NaNo2016 Recap


Nano did not go well for me this year. I continued working on one of my projects that I’ve been working on for a while now. I really enjoy working on the story, but I did not enjoy Nano this year.

That’s a tough admission for someone who has always loved writing, and, if I can say so, has always been pretty good at writing well in the face of a tough deadline.

It wasn’t fun, though. I’ve been working on the same plot that I started a few years back, and, though I still love the story and the characters, I just couldn’t make myself write anything most days. It took me until about half way in to figure out what was wrong.

I was forcing myself to write. I was forcing myself to do something, setting, honestly, unreachable goals for myself, and becoming more and more unhappy when I couldn’t meet those goals. Writing my story became just about as enjoyable as writing a twelve-page paper for a class that I hated.

At least I had to do the paper.

I started to dread the thought of coming home at the end of a (12 hour) day and trying to bang out almost 2,000 words every day. I started to resent my story and question everything that I had done up to that point. It got to the point that I considered scrapping the entire damn thing.

 To put that into perspective, this story is currently sitting at right around 97,000 words and about 300 pages in MS word. There are pages of back story work. There is a whole religious system, weather patterns, and season/crop cycles. I was working on a calendar!

And I got so frustrated that I nearly scrapped the entire thing.

But, thank God, I finally realized what I was doing. I was so focused on that magic number, on getting 50,000 words, that I forgot the entire point of NaNo, the entire point of writing for me.

To do something that I enjoy.

I write because I enjoy it and because I do it well.

That’s… not what NaNo felt like this year.

But, once I stopped focusing on my word count and started writing, just to write and not to meet a goal, I was so much happier again. Once I wasn’t thinking about how many words I was writing in a day, I was actually enjoying the words that I was writing again, however many there were, and that’s what matters to me. I want to finish this story, but I want to enjoy doing it.

I’ve been working on my story off and on again, regularly, since NaNo ended last year, and while I haven’t done as much writing, I’ve gotten a lot of other work done on it. And I’ve had fun doing it.

So, while I’ll probably do NaNo again this year, after 8 years, it’s become as much of a habit as anything, I’m not going to push myself as hard as I did this year. The point of NaNo is to have fun and write a story, not try so hard to meet a goal that you make yourself miserable in the process.

Finally, here’s genuine congratulations to everyone who met their goal with NaNo16, whether it was getting down 50,000 words, or just making sure that you managed to write a few words every day. You did awesome, and you should be proud. Everyone who simply took on the challenge should be proud.

Keep writing and have fun.



An Article on Blogging as Therapy

Okay, so very rarely do I post a blog two days in a row, but I felt that this one is worth sharing. I think its important to understand that writing (creatively, blogging, etc.) can be used for a lot of different things.

I actually ran across this article sometime immediately after it was published, and actually did a review on it for a childhood education class. I lost track of it, mainly since I hadn’t started this blog yet. I ran across it last night while I was working on article reviews for a current psych class. The article originally appeared in Monitor on Psychology, which is released by the APA, and the link goes to the article on the APA’s website. (the link to the article is at the bottom of the post)

I’ve personally always loved the idea of using writing in conjunction with more “traditional” therapy. In fact, it’s one of my goals in working towards my higher level degrees. I think there’s so much that can be done with writing therapy, and there’s a growing body of research that supports that idea. As the article says, psychologists have been encouraging the use of journals and writing for years.

And so blogging just seems to be the natural extension of that.

How many of us are online at least once a day? And how easy do sites like wordpress (and various other, not so great) sites make it easy to maintain, not just one, but blogs on as many subjects as you like? For me, it just seems to make sense. Yes, i know that there are hateful people on the internet, but there are also so many kind people who want to encourage others, whether it’s about writing, crafting, mental health, education, whatever.

As far as blogging about mental health, I think the article does a good job in pointing out that one of the biggest benefits to such a blog is the sense of community it can create. It can create that feeling of ‘No, I’m NOT alone in this,’ and that alone is so critical for anyone facing something challenging, whether it’s mentally, physically, or emotionally.

And like I said, I know that there are hateful people on the internet, and the author of the article knows that, too. Comments can be hurtful, but most, if not all, sites allow you the option to screen comments before they’re posted. You can also turn off anonymous comments, which will often cut down on a lot of the hate and troll like behaviour.

And at the end of the day, if there’s one negative comment compared to ten or twenty positive, supportive ones, well, maybe that’s an acceptable trade off. One person being an arrogant jackass isn’t the end of the world, though I realize that the comment can still sting, nonetheless, and I’m not dismissing that. ‘Sticks and stones my break your bones, but words can sometimes kill you,’ after all.

