Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year, A New Milestone!

Hello!  Guess what?  A new milestone!

It’s been very exciting to watch the pageviews on the website rise! 

It's also been neat to watch the pace pick up.  It probably won't surprise any of you to hear that most of my recent pageviews were from NaNoWriMo and ROW80-related posts...Hello, supportive fellow writers!

1000: May-April (approx. 11 months)
2000: April-September (approx. 5 months)
3000: September-December (approx. 3 months)

A final look at my ROW80 goals for November and December, 2014:

1. Blog Sketches: These were definitely done in fits and spurts.  It was fun to draw more regularly again, and I would often find I wanted to do another sketch for a specific post.
2. Blog Posts (10+ blog posts for November & December Two ROW80/NaNoWriMo update posts & one crafts-based post per week):  I was mostly able to keep up, although life definitely happened.  It's been nice posting more regularly again, though. I need to remember that I can post shorter ideas or updates, too--there's a lot of pressure to complete a long, photographed tutorial or idea piece, which can prevent me from working on new posts sometimes.  And it was much easier to do three posts a week during NaNoWriMo/DigiWriMo, when I had specific word count goals hanging over my head.  By the end of this month, I was (usually) posting one writing update and one crafts post per week, with some short sketch/history posts for random holidays or astronomical events thrown in.
3. Vlog Idea: The vlog idea has not advanced at all; I've been too distracted, and I have poor lighting around here.  I have not devoted much thought to this since a practice video around Halloween.
4. Creative Writing: I have sadly not written any more for my November NaNoWriMo fiction project.  I really liked my characters and their world, so I would like to help them resolve their situation before I forget their personalities and the plot details.  But the holidays and various life things have all taken precedence in December...
5. Tweet more Original Content & Reply to at least one ROW80 post or comment per update interval.
6. Keep Up with Minimum Exercise Goals (3/3/3: 3 sets of 3 exercises, 3 days in a row).
These two goals have been easier to keep up with.  I think in part because social media participation is something I've been wanting to do, anyway, and in part because the exercise goals have been so small.  When I am busy, the exercise definitely falls by the wayside, though.  I skip a few days or do the bare minimum, which is less than ideal.  I had been hoping to increase that goal, not barely meet it.  And I want it to become a way of life, so that I can be healthier and have more energy, so I have to figure out how to increase my fitness in a better and more consistent way.

I have enjoyed the ROW80 system, in that it gives me small, feasible goals to work towards.  But I do think that the goals that got met more regularly were the ones I WANTED to do at the time...And the smaller goals...The other goals got regularly shunted to the side for various reasons.  Life, social gatherings, but also perhaps the fact that those goals were too broad? 

Now that's fine that I didn't meet all the bullets.  Goals change when you actually try to meet them, as you discover what actually interests you as you move from theory to practice, etc.  But for things like fitness and regular creativity, I still want to make sure that those happen, no matter how I am feeling.  So I need to ponder how to restructure my goals for the next round

By the way, the new round starts January 5th, if you feel like participating! There is a sign-up page at the start, but really you can start participating at any time--I joined this last October-December round when I started NaNoWriMo in November and wanted to expand my supportive online community.  There are no obligations except the ones you impose on yourself--most members post updates on both Wednesdays and Sundays, to increase accountability and community engagement, but you can really just post whenever you have something new to say, as I have been doing in December...It still increased my overall enthusiasm and output...Feel free to check the FAQs out!

Thank you for stopping by!

I hope you have all had a great December.  And here's looking to a hopeful 2015!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays!

It's the last night of

And tomorrow is Christmas Eve!

Whether you celebrate these holidays or others, or none at all, I hope you enjoy the rest of 2014.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

12/21/14: Winter Solstice

Did you know that the Northern Hemisphere's Winter Solstice is today?  It might interest you to know that our Winter season started at 11:03PM (UT)...  Welcome to the longest night and the shortest day of the year.  Brr!

It's probably not a surprise that many cultures and religions have incorporated these seasonal changes into their traditions throughout history.  The Winter Solstice marked a significant annual moment in Europe (see the Stonehenge and Newgrange monuments, which are aligned with the winter solstice sunrise and sunset, as well-known examples), and probably all over the world.  It was believed to mark the last feast of the year, a time of food rationing and reversal, the annual rebirth of the sun gods, and the year itself.  Some people in the United States celebrate a special Mass during this evening, since it falls so close to Christmas. 

Here's a link to a few scientific facts about the Winter Solstice, if you want to understand more about what a solstice actually is.

If you're too cold (or hot), the Summer Solstice will be on June 21st, 2015, at 4:38PM (UT).

