Iterating the Writing Process

I’ve been reading Gabriela Pereira’s wonderful book DIY MFA in which she outlines a do-it-yourself alternative to a traditional MFA program. I’ve chosen not to continue with my education with an MFA program. One reason is because of the cost, but I’ve greatly enjoyed pursuing continued education on my own through reading lots of books and would rather not go through the rigidity of another university program. DIY MFA has been a great alternative with being just a $20 book (which I got half off).

What I love most about this book is that Pereira approaches the DIY MFA like it is a startup business. She uses many terms and concepts throughout the book that relate to a startup business, and focuses on iteration. Iteration, in relation to writing, is when you take your process and test and improve it over time in order to become a more productive and better writer. The key is to take a step back and look at how your process works, and then make small adjustments accordingly.

A while back I wrote about how I had been struggling to stay motivated and had come up with a sticker reward system that was working well. And it did work well for a while, but then it stopped working for me.

Then, when I started reading DIY MFA and learned about iteration, I realized how I needed to step back and look at my writing process and make small changes to figure out what would work for me. I’ve since gone through three other versions of my sticker system, each of them being a different way for me to lay out my work week. I’ve used iteration to find the right total number of work hours and the right balance of writing and marketing and craft and reading hours, and I think I’ve finally landed on a system that works for me. And if I find that it’s still not working, I’ll use the process Pereira outlines in order to keep honing in on the best method for me.

I love the DIY MFA mindset because it’s all about finding what works for you as an individual. I highly recommend this book to every writer. It is full of advice on everything from writing with focus to reading with purpose to building a community, which are the main principles of an actual MFA. This book has been a great alternative to going back to school for me, and I can’t wait to finish reading it.

DIY MFA my copy

What I’m Reading: When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

I hate poetry for the most part. Hate seems like a strong word to use as a fellow writer myself, but I just don’t get it. I like writing to be clear, to tell me a story and paint a clear picture in my head. Reading poetry always just leaves me scratching my head and wondering what the heck the author was trying to say. While there are countless books that have affected me throughout my life, I can count the number of poems I actually like on one hand.

So I don’t know exactly why I picked up When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost up at the library. Thanks to hating the hundreds of poems I had to read throughout high school and college, I’d never even thought about picking up a novel-in-verse before. But I’ve been trying to branch out a little bit of my genre when it comes to reading lately. And this book has a pretty cover and an interesting description. So I borrowed the book from my library and tore through it because of how much I liked it.

This book is a beautiful story about two sisters, Claire and Abigail, during the summer they are ten and thirteen. Claire’s family has been spending summers at their lake house her whole life. Claire’s mother died from a lightning strike on the lake when Claire was a baby, but the summers there have always been a special time she gets to spend with her sister and father. But this year everything is different. Her dad is about to have a baby with his new wife, Pam, and Abigail starts caring more about boys than Claire. Claire finds comfort in kayaking on the lake as she tries to figure out where she fits into this changing family.

Three points of view and four poetic forms make up this beautiful story about family. Claire’s poems make up most of the book, with the majority being rhyming quatrains. When she is kayaking on the lake, her poems take the shape of the kayak moving through the water and the last words of the lines are set in bold, creating a sentence that shows what’s truly going on in Claire’s mind. Abigail’s poems are free-verse and lightening-shaped, reflecting the lightning that killed their mother and left Abigail with a scar. The last point of view and form, and also my favorites, are the acrostic poems in the voice of the lake itself. Frost uses lines from some of her favorite poems as the armatures—or the first letter of each line that spells something out when read down the left side of the page—to represent the current of the lake.

This was my first experience reading a novel-in-verse, and I really enjoyed the beautiful language that Frost employs throughout the book. I think she makes her poems very accessible and easy to understand, yet they still have that beautiful language that seems unique to poetry. I love the different forms and points of view she uses. As I said, the lake’s poems were my favorites. I loved getting the chance to see into each sister’s head, but then getting to read the lake’s narrations of what was going on was fascinating. Claire and Abigail are very connected to the lake with everything that has happened there throughout their lives, so it was important for the lake to have a voice in this novel.

What I love most about this book though was that, at its heart, it was about growing up. Coming-of-age stories are my favorite, which is why I pretty much only read in the young adult genre. This story is about the changing relationship between sisters, the changing family dynamics of a new stepmom and half-brother, and simply about turning eleven. Claire’s story has a beautiful innocence to it, and I loved getting to watch her grow.

When My Sister Started Kissing

Our Second Wedding Anniversary

Tuesday, August 1st was my second wedding anniversary. I can’t believe my wonderful husband and I have already been married for two years. It feels like just two days ago that I met the cute boy next door and realized we worked together at our university’s writing center, and it feels like yesterday that I married him.

