Writing

Writerly Tools of the Trade

What I thought I would do this week is share some of the tools/random things I use while writing or planning that have helped me in hopes that it might also help some of you. I have not been paid to endorse any of these things. I just like them and would like to share.

Spreadsheets

I hate making spreadsheets. Some of you are very talented and patient. I am not, so I like to outsource my spreadsheet needs.

  • WorkingWriterBiz spreadsheets– I bought these last year when I started to get my author shit together. This Etsy seller has so many fantastic spreadsheets. I use them to track my sales, social media numbers, and word count trackers. You can even make your own 3 book bundle, which is awesome. They work on Excel and Google Sheets, and you can save them as blanks and use them year after year.
  • Svenja’s word count spreadsheets– I love Svenja’s spreadsheets so much. If you only write like one project a year or don’t want to separate word count data by project, these spreadsheets are fantastic. They are pay what you want and have beautiful background art from Lord of the Rings, Once Upon a Time, and much more.

YouTube

  • Sarra Cannon’s Heart Breathings Youtube channel/newsletter/resource library– You have to sign up, but it is worth it. Her Youtube Channel, which will be mentioned below has been so helpful to me (she will pop up a few times here). She has sprint trackers, a plot outline sheet, and so much more. Besides being a great teacher, she also takes into consideration chronic health problems, mental illnesses, etc. when discussing being an author. There’s positivity, but none of it is toxic or of the hustle variety. You can find the link to her newsletter on her website/YT channel. Personally, her resource library is *chef kiss*
  • The Courtney Project on Youtube– Courtney is one half of the romance writing duo Kennedy Fox, and she has some really good info on being a full-time author, how to up your game, etc. She’s a bit more down to business than Sarra Cannon, but sometimes that is necessary.
  • Music to Write By playlist– This is something I whipped up for myself and for my students. There’s a lot of fantastic ambient music and long tracks to help you focus while you work. Tinnitus scrubbers or colored noise has been a godsend for my ability to focus.
  • As a side note, while I have not watched it, I know Brandon Sanderson (aka the fantasy author I have also not read) has his entire course on writing scifi/fantasy for free on Youtube if you are interested.
  • A word of caution- There are tons of resources on Youtube, but there’s a difference between enjoying someone’s authortube content and coming to them for advice on writing/publishing. Obviously vet who is posting because learning from someone who is below you in skill or are not ahead/in line with you career-wise isn’t particularly useful. People who haven’t finished and/or edited a book might not be the best people to get writing advice from if you are trying to publish your work.

Books

  • Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron- pretty self-explanatory. If you’re at the intermediate/advanced stage of mystery writing, this is below your level but useful for someone like me who strays into suspense instead of mystery
  • Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland- truthfully, all of K. M. Weiland’s books are phenomenal
  • Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody- another book on structure that is incredibly helpful
  • Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes- for the romance writers who also need structural help
  • I Give You My Body by Diana Gabaldon– the author of Outlander also has a short book on writing sex scenes, which I found helpful from a sensory/choreography level
  • Newsletter Ninja by Tammi L. Labrecque- this book and its sequel helped me increase my newsletter subscriber list significantly. I haven’t used all the advice, but the vast majority of it (in both books) were very useful.

Sundries

I’m not including buy links to these because they’re sort of open-ended, but these are things I use all the time when I’m working on my books.

  • Blue light blocking glasses- to save your eyes from computer screen glare. Plus, I think the yellow helps me focus, even if I panic that my dogs have jaundice (FYI it’s the glasses, not them)
  • A notebook to write ideas in or to write on the go- I use a 5 Star grid paper notebook most of the time. It’s the perfect size for my normal handwriting, fits a lot on the page, has a spiral, etc.
  • A bullet journal- if you like staying organized, I highly recommend having one or a planner to keep track of your publishing/writing to-do list
  • Kanban Board- same thing as above, though this is paired with the HB90 method (see Sarra Cannon’s channel or my past blog posts for more on this)
  • Washi tape, markers, stickers, highlighters, etc.
  • Your choice of pen that is conducive to writing- for me, this is Pilot G2 pens (of various colors, sometimes I use the one color only for one book) or Sharpie S-Gel pens. If the pen doesn’t write well for you, use something else. Yes, I do get hung up on pens and the color sometimes.
  • Reverse outlining– I write very vague outlines on an act-by-act basis, but you can find more about reverse outlining in a past blog.
  • Forest app– this is an app on my phone that I use to time sprints all while growing cute little plants. I also use it for grading papers and doing any other thing I don’t feel like doing. Will do work for cute trees.
  • Miro– this is a very flexible app where you can make mind maps or just organize notes in a nonlinear way. I use it for chapter or timeline planning.
  • As an aside, a lot of people like Scrivener to write on. I find it difficult to use and fiddly. If you’re thinking about it but aren’t sure, I highly recommend getting the free trial and then seeing if it clicks with you or not. For me, it did not, but I prefer Word.

