Summer 2015 Reading

Magical books

Magical books (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last blog was all about the writing I’ve done this summer (and since then, I’ve achieved my Camp NaNoWriMo goal – yay!), but as any worthwhile author will tell you, you can’t write if you’re not reading. So I’ve been doing what a good writer should do, naturally.

The reading list that I set for myself this year is an ambitious one. (Read it here.) On it are 27 books, including several series. Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle has been on my to-read list for three years now, and I finally finished it. But those books are dense and ate up a lot of my reading time. As I approached the halfway point through the year, I wondered how I was doing.

I’m happy to report that as of mid-July, I’ve finished 13 of the 27 books. Maybe Inheritance didn’t set me back too far, after all. Of course, I read a lot during our two-week vacation. I worried I was being overly ambitious when I packed the entire Divergent series, as well as a book that a friend lent to me a few months ago. But I read the whole borrowed book on the plane trip from east coast to west coast (Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss – I highly recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of British humor), and I plowed through all but a couple hundred pages of the Divergent series over the two weeks.

Ahead of me, I still have at least one doozy (Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Heart’s Own Blood – all of the books in her Outlander series are formidable), plus Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series. I know I re-read it last year, but I want it to be fresh when the final movie comes out this fall. Also, I’ll start reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my seven-year-old in the next week. I’m excited that he’s finally old enough to comprehend the story – we may have another Potter geek in the making.

Other than my non-fiction books (which I rarely list here, unless it’s what I consider entertaining non-fiction, such as Talk to the Hand), I’ve stuck to my book list pretty well. Early on, I decided to read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone because I’d seen the movie and was interested in seeing what kind of extra character developments happened in the book. I’m glad I did. Woodrell’s use of language is unique, and as a writer, it’s always helpful to mix it up with a different style from time to time.

The only other detour I’ve made was Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (also a book-turned-movie). This was a book I had to read. I’m going back to teach full-time in the fall, and the faculty at my school has a summer reading list. Still Alice was the only novel on our list of choices. I’ve jotted down the titles of several non-fiction books that interest me, but I wanted a good story – and I got it. But frequent criers, keep your tissues handy.

I’m sticking to my list and loving it. I hope to finish Lois Lowry’s The Giver series by the time the kids go back to school (I’m halfway through the second book, Gathering Blue), and then I’ll keep plowing ahead.

And never fear – if I actually make it through this whole list, I already have several new books waiting. (She rubs her hands together and cackles with glee.)

Summer 2015 Writing

So far, summer 2015 has been one of the best summers in recent memory. My husband and I aren’t big summer vacation people. In fact, other than weekend trips to visit his parents, we haven’t taken a big summer vacation since our honeymoon 11 years ago.

When we decided to spend two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, I thought we were crazy. We’re not the type of people to just leave for two weeks. But aside from taking our hot Florida weather with us to Washington State, it was a great time away from home with our family.

During the first half of our trip, I was a little anti-social. (Let’s be honest, I’m anti-social anyway, but this time it was because I had a deadline to meet.) I spent most of my down time polishing my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel for submission to CreateSpace. As a NaNo winner, I was eligible to claim two free copies of my book, but I had to have it submitted and approved before midnight EDT on June 30th. On the west coast, that meant I had to be done by 9:00 P.M., and I was nervous about pushing it that late. Last year, I had my novel submitted in plenty of time, but CreateSpace’s approval process took almost 24 hours, and by then, it was too late to get two free copies.

This year, my goal was to submit my manuscript on June 28th. I didn’t achieve that goal, but that’s because I decided to submit more than just the 2014 novel. Since it was the sequel of my 2013 novel, I included both novels in the same volume. The 2013 novel has gone through significant revisions since last year, and my beta readers for the sequel will need to read the new version of the first novel in order for the story to make sense. So I finished editing and formatting both books, then submitted them on the evening of the 29th.

When CreateSpace sent me the book preview, it was with a note that they couldn’t publish it because there were three blank pages in the middle. After hours of frustration (because my copy didn’t have three blank pages), I figured out a way to eliminate the blank pages on their end. I submitted the new version after one in the morning, went to sleep, and woke up to see that it was perfect – except for the headers. Since there are two novels in one volume, I thought it would be helpful to have the titles listed in the headers, but after making the change that eliminated the three pages, apparently the second header was deleted. Oh well. I went with it rather than risk fixing the problem, only for it to go past the deadline. These are just beta copies, after all, and I finally got my two free copies.

NaNoWriMo 2013 2014

It was an immediate relief to have that project behind me. I spent a few days filling my free time with reading. But then it happened – the itch to write again. After giving my creative juices a few days to percolate, I started looking through my unfinished manuscripts for something I could sink my teeth into.

