New Years Goals 2019 #AmWriting

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Hello folks! How are you? Once again, I have managed to neglect this blog. There’s been a few more changes this last year personally for me and again, it is my Twitter that I am turning to rather than here.

The world seems to have gone that bit more insane this last year, what with Trump still in the White House (somehow!) and Brexit turning into a bit of a mess shall we say. This time next year, the UK will have left the EU but whether it will be with a bad deal or no deal remains to be seen. The UK has had the Beast from the East and a scorcher of a summer. Both caused trouble, giving us Brits plenty to talk about in relation to our favourite subject: the weather! We’ve had a royal birth, 2 royal weddings, the English became convinced football was coming home and once again had their dreams crushed. The world also lost an icon of pop culture in Stan Lee, a man whose work was loved by millions around the world and probably encouraged some of them to become the creators of the future.

With all that in mind, it feels right that my success and failure in completing my 2018 goals was very much mixed:

1) Write something at least once a week, every week.

Not a complete success on this one but that’s not been a bad thing. My yearly target was 38,000 words and I have written 52,320 words overall. I cleared my target for the year in September despite having missed some weeks and taking a break in the same month. I also succeeded in writing every single day of November, so I could get all the challenge badges for consecutive writing days.

I ended up taking a break because I was experiencing burnout. I suspect it was because I had been working on the Steampunk Dragon Rider WIP, a project had developed quick in a few months and is in a genre I don’t have too much experience in. I needed to step back and recharge my creative energies. I don’t normally do this but I reached out to a writerly friend of mine, @Draebox on Twitter, who gave me some advice and made a video about the question:

I came back from the break stronger. It helped me work out what I needed to do. I will elaborate when I get to goal 4. Like last year, I have been reviewing and occasionally adjusting my targets every 3 months to help me keep writing even when things in RL have got busy needed to take priority. Any adjustments have always been down to enable me to create a buffer should I need it later in the year. This has worked a treat as it took the pressure off me for the last 3 months of the year (very busy ones for me).

Looking ahead to 2019, again I will be keeping this goal. Not because I didn’t succeed but because it works for me.

2) Keep this blog active, somehow.

Yeah, this is a big fat FAIL! I think I know why I have not succeeded on this one for two years straight: it is simply not achievable for me. At least, not right now. Writing and life and other personal stuff means that even taking 10 minutes to write on my blog even once a week with a writing update that I use to do is just not possible for me it seems.

I have started using an app/website called Habitica in recent months that lets you set goals and tick them off as you achieve them. You can set goals to reoccur at certain intervals and I am tempted to put a blogging daily on that is set to occur even just once a month but looking at life and how I have not managed this goal for two years makes me think it would be a waste of time.

With that in mind, I think it is time I retired this goal. It is not possible for me. I will just have to hope that I can at least be doing something on this blog when I have a chance I guess. In time, if life allows me, I will try to return to regular blogging.

3) Read more and finish books

Whilst not a complete success, I have at least been reading comics and some books. Granted I have also had to check GoodReads to see what I have read this year. Mostly comics rather than books but I have at least been reading and I will take it, all things considered. Rather than reading, I have been watching a lot more YouTube videos and gaming more. I have recently started playing Persona 5 and it’s story is incredible. I feel I can learn a lot from it about pacing but I also think I need to be putting the game controller down and reading more.

Going forward into 2019, I think I am going to adjust this one to simply read more.

4) Continue to work on the Dark Witch and Dragon Rider projects.

This one is definitely a success because I have been working on both projects all year, flicking between them. That isn’t to say that there has not been problems or that I haven’t been writing Destiny fan fiction.

I mentioned above about having to take a break due to the work and nature of the Dragon Rider project. The break though served me very well as I realised that I needed to step back from the Dragon Rider project and it made me see what I needed to do on the Dark Witch project (known as the Hallie WIP on Twitter).

The Hallie WIP was in a mess and all over the place because of how it had developed since even January of last year. I had to stop writing and do some planning, replotting and world building. I have also been writing stuff that takes place later on in the timeline for the characters. This helped solidify and understand who these characters were and their eventual place in the world. In turn, I know what I needed to do and how to remould the characters for the very start of their journey. This has helped me when I made a fresh start