Courses

  • Skillshare- I do not have a Skillshare subscription currently, but in the past, I had a 2 week freebie period and I was able to watch a lot of videos on writing, marketing, etc. You can find these free trial codes pretty easily online, so I highly recommend grabbing one (and setting a reminder to cancel it). They also have courses like learning ASL, various art media, etc.
  • HB90- this is Sarra Cannon’s course on planning, getting your shit together, realistic goal-setting, etc. It’s not being offered currently but will be in March, I believe. I highly recommend it if you’re trying to organize your life a bit better and actually make progress toward your goals. Once again, it isn’t about hustle culture. Her mindset is inclusive of those who are chronically ill or neurodivergent, which I appreciated.
  • Publish and Thrive– this course was pivotal to me getting my shit together and doing so well with my launch of The Reanimator’s Heart. It is a 6 week course on indie publishing that is stuffed with fantastic information that you can watch at your own pace and have lifetime access to. When I took it, I ended up with over forty pages of notes and a plan for how to market my books better and set myself up for success. It’s great for those who are new to indie publishing, those getting back into it, and those who feel like they’re career is stalling. Sarra is only offering this course once this year, and it is currently open for enrollment. It starts February 4th, 2023, and while it is pricey, it was worth it and she offers payment plans. As a past student, I have an affiliate link if you would like to sign-up. Feel free to reach out to me if you are thinking about it but have questions!
Writing

Why I Write What I Write

On Twitter a few weeks ago, I asked if anyone had anything they wanted me to blog about, and my friend Char was kind enough to toss out a whole list of potential topics that were really intriguing regarding my writing process, why I write certain things, how I write, etc., but the one that caught my eye first was “What draws you to M/M romance and what do you specifically find delightful in writing the male gaze from the male gaze?”

At first, I sort of stared at the prompt because I’m currently editing an f/f or sapphic romance, which will go out to my newsletter subscribers at the end of the month (which you can join by clicking here). My immediate answer is that I don’t write M/M romance so much as that I write queer romance. I think a lot of newer readers might assume I write M/M only because Kinship and Kindness and The Reanimator’s Heart, my last two releases are both M/M, but if you look at my previous series, The Ingenious Mechanical Devices, you’ll see that there’s an ace-allo M/F(but would be enby in 2023) couple, a gay couple, and a pan-bi M/F couple with various other queer side characters. And subsequent books in the Paranormal Romance series will have a lesbian F/enby couple as well.

It’s mildly annoying that M/M romance tends to get the most attention and sales, which on one hand I am grateful for, but I like to write about all sort of queer characters. Within the queer community, there are those (like myself) who will read about anyone and just enjoys queer couples in general. Other readers tend to be more insular and only read MM or FF, which is fine, but that really isn’t the audience I write for.

My choice of genre/romantic couples stems from my own gender and sexuality. I tend to just say I’m nonbinary and queer for simplicity’s sake, but if we’re getting more granular about it, I’m agender nonbinary (slightly masc leaning, slightly) asexual omniromantic. Aka, gender is *giant shrug* but basically Anne Hathaway in Twelfth Night and my sexuality is that I like people of all sorts but don’t feel sexual attraction.

Because of my gender and sexuality, I am attracted to different genders and my identity in relation to those genders is complicated at times since we don’t really have commonly used words for nonbinary attraction to men or women or other enbies. Because I am slightly masculine leaning, M/M romance made sense in my head. Before I knew what being nonbinary was, I used to say I felt like a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. I felt queer, I felt like that feminine masculinity that I often saw with queer men (highly related to Nathan Lane in The Birdcage as a tween/teen because being a woman was a parody of who was I, but I couldn’t put that into words. Besides that, Anne Rice’s books, which were highly influential in my tween/teen years for realizing queer people even existed, were mostly M/M or focused on queer men. Gay men of the late 80s/early 90s were a major touchstone in figuring out my gender identity and that what I was feeling was queer attraction, so M/M tends to be the attraction I relate to most.

Complicating this was that I dealt with dysphoria, which made it difficult to write cis F/F romance. I often joked there are too many layers of Victorian Era clothing and that’s why I avoided F/F romance, but no, it was that trying made my dysphoria kick up horrifically. For a long time, I had a very hard time reading or writing cis F/F romance, but once I realized I was nonbinary, that lessened greatly. It was strange, but somehow realizing I wasn’t a woman despite the body I came prepackaged in gave me distance enough that I could enjoy those books without my brain rebelling. This is why I’ve actually been able to think more about Ruth’s book (Tempests and Temptation) and write Flowers and Flourishing (though one MC is a trans woman).

Sexuality and gender are complicated, writing is complicated, and dysphoria bleeds into the creative side of your work whether you like it or not. For a while, I was ashamed that I couldn’t write F/F romance. I wanted to, and I am attracted to women. I couldn’t understand the mental block, but once it fell away, it was like, “Oh, yeah, that revelation seemed to clear a lot up.”

The crux of this long digression is that I don’t write for the M/M gaze. I write for the queer gaze because I write queer characters of all genders and sexualities. If you’re looking for exclusively M/M content, that certainly isn’t me, but if you want series with trans characters, nonbinary characters, gay/lesbian characters, asexual characters, and bi/pan characters who get happy endings, then I’m the writer for you.


As a side note, Sarra Cannon’s Publish and Thrive course is going to be running soon. This 6 week class is what helped me restart my career last year, and it was certainly worth the money. If you’re new to indie publishing or want to get back into the swing of it by refreshing your knowledge on best practices or marketing, I would take a look. I wrote out 40+ pages of notes when I took it, and now that she has expanded it, I will be taking it again since I have lifetime access to the course. She also has payment plans set up if you want to join but can’t pay in full upfront. If you use this link to sign-up, I get a commission as a former student.