Then I found it – a book that I started writing years ago and that I come back to every once in a while. I’ve written a scene here, a scene there. It’s not even a skeleton of a book yet, but it’s something. I read through everything I had – about 60 pages in a Word document – and decided I wanted to dig in and really get something done with this story.

I was surprised with how easy it was to sit down and just write. It’s a great feeing – one that I’ve only been able to capture during National Novel Writing Month the past couple years. There’s a reason that I have so many unfinished manuscripts, and it’s that I’ll start with a lot of inspiration, and then my Muse will just abandon me. It’s wonderful to have the motivation back.

So wonderful that, after several days of writing and having no inclination to stop, I decided I might as well sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I have friends who sometimes participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in April or July, but I never wanted to do it before. I’m always too busy editing and revising. But this year, while I wait for my beta readers to give me their critiques, I want to be productive. There’s nothing better than writing because I want to – and having the time to do it. I might as well enjoy it because I’ll be working full-time in November and don’t know if I’ll be able to make the 50,000 word minimum.

For anyone else who’s interested, Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own goal (I think the minimum is 10,000 words). My manuscript was already at 20,000 when I started, so I set my goal for 35,000 by the end of July. As of today, I only have 10,000 words to go, and I think I have enough momentum to maybe even finish this book.

Happy writing!

To-Done!

If you read my post last week, you know that I had great hopes for this week. My to-do list needed to get a lot shorter, and guess what? I am happy to report that my first full week of summer break has been a success.

On Sunday, I finally finished Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, the last book of which I’d been waiting for read for four years. I have to say, whatever my complaints about Paolini’s style in his early books, the last one more than made up for it. The only problem, of course, was that I was sad to be finished.

Reading Dilemma

With my recreational reading done, I plunged into work on Monday. And I even involved the kids. They sat at their table and had work time while I cleaned the kitchen. I have to tell you this because a day during which I clean an entire room (actually more than that because I cleaned the laundry room and one bathroom, too) is a day for the record books. (Please tell me I’m not crazy to be proud of this.)

I also spent my younger son’s entire naptime working on my biggest freelance project, a memoir that I’ve been working on for a year now. Thank goodness my client isn’t in a hurry. Although she still has some copy to turn in to me, my hope was to finish arranging and editing the material she’s given me so far and return it to her by the end of the week. I must have spent anywhere from three to six hours on this project every day this week, and although Microsoft Word had me practically pulling my hair out by the end, I did finally get a draft to her. (I would give details, but just know it had to do with pagination – if I try to be any more specific, I’ll most likely be reduced to gibberish and &%*!@ in order to keep this a family friendly blog.)

With one project out of the way (at least until that client gets back with me), I have one last freelance project (a much simpler one) to finish before our family vacation. I understand that I will come home from our vacation with work still to do, but my clients will have that time to decide what changes they would like for me to make, and I will only have to worry about finishing touches.

And then I will be done. As of this week, I am no longer offering my freelance writing services. And it’s not just Word that’s made me fed up enough to quit. Although I won’t go into details now, I am going to join the work force again soon, and if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that I can make myself and my loved ones very miserable if my plate is too full. So while I will be glad to help friends with blogs or editing projects that don’t have critical deadlines, I am no longer pursuing freelance work.

It’s a relief, actually. Anyone who is self-employed understands the pressures of finding enough work to pay the bills. Last summer, I was able to land enough steady projects to earn a paycheck while I wasn’t substitute teaching, but it meant that when I was at home with my kids, we weren’t able to do much fun stuff; I was stuck at my computer working very hard for very little monetary compensation. This summer, I will be able to spend more time with them, and the time that I do spend at the computer will mostly be writing my own fiction.

Speaking of my fiction, now that I have one freelance project behind me, I have time to concentrate on editing last year’s NaNoWriMo book. I am determined to get my two free copies from CreateSpace. Beta readers, I will be reaching out to you sometime in July, so get ready!

Lastly, while I am reducing the stresses in my life, one of them will be this blog. No, I’m not quitting! Believe me, I still have a lot to say, but I won’t be pushing myself to reach my own personal deadline (which is once a week) anymore. Many weeks, I get to Sunday and panic because I don’t know what to write about. Or I have a lot to say but am too brain dead to arrange much of a coherent thought.

I have a friend who used to blog weekly, and she made the announcement earlier this year that she will now only post when she feels inspired to do so. At the time, I was saddened because I loved reading her blogs, but I could certainly understand – and I kept her idea in the back of my mind. To remove another stress that I put on myself sounded like bliss. I told myself that if I ever went back to work, changing from a weekly blog post to a “when I’m inspired to write” blog post would be the way to go.

Don’t worry. Even if you don’t hear from me next week, I still have plenty to say. I’ll likely update my book list sometime soon, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about NaNoWriMo 2015. But when you don’t hear from me, know that I’m enjoying my family or a good book… and, as always, striving make more of my to-do list items to-done.

