Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy 12/12/12 Day!

When the hour struck 12:12 this afternoon, my mom and sister and I celebrated with peanut butter truffles.  :)    We also took pictures of the clock for posterity, which unfortunately I do not have on hand.

I have been spending this evening (at least pieces of it) trying to piece together a decent plot for my NaNoWriMo novel, which I have given the working title of The Lady in Gray.  (One discovers the value of titles when one has had to live without one for more than a month.)  The story needs a LOT of work before I  can even start writing prose again.  I am very out-of-practice when it comes to crafting a story, and it feels pretty overwhelming.  Oh well.  I've spent a lot of time in the past couple months learning more about the outlining process, and at some point there's nothing to be done but muddle through as best as I can.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I quit.

So, I decided to quit NaNoWriMo today.

This is my third year seriously attempting it (after winning in 2008 and 2009 and making false starts in 2010 and 2011).  I planned for most of October to do it, but after trying to plan one idea I had and rereading everything I could find about outlining and plot structure and the like, I still started November with nothing but a vague handful of ideas about where I was going.

Due to the fact that I was starting off with a horrible disadvantage, I gave myself permission to include my plotting-words in the word count.  Which helped a lot.

So, good news: I now have 27,000 words, a fair portion of which is story, and most of the rest of which is plot plans for that same story.

For me, this is actually huge.  For a couple of years now my writing life has been stalling as I've tried to recover from burnout, and as I've held off committing to 'lesser' projects as I waited for the 'perfect' idea.  Hey, I'd even settle for the almost-perfect idea.  I considered myself pretty lax.  I didn't need to be Lord of the Rings Tolkien yet, I just needed to be The Hobbit Tolkien.  Deal, subconscious?

NaNoWriMo got me writing again.  It gave me the beginning of a story that I feel like I can commit to.  By forcing my writer-brain to come up with something, anything, my writer-brain discovered it could actually come up with something good.  Under pressure, no less.

But now, hopelessly behind as I am and with many, many questions about my story still unanswered (What does my main villain even want, anyway?), I think I've discovered the best way to invest in this story.

And getting to 50,000 words before midnight on November 30th seems like a pretty poor investment in comparison.

I'm definitely a planner when it comes to stories.  Sure, there are some things about my story that I like to discover as I write, but in the majority of cases I like to know where I'm headed.  I'm not good at making a story up on the fly.  Especially a novel-length story.  I've heard all the Wrimo rhetoric for years about how you can always fix it later, but sometimes, you just can't.  And sometimes the bad version of the story inadvertently gets stuck in your head, so that even if the problems can be fixed, you no longer care to try.  Call me a mystic if you will, worrying about losing the 'magic' of the story.  I don't think it's mysticism.  I think it's an honest assessment of the way my overly-impressionable mind frequently creates roadblocks for me.  Don't get me wrong, I don't expect my first drafts to be perfect.  But I expect them to have the soul of what I'm trying to say.  I'm not sure you can edit soul into a novel that never had it in the first place.

I want to breathe life into the story.  I don't want to settle for making as many mud pies as I can in the mud wallow of ideas.

Now, putting words on paper is useful, and reaching for a goal even when it's difficult is an admirable thing.  There is a significant part of me that wants to reach that magic number of 50,000, to say I won.  But I've burned myself out before.  Repeatedly, in fact -- refusing to listen to the warning signs until I'd drained myself of every last drop of motivation to write.   That ultimate burnout lasted for three years.  I'm just now coming out of that.  I'm a fool if I jeopardize this rediscovered creativity for a number.

Because if I stop here, I've won what's most important.


(And that, friends, is the slightly-melodramatic version of why I'm quitting NaNo.)

(Instead of feeling sorry for me, think how happy I am finally getting to read all these books I got from the library!)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Books! Music! Knitting! Me! (But no Doctor Who...)

A few days before vacation is not a good time to realize your blog is abandoned and start posting again.  Oh well.