But there’s always the option of turning off the comments, if you’re truly concerned they might be an issue. The research points out that just putting the words out there on the blog is still beneficial.

Oh, and the quote comes from The Lucifer Effect, by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, the experimenter behind the Stanford Prison Experiment.I encourage you to google it (the experiment itself) if you’re not familiar with it. Just don’t use google images.



Trying to Balance Books

Otherwise known as my ongoing struggle to deal with required reading without sacrificing (or hating) reading for pleasure.

So, I hope by this point it should be obvious that I love to read. I always have, and I don’t really see that ever changing. But, if there’s one thing that could ever make me reconsider that stance, it’s required reading assignments for classes. I’ve touched on this topic before, and I talked about some of the books that I’ve had to read: 1984, Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare, The Scarlet Letter, etc. And, like I said, I loved some of those books.

But this isn’t really about liking or disliking an assigned reading. If it was, I’d be here all day railing against Paradise Lost and telling you how I utterly despise it, and what a complete waste of time I think reading it is.

I’ve heard people say not to bother reading books outside of class in college, or not to bring any of your (personal) books with you to your dorm room if you live on campus. I’m… not even going to start into what I think of either of those ideas.

Right now, I just had to finish up reading Book Two of Milton’s greatest atrocity. And we’ve only started it. We just finished up Doctor Faustus, and as soon as we complete PL, we’re moving straight into Frankenstein. With no class days in between. As soon as we finish Frankenstein? We start The Handmaiden’s Tale. Don’t get me wrong, the Prof. is giving us plenty of time with each book, but it really is one right after the first.

In the meantime, I’m also attempting to read two books out of class. Both of them are, essentially, write-ups of different case studies. The Lucifer Effect, by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, and Wayward Puritans, by Kai Erikson. Yes, I read books on psychology and sociology in my spare time. The point is, those aren’t exactly the easiest books to read. Not the hardest, certainly, but not the easiest either. And I know other people have read Paradise Lost. I know I can’t be the only one who reads a dozen or so lines, then looks back over it and wonders what the hell I just read.

Most people would suggest (rather sensibly, I suppose) to only read one book outside of class at a time. Either do that or don’t complain.

But really, I’m not complaining. This is really just sort of a meditation on how it can be done without being overwhelming, and while still getting the most out of every book.

Except Paradise Lost, because there’s nothing to take away from that book. Milton clearly had way too much free time on his hands. Obviously Pinterest hadn’t been invented yet.

Uh, right. Sorry.

Anyway, I think that it can be done. One thing I do is never switch directly from one book to the next. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a guaranteed way to forget everything you’ve just read in the first book. Put one book down, go do something else, then come back to the other book later.

Also, for required reading, read with a notebook nearby. I don’t like marking up books, so I keep evernote up and make notes and questions as I go. Actually, I do this no matter how many, if any, other books I’m reading. Also, I cannot stress enough how useful I find evernote.

Another thing I try to do is get required reading out of the way early. I don’t read ahead, necessarily, but I do try go get it done quickly. I’ve got English on Tu and TR. I like to have any reading assignments out of the way by TR night.

Finally, I try to remind myself that I DO love reading. I’m not going to be one of those people that doesn’t take my books with me because someone tells me that I won’t have time to read.

If you love to read, make time to do it. Between classes, in the morning, whenever. If you’re lucky to have a campus with a lot of great outdoor spots, make use of them, especially as cooler, awesome fall weather moves in.

Good lord I am so ready to be done with summer.

And if your school has a completely awesome library? Use it! (And can I just say for a minute just how fantastic of a library UTK has? Half of the 5th floor is dedicated to nothing but psychology related books)  Most libraries have areas for quiet study which are perfect for focusing on reading.

Lastly, if you love reading, then keep reading. Don’t let required reading be intimidating.

A Lesson in Grammar Humility

Some thoughts after working on this week’s French homework. Bear with me, this will eventually have a little something to do with writing. 

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m extremely picky when it comes to proper grammar. Yes, call me whatever type of name you want, it’s true, and it doesn’t really bother me. Also, understand that I live in East Tennessee. It’s… not always the friendliest place as far as proper grammar is concerned. I lose track of how many times a day I bite my tongue when I hear double negatives and the word “ain’t”. 

It hurt just to type that.

Now, I’m not someone who will go around pointing out things to complete strangers, because really, even I don’t want to be that person. Also, I have no problem with text speak, so long as I don’t see it in any kind of published, serious writing. I use it myself. Though not to the point of looking illiterate. Seriously? 2 for to? Dropping one letter..?

