End of the Month Wrap-Up: June 2020!

Let’s start by checking in with the loose goals I set myself at the end of last month:

  • I would like to start working on Fifty-Five Days again, in small bites if necessary, but with no deadline in mind.

DONE. It took me a week of working half an hour a day to get through the chapter that I stalled out on at the beginning of lockdown, but once I finished that, I rewrote the mostly-okay next chapter and just finished another new fix-this-plothole chapter. I’m so close to the end of this draft I can taste it–my Camp NaNo plan is to rewrite the rest of the draft and then go back to the beginning and start the line-editing/polishing draft. I am working again, and it is good.

  • I would like to start running again.

No to the running, but yes to the exercising in general. Turns out I’m not up to anything so strenuous yet, my lungs can’t handle it and my poor, sore, formerly-ill body isn’t doing so great either. I am walking, I am doing yoga and light strength training, and when I feel capable of it again, I will get back to running.

  • I would like to finish the new shawl I’ve just started for someone’s Christmas present by the end of the month as well as continuing to work on the BIG HUGE cross stitch project.

No on finishing the shawl; I worked diligently on it while listening to audiobooks, but when the serious heat wave hit mid-month, I set it aside. It’s too hot to knit with wool! But yes to the cross-stitch; I didn’t quite finish the chart page but I came really close. Here’s my progress:

In reading news, I read SO MANY BOOKS thanks to a read-a-thon on Tumblr. How many? Eighteen (with two DNFs.) If that’s not my monthly record, it’s got to be close.

My goals for next month? I’ve got a big TBR planned that I’ll post about soon, possibly even too big considering I’m also doing NaNo, which is obviously the biggest goal. I may not get back to the knitting, because it’s still too hot, but I want to keep stitching when I can. Exercising everyday to the best of my capability is the most important thing, though, because I need a functioning body again, please and thank you.

After I finish writing this and set it up for posting, I’m going for a walk!

Happy Fifth Birthday to My Blog!

It was actually a week ago, but I didn’t realize that morning, I already had a post up for that day, also time is a meaningless construct of human perception and all that…

When I started this blog, and when I started writing my first book (which was slightly earlier) I didn’t have a five-year plan. I had a one-year plan: get my book finished and released by the end of the year. And I did! And I managed that again in the two years following!

I had hoped, of course, to keep publishing at a rate of one a year (or slightly faster, as I refined my methods–after all, a lot of those lessons I only had to learn once and then keep applying to my process.)

But as I’ve discussed often enough before, 2018 and 2019 were difficult years for me with lots of personal upheaval, both negative and positive. Instead of two more finished works, I’ve got a pile of rough drafts and partial rewrites. I am still writing, but it’s been hard.

Now I’ve set myself the same goal I started with at the beginning: publish a book this year. But 2020 has thrown us all a series of increasingly challenging curveballs, though I’m still trying. I’ve got half a year to get Fifty-Five Days whipped into shape–I’m far ahead of where I was the same time in 2015 with What We Need to Survive. This could still happen, and I’m going to work as diligently as I can toward that goal.

As for the next five years…keep writing? Keep publishing? Hopefully get back to at least one release a year? Who knows!

Because I want to feel good about myself and my accomplishments for a minute or two, here’s my five years as a series of statistics:

  • Books published: 3
  • NaNoWriMo’s completed: 6 (every November + one spring Camp Nano)
  • Plot bunnies written down for possible future projects: 1
  • Unfinished first drafts: 2 (though one has been mined for another project and will never get finished)
  • Complete first drafts: 1
  • Partial second drafts: 1 (my current project!)
  • Complete second drafts: 1
  • Flash fiction posted: 9
  • Articles on editing: about a dozen (I need to overhaul my tagging system)
  • Articles on the writing process: well over a hundred
  • Book reviews written: 777

I know my following here is small, but I appreciate every single one of you and I hope you’ll stick with me as I work to get my blog and writing career back on track!

I Can Do Better.

I stand with #BlackLivesMatter.

I’m not going to detail my activism here, because I’m not asking for credit for it. I encourage everyone to seek out resources for donation, protesting, and supporting black businesses; other people have done a far better job compiling lists than I could, and especially as petitions and donation needs are changing day by day, anything I post here will likely become outdated quickly. Do a search, pick something you’re capable of, and do the work.

