Nikki's Notebook

My journey as a fiction writer and a place for my projects, writing and otherwise.

A little change…

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Well, since I last posted a bit has changed. I am still moving this blog to a new site. Last time I posted, I had and set up to redirect to the same website. Since then I separated the two, creating a business site and a personal site.

The business site is, which now is focusing just on computer lessons and tutoring. The personal site is, which will encompass my writing, crafting, gardening, pets and such.

Everything changed because I got lucky and got a job! I’m the program coordinator for a new afterschool program at the school I served at for AmeriCorps. So I guess it’s not only luck, but also that the hard work and dedication I showed as an AmeriCorps member paid off and caused the principal to highly recommend me to the person hiring for the job. I’m really excited because I am working with great people in a positive environment, and have a meaningful project to work on.

I’m also working for a children’s book author who lives very close to me.

So that’s the update., the new version of this blog, is still a work in progress (the header doesn’t even say Sticks & Scribbles yet, just has the default theme logo “Notes of Life” on it), but feel free to follow me there! I should start posting more regularly once it’s up and running.


Written by nikkinbird

September 16, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Getting ready to strike out on my own

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UntitledAs the summer comes to a close, the end of my year of service with AmeriCorps is fast approaching. August 31 is my last paycheck. I started applying for jobs back in April. Some promising leads came and went. There aren’t a lot of jobs in my area that I can apply for. As September approaches, I find myself facing the choice of returning to a job I was miserable in so I can pay the bills, or applying for low wage jobs that won’t pay the bills to tide me over until I can get a “real” job.

Instead, I’m creating my own job. I’m tired of applying for jobs I know I don’t want to have. I’m tired of being rejected for ones I want (and know I could be great at), but don’t have enough experience on paper for. I’m in a small city without a lot of choice or opportunity in this economy, so I’m doing something to take control of my situation. I’m optimistic and scared. I’m excited and uneasy. I’m confident and unsure.

Chris and I are both creating our own jobs, so we’ve been coffee shopping a lot. I’ve been working with yelling, wrestling, arguing, running kids four days per week and somehow coming out with just enough energy to work on my projects in the evening. My blog has been neglected as I work on my new website. I think I will start a new blog on my new site instead of importing this one, but keep this one as a personal blog.

You can check out my new site at Or It’s definitely a work in progress. There you’ll see that I plan to freelance as a copyeditor, and also to tutor and teach computer lessons locally. The tutoring & computer lessons are my income insurance, the copyediting is my risk. I know I can get tutoring gigs because of my relationship with the school and because I will get a good recommendation from the parents of the girl I’ve been tutoring this summer (I’m the first tutor she’s liked in 4 years, I’ve heard). When Chris was fixing computers, he found a demand for computer lessons among older clients.

I also possibly have the opportunity to do some work as an assistant to a local children’s author, and I just heard about an opportunity for 4 hours per week as a “handcraft” instructor at the new Waldorf school that’s opening here. I’d get to teach knitting to first and seventh graders. Score!

I’m hoping that diversifying what I do will help me cobble together enough to live on and not make me crazy. I figure that if I get so busy that I feel TOO busy, it will be a good thing because it will mean I’m earning a living, and it will be insurance against slumps. I can always prune back. I’m actually optimistic that I will make more than my AmeriCorps stipend (900/month isn’t hard to surpass).

So that’s what’s been happening in this neck of the woods.

I wonder if tutoring will ensure me the same immunity to colds that I enjoyed all last year? Seriously, if you don’t want to get colds, work with toddlers for a year. You’ll have nasty colds all that year, but the next one? Golden. If the immunity continues, I’ll say it’s a small price to pay.

Written by nikkinbird

August 9, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Working on a new site and garden week 5.

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I am working on transitioning this blog to a self-hosted domain and making it part of a larger website. The other day I learned how to export this blog here as an xml file and upload it to the new site. But I’m not quite ready to start posting from the new site. I’m chipping away at it in bits and pieces.

I’ve had a few obstacles. One of them has been learning how WordPress works when you’re using it to make a website. I will get stuck on one thing that I want to do and then get super frustrated when I can’t figure out how to do it right away. In these situations, when I get over the frustration that makes me want to cry and throw things, I have to laugh at myself. How many times, as a tutor of school-age children, have I lamented that they get frustrated when everything doesn’t come easily to them? I try to explain to them that it takes mistakes to learn, that you have to let yourself be bad at something so you can practice and get good, and that they just need to keep trying. All the while, I’ve gotten caught in the same trap. If something doesn’t come easily right away, I let myself get distracted, procrastinate, and go do something else. My biggest weakness? I don’t like asking for help.

Here are last week’s shots of the garden. It’s gotten even greener by now.

Baby lettuce! I need to thin these, and then eat the thinnings 🙂
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Snap peas have started to climb the trellis.

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Zucchini plants getting bigger, and the whole garden getting greener.

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Jalapeños! Sadly, they weren’t spicy. Apparently too much water can do that to them. We had the same problem last year.

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Another overall garden shot from the other side.