This solstice has many names, depending on where you are seasonally and globally.

Happy Hibernal Solstice, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere,
and Happy December Solstice, wherever you may be!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Barn Quilt Trails of North America (Kentucky)

Whenever I visit Kentucky, I am struck by the beautiful "painted quilts" that can be seen featured on barns that sit along the smaller highways.  More of these quilt murals can be seen on city businesses, the lovely colorful tributes to handmade crafts and Appalachian culture providing an interesting contrast to the colonial architecture of the area.  If you often drive on country roads through mainland U.S. or Canada, you may have seen these so-called "Barn Quilts."  They are large square pieces of  wood or metal that have been painted to resemble a traditional quilt block.  A few are more ambitious, and incorporate tiny blocks or try to create the illusion of flowing drapery, but most of the ones that I have seen were simple, beautiful, brightly-painted blocks that are easy to see at a distance.  Some lovely examples of the different kinds of Barn Quilts can be found here.

The “Quilt Trail” tradition is believed to have begun in Ohio in 2001, with a set of 20 quilts along a trail. A woman named Donna Sue Groves wanted to find a unique way to celebrate her mother and her Appalachian roots, and worked with several committees to create the first official route of painted quilts. She ended up starting a tradition that spread throughout North America.   Many of these Quilt Trails are now sponsored by entire communities, or by arts-based organizations.  For just two examples, here are the lovely websites dedicated to the "Quilt Trails" of McDowell County, North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina.

You can read a little more about the history of Barn Quilts on Wikipedia, although it looks like there are some disagreements between websites about the origin of the trails, and about just how many states feature Quilt Trails at this point.  There are also links to some lovely maps that have been made that incorporate barn quilt thumbnails if you wish to design your own Quilt Trail Tour.   The set of maps that I've found is from 2011, but there are probably more recent maps available.  Here is the map for the Barn Quilts in Madison County, KY, which is where I was visiting. 

Here are some photographs of the Barn Quilts that I was able to see while I was in Madison County (apologies for the darker images):

On Barns:

That same barn, close up:
Painted quilts on local businesses:

 Some musicians playing in front of the gallery during a "First Friday" event:
 And this one looks like a pixelated weaving draft:

It's fun to drive around and find these painted quilts.  It's sort of like an Easter Egg hunt on a country drive.  And I think it encourages me to look at familiar crafts and techniques as inspiration for a wide range of media.  Don't you want to paint quilt blocks or turn textile patterns into stationery now?

Friday, December 19, 2014

The "Lord of the Rings" Epoch

This week debuted the final installment of the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies.  That means that I've been going to see these movies with the same group of friends for OVER a decade!  In that time, we've graduated from college, moved in and out of the area, and marked several personal milestones.  While we may not be up at midnight for the first showing of the next "Harry Potter" or "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings" movie anymore, it's really cool that those of us who are in the area still try to follow these cinematic stories together wherever possible.  It's crazy how many life experiences those movies bookend.

I first heard "The Hobbit" as a series of cassette tapes (housed in a lovely wooden box) during elementary school.  I brought those cassettes to 6th grade to share the audio experience with my classmates while we all labored over giant maps of Bilbo's journey through Middle Earth.  But it wasn't until college that I both read and watched "The Lord of the Rings."  The two series were pivotal literary and cinematic experiences that I still value.  Each version has its own merits.

I've gotten so used to waiting between "chapters" of movies.  I'm enjoying each installment of the Marvel/"Avengers" saga, and I hope the new "Star Wars" movies are good.  But I will continue to cherish the now-finished glimpses into the world of Middle Earth.  That world has its own special category, and I look forward to watching the extended versions in chronological order some time in the future.

ROW80 Update: Life has been a bit of a whirlwind of holiday and travel preparations.
I have not done any more writing for my story.  BUT. I have continued to draw and to be creative, in preparing for each blog entry.  I finished two stuffed animals.  And I baked.  And roasted nuts and rolled them in chocolate.  So in that sense, I continue to be productive and creative.
Goals: I need to write a couple more scenes for my story each week, while the characters remain fresh.  I need to continue prepping blog entries, so that I can keep up with my 1 Update/1 crafts post per week goal.  And I need to get back into my "3+ sets of 3 exercises for 3 days straight" goal, which lagged during November.  The vlogging idea can wait.

I hope you are all having a lovely holiday season, however, wherever, or whatever you may celebrate!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Happy 12/13/14!

In the United States, where we put the month first in our dates, it is December 13th, 2014 (12/13/14). 
This is going to be the LAST sequential date for this century (for Americans, anyway)!
There's even articles about the date (and math) on the Time and Smithsonian websites. 
The next sequential date won't be until January 2nd, 2103 (01/02/03). 
See you then?

