Reading, Writing and Bookish Related Goals for 2019

Yes, I realise it’s already about a week into February and therefore, probably a little late for discussing goals for 2019 but I’m lazy, okay? Let me live my procrastinating, couch potato, I’ll-do-it-tomorrow best life. Looking back on 2018, there are a few things I’d like to do differently and achieve this year.

1#: Read 80 Books

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Last year I set my original reading goal at 50 books. This then became 70, later 80, and then 85, only for me to finish on 90. No one was more shocked than me. Now that I have a much better understanding of my reading pace based on my current lifestyle, I think I’ve picked a good goal to aim for. Reachable, hopefully without the need for any bizarre last-minute cramming like I did in 2018, and something that’ll allow me to achieve some of my other goals.

2# More Re-Reads

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Back in the good old days, I used to do a little something called ‘re-reading’. What’s that, you ask? Well, it involves reading a book you enjoyed for a second, or maybe even third, time. Shocking, I know. In the last few years, I’ve gotten so caught up in constantly trying to read new (or new to me) books that existing favourites have been severely neglected. I miss spending time with familiar characters, returning to beloved worlds, and picking up on new details in great stories. In my rush to get through my growing TBR, I’ve also often skipped re-reading books for lack of time ahead of tackling a new sequel, even though I’ve forgotten a whole bunch of important plot/character details. As a result, I’ve not enjoyed them as much as I should or would have if I ’d just done the re-read. This year, I’ll make the time for it.

3# Be Less Afraid of Big Books

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As my reading goals and TBR have gotten bigger, so has my fear of tackling chunky books. There used to be a time where I’d happily race through a 1,000-page Outlander book or instalment of A Song of Ice and Fire. These days, I see a book over 450 pages and the first thing my brain does is PANIC. However, if there’s something my recent read of The Poppy War has taught me, it’s that if a big book is a good book, it’ll feel like no time at all, and if it isn’t a good book, you can always DNF. There are some amazing looking novels out there such as City of Brass or The Name of the Wind that I’ve been putting off for ages purely because of length. This year I want to change that attitude. I’ll look at the blurb of the story and if I want to read it, I’ll do it. Big books don’t have to be scary.

4# Try an Audiobook

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Confession, I have never tried listening to an audiobook. Weird, right? It’s just never been something I’ve felt the need to do. These days though, I’ve been trying to think of ways to motivate myself to go out for walks or entertain myself while doing tedious things, and an audiobook feels like a great solution. Now I just need to find one with a good narrator, and of a book I both haven’t read and want to read.

5# Write

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It sounds so simple but it feels so hard! After trying NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2017 and actually finishing, 2018 was a dud year creatively. Early on, I tried to keep working on my draft but quickly found myself tied up in plot holes. This led to a lack of direction and eventually killed all motivation to write. Since then, I’ve had snippets of ideas which have never really grown into what they need to be, but then again, I haven’t really sat down and tried to work them through either. This year I want to plan and I want to write. Something, anything! I just need to get off my butt and do it (even if it’s bad) because it’s the only way I’ll push through this block of a fog that seems to have permanently settled over me.

6# Reduce my Purchased TBR

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This one’s pretty self-explanatory and I’m pretty sure has been on every bookworm’s goal list since the end of time. I made good progress in November and December last year by successfully adhering to a book ban. I ended up finishing the year with only about 12 physical books on my TBR! Considering only a few months before I’d been on about 28, this was a big win. In 2019 I want to keep the momentum going and get it down to, dare I say it, 8.

Six goals. Doesn’t seem too hard, right? I think I’ve got this. Go, Ashley, go! I mean, I hope I’ve got this…

Err…oh dear.

What are your bookish, blogging, reading, writing related goals for 2019?

Also, got any audiobook suggestions for my first adventure into audible? Help a girl out!

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Let’s Talk: What’s so Good about Fanfiction?

