sunday ROW80 check-in ~ #6

Hooray! I am finally ending my streak of missed Sunday check-ins!  I’m also making this check-in first thing in the morning, which is unusual but today it’s necessary.  My afternoon is blocked off for a very special friend’s bachelorette wine tasting party.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’ll be touring a few of the local wineries this afternoon under the guise of a bachelorette party. It’s going to be a wild and fun time.

But that’s not why you’re here so let’s get to it.  Here’s how the last few days have gone since Wednesday’s check-in:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  On Thursday I was about 180 words short of meeting my goal, but I made up for it on Friday and met the goal.  Knowing that I was probably not going to have time to write today because of my aforementioned plans, I wrote yesterday instead so that I could take today off, and I met the daily goal yesterday.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  I missed Thursday’s blog post, but I knew that I was going to so I’m okay with that.  I am making today’s post (woo-hoo!) and I think I’m going to manage to get a book review done for tomorrow.  So, this goal is definitely seeing improvement but has room for more improvement.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  Since the beginning of Round 3 I’ve added almost 39K words to my draft.  I’m almost at a total of 52K words, and I still feel like I’m about halfway through the story.  I think I can still achieve this goal, but to do that I’m going to have to be disciplined about meeting Goal #1 once school begins.

Ah, fall semester.  It’s just coming into visibility on this road I’m on.  Starting tomorrow I’m going to start practicing my new work routine so that I’ll have worked out the kinks and already have an idea of what’s going to work and what’s not going to work in terms of how I’m going to get everything done everyday.  You might have guessed that I love having a routine.  I’m just made that way, I guess, and it takes me some time to get into a regular routine, so that’s why I’m starting early.  I’m also adding an item to my routine that hasn’t been there in some time.  Some of you are very familiar with it.  It’s that thing called exercise.  Yes, I’m trying to integrate that into my routine.  Four days a week.  We’ll see how it goes.  Me and exercise are not BFFs.  We break up.  A lot.  Definitely an on again and off again kind of relationship.  I’m all set to try this program called Couch to 5K.  Heard of it?  Done it?  If so, share your thoughts below.  I do not like to run (understatement), but it’s exercise I can get without having to pay for a gym membership and then feel guilty about not using it.  I downloaded the app on my smartphone and got a new armband for my phone (definitely less than even one month of a gym membership) so I should be all set to start.  I’m also starting zumba classes on Thursday. It’s not a whole new me, just me with some new stuff happening in my life.

All right, that’s it.  Everyone have a good week! Thanks for dropping by my blog!


(belated) wednesday ROW80 check-in ~ #5

Yes, my post is late! Last night, as the clock rolled past midnight, I was in the middle of an epic writing session that not only yielded 6300+ words but also made my heroine’s life rather miserable.  Someone got wine thrown in his face, tears were shed, trust was betrayed, and loads of embarrassment was felt.  Unfortunately, it’s going to get a bit worse before it gets better for my heroine.  You can see now how I might have neglected to get my post in on time, right? Maybe? Just a little?  Okay, then, let me just give you what you’ve come for…

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  The second week of ROW80 yielded all kinds of writing challenges.  The third week has gone much better for me, I’m happy to report.  I met my 1000 word writing goal on Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.  Saturday is my scheduled day off from writing and I did take the day off.  Go me!  Sunday I wrote 681 words, and Tuesday, I didn’t write anything at all.  Oddly, on Tuesday I got stuck in a place in my draft that I never thought would have caused trouble, and so nothing got written at all.  Gratefully, I’m past that little roadblock.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  While the writing has been going well over the last week, the blogging has not.  I missed my Sunday check-in, I missed my Monday book review (I ran into a problem last week–both novels that I finished were books 6 and 4, respectively, in a series; it didn’t feel right to post a review of a book in an ongoing series because what if readers hadn’t read the books that came before? They wouldn’t be able to follow my review.  It was quite the conundrum and so I elected not to post a review at all on Monday), and my Wednesday check-in, as I ‘ve already explained above, is late.  Bah!  This area of my goals definitely needs to see improvement over the next week.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  This is the little ray of happiness in my goals this week.  Since Round 3 of ROW80 began, I have added just over 33K words to my draft.  Given that goal #1 is to write 1000 words each day and to take Saturday’s off, I was only expecting that I would write 26K words during the first 30 days of the round, but I’m well ahead of that pace. I’m in the middle of chapter seven of my WIP, and I’m thinking that maybe I am now halfway through my story.  I don’t plot out how many chapters there will be before I begin writing, but I do know how the story is going to end and my drafts are usually 90K to 100K words.  Right now, I’m sitting at just over 45K. I have so much excitement about this draft right now it’s a bit ridiculous but so much fun.