Kentucky Summer

Southern California continues to be unseasonably warm and beautiful this Fall/Winter.  We are currently having our second or third rainstorm, however, which can make things chillier for a few days.  The rain is very welcome for such a drought-stricken area--hopefully it continues for a bit longer!
When I was visiting family in Kentucky this summer, there were thunderstorms every couple of days, and the countryside was thriving and green from the alternating rain and humidity.  I wanted to share some of those photos with you.  Perhaps they will help those of us in the midst of Winter feel warmer!

The entrance to Climax Springs, up near Big Hill and Berea, KY.  Climax sells a popular spring water, and locals can fill their bottles for free. 
 There is also this cute little church up the road from the spring:
All of the country roads are beautiful and green compared to Southern California.
 I love when there is a strong contrast between nature and the human structures:


All of the weathered barns and fences along the country roads provide a beautiful contrast to the lush fields:

These walls remind me of castles:

 It's fun when you can get up close to animals:

Next week, I'll show you another road-side attraction in Kentucky: Barn Quilts!  See you then!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Life Post-NaNoWriMo

This blog post was begun on Sunday, November 30th—the last day of NaNoWriMo and DigiWriMo (Note: at the time of writing that sentence, I still needed about 4,000 words!  So close but so far…But I made it! 54,200 words by Sunday evening!).  One of my friends challenged me to three 1,000 word sprints, which really helped.  She has informed me that for that challenge, out of all her current writing ideas, what she settled on writing was a “Harry Potter/Discworld” fanfiction.  So the world is a funner place, no matter which of us finished each set first. 

On Saturday, November 29th, I had only written about 2,000 words towards NaNoWriMO.  I had also gotten (happily) sucked into watching the entire 1999 Mini-Series adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters (it is impossible to watch just one episode...).  I was able to turn that time into "research" by writing a review of the mini-series the next afternoon, though!

Full disclosure: I have watched the mini-series, but I have not read the book yet.  So I can't compare them.

But I had really enjoyed Elizabeth Gaskell’s short novel Cranford, as well as the TV mini-series that was based on that book and on some of Gaskell’s other stories and her letters and essays about her hometown.  And I think that “Cranford,” both the novella and the mini-series, each of which is made up of several everyday scenes in a little town that is threatened by change, was an inspiration for my NaNoWriMo creative writing project.  My piece focuses on the every day activities in a small town and in a city library, and how both react when a mysterious “Sleep Sickness” starts spreading.  And the mysterious bracelet that one character acquires:

My ROW80 Update for the week:
1, 3. Blog Sketches, Vlog Idea: I still like the idea of having an alternative creative outlet, but the vlog idea has still been pushed to the side.  I did 10 sketches in the last week and a half, and am beginning a "Book to Art" wearable piece inspired by Cranford.
2. Blog Posts (10+ blog posts for November & December (Two ROW80/NaNoWriMo update posts & one crafts-based post per week):  My writing has definitely slowed down post-NaNoWriMo.  And I think that with NaNoWriMo over, I may only aim for one ROW80 post and one crafts post each week.  But I wrote two posts today, so that's great.
4. Creative Writing:  I still have several points that have not been resolved in my story.  But several more scenes were written during the final November weekend push, which was exciting.  Having to focus on the story and think of more scenes to up my word count for NaNoWriMo and DigiWriMo really helped me stay focused on this story and its possibilities.  Now that the time pressure is off me, I need to figure out how to resolve my story gaps--and keep the momentum.  So I need a new fiction goal to aim for.  And I would like to continue fleshing out my novella before I think of revision or anything like that.
5. Tweet more Original Content & Reply to at least one ROW80 post or comment per update interval.  This was not a challenge to keep up with.  I enjoyed browsing other people’s progress, and engaging in little supportive conversations.  And it helped me to keep writing when I could see other people’s writing challenges being dealt with or just acknowledged.  Now that we're in December, there haven't been hourly NaNoWriMo updates on Twitter or in the writing forums to keep encouraging me to just write that little bit extra during each writing session, so I will have to rely on myself more…
6. Keep Up with Minimum Exercise Goals: I have gotten back into this (a little), now that I’m not sitting in the easy chair attempting to write a couple blocks of a thousand words every day…Small surprise, I'm sure.  I still need to get back into regular activity and increase my overall fitness.