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Image result for fangirl rainbow rowellAs you may or may not have been aware of from either Goodreads or a sneaky glance at my blog home page, I recently (finally) got my butt into gear and read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. For those like me that are still massively behind on the YA contemporary trends, Fangirl’s central character, Cath, is a very popular fanfiction writer. She has thousands of readers and has even won awards for her stories. Basically, Cath lives and breathes fanfic. Her fandom of choice is a Rowell created series about a teen named Simon Snow which has some big similarities to something that rhymes with Gary Trotter. Just as you’d expect, reading this book got me thinking about fanfiction.

These days I feel like fanfiction gets a bit of a bad rap from the reading and broader community. People don’t seem to understand it and have a tendency to brush it off as being simplistic, weird, trashy, obsessive, even creepy. I’m in no way naïve enough to not be aware of the…darker and dodgier areas of the fanfiction webverse (come on, it is the internet), but at the same time, I also believe people discount the value of fanfic and the amount of work that goes into it. I’ll even willingly admit that during NaNoWriMo, I caught myself making a face at the idea that some people were spending their challenge working on fanfiction rather than original work (which is stupid considering I used to write it myself in my teen years – Twilight fics *shivers* dark days, guys, very dark days). Yet, now that I’ve sat down and thought about it (as well as chastised myself for being an idiot), while it may have it’s issues, fanfiction actually holds a lot of really great benefits.

Express Fandom Love & Meet Likeminded People

Pick any book, television show or movie in the world and I guarantee you that somewhere out there is a devoted group of fans who absolutely worship it beyond imagination. And the thing about fans is, once they get a taste of something, they just can’t get enough. Fanfiction is a fantastic way for people to not only constructively express their love of a particular fandom (okay, sometimes constructively), but also help them to connect with like-minded people. For the commonly found introvert (much like Cath in Fangirl), this is a good opportunity for socialisation and the ability to bond over a common interest. For people who have trouble socialising or difficulty finding others in the real world who share their interests, it’s a fantastic solution.

Writing Training Wheels

Writing is hard. Like, seriously hard. Plotting without epic holes, creating layered and interesting characters, world building that makes sense, and then there’s writing style (or in my case, trying to avoid saying ‘he said’, ‘she said’ fifty million times in one conversation. I panic, okay!). Fanfiction can be a great way for newbie writers to develop their skills. By already having a deep understanding of the characters, setting and rules, fanfic writers are able to focus on plot and the actual writing itself. I look back on my fanfiction entries from a decade ago (the horror) and can definitely see a big improvement in the way I write as I go along. It’s like writing with a support system in place until that person decides to try their hand at something original. They have the freedom to experiment and try new things in a safe space. The fact that people are then able to comment on their posts can also be a good way (well, not always) for those writers to get a sense of what they’re doing well and where they could improve.

Enjoyment & Entertainment

I don’t think it’s wrong to say that there are many people out there who enjoy certain fanfictions just as much, or perhaps even more, than some published books. Some fics build up enormous followings of people, thousands and thousands, who sit around excitedly waiting for a new chapter update and drop everything upon publication. In some instances this popularity factor is so big that it even drives fics toward publication as their own works, complete with a full set of name changes. I mean, just look at (I can’t believe I’m actually using this as an example) Fifty Shades of Grey. If you want to understand the power of people’s love for fanfiction, look no further than the money making force that is that trilogy. Sure, there are large percentages of fanfic that fall into the “trashy” category but hey, if it’s not damaging people with toxic ideas, what’s the harm in bringing people a bit of fun and enjoyment?

Continuations, Gap Filling & Spin Offs

One of the really fun parts of fanfiction is its ability to build on and expand canon stories in interesting ways. I can’t even count how many times I’ve come across a loose end I needed explained or a character that I wish I could have gotten to know better. Perhaps a sequence of events was mentioned during the narrative that would be cool to read about more directly or maybe the world has such a rich history ala A Song of Ice and Fire that’s it’s just bursting with stories? Well, fanfiction is the answer. There is a wealth of fics for every whim, interest, history, plot gap, romance, and side character. Fanfics can also be a great way to continue on with a beloved series or story even after it’s finished. While the published books may be over, the characters and their adventures can continue on through the writing of others.

