My First Camp NaNoWriMo Experience

Camp NaNoWriMo Banner

So, you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo. But have you heard of Camp NaNoWriMo? I hadn’t until a fellow writer introduced me to it.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, wherein an online community of people attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Why? Because people revel in pain, I suppose. While few complete the challenge, it still serves as a good starting point for beginning a novel.

However, I never participated in NaNoWriMo before, largely because I felt the format of the challenge was too restrictive.

Camp NaNoWriMo is far more flexible. Essentially, you get to choose how many words you want to write/hours you edit for/pages you do a storyboard of/etc. during the month of July. It’s for any and every type of creative, and is largely self-determined. When I heard this, I decided, hey, what the heck. I had a short story I wanted to turn into a novella anyhow (The Stolen Sun), so I signed up and never looked back.

It has been a great kick in the ass. Apologies for the profanity, but it really has been.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret. Before Camp NaNoWriMo, I hadn’t written in over a year.

“Egads!” you exclaim. “How can a writer such as yourself not write?” Exactly. I had been so busy editing what I’d already written and trying to stop writing altogether that I simply had not written anything at all for a year. When I heard about Camp NanoWriMo, I decided to change that.

Day 1:

I joined my writing ‘cabin’, (a group of likeminded writer friends; in this ‘cabin’ you can update others on your progress, see others’ stats, etc.), updated my project info, and… didn’t write anything. In my defense, it was a crazy busy day, and by day 2 I had written 1,200 words. So there’s that.

Picture of a Cabin
While this is a far cry from my online writing cabin, I can dream.
Day 10:

At this point, my word count was 4,962–which meant my novella had already surpassed the original short story in length! I also had already gathered research materials at this point, 11 heavy library books on ancient Mesopotamia, and was incorporating historically accurate information into the story as I went. I was riding an immense writing high at this point, and had already done 2 write-ins with other local cabin members.

Picture of Some Research Material
A page from one of my research books. Here is depicted two lamassu, guardian beings, in the rocky Mesopotamian landscape.
Day 20:

This day was… less great. Still great, but I was feeling down because my writing hadn’t been as consistent. I had written over 1,000 words on each of the previous 3 days, and then nothing on day 20. In my defense, I was incredibly sick, but still. It stung. All I could do was hope that I’d be able to get back on that horse and finish my 20,000 word goal before August 1st. I was already sitting at 9,109.

A gif of Justin Timberlake looking scoldingly at the camera.
Me to me when I don’t write.
Day 28:

On July 28th, I reached cloud nine. After a few word sprints, many late nights, and sacrificing my lunch breaks and sleep to write, I had reached my goal of completing my first draft for The Stolen Sun. I didn’t hit 20k, but the story didn’t require it. It reached its natural ending at 17.5k. As you can see from my word count tracker, there were ups and downs on this journey. Days when I wrote diddly, and days when I made leaps and bounds. But ultimately, the biggest thing that contributed to my success was the accumulation of small, regular efforts.

Ending Word Count

Overall, I’m incredibly happy that I participated in this.

This whole project is a great way to kick one’s butt into gear and put some serious words on the page. The goal flexibility was really the stand-out factor for me here.

But ultimately, there’s nothing magical about the month of July. There’s nothing Camp NaNoWriMo gave me that I couldn’t have done on my own. Aside from a word tracker and a group of dedicated writer friends, all that was holding me back was myself.

I sincerely hope this month-long exercise has helped get me back into the habit of writing regularly. At the very least, it’s been a fulfilling and rewarding experience that I recommend every creator try. While I still need to edit my novella two or three times, this experience alone has been huge in getting me this far.

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


Until next time!

 

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Personal Goals for 2018

Personal Goals for 2018

I’m a firm believer in New Years Resolutions. I make a list of goals every year, and typically accomplish at least 80% of those I’ve set. But as I’ve discussed previously, this year has not at all gone as planned. Between being stalked, experiencing a downturn in my health, and so on, things have been all over the place, causing me to take a look at my goals and my life. There are some I’ve taken off the list. There are others I’ve added. It’s been difficult for me in that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and want to hold myself accountable to my goals– but I’m also learning that it’s okay to adapt to new circumstances, even if they’re not the ones you thought you’d ever find yourself in.

Here are my new personal goals for the rest of 2018:
Read 10 More Books

I’ve already read 10 books this year, and am in the process of reading my 11th as I write this. With those plus the other 10, that should bring my target this year to 20 books read. This is much less than in other years, but what with a full-time job and everything else going on, I figured I’d cut myself some slack. Whatever that is.

