Nikki's Notebook

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

Archive for April 2012

Short Stories and Knitting Socks

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UntitledThe chalkboard at Caribou Coffee had this awesome chalk drawing. If you don’t get it, check out this post at Hyperbole and a Half

Short Stories and Knitting Socks

In my last post, I talked about my handknit sweaters, and how my learning process with knitting sweaters can inform my learning process with writing fiction. If I can compare writing my novel to knitting a sweater, then I can also compare short stories to socks.

Sweaters are long term projects that tend to sit at the background of everything you do. Just like I remember that I took that unfinished sweater to Turkey and Argentina, I will remember that I wrote this novel the year I got married, the year I also taught NaNoWriMo as an afterschool class, and the year we went to London on our honeymoon.

If I remember the sweaters I knit at certain times, I will also remember the socks. Unlike sweaters, socks don’t take so long. They are more portable, more palatable, and they involve less risk. They can be a nice break from larger knitting projects, and are easier to do while watching TV. Some of those things can be true for short stories, too. They take less time, it’s easier to see the whole picture, and it takes less time to see the finished result and be rewarded with that sense of satisfaction.

I’ve written a couple of rough drafts of short stories in the last week or so. One is backstory for my novel, another is completely unrelated. On days when I just can’t fathom slogging through another few pages of my novel, I can relax by going back to devil-may-care rough draft writing on some short stories. Since they take less time, it can feel good to finish a story. I also feel that I get a chance to work on technique and style in the short stories, because I can get to the final stages of editing faster than I will with the novel.

I think it’s a good thing to take breaks from big projects for awhile, even if it’s only for an hour or two a day. My brain can use a change of pace. A good way to get a lot of work done is to vary the kinds of work I’m doing. Editing and writing a rough draft are two different processes, so when editing wears me down, I can work on a rough draft. When I’m burnt out on fiction for the day, I can work on a blog post. It can help me be more productive than if I were to sit down and try to work on my novel for five hours straight. Not that I usually have five hours straight of writing time, but for me, even one hour of focus on a single task can be difficult sometimes.

Much like typing with a fat cat on your lap can be difficult.
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Writing a Novel and Handknit Sweaters

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Maybe I shouldn’t keep comparing writing to knitting, but since they are two of my favorite things to do, it seems natural to me. I also think it can be valuable to look at how we acquire skills. Some tendencies and habits can carry over from one type of pursuit to another.

The first sweater I ever knit for myself, I ripped out and used the yarn for a different sweater. That second sweater, I never got buttons for, the sleeves were a slightly awkward length, and I sewed together sloppily. I think I also made up my own way to do a hood instead of looking up hood construction somewhere else. It wasn’t polished and I didn’t wear it much before I accidentally washed it (100% wool) in the washing machine, and I wasn’t too sad that it felted a bit.

UntitledI never finished my third sweater, but it had lots of potential. That’s it in the picture here. That sweater was an ambitious sweater. Knit on tiny needles and with tiny yarn, it took a long time to complete. It came with me on a college orchestra trip to Turkey, and on my semester studying abroad in Argentina. On one of the dusty bus rides through the mountains in Argentina, knitting away on the second sleeve, I lost my stitch marker. I no longer had any idea how many repeats I had done of the sleeve increases. Yes, I was that close to finishing that sweater, and I let a little thing like losing my place in the pattern stop me from finishing it. It’s been hanging in my closet since, the second sleeve in its own little bag in my knitting bin in the basement.

My fourth sweater has been my most wearable, though it’s still not perfect. My fifth is the same, except that the first time I knit it, it was way too big and I ripped the whole thing out and completely reknit it.