Playing Catch Up

During spring break, I was excited about the possibility of being able to cross off many much-neglected items on my to-do list. During that week, however, I was disappointed (as I often am) with the amount I was actually able to accomplish. Sure, I was home more than usual, but then so were the kids, and they had expectations, as well.

Since spring break, life has not become any less hectic. I’m not going to summarize all my busy-ness here – you can read any number of my recent blogs to get the idea. Just suffice it to say that, with the end of the school year drawing near, I was excited to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Last weekend, I planned to partially unplug – which I did! My husband and I spent the night away from home sans kids, TV, and wifi. It was somewhat of a surreal experience, and we couldn’t help but say “The kids would love this” or “We’ll have to bring the boys here” at the beach and the fort and a little fudge shop near our bed and breakfast. But we survived and even managed to enjoy ourselves.

One of the things I’d hoped to do was catch up on my reading. If you follow my yearly list of books that I hope to read, Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle has been on there since 2013 – and I’m finally almost done! I had hoped to finish by the time my son finished school on Thursday, but I knew that was a very ambitious goal. Still, I only have a little over 200 pages to go, so I’ll definitely be through in the next couple days.

The reason I am so eager to finish (other than wanting to know what happens – this is a great series!) is because I have so much work that I need to do. While many other moms are posting selfies from the beach and running around like crazy people trying to keep their kids occupied, I plan to spend a lot of time at home. (Don’t worry – I still have plenty of fun activities planned for my kids!) This is partially because I’m tired of my commute, and our gas bill needs a little bit of a break, but it’s also because my to-do list includes clients’ projects, and these clients have been very patient. They know that I substitute teach during the year and, therefore, have an erratic schedule, but now they’re expecting results. I mean, what excuses do I have anymore?

I held off writing this post for a couple days, hoping that I’d be able to report that I spent the first full day of summer break plowing through my jobs and striking off to-do list items left and right. And I did make some progress, but it’s been slow. The children are still underfoot, although they’ve been great so far. My little one even likes my implementation of “work time” (where I have them sit at their table and color, write, or do quiet projects for a few minutes), thus giving them some structure and me some peace while I do my own work.

My goal (you know how I love goals) is to keep forging ahead, even if I only have two or three hours a day to devote to my projects. Although I’m not going to totally unplug during our upcoming family vacation (a girl still has to blog and write fiction when the mood strikes, right?), I don’t want to leave projects hanging over my head – or clients calling, only to be disappointed that I’ve put their work on hold for two weeks.

Okay, goals set. Deep breath. Next week, my to-do list is going to get a lot shorter.

Unplugging (At Least a Little Bit)

I’ve seen many an article in which the writer talks about how he or she has gotten rid of smart phones permanently, and I’ll have to say that I’m not one of those people. Believe me, I fought even getting an iPhone much longer than is normal for a so-called millennial, but I finally got one three years ago. I don’t play games on it (although I did at first), and I’m not the type of person who has to have the latest version. I like it for the convenience of being able to take snapshots and videos of my kids and check my email on the run and make phone calls and look up obscure trivia all in one device. But that also doesn’t mean that I’m glued to my phone all day. My rule is that I simply don’t use it at all if ever I wake up in the middle of the night (unless, of course, I get an emergency call or text). It’s easy for me to ignore it. In fact, there are some times when I am so busy that I’ll got 12 hours without doing more than checking the time.

But then there are those other people who can’t pull themselves away from whichever device is their vice of choice (and see how “vice” is already there in “device” – it’s like it was planned that way). These people check their email if they happen to wake up at three A.M. They play Farmville at their children’s band concerts or ballet recitals. They talk through the checkout line at the grocery store and text while driving. A lot of this comes down to a lack of common sense as well as courtesy – blog topics for another day.

The iPhone isn’t my problem, anyway. We have a semi-joke in our house about “my” MacBook. We bought this computer almost four years ago when my husband went back to school. At the time, I thought it would be great to have after he graduated, in addition to our desktop model. And for the longest time, I didn’t do much with it. He took it to class, typed term papers on it – was even typing one in the hospital room when our second son was born – but then… well, I kind of took it over after he graduated. (Don’t worry – I did get him an iPad mini to make up for stealing his tech.) By that point, our desktop computer was on it’s last legs, but I wasn’t worried about replacing it – the MacBook was more than adequate. It’s where I do everything from this blog to typing my NaNoWriMo novels to doing my freelance work to editing photos and creating photo books (for me and for clients). I’ve taken it on every vacation since we bought it, including Disney World, and I’ll even carry it in the car to work on projects if it’s a ride of 30 minutes or more (and when I’m not driving, obviously).

But this weekend I’m going to leave it at home.