I finished  the last evening of NaNoWriMo in a friend’s living room with the same group of people on laptops that had kicked off my 2014 NaNoWriMo jaunt on November 1st.  So that was a lovely writing bookend to finish off the month!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nov. 30th: Last Day of NaNoWriMo

Racing to finish my last 5,000-ish words. I didn’t write two or three days this month, but this has still been a good discipline exercise for writing. I definitely took advantage of DigiWriMo (writing related to one's digital online presence), and aimed for 50k between TWO projects, my blog/tweeting and my creative fiction piece, so I was able to switch back and forth, which helped me keep some energy going. I definitely did have a couple days where I only wrote a couple hundred words, though. Hence the obligatory final weekend sprint…Yeek!   I’m so close, it would be sooo disappointing not to reach the goal. Been trying to figure out what scenes I’m missing, etc. The story’s definitely not done, so hopefully I can think of several more scenes?!   At the end of each evening, I find myself darting back to the NaNoWriMo progress page to add 20 or 50 words to the counter, just to see that it's still going up, and last night was no exception.
Final Row80 Update For November below! I am very curious to see how all of this will morph once NaNoWriMo’s over…
My goals for writing and life for “A Round of Words in 80 Days” are as follow:
1, 3. Blog Sketches, Vlog Idea: Not much (1 sketch). Energy has been totally focused elsewhere.
2. Blog Posts (10+ blog posts for November & December Two ROW80/NaNoWriMo update posts & one crafts-based post per week):  Sort of. This week’s been very distracted by the holiday, by trying to do more social stuff than normal, and by trying to write more of the fiction piece.
4. Creative Writing: I’ve had several good writing days. Several ideas for scenes that I’d previously had were actually written down in some form. I’m still behind, but the 50k (between projects 2 and 4) is still looking possible!
5. Tweet more Original Content & Reply to at least one ROW80 post or comment per update interval.  Continues. I’ve been dealing with NaNoWriMo & life. Twitter is an escape! Row80-ers are supportive! Run to the internet for peaceful oblivion! Chat with exclamation points and emojis (well…I still prefer variants of punctuation-based smiley faces over emojis).
6. Keep Up with Minimum Exercise Goals: Totally been distracted this week.  Gardened (and built "mushroom chandelier" parcels that will hang from the ceiling, and will hopefully produce mushrooms next month!) at a local organic farm & hiked last weekend, and acquired some very sore muscles, but nothing much exercise-wise has occurred in any of the days since. Although that mushroom chandelier just got incorporated into the creative writing project! Yay, life into art !  Yay, source material!
Wish me luck…I still really need it! Good luck to all you fellow straggling NaNoWriMo-ers, and congratulations if you’ve already completed your projects or rough drafts! And Goodbye, November, I really, really can’t believe you’re already over!! How did that happen?? Where did you gooo?

Update: Made it, with several hours to spare!  First year succeeding, Yay!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you all have a great and happy Thanksgiving Day, Everyone!  Wherever you are (U.S. or no), I hope you can eat something tasty, watch a favorite show, or play a board game!  —Jackie

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How is it Thanksgiving Week??

