Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

Yep. I’m doing it again. Because I’m not insane enough already (I am going to do a post about this soon, I think.), I’m prepping for doing NaNoWriMo next month.

Please note: When I say again, I’m referencing my (successful) attempt at Camp NaNoWriMo back in July. I’ve never done the official November NaNoWriMo. I have done 50,000 words in a month. So in some ways, it’s going to be new, and in other ways, I’ve done it before. In my mind, I’m going with the mindset of, “I’ve done this before. I can do it again.” because it’s more encouraging than thinking that I’ve never done it before, at least for me. Many things are easier the second time.

So what am I doing? Lots of things. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from doing the NaNo in July is that I (not necessarily you, but for me…) have to know where I’m going, or else I’ll get stuck and not be able to write. To this end, I’ve been outlining and throwing ideas around for the past month or so, and I like what I’ve come up with. I have characters and character conflicts, and ways to resolve them. I also have at least the first portion of an overall plot, and some idea of what the world is like. Between now and the end of the month, I want to write up and ending-ish thing for my plot, break it down into general chunks of chapters/scenes, and then build up the world a decent bit more. I want to be ready to launch in with my notes at the beginning of November, and not have to worry too much about getting stuck in plot holes or lost on side paths. I also write better when I’m excited about where the book is going, and if I have an ending and several “checkpoints” along the way that I really want to get to, I think I’ll be able to write more easily than if I don’t.

I’m also doing this with friends. That, I found, is perhaps the second most important part of this attempt. It is not meant to be solitary. You are meant to have others to compare word counts to, to talk about your latest problems, or complain to about how late you were up working, or how brag to about happy you are that you not only met your quota, but exceeded it and are ahead of schedule, because your book is going awesome. Having these people helps a lot, and most of the time, it helps if they’re doing NaNo as well, though you can certainly have cheerleaders who are not writing.

In addition, I’m having to do something new this time. Last time I did this, in July, it was between school semesters. I was essentially able to stay up and write until I was done, and then go to sleep when I felt like it. That’s not going to be able to happen now. I have classes every week-day, and I have to be awake at certain times. I also have to spend enough time to finish my schoolwork on time, and get enough sleep to, well, function. To that end, I’m going to have to manage my time more efficiently. I’m already starting to go to the library to focus on my schoolwork, and that’s done wonders. I still feel like I’m going to need to do something else, though. I think I’m going to have to set up turning off the internet on my computer for a while each day when I’m writing so that I can really focus.

This will also mean that you’ll be getting a lot fewer blog posts. I’m sorry about that. Just, you know… Wish me the best and in a few years you can read my published novel instead, right? RIGHT? (I want to release some short stories at some point, and I’ll probably put at least a few of them up here on the blog free, by the way.)

Oh, and for motivation, I’ve also started attending a writing group here at the university that meets for an hour every Monday evening to write for 45 minutes, and then share whatever they have for the other 15. It was a lot of fun, and I’m intending on attending every week. Having other people around you who are writing really helps your focus, let me tell you… It was crazy how much I got done during those 45 minutes.

So, yeah… Those are the things I’m doing right now to gear up for NaNoWriMo. What are YOU doing, if you’re planning on doing it. (And if you aren’t what’s your excuse?)

Silence is Beautiful

Last week, I posted about how I get into the mood for writing. One of the things I said that I do is listen to music, such as Misty Mountains Cold from the Hobbit, or other epic movie soundtracks. I’d like to clarify. I do that before I write to set the mood.

I am not like other people in many ways, so what I have to say from this point on may only apply to me, though I think there are plenty of others who are like me in this aspect. The only universal advice I can give is: Don’t take advice that doesn’t work for you.

I can’t think when there’s too much noise. Even certain types of noise, even when they’re not loud or constant, can be quite annoying and distracting. Perhaps the most obvious of these to me is music. I know people who have to have music on when they’re studying, and can’t work without it. I am the opposite. If there is any kind of music playing, I can’t study, can’t think. (Note: Writing uses up about as much of my brain as studying does, so I’m pretty much using them interchangeably here. If I say I can’t study, I can’t write either, and vice versa.) I learned this by trial and error over several years, but I have found that my head is clearest and I can work most efficiently and correctly (Make the fewest mistakes.) when I am surrounded by silence.