Now, what about my novel? Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged about the revision of my novel. Things are not working out, the plot isn’t lining up (I’m not even sure I have a plot!), it just feels like it stinks. Often, I will hear a quote from an author about their first novel, saying that it wasn’t so good, they were glad it never got published, or anything like that. I think my first novel is going to be like that. I almost feel a little bad blogging about all of my novel progress, when I strongly suspect I will never be sharing this particular novel with anybody. Maybe I shouldn’t think of it like that, but that’s my suspicion and it’s not really helping to motivate me to finish this revision.

One way I am managing to stay encouraged is to think about those sweaters. Just because I had to rip out my first sweater didn’t stop me from knitting. I didn’t think, “Wow, that sweater turned out really horrible, so I probably shouldn’t ever try to knit again.” Instead, I took the yarn I’d used and knit a whole new sweater out of it. And then I went on to knit other sweaters, none perfect yet, but all improved. So, even if my novel doesn’t turn out as perfect as I’d hoped, I’m learning as I go, and my next project will be better for having written this one.

I do promise, that even though I’m having misgivings about this novel, that I will continue with it through at least this revision! I am determined to do that, because I know that I will learn from it, and be more ready for the next novel. Now back to work!

My DIY Postgraduate Education

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UntitledLike many people, there are two sides to me when it comes to making big decisions like “What do I do next in my life?” There’s the realist (pessimist?) and the dreamer. In all of my decisions, I’ve been able to see at least a little bit of the dreamer. When I chose to major in English, it was because I secretly wanted to write fiction. Except, I would never have told anybody that.

Instead, when I answered the question “What’s your major?” with “English,” I would often get the response, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?” I always thought that a bit of a silly question, considering that if I wanted to be a teacher, wouldn’t I be an education major? Usually, what I’d do was shrug, and say I didn’t know, or make some joke about not having a job after I graduated. I managed to end up in education anyhow, thanks to AmeriCorps, but I still have no plans to become a teacher, either by going back to school or through any alternate degree program.

At each crossroads in my life, the dreamer in me struggles with the realist. It’s the same now that I’m approaching the end of this year with AmeriCorps. Going to grad school for English has always been in the back of my mind, and I did have enough professors encourage me to do it! However, the best advice I got was from one of those same professors who thought I’d be grad school material: Don’t go to grad school unless you know exactly why you want to go and what you want to study. He cautioned against grad school as a placeholder, or something to do just because you don’t know what you want to do next in your life. In the past few years, I’ve had vague thoughts of going back, but I’ve always wavered, because deep down I knew that’s all I would be doing: choosing grad school because I didn’t know what else to do.

Instead, I’m going to make my own DIY postgraduate education. Part of it will definitely include a job where I will continue to gain professional skills. The other part is going to be me spending time on writing and learning things related to writing. I still don’t know what form it’s going to take, and it’s going to take time, but I’m already taking the steps, and that’s what counts. It won’t be overnight, and it will be a lot of work, but if it’s work I enjoy, then I have achieved my goal.

What I won’t do is frantically try to latch on to the latest fad for making money on the internet, try to take advantage of people who don’t get it, or rush out sloppy work just so I can start promoting my first 99 cent ebook and expect to be the next Amanda Hocking. I’m going to do good work, hard work, thoughtful work, and quality work. If I’m going to do it, it’s going to be something I can be proud of.

Here is how I’m starting my DIY postgrad education:

Reading books:

I recently purchased Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and The Plot Whisperer when we stopped by Barnes and Noble the other day. It was an impulse buy, and perhaps a creative writing professor would have recommended different books, but it seems like a good start to me. I’ve started reading Self-Editing already, and it’s actually made me feel better about my writing. Not that I think my writing is so good, but because I knew a lot of the things it talks about already from the one creative writing class I took in college. I’m happy to know I’m starting good habits, even though I still have a lot of bad ones, too.

Practice!

I’m writing every day, so I’m practicing. I like this video with a quote by Ira Glass: Ira Glass on Storytelling, because it comforts me and motivates me to keep going. I’ve always written fiction, but it’s never been on a consistent basis until this year; it was always sporadic and unfinished. So I still consider myself a beginner. I’m going to keep practicing.

