Amber Morrell

writer, reader, librarian

Category: Personal

Beginnings and Endings

I’m graduating from college in two and a half weeks. For the past month I’ve been feeling this strange sense of nostalgia even though school isn’t over yet. But I’ve been in school so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it. Many of my friends are continuing on—grad school or teaching credentials, etc.—and I feel almost as if I’m being left behind. The end is coming and before I know it, poof, it will all be over.

I felt this way before. I went to a boarding school for my last two high school years, and the month of May was always a bittersweet month where we felt the end closing in around us. The snow melted, and as the days turned warmer we started to feel nostalgic for the promise and excitement that the beginning held—the idea of living away from our parents, together, and forging new friendships, and limitless possibilities. As the end draws near, you think both about what comes next and what you didn’t do. The possibilities that fell to the wayside, the opportunities you missed.

As college comes to a close, the missed opportunities are clear. I never took a class with that one professor everyone loves, or I should’ve been active in that one club that seemed so cool but that I never attended. I should’ve used my free gym access more. I should’ve worked harder on this paper or on that midterm. The regrets begin to pile up.

But at the same time, my accomplishments become clear. I found out a few days ago that I won an award through my college’s English department. In that award letter, they cited some of the reasons faculty voted for me. In their doing so I realized that maybe I shouldn’t be so remorseful for what I didn’t do, and that I should focus instead on what I did do. I forged meaningful relationships with faculty and other students. I worked on two different grant projects. I was in a leadership position in one of the best (to me) clubs where I got to geek out about all my favorite books. I wrote some great papers and I learned a lot.

And outside of that, I wrote for me. I wrote two novels, revised them, then revised them again (and again and again and again). I wrote lots of blog posts. I put myself out there at a conference and networked the hell out of it. I met some great people that became mentors. I made new friends. And most of all, I realized that without these two years in college, and the people that encouraged me along the way, I wouldn’t be where I am.

So this is an ending. I’m not going to say it’s a beginning, because my journey began a long time ago. But it’s only one ending in this multitude of intertwining journeys that make up my life. College is over. But all of the things that college started for me will continue.

I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve made a post. This is the first in over a year. Once finals are over, I’m going to try to post more.

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.

New Year’s Resolutions

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2015 was a very successful year for me. I set out with somewhat low expectations. At the beginning of the year, my local writer’s group created a shared document of each of our goals. My goals were “read more books” and “finish my novel”–not very specific, and also not very ambitious. But what I did this year far surpassed those modest resolutions. I read 37 books this year and, though I still haven’t finished the manuscript I initially referred to, I completed the first draft of a middle grade novel during NaNoWriMo. I also moved twice, went back to school and got good grades, got a new and better job, started a blog, and made many good friends along the way. 2015 challenged me and impressed me in ways I didn’t expect. And I’m ready for 2016 to do the same.

My goals for 2016 are much more ambitious. Because of that, it’s very possible that I will end this year in failure. But I think it’s that chance of failure, and the drive to complete even the most arbitrary goals, that will really push me this year. 2015 showed me, for the first time, that I can believe in myself. And though reaching my goals for 2016 will be tough, I believe I can do it.

So, without further ado, here are my 2016 New Years Resolutions:

Finish it. No, really finish it.

This past NaNoWriMo was a landmark year for me because it’s the first year where I was able to type THE END. My story was completely contained within those 50,000 words, and for the very first time I could i say I had a DRAFT. Maybe not a first draft, maybe not even a zero draft, but a draft in some iteration nonetheless. I put it down for about a week before I realized, however, that this was merely the beginning. The tip of the iceberg. Writing that draft was like pregnancy. It sucked and I snacked way too much and I just couldn’t wait for it to be over, but at the end it didn’t really end because it was really just the beginning. I gave birth to a slimy, rough-around-the-edges blob of something, but now I have to turn it into an actual functioning and breathing thing.

I gave my draft a read through, and realized that much of what I wrote in Novemeber needs to be completely reworked–especially my tacked-on-the-end, 8k-in-one-day ending. Only the first act–the first 10,000 words or so–is being kept more or less in tact plot-wise. But November wasn’t a waste, because all that brain fodder I barfed out during those thirty days helped me to refine my story, my characters, and the heart of why I wanted to write this novel in the first place. Now I just need to make that heart shine through.

And so, my first goal of 2016 is to really, really finish it. Rewrite it. Edit it. Polish it. Get it to beta readers. A process I’ve never done before, a process that terrifies me, but one that I know will make me grow as a writer. My tentative timeline for this goal is to have the rewriting finished by the end of January, and then move on to the next round of editing. I’d like to have it ready for beta readers by March 1st. (I need deadlines because, without them, I really won’t get anything done. That’s why NaNo is so great.)

Read 50 books–and write about them!

In 2015 I read 37 books, and I was able to count a few of my school books toward that total (I didn’t count textbooks or shorter works from anthologies, because it feels like cheating). 50 is quite a jump from last year’s number, but as long as I don’t read any more Outlander novels I think I’ll be okay. Not to mention my classes this semester will focus on a lot more novels than last semester. I’m taking a YA lit class and a 19th century lit class with a focus on longer works, plus a Shakespeare class. The amount of reading honestly terrifies me, especially because I’m taking five English classes at once, and I’m fairly certain you’ll find me halfway through the semester collapsed under a pile of books a la Sciezka from Fullmetal Alchemist. But, one of the things I learned in 2015 is that reading is absolutely essential to writing–and so I will do as much reading as I can, whenever I have the chance to.