This has been a particular nuisance for me this semester. I live in a 27 story dorm with ~900 other college students, most of whom actually act like college students. I am incredibly lucky that my roommate puts in headphones when he’s in the room. I am not so lucky with my neighbors. Often times I can hear their “music” through the wall, the floor vibrating slightly with from the sounds that they are probably blasting from their speakers. Even into my room, it’s pervasive. It often gets so bad I can’t even sleep when I want to take an afternoon nap. The other day, I went down to the lobby and took a nap on the couch there. Because it was quieter and less disruptive, even in the open next to the elevators, than it was in my room. Even still, I was only able to sleep because I was very, very tired.

Part of why I’ve been tired is because I have been staying up late many nights finishing my schoolwork. Often, lately, I’ve been up until 3 or 4 AM finishing homework due in my 8 and 10 AM classes that same day. Afternoon naps have become a commodity. Today, I may have figured out part of what my problem is. I had thought (And I’m certain it was a factor as well.) that I was getting distracted by my computer sitting on my desk. Thus, today, I went down the street to the library to study on a quiet study floor.

Oh. My. God.

I could focus. I could think. It wasn’t only because of the computer sitting here all of the time. It was because of the noise coming from my neighbors and those around me–the elevator right outside my door constantly beeps and lets loose noisy crowds of people. I… It was beautiful. The loudest sound for most of my time there was my pencil, scratching on my paper. I could hear myself think. And my thinking was clear. I was able to get more schoolwork done in the ~5 hours I spent there today than I usually can during an entire day working in my room. I know where I’m going to be from now on, studying.

I would like to say that the same thing applies to writing. When I am writing, I like to fully immerse myself in the world, seeing it through my character’s eyes. I can’t do this if I am constantly brought back and distracted. I can’t write when I have music on, and I can’t write when I have other distractions. In the future, if it’s noisy in my room, I’m going to be finding other places to focus on my writing.

Not everyone is like me. Some have to have noise to be able to focus; silence is deafening. I’m not saying you’re doing it wrong. I’m just saying that you’re different from me. For those who are like me, here is the music I listen to while writing. Enjoy.

Labels are Boxes

I have personal reasons to dislike labels on many levels. Perhaps this is why I did not take the Meyers-Briggs personality test until yesterday. I only did so at the urging of a friend. I do not like the type labels that it puts on a person, so I had resisted in the past. I only took the test for fun. The results didn’t surprise me, but I’m only going to share them with the friend who… urged me to take the test. Why?

I feel like putting labels on a person and sharing them with others can be detrimental. There are cases, most definitely, where it can be beneficial. However, I think that this is not one of them.

I think this comes not so much from the labels themselves, but society’s perception of them. Society often times does not see them as labels. Rather, they see them as boxes. They think that once they have a label, they can put a person inside a box and they know all about them. The box or label can often come to define a person, instead of being a description of certain aspects of them. I do not want to be put into a box.

The friend who urged me to take the test shared her results with me too. We fall into the same personality category, but we are different people. I’m a math nerd; she’s an artist. (Note even here there’s a risk of labeling. I say that I’m a math nerd. I hang out with other math nerds, and it’s lovely. I feel at home. But even there, there’s a wide range of people. I’m willing to bet that if you took the group of math nerds that I hang out with every week and gave us the test, you would get at least half of us having different personality types. The same for her being an artist.) There’s plenty about us that is the same, but we could easily come up with a list of differences as well. We may be in the same category as far as the results of the test go, but we are different people.

No single label is enough to describe a person; to fully understand them you would need dozens or even hundreds of labels, some describing larger aspects of life, some describing smaller.

I’m not just saying this to complain about my life. (Yes, I have had issues in the past with people trying to put me into boxes based on labels that were applied–sometimes incorrectly applied–to me. There is are some very specific incidences that have probably given me a large part of my dislike for labels.) Part of my goal is to get you to realize how this can apply to other people you know. If you find out that someone is “ADHD” or “an introvert” or “bubbly”, don’t put them into a box. Know that that word is a description that people have come up with to describe a range of people with one or a small set of specific personality traits. That’s fine. Get to know them as the person, not as the label.

But more importantly for us writers (And isn’t that a varied group…), this also applies to our characters. They are built from their experiences and the events that happen to them as much as their fundamental personality types. Do not label your character with a few labels and feel as if you know them fully. YOU DO NOT. Explore how they react to all types of situations. If you find yourself falling into the trap of thinking, “Oh, this person is X, so they must react like such and such to a situation,” try having them react differently, and figure out what made them do so without “breaking” the label you put on them. This will make them more diverse and complex.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: don’t use the label as a cookie cutter for your characters. It can help you describe and understand how they will react in certain situations, but it is a basic building block. It is not comprehensive, and you should never make a decision on what your character will do based on that alone. I have a life beyond the labels that people put on me, and characters do to. Show that life, and you will have much better characters.