My recent life (in a numbered list!):

1. I've been staying away from Facebook and Tumblr as much as possible so as to avoid any spoilers for the new series of Doctor Who.  I'm one of the poor souls who does not have BBC America and must wait.  Oh, the agony.

2. What I'm currently reading:

  • Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal.  Really enjoying this one, especially after listening to the author on Writing Excuses for a while.  It's a Jane Austen-esque regency romance, only with magic.  I do feel a little guilty reading it, since I've never actually read a Jane Austen book.  (I've seen plenty of the movies, though!  Sense and Sensibility, Emma, THREE versions of Pride and Prejudice...)  
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.  As much as I claim to love the fantasy genre, I haven't read much of the 'classic' fantasy stories.  I find myself drawn in by a vivid world and a masterful writing style.  In fact, I think I would like to do a blog post on this book at some point in the future, because I think it stands in defiance of the 'rule' that in writing one must show and not tell.  
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  I haven't opened it in several weeks, to tell the truth.  But, since it is the fattest book ever, I decided things would work out nicely if I bought myself a used copy and took it on a roadtrip.  Take that, Kansas!  
3. Not doing school is nice.  Still trying to find a new mode of operation, but it's good.  

4. What I've been listening to: 

  • The Midsummer Station, the latest album from Owl City!  It makes me very happy.  
  • The soundtrack for the Broadway play The Scarlet Pimpernel.  (Rather addicting.  Not recommended for all listeners due to lyrics that hint at adult things, but nothing's perfect.)  
  • The NEEDTOBREATHE song Keep Your Eyes Open.  Sort of my mantra for this season in my life.  
5. If I'm a good girl I'll switch over to a word document after I'm done with this post and work on some outlining.  

6. Coming up is the BIGGEST ROADTRIP EVER!  (Excited?  Me?  Maybe a little bit...)  New places!  New things to see!  New TREES!  I plan on taking lots of pictures, but not so much that it keeps me from seeing everything.  Also, I will probably knit a lot in the car.

7. ...knitting, yes.  I've decided that from now on I will randomly make scarves and throw them at people.  (Eh.  Second part is optional.  Still working out the kinks in the plan.)  

Seven is a very nice number, so I'll stop there for now.  If you know spoilers for Doctor Who, DO NOT TELL ME.  Because you know, I am making scarves.  I might just throw one at your head.  You have been warned.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Magika // Tuesday for the Muse

First, two things:

1) Yes, I know the name of the group sounds like the scariest rock band ever.  They're not a rock band.  And they're not scary.  

2) And yes, it sounds like the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack.  Doesn't mean it's not amazing.  Just have a listen, and enjoy the music for what it is.  Which is pure inspiration, in my opinion.

Many thanks to my friend Anna F. for sharing this with me on Facebook!

Most disappointing thing about this song?  It's not available for purchase.  Don't these people know I would so happily give them money?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I Believe in an Objective Reality

My favorite book on writing is Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction, which I posted a book review of back in 2011.   I'm not a writer that's into writing fiction for fiction's sake.  While I love writing stories, I can't write a good one unless I feel that there's some point to what I'm doing, other than my own amusement.  I want people to get something out my stories besides just entertainment.  That's just who I am.  And because of that, Ayn's book spoke to me more than any other writing book I've read.  She tells you how to focus everything in your story on making the point you want to make.

So, naturally, I was curious when I saw an article titled "Why Even Ayn Rand Can Teach You Something About Writing." 

Even Ayn Rand.  Well, that's generous of you.

Mostly, the article is about Why Ayn Rand Can't Teach You Anything About Writing At All.  Oh, and she hates humanity.  And is boring.  Actually, the only benefit the writer of the article believes can be derived from reading her book is the opportunity to practice working past a state of rage so that you can then prove why she's wrong.

He complains about Ayn's writing all the way down to her prose style, but it's obvious that what he really objects to is her philosophy, Objectivism, which she's not at all shy about espousing.  I don't agree with Objectivism because it's a godless school of thought, but it's important to realize that Objectivism and Christianity are on the same side in one very crucial battle.