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Written by nikkinbird

July 10, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Benefit by doing things that others give up on.

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fortune cookie

Benefit by doing things that others give up on.

That’s what my fortune cookie said last Friday at the grand opening of Co.Lab Duluth. I thought it was fitting, because I was finishing my word count for Camp NaNoWriMo, and am working toward finishing the rewrite of my novel. I’ve been working on this project since November, and there have been many temptations to give up on it. It took a long time to get a little bit of writing done at Co.Lab’s grand opening, though, because the grand opening events were so fun! We got there in time for the breakfast buffet, and stayed for lunch and the happy hour at the end of the day. I’m really excited to have a CoWorking space here in Duluth. I love the concept and hope to someday make money independently so that I can justify paying for a spot there! Preferably writing novels, of course 🙂

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Kayaking: one reason I love Duluth.

This is how we watched fireworks on Wednesday. We’ve talked about doing this since we met, because Chris had done it before. We just never got a chance. This year, we finally did it. The fireworks in Duluth are set off from a barge in the bay and it can be quite challenging to find a good spot that isn’t crowded that also has accessible parking. Plus, kayaking + fireworks = gorgeous. We put in from a beach on Park Point before it got dark, and then chilled out in the water, paddling around until it was fireworks time. Seeing the city from the water, the sun setting behind the hill, floating on the water, was just perfect. Now I want to go kayaking every day.

Camp NaNoWriMo Finished Successfully!

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Duluth Flood, Vermilion Rd 6

Camp NaNoWriMo Finsihed!

Yesterday was the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo for June, and I finished my 50,000 words! Woo hoo! I am far from finished with my revision. In fact, I was forced to rethink my whole story and go back to the beginning and take it in a whole new direction. I’ve only got about 20,000 words of this “new” story, but that’s okay.

Things I changed:

  • I took it from three point of view characters down to one.
  • My main character stays in town. I’d created this great city for her to live in, then had her leave it in the first couple chapters of the story.
  • I added dragons.
  • I changed my system of magic back to one that I’ve imagined for a story all along.
  • There are a lot of other changes, of course, but one thing I like is that I know what the ending is going to be. Well, I know the main idea of the ending. And that means I know where I’m going, so the rest of the story will make more sense.

    News Around Here

    I haven’t kept to my blog schedule very well the last couple weeks and I blame it partly on NaNoWriMo and partly on the fact that I started working with a new summer program AND I started tutoring a neighbor. My summer has been busier than I thought it was going to be. Getting used to the new routine, losing the battle against napping on hot summer afternoons, and trying to write 1,667 words of fiction a day have consumed me.

    Oh, and also, we had a flood. Our city is on a hill, so nobody really took flash flood warnings very seriously. Well, the thing about being on a hill, in a city by a great lake, is that there are a lot of streams, creeks, and rivers going to the lake. And they all swelled up and washed away everything in their path. My neighborhood lucked out and didn’t get any damage, but just blocks away our local creek jumped onto the street and washed away all the clay under the pavement and made a street look like an earthquake had hit it. It was a bizarre day. Click here to see my Flickr photo set of pictures and videos I took around my neighborhood that day.

    Written by nikkinbird

    July 1, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Can reading writing advice hurt your writing?

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    In this first revision of my novel, I’m changing a lot of things drastically. That means I’m throwing a lot of good writing out the window, but I’m still keeping and altering some scenes. It’s tough, as a writer, to go back and pick out those parts of the scenes I want to keep, and then to notice that the rest of it, the part I’m leaving out, isn’t really that bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. How did I not notice that when I was first writing it?

    The thing is, I don’t feel like the writing I’m doing now, to replace it, is as good. Is it because I just can’t see it until later? Or is it because I recently read some books about writing and editing fiction, and I’m letting my inner editor have too much reign at this point in the process? I may be worrying too much about using words other than “said” as dialogue tags and stripping my writing of adverbs. This advice is useful, but not if it makes me self-conscious to the point of making my writing sterile and lifeless.

    On the other end of things, I get too frustrated with the advice that tells me to “just do it. Just get words on paper,” and focuses a lot on word counts. I WANT to know more about the editing process and what it looks like to sit down and chisel away at what I’ve already written. Apparently, I just need to know where to apply that advice.

    My conclusion is that writers need to take advice self-consciously. Obviously, anything that causes you anxiety and keeps you from writing is not good. My solution is to take a step back, and give some conscious thought to how I’m following the advice, or whether it would benefit me to follow it. Another solution is to filter the advice and make sure to only apply it to the part of the process I’m in. This can be tricky sometimes, since I’m still exploring my own process and figuring out what works for me. And that’s the thing about advice, too. Writers are all different, and we each need to figure out what works for us.

    On to another note. I have pictures of Week 2 of my garden. Seeds are sprouting, things are growing! I harvested my first pepper, but the plant came with the almost full-grown pepper on it, so I don’t think that counts.