Getting in the Mood

A lot of advice will tell you that if you want to be a writer, you simply have to sit down and make yourself write, whether or not you are in the mood for it. I agree with this advice, though I don’t agree that you should take your mood as is. There are things–plenty of them–that you can do to improve your mood for writing. I’m going to talk about some of the tricks that I use. I find that when I do these things, I not only write faster and feel better about what I’ve written, I also enjoy it more. And I write because I enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy writing, stop.

Music is an incredible portal into a person’s mind. The right music can do incredible things for your mindset. Many people have specific playlists set up, which they use depending on the tone of the scene they want to write. This is great, and radio stations like Pandora are excellent for this. I, personally, have an incredibly high sensitivity to noise and can not concentrate when music is playing. However, I often take 10-15 minutes before a writing sessions and listen to some of my favorite music. The best piece, I have found, is “Misty Mountains Cold” from the Hobbit movie. This piece just speaks adventure to me in a way that not much else does. I also enjoy really, really good classical music, and movie soundtracks from adventure/fun/action/epic movies.

Imagery is another incredibly powerful tool. I have several favorite images that I enjoy looking at. In particular, book covers for some of my favorite books. One of my desktops is blank except for the background, which currently alternates between the covers for A Memory of Light, The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and the painting, “Doña Juana la Loca.” I am also going to start, very soon, keeping a file of “awesome images” that I’ll browse for inspiration. Over the past few weeks, I’ve also been reading/viewing and enjoying Brian McClellan’s Weekly Inspiration series (1, 2, 3). It often helps to have an image when writing a beautiful scene, too, and I honestly wish I was an artist sometimes, just so I could make sketches. (Some of the fan art I’ve seen is incredible.)

Reading. Reading is perhaps the best mood setter and motivator. If you’re just starting out, and trying to imitate someone’s style, read books by them before you write. If you’re going for a tone or a genre for your book–or even a single scene, read books in that genre, or with that tone before you write. I’m not saying that you should try to break them down and see exactly how the author is doing what they’re doing, though that’s a great tool for learning from the best. No, I’m saying that you should read something, maybe just a scene, that excites you and makes you think, “I want to write something like this! Let’s get to work!”

In general, if I don’t feel motivated to write, or I’m stuck in a tough spot, sometimes my favorite podcasts help. They don’t help, usually, with a specific scene or mood for the book, just with my writing mood in general. My favorite podcasts for writing are, of course, Writing Excuses and I Should be Writing. Often after listening, I will be in a much better mood, having basically received a personal pep-talk/advice session from some of my heroes.

The goal of all the above methods is not, specifically, to make you a better writer, though some of them will do that. Instead, it’s to try to get you (Read: Me) away from the mindset of “Ugh, I have to write now?” and into thinking, “I WANT TO GO WRITE!” If I can achieve this, well… Then I go write. 🙂 And writing is the best way to get better at writing, so if nothing else, in that way, you could argue that doing any of the above, or whatever other method works for you, will improve your writing in the long run. So go get motivated, and then go write!

Connecting with your Audience

You hear a lot, these days, about the things an author needs to do to be successful. One of the big ones, touted all around, is to “build your base”. This means, in essence, to build up a loyal group of fans that will buy your work, and drive sales of any new book or stories that you put out. There’s a ton of articles about how to do this, and I honestly haven’t read a lot of them. Right now, I’m concerned with making my fiction better and worthy of reading. Once I think it is at that level, then I’ll find people who want to read it. And I also want to keep those people once I find them. Today, I’m going to talk about building your fan-base from the audience’s perspective, and things that authors have done that connected with me.

You know that, a little over a week ago, I went and saw Brandon Sanderson, as well as Cinda Williams Chima and several other authors. I was already a fan of both Sanderson and Chima, but after meeting them in person, I’m an even bigger fan, because they connected with me at the festival.

Doing book signings and panels is important. I definitely feel more enthusiastic about Chima’s latest book, even more so because I bought it, even if I didn’t read it, before the release date. I was already a fan of hers, but I’m now an even bigger fan, and she is definitely on my “buy in hardcover” list, which is a very short list right now, given my back-log of books to read. (MASSIVE. 60+ at last count, and that’s not counting sequels.)