Studying others who are doing what I want to do

Mountain and Pacific is my big find for the day. It’s the perfect tonic I need to cut through all of the noise out there about marketing your book, creating content that you can sell, having an author platform, how to be the next kindle millionaire, or whatever. I’ve just read issues 19 and 20 of In Treehouses and I’m enjoying Thom’s philosophy that doing something well, and with depth and thought is better than all the tweeting and arm-waving you could do to sell your product. I do believe that the best way to stand out is to focus on quality and honesty and to let the rest flow naturally from that. Don’t get me wrong, I do think there’s a place for marketing, but the thing being marketed needs to be worth selling first.

Learning new technologies

I’ve downloaded the WordPress.org files to get started on a WordPress based website, and will be poking around with it for awhile. I learn best by just doing the things I want to know how to do, so I just have to jump in and try it. If I can make a nice website, this blog might move there.

So those are a few things I’ve been doing for my DIY education, and there will still be more. I’ll read and learn all I can, and take the best ideas from everything and mold them into something of my own. If you’ve read this far, I hope at least some of it was useful or inspiring to you. Maybe for all this, I won’t succeed, but I’m determined not to fail simply because I never tried.

Gru says, “I don’t care if it has no steering wheel and the hatch is filled with too much stuff. I’m going for a ride in the car!”

Camp NaNoWriMo and Proofreading for Project Gutenberg

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Alamo crossing her legs :)The internet has so much information and so many things to discover, and it’s always changing. Even with the tons of new things there are to keep track of, there are other things that have been around for a long time, in internet years, and I can’t believe I didn’t know about them earlier! Here are a couple of things I just found out about even though they’ve been going on for years.

Camp NaNoWriMo

Did you know there is a summer NaNoWriMo? It’s called Camp NaNoWriMo, and they do it in June AND in August. How did I not know about this until now? They call it “An idyllic writers’ retreat, smack dab in the middle of your crazy life.” Only it’s a virtual retreat. When you sign up, you can choose to be included in a “cabin” with other participants, so you have a built-in support group. I’ve signed up to participate in June, and we’ll see about August.

I won’t be writing a new novel in June. Instead, I’ll be working on my second draft of the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo in November. It has been tough to motivate myself to revise this novel. I started it completely unplanned in November, so I really had no idea where it was going, and it’s basically going to be a whole new story. I feel a little sad to have put all of that work into it only to rewrite it, but I wouldn’t have these characters, these ideas, the world building, or anything, if I hadn’t written in November. To help myself stick with it, I’ll be attending Camp NaNoWriMo in June so I can set myself a goal and have some accountability in sticking to it. I have to say I adore The Office of Letters and Light for doing all of this every year.

Proofreading for Project Gutenberg

Another discovery I made is that Project Gutenberg has a program for volunteer proofreaders to help process the books that are scanned and made into ebooks. As a spelling, grammar, and punctuation nerd, this is a project that appeals to me. I’m good at proofreading! I also like Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg provides free ebooks for books that are in the public domain (i.e. not under copyright anymore). The books are scanned from physical copies and put through OCR software, which recognizes the text. But, the software sometimes gets things wrong, and that’s where proofreaders come in! Click through the Distributed Proofreaders Walkthrough to get an idea of what it’s like to help out this way. I’ve signed up for an account, read the proofreading guidelines, and printed out the guidelines reference sheet. Today I took the proofreading quizzes, which helped me reinforce what I’d learned by reading the proofreading guidelines. Now, I get to proofread my beginner’s pages and get feedback from a mentor!

The picture above is of Alamo. Just thought I’d include a picture, since I haven’t had a reason for a photo for awhile! We think it’s funny when our pets cross their legs, and I take every opportunity to snap pictures of these poses.

What is my blog about? Redefining and reframing.