I’ll never forget how wonderful our wedding was. Our parents threw us the best wedding I could have imagined. We decided to get married at Wright State, since that was where we met and fell in love, so we had our ceremony and reception at Wright State’s Nutter Center’s beautiful Berry Room.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These past two years have been the best years of my life. We have been truly blessed by God with a wonderful life together, and I can’t wait to see what plans he has in store for us going forward.

This week we celebrated our anniversary by recreating part of our honeymoon, just like we did last year for our first anniversary. On Monday we went to the Ohio State Fair to see one of our favorite bands, For King and Country. And on Tuesday we took a river cruise on the Ohio River and had a wonderful meal while looking at Cincinnati’s beautiful skyline. I had so much fun on the cruise and at the fair that I hope we continue our tradition of doing this for each of our anniversaries.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My husband is my rock. He supports me more than anyone and is always there for me. I love him so much, and am so grateful to have him by my side.

Favorite Book Feature: Legend by Marie Lu

July’s Favorite Book Feature is the debut novel by Marie Lu, Legend. Lu has gone on to become a big author in the YA world, but I fell in love with her writing back with this first book. I picked it up because the cover looked awesome. The book description sounded so cool that I bought the book to read it, but I knew that it was going to be amazing before I even started it when I read Lu’s bio and saw that the story was inspired by Les Misérables, which as you know is my favorite story ever.

Legend takes place in what used to be the United State’s west coast, a nation called the Republic who is in an unending war with the neighboring Colonies. The book follows June, a military prodigy from a wealthy family, on her quest to hunt down her brother’s murderer. Day, the country’s most infamous and most wanted criminal is the prime suspect. Day comes from a poor, plague-ridden sector and is trying his hardest to protect his family as June tries to avenge her brother’s death. But then they learn the truth of what brought them together, and they discover what their country is willing to do to protect its secrets.

Legend

I love that Legend has its roots in the story of Les Misérables. In Lu’s author bio on the book’s dust jacket she writes that she was inspired to write Legend after watching Les Misérables and wondering how it would translate into a modern story. With June and Day she creates a prodigious detective and famous criminal, much like their counterparts of Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean, and brings them into a modern story that’s thrilling and action-packed. Because I’m in love with Les Misérables, I loved getting to watch how this story played out in a dystopian world. Day does nothing more than try to save his family, like Valjean, and June is somewhat blinded by her need for revenge and justice, like Javert. But then Lu takes this story further than its inspiration and draws these two characters together in a beautiful way.

Legend is one of only a couple thriller/action books on my favorites shelf. Action stories, at least to me, tend to focus more on the action rather than the characters, and so I have trouble following along due to my lack of interest in the characters. Lu is an exception because she excels at making you care about the characters. June could have come across as cold and calculating with her being a genius who focuses on the details. But June’s first chapter opens with her breaking her school’s rules and being a little rebellious. We instantly get this peek into who her character really is. And June’s relationship with her brother, even in the flashbacks we get after he is murdered, bring such a great emotional element to the book. Day, even though we know he is a criminal, comes across as caring and kind. His crimes are small rebellions and he tries not to hurt anyone. This book is full of action, but because Lu gets you to care about the characters so deeply, it was really easy for me to follow along.

The Legend series is a set of three thrilling books. Lu draws you in to this dystopian world and doesn’t let you go. Legend is definitely one of my favorite books, and one that is hard to forget.

Legend Series

When I’m Not Writing: Coloring

I wrote last month that one of my favorite things to do when I’m not writing is make jewelry. One of my other favorite hobbies is to color.

WINW C 2

I mostly choose to color Christian coloring books, because when I’m coloring something with scripture it becomes a much more fulfilling experience. Reflecting on God’s word while doing the relaxing activity of coloring helps me draw closer to God.

Since my last post on coloring, I’ve gone even more coloring crazy. I now have 12 books. I also now have a big set of markers and an electric pencil sharpener for my colored pencils sitting on my coffee table next to my coloring basket.

WINW C 3

Coloring is one of the most relaxing activities I’ve found. I love creating anything, and I love getting to work with my hands, so coloring is the perfect thing for me to do.

WINW C 1

Favorite Book Feature: Everlost by Neal Shusterman

June’s featured book is the first book I read by one of my favorite authors: Everlost by Neal Shusterman. I fell in love with Shusterman’s writing after reading this book, and the Skinjacker trilogy that Everlost is a part of and the Unwind Dystology are some of my favorite books ever. Reading Everlost again this month was an absolute pleasure, and I hope I have time soon to read the rest of the series as well.