The other authors did a good job of connecting as well. I enjoyed meeting and getting my books signed by all of them, even if I didn’t get much time with them due to long lines, and the fact that I kinda wanted to get in and out by that point too. However, they sold me books, and I have them signed and personalized. I’m now following two of them on Twitter, and will likely follow the others once I read their books, and will almost definitely buy sequels. Their books will also be shelved prominently, as I am proud of the signatures I’ve collected. I’m sure that every single author who was a guest at the festival increased both their books sales and their fan-base as a result.

Including Sanderson. Sanderson took the time between his panels to talk to his fans, signing their books and chatting until his next panel. He was incredibly nice to everyone, and me in particular. (I still can’t believe this happened, and have to keep pinching myself when I think about it.) He had the longest line of fans at the convention, and stayed, as I heard, until well after closing to sign every single book and talk to every single person in line. He made a special effort to do so, and I’m sure he connected with many fans who have never met him before.

In particular… Me. Before the convention, I was an avid fan. Now, you could probably call me a rabid fan. I’m currently considering where to get the money to spend $50+ to buy the physical edition of Legion, so that I have physical copies of all of his books, the complete collection. This is despite the fact that I have Legion on audio, I can get the e-book for $3, and it’s 88 pages long. Sanderson, by connecting with me, made that conversion.

And he does this to many of his fans. I see comments occasionally about how to run your Twitter and blog–people say it should be all about you being interesting, not you selling your books. Brandon runs his by talking about his books, his signings, interviews, and other such things. But he does it well. It’s not spammy, and it’s useful information that fans like to know. He’s not doing it to gain new fans. He does it to keep the fans he already has, and make them into even bigger fans. He also replies sometimes to Tweets, answering questions, and his assistant replies to the ones he doesn’t have time to address himself.

I think this kind of thing is one of the best ways to run your feed. It doesn’t take as much effort as some of the others I’ve seen, and it’s quite effective.

I’m going to talk about what one more author has done to connect with me, and then I’ll sign off.

Brian McClellan.

Before his book even came out, I was planning to buy it purely because Sanderson was recommending it. Not long before it came out, he hosted a contest and I won a signed book-plate. Because of that, I went out and bought the book on release day. I was not disappointed; I loved the book. McClellan is on my very short list of authors to buy books on release day/week from. (Sanderson, McClellan, Lafferty, Sanderson, Rothfuss, and Sanderson.)

I followed him on Twitter, and while I don’t really care about all of his tweets (Beekeeping is cool. Food, *shrug*), I follow him for comments on progress writing and other opportunities.

During the interim between his first and second books, McClellan has been writing and releasing short stories set in the world of his novels. I reviewed one a few weeks ago, and it’s out now. If you have a chance, you should go read it.

He put out a call on Twitter for beta readers when he wrote each one, and I responded the second time. He sent me the story in rough draft form, and I read through it. Today, I finally scraped together my pennies and bought the Amazon version (I’d already been given a review copy, but I’m a fan of his, so I’ll buy his stories, even if I already have a free copy. That’s what fan-bases do for you.). On the last page, he lists his beta-readers, and my name was on that list.

By taking me into consideration, and remembering to include and thank me, McClellan bumped himself up my list of favorite authors to near the top.

(Now go write book 3, please. 🙂 )

It’s the little gestures. Taking time to reply to one of my comments on Twitter, or to sign my books. Time to send me a book plate, or to include my name in the thanks. These are the things that convert me from a fan to an uber fan, and make me want to buy your books even more, as well as recommend them to a friend, because among a sea of great books, here’s a great book by an awesome person. Connecting with your fan-base in this way is important, and I’m so happy that the authors I mentioned above took the time to connect with me.

(Last note: I would not be a fan of any of these authors if they did not write awesome books. That is the most important thing. All of this other stuff is secondary. I’m just saying, it helps, and can make the difference between a top author and a mid-list author, both of whom write incredible books.)

Priorities, No Regrets

I wrote a post a while back about priorities. To summarize, set your priorities, stick to them. If you don’t have enough time to do something, it’s not a high enough priority on your list. My current list looks something like:

1) School

2) Writing

3) Sleep

4) Life

With the exception of a few things, such as using the restroom, etc. that are necessary, I think I stick to this pretty well, almost all the time. Up until now, I’ve been caught up with all my schoolwork, making A’s in all of my classes, getting my writing done every single day, and catching enough sleep to survive. In the gaps, I’ve made a few friends, though a large part of that is simply people I study with, and I’m fine with that.