But there’s an aspect of my support where I already suspect things will get tricky. Book reviews.

I’m white. I’m in the process of educating myself about anti-racism. I have reviewed every book I’ve read since the beginning of 2016. I’m not going to stop reviewing, and I’m not going to skip the anti-racism books I’m reading–if anything, those will be the ones I need to bring the most attention to.

But I’m white, and my voice and my feelings should not be the important things in this context. On the other hand, I don’t know any other way to review a book I read other than giving my thoughts and feelings on it–I can’t separate who I am from my reviewing. It’s a tidy little dilemma, isn’t it?

I’ll be as transparent as I can about everything. Whatever white guilt or pain or outrage I feel as a result of learning what I will learn from these works, I will minimize, because that’s not important to anyone but me. To the best of my ability, I will not be any more or any less critical of these works.

But more than halfway through the first read on the list, I am already finding the edges of my own bias and assumptions, discovering that I still have more growing, learning, and more importantly, unlearning to do.

I will get undoubtedly make mistakes along the way, but I am committed to that growth. I am committed to becoming a better ally and a better person.

[Just wanted to make this all clear before the first book review drops on Friday, because boy, did I pick a doozy to start with.]

End of the Month Wrap-Up: May 2020!

I’ve survived another month of lockdown with my sanity reasonably intact. During my illness I stayed home for 17 days, from the last week in April through the first week and a half of May. It was fantastic to be able to go out again, even if it was just for walks and to the grocery for food.

What did I do with all that home time? I haven’t started working on Fifty-Five Days again yet, but I’m hopeful for June. I’ll give it another swing.

I read and reviewed 16 books. I’m ahead on all my yearly challenges–that sixteenth book is actually the 75th book for Mount TBR, exactly halfway done, a full month ahead of schedule. And that trend will probably continue, as I’ve decided to spend June clearing out a chunk of my backlogged romances, which I can generally read in a day or two at most. My review posts will be massive next month!

Exercise completely fell by the wayside while I was ill, and I’m gradually getting back to it.

My birthday was this month, and we had a simple celebration at home (obviously) with cake, hard cider, two new board games, and a stuffed anteater who I’m sure will be featured in upcoming book photography. He’s a real cutie.

The real productivity I produced this month was in the crafting arena. I finished a mystery knit-a-long shawl as well as picking back up my BIG HUGE cross-stitch project I’ve neglected since New Year’s vacation.

At the end of that vacation, it looked like this:

20 squares done (that’s 2000 stitches) and some little bits worked ahead. When I started it last September and did the math, it’s just shy of 54K stitches total, so I was not very far long, especially since I’d only been working on it sporadically. Here’s what it looks like yesterday:

That’s 51 squares done (5100 stitches,) just shy of 10%. I’ve more than doubled my progress in a month, and not even the whole month–I don’t think I worked on it again until a few days after I was out of quarantine. There’s no guarantee I’ll keep up at this pace, of course, but I think it’s safe to say I can at least finish the first page of the nine-page chart book by the end of June (25 more squares.) On to page two!

Aside from that, I’m not setting myself firm goals for June. With everything that’s happened and everything that’s still happening, my mental health is mostly okay, but unpredictable from day to day, and I know I’m not alone in that boat. I don’t want to be too hard on myself (I even relaxed my reading challenges!) so I’ll stick to this:

  • I would like to start working on Fifty-Five Days again, in small bites if necessary, but with no deadline in mind.
  • I would like to start running again.
  • I would like to finish the new shawl I’ve just started for someone’s Christmas present by the end of the month as well as continuing to work on the BIG HUGE cross stitch project.

I hope all of you continue to stay safe and healthy, and enjoy yourselves as much as you can!

Embracing Incremental Change

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You’d think, after all the years I’ve been knitting and writing, I’d be used to the idea that projects take time, that you can’t do everything at once. The opposite of instant gratification.

But it’s something I’m struggling with now, in the new world of isolation the pandemic has inflicted on me, with its new flow of time. If I’m not working (and I’m mostly not) and I have all this free time I don’t usually have, why doesn’t it feel like I’m getting anything done?