All right, that’s it.  I do actually have to bring this belated post to a quick conclusion since I have an appointment with The Dark Knight in just over an hour.  Have a great weekend, fellow ROWers and thanks for stopping by my blog!

minimalist me

I’m not a minimalist, but I want to be.

For the last few months, I’ve been a daily visitor to Wise Bread, a website devoted to frugal living.  As you might have guessed, many of the articles on Wise Bread are related to spending less money, consuming less, and saving more.  Although I find Wise Bread to be a great site, I want to make changes in my life that don’t solely revolve around money.  One article in particular, “The Tyranny of Stuff,” sparked my curiosity about minimalism and what living a minimalist lifestyle actually looks like.  Thus the search for information began.

Two sites that have been the most helpful to me are The Minimalists and The Everyday Minimalist.  Both sites have content that provide information about minimalism and minimalist lifestyles and are good starting points for anyone interested in decreasing the number of possessions they own and decluttering their living spaces.  I place the emphasis on these sites being starting points.  What I have learned while researching this topic (and admittedly, that research is still in the early days; I am in no way pretending to be an expert) is that the definition of what constitutes living a minimalist lifestyle is a highly personal one.  This has left me trying to define for myself what it would mean for me to live a minimalist lifestyle.  I think that my definition is fairly simple: I want to have less stuff, buy less stuff and consume less.  It sounds simple, but I know that in practice, this is going to be no easy task.  I live in culture that values consumption, possession and ownership.  Plus, I have spent my life accumulating stuff.  Getting rid of said stuff is not going to be easy, and that’s partially due to the value that I place on stuff.  This has led me to realize that living a minimalist lifestyle is not just about reducing my physical possessions, but it’s also about changing my mindset in terms of what I value, and why I value it.

One night while watching Criminal Minds, I heard the following quote by Peace Pilgrim: “Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions.”  I had never heard the quote before, but it resonated with me strongly.  For me, it conveys so well where I am mentally in terms of everything I own.  I no longer want to be possessed by my possessions, and I’m finally ready to do what is necessary to free myself.

I have thought about a first step I can make toward reducing my possessions.  I have resolved to reduce my book collection by 25% by the end of September (in case you are wondering, I counted my books this week so that I would know exactly how many I had to get rid of to meet my goal; I own 737 books which means I have to get rid of 185 books to reduce my collection by 25%).  I have to be honest.  The idea of getting rid of 25% of my books is anxiety-producing.  I know this is ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  I’ve shared my decision with a few close friends and have gotten a variety of responses.  My best friend said “Good for you!” and a colleague said “Why would you want to do that?”.  This pretty much covers the extremes I have felt within myself after making the decision.  I’ve been thinking about why my choice causes me no little amount of stress.  One reason is that I have measured my life by the number of books I own. Books are a part of my identity.  I’m a bibliophile, and I’ve always felt that my collection will say something about me to anyone who peruses it.  Letting go of even a small part of my collection feels like I’m letting go of a part of myself.  Indeed, I may feel this way because it’s actually true.  Another reason I have chosen to begin by reducing my book collection is one of practicality–there is likely a move and a career change on the horizon, and it’s doubtful that my new career will necessitate that I own a large collection of books because I’m teaching them. Knowing the reasons that I’m doing this and reminding myself why I’m doing this won’t make selecting what books to get rid of and then actually parting with them any easier.  Ultimately, though, I think that taking this step is the right thing for me right now.