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I wrote in my last post about my tendency to daydream and to allow myself to get distracted by reading all kinds of writing advice, marketing advice, and just other stuff about creative careers in general.

What do you do when you get conflicting advice?
All over the place, I’ve seen the message to bloggers to determine what the focus of their blog is going to be. Decide what you’re going to write about, who your audience is, and stick with it.

This is one piece of advice I’ve had trouble with. When I created my blog, I intended for it to be an outlet for my crafting and fiber arts pursuits – knitting, spinning, and weaving. I had a vague notion that building the blog would help me when I eventually opened my online shop selling handmade goods. Later, I realized that I didn’t know how much I wanted to sell handmade goods. There is still a vague dream of selling things in a craft show floating around in the back of my head, and I definitely still craft, but when I started AmeriCorps this fall I ceased to have any extra income to invest in craft supplies. Plus, building a business that would require me to constantly weave or knit or spin, even when I didn’t feel like it, didn’t necessarily sound like how I wanted to spend all of my free time. I still reserve a space in my brain for the possibility of selling some handmade crafts, but my blog and my life has lost some of the urgency of that goal.

Lately, I have been blogging more about my writing adventures post NaNoWriMo. This has been a fun way of exploring and sharing my writing path, and of declaring my intentions to the world so that I can’t back out on this goal too easily. But what happens if I want to still blog about a knitting project I just completed? What if I went on an amazing hike on the trail in my neighborhood and want to share some pictures? Or what if I’m excited about it being spring and getting ready to plant seedlings in our vegetable garden?

With my new determination to beef up my online marketing and social media skills, I thought it might be a good idea to start a new blog about a niche topic, give it its own Twitter account, and start experimenting with some different marketing strategies. Then, in my rash of internet blogging research, I came across this gem from Alexis Grant For Social Media, More Isn’t Necessarily Better

It advises NOT to do exactly what I was contemplating doing. There are some valid points. Mainly, the idea that spreading yourself thin over too many social media outlets should be avoided is what resonated with me. If were to create too many accounts, all of them would suffer and none would be getting the effort needed to produce quality content.

So, what am I to do when I look at this hodgepodge of my blog that reflects my hobbies, my professional pursuits and dreams, and other little things I find interesting in my life? I am going to stick with what it has naturally evolved into, mainly about writing and fiber arts, with some little branchings out here and there. Where I want to improve is by providing something of value to my readers, rather than treating it like a diary. I’ve done okay with this on some posts, not so much on others. I’m confident that approaching this in an intentional, thoughtful way will help the blog improve. Hopefully readers will agree!

Written by nikkinbird

April 11, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Finding Balance between Writing, Blogging, Social Media, and Marketing.

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Okay. A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post: On reading and taking advice about writing. And frozen yogurt. My sentiment was that I can’t pay attention to advice about marketing my novel, or approaching writing as a business, because that kind of stuff distracts me from editing my novel. That is still true to an extent.

It is also untrue in a lot of ways. I have already been thinking about marketing my novel, because I started writing about my novel-writing journey here on this blog. I started tweeting my blog posts, and I started following professionals in the writing and publishing industry on Twitter. I have plans to write short fiction and include it here for free to begin building a readership. I’ve just reached my 11th follower for this blog the other day. Thank you, all 11 of you, for following my blog! I appreciate that you care to read what I have to write, and hope that it brings some value to you.

What I was complaining about was really my tendency to daydream. The internet is a good time waster for daydreamers. I daydream about the future a lot, no matter what situation I’m in. Since I know that my commitment to AmeriCorps ends in August (or after I complete 1740 hours, whichever comes first), I’ve been daydreaming of what I’ll do next by searching all of the jobs boards I can think of, even though I couldn’t realistically get the job because I’m not available to start work yet. I also daydream about becoming independent and working as a writer, so reading those advice pages is another way of distracting myself from the fact that, if I don’t ever finish writing a piece, I won’t have anything to market or build a career around.