Because I want the comfort and satisfaction of instant gratification. I want to look at a finished thing, whatever that thing may be, and feel like I’ve accomplished something.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to start working on my novel again, even though this draft is nearly done, even though I’m physically healthy again. But mental health is a factor, too, and not having a schedule is not doing me any favors. I tried, early on, to impose one on myself, but my discipline isn’t that strong and it fell apart quickly. I read some articles about the stress of the new “time is meaningless” phase that so many of us are going through, and it led me to the difference between “clock time”–which most of us lived by before–and the “event time” that rules us now. I don’t read in the morning from 10 am until I have to go to work at noon (like I used to,) I read for a while after I finish breakfast, until I feel like I should do something else.

So what am I doing now instead? I’m trying a system of tasks to embrace the idea of incremental change.

  1. Every day I choose one thing to clean that doesn’t already get cleaned daily. The toilet or the bathtub or the bathroom sink, or I clean out the fridge, you get the idea. Of course there are things that need to be done every day–the dishes, more than once usually now that I’m cooking nearly everything from scratch–but those don’t count. So I don’t feel like I have to spend an entire day deep cleaning everything just because I’m home all the time.
  2. Every day I give myself one organizational task. It can be small, like decluttering the medicine cabinet, or larger, like tackling one of my craft shelves and constructing a set of cardboard cubbyholes for it. I’ve been crafting lots of DIY storage lately, covering shoe boxes with cardboard to make them pretty then filling them with stuff. So I can take control over my home environment and improve it without biting off more than I can chew and giving up halfway through.
  3. I’m playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons in small daily doses. Yeah, sure, for the first two weeks I was going crazy for hours on end with all the things to do and find and build, designing my house, making money to pay for the renovations. But now? Now I’m logging on and saying, “Let’s neaten up this garden area here” or “How about I re-do this room in my house with the new furniture I’ve been buying this past week” or “I should landscape this area by villager’s houses so I can build a market there.” Manageable projects, one at a time.
  4. I’ve been knitting a lot lately–another years-long pastime that should have been teaching me patience–but I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest looking at various styles of wall art DIYs, and I’ve picked embroidery back up as well. I have one small project that should only take me another day or two to finish, but inspired by something I saw years ago on Craftster (before its sad demise) I’ve just started a daily stitch journal. I wrote myself 30 prompts (“use only French knots today,” “try a new stitch,” “add beads,” etc.) and I’m doing one a day, and only one. It’s improvisational and semi-random, and at the end I’ll have a cool abstract art piece to hang up, and I don’t have to get it done right now or feel compelled to work on it for hours to finish it quickly. In fact, some of the prompts are pretty short and definite, so even if I wanted to keep stitching, I’d be out of stuff to do–by design, of course. So then I’ve taken that energy and used it to do something else (knitting on cleaning or whatever.)
  5. In addition to Animal Crossing, I’ve also started playing Darkest Dungeon again, an indie game I toyed with a few years ago. As the name implies, it’s a deliberately stressful dungeon crawler, so a) even if I did want to play for hours at a time, I wouldn’t because it can get really nerve-wracking, and b) the game is designed to be slow-paced, with each dungeon leveling up your heroes slowly (or maybe killing them if you do badly) and getting you loot and upgrades slowly as well. It all builds over time until you feel strong enough to take on the final dungeon, but it’s scary as hell and of course you’re not ready yet go get stronger! I did not beat the game the first time I tried–it’s hard and I kept losing my best heroes late-game to bad decisions, so I got frustrated and moved on to other things–but knowing that now, I’ve been able to appreciate that the game is a marathon not a sprint, and that I’m actually supposed to be taking it slow.

Do I actually do all five of these things every day? Honestly, no. I do most of them most days (though I’ve only just started the stitch journal this week and I’ve stuck to it because I’m excited!)

Am I saying, “hey everybody take up embroidery and play Darkest Dungeon!” No. But I thought talking through my process might help others, somebody might read this and say “I could try that” but with their own personal goals to work towards, rather than new wall art and DIY storage and video games. Incremental change can apply to all sorts of things.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: April 2020!

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I’m going to keep this short; as I’m writing this, I’m in the process of recovering from Covid-19, and even if I’m not suffering the insane levels of fatigue I did at the start, I still get worn out pretty easily.

(Yes, I have it, and yes, it’s a mild case. I am able to isolate, I haven’t required medical attention, and though I won’t be tested unless something new goes wrong, I’m 99% sure that’s what sent me to bed for most of this week.)