Travel to One More Country

One of my goals for 2018 was to travel to at least 3 new countries. I’d figured it would be a breeze. I had plans to go to Bhutan, Vietnam, Mongolia, etc. before that was all dashed by my crappy health. But, I did get to go to Hong Kong* and Macau*, so . . . that counts for something, right? That plus my plans to visit Mexico for the first time will let me reach my goal!

* While these are both SARs of the People’s Republic of China, they are still defined as separate travel destinations by the Traveler’s Century Club by nature of their cultures, histories, and identities.

Finish first round of edits on The Immortal

I completed drafting THE IMMORTAL last summer. At the time, I’d tried to force myself to put it out of mind and not edit it for a while. (This was in my ‘I don’t want to be a writer’ phase. An awful time, really.) While deep down I wanted to complete my first round of edits on THE IMMORTAL before the year was out, I didn’t put it on the list. Which is akin to sacrilege for me.

Now I’ve made it one of my primary goals. And I’m well on course to complete that goal by the end of July!

Stay consistent with my online presence

This seems like a silly goal, I know. On the surface, it is.

But it’s not about getting likes or comments or anything like that. As I’ve made clear in my other posts, it’s been a rough year for me. Certainly not the worst, and I’m grateful for many of the things I’ve experienced, but it hasn’t been a cake-walk. Being able to connect with like-minded individuals online has been a godsend, and it’s really helped me reconnect with my passions and motivators.

Thus, managing my online profiles is my way of checking in, of holding myself accountable and staying connected to my online communities.

complete my first novella

Never did I think I would write a novella. I didn’t know just how awesome they could be until recently, and it certainly wasn’t on my initial resolutions list for 2018.

Some of you may recall a short story I wrote almost 3 and a half years ago now, titled The Stolen Sun. It was about a young boy and his ailing mother who are called upon by a deposed sun goddess to restore her to the heavens. I loved it, but I always felt like there was something fundamentally off about the last half’s execution. No matter how I tweaked it, no matter how I rewrote chunks here and there, the problem persisted. All the places I had submitted to felt the same.

But underneath it all was still a great story. So, I’m casting out to old work entirely. No more reworking, tweaking, or moving around. We’re starting from the ground up, and I’m now attempting to make a novella out of it!

 

While I have a few other, more personal goals, these are the major ones I have for the rest of 2018. How have you done with your yearly goals? Do you set any to begin with? Whether or not you do, comment below with one tangible thing you’ve done this year!

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Why I Tried to Stop Writing

It’s true. I tried to stop writing.

This might come as a shock to some, as it well should. I’ve been writing consistently for over a decade and a half, so why would I try to sabotage myself? Why would I derail myself from something I’ve so long considered a dream? Simple. I was tired of trying to find balance.

When I initially graduated from college, I decided I was going to stop writing.

Not forever, but the plan was to stop writing for one year as I pursued different passions, traveled, and ‘discovered’ myself (whatever that means). Because writing hurt. Writing was difficult. It required getting up early or staying up late, it meant forgoing social events and spending whatever free-time I found outside of work/school to research and outline, it meant tearing your work apart for the thousandth time in pursuit of something better. It’s hard work, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it anymore. At first I was in high school, then college, then in the working world, always caught up as I tried to balance my academic/work life and my literary aspirations.

So I swore off the balancing act. It required too much time, too large a part of myself, and, to be entirely honest, it stung to be confronted with the very realistic thought that this would likely never be my career.

So I tried to give up. With the amount of time I invested into writing, surely I could invest that time into something else I’d more realistically attain, right?

At the time, I was set to move to China, where I’d no doubt be as busy as ever working and studying and exploring, so it would be a good time to leave my writing days behind. Or so I thought.

I’ve already talked on this some, but my time in China was not what I thought it’d be. When I felt isolated and insignificant, I gave in and let myself write a bit. When I had a toiling day at work or an encounter with yet another harassing or ogling person, I set aside some time to write. And when I was laid up in bed, unable to go much of anywhere or do much of anything, you know what I could do? I could still write.

I had tried to be done with writing, but clearly it wasn’t done with me. Even when my health left me, even when my wanderlust and verve left me, my stories were still by my side.

And so I fell back into my love of all things literary. Even on the days that I was feeling fine and could walk about and explore, I still set aside time in the wee hours of the night to write and edit and outline. It started with those small bits at first, until I was writing and editing more per week than I had been the whole month before that, on and on. Sometimes writers joke that they didn’t chose to write, but rather that they simply can’t stop. I understand that on a whole new level now.