How in the world is it Thanksgiving week already?? How is the NaNoWriMo validation already live? It went up on Thursday, November 20th—no pressure to my fellow writers who haven’t finished yet, either!  I can’t believe so many people in the forums were already at 30k—or even 70k, or even higher—by the 15th! I know we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others in this challenge, but it’s hard sometimes when you see that and you’ve been hovering around 25k for days (I finally passed that marker and earned that last word count badge on the 19th—whew!)...
1, 3. Blog Sketches, Vlog Idea: Nothing new. Still dancing around new ideas but not really devoting energy to them.
2. Blog Posts (10+ blog posts for November & December, revised to one or two ROW80/NaNoWriMo update posts & one crafts-based post per week):  I'm definitely slowing down, but I’ve keeping been up so far…barely. The ROW80 updates are much easier, since I have an outline and a deadline. The creative posts require more planning, research, photography, and editing.
4. Creative Writing: This has been going very slowly. I’m still chugging along. My monthly goal of 50k (which I’ve split between the blogging and the fiction) is still falling behind. But I am writing regularly every day, and pushing for a little more out of each session. Taking a break is so attractive, though. I want to nap, watch or read. But I also want to know where this story is going, which is a bit perplexing and exciting.
5. Tweet more Original Content & Reply to at least one ROW80 post or comment per update interval.  Continues. My tweeting output has definitely dropped, while I’ve been dealing with NaNoWriMo & life. But I still enjoy the community aspect.
6. Keep Up with Minimum Exercise Goals: My minimum personal goal is still 3/3/3 (3+ sets each of counter push-offs, planks, and jumping jacks, for 3+ days in a row). I continue to do some exercises and stretches each day, although not necessarily those three specifically.
I love Thanksgiving.  More than other holidays, Thanksgiving features homemade food and quiet social time.  I get roasted squash, mashed and sweet potatoes, stuffing (or dressing, as some call it), fruit pies, and spiced apple cider…with an extra helping of board games and holiday movies. This year’s festivities will be a little different, but that means there’s also less that I, personally, need to take care of. So hopefully that means more time to write and think about writing?
The holiday of Thanksgiving has a very questionable past, full of colonialism, conquest, and the sugar-coating of history, but it has come to represent the United States in a very big way, and is one of my favorite holidays because it represents what I cherish: rather than making a patriotic or commercial statement for others to see, Thanksgiving is about gathering together with your friends and family, and celebrating your community by spending time together and eating home-cooked food--and munching on all the delicious leftovers for days, which is one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving.  This also stretches the holiday into a multi-day affair in my mind! 
If you’re crazy, Thanksgiving also represents manically shopping together. This is still technically bonding time, but why anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to the growing frenzy and mob-experience that is the hours of mid-night lines and stampeding crowds during Black Friday, I cannot say. I once assisted a manager during a Black Friday, and it consisted of me standing in a mountain of clothing in a secondary, blocked-off dressing room, hanging clothes on hangers and sorting them into nice little bunches by which floor section of the Juniors Department they belonged in. I would hand out an armful to a sales associate, so that she could quickly put them away before helping another customer. And then another sales associate would dart in, and so on. That mountain of clothing shrank and grew, hour after hour after hour, but I sure felt helpful!   I was glad that I knew the department well enough to make a difference in that way (plus, it was a completely helpful, valid excuse not to be out in that crazy throng).
Sometimes at Thanksgiving, we will supplement our homemade food with some pre-made sides, or a turkey. This is always very convenient, but it makes me think about a story a friend mentioned a couple years ago, about going into those rotisserie shops to pick up a big Thanksgiving package of food, and seeing people sitting around, quietly eating their little Thanksgiving meals all by themselves. On the one hand, they were honoring the holiday, and making it a little special, and on the other hand, they were hanging out solo during a communal holiday at a semi-fast food establishment… Which meant they either didn’t have someone to share the day with, or they had chosen not to. Who’s to say what their lives are? But those options feel kind of sad to think about…
Thanksgiving has become a great holiday in the U.S. in another way (similarly to Christmas), where you can donate your food or your time to others, to make their struggles a little bit lighter. In college, and at some of the places I’ve worked since, Thanksgiving has been a great time to volunteer at a food bank or a soup kitchen, or even just to pull those non-perishables that you’ll honestly never get around to eating out of your cupboard and pass them on. You can even just add an extra canned or boxed Thanksgiving ingredient to your Thanksgiving grocery run, and add it to one of the donation barrels that live at the front of most grocery stores during this season. And we can wish people working on Thanksgiving “Happy Holidays,” at bare minimum.
Whether you celebrate or not, I hope you are all able to be with friends or family sometime this week, and that you have a moment to eat something special. Or just go on a walk, and enjoy a moment of quiet, and smell the fresh air! Hopefully you have some refreshing air within reach, where ever you may be this week!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Patchwork & Mending as Art in Japan: Wabi-Sabi, Kintsugi, & Sashiko

A lot of classic Western aesthetics seem to focus on perfection and the hiding of any natural imperfection behind a mask—ladies in magazines are airbrushed beyond recognition, and art restoration is as subtle and camouflaged as possible.  When restoring a painting, sculpture, or textile, the colors used are neutral or are matched as closely as possible to the artist’s original color palette.  In contrast, the Japanese techniques of “Kintsugi” and “Sashiko” place the damaged areas front and center, turning the repair from a “flaw” into a “feature.”

I always though that the Japanese aesthetic of “Wabi-Sabi” was an interesting contrast to the modern, sleek, perfect Japanese visuals that most of us see and think of as quintessentially “Japanese.”  “Wabi-Sabi” looks at the beauty and significance in imperfection, irregularity, or impermanence.  “Wabi” refers to the loneliness and simplicity of living in nature, while “sabi” refers to the withered or rusted, and the beauty and peace that come from age.  Together, they draw the eye to the simple, quiet, understated qualities of life, aging, and impermanence.  In wabi-sabi, an artist is understood to be limited by materials and technology, and general wear and tear are accepted as a natural result of life and function.  Any evidence of that erosion, or repairs to that damage, are highlighted as a focal point of beauty or meditation.  As an example, prized cups for tea ceremonies, while skillfully-made, are often more rough-looking, and may be deliberately chipped.  These mugs are also painted with glazes that by nature change color with repeated exposure to hot water.

I feel that this aesthetic of wabi-sabi is directly related to the gorgeous practices of Kintsugi and Sashiko.