I read 16 books in April.

I made no significant progress on any of my writing projects (including keeping up with blog posts that weren’t my book reviews.)

I was doing great at exercising, running three times a week, until I got sick. I hope to resume that soon, but I know I’ve got to give my lungs some time to rest first. In a few days (hopefully) I’ll meet the CDC criteria for ending my isolation and can at least start taking walks.

I have also done a lot of knitting and watching TV.

May Goals: Read lots–the TBR post is coming Wednesday. Keep knitting. Try to write again, ideally on Fifty-Five Days, because it’s frustrating to be so near the end of a project (or at least one of its stages) but not have the mental energy to work on it. Get back to walking/running. Bake more things!

End of the Month Wrap-Up: March 2020!

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So, March. Yeah. It was weird. This isn’t really going to be a standard wrap-up post.

I’m fine, my husband’s fine, we’re self-isolating. We were already doing it as much as possible before the state closed down the bars and restaurants and such, and we got our (non-hoarding level) of food and supplies before the shelter-in-place lockdown happened a week later.

I still have my job, on paper, but I haven’t worked since the 13th, and the lockdown order runs until April 13th, so that’s at least a month off work. I can take this hit just fine, for now, but I worry about the business I work for surviving if this goes on too long. I do have a backup plan for finding a new job, but obviously I’d rather not have to. Existential uncertainty is never good for my anxiety, but I’m trying not to stress, because I can’t do anything about it I’m not already doing.

At first, all of this free time and energy did go into my writing, and #rockstarnovel, now titled Fifty-Five Days, was making excellent progress in its rewrite. But this lack of routine, and yes, the advent of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, did significantly slow down this burst of progress. I will not make my original end-of-March deadline for this draft. On one level I’m annoyed with myself for that, but on another, man, it’s hard to focus when so much is out of balance.

I’m not setting a new hard deadline; this is a “work on it steadily until it’s done” kind of goal. I am nearing the end (currently in the middle of chapter 30, probably of about 35 or 36) so I’m confident I won’t be too far behind the original schedule.

Okay, reading. I did spend some extra time on it, but I also read a string of really bad books in a row that put me off TBR-diving too hard. I finished 14 books in March, reading one more right now that I probably won’t have done tomorrow.

Crafting! I have been knitting and sewing SO MUCH. Most of it I can’t show off, though, because they’re Christmas gifts, and yeah, most of my family doesn’t read this blog, but what if they’re bored in their own isolation and decide to? They know it’s here. But the crafting is help keeping me sane, for sure.

Exercise! I was taking walks and going for runs in good weather at first, but then it freaking SNOWED again for some reason and it was easier to just stay inside. My running app extended its membership to a sister strength training app, so I’ve been lifting and doing other indoor stuff, when I feel up to it. (The first full-body workout I did killed my abs for three days, I am not in good shape.)

So this is where I would usually write out my goals for April, but I’m not going to do that this time, because any personal goals I have (beyond the TBR challenge post I already made) are completely secondary to staying healthy physically (as much as I have control over that, anyway) and keeping myself in an okay space mentally. So if that means I binge on TV or anime or Animal Crossing or knitting because writing is too taxin, I’m going to do it.

Survival mode. If I can be creative beyond that, awesome, I will be, but I’m not going to demand it of myself.

With that, I hope everyone reading this is doing alright, even though odds are against it. Take care of yourselves as best you can, keep yourself educated, don’t panic, and reach out to your friends and family remotely to stay connected, even if you can’t be together physically. I’m here rooting for all of us.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: February 2020!

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I read fifteen books and only DNF’d one of them! Go me!

Work continues at a decent clip on Fifty-Five Days, a.k.a. #rockstarnovel. I hit a rough patch last week when I was too sick to do much, but that happens, and the deadline I gave myself (end of March) is reasonably generous without letting me slack off too much. I feel confident I’ll have this draft done on time.

Honestly, I didn’t do any better this month than January on my exercise or drawing goals. I’m no happy about that, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it, either. I am trying to do a lot right now, probably too much.

I actually switched out my video game time this past month, mostly, for crafting time. I purged my wardrobe of the stuff I wasn’t wearing, assessed what was left, and started filling in some of the blanks with thrifted items, which involved a decent amount of sewing and alterations. Also, I picked up my knitting needles again and started my Christmas gift knitting, plus I have reclaimed a few thrift-store sweaters, turning them back into yarn I can knit myself! So that explains why I wasn’t making time for drawing.