    Here’s a pic of the whole garden. I think it’ll be fun to have a week by week collection of these and watch it get greener and greener overall.
    GardenWeek2 #1

    My zucchini seeds sprouted! I plan to tie them up on the green mesh as they get bigger. I may be a little too late planting them, but we’ll see. Que será, será.
    GardenWeek2 #2

    Baby zucchini closeup. I planted two seeds in each hole in case one didn’t sprout. Sadly, I did pull the second sproutling out of each pair. I hate doing it even though I know thinning is a part of gardening.
    GardenWeek2 #3

    Lettuce sprouts growing in among the peppers! I thinned these, too, after taking pictures.
    GardenWeek2 #4

    Closeup of cute lettuce sprouts.
    GardenWeek2 #5

    Green bell peppers! The peppers were already on the plant when we bought it. Yay for head starts. I’m excited for this one, because last year I bought one before our garden was built and wasn’t able to plant it for about a month. I think we’ll get a lot more peppers this year!
    GardenWeek2 #6

    Big beef tomato flowers.
    GardenWeek2 #7

    I planted snap peas and pole beans near the trellis and next to the tomato plants so they can climb the tomato cages. Last year, our tomatoes got so huge, I’m not super worried about other plants blocking their sun. If the beans and peas grow too fast, I’ll just cut them back. Here’s a pole bean seedling. Cute!
    GardenWeek2 #8

    And, a shot of the tomatoes now, to compare with when they get really big!
    GardenWeek2 #9

    Fantasy Writing and Worldbuilding

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    Origami paper!Now that I’m revising my novel, I have found myself exploring my worldbuilding a little more. Or, really, my lack of worldbuilding. I don’t usually start NaNoWriMo with much prior planning, and I get a lot of my word count by spewing out brainstorming about the characters, the world, its system of magic, and any other background info. This time around, I’m ONLY counting words that are part of the actual narrative text, because that is what I want to make the most progress on. I’m making worldbuilding decisions as I go, but I’ve thought of a lot of things I want to do after I make my 50,000 word goal this month to enrich the world the novel occurs in. Here are some of them:

    Draw Maps

    My novel has two main settings. The first is the city/kingdom of Areth, set in the mountains with all the buildings built into and onto the rocks and with all kinds of winding bridges, trails, and tunnels. There is also a river running down the middle valley that the city is situated in. The other main setting is on the plains surrounding the mountain, in the camp of a semi-nomadic tribe of people who are related to a marginalized group of people who live in the city. I still haven’t figured out if the city is just a city that’s part of a larger kingdom that the plains are also part of, or if it should be a kingdom by itself and the plains are part of another kingdom, or what. On top of all that, I need to figure out where this country stands in relation to all the other countries in this world, so I should probably make some of those up.

    Describe the Kingdom’s Current Political System and Climate

    A large part of my story is based on political unrest and oppression of a group of people, so I should probably figure out what the heck is causing it. I’ve got characters who reside in the royal palace complex, but I have no freaking idea who the king and other royal people are, or what their motivations are. They will not be part of the story, but in countries ruled by a King or Queen, those people should probably be pretty important figures in the minds of all the other people living there.

    Really figure out how the heck these people use magic

    It’s not a fantasy story if they don’t use magic, but for some reason I have lots of trouble coming up with specific little details that show how they use it. I’m such a big picture person, that I’ll develop the vague notion of how things are in my brain, like “they study magic in school, and the king’s army has a special division of guards who are trained in combat magic,” but if I had to actually describe what a battle looked like? Yeah. I get stuck. Do they get physically hurt by, like, fire that the mage conjures, or do they get magically affected somehow and just die after writhing in pain? If they make a shield, is it visible as energy or invisible? Heck if I know. I have been trying to just write what I think of as I go, because brainstorming lists is getting me nowhere. In the process, I’ve switched my general idea of how they do magic like ten times, further complicating what I’ve written before.

    Magical creatures–do they exist?

    I’ve always loved stories with magical creatures, especially dragons. But my story has none. I have a feeling that, after spending tons of time working on this world, I will want to stay in it for awhile longer by writing other stories that take place in other areas of it. And I like magical creatures, so if I’m going to be living here for awhile, I should probably find out where the magical creatures are.

    Take advantage of these great resources:

    I’ll be honest, these great articles and websites were all on the first page of my google search, so it seems silly reposting them here, but I will anyway.

    Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by writer Patricia C. Wrede, for authors to ask themselves to help them develop a world.

    30 Days of Worldbuilding, a collection of exercises by Stephanie Cottrell Bryant.

    The Encyclopedia Mythica, especially the Bestiary. It’s an encyclopedia of world mythologies, and the bestiary describes different mythical creatures.

    Like anything, I need to be sure to assess whether I’m doing something needed or just procrastinating on the real goal of writing a story. I definitely think that research and worldbuilding are essential to fantasy writing. Almost none of that work will make it into the novel, but it will be there to support it and make it more real. I’ve already benefited on my character development by writing short stories as back story, so it can’t be much different for worldbuilding.

    I’m including a picture of my origami paper, which has nothing to do with worldbuilding. Isn’t it pretty though? And that is an origami butterfly, in the middle there.

    Written by nikkinbird

    June 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm

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