If you would like to know more or have questions about the course, I would be happy to answer them!

Writing

My 2023 Writing Projects

Okay, so let me start by saying, this is going to be more of a “what I would like to do” type list while knowing full well I will not be able to write all these things. What I will do is divide it into “Definitely Doing” and “Would Like to Do” this year. Also keep in mind that the dates associated with the “Definitely Doing” projects are subject to change and are ballpark estimates at this point. My hope is that I can get through three projects this year (even if the last is published in early 2024), but a lot of this depends on the amount of classes I am assigned in the summer and fall.


Projects I am Definitely Doing

Flowers and Flourishing

(A Reanimator and Paranormal Society Romance Companion Story)

Release date: end of January to newsletter subscribers only for free

Size: Novella (about 33,000 words)

Add it on Goodreads

So this novella is the backstory for how Agatha and Louisa met and fell for each other. I have more information about it in this blog post, including the blurb and such. You can join my newsletter here if you would like to receive the novella in your inbox later this month. This story will also be exclusive to newsletter subscribers for a while. The plan is to eventually write a bunch of other shorter works all set in the Reanimator/Paranormal Society world and package them in one book/anthology.


The Reanimator’s Soul

(The Reanimator Mysteries #2)

Release date: late 2023 (hoping for a fall release like last time)

Size: Novel (90k-100k words)

Add it on Goodreads

This is the sequel to The Reanimator’s Heart, which takes place a few months after that book leaves off. I won’t get into too much detail here, but it will feature a new society targeting paranormals in New York City, though in a more nefarious way than the Paranormal Society. Oliver’s ex happens to be in town again, and Felipe is struggling with his new life [again] while his daughter’s in town.

The Reanimator’s Soul is going to be my main focus/large scale project this year, so I expect it to take the largest chunk of time.


Trousers and Trouble

(A Paranormal Society Romance #2)

Release date: realistically, early 2024

Size: Novel (50k-75k)

Trousers and Trouble is the prequel story of when Bennett arrived in Brooklyn, met Ruth and Rory, realized he was trans, and eventually came to the Paranormal Society. This more like a romance of self-love than a traditional romance. The series title is set in stone, so *shrug* we’re rolling with this being more about loving yourself, found family, and friendship, including a bit of a quasiplatonic type arrangement between Ruth and Rory.

I already have some of this story drafted and generally know where I’m going with it. I just put it on the backburner because it required more joy than I was able to muster due to grief stuff at the time. Now, I’m feeling better and hoping to jump back in between book 2 and 3 of the Reanimator Mysteries.


Projects I Would Like to Do

As already stated, I have a finite amount of time in a year, and I basically know how much I can accomplish in a year. These things are overflow ideas that I will probably get to eventually, but if the idea struck and I had time, I might bang them out.

  • An untitled short story about Gale and Head Inspector Williams from The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Start plotting Book 3 of the Paranormal Society Romances as I think it will connect with the story line of The Reanimator’s Soul
  • An untitled short story involving Oliver, Felipe, and the beach because it makes me laugh to think of poor Oliver dealing with sand and seagulls. It also goes well with a piece of art I commissioned of them.

All of the shorter works mentioned would go out as freebies to my newsletter subscribers first until they were eventually packaged into the aforementioned anthology with Flowers and Flourishing.


I am so excited to dive into these projects this year, and I hope you will enjoy them as well! Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes info and updates about The Reanimator’s Soul, Trousers and Trouble, and so much more.

Uncategorized

Spiting the AI

If you aren’t chronically online [like me], you may not have heard about all the issues with AI art. If you aren’t sure why it’s a bad thing, a quick synopsis is that for AI art to work, they have to steal artwork from human artists in order to mush things together to create what people are generating. It isn’t like they are taking from public domain works, and that is obscenely shitty, especially since of course corporations are cutting ties with human artists to use a machine that makes wonky ass hands and regurgitates soulless garbage made of art that was actually nice and had thought and composition behind it. It’s the art of equivalent of me writing a book by stealing good sentences from bestsellers. I mean, it’s a new book. Who cares where all the good sentences came from, especially if I changed the names, right? See how stupid it sounds when you change art to writing. We call that plagiarism. My advice for this is DO NOT FEED THE MACHINE. Don’t play with AI generators, don’t use those photo changer apps because they are AI also, and if you have Adobe or other art programs, double check that your settings are such that it isn’t stealing your data/files to feed to their AI machines.

As someone who values equity and the arts/humanities, supporting AI goes against everything I stand for, and using it, even casually, spits in the face of every artist who works hard on their craft and is trying to make a living and those who spend hours on their art as a hobbiest. Yes, I will fight people over this. Go use AI to make a machine that will do my taxes and leave the creative stuff to human beings.

Anyway, this is not meant to be a rant about how gross AI art is, though I could spend a lot of time doing so. The reason why I bring this up is because one of my goals for this year is to get back into art, drawing, and crafting. I crocheted like a machine in 2020 (though, ironically machines cannot crochet as it’s too difficult), but I sort of burnt myself out on it. Last year, I had intended to do more art, but I ended up focusing on getting back into writing and really didn’t do anything besides my bullet journal spreads/doodles. That isn’t to say that isn’t art, but it wasn’t what I had intended to do.