I’ve also found, however, that just reading them is not enough. If I want to really absorb a text, I have to engage with it. Which means at the very least I need to write about it. I need to critically synthesize what I think about it and share those thoughts with others. Hell, maybe even have a discussion with someone about it! But short of that, I want to write about every book I read. It doesn’t have to be a fully-fleshed out commercial review (especially because a lot of the books I’m reading are older, so writing a huge review seems kind of pointless). But I want to at least write a few paragraphs of my thoughts for each book. I will post likely post all of those on Goodreads, but it would be nice to post maybe a monthly roundup of what I read on this blog too.

Move on and move forward.

One thing I have a problem with is that I constantly feel like I suffer from impostor syndrome. I want to be a writer, but I always have a nagging self-doubt. I’m no good. I don’t write enough. I never finish. It will never sell. But I need to constantly remind myself (and really, this is a reminder for everyone that wants to be a writer): every writer started here. No one was born clutching a fully-idealized manuscript in their tiny, bloody fingers. Every writer started by typing words that were no good and made no sense. Every writer backspaced and hit their head against the keyboard and thought they weren’t good enough. But the writers that we admire–the ones that got published, the ones that were successful, or the ones that weren’t that successful but we read their book anyway and we absolutely loved it and we wished they were more successful than they are–they are the ones that were like us but didn’t quit. They were the amateurs that kept going. And even if they didn’t write every day, or if they didn’t write for months, they still picked the pen back up again and started anew. This is something I have to constantly remind myself–that I’ll never get there if I don’t keep going, so I have to keep going.

To translate this to an achievable goal–after I accomplish my first goal of completing the revision process of my current manuscript, I want to move on to the next one. Maybe I’ll go back to a manuscript I’ve abandoned, or maybe I’ll start with an entirely new concept, who knows. But I want to have some sort of draft with a THE END at the bottom by the end of the year. Maybe it’ll happen during NaNo, maybe before then. But I need to have the ability to completely a project and then pick up the next if I’m ever going to accomplish my goals.

Networking

This is probably the goal that I dread the most, because it’s a well known fact that I hate people (just kidding. kind of.). But I actually really enjoy talking to people, online or in person, about books and other nerdy writer-ly things. That’s why I love being an English major so much. This year, I want to network more with other writer-ly bookish people. In order to do that, I’ll be attending AWP this Spring. It’s coming to Los Angeles, which is close enough to justify going. I think it will be an interesting insight into the world of the MFA as well. I’m not terribly interested in getting an MFA, but it will be an experience nonetheless.

Secondly, I’d like to get to know more bloggers as well. I don’t know that I consider myself a “book blogger” in the way the book blogging community uses the term. I talk about books, and I gave my blog a cute bookish name, but this is also my personal blog and website. I’m going to be talking about books of course, but also writing and my own personal and professional development as a writer. I don’t necessarily want to have author interviews or book tours or what have you. But it would be nice to be more involved in the community. This is a very loose goal, but I think I can accomplish this by reading other blogs, making comments, and interacting more with bloggers on Twitter.

Graduate. Finally.

Second-to-last but absolutely definitely not least, and assuming all goes well, I will graduate with my BA in English in December! This is a huge milestone for me. I’ve been in and out of school over the past five years, and going back to finish my degree this past fall was a huge commitment. It’s not easy to work part time, be a full-time student, be a mother, and still read and write. I am very privileged to have this opportunity as I know that many young women with children do not. Because of that, I will not waste it. I am going to try as hard as I can to do my best in school and to open up as many doors for myself as possible. I plan on joining Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, and hopefully participate in at least one conference before I graduate. I would like to go to graduate school, but I will probably take a couple years off first in order to catch my breath and save up some funds while I decide what I really want to do. There’s the possibility of moving to a commune in Idaho for a while–but we’ll see.

Take care of myself.

I have a lot on my plate this year, most of it self-inflicted. But something I think is worth mentioning is that I need to take care of my health, both physical and mental. On the first of January I deactivated my Facebook account. I need to really rethink the ways that I use it–there’s too much politics, and too many “friends” I met once or never see anymore that post toxic trash. I needed to get away from it and get into a more positive headspace. Twitter is nice, because all I follow on Twitter are authors and agents and other book lovers, and know very few people personally. I feel a lot of freedom on Twitter because of that. But really, Twitter has the potential to be just as bad. I am happy when I am accomplishing my goals, not when I am a victim to the endless scroll. I want to spend less time staring at screens and more time doing–even if it’s not reading or writing. It could be making a craft or going for a walk. I want to do more things that are good for me and less that are bad. That’s a total oversimplification, but you get the idea.

 

This has been a very long, very rambling post about my 2016 goals. I hope you all are having a great year so far, and I look forward to accomplishing our long lists of goals together. Happy New Year!

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