There are times when you need to set aside your priorities, though, and do something different, something special. I did that this past weekend when I went to see Brandon Sanderson. I will admit that I completely put aside school the day I went to see him. I got up not too long before I had to leave, and after I got back, I ate dinner, went to a concert, wrote, and then read Steelheart from cover to cover. It was around 4 AM when I finally went to sleep, and almost noon when I got up the next day. I went to a concert on Sunday too, but spent the rest of the day doing schoolwork. I have not read a single page of a single book since then. I had an exam today that I think I did fine on. However I also have two homeworks due tomorrow. I finished one of them around 11PM tonight. 3.5 hours later, I’m mostly done with the second one, but I’m also to the point where my brain is complete mush, and I can’t even understand what the problems are asking for any more. I have three more problems to do. If I could still concentrate, I would be doing them right now. I’ll have time tomorrow, I think, between and before classes to get them finished, and be able to turn in on time.

After that, I’ll be caught up to where I normally am at this point in the week, though I’ll also have more exams than usual coming up. I’m going to have to step up my dedication to my schoolwork to stay caught up for the rest of the semester, cutting down on the little distractions and other things that can affect me.

This past weekend, and the days since, have shown me two things. First, there are some things that I value more than my regular priorities. Meeting my favorite author and getting him to sign my books was a one-time event, and it was worth it. If I could go back in time and make my choice again, I would do the same thing. You need to know when your priorities should be adjusted, and you also need a break from the grind to treat yourself every now and then. Do so. Just be prepared to pay for it. Go in knowing what it’s going to cost you, time-wise, and only do it if you have that time.

Also, I learned that I need to streamline my schoolwork. If missing a single weekend day can put me this close to being behind and missing work, I need to cut out other distractions and focus more on my schoolwork as a whole. I don’t plan on spending as much time as I did this past weekend gone again any day for the rest of the semester, but it has shown me that, while I say schoolwork is my priority, I need to re-assess my time and really focus in on it.

I know this post is a little disjointed. I’m really tired. I have class in five hours, so I’m going to go get some sleep now. Hopefully, the next time I talk to you all, I’ll be back on top of everything, getting more sleep, and still doing well in my classes. (Also, if you have a chance to read Steelheart, DO IT. It was an amazing, quick, fun, thrilling read, and totally worth staying up late to finish.)

Being Helpful

I’ve talked before about how I have trouble saying no to things, and that it’s one of my biggest flaws. (And yes, that totally sounds like a brag. It kind of is, and I’m happy if that’s my biggest flaw.)

I don’t mean, like, saying no to bad things. Drugs? Alcohol? Anything like that? I have no problems with saying no. Anything I know is detrimental or bad, I can walk out on in an instant. That’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s the good things. For example, tonight after dinner, I was aiming to finish my probability homework for the week, which would probably have taken me about an hour or so, and then catch up on my writing. I’m doing a structured outlining/planning class-thing to get ready for NaNoWriMo, and I’m currently 2 assignments behind. I was planning to knock one of those out, and then maybe read for a while, and catch some sleep early.

Right now, it’s after 2 in the morning. I have class in eight hours. And this blog post is going to be my writing for the day, in large part because my brain is so tired that I can’t focus and think enough to complete one of my outlining assignments. I did not get my probability done either. That’s okay, though, because it’s due on Thursday, and I can and will finish it tomorrow night.

What happened? Well, I went down to dinner. There, I sat and talked to the one person I know from my computer science class, and listened to him gripe about his classes. In his government class, he’s having to write two essays. I spent an hour helping him by proof-reading one of them and helping him re-word and re-structure parts of it, to get it ready to turn in. Sometime tomorrow, probably tomorrow evening, I’ll probably be helping him with the other one as well.

So, while I was doing that, someone posted in the computer science Facebook group, saying they were stuck on one part of the assignment. I messaged them and worked with them for at least an hour, getting them through the part of the assignment they were stuck on, while never actually giving them the answer. I think they understood what they were doing by the time we were done.

In the middle of doing that, I sent a link to someone I had helped with a probability problem last week, relating to a comment I made during that conversation. This led to us talking, just talking, no class-work involved for the next, oh… three hours? That lasted until about 1 AM. It was fun. That was the longest conversation I’ve had since the semester started by a long shot, and the longest one online since… No, not going there. Anyway, it was a good long conversation.

Remind me to tell you how I know her some time. It’s complicated, lol. And got even more complicated during our conversation, as I realized that I knew her from somewhere else too, and had just never made the connection.

As that conversation was wrapping up, another student posted on the FB group with the same problem. I spent about an hour working him through the same series of steps, and he understood what was going on even better than the first person. With that solved, I’m dead tired, worn out, not feeling like doing anything, and I have class in less than 8 hours.