Niches & Representation

I think it’s an understatement to say that there are some severe representation issues within mainstream books. We’ve made some great steps forward recently but there’s still a long way to go. A great characteristic of fanfiction is it’s diversity and inclusivity. No matter your interest, there’s fanfiction out there somwhere to float your particular boat (even if it happens to be…Drarry). Unlike published stories, online fanfiction isn’t bound by the rules of what publishers believe is “mainstream”/popular or will sell. Fanfiction can be written by absolutely anyone and its writers have the amazing freedom to take existing narratives & characters, and rework them to place a spotlight on the more marginalised and minority based groups. By giving these types of characters starring roles and more prominent stories within an already popular setting, they help those who enjoy, but often have difficulty seeing themselves in, the original works to find common ground and relatability.  Divider 3

Let’s Talk!

Are you someone who enjoys reading fan fiction? If so, from what kinds of fandoms? What’s your favourite website? Do you have a favourite fic?

Are you a fan fiction writer? If so, what about it appeals to you? What are your favourite types of fics to write?

8 NaNoWriMo Takeaways from a First Timer

You guys may or may not have noticed that I haven’t posted anything for a good long while. Fear not, I’m not dead. Well, only slightly. Of exhaustion. And that’s because I’ve been doing the crazy feat that is national novel writing month. Why, you ask? 1) I’m insane and 2) I have a tendency towards masochism.

Just kidding. Mostly, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for years but never managed to find the courage to attempt, and also because I’ve had an idea for a particular story rumbling around inside my head since I was about fifteen years old (get out already). Now, November is over and I hear you asking, did I actually manage to do it? Did I write 50,000 words in the space of one month?

You bet I did.

But holy hell batman, was it HARD.

There were days when I managed 5,000 words, I was on top of the world, and it felt as easy as pie. Then there were others, the ones where I’d look at the word count thinking, ‘sweet Jesus, I’ve definitely hit 600 words,’ only to realise I actually had 200.

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It was a month of ups and downs, and a major learning experience. So for posterity’s sake, and anyone who’s interested, here are 7 random things I learnt from my first Nanowrimo experience.

Back Up that Novel

You know how everyone’s always says, if it’s something important you should back it up? Yeah, about that…Let me start by saying that on at least six occasions before all this went down, I heard a nagging voice inside my head tell me to save a copy of my work somewhere other than my laptop. In hindsight, the universe was trying to tell me something. Did I listen to it? Of course not. Next thing you know, one ordinary Wednesday night, just over a week before the end of nano, I open my word document, type two words and…

BLACK SCREEN.

Dead. Actually dead.

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And that boys and girls is how I ended up having to spend more money than I’d like to admit buying a new laptop and tracking down methods to get files off the hard drive of a dead computer. I managed it, but let’s just say that there were several points in which I wanted to collapse into a puddle on the ground. So kiddies, learn from my failures. Back it the hell up.

Create Achievable Goals

The average word count if you write the same number of words every day over the course of the month is 1,667. In my case, I knew right from the beginning this wasn’t going to be the best method for me. I work full time but as I work in real estate, my hours are a little odd sometimes – late some days, early others. In order to determine achievable word count goals for myself I worked out how many words I had to write each week of the month to finish on time. I then determined how many hours I would have available to write during the week by looking at my schedule for each day. From here, I was able to work out how many words I needed to write per hour and thus my word goal for each day of the week to reach the weekly target. This ended up being a perfect way to keep me on track. Especially since I often ended up writing much more on my days off than the word counts I allocated.