Still, there can be a usefulness to daydreaming about the future. Today I’ve been calling it planning and allowed myself to waste a bit of time researching. First, I made myself write 1,000 words in the second draft of my novel. See? I’m thinking it’s all about balance. Yes, I need to make sure I’m writing and working at my main goal of finishing that novel. And yes, I also need to dedicate myself to this blog and my other social media efforts if I want them to count for anything.

My research today included poring over the many valuable posts that Alexis Grant has to offer on her blog. She has a lot of posts that are inspiring and at the same time offer practical advice on pursuing a career for yourself, doing what you want to do. I read every post in the blogging category from her sidebar, and then I clicked a lot of links that appeared in those posts and at the ends of those posts.

I particularly liked her Blogging 101 posts:
Blogging 101: Do you have what it takes to start a blog?

Blogging 101, Part II: What makes an awesome blog?

Blogging 101, Part III: A 5-step guide to getting started

I’ve made a list of things that I need and want to learn more about to become better at blogging and social media. I will also need to spend time on my writing. On top of that, I need to focus on a job search, because I know I’m not at a spot where I can make money with my writing online yet. It may be several years. Still, I’m hoping to land a job where I can not only build my skills for that job, but that will give me experience and skills that will help me universally in all I do.

Luckily, I will have some extra time to spend on all of that this summer. By the end of the school year I will have served most of my required hours with AmeriCorps, meaning I won’t have to work as many or as long of days to finish my hours this summer. I can use that extra time I’ll have to do Camp NaNoWriMo to motivate myself to finish this second draft! Word count goals will still matter, because my novel is morphing and requiring lots of rewriting and adding of scenes in this second draft.

Still, I will need to remind myself to keep balance. As if I’ve come full circle, I’ve stumbled upon Jody Hedlund’s blog through one of Alexis Grant’s posts, and found this post: 3 Ways to Keep Social Media from Taking Control of Writing Time. It’s a nice reminder that I need to sift through all of the advice out there, take what works for me, and make sure my priorities are focused. I hope everyone who joins me on my blog enjoys coming along for the ride!

Pinterest for Etsy and crafts

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I signed up for a pinterest account back in January at some point.  I figured I should find out what all of the buzz was about.  Then, almost seconds after I created the account, I got off of there as fast as I could!  I could tell that it was going to be another time waster.  And at least, with Twitter, I’ve followed some people who always lead me to news articles and information that I’m interested in.  

Today, I stumbled across this article: How the Wall Street Journal Uses Pinterest.  This reignited my curiosity about Pinterest, and I headed over to do some pinning.  Pinterest was even so successful at distracting me that I never got around to following the Wall Street Journal, even.  

I started making a board.  Lately, I’ve been bitten by the spinning bug.  I had been spinning up some roving last fall when our full wedding preparation time hit us.  The spinning got dropped, and then I was so busy with my new job that I never picked it up again.  I finally finished that yarn a couple of weekends ago, but haven’t wound it off the bobbin yet.  Spinning it up made me want to go on Etsy and purchase a whole bunch more hand dyed wool to spin, even though I have plenty of natural colored wool in my closet.

Here is my Pinterest board, “Pretty fiber & handspun yarn“, filled with hand dyed fibers and some handspun yarn that I found while “window” shopping in etsy shops.

I even added a couple of my own photos of yarn I spun last summer, though I don’t have the photography skills to get the color accuracy and beauty that my favorite etsy sellers can get of their stuff!

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Handspun falkland wool yarn

As I get more time for crafting again, I suspect that Pinterest will be a very nice platform for sharing crafts. I imagine it would be a very useful way to sell crafts, too, especially if you have great photos of what you’re selling. I should make a board for all of the patterns I want to knit. Oh wait, that’s called my Ravelry queue. Hm. So much going on online, so little time!

Written by nikkinbird

April 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm

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