My problem is that I don’t know how to say no to things like this. I really enjoy talking to intelligent people, especially when they’re taking some of the same classes I am, know some of the same people, like good books, can hold an sensible conversation, and so on. I don’t get enough of that, by any means. I’m kind of socially starved that way, so when I have the opportunity, I take it when I can. I also LOVE to help people. Seriously. It’s like, well… It’s hard to explain. I just like to help people. Being able to help someone past an obstacle, or improve something they’ve worked hard on, like an essay, that’s rewarding. Seeing a light go on in someone’s head, when they make a connection they’ve been futilely struggling with for hours, that is one of the most rewarding feelings on the planet for me. I love it.

And that’s my problem. Because I enjoy these things, I have trouble saying no to them. And so when they come up, I take the opportunity. And thus, I’m sitting here at 2:30 AM, with a class coming up in 7:30, and writing a blog post about it, because my brain is too fried to work on fiction right now.

I’m going to sign off now. I’ll leave you with what the second person I helped with computer science said at the end of their conversation with me. It’s comments like this that truly make my day.

“i really can’t thank you enough for that help! you’d be an awesome TA by the way lol”

 

The Summer of Discovery

I think that this past summer may have been the summer when I discovered more new authors that I love than I ever will in any other summer of my life.

Here’s the list of authors that I read books by for the first time this year, in no particular order. Brian McClellan (Promise of Blood), Mur Lafferty (The Shambling Guide to New York City), Brent Weeks (The Night Angel Trilogy), Ursula K. LeGuin (A Wizard of Earthsea), Patrick Rothfuss (Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear), Guy Gavriel Kay (Tigana), Myke Cole (Shadow Ops: Control Point), Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora), Neil Gaiman (American Gods), John Scalzi (Redshirts), Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), and George R. R. Martin (A Game of Thrones).

If there is even a single author on that list whose books you have not read, you are doing yourself a disservice. I loved every single book I read over the summer, and will be buying more by all of those authors when possible.

In some ways, it may have been the best summer of my life. While simultaneously being the worst, if that’s possible. I’m really not sure yet.

I’m not saying that I won’t have a summer ever where I don’t read more books that I love than this one. I’m just saying that they won’t be from new authors. They won’t be discoveries. They’ll be continuations.

And that’s fine with me. I love continuations, and I am glad that every single author listed above has more books published or on the way to publication, because I want to read them.

But I also want to continue to discover new authors. This will be harder for me, as I now have a much larger number of authors whose works I love and will read over a new author given the choice. Some of these authors are putting out ridiculous numbers of books (Sanderson, I’m looking at you), and so I know my reading schedule will be quite busy.

I think the lesson I learned is not that I read too many new authors. It’s that I enjoy reading new authors, and I have to keep reminding myself that, even though the authors I currently love could probably keep me happy for the rest of my life, I need to continue to explore and discover new authors. I think that’s something everyone should try to do more of. It expands your horizons. I know that, at least for me, several of the authors above have done things in their writing I didn’t know were possible before, or gone in new directions, that make me want to try similar things in my own writing.

So yes, I’m always looking for new recommendations. Just be aware that I have something that is probably around 100 books of back-log right now. If you recommend something, I may not get to it until 2015 or 2016.

Reflections – 4 Weeks

This post is my reflections and thoughts after four weeks at a “real university.”

It’s been an adventure already. I expected it to be this way. I’ve always been told that it would be totally different and new. And it has been. But not in many of the ways I expected. Some of the ways, yes, it’s been exactly what I expected. And in others, where I expected it to be different, it was totally the same as what I’m used to.

Girls in general here have been about what I’d expect. To sum it up, I’ll paste my Facebook status from yesterday.

A note to the ladies: If I can see your pockets sticking out beneath your shorts, and they aren’t big enough to hold, say… two copies of the A Memory of Light hardcover, then your shorts are too short. If they are that big, then you should cut those things out of your shorts and use them as a backpack. If your shirt is so long that I can’t tell if you’re wearing shorts or not, then you either need to have the shirt re-tailored into a dress, or your shorts are too short (Or you just aren’t wearing any shorts, in which case you have other problems.).

My math classes are all good, though very different from each-other. My probability class, the teacher wrote the text book, so he knows it front and back and for the FIRST TIME EVER, we’re actually doing things in the exact order the book covers them. He has a great sense of humor, and likes to play probability games in class, and gives out rewards to the students who do well. I’ve “won” $2 so far. I’ve only really met one other student, one of the only other students who really seems to know what’s going on. We sat near each-other for the first time last class, and when he told us to get new groups for our quiz, started working with each other. He told us that we had to split and work with other people, basically because we are his best students, which was fine with us. (Tip: If you’re going to tell someone they have to do something, telling them they have to do it because they’re too good for what they’re currently doing is a great way to get them to do what you want and make them happy at the same time.)