All through middle and high school, I took art classes, to the point that in my senior year, I was in Portfolio Art (senior year, you took all of the art classes class) and Arts and Crafts (which was like ceramics, plastic canvas, basket weaving, etc). Art has played a pivotal part in my life, and during college, I wasn’t able to take any art classes because the vast majority conflicted with my science labs. In the fourteen years since I graduated high school, I have lost that muscle memory for art that isn’t craft-focused. My hope is that I can do more little pieces, play with the supplies I have, and just enjoy art as a process. Aka, not cry over my lost muscle memory and rage quit when it doesn’t go well. At first, I know my art will look terrible, and that’s fine. The whole point of doing this is to reawaken that side of me, enjoy the process, and work toward improving in a very loose, fun way.

Something I want to put out into the universe is that I would love to sell planner stickers one day. I absolutely adore sticker sheets of cute but mundane things, and there are more niche stickers I would love to have that don’t exist in shops in the US. Maybe one day I can make some fossil stickers or ones of amphoras and Grecian urns. We’ll see.

At this point, I have Posca acrylic paint markers, needle felting kits, plastic canvas kits, and Himi gouache sitting in my basement waiting for me to use them. I don’t know how much I’ll post about my art journey this year or how far I’ll get, but I hope you will join me in recapturing the childlike glee of making art.

Monthly Review

December 2022 Wrap-Up Post

Ah yes, December, the month of chaos where I am full of food, have no idea what day it is, and am perpetually stuck between finishing the year and looking toward the new year. This month was a bit weird because, of course, we had the holidays to contend with, classes ended (yay for grading a shit ton of papers), and my partner was dealing with some med changes/season affect disorder, so fun all around. I don’t want to be a downer, so I’ll try to reel myself in. This month was similar to November’s levels of exhaustion, but I’m finally starting to feel better. Fingers crossed January is when I finally perk up more fully. As a reminder before we begin, here were my goals for December:

  • Finish writing Flowers and Flourishing
  • Edit Flowers and Flourishing
  • Read 8 books
  • Blog weekly and send out my December newsletter
  • Finish Christmas prep
  • Have 6 weeks of lessons prepped/outlined for next semester
  • Set goals for Q1 of 2023

Books

The goal was to read 8 books, and that’s exactly how many I read.

  1. Last Gender (Vol #1) by Rei Taki- 4 stars, a manga that follows several people who all frequent a queer club. A bit grittier(?) than I expected, but I liked the frank nature of the portrayals of all the characters.
  2. Undercover (#5) by Tamsyn Muir- 5 stars, as with all Muir books, it’s gorey, sapphic, and so unexpected. If you liked Gideon or Harrow, hit this up.
  3. Masters in This Hall (#3) by KJ Charles- 4 stars, an off-shoot story from the Lilywhite Boys where a decorator gets tangled up with a killer and the only way out is to team up with an irate past flame and an unexpected ally.
  4. Afterlives: The Return of the Dead in the Middle Ages by Nancy Mandeville Caciola- 4 stars, nonfiction research for a future book. It is academic but incredibly interesting as we get to see different kinds of dead and the geographic/theological changes.
  5. She Loves to Cook and She Loves to Eat (Vol #1) by Sakaomi Yuzaki- 4 stars, an adorable sapphic manga following a truck driver who loves to eat and an office worker who loves to make pretty (and large quantities of food). Being neighbors sparks the potential for something more.
  6. Hen Fever by Olivia Waite- 4 stars, a new woman moves into a town with a chicken breeding contest and finds love in a quiet, sunny woman who is hellbent on winning the festival and raising a once-thought-dead breed of chickens.
  7. Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake (#1) by Alexis Hall- 4 stars, a single mom enters a TV baking contest, falls for an asshole but eventually realizes she needs to take back control of her life and what she really wants.
  8. The Girl from the Other Side (Vol #12) by Nagabe- 4 stars, a volume that fills in with short stories. It was very cute and sweet, not a lot of substance but I loved seeing Shiva and Teacher again.

Admin/Behind-the-Scenes Stuff

  • Finished Christmas shopping, wrapping, decorating, *insert stressful holiday stuff*
  • Graded all my students’ portfolios and grades
  • Contacted ACX to get Kinship and Kindness changed from exclusive to non-exclusive (aka in the future I can publish the audiobook to sites besides Audible/Amazon and iTunes)
  • Listened to and approved the first 15+ minutes of The Reanimator’s Heart audiobook (same narrator as K&K!)
  • Worked on my lesson plans for my new class next semester and did 11/15 weeks worth of classes (aka I have 8 left to plan)
  • Set up my goals for 2023 Q1 and my 2023 bullet journal (it’s a lot of work)
  • Did an impromptu title reveal for the second Reanimator Mysteries book (I will do a more formal post here soon)
  • Edited Flowers and Flourishing. It’s currently in the let it rest stage before I go through and edit it again, but it will be coming to newsletter subscribers in late January. Join my newsletter to get it for free!
  • Edited what my newsletter automatic subscriber reply says in preparation for Flowers and Flourishing coming out. If you subscribe now, it’s the same, but I wanted to have the new copy ready for next month.
  • Played Lemoncake on PC (haven’t finished it yet), but if you liked Diner Dash or other timing based food/serving games, this one is basically the cozy version

Blogs Posted


Writing

I’m not going to do a week-by-week calculation because I wrote sporadically during the holidays and the numbers don’t make sense when you factor in editing and such. Instead I’m just going to talk a little bit about the writing process here. I struggled. Part of what sucks about what happened in November is that I sort of got out of practice/routine with my writing, so it ended up very much being done in small bursts, which is frustrating after having it be more fluid. I probably have a scene or two I will need to go back and add after I edit the second time, which is fine and expected. More than anything, I want to put out the best story I can for my newsletter peeps. Flowers and Flourishing has been fun to write and a far lighter (yet still pretty heavy) tone than The Reanimator’s Heart, and if you liked Kinship and Kindness, I think you’ll like this one too.