You see, both believe in an objective reality.

This means that both Christians (if they're worth their salt) and Objectivists believe that reality exists apart from our perceptions of it.  We either perceive reality correctly or we don't.  Two directly-conflicting views of the world can't both be right.  Not all views are equally valid.  They are valid in so far as they line up with the reality that exists outside of all perceptions.  Truth is solid and cannot be changed.  It exists.  If it contradicts itself, it is not truth.

Most intellectuals do not believe in an objective reality anymore.  They demonstrate this in the art they create and value: books with made-up words, art that destroys boundaries between things, films that tear down the notion of reality.  Rarely will they come out and voice this core belief, but it's here, plain to see, in their hatred of a writer who believed that words should have concrete meanings.

No, I don't think books should be 'preachy.'  But I'm willing to use my fiction to say that some things are of greater value than other things, that the universe has meaning that we can understand, that there is right and wrong, truth and falsehood, lines that should not be crossed, ways we should live.

Can you believe it's come to this?  That we're considered old-fashioned for believing in reality?  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

All of Me // Tuesday for the Muse

I debated whether or not I should post another song from The Piano Guys, but in the end I couldn't help it -- this is the song I've been listening to the most in the past two weeks, aside from Dementia, one of Owl City's new songs (which I love but which hardly seems appropriate for an inspiration-themed feature).  

I'm an odd duck when it comes to music.  Unless I'm in a specifically experimental mood, I tend to only listen to the music that I already know I like.  As this blog testifies, I've been happily listening to music from The Piano Guys for the past month, but there are still a number of songs of theirs that I haven't yet heard.  On top of that, I don't normally go for just-piano pieces.  While I like the piano well enough, and there are some things it does better than every other instrument, there's something about the sound quality that doesn't draw me in as much as, say, strings or woodwinds.  

One late night, as I was getting ready for bed, I decided I wanted another Piano Guys song.  I thought about the ones I had already listened to a number of times on Spotify, but nothing jumped out as being 'the one.'  (Yes, I buy my music on a need-to-have basis.)  On a whim, I clicked on the last track of the "Hits" album, All of Me, and before I was 10 seconds into the piece, I knew I was buying it.  

The expression in this song is deep and thoughtful while being blissfully happy, and it has that dancing/flying element I mentioned in my last post. To me, it speaks of discovery, of a jewel summer and a deepening friendship, of a hesitancy that slowly gives way to pure romance, of passionate creativity.  Whenever I listen to it, I see the face of someone with that look that says they're not in control anymore, and wouldn't have it any other way -- a blissful surrender to the amazing.  And what could be more amazing than God?  So yes, for me it is a faith-song.  Whenever people look at Christianity with fear -- fear of being trapped, fear of loss of control -- I wish I could have them listen to this song, and show them that it's so much more like this

Fear not: I will refrain from posting more Piano Guys songs until I absolutely cannot help it anymore.  In the meantime, enjoy.   

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anthem of Hope // Tuesday for the Muse

So I missed last week's Tuesday for the Muse because my life was absolutely swallowed up in graduation-induced insanity.  My apologies.  I didn't feel like posting Pomp and Circumstance in order to make a point about what my life was like.

This week I want to share one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite artists, Ryan Farish:

This song is another makes-me-feel-like-dancing song, but that because it also makes me feel like flying.  There are two different types of dancing, I think: dancing where you just want to move however you can, and dancing where your soul is uplifted and you dance because you cannot fly.  This music inspires the latter. 