Practiced since the 15th century, “Kintsugi” (“Golden Joinery”), or “Kintsukuroi” (“Golden Repair”), was a popular Japanese artistic technique that was used to repair valuable china.  A lacquer resin would be mixed with a powdered precious metal like silver, gold, or platinum.  This metallic mixture would then be used to fill in and re-join the ceramic shards of the broken piece.  If a large shard were missing, the area could be filled in with the gold lacquer or a shard from a completely different piece (the ceramic equivalent of a patch).  The resulting piece would be a newly-functional bowl or cup with gleaming seams of gold or silver radiating through it.

The effect was so beautiful that kintsugi pieces were used in tea ceremonies and were collected as works of art—some ceramic collectors were accused of deliberately smashing their ceramics in order to increase their collections!

Sashiko is a textile technique that developed around the 17th century in the Japanese working class.  Patchwork was used to repair, strengthen, and insulate clothing, and the use of contrasting threads and fabrics created a strong visual effect.  Potential brides were judged on their sashiko abilities, and firemen wore wet, sashiko-quilted robes for protection when fighting fires. 

Many fabrics and colors are used in sashiko embroidery now, but the classic look was usually of a white thread outlining a dark blue, indigo-dyed patch--indigo at the time was a readily available, long-lasting dye, and was used as a repellant.  A running stitch was used to create the bright, dotted lines around the edges of the patches, as well as the embroidered designs featured on some patches.  Sashiko is most associated now with white-on-blue embroidery that features flowers, animals, and beautiful geometric patterns, but red thread was also occasionally used for some traditional ceremonial pieces.

For some lovely examples of Kintsugi and Sashiko, check out these great google images.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Looming Threats (ROW80 Update)

Quiet week so far.  The writing continues, albeit super slowly...

I never watched the third season of "Avatar."  I've been slowly re-watching the first two "Books," and now I am finally starting "Fire." 

I feel that the threat of a natural or foreign disaster is a common enemy in exciting stories, and Avatar manages to combine them both.  The expansionist Fire Nation is threatening the existence of the two remaining nations, the Earth and Water tribes.  But in the coming months, there will be an eclipse, and then a comet.  The first will block the sun, the Fire Nation's energy source, and the second will re-double their power.  So there is definitely a time limit in place.
In my own story, a plague continues to spread across the "Kingdom," despite the diligent efforts of many healers.  One of those healers is making a rash or brave decision to investigate other stricken towns, in the hopes of figuring out what the common elements are.  But what has kept the select few safe so far?  And can they remain "protected"?  Also, how urgently does she need to find the cure?  I'm still struggling to decide whether the sickness is natural or unnatural, unnatural meaning magical or constructed with harmful (or well-meaning) intent.  There continue to be TOO MANY CHOICES.

ROW80 Update.  To refresh your memory, "A Round of Words in 80 Days" is a set of personal daily/weekly goals, that I am trying to accomplish within a period of 80 days.  It's a sort of friendly online-accountability system--ROW80-ers try to focus on their own writing and self-improvement by setting small, achievable goals, and post twice-weekly status updates.  These updates include successfully achieved goals and goal revisions, but also try to lay out our continuing struggles.

1. Blog Sketches: Nothing new.
2. Blog Drafts (10+ blog posts for November & December, revised to two ROW80/NaNoWriMo update posts & one crafts-based post per week):  I'm definitely slowing down.  But so far so good!
3. Vlog Idea: Nothing new.
4. Creative Writing: My characters are still fighting a plague.  I've been discussing possible causes with a couple friends, trying to define the rules of the disaster.  The big question to decide is whether there is a master-mind, or whether this has all been the result of a huge, tragic accident...
5. Tweet more Original Content & Reply to more ROW80 posts/comments.  Same.
6. Keep Up with Minimum Exercise Goals: My minimum personal goal is still 3/3/3 (3+ sets each of counter push-offs, planks, and jumping jacks, for 3+ days in a row). I continue to sort of meet this (some exercises and stretches each day, although not necessarily those three in particular).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Creative Writing Slump (ROW80 Update)


Hi, Everyone!  How are we at the start of Week 3 already??

As some of you may remember, I am combining the "National Novel Writing Month" goal with the "Digital Writing Month" goal--I'm still trying to write 50k this month, but for me that means half my words are in online content, and half are in creative writing.  So far, the blog writing has been much easier--I get to talk about things that have happened, and what they made me think of, while the creative writing is WAY more stymied by choices.