Hopes for January

  • Figure out how quarterly taxes work
  • Start working on the second Reanimator Mysteries book
  • Book research
  • Read 8 books
  • Blog weekly
  • Finish editing Flowers and Flourishing
  • Send out Flowers and Flourishing with my January newsletter
  • Finally, a little relaxation via gaming or art regularly
Monthly Review

My End of 2022 Reflection

I’m sure within the next few weeks, you all will be really sick of new year stuff, but I wanted to do a recap of everything that has happened this year and sort of parse out my feelings regarding 2022.

2022 has been the best year in a while for me. It feels odd for me to say that considering all the negative things that happened in 2021. Last year was rough. 2022 was a year of regaining my equilibrium and figuring out what my new normal is. Where 2021 put things in perspective, 2022 was a year where I actually started moving toward a future I want.

Before 2018, I was doing pretty well as an indie author, but I had massive burnout and depression that year, which tanked my writing and career in general. When I started to finally come out of it and focused on my writing again, the pandemic hit. This year, I decided to make a concerted effort to get my writing and author career back on track, and it worked. I wrote, edited, and published The Reanimator’s Heart, and I even wrote Flowers and Flourishing (a newsletter freebie coming in late January) during that time. What shocked me most this year was how much I accomplished and how much of an impact those things had on the success of The Reanimator’s Heart.

When I say The Reanimator’s Heart was the best book launch I ever had, I’m not exaggerating. I had over 100 preorders (nearly double of my previous best), lots of first week reviews, consistent sales, and so much buzz and support from my friends and readers. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for all the support I’ve gotten for this weird book. Never in my wildest dreams did I think an autistic necromancer and his undead love would get this kind of attention. I just wanted to write a book that appealed to me and was the right brand of weird to get me back into writing consistently again. Oliver and Felipe are a pair I cannot wait to write more of, and I will be publishing book 2, The Reanimator’s Soul, in 2023 (no preorder yet but you can add it on Goodreads). There will be at least one more book in the series as well, maybe two, so stay tuned for that.

My word of the year for 2022 was “rekindle” because I wanted to rekindle my career and my love of writing. I’m still in shock that I managed to do it, but I put in a lot of focused effort to get there. I did the HB90 class as well as Publish and Thrive to remind myself of good practices for authors and where to focus my energy. I advertised my books regularly online and did a decent job of preparing for my preorders campaign for The Reanimator’s Heart. Looking through my goals and notes for the year, I covered a lot of ground, and I am proud of myself for getting my shit together finally.

In a perfect world, I would love to be able to rely less on adjuncting for my income and rely more on my books and/or other creative endeavors. Previously, I’ve applied for lots of full-time jobs and got approximately zero interviews or responses (and yes, many were outside academia), so part of me wants to try working for myself more while I’m able to do so. I enjoy teaching a lot, but the tenuous nature of class quotas, universities deciding to cut or change programs, and just the general misery surrounding the way the humanities in academia have taken a nosedive makes me hesitant to put all my eggs in that poorly constructed basket. With my writing and creative stuff, I can’t control how much I make, but I can certainly influence it and do my best to set myself up for success. The fact that I can change things or make choices that work best for me is the greatest appeal. That and being neurodivergent, I don’t necessarily cope well with many traditional jobs, which sucks. I would love to be able to do so and have more stability, but thirty-one years of life has shown me I’m suited to the structure academia but they aren’t hiring, unfortunately.

When all is said and done, I’m really proud of what I’ve done this year and how I feel going into 2023. I hope this coming year moves me forward as 2022 did, but more than anything, I hope I can look back at 2023 next year and feel the same sense of pride and achievement. I’ll talk more about what I have planned for 2023 in a few weeks, but for now, I hope you all have a happy holiday season and a great new year.

organization

3 Ways I was Goal Setting Wrong

If you go back to a post from much earlier in the year, I talked about trying to get my shit together this year, and frankly, I have. Is it perfect? No. Have I achieved every goal I have set out to accomplish? Also no, but what I have done is far better than what I did from 2018 through 2021. The system I am currently using is Sarra Cannon’s HB90 system, which focuses on creating goals, projects, and tasks that span 90 days. I really like this system because I am very much a short-term thinker. When I do year-long goals, I fall off track, get horrendously behind, devolve into a pile of self-hating goo, and never recover. With a 90 system, I basically have four fresh starts throughout the year, and because the goals are for a shorter duration, it’s easier to figure out where I’m going off track and recover. Recovering is the most important part here, but there were a few major aspects to goal setting that I figured out along the way that had been holding me back in the past.

Not understanding the difference between wishes and goals.