Anthem of Hope is on my inspiration playlist because when I'm trying to come up with ideas and scenes, I need music that is both high-energy and full of emotion.  I have plenty of music that has great energy but no direction, and I have a lot of movie soundtracks that have some beautiful emotion that occurs in brief 10- or 30- second intervals (usually couched within several minutes of music that, frankly, is rather boring).  But Ryan Farish's music is perfect because he finds a good melody and stays with it for the whole piece, long enough for my writer-brain to work through a complete thought. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

O Fortuna // Tuesday for the Muse

This week I got my Galaxy Player 4.0, which, aside from its many other wonderful features, automatically creates a playlist of your most-played songs.  Right now the song in second place (behind Peponi, which I posted about last week) is, yes, another song from The Piano Guys.  This poem is centuries old and was set to music in the 1930's by the German composer Carl Orff.  While the original version is pretty epic by itself...

...what The Piano Guys did to the song was just too amazing.  

For me, race cars don't really do the song justice, so I recommend you play the video, close your eyes, and let the music suggest its own theme.  

Lately I've had characters on my mind (both mine and other people's) that are centuries old, and whenever I play this song I see an immortal character wandering through ages, seeing the rise and fall of empires and religions, hope and love and so, so much loss.  Such a character would have more reasons than most to complain against fate, as did the writer of O Fortuna so many centuries ago.  

(And yes, it's almost Wednesday.  I know.  Sometimes surprise visits from delightful relatives happen, and blogging just has to wait.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Peponi // Tuesday for the Muse

Today, I'm going to tell you something a little different: don't watch the video.  I mean yes, you can watch it, but I recommend that the first time through you just let it play with the window minimized.  When I tried to show this video to my sister, she wasn't able to really appreciate the music on the first go-round because of the 'weird dancing.'

This is, of course, The Piano Guys' cover of Coldplay's hit song Paradise.  Due to the somewhat eclectic circles I run in, I generally don't get much exposure to whatever music is currently popular.  I came across the song because I watched this awesome Doctor Who fanvid (warning for general spoilers for Series 5 and 6):

The song's been on my Spotify playlist ever since, but I haven't gotten around to actually buying it.  However, I can't get over the gorgeous instrumental arrangement in the Peponi version.  Every time I try to listen to it while doing something else, I inevitably stop in my tracks so that I can fully absorb it.  I feel like Peponi taps into a little more of the passion in the song, and because the words are in a language I can't understand, it's perfect music for writing.  

Speaking of writing music, I've been on a complete Piano Guys binge this week.  Their music is gorgeous (and will probably reappear in Tuesday for the Muse sometime soon).  If you're looking for instrumental music with great energy and emotion, I urge you to check them out.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Amy in the TARDIS // Tuesday for the Muse

Now that I'm more than halfway through Doctor Who Series 5, I felt I could start listening to the first half of the soundtrack.  (I generally don't like to listen to music for episodes I haven't seen.  Somehow it feels like spoiler-hunting.)  This is my favorite song from the soundtrack so far, and I've been listening to it over and over again the past several days.  It plays during the scene where Amy first enters the TARDIS, and it conveys a strong sense of magic, of a long-held wish finally being fulfilled, a childhood dream gently becoming reality.  All of those are themes that resonate with me, which I think is why I like this song so much.  This track actually caught my attention while I was watching the episode, which in my world is a testament to how good it is.    Most Doctor Who music isn't written specifically to be lovely, but this piece is just lovely anyway.  

Now, to hunt around for a dollar so I can download it from Amazon...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kingdom Dance // Tuesday for the Muse

Inspired by my friend Katie and her lovely fashion blog Beautifully Pure, I've decided to start a weekly music feature, focusing primarily on songs that inspire me (but also including songs that I just plain love).

This week, I chose a song that I've loved for a long time but only just downloaded last week.  It's the music from the Tangled soundtrack (by the brilliant Alan Menken) that plays during the dancing scene.  I fell in love with this song the first time I watched the movie, even before the scene was over.  Dancing (and songs that make me feel like dancing) have always had a special place in my heart, and this song perfectly captures the energy of a dance while retaining a sweet innocence that we in the modern era have forgotten with our dancing.  I personally believe old-fashioned community dances should make a comeback.  What do you think?