Uh, anyway.

The point of all of this is, I pride myself on having excellent grammar. My grandmother was an English major, whose parents were from New York, and she taught all of her children, and in turn, grandchildren, how to speak “properly”. 

I often wonder what she’d think if she could see how text speak has taken off in the last few years. She’d probably cry. 

But I’ve always been good at grammar. English has always been my best subject, even topping my major. My English score on my ACT was a 29. My reading was a 30. I never had any trouble with things that seemed to confuse my classmates, like active and passive voice. 

But hey, once you’ve done that in Latin, English seems like a breeze in comparison. 

But it was only a breeze because I had struggled and fought my way through it in Latin. And that brings me (Finally, I know. Hey, I said I had good grammar, I never said I was succinct.) to the point of of this post:

There is no better way to teach a grammar snob some humility than to put them into a foreign language course. 

Seriously. It was indirect objects/pronouns and partitive articles in French this week. When she assigned it, my first thought was an enthusiastic ‘no problem!’

Then, I actually sat down and looked at the worksheet and online lab. Oh. Dear. Lord. All of the sudden, I’m looking up

This book is now squarely  at the top of my hit list.

This book is now squarely at the top of my hit list.

things in French that I don’t even remember learning in English. And after a moment of thought, I realized I didn’t ever really learn them, per se,  It just wasn’t difficult for me, and I just picked up on them. Everyone with even a high school education should know pronouns.

Yes, I know they all don’t. 

But it really is pretty basic. That’s why I felt so absolutely ridiculous, and frustrated, having to look up things that, to me, should be so basic. I whined on my facebook that I felt like a 3-year-old, having to learn all of this. And to make things all the more frustrating, this isn’t my first foreign language class. I’ve already had a year of French in high school and college, and I’ve had two years of Latin

Latin v. French: I’ll let you decide. 

It was a serious wake up call, though. My grammar is great, so long as it’s in English. Put me into a foreign language class? I’ll do okay, but it’s certainly a bit humbling for someone who takes such pride in her abilities. 

People are never perfect, even at the things they’re really talented at. Writers can often be an interesting mix of haughty and humility when it comes to their craft.  If you think you’re good at something, great. Just remember, there are still things out there that can challenge you.

It’s frustrating, it’s disconcerting, and it’s humbling. 

But it’s also gratifying. Because there really is no feeling like that “Aha! Now I totally get how it works!” moment. 

À la vôtre!


Oddest Book List Ever

Okay, so this post isn’t really about writing per say, but it is about books. More specifically, that one of my classes has issue the strangest book list I’ve ever encountered.

It’s been a while since I’ve had any type of Literature class in college, but I have to have an Intensive Writing Course now that Iv’e finally made the switch to the University of Tennessee (Finally!), and the one I chose is “Themes in Literature.”

When I went to look at the book list for the course, I was quite ecstatic to discover that there’s no actual textbook. There’s another couple of hundred that doesn’t have to be spent. Seriously. Textbooks? They’re insane! My French II textbook is going to be ridiculous!

…Uh, sorry.

Anyway… There’s no textbook for the Lit. course, but there are six books that we have to have. They’re all what I guess you could call “classics” (a generous title for a couple, IMO), and I assume they’re supposed to have some kind of overarching theme between all of them.

But if that’s true, then for the absolute life of me, I can not find it.

  • Paradise Lost, by John Milton

While I’m not really a fan of the book/poem/whateveryouwanttocallit, (I’ve read it for World Lit. before) I have no qualms considering it a classic. There are some books that most people will read in college, and this is one of them. faust image

  • Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe 

I admit that I don’t exactly know much about this book. I’ve never actually read it. But I do know the gist of the story. And I can see how the good vs. evil theme of the book ties it in with Paradise Lost, and can understand the theme between the two. I’m actually kind of looking forward to this one. 

  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

This one is a classic. If I was asked to name 5 classic novels, this would probably come to me pretty quickly. (Along with, probably, Dracula, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Probably) But… I don’t really see how it ties in with the first two. Man playing God, maybe? 

  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson

To be honest, I didn’t recognize the title of this book when I first read it. Though research tells me that it’s clearly sci-fi and/or cyberpunk, with computer hacking and cyberspace. I… really don’t get how it ties in with the others. handmaiden image

  • The Handmaiden’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

This novel, I know simply by reputation. A disturbing look into the future, where an entire class of women has been reduced to, essentially sex slaves, indoctrinated, and used for nothing more than the purpose of producing children. While I don’t see how it fits with the first four, save for the sci-fi elements it shares with Neuromancer, I can certainly see how it’s right in line with the last.