There was a DigiWriMo prompt last week that made me very uncomfortable. I’ve been thinking about it off and on this week.
Here is an excerpt of the challenge:
Digital Writing Prompt: Revealing the Play, not the Polish
(November 10, 2014, by Chris Friend for

For this challenge, we’re getting vulnerable.
    1. Upload your current work in its current form. It’s not finished, and that’s perfect.
    2. Tweet a link to your work. Be sure to use the #digiwrimo hashtag.
    3. You may also want to tweet about how it feels to publicize something that’s still unfinished. Talk about the unfinished nature of your work: What would you like to get from reviewers? What makes this vulnerability awkward or scary?

Art and fruitful living are supposed to be about stepping outside your comfort zone, and considering or experiencing new things. But the idea of putting something rough and awkward online awakens my inner social anxiety bot. It would be misshapen like that, and would represent me--and my work--forever. And it wouldn’t say what I wanted it to say. And yet, at the same time, this anxiety seems kind of silly, since so much of the art I like to make, while also feeding my inner perfectionist, is about letting go of control and embracing the one-of-a-kind imperfect quality that comes with making something by hand, and letting the other person have some control over the interpretation. 

But I still want the control over how it gets put out there…

NaNoWriMo/DigiWriMo/ROW80 Update: I had a lot of time, but I succumbed to gloominess and did not write much this week.

1. Blog Sketches: Still at 15. Not shabby, but this definitely also trailed off this week (I only drew 1 doodle).
2. Blog Drafts (Pre-writing 10+ blog posts for November & December, revised to be two ROW80/NaNoWriMo update posts & one crafts-based post per week):  I continue to be 2 blog-posts ahead.  It is not the "cache of material" I envisioned, but it works.
3. Vlog Idea: I need better lighting, and more energy. This has not progressed.
4. Creative Writing: I’ve written a couple more chapters (scenes, really), but I’m a bit stuck on where to take the story. My characters are fighting a plague, and I’m trying to decide how much of a traditional “hero’s quest” should really be necessary. And whether this should be the main point/arc of the story, or just an interval in the characters' histories.
5. Tweet more Original Content & Reply to more ROW80 posts/comments.  Same. I added up my tweets for Nov 1-14. A huge chunk are, unsurprisingly, commentary and discussion about our writing projects (it's very meta...).  Even with my tweeting (and writing) less this week, my tweets for the month have already passed 5,000. Admittedly, some of those words are “retweeted by @fiberverse” and links (which count as 3-4 words), but that’s part of what twitter is, so I’m trying not to be too self-critical about what to count or edit out for the word count. Also, part of my goal of studying my tweets was to see just how much of my content really was re-posting others’ content.
6. Keep Up with Minimum Exercise Goals: My minimum personal goal is still 3/3/3 (3+ sets each of counter push-offs, planks, and jumping jacks, for 3+ days in a row). Sort of keeping up, but not surpassing, which is a long-term goal.

The big challenge for the week will be pushing past the "Week 2 slump," and figuring out what to do about analyzing and curing my plague.  Some crazy people have already finished the 50k, but I'm trying not to pay too much attention to them this year (with varied success).  And I do appreciate how encouraging everyone is on the various forums!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dear Plot (ROW80 Update)

I hope everyone is having a nice week? The above sketch is of a super hero researching and solving a problem.  I'm hoping to somehow get my heroine to this stage.  How remains unclear...

Let's get right to ROW80 ("A Round of Words in 80 Days") goal updates:

1. Blog Sketches: Still fun, still giving me a quick, physically-creative outlet, although the pace has slowed. 15 doodles and counting.
2. Blog Drafts (pre-writing 10+ blog posts for November & December): I’m still keeping up, although still only one or two posts ahead.  I've revised my mental goals to incorporate two ROW80/NaNoWriMo update posts and one crafts-based post per week.
3. Vlog Idea: Nothing new here. Been more focused on blogging and writing.
4. Creative Writing. Things proceed apace! I always tend to start a story, and then trail off with no idea of how to finish it. But this “novella” idea has really caught my fancy, and it’s been really neat to watch it grow. I’m very attached to the characters and the writing style, although I’m trying not to obsess or edit too much. 