That’s right – I’m letting go! My in-laws are taking the kids Friday after school through Monday – the longest I’ve gone childless since November 5, 2007. And this time, instead of my husband working half the nights they’re away, we’ve actually booked a room at my friend’s bed and breakfast – a first for us. My elder son was shocked to hear that we’re going to be doing fun stuff, too. And here’s something really different for me, the planner: we don’t have a plan. We’re going to go and just do nothing – or anything. And I’m not taking the laptop. I’m not going to write at all. Now, it’s only going to be for one night, but these are baby steps, folks. While I love writing, my husband can tell you that sitting down to innocently write a scene turns into balancing the budget for an hour and editing for Fiction Fix and any number of other computer-related distractions. We’ll take our phones (and probably the iPad) so we can FaceTime our kids and watch Netflix to our hearts’ content. I’ve been so busy lately that I refuse to go on a vacation only to do more of the same while paying extra for the room. (And see – I’m even posting this blog early just to make sure I’m distraction-free.)

We’ll have our books and a new-to-us area to explore. It’s going to be the perfect pair-of-introverts weekend.

Is May the New December?

I’ve noticed a pattern over the past several years, especially since I started substitute teaching: the school year speeds up exponentially after spring break. It’s like a race to the end of the year, to fit in all the end-of-year projects and parties and field trips. Everyone, especially the children, can feel that summer break is fast approaching, and life takes on a frenetic pace.

Maybe that’s why I’ve heard more than one person complain that May is the new December, as if December is a bad month. I quietly took issue with this notion. My favorite time of year is Advent, preparing for the birth of the Christ child. I love the Christmas music, Christmas shopping, wrapping Christmas presents at night while watching Christmas movies, doing the Advent calendar with my kids, and – yes – my seasonal socks. Yet for many people it’s a nightmare of obligations and deadlines and buying presents for people they don’t really like. I get it – December can be stressful. Not to mention that if you’re in college, you have exams, while all you can think about is the long break that’s so close you can almost touch it. I can certainly commiserate because I was a December college graduate. And that year, while I thought it would be such a relief to finally be done with school forever-and-ever-amen, I found myself immersed in not only editing but also typesetting the second volume of Fiction Fix when our previous typesetter bailed. People were counting on me, and I wasn’t able to enjoy December – or even being done with college – like I’d expected.

Maybe this is how my friends feel this month.

For me this year, May is more than teacher’s gifts and good-byes and summer planning. I took the Florida Teacher Certification Examination this past Monday, which meant cramming for almost two weeks. As soon as I got through with that, I took on the end-of-year books for my first grader’s class. These books hold the kids’ projects from August through the end of the year – over 20 pages of 12×18 construction paper – but what I didn’t realize was that about half of these projects still had to be glued to the paper before the books could be assembled. Another mom and I thought we could knock it out on Tuesday, only to find out we were in way over our heads. I’ve taken pages home every night, still have five or six to go, and need to finish by Tuesday.

First Grade Book-in-Progress

So my May has been busy. I’ve put off the usual things that fill up my to-do list, things that are still waiting for my attention, and I can feel them getting ready to pile back on. Like two freelance projects that I hope to finish in the next month, before our family vacation. Like a friend’s novel that I’ve been slowly beta reading since January. Like my own fiction projects, which I blogged about as recently as last week.

But I’ve been living with a kind of giddy feeling, anticipating the (temporary, at least) cessation of certain obligations. This weekend alone, three culminated: yesterday was my son’s last baseball game of the season; this morning was the last Sunday school class I have to teach until September; and this afternoon was my community chorale’s last concert of our spring season. Not to mention that this week will be the last meeting of my third-year Education for Ministry group (which means I’m almost finished with the 1000+-page history book we’ve been discussing since last fall). After Memorial Day weekend, my son has a partial week of school, and then first grade will be over.

What this means is that, even though we have school for a few more days, when we’re home for the evening, we’re home. I’ll have time to cook and actually enjoy supper. By the end of the month, I won’t have to wake up at 4:30 for a blessed two-and-a-half months. This doesn’t mean that I’m just going to sit around and twiddle my thumbs all summer – the kids and I will be plenty busy – but it does mean that I will be able to stop and breathe for a minute.

I love summers because I get a break. I’m grateful for this because so many parents aren’t able to have the time off with their kids. But if I’m not careful, I can allow myself to dread the end of summer break. I have to remind myself that I always love the beginning of a new school year, and I have ever since I was a kid. This year, my little guy will start preschool, so it’s going to be even more exciting. As my kids grow, everything seems to speed up, and I have to be careful not to stress too much over all the activities and responsibilities that go with being a mom-slash-chauffeur. What I do, I do for them and for us as a family. School and tutoring and daily chores are part of our life, but if we begin to allow the fun stuff – the baseball and the play dates and the trips to the park – become obligations instead of fun, it will be time to reassess. I don’t ever want to let a particular month turn into a time of dread, and I hope everyone else embroiled in the busyness of these times will do the same.