The more I examine my long-term goals for creating daily habits, the more I see that my tendency towards enthusiasm/obsession/hyperfocus means that I do something intensely for a few days to a few weeks, then drop it for something else entirely. Which isn’t bad in and of itself, but is pretty antithetical to the “a little progress every day” mindset that would help me exercise/draw/write more consistently. Though I do still write nearly every day!

So, with that in mind, goals for March:

  1. Run/walk three times a week. If running seems like too much, as it has recently, walking is okay. Anything is better than nothing, right?
  2. Finish the Fifty-Five Days rewrite.
  3. Spend at least an hour a week drawing. Even if I have to schedule it!
  4. Read all the books in my TBR for the challenges and hopefully at least two or three more.
  5. General crafting stuff: Get at least two things out of my mending/altering pile and back into my closet. Keep knitting the shawl I started, though I don’t know whether I’ll finish it in March or not. Knit at least one more drawstring bag for gift-giving.
  6. Post all blog posts (after this one, which is a few hours late) on time! I’ve been slacking about this!

End of the Month Wrap-Up: January 2020!

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A good and productive month in some ways, not so much in others.

I read 18 books. Yes, I DNF’d four of them at various points, but still, that’s an outstanding month for me. I blame my enthusiasm for starting a fresh year of challenges!

I made my self-imposed mid-month deadline for rereading #rockstarnovel and all the note-taking that required, to organize the rewriting phase, which I’ve started since. I’m almost a quarter of the way through already, just counting by chapters complete, so I’m ahead of the pace I need, in theory, to meet my next deadline for finishing this draft: the end of March.

I barely exercised at all, I admit it. I ran once, I went for a few walks, I did no yoga. Running in winter in Michigan is a difficult proposition, and I was hoping to really push myself this season, and it didn’t happen. (I did run yesterday, since it was above freezing, but that’s February!)

I was also diligent about practicing my drawing at least every other day, for the first weeks of the month, but as I spent more time writing I had difficulty making time for art. The good news is, with a year-long goal, I can use each monthly wrap-up to assess my progress and what I can do to make it easier for myself to keep up.

So the goals for February are as follows:

  1. Read all the books on my challenge TBR and hopefully at least two or three others;
  2. Get at least halfway through the #rockstarnovel rewrite;
  3. Spend time drawing every day (as often as possible) or at least every other day;
  4. Run three times a week (under reasonable weather conditions, so that’s flexible);
  5. And on the video game front, replay the beginning of, then finally finish, Kentucky Route Zero because the final episode dropped after many, many years of waiting.

End of the Month/Year Wrap-Up: December 2019!

 

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The breakdown for this month: I read nine books. (Or more, by now. I’m writing this pre-vacation, on the day I finished that ninth book.) I finished the first draft of #bridgesnovel, which I started last month during NaNoWriMo. I completely fell off my exercise plan due to getting a serious cold, and then the busyness of the holidays. Not the first time, won’t be the last. I had an excellent Christmas with one half of my family, and by now I’ve probably had an excellent second Christmas with the other half.

The breakdown for the year is more complicated.

I started off with big plans to rewrite, beta, then rewrite again and publish #spookyromancenovel. I made it halfway through those plans, but by the time the beta feedback trickled in, I was thoroughly burnt out on that project. It’s still all there waiting for me to get back to it–nothing is lost, nothing is ruined. But I set it aside in favor of other things, one of which became the NaNo novel this year.

I set out at the beginning of 2019 with a firm belief that I could stop my one year of non-publishing from becoming a two-year streak, but I failed in that. The base reason behind it though, is not only a valid but a great one–I got a new job. A better job. A job where not only do I make more money (which is good) but where I also feel valued and appreciated for my hard work, a feeling I rarely if ever had at the old job (which is awesome!) It has completely been worth the upheaval such a major life change caused in all other areas of my life–sleep, hobbies, writing, and so forth.

So I’m starting 2020 with big plans: for writing, for reading, for making art. I honestly think it’s going to be a great year.

New readers, thanks for joining me. Faithful readers, thanks for sticking with me another year. I hope all of you have a great year ahead of you as well, like I hope too. Happy New Year’s Eve!