My Geometry class is interesting. It’s the first, and probably last, math class I’ve ever had with more girls than boys. It’s built for a teaching degree, but still fills an elective requirement for me. Most of the students are there to be teachers. I’ve met only one other person in that class as well, and I’m not sure if she’s older or younger than my mom. The person I’ve met in my probability class is at least ten years older than I am, married, has kids, and is coming back to college. I don’t know why, but I seem to get along a lot better with people who are older than I am in my classes. I think it’s because they’re more mature, and they really care about the material they’re learning and want to learn it. Also, I have been told in geometry that I am answering too many questions. It took about four weeks to get to that point, so I’m slipping. Usually this happens in the first two weeks.

My Linear Algebra class is dry, but not boring. The teacher lectures for most of the class time, and then hands out problems for us to work on by ourselves or in groups at the end of class, over the material he’s covered. He lectures well, and I end up with 3-4 pages of notes every day, which are more helpful for the homework/in class problems than the book itself. Some of the stuff we’re learning is really easy, but I can see how some of it is going to be really powerful down the line. He’s already promised us that he’s going to talk about, for example, how Google’s search algorithm works for ranking pages, based on the math concepts we’re learning in the class. I yelled at the class the other day because everyone was talking at the beginning of class when the teacher was trying to lecture, and nobody but me was paying attention to him, and I couldn’t hear him. He doesn’t have a terribly loud voice. I do. I told everyone to be quiet because I couldn’t hear the teacher, and the room went dead silent. 😛 I haven’t met anyone in there, and they probably don’t like me after that, but eh… Hey, I wanted my lecture.

My computers class is kind of sucky. The teacher covers things very disjointly, and I don’t think he explains much of what he wants very well. Half of his lectures consist of reading the slides and writing programs on the projector. I can understand what’s going on as he writes the programs, because I’ve had a programming class before, but I’m not sure how the others students are doing. The only other guy I’ve met in there has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and more CS experience than I do, so he’s not having any troubles at all.

As far as my classes go, I’ve been most surprised by one thing. Everyone told me that I did well in my classes at the community college because I was smart, but things would get tough and I would be a normal student in all of my university classes. I don’t know how the other students are doing, but in all of my math classes, I ask/answer more questions than the rest of the class combined, most days, and I’ve made an A on every assignment that’s been handed back so far. I’m not really feeling that the classes are really any harder than they were at the community college, or that some of my classmates are any smarter. I’ve over-heard conversations about which class days people can miss, and people cussing out the teachers and TAs because they’re failing already by the 4th week.

Oh, and yes. The profanity levels are about what I expected. I’m glad it doesn’t bother me, and I’m equally glad that I seem to be able to get along fine without using it at all. This is one of the things that I predicted would be different and was.

My roommate. Ehh… Yeah. We’ve exchanged maybe 5 words in the past 2 days, and that’s pretty much typical. We exist in the same room. Oh, we don’t hate each other or anything. We just… Do our own thing. Which, given the things he says when he’s on the phone with his friends, is perfectly fine with me. I expected a room-mate who would be out partying, maybe, or hooking up with girls way too often. I did not expect a gay room mate who gives bad relationship advice to all of his friends and spends every minute he’s not out hooking up with a guy or in class, when he doesn’t skip, on his computer. At least he doesn’t bring girls back to the room or come back drunk, so I guess that’s something positive. I can live with him, for sure, and don’t think there will be any problems. He’s just not what I expected.

On a more personal levels, I’ve been struggling with depression. I know why I’m depressed, and what I’ll probably have to do to get out of it. I suppose I will, at some point. How soon that happens may depend on how desperate I get. It’s just… hard to do anything when you don’t care about it, if you know what I mean. And it’s also hard to do things when you know that if they don’t work, you could end up more depressed than you are now, more hurt. That’s never fun.

I haven’t socialized much, which is fine with me. I’m not that kind of person. That being said, I know basically the entire classical guitar department, and some of them go out every other weekend or so to play ultimate at the park. I’ve been invited along with the group (which has plenty of other people with it too), and that has been genuinely loads of fun. I’m glad I’ve been invited, and getting out has been one of the best parts of my time here so far. I know I should be in more social things, because I enjoy them when they’re like this, but I want to be in a good group, too, doing something fun. Half of the people in the ultimate group make me look poorly behaved. They’re just genuinely good people, and it’s hard to find other groups like that. Not finding many groups is about what I expected. I never really have socialized much. At the community college, I usually hung out with two or three people I’d known for semesters from various classes, and almost always the people who made A’s in those classes.

