Amber Morrell

writer, reader, librarian

Month: January 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Everyone Starts Somewhere

I’m still toiling away on edits of my MG time travel project, which I’ve decided to call (for now) SPLINT. I gave myself a deadline of the end of January to finish all the rewriting I planned, and I actually seem on track to meet that goal, perhaps even a bit early. I really want to try to finish before the semester starts on Monday, although that’s complicated by the fact that I’ve already received reading assignments for classes that haven’t even started yet.

After I’m done with those revisions I’ll have an actual, complete “first draft” which will, of course, need one (or more) additional passes before I can give it to my very lovely and very patient beta readers. But because the semester is starting and I won’t have the time to devote as much attention as I’d like on the project, I think I might shelve it for a while. It’s been in my brain for so many months now that I’m starting to feel exhausted by it. I’d like to take a step back and let it simmer. I want to forget what I wrote so that when I go back and read it for further edits I can see it more objectively–see what works and what doesn’t without being so entrenched in the details as I am now.

Plus I think I might only be able to work on personal projects on Monday nights, when I go to my writer’s group. Two to three hours one day a week is hardly enough time to devote to editing, and I want to be able to give SPLINT the attention it deserves, and a few measly hours once a week aren’t enough.

So I’m going back to my old project. One I’ve been working on since 2013 and has, since then, taken on multiple forms that are all very, very different from each other. My writer group friends know it as my Griffin project, but it needs a new name since the creatures aren’t really griffins at all anymore–they’re something different. I’ve spent the last few months that I haven’t been working on it thinking about it from time to time, and today I wrote some notes about the direction I want to take it. My scope in previous drafts was much too big, so I have to simplify the story or split it up. Right now I’m leaning toward the latter, so we’ll see how it goes. I hope getting back in the trenches of playful word vomit will be a nice break from schoolwork and from SPLINT.

The fact that my writing hasn’t really gone anywhere or been ready to do anything other than sit in my brain and on my hard drive gets me down sometimes. Yesterday I really needed some inspiration, so I decided to read some blogs by authors I admire to see if I could glean any insight from them. Specifically I was reading V.E. Schwab’s blog, because I love her writing and she’s extremely prolific on the novel front and I basically want to be her. I especially admire that she writes across categories, having releases in MG, YA, and Adult, which is something I see myself doing.

Anyway, I absolutely loved her blog and after I was several pages in I wondered when she started it. Did she start it as a way to market her books? Or did she have her blog before she ever even got published. Turns out her blog goes way back to before she even landed an agent. And for some reason, reading through her frustrations at the publishing process gave me hope. Because we all start somewhere. And I made a tweet about it, which was pretty well received on Twitter.

I’m not sure if this post was supposed to depressing or inspirational. I guess it just is what it is.

Collaborative Writing

Barmy Drapers writing diligently... or just posing for the photo, which is exactly what I'm doing.

At first glance, writing and reading are inherently solitary acts, often as a way to escape the stress of social activity. I love the idea of curling up all by myself with a good book and a hot cup of tea on a rainy day. I don’t need anyone–just myself and the words on the page. There’s a similar romantic notion about writing: who doesn’t dream of moving to a cabin on the coast of Maine and disconnecting from all technology to write the next great American novel? Even if you’re not that specific, when most people imagine writing they imagine doing it alone. And for the most part, much of it is done alone–even if you’re part of a writing group, or in a public cafe surrounded by people, writing is your hands on your keyboard typing your words.

This is the way I’ve approached writing for most of my life: as something I have to do–to finish–before I can share it with the world. But recently my perceptions of the writing process have been changing. Over the past year and a half I’ve been meeting weekly with my local writer’s group. We’re lucky that we meld with each other so well. We have similar tastes and interests. We exist on the same wavelengths. And we get excited about each other’s work. Every Monday we get together and sit side by side at the community table in the local Panera bread and we put our heads down and we write.

But more than that: we make goals. We encourage each other. We challenge each other. At the beginning of last year we created a communal goal sheet, so we could set our own goals and then encourage each other to actually meet those goals. My goal last year was to read more books: done. Finish a manuscript: done. And to be honest, I only accomplished those goals because of the pressing guilt that I was letting my friends down, not for a deep down desire to finish. Some nights I dragged myself to my keyboard even though I was tired, grumpy, and didn’t want to write–but my group’s encouragement made me continue ever on, and once I got on a roll I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t stop writing. I took their book suggestions and devoured them and suddenly reading wasn’t so solitary: I was talking to people in real life about books that we both loved and didn’t have to read for school. It was–and continues to be–intoxicating.

Writing developed a similar feeling. The more comfortable I got with my writer’s group, the more I opened up about what I was working on. I always had a fear (still do) that saying what I’m writing doesn’t convey what I’m actually writing. That it will sound stupid and clunky on my lips compared to my (obviously beautiful, perfect, poetic) words. But I was met only with encouragement! And genuine excitement! And people asking me, nearly every week, “So how is your gryffin story going?” or “I can’t wait to beta read your novel when it’s done.” Writing left the realm of the solitary. I wasn’t writing just for me anymore. I wasn’t writing for money or fame or any of those things you dream up late at night as you roll around in your bed, not actually writing, but dreaming about once your book is released (and of course it’s always the next Harry Potter). I was writing for all of us.