I like to think of it like this: wishes are things you can’t control but want while goals are things you want but can control. The problem with new year goal setting is that people often set wishes rather than goals, and then, they beat themselves up when they don’t achieve those things. For instance, getting a specific kind of job isn’t a goal, it’s a wish. You can’t control the hiring process, you can’t control what jobs will be posted, but what you can control is setting yourself up for success while applying. Instead, you might make some goals like get feedback on resume from someone in industry, brush up on things related to the job, review interview questions, apply for twenty jobs. Those things are all within your control but will, hopefully, set yourself up for success with the thing you’re wishing to have. With the HB90 system, the goal would be “work toward getting a better job” with the projects and tasks all the things listed in the above goals section.

I was talking to my partner about this today because the thing that sets a lot of neurodivergent people back is rejection sensitivity, and sometimes this manifests especially hard when we treat our wishes as goals. When they don’t come true, we beat ourselves up extra hard. You only had three “goals,” so why couldn’t you manage to achieve those few things? Well, if they’re out of your control, you really can’t guarantee that.

If you reframe your overarching goals as wishes with various goals/projects/tasks/actionable steps under them, even if you don’t hit your actual target, you can still look at all the things you did and say, “Hey, I did all that I could to get to this thing. I did my best.” Alternatively, you could also look at what you did that didn’t work and try to figure out how you can change up your technique to do better next time.

For 2023, I’ve been working on my wishes for the year, which include things like

  • double my author income for the year
  • rely on adjuncting less
  • get a house

Some of my goals are

  • Finish the second Reanimator Mysteries book
  • Work more on fixing up my office
  • Research creating a sticker shop

What is actionable versus what is out of my control is far more obvious, and if the former don’t happen, I won’t beat myself up as much.

Not considering date-specific tasks

I don’t know if this is just a me problem, but I have a hard time keeping track of time/dates unless I can orient myself visually with a calendar, and sometimes when I’m doing my 90 day goal setting, I forget that I have to grade portfolios in December or that I get seasonal affect problems in November, which mixes with research papers coming in and tanks my brain. At the time, I was only focused on what I could cram into 90 days rather than those specific 90 days. What I’ve learned this past year is that I need to make a note for myself somewhere reminding me about my workload when making goals. I somehow forget that it fluctuates from month-to-month, and I am setting myself up for failure when I overload my plate.

If you’re a visually minded person, you might want to make a hypothetical calendar and mark out the busy times of the year. You might notice that one quarter has a lot more busy time than others, and you can plan accordingly. It’s better to under plan than over plan since you can always add more to your plate if it’s slower than usual. Obviously, it’s different if something sudden comes up, but I felt a bit silly that I forgot about grading piling up in Q4. The same goes for when you have vacations planned or a lot of birthdays that disrupt your weekends. You need to take into consideration that with each quarter, there are differences in energy levels and obligations.

Not prioritizing low v. high energy times

The HB90 system utilizes task blocks, which is basically half hour chunks of time that you would use for certain tasks. I haven’t quite nailed how long things take me to do yet, but what I ended up using the page for was marking out when I had work, when I ate, when I had daily chores to do. Then, using different markers, I delineated the times of day when my brain is at its best, then the middling periods, and finally the times when I tend to be rather useless.

What I used to do was think that I would be able to teach my night class and do all the things I could on an off day after my commute. I knew it was laughable. I knew I came home braindead after teaching and driving, yet I was hellbent on getting things done those days. If I could do it other days, I should be able to do the same on late class days. I actually started putting stickers in the box for the day of my late class to keep me from over-scheduling tasks. It was the easiest way to remind myself to rethink those choices.

What I’m doing now is using my energy chart to remind myself when it might be the best time to do certain tasks. At the same time, I plan on making a brief list of tasks that fit into each category in case I’m feeling aimless or forget what is reasonable for me to do at a certain time. It won’t be exhaustive or always work, but sometimes having those visual reminders is necessary.


I hope my list of screw ups helps you as you go into 2023 with your lists of goals or plans. Just remember that your productivity does not define your self-worth, and that even if you don’t hit a single goal, you still made progress along the way.

Personal Life · Writing

On Rest

I fucked up. That’s due to the belated realization that I didn’t listen to my body when I really needed to rest.

If you read last week’s blog post, you may have noticed the section on writing where I mentioned I struggled and was a bit fried. Historically, November is a bad month for me. It’s a yearly clusterfuck where lots of grading and keeping track of all the things my classes have due intersects with the time change and the days getting shorter, which also intersects with seeing giant NaNoWriMo word counts (this is a morale sapper since I write small-ish daily word counts). I logically know that November is a bad mental month for me as I tend to use up more brainpower between work and Christmas prep and have less spoons in general. And yet, my dumb ass continues to do what it has been doing at a pace it is not capable of without consequences.

I feel like I dragged my tired corpse through November while chanting the refrain of “You did it in October and September, and you can do it again.” Am I more organized and driven than I’ve been in previous years? Yes. Does November still kick my ass despite all that? Apparently so.

Since the end of last year, I’ve been using the HB90 method for goal setting, project planning, etc., and it has been very helpful. The problem is that I blissfully forgot or willfully ignored that November kicks my butt. Somehow, I thought, I have my shit together this year and am doing well. Surely this won’t happen this year.

