavia as I have lived in foreign countries, though unlike her, I wasn’t born in them.

Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu (MG historical fiction & novel in verse)

This book is among the few that addresses the difficulties that come with different time zones, and not just jet lag that comes with arrival but also the continual time difference that comes with living overseas. While Ema and her parents are living with her dad’s parents in Japan, they keep in touch with her mom’s parents back in the United States. As I have spent considerable time living in Europe, I have to mentally compensate for the time differences for my friends back in the States. Hint: It’s seven hours difference between Central European Time and Central (American) Time, so I typically have to wait until noon my time before any of my friends are awake.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (MG historical fiction & novel in verse)

I relate to a lot of characters in novels in verse. This novel in particular explores what it is like for a family to move to a town where nobody quite understands them. As a military brat, I have no idea what it’s like to live in the same house for more than three years, but there are plenty of people who have never left their own state.

While my parents come from the same country and the same town, this book is great for those whose parents do not.


The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla (MG contemporary)

Road trip! It’s so hard to find a good road trip book. There are plenty of books that have road trips, but this one doesn’t just focus on the places, it also focuses on the characters. That and it explores the differences between sleeping at home, in a strange hotel, a stranger’s house, or in an RV. All of which I have done at one time or other on road trips of my own whenever my family moved across the country.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (fantasy)

Many fantasy novels are about journeys. But this one is among the few about an actual nomad. Kvothe was born and raised among a group of traveling bards, so he never fits in just one place. Kinda like a military brat.

This book is also an epic fantasy novel, so of course I enjoyed it!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (YA historical fiction)

This book made me cry. Later, I teared up while watching the film, not when certain characters died, but when Papa had to leave. As a military child, I know how rough it can be when a parent is deployed and not knowing whether or not they’ll come back home safely.

There you have it! I hope you enjoy the recommendations.

Let’s chat! Have any of these books made it to your To-Be-Read List yet? Have you read any of them? My fellow military brats, what books could you relate with? To all the readers, what’s the last book a friend gave you that helped you understand them better?

***


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Poem: Biking to Work

I didn’t used to like biking. Before I found a decent bicycle that fit me right. Before I had to rely on biking as my only means of transportation. Before I became accustomed to the sheen of sweat that coated my arms afterwards.

Now, I don’t mind it so much. I enjoy it actually. Back when I was living in England, I had to bike everywhere. It was either that or walk (sloooooooow) or take the bus (muggy and wasting money better spent on books). Now, I don’t need to bike. Even though I’m still living in Europe, I have my international license and can drive wherever I want.

But I still like to bike. I used to bike to the library once a week because it was less stressful than driving. Recently, I started a new job that requires me to leave the house, and I still like to bike there. Sure, there are hills. But it’s mostly downhill on the way home. Sure, I’ll take the car on days when it’s 94 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t want to pass out. But I enjoy the feel of biking overall.


Biking to Work

on a week that’s not “official”
            is what I do regularly,
even if it’s not typical.
            I like the feel of wind-blown hair,
the smell of wooded, damp bike paths,
            the flutter of a butterfly,
the blue-tinged wings of a dragon,
            the way my heart pounds as I race
down the hillside or climb another.
           
“Don’t you want to take the car?” —or—
“I admire your tenacity.”—
these words I hear as I snatch up
my helmet, secure my sunglasses.

Why would I want to take the car?—
gas emitter, rusted machine,
air-conditioned environment
where I have to remember not
to lose my calm, to breath normal,
not to talk to other drivers
who cannot hear me anyway.

Why would I want to feel the stress?—
                        peak
and ebb
like sea waves, ruled by mistress moon—
stop and go and stop—STOP.

Why not weave along the bike path
            with the occasional walker?
Why not wait at a crosswalk,
            heart beating away today’s stress?

Maybe for an audiobook,
I might drive.

***

Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? How do you get to work, or do you work from home? Do you enjoy riding a bike?