  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury 

451 imageAnyone who knows me knows that I despise this book. I don’t like this book, because it scares me. It scares me, because I think that, in feverish moments, this book could be dangerously possible. People have burned books before; people still burn books! How many Harry Potter books have been destroyed because they “promote witchcraft” for children? I don’t like this book because, like 1984, I see it as disturbingly possible. I can see how the dystopian and sci-fi elements tie in with The Handmaiden’s Tale, but Doctor Faustus? Sorry, I just don’t see it. 

Anyone have any ideas? Opinions? What the hell do these books have in common? 

Besides all being on the same class list, thanks. 

Also, I inspired myself while writing this. In a couple of days, I think I’ll do a post with my list of (classic) books that I think people should have read by the time they finish college. 



Harry Potter: I Still Have So Many Feelings

Okay, settle in, get some snacks or something, because this might be a long one.

It’s hard to believe it, but fifteen years ago today, Scholastic released Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

This was around the time that I first got into the Harry Potter series, and even at only about eight, I devoured both Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, and eagerly awaited the release of the next book, just like millions of kids around the world.

Like I said, I was about eight when I first read Harry Potter, and I fell in love with it immediately. I had each book, as soon as it was released, and I would have it read within the week, most of the time less. I loved them. I loved the characters. I loved the world they lived in.

So did almost everyone else that read them. Kids started reading because of these books. Kids that had never had an intrest in reading started reading because they fell in love with Harry Potter. That alone should say something about this series.

Someone asked be awhile back, a non-Potter reader, obviously, asked me, in my opinion, what exactly was so good about Harry Potter. They’d seen some of the films, sure, but never read the books.

FYI, not something you say to some Potter fans.

Anyway, I rattled off the usual response to such a question:  I gushed about the series and how great it is. ‘Because it’s Harry Potter, that’s why. How could it not be amazing. It’s Harry Potter!’ Where have you been the last 16 years, hm?

But later, when I really thought about it (and I did), I wondered the same thing I had been asked. What is it that makes Harry Potter

The pride of my bookshelf

The pride of my bookshelf

so great? Is it the characters? Is it the story? Is it how it’s written? What is it about this series that has made it the success it is? What is it that’s pushed out more than 500 million copies of the books? What’s the reason it’s been translated into 70 different languages?

Why do millions of children, teens, and adults adore this series?

Well, I can’t answer for everyone else, but I can answer for myself.

I grew up with this series. Harry would always be two years older than me, but it didn’t matter. As the series progressed, I grew up, and so did the characters. And so did the books, themselves. Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets were pretty firmly in the realm of children’s stories, but starting with Prisoner of Azkaban, things started getting progressivly darker. The series was growing up, but so were its readers.

(Some people point to Goblet of Fire as the point when the series started turning darker, but I beg to differ. Remember the Dementors? The Kiss? Yeah, not really kid’s stuff, there.)

But I really believe that this was such a key part of the series. The characters were allowed to grow up.  Harry Potter was not a stagnant universe. Things were always changing and the stakes were always rising; they had to grow up. And for that inital generation of fans, myself included, growing up with the characters, almost literally, was part of the charm.

It was part of the magic.

And it made you care about the characters. These weren’t new characters, thrown at you at the beginning of every book.

And the characters felt real. Everyone of them, from Harry on down, had their strengths and weaknesses. They had their good points and charms, they had their faults and flaws. And when they let their flaws get ahead of them? There were consequences. They were human. They made mistakes. And you cared when they made mistakes. You hurt when they hurt. There were many times when I cried reading the books.

“The Prince’s Tale”, anyone? That chapter hurt.

And of course, the writing is excellent. The planning is incredible. Little throwaway lines in Sorcerer’s Stone become vital in Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. THAT takes some serious planning and attention to detail.

And really, who, at 10 or 11, wouldn’t have wanted to find out that there was this whole other world, hidden from our everyday lives? A world of magic. A world that we could never have dreamed of, and all of the sudden, there it was.

And then there were the movies.

The movies can be a point of… contention among some of the fans, but I have to say that I’m a fan of the movies, through and through. I love that they kept the same actors/actresses throughout all of the movies, where absolutely possible. It added to the whole feel that you were growing up with the characters, because we got to see Daniel, Rupert, and Emma grow up too. It just added a little something extra to something that was already so special.

I saw several of the movies in theaters, and the last three, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, Pts. 1 & 2, I went to the midnight premieres for. And it was at one of those premieres, Deathly Hallows, pt. 2, that I had one of the most moving moments from my time in any fandom.