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Lonely Library Stack and Intelligibility

I know I'm a little crazy, trying to write a whole blog post in the brief time I have before school.  But I've been thinking about my poor, neglected blog all week, and I figure the only way to get something done is to take what small chance you have to do it. 

So, gentle reader, I give you a basic update on life:

Reading:  I haven't been doing very much of it all.  I think this is due, in part, to the fact that my stack of library books looks rather empty at the moment.  There are plenty of books that I would like to have read and that I think I should read at some point, but I haven't had the inspiration to get very far into any of them.  The one book I picked up in the past week that I thought was going to be interesting -- Split Infinity, by Piers Anthony -- I had to put down after the first dozen pages due to sexual content.  Blegh.  And he had such an interesting concept, too...

Anyway, what I really need right now is a quick, engaging read that I can blaze through in a couple of days.  Probably something YA -- but you know my standards.  I won't go for anything with adult content or swearing.  If you have a book in mind that fits this description, please send it my way. 

Writing:  I have been participating in an informal Poem-A-Day (since this is National Poetry Month), but I started a couple days late and missed the last three days.  Oh well.  I figure that any poetry I write because of PAD is more poetry than I would have written otherwise.  Writing is good. 

Also, I've been a little concerned because it feels that with every time I sit down to write, I make less and less sense.  Of course, it doesn't help that I don't have a specific project I'm working on.  But it's like I've spent so much time away from writing that as soon as my pen touches the paper, all this esoteric goop spills out.  And that's not what I want.  I don't write with long words because I want to sound sophisticated.  I use those words because they best express what I want to say.  There's nothing nearly as wonderful as knowing you used exactly the right word for what you meant.  But still, I'm not sure what to do with myself.  I would like to be at least a little intelligible.

Final Note: My life doesn't consist solely of reading and writing, I hope you know.  But I have run out of time to talk about anything else. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring and Mockingjay

Today is the most beautiful, most spring-like day we've had so far this year, even now at 5 o'clock in the afternoon.  Saturdays are our family house-cleaning days, and today as we traversed the house with vacuums and scrub-brushes, we were able to leave the windows and doors open, letting in a fresh breeze and the sunshine that's lost its winter pallor.  As I sit on my bed to write this blog entry, that light illuminates my room, and my window is still open.  Things smell alive again, even if they don't quite look like it yet.  

I finished reading Mockingjay yesterday.  While I've enjoyed the whole Hunger Games trilogy quite a bit, I cannot come to terms with the ending.  For those of you who haven't read it yet, the end is solidly bittersweet--with a whole lot of bitter and precious little sweet.  Now, I am not someone who has to have a happy ending no matter what.  In fact, some of my favorite stories have tragic endings.  (I never could resist anything that made me cry.)  But there has to be a reason for the ending.  If a story ends bittersweet, it should be because a happy ending would have felt wrong.  Sydney Carton had to die at the end of A Tale of Two Cities, because if he had just swooped in, saved the day, and taken everyone back to England safe and sound, the book would have lost a lot of its meaning and power.  

Alright, so let's start with the concept of meaning and apply it to Mockingjay.  The ending would be understandable (and forgivable) if Collins had something specific to say.  And I think she does have something to say, but what it turns out to be is something as broad and bland and over-parroted as War is bad.  

Yes, war is bad.  But in my entire life span (which, admittedly, isn't very long), I haven't run into a single living person who thought war was good.  So really, did Collins have to sacrifice the ending of this trilogy for the sake of telling us something that we already believe?  