Life Will Get in the Way

No matter what you do, it’ll happen. So make sure you can adapt. In my case it was the realisation that I had only two weeks left to complete the course work for a certificate I had to do for work. And let me tell you, there was A LOT of work for it. Suddenly, I had to find time in my evenings to not only work on that but my novel too. On the social side of things, one of my closest friends decided to come and visit me for a weekend, covering two of my biggest writing days, which meant I had to spread those counts across other days. I managed it and got to spend a great weekend with my friend, win-win! Then there was my other friend who also wanted to spend time with me and jokingly claimed I was ditching her for my novel. I hit two birds with one stone by going to dinner with both friends at the same time.

Support is Important

There are days where writing 50,000 words in a month seems impossible but having people who support you and offer advice is such a big help. My friends and sister were wonderful during November. They asked about my word counts, cheered me on, and got me snacks to keep me going (Mars Bar Pods are love, Mars Bar Pods are life).

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There was also the Sydney Nanowrimo community. I really wanted to attend events but with my weirdo schedule, this was made a little hard at times. However, the Facebook group never let me down. We sent words of encouragement, offered advice, shared photos of cats sitting on laptop keyboards, talked about killing off characters, and so much more. There are some days where you just need someone to tell you that they find parts of their story a slump to get through too. I was lucky in that I didn’t really have to deal with any naysayers but to those who do, tell ‘em to shut their faces, because you’ve got this!

Set Yo Scene

In my case, it was scented candles and more snacks that you can count. For some it’s coffee and loud music. Whatever it is that helps you do your best work, go for gold.

Some Planning Necessary

I’ve come to realise that I am a Planster. In other words, I need some pre-planning but with enough room to grow. I only fully committed to doing Nanowrimo in mid-October, meaning I was in full panic mode regarding planning. I write fantasy so there’s a heap of planning involved – magic systems, environments, religions, races, characters, and in my case, time and dimensional travel, timelines, bleh.  You get it. Before November, I had an idea about certain parts of my plot but the middle was bit of a blank void. The problem was I happened to hit this point right when I was struggling to write the last several thousand words and after my schedule had gone to crap following the death of my laptop (RIP). Plus there was the fact that there were some major questions about my novel as a whole that I glossed over answering in October and hoped would just resolve themselves in November (spoiler: they didn’t). I’m now stuck with a partial first draft and some serious things to address before I even think about writing any more. To sum up, if you’re someone who needs some degree of planning to write, do it. Don’t put it off, you’ll regret it later.

Finding the Right Beginning

When you start planning you have a great idea about where your story will start. I know I did. I’ve read so many advice articles concerning opening scenes, advocating for starting right in the middle of the action. So I sat down, thought about my plot and determined exactly where would be the right place to begin. I imagined the scene in my head, quietly confident, and finally sat down to put fingers to keyboard.

Was it the right place to start? Nope, definitely not.

You think you know, but it’s hard to actually know until you start writing. In my case, this means I’ll be deleting about two thousand words already just to get rid of the unnecessary rubbish from the beginning but hey, it’s a learning experience.

Writing Trumps Character Profiles

When I was younger I used to spend ages doing super long character profiles – because clearly all writers need to know if their character is a cat or a dog person. If there’s anything this experience has taught me (and it should have been obvious), it’s that writing is the best way to get to know who your characters are. You learn about their voice, their mannerisms, their sense of humour, their way of thinking – all things that are difficult to grasp until you place them in a situation and write how they act in it.

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There were some characters that were tricky to grasp and others that just clicked into place. What’s even more exciting is that I have so much more still to discover as I keep writing, and I’ll then bring this knowledge to my edits of the beginning.

And that’s about it, my eclectic mess of thoughts to take away from my month long crazy writing fest. Nano was a challenge to be sure, but I certainly learnt a lot from it. If you’re someone who’s been trying to find the motivation and push to sit down and write, I’d definitely recommend it. Whether I’d do it again is still questionable but I guess we’ll just have to see. Never say never.

As for now, it’s editing time.

Did any of you guys do nanowrimo this year? If so, how’d you go? If not, are you thinking about doing it at some point?