I have also thought about one change I could make and sustain that would move me toward the minimalist lifestyle I want.  While getting rid of my books is about reducing what I own, this change is about buying less and consuming less.  Specifically, my goal is to buy one item, not multiples of the same item, whenever possible.  I am the only person in my household, and yet when I buy groceries, I frequently buy more than one of something so that I’ll have it on hand and won’t have to buy it the next time, such as bottles of olive oil and vegetable stock.  Going forward, I’m going to only buy one item because in most cases, that one item is sufficient for whatever meal I’m going to make during the week.  I don’t have to stockpile.  The grocery store is five minutes away, and I doubt there’s going to be a run on olive oil anytime in the near future.

Those are my two goals to help me get started.  Once I have mastered one, I’ll add a new one.  For me, it’s all about making sustainable, meaningful changes so that I can become the person I want to be.  Someday I’ll be able to say I’m a minimalist, and reflect on how that changed my life.  Stay tuned for updates on my progress.

wednesday ROW80 check-in ~ #4

It’s been a weird week.  About this time last week, I looked at the calendar–really looked at it–and realized that fall semester begins in less than five weeks.  That realization made me turn my thoughts toward work I get paid for and away from writing, the work I currently do for sheer pleasure.  Which means I haven’t been so good at meeting my goals this last week.  Here’s my goals update:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  This goal is all about writing something–anything–daily so that writing is a habit and a part of my daily life.  I haven’t done so well this last week.  I didn’t write anything at all on Thursday, Friday, Monday or Tuesday.  I didn’t write on Saturday, either, but Saturdays are my one day off from writing.  I did, however, manage to meet my goal on Sunday and today.  More on this below.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  In the last week, I met most of this goal, but not all of it (my students would be asking for partial credit at this point).  I missed my Sunday check-in post.  However, I did manage to pull together a post for last Thursday and I also posted my weekly book review.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  There were several days when I didn’t write, but the days when I did write I made some progress toward this goal.  Since the beginning of Round 3, I have added 21,411 words to my WIP.  Still no title, though.

Looking back on the last week, I can see that one of the reasons why I didn’t write was because my mind has just been elsewhere.  I’ve recently decided to get rid of 25% of my book collection (I’m going to talk about this in greater detail in tomorrow’s scheduled blog post) and I’ve also been doing research into minimalist lifestyles and how to possess less stuff.  Work has also been on my mind, and in the last couple of days I’ve been going to the office and getting some work tasks done to prepare for fall semester.  I had some connectivity issues with my ISP that also were a distraction.  In a nutshell, it’s been a weird week that’s included a lot of self-reflection and examination of my life.  This in turn has led to some small amount of enlightenment in that I’m realizing that I have learned a lot about myself this summer, and now I’m trying to make some changes based upon what I’ve learned.  So my mind has been more focused on that than it has been on writing.

But as I said, when I have managed to write, I’ve made good progress.  On Sunday, after three days off from my WIP, I wrote just under 3,500 words.  Today, with the help and support of Lauren Garafalo and everyone at #teamsprinty on Twitter, I wrote 1,006 words in just an hour and almost at the end of a chapter that’s been hard to get down on paper.  I feel like I’m finally back on track now.  This is all good because it tells me that I’m not bored with my project, I just haven’t been mentally present enough to concentrate on it.

The other good thing that’s happened is that Dahnya Och gave me a great tip on how to come up with ideas for future blog posts.  This has resulted in four or five ideas for future Thursday blog posts that I’m actually excited about and looking forward to writing because they all focus upon prodding me to figure out more exactly the life that I want and take make some sustainable changes on how to get there.