In the book, Everlost is a place between life and death, an in-between world where children who don’t “get where they’re going” end up. It is a mysterious and dangerous world, full of lost souls and crossed-over objects, and if you stand in the same place to long you sink to the center of the earth. Everlost follows Nick and Allie, who don’t survive a car crash and end up in Everlost. They want to go home but forget more about their lives the longer they stay. They meet mother-like Mary Hightower, who guards hundreds of kids in the crossed-over Twin Towers in New York City, and Nick feels like he has found a comfortable home. But Allie isn’t satisfied and keeps looking for a way back home, eventually getting Nick caught up in her plans aboard the crossed-over ship captained by the McGill, a fearsome monster who crawled his way back to the earth’s surface after sinking to its center.

This book is probably the only paranormal story I like, and that’s because while the kids in Everlost are inbetween life and death, they’re not really ghosts. They’re Afterlights, so named because they have a glow about them. All of the details Shusterman includes—the sinking to the center of the earth, the fact that well-loved items cross over to Everlost when they’re destroyed, the mysterious and unidentifiable coins that everyone crosses over with, and the sometimes humorous fact that everyone crosses over in exactly what they died in (including a chocolate smear on Nick’s face, a wet Speedo, and several Halloween costumes)—make Everlost rich and exciting. And I’ve definitely never read anything quite like this before.

I think my favorite part of the book though is the omniscient point of view. This story could have been well done in Allie’s or Nick’s perspectives, or even both. But Shusterman made an excellent choice making this story omniscient. We get a peek into the heads of all the character’s this way, and this allows Shusterman to do my favorite quality of his writing: Shusterman uses the omniscient narrator to take you into the both the villains’ and side characters’ heads and beautifully characterize them in even as little as a paragraph. He puts the omniscient point of view to its best use by really getting deep into all of the characters (no matter how brief) to give the readers all of the different perspectives.

I’ve never tried writing in an omniscient point of view. It is a difficult POV to use because it usually puts a distance between the reader and the characters. However, Shusterman navigates around this and gives us an omniscient narrator who both makes you laugh and gives you great insight into each character.

Everlost

My Summer TBR List

I’m one of those people who feed off of sunshine, so spring and summer are my favorite seasons. I especially love to read in the summer. Back when I was in school summer was pretty much the only time I could read for fun, and now the longer days make me more productive so I have more time to read. So since yesterday was the first official day of summer I thought I’d share what’s on my Summer To Be Read (TBR) List.

  • The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
    I read the first book of this series, Among the Hidden, in May for my Favorite Book Feature, so of course I now have to go read the whole series again. These books were some of my favorites back in middle school/early high school. Haddix was my favorite author at the time, and her books made me want to write too.

summer-tbr-1.jpg

  • The Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman
    I also read the first book of this series, Everlost, for a Favorite Book Feature, and I now want to read the other two books as well. Shusterman is one of my current favorite authors because of his incredible writing style. His voice is so distinct, and he is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever read. Look for my post on Everlost next Friday for June’s Favorite Book Feature.
  • Legend by Marie Lu
    I was hooked on this series as soon as I read the book jacket and saw that it is a dystopia inspired by Les Misérables. I’ll be writing about this amazing book for July’s Favorite Book Feature.
  • Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
    August’s Favorite Book Feature is going to be this eerie dystopia about a water shortage.

Summer TBR 2

  • The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
    I’ve been meaning to get to this on for a while. Set in future Manhattan in a skyscraper that’s a thousand stories tall, this book sounds so glamorous and thrilling.
  • The Reader by Traci Chee
    This book is about a world without reading, which I find really interesting. It’s a fantasy, which I don’t tend to enjoy very often, so I’m not sure I’ll like it. But I think it will help inspire me and my current project.
  • Metaltown by Kristen Simmons
    I won the audiobook version of Metaltown a while back from a giveaway by the author, and I’m finally getting around to listening to it. This one is another dystopia inspired by Les Misérables, so I was hooked as soon as I heard Simmons describe it at a signing I went to.

Metaltown

  • The Selection Series by Kiera Cass
    I think this will be the forth time I’ve read the original trilogy, but I like these books more each time I read them. I want to go through them again to help me as I work on a similar book.

296d5662-1a1d-4575-9724-36c9953f4613

  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
    While these are some of my favorite movies, I haven’t actually read the books except for the first one when it was a new book nine years ago. I also think this series will help me with my current project, so I finally want to read them.

Of course, all but two of these books I already own, so my library stack that’s already as tall as me isn’t getting any shorter any time soon. But I still can’t wait to get to read all of these stories this summer.