Random comments on other things. Half of the cafeteria ladies know my name at this point, and they’re very nice. And then there’s a few that seem to hate me, so… Whatever. The food isn’t bad, but it isn’t good. It’s plenty to exist on, and I eat ice cream daily. And then walk up the stairs to my 24th floor room so I can justify doing it again tomorrow. Being a nerd still doesn’t seem to be as cool as I hoped it would be. There’s about a million people here, and they all walk very slowly around campus between class times. And every two minutes, there’s a midget with long, wavy hair. Game of Thrones is about the only book I’ve seen people reading. My shower head is so low I literally have to kneel down to wash my hair. Concerts are free for students, and I’ve enjoyed some really really good ones already. The concert hall is literally just across the street from my dorm, so it couldn’t get any better. The dorm internet gets really slow in the evenings when everyone else is streaming porn, and that gets annoying because I’m trying to watch writing lectures or listen to streaming music and it keeps freezing. Random groups of people in the cafeteria abduct me to come sit with them. I mostly sit there and listen, and still only hear half of what’s going on. I would much prefer to sit with single people, where I could actually have a real conversation and hear what’s going on.

So yeah. That’s been my life at college so far. Interesting, and mostly fun. We’ll see how I feel about it in a few more weeks.

Length

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post about Epic Fantasy. One of the elements I emphasized in that article was length. I know many people may disagree with me on this front, but I feel that length really does have a lot to do with the story being told. I’m currently struggling with length in my own writing, so I’m writing a post to discuss my feelings on various lengths and forms of storytelling.

First, here are the official SFWA definitions of the genres. There’s an additional one that you’ll sometimes see, <999 words is often called flash fiction.

I’ll take a brief moment to look at one other type, the six word story. These things are cool. Here are some samples. I don’t think I’ll ever try to write any of those.

Now that we have definitions out of the way, what really prompted this post? My writing. I have written two short stories in the past two weeks. Yes, that means I finished another one already this month. It was one I’ve been meaning to tell for a long time, It was just so dark I didn’t feel like it would be appropriate to ever write. Well, I wrote it. I’ve re-read it, and while it needs some minor edits, I feel that it’s done and complete. And dark. Very dark.

So my two short stories? They’re at 3,437 and 6,104 words. I was aiming to write something right along the border of the 1,000 word category that I could trim down into flash fiction territory, and then start submitting. I know a lot of places these days prefer shorter stories, both because they take less space to print, and because they cost less. (Most places pay by the word.) I also know the value of being able to tell a short, concise story, and still be able to get across setting, character, and plot and have it all be cohesive and beautiful, and the power that kind of writing can bring to longer works.

It’s something I really wish I could do. I may just have to accept that I can’t, though. There’s just too many things about the genre of Epic Fantasy that I love. I want to write stories that give a sense of a real world, not just a room disconnected from reality, with no reason to exist. I want my characters to feel real, not just be there purely for the story. I want all of the things that most novels should do, and I’m trying to compress them down into as little space as I can. This means that my short stories are going to be longer.

I will also note that I don’t enjoy reading short stories very much. I try to invest myself in the characters I’m reading about, and I feel cheated when reading short stories because I either don’t have enough to understand and become invested in the characters, or I become invested and bam, it’s over. This means that I don’t read a lot of short stories, and maybe that’s part of the reason I have trouble writing them.

(A brief list of short stories I do like: The Most Dangerous Game by Robert Connell. To Build a Fire by Jack London. That’s about it, sadly.)

I’d also like to note that the 3400 word short feels pretty much complete. I’m going to revise it, but don’t expect it to end up anywhere over 3600, and I’m hoping I can actually trim it down after I revise. The 6100 word story, though. It feels like it needs to be even longer. There are some things I didn’t explain.

I’m still going to write my short stories for the months for the rest of the year, revise, and submit them, as per my schedule and goals.

I might even start to enjoy doing that.

But my love will always be longer forms. I want to take my characters on a journey, and I want my readers to invest in them. I want the investment to be worth it, too. I also love exploring worlds and consequences of new ideas. I’m going to start, probably tomorrow, brainstorming on my next novel-length project. It’s what I love. I’ll let you guys know how it’s going. Until then, keep writing.