Now, while this is one major problem I have with the ending, I think the real reason I didn't like it was not the ending itself, but the promises I felt the author had made to us that weren't fulfilled.  Looking back on the series, I feel like there were a number of opportunities that were wasted, and a number of aspects of the ending that made it distinctively unhappy.  For example:


  • Peeta's speaking abilities are mentioned and come into play a number of times in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  Because it kept coming up, I felt, when I was speculating about Mockingjay before I read it, that something meaningful Peeta says in public should have a pivotal role in the book, particularly at the end.  Instead, Peeta is a prisoner of the Capitol for the first half of the book, has a severely altered personality in the second half of the book, and the only major part he plays in the end is to keep Katniss from committing suicide after she makes the final decisive action of the book.  Yes, that action belongs to Katniss, since she is the main character.  But the story is also Peeta's in so many ways, and to have his only role in the book be as a source of angst for Katniss is just disappointing.  I wanted to see him act.  I wanted to see him come into his own as a well-reasoned, decisive man.  I wanted him to have a moment where I could stand up and cheer for him.  But the book had none of that.  
  • The romance went kaput.  Despite how well it was written, I'm not sure I liked the love triangle.  Being yanked back and forth between Gale and Peeta created a lot of tension, but after a while I just wanted it to stop.  Also, the way in which it got resolved wasn't really a resolution.  Katniss admitted that a part of her would always hate Gale for her sister's death, and Gale, for the most part, walked out of her life.  And after that, Peeta and Katniss fall back in love again in a very boring way off-screen.  After three books of constant romantic tension... that's it?  
  • In the end, Katniss has Peeta again.  Great.  But everyone else is gone.  Even the people who aren't dead are gone, such as Katniss's mother.  Throughout the book the one source of comfort for Katniss has been other people, but at the end of the book she's all but completely alone.  The book ends with a profound sense of loneliness, which I found very depressing.  No reward at all for suffering through all the gruesome deaths that litter the pages of the book.  
Those are just the main problems I can think of off the top of my head.  In all, it felt to me like Collins performed a series of tricks, dazzling us with her ability to keep us constantly in suspense, jumping higher and higher each time.  And then, after all those surprises, she found that she'd left herself only a few options with which to craft a good ending.  So she made the ending bittersweet, because that was all that was left.  

Now, the one thing I haven't addressed is that the ending is realistic.  In real wars, people you love die horrendous, pointless deaths.  Happy endings are in short supply.  But most people don't read fiction for realism.  We have real life for that.  Good fiction tries to make us better than we are, not by reinforcing the hopelessness many of us already feel when looking at the world, but by telling us that evil doesn't always win, and that there's a reason to keep hoping and keep fighting for what's right and true.  If a book's central message is "Life stinks," I don't know if it can really be classified as a good book.  

But, despite all the negative things I've said, I do think Suzanne Collins is a talented author with great storytelling abilities, and I would still recommend The Hunger Games and Catching Fire -- and, yes, maybe even Mockingjay, though not without fair warning -- to someone looking for an engaging book to read.  I won't deny that reading these books has been fun.  And I'm still looking forward to the movie.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It is a good and pleasant thing when friends dwell together in craziness.

There is a reason no one has yet hired me to write proverbs, as you can see from the title of this post.

Anyway, I say such a thing because, while the rest of the city prepares for a blizzard like none we have ever seen (if the hysteria in the weather reports is to be believed), my family and I are going with friends to get ice cream.

Because, after all, absurdity is best shared... especially when it's tasty.

I shall dispense with giving-forth of timeless wisdom in order to say:


*shoves overly-enthusiastic blogger-self back into the closet*

*looks around to make sure no one noticed, then whispers discreetly to self*

That was unprofessional and in very poor taste.

*turns back to blog readers*


Well, as they say, skeletons are best left in the closet...

Overly-Enthusiastic Blogger-Self: I'M NOT A SKELETON! we shall conclude this post.



*pulls out duct tape*

If you will excuse me.  Babblers are best dealt with soon and with strong and sticky substances, after all.

*disappears into the closet*

Overly-Enthusiastic Blogger-Self:  STRONG AND STICKY WHAT ON EARTH DOES THAT MEAN OH MY GOSH GET AWAY FROM ME THAT IS SO NOT mmph.  Mmmph mmm mph!  Mmmm-mmnm!