When the title for the film came up, there was this overwhelming feeling of ‘This is the end. This is really the end.’ That thought nearly made me tear up then and there. And then, the end. “Hedwig’s Theme” playing over the credits. The first music we heard in the series was also the last. It was sad, but it felt so perfect. Everything had come full circle, and evrything was alright now.

But it really felt like a chapter of my childhood was coming to a close.

And in a way, it was. Harry Potter was such a part of my childhood and teen years. Harry Potter was something so many of my friends and I loved. We read it together and gushed over it together. I have such fun memories of guessing at future plots, discussing characters, and yes, I admit, fanning over pairings.

I still totally ship Harry/Hermione.

But it was fun. We enjoyed it, and that was what mattered. Ultimately, I feel like that was what Harry Potter was about: having fun. It was a world where anything was possible, and you were limited only by your imagination.

I know all of this sounds like such a rambling, long-winded answer, but so be it. That’s my answer to why I love Harry Potter so much. Because I loved the characters. Because I loved the world. Because the writing was great.

Because yes, it really was just that awesome.

Thank you so much J.K. Rowling, for giving us this amazing world. Thank you for fifteen years worth of memories and fun.

Thank you for giving us Harry Potter and his world.


“The stories we love do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”


Opinion: High School Books After Graduation

Last of the carry over’s from the old blog. Originally posted on October 23rd, 2013.

One of these I adored; one of these I hated. The third is Shakespeare. What more am I supposed to say about that?

       I had a really excellent English teacher for both Freshman and Senior English. She was great. Sophomore English was great, too. Junior year… Well, let’s not go there.

       However, even they couldn’t make some of the books we had to read any better. Every year, there was at least one book that I absolutely could. Not. Stand. Freshman year it was Animal Farm and Romeo and Juliet. Sophomore year it was Fahrenheit 451. Junior year? Well, I hated most of that year in general, since I’m not particularly fond of American Lit., but The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby really stood out. Senior year it was Hamlet, The Canterbury Tales and the ever charming, 1984.

       Yeah, I had to read both Animal Farm and 1984. Same teacher, different years.

       Don’t get me wrong; I read a lot of things in high school that I loved then and still love now. To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, The Fall of the House of Usher (not a novel, but I love that story) and of course, probably my favorite from high school, Wuthering Heights. 

       But not every character can be Heathcliff. Not every writer is Poe. Case in point? 1984.

       I hated that book in high school. It squicked me out. Room 101? No thanks. And good God, I couldn’t stand Julia. Maybe the audience wasn’t supposed to like her. Maybe we weren’t suppose to like Winston. Well, Mr. Orwell, mission accomplished.  I had to write an essay on that book. (We wrote essays on everything we read in that class.) The subject was, irony, if I remember correctly.

       The irony now is that, looking back, I’m really glad I had to read that book. It’s still not a favorite. I won’t be adding it to my physical book shelf anytime soon, but I do have a copy on my kindle. I understand why most high school students have to read it. I understand why it’s still relevant, even now.

       Maybe even more so, now. Don’t believe me? Look at the language in the book. It’s dubbed “Newspeak”.

       Now go and look at the average 12-13 year old’s facebook status and see which of the two makes more sense. My money’s on the former. At least it seems coherent.

       And as a Psych. student with an interest in Social Psychology, the book kind of fascinates me in some macabre way. The “two minutes hate” and the way Winston finds himself joining in? Perfect example of mob mentality.

       Another one that I’m slowly developing an appreciation for is The Great Gatsby. It’ll never be one of my favorites, (though how gorgeous is the new movie version?) but I can at least stomach it now. Yes, Daisy is still whiny, Tom is still an ass, and Jordan is still an icy you-know-what. Tom, at least, seems like he was meant to be pretty much irredeemable from the start, but Daisy and Jordan? I can kind of understand where they were coming from now. Still don’t like them, but I don’t hate them anymore either.

       Maybe something like 1984 should be left for college students? Animal Farm, too. Are most high school kids going to get the metaphor there? Stalin and Lenin pigs? Hell, does the average high school student know who Lenin and Stalin are? And I doubt most high school kids understand the idea of “Ingsoc”.

       Most students don’t really know how to appreciate novels like that in high school. Some do, sure, but most will just slog through it because they’ve got a paper to write, or an exam to take. Though I’ve done that in college too.

       I’m looking at you, Don Quixote and The Aeneid.

       But at least most college students have heard of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. Most of them have some idea of what Communism and Socialism are.

        Still, I’m grateful for having read what I did in high school. It’s served me well in college.

        Except for The Scarlet Letter. Seriously, Hawthorne? Seriously?


       Mayuuya (Chelsea)