Sadly, I felt it coming before I was aware of what was happening and still ignored it. I struggled at the end of October to get through my word count goals. I chocked that up to my book launching and not really having my head fully in the game due to launch anxiety, which was a reasonable assessment. The problem was that the feeling persisted into November and only got worse. By the middle of November, I was drained. I had edited a bunch of research papers (longest and most thorough paper my students write, which means it takes the most brain power to give feedback on), I was struggling to read books with any consistency (a major red flag for me), and my writing was only happening in fits and starts. I would fall behind, then pound out a thousand words, then not write again for several days in an endless cycle of misery and disappointment. The biggest, most obvious indication should have been the all-consuming yearning to play Stardew Valley. Yes, my friends, my desire to play that video game usually means my brain is shot and needs serotonin. I can mindless do tasks, play for hours, and feel accomplished as my crops grow and I romance Shane, my favorite hot mess. It’s something I know is basically my check engine light coming on, but I ignored it anyway because I was already behind on my writing and I couldn’t fall more behind playing video games.

Well, guess what, I never caught up. At some point, I hit 8,000 of the 10,000 words and said, we’re good. I admitted defeat after blowing a tire on my car in a near accident. I’m now starting to wonder if the brain drain contributed to that as well, but it was the wake up call I needed to stop for a bit and try to refill my creative well. Since the very end of November, I’ve been reading more, just sort of vegging while watching shows I like, and playing a bit of Stardew Valley before bed. It has helped a lot. I’m starting to feel like I can think straight again, though I know some of that is because the semester is also about to end.

If there’s one thing I need to get better at, it’s listening to my body when it comes to productivity and writing. It gave me so many warning signs that I need to pause for a day or two, but I ignored them to avoid “falling behind” on arbitrary deadlines I set for myself. Now, instead of taking a day or two off to reset, I’ve had to take a full week off. It certainly isn’t the worst outcome, but I’m annoyed at myself for making things needlessly worse. In my bullet journal for 2023, I’m going to make a signs of burnout page to remind myself that sometimes I need to just rest and decompress, that the work will be there tomorrow, and the only one putting pressure on me is me.

If you’re like me and starting to feel the chafe of burnout, please, take a step back, do something that brings you joy, and just exist for a bit. Don’t do or try to force, just rest. Whatever resting looks like to you, take this as the universe’s way of telling you to go rest. You deserve it, you don’t need to earn it, just give the well a chance to refill.

Monthly Review

November 2022 Wrap-Up Post

This month was a struggle, as November almost always is. Between getting a lot of papers and work to grade, the time change, anxiety, and holiday stuff, I feel like I did not get as much done as I would have liked to. I’m trying hard not to beat myself up over it because I did the best I could with what I had in my mental reserves. This might also be a bit of a wake-up call to me [again] about making sure to refill the creative well instead of trying to steamroller forward even when I’m mentally exhausted. I also got into a minor car accident (got cut off and popped a tire running off the road), which made my anxiety skyrocket at the end of the month. If this is my “worst” month this year, I still think I did pretty damn good. Anyway, let’s see what my goals for November were.

  • Read 8 books
  • Blog weekly and put out the monthly newsletter
  • Keep marketing The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Word count goals for “Flowers and Flourishing”
    • Minimum- 10k
    • Intermediate- 12.5k
    • Stretch- 15k
  • Shop for majority of the Christmas presents
  • Actually work on that spring class’s lesson plans
  • Do something relaxing- not sure what exactly but video games, drawing, crafts count

Books

My goal for November was to read 8 books, and I read 8 books.

  1. The Ancient Magus’s Bride Vol. 16 by Kore Yamazaki- 4 stars, I like that we’re finally coming to a head with the antagonist in this arc. It could be its own manga series with how long it’s been.
  2. The Stand-Up Groomsman (#2) by Jackie Lau- 4 stars, loved this one. The MCs don’t hit it off initially when standoffish meets high energy comedian, but the way they truly see each other is *chef kiss*
  3. Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk- 5 stars, demons, angels, and collected souls in 1920s Chicago with a queer cast? Yes please. Very short but very good.
  4. A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers- 4 stars, loved the disability rep with the MCs voice issue and [potential] neurodivergence along with the interweaving of spiritualism and grief.
  5. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell- 4 stars, a fiction/nonfiction interweaving of Shakespeare’s dead son, Hamnet, and his character Hamlet where the supernatural infuses the essence of the family’s life. Really interesting, definitely edges into lit fic stylistically.
  6. The Solstice Cabin (#4) by Arden Powell- 4 stars, magical 1920s Canada where one MC follows the other nearly to the ends of the earth for love.
  7. Skeleton Song (#7.7) by Seanan McGuire- 4 stars, a short story showing how Christopher fell into Mariposa and met the skeleton girl.
  8. What the Dead Know by Nghi Vo- 4 stars, fake psychics get more than they bargained for when putting on a seance at an all girls’ magical school.

Admin/Behind-the-Scenes Stuff

  • Marketed The Reanimator’s Heart a lot during the month
  • Sent out more audio review copies of Kinship and Kindness
  • Made a temporary cover for Flowers and Flourishing
  • Made a Goodreads page for Flowers and Flourishing
  • Wrote the blurb for Flowers and Flourishing
  • Did the majority of my Christmas shopping (very happy about this scrambling in December stresses me out)
  • Graded so a shit ton of papers *laugh sob*
  • Got a new tire put on my car because I got run off the road (yes, I’m fine, just freaked out)
  • Made email adverts for the class I’m teaching in the spring semester

As a side note, I did not touch my lesson plans for next semester at all. It has been pushed back once again. If I get through half of my plans in December, I’ll be happy.