So yeah, it’s been a weird week, but that’s not necessarily all bad.  Hope everyone else is having a good week.  Thanks for the support and dropping by my blog!

review: fated

Fated by Benedict Jacka (2012)

Fated is the first installment in the Alex Verus series.  Alex is a mage living in London where he runs a magic shop.  He is not necessarily on the good side of the Council, the power center of Mage society.  As you might expect, Mage society is stratified, and there are further differences between Light Mages and Dark Mages.  Alex, who has good reasons to dislike the Council as well as Dark Mages, really just wants to be left alone, but inevitably he is dragged into the struggle for power between the two opposing factions.  Alex is a diviner, which means that he can see into the future (and at times, there are echoes of the Oracle in The Matrix, who reminds us that she cannot see past a choice that hasn’t yet been made).  In Alex, then, we have a cerebral mage who uses his brain rather than his physical brawn to solve problems.  Although Alex is not in the Council’s favor, he is the only diviner in London, and so they are forced to ask for his help in opening the recently discovered Precursor Relic and retrieving a powerful magical artifact called a fateweaver before it falls into the hands of a Dark Mage.  Power struggles ensue with Alex caught in the middle, and of course he must survive on his wits and a little bit of luck while saving the day.

The summary of this book might remind you of other series about mages and witches, and I can’t deny that this book definitely shares in common the traits and conventions of stories about magical societies—the “good” vs. “evil” battle, the protagonist who is alienated from the magical society and yet is somehow the only one who can keep that society in balance, the supporting cast of characters that help the protagonist succeed in his challenge, and the underlying suggestion that though the protagonist may be alienated from the magical community, he is not entirely isolated nor is he entirely alone or without people he can trust and depend upon.  There is also the familiar convention of introducing a love interest for the protagonist who is currently out of reach because touching her means death (I’m not going to go into why I find so many things wrong with this convention but seriously? Does every female character have to be a fatal threat to the male protagonist?).  As readers we know why this convention exists—it’s an easy way to build sexual tension and keep two people apart who obviously want to be together, and well, it’s a device that works so it’s no wonder it continues to be used.  Think of the number of times you’ve seen it or even the first time you saw it (Logan and Max in Dark Angel instantly comes to mind).  I would have liked for Jacka to have devised another way of accomplishing this tension and for me that’s probably the aspect of the book I disliked the most.

So what makes this book different? I’m not sure that I would say that it really is different, but I do think that this book does some things really well, especially for the first installment in a series.  The protagonist is likable and engaging.  Alex has a strong voice, and I like the way he addresses readers in order to pull us into the story and imagines what we’re thinking. There’s a moment where he says to the reader something to the effect of: I know you’re wondering why it’s taken me so long to figure this out.  It’s playful and made me smile, and I like that in a book.  Alex doesn’t take himself too seriously.  Another thing that is done well is the cast of supporting characters.  Though I was a bit impatient with the don’t-touch-me-or-you’ll-die device, the introduction of Luna, a young woman who also is on the outside of Mage society, is a good character in that Jacka can do so much with her and say so much about our current society through her.  Other characters that I expect will continue to appear in this series are Starbreeze, a friendly wind spirit that helps Alex get to where he wants to go; Arachne, a giant spider who is also a seamstress and designer of fabulous clothes; and another young mage who I won’t name by name for fear of spoiling part of the story but who reminds me of Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds.  Also, the story has fantastic movement.  There’s only one place where it slows down a bit and that’s primarily a result of giving us some of Alex’s backstory.  Still, this book kept me turning the pages, and it kept my interest engaged.  It made me want to read the next book in the series, and for me, that’s critical in the serial format.

I picked up this book because there was a blurb on it by Jim Butcher, author of the Harry Dresden series, which I am a huge fan of (and indeed, in the first chapter of this book, Alex makes a vague reference to Harry that readers of Butcher’s series will catch instantly).  If you like the Harry Dresden series, I think you will like this book.  Ultimately, Alex Verus is like many of us—he is flawed, he’s made some mistakes, and he’s just trying to do the best he can with what he has to work with.  I think he also is in that tradition of “sleuths” that has to practice situational ethics, which means that sometimes his choices fall into a morally grey area, but I think that that makes his struggles more true to life and makes him more complex as a character.  If you’re looking for a new series to try, I definitely recommend giving Fated by Benedict Jacka a read.