Over this past year, my attitude around writing has experienced a dramatic shift. At the beginning of it, I’d actively stopped myself from writing. I didn’t post about it much, if at all. I tried to put my current projects on the back-burner. Jump forward to now, and I’m editing nearly 900 words a day, reading daily, and so forth. I’m on track to be well into my fourth book’s, THE IMMORTAL, second round of edits by the end of this year, and have outlined about 2 and a half books this year thus far.

Yes, finding balance and sacrificing time outside of work to write is hard. But as I’ve found, it is so, so worth it. And I’ll never make the mistake of thinking it isn’t ever again.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." -- George Orwell

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Why I Had to Leave China

Image of a small American flag. In the background is the ocean.

So, I had to leave China.

I’m back in the United States, and for good now.

This is much earlier than I’d originally planned–the plan had been to stay for a year then reevaluate whether I wanted to stay on for another year–, but I had to come back for health reasons that just couldn’t wait any longer.

Simply put, I became very, very ill over in China, and due to my rapidly degrading condition, my doctors all recommended that I come back to the States for treatment ASAP. It was a slow decline that gradually snowballed out of control. First it was difficult for me to eat certain foods, then I would need to rest more than other people or take the odd painkiller here and there, until suddenly I couldn’t eat at all, I couldn’t walk around for more than five minutes at a time, and was in such pain I couldn’t sleep for stretches of days. The only way I was able to endure teaching during those last few days was by using my breaks to cry in a secluded corner and/or discreetly find a place to vomit.

I resisted and persisted until my body quite literally couldn’t function any more. My work wanted me to tough it out, and I felt intense loyalty to my students and coworkers. My doctors however informed me that, if I didn’t leave now, things could get worse, to where my life may be in real jeopardy. At the time they even felt one of my organs might need to come out, (which it still might; they’re keeping an eye on it if/until things worsen again), which, frankly, scared me straight. On top of my pre-existing health issues, there was a very real possibility that I was putting myself in harm’s way.

So, I caved. I gave in. I kissed my dreams of travel and completing my contract and collecting that sweet, sweet end-of-contract bonus goodbye, and left China. And I’m glad I did.

Yes, I only lived in China for about 6 months, half of what I originally intended. But I’m alive, and I’m recovering, and I’m beginning to find normalcy in my life once again.

Some people have asked me if I’ll return to finish my contract in China, but I won’t be. I simply can’t go back for so long again without putting my health at serious risk. The combination of environmental factors have too great an effect on my health, and to do so would be risky at best. That, plus I was largely treated like absolute garbage by at least 80% of the people I encountered there, from stalking to slurs  (“foreign devil” was my favorite) to people literally trying to steal pieces of my hair and/or grope me.

So I think it’s easy to understand why I’m not abundantly eager to return anytime soon.

I’m still upset that I was unable to leave on my own terms and my own timetable. But, all considered, I’m lucky I had a safety net I could fall into, and lucky I left in time. This entire ordeal has made me reconsider my goals in life, but right now my top priority is getting better. And I’ve been recovering slowly but surely.

If you’d like to be notified once I get everything back up and rolling, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


I’ll keep everyone updated, but please be patient with me as I begin getting back into the swing of things. I’m happy to be back at it!
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Christmas While Abroad

Christmas is my hands-down, no-contest, favorite time of the year. This also means it’s a sentimental season for me, as it is for many people around the globe. But, being in China for it has definitely thrown my holiday spirits for a loop.

Did I at least get peppermint treats, you may ask? Christmas movies? Time with loved ones? Curling up with hot cocoa to partake in holiday traditions? Nope. Sadly, it was a regular day, wherein I tried not to focus on what I was missing back home.

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba

But that’s how you make it through these periods. I knew what I signed up for when I came here–and I gained more perspective through it, too. What must it be like for Chinese people living in Kansas during the Lunar New Year? What must it be like for Indian people in Texas during Diwali?

Before I could only imagine their pain. Now, I’ve experienced it myself.

Regardless, I will move forward. I’m blessed to be living abroad, even if it is sometime difficult, and still am excited to experience all the wonderful things it has to offer.

Watch the full video above to hear more of my thoughts on the topic. What’s the most difficult holiday experience you’ve ever had? What made it so, and what did you learn from it? Comment below!

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Moving to China! | TRAVEL VIDEO

So, I’ve officially jumped. I’ve taken the plunge head-first into moving abroad, officially moving to China for a one-year contract as a teacher. I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to my family and pets, then got on the plane to China. And, honestly?

I was confident and excited–up until the moment I zipped my bags closed. Then, I was scared shitless.

“Who Does This?!”

Every way this scenario could go wrong played out in my head. Every fear I had about China plagued my dreams, both when my mind wandered and in my sleep. Who does this? I’d wonder, and it was a fair point. Who leaves everything and everyone they’ve ever known to go live overseas, in a place where they don’t fluently speak the language, they don’t know a single person, and they don’t know what’s waiting for them?

But, apparently, I do. After a lot of mental wrestling matches and talking myself out of buying a ticket home, I decided to stop. Self-doubt certainly wouldn’t make this any easier.

What Moving Abroad Has Taught Me

Moving abroad was a risk, but, these many months later, it’s one I’m glad I took. China hasn’t been perfect. No place is. But, it has thoroughly changed me for the better. It has taught me what I’m capable of withstanding and doing (like enduring the Christmas season utterly alone), as well as exposed me to new experiences and tested my spirit. Ultimately, I could make an entire separate post about all of this. (Keep your eyes open for it!)

For now, I’ll continue to persevere, foster self-confidence, and carry on.

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What’s one experience you’ve had where you experienced self-doubt, but finally overcame?

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100 Days of Productivity Challenge: What I Learned

I’m an avid bullet journaler, and am pretty involved in the “studyspo” community online (studying/productivity inspiration). Lately a challenge has been circulating called The 100 Days of Productivity Challenge, which I’d decided to take a swing at. Boy, am I ever glad I did.

Before I’d started this challenge, my edits on The Final Advent were slow, and my progress on other projects was nonexistent. I hardly found time to write at all. I figured I’d get around to everything eventually, but my studies were simply gobbling up too much of my time.

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Me.

Let’s flash forward to now, where I have completed editing (and have released!) The Final Advent, and have completed 11k of a different novel and a substantial portion of a short story. Both which I work on now almost every day.

Why the change? What about this challenge, something external and arbitrary, so changed my habits? It all boils down to one thing: momentum.

When I started the challenge, I knew to set realistic expectations. What with 6 hours of homework a night, I didn’t want to set myself on fire just to complete everything that needed tending. Whatever I did, it had to be small. I wasn’t sure it would even make much of a difference. I definitely didn’t believe I’d make it to day 100, thinking the effort would prove fruitless.

My first week went by. Those mere 15 minutes a day had given me a pretty nice chunk of completed work, and hence the more I wrote the easier it became. Plus it offered me a productive bit of respite from schoolwork.

As the time went on, my small fifteen minutes a day started racking up some serious word counts, and the momentum just kept firing me up and the ball kept rolling. Something started to happen. I wasn’t feeling guilty that “oh I hadn’t gotten around to what I needed/wanted to do today, guess I’ll get around to it some other time”; I wasn’t pulling my hair out in stress either. I was getting stuff done, with minimal pressure and a boost of encouragement.

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“This is. . . working?”

That trend continued, and to this day (long after the challenge) I still work on my writings almost every day. This challenge inspired me to kick my butt in gear, because there is quite literally no time like the present. (Pardon the cliche.)

Heck, I’ve even gotten a new weekly ritual out of it! Once a week I now take myself to a coffeeshop or bookstore, order a nice snack or drink (usually those ridiculously priced, diabetes-in-a-cup Starbucks concoctions), and sit down to write for a few hours. Productive, pressure free, and delicious. Plus oh-so-writerly.

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Ultimately, here is what I’ve learned from the 100 Days of Productivity Challenge:

  • Set realistic expectations. Don’t pretend you’re going to write 1,000 words in a day, because you won’t. Not if you’re already struggling to sit down and write as is.
  • Force yourself to do it, and do it early. The sooner in the day you complete your task, the more you’ll get done.
  • Make it fun. If you hate what you’re doing, you’re not gonna do it. Find someplace comfy. Eat something nice, and stay hydrated. Don’t hunch over and strain your shoulders, for god’s sakes. Make it as painless as possible.
  • Keep track of what you’ve already done. For me, that was word counts. If you’re studying something for instance, keep track of how much you’ve reviewed or your (hopefully) improving grades. Seeing what I’d accomplished was a huge visual payoff for me.

Have you ever done a challenge like this before? If so, how did it go? What did you learn?

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