And then something amazing happened: my writing got better. Whenever I was stuck or needed an idea, I had a group of willing and excited people there ready to banter back and forth about what would work best. Whenever I was feeling discouraged, I had friends who could share their dirty tips and tricks on how to keep going even when the going gets rough (i.e., reading something in a different genre, reading a bad, bad book, or eating a pound of chocolate to keep your spirits up). Beta reading for my friends in my writer’s group has been extremely rewarding, because I help them accomplish their goals while learning a lot about my own writing and style through the critique process. And once I was comfortable enough to talk about my writing to people I could trust, I became less afraid of talking about it with others. With my school friends, with my family, with my professors. And even though I feel like there’s a stigma around aspiring writers, you’d be surprised how supportive and interested people actually are when they realize you’re actively working on writing, not just saying that one day you will.

So when I say collaborative writing, I don’t mean tag-teaming chapters or making a group story. Although that would probably be awesome. I mean finding a community, in person or even online, that you can trust to be excited about your ideas, to encourage you through the tough times, and to hold you accountable for what you want to accomplish. People that are also toiling through their own work that you can encourage too. People that will trust you enough to share their work with you, and vice versa. Writing doesn’t have to be done alone–and who knows what friends you’ll make along the way.

#DiverseReads2016

logo_WNDB_300pwxI’m excited to join my first ever themed reading challenge, #DiverseReads2016. This challenge is hosted by Mishma of Chasing Faerytales and Shelly of Read.Sleep.Repeat. You can read more about the challenge here. The purpose of the Diverse Reads challenge is to read and talk about books that are written by diverse authors and feature diverse protagonists.

Personally, I think it is important to go out of my way to find these books and actively engage with them. I am a very privileged, middle-class white woman. Often I feel out of touch with people from different backgrounds and experiences that do not have the same opportunities that I have. One of the things I want to do in 2016 is to talk less and listen more. By reading diverse books (especially ones by diverse authors) and actively discussing them, promoting them, and engaging with them, I’ll gain more empathy and understanding and also elevate the voices that need to be elevated. This isn’t just with books, either–this is with bloggers and activists as well. In our current media climate, where hatred is spewed based on stereotypes, it’s important to listen, to seek understanding, and to find common ground.

 

As I said, I want to focus not just on books featuring diverse characters, but on ones written by diverse authors. These will be marked with the #OwnVoices hashtag.

I’m still building my TBR list, but look out for coming reviews that feature #DiverseReads2016!

 

2015 Favorite Reads

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I’ve had about a week to recover from the start of the New Year, but I still can’t get over some of the great books I read in 2015. I figured since I didn’t post all my reviews here for those books that I could do a small round up of my favorite books from the past year. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the other 34 books I read–on the contrary, I read some amazing stories and I’ve been taken to wild, thrilling worlds. I read more this year than any other year in my life, and consequently I think I learned more about the world–and about myself–this year. Some of the books that might have made this list are actually 2016 releases, so it felt unfair to include them.  These are the absolute BEST books I read, in no particular order.

 

A Darker Shade final for IreneA DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

Okay, I know I said these books were in no particular order. But ADSoM is easily my favorite book published in 2015, and it’s the only 2015 release on this list. I love the worldbuilding the most. A Darker Shade of Magic encompasses four parallel Londons–although we only see three of them, they each have such definitive and beautifully crafted character that I was so enthralled with every detail of them.

The magic in this novel follows a set of rules that are simple but make perfect sense. By the time we get to the climax, it is believable and exciting because the magic system is so solid.

Schwab is also a master at crafting a compelling plot. The characters get into trouble, make a plan, but then everything goes wrong. Super wrong. The worst things that can happen DO happen. I was constantly excited and honestly scared, because there is so much mystery entwined with the worlds. I felt on the edge of my seat to the very last page.

11235712CINDER by Marissa Meyer

Cinder completely blew me away. I’ve been hearing about this book both online and through word-of-mouth from some friends, and it absolutely met the high expectations.

Cinder is a strong, caring, and relatable character, and I love that she uses her skills and her wit to get her out of (and in to) perilous situations. She’s not afraid to do what’s right, even when faced with crazy challenges and an abusive family. In fact, Cinder impressed me time and again with her strength even when her “family” mentally and physically abused her.

I thought the love story was trite at first, but it really does develop to be believable and honest. I love the mishmash of Cinderella and Anastasia and CYBORGS!

While there were some plot points I totally saw coming, the ride getting to them was such a thrill.

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THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman

I’ve been citing THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE as my “favorite novel ever” for a while now. It’s always my go-to recommendation for someone that likes fantasy but wants something thoughtful and different. It’s short and sweet and absolutely brilliant. Neil Gaiman knows how to craft an emotional and meaningful story. A beautiful, magical journey that really captures the contrast between childhood and adulthood and the way our memories can play tricks on us. It’s a very uncomplicated story, almost like a fairy tale, but it sticks with you.

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