I’ve figured out that in Scrivener, one 5-line paragraph is approximately 100 words (and 6 sentences). So whenever I sit down to this project, I’ve been asking myself to “just write one 100-word paragraph (but hopefully, two).” It feels less scary that way. And just like the “one push up” rule that I really like:
If you do just one of something (X), you’re
A) Accomplishing more than zero (Yay!); and
B) Drastically increasing the likelihood that you’ll do more than one, since it’s easier to continue if you’ve already started doing X (Double-Yay!).
5. (Tweet more Original Content &) Reply to more ROW80 posts/comments.  Same. I really appreciate everyone else’s input, so I feel I ought to participate in the reply/interaction phase.
6. Keep Up with Minimum Exercise Goals: My minimum personal goal of 3/3/3 (3 sets each of counter push-offs, planks, and jumping jacks, for 3 days in a row) is still being imperfectly met. I’m doing a little stretching, but I know I need to do more, for mental/physical/psychological well-being, general longevity and the knots in my shoulders. I’m still hoping my writing discipline will carry over into exercise discipline a bit more.
I have only met (and surpassed) the daily minimum once so far. But I think my word counts have been steadily rising (although Monday's writing was very uninspired and short). It feels like I’m constantly 3,500-4,500 words below the marker, though. Some advice I’ve read about keeping up with NaNoWriMo goals:
1) Use one of the online writing sites that give you rewards or penalties, and write until you reach their minimum of 750, or 1,667, etc.
2) White out your font, so that you can’t obsess over how many words you see. I’m not sure if this strategy would work for me, since I like to refer to the chapter I am working on, but I could see how it would turn off your inner editor, and force a more stream-of-consciousness type of writing.
3) I saw this strategy in the NaNoWriMo forum on Reddit in a post by user General_Discord, and I really like it: Turn your novel into 30 short stories (in reality, or just in your mind). Instead of writing a 50k novel, your challenge becomes writing a 1,667 word story every day during the month. Then it’s more like Blogtober, etc. It’s up to you whether you want these stories to feature the same people, or even the same world. I think part of why this strategy appeals to me is that I’ve already been writing very short chapters--each of my “chapters” is a single scene, or a short interval. I switch to a different character’s point of view every 250-1,500 words (whenever I finish the idea or scene in my head). My single character description became three character descriptions, then three character arcs set in two locations, each with their own casts of supporting characters and spacial layouts, using this method.
4) I also typed up  short-hand lists of the characters, locations, and rooms in my Great Hall, because I was starting to get confused. They are not set in stone, but it’s helping me remember who does what, and who’s related to whom (I know a couple people are other character’s “nieces” or “nephews,” even though I haven’t yet figured out how! Also, one of my Elders seems to be the sibling of another character, who doesn’t seem as old in my mind, so I may need some revision down the road). I’m including these notes (columns of names and short phrases) in my word count, since I think it will help me to keep my family trees, etc., in the same document as my writing. I tend to scribble on scraps of paper, and these scraps all get mixed together and shuffled off into corners.

For some added entertainment or energy, check out this NaNoWriMo forum thread, “Dear Plot.” It is a thread of letters from various writers to their missing (or mutating, or progressively darkening) plots:
Short and sweet:
Dear plot,
10K in and you've failed me. Where on earth are you? I miss you and need you. 
Please come back. 
Love, Phillip R 
A much chattier letter, that invites the plot to really sit down and think about what it's doing: 
Dear Plot,
I think we both know where this is headed. I'm cool with that and all, and thank you SO much for letting me get that outline finished, but I'm a little worried that you aren't concerned about whether I come off as a total creep. You don't get to be a horror story this time around. I thought we talked about that. Is something going on? Can I help? Do you want to talk maybe? I'm here listening if you need me.
Please let me write about you without freaking out and hiding in the corner every 300 words. I am not judging you, I promise. We're done with that. Can you maybe tell me about your beginning in a little more detail? Or the characters I haven't fleshed out yet? I need to write about them too. C'mon. I'm way behind on my wordcount.
I don't mean to be pushy here, but keep in mind that I'm your god. You really wanna go there?
Your Only Chance at Existing
For a slightly odder experience, the “Character Graveyard” thread contains short eulogies for characters who have been killed off…and some of the eulogies are preemptive.

One of my favorites:
RIP in advance to Allison Morphy. 
I'm sorry Travers will shoot you dead.
He's not, though. 
Also, all the rats. No offense, guys, but you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This person experienced less remorse, but still wanted to commemorate the fallen:
R.I.P in advance to the about 100 people that died to the main subject of my novel. Will not be missed, I don't even know your names.
So, what would I write to my own plot right now?:
Dear Plot,
I hope you are well.  You seem a bit all over the place, although the different character arcs might actually be happening in the same world now, so that's great!
What I would really like to know, in proceeding, is whether this spreading plague is of magical or natural origin?  Because that will really effect how H needs to research it and ultimately defeat it. 
I know I could write a little for each possible scenario, to test things out, but I really feel you've been logically progressing in all arcs so far, and I would prefer to pick one type of world and stick with it.  But both do seem attractive.  How are you feeling about this?
Let me know, soon, please!
Thanks, again, and talk to you soon,

Good luck with your own writing!