Blogs Posted


Writing

How did writing go? Badly, lol. The sad part is that the words were good. The vast majority of what I wrote won’t require major edits or rewrites. It’s just the quantity that went wrong. As mentioned in my blog post on NaNoWriMo, I hate November. It’s the month when my brain nosedives due to seeing high NaNo word counts, the weather/time change, and all the grading I’m doing. I had wanted to write at least 10,000 words. Instead, I wrote 8,000 words, and the process was torturous. Luckily, I’m writing a novella, so I’m really not that behind at this point and will have it out on time as long as I don’t totally tank in December.

  • Week 1- 0 words (6 day week)
  • Week 2- 4,000 words, 571 words/day, (didn’t write for 2 days)
  • Week 3- 1,300 words, 186 words/day (didn’t write for 3 days)
  • Week 4- 1,300 words, 186 words/day (didn’t write for 3 days)
  • Week 5- 1,400 words, 467 words/day (3 day week, didn’t write 1 of those days)

Hopes for December

  • Finish writing Flowers and Flourishing
  • Edit Flowers and Flourishing
  • Read 8 books
  • Blog weekly and send out my December newsletter
  • Finish Christmas prep
  • Have 6 weeks of lessons prepped/outlined for next semester
  • Set goals for Q1 of 2023
Writing

Why I Never NaNo

I have held off writing this post until the end of the month because I didn’t want to “yuck anyone’s yum” as the kids say. I have no beef with other people participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but for me, NaNo is a no-go. And I wanted to write about it for the writers who feel discouraged that they struggle to do NaNo or don’t like to do it, especially when it seems like everyone is participating, except you.

I jokingly refer to NaNoWriMo as “No Words November” for me. Where other people see synergy and community, I find myself crushed beneath other people’s massive (for me) daily word counts. Comparison-itis hits, and it hits HARD. My soul dies incrementally at the beginning of November with each friend who participates and posts that they wrote 2,000+ words in a day. On a personal level, I am very happy for them that they’re making progress and don’t want to mute the word or my friends for a month, but my inner writer is screaming in panic as I am lucky if I get 500 words a day during November. The more I see the large numbers, the worse it gets to the point that I often get so far in my head that I stop writing in November. This has happened repeatedly.

This is a me problem. I know it is, and I know I need to work on my comparison-itis, but I think for people who tend to be slower writers or who don’t zero draft, NaNo feels like an insurmountable task. During the height of the semester, I’m lucky if I can get 10,000 words a month. Part of my personal grudge against NaNo is that it’s in November, which is when I am a) perpetually exhausted from the time change/weather b) under a mountain of grading because that’s when the long papers roll in. It’s just not a convenient time for me as a professor to be doing anything extra, let alone stretching way past my normal word count.

If we could shift NaNo to like June, that would be great. I vividly remember being in college and one of my friends having a meltdown because she was behind her NaNo goal and her schoolwork, which she sacrificed to write more. I wanted to shake her. NaNo is one month, grades are forever. The same rule applies as an adult with a job. I’m not sacrificing my mental health and totally stressing myself out for something that in the long run doesn’t matter. NaNo is just another month, just another arbitrary activity, and my life and worth doesn’t hinge on a word count.

My process also doesn’t work with NaNo. The typical wisdom is that you shouldn’t edit as you go, which I have to do. Editing is my warm-up before I start my next writing session, and it keeps me from having to do a massive amount of editing at the end of my draft. On top of that, I am a plantser/gardener. This means that I don’t usually have an outline before I start writing or, if I do, it’s on an act-by-act basis or only a few scenes ahead at a time. Not being a plotter means that either I have to zero draft (messy, scant rough draft), which I really don’t like to do, or I need to rapidly figure out where the hell I’m going. My lack of forethought does not lend itself to this process. I do not like cleaning up a mess. I am the kind of person who cleans the bowls and pans as they cook instead of dealing with a giant mess at the end. The same holds true for writing. Without being able to edit as I go or having the time to do so while writing so much, it really isn’t worth it for me as I will struggle to finish a book that requires that much editing.

Know yourself and your process should be the main takeaway from this blog post. If traditional NaNoWriMo works well with your writing process, then you should definitely go for it, but if it doesn’t work for you or the way you write, it might not make sense to go for 50k words in a month and wreck your mental health or manuscript. Every year the FOMO gets me during week 1 when everyone’s energy is high and they are so enthused, but once the stressed posts set in, I realize why I don’t torture myself. I know I would hitch my self-worth as a writer to those giant (for me) daily word counts, and things would not end well.

If you haven’t enjoyed NaNo this year but feel like it’s necessary or a hallmark of a “real” writer/author, it isn’t. I have never won NaNo. I have only tried twice and failed both times. Camp NaNo where I’ve stuck to a more reasonable word count goal is the only way I can do NaNo. I have eight books out with several more cooking, so don’t feel bad if NaNo just doesn’t jive for you. You certainly don’t need to do it in order to finish your manuscript or to find a supportive writing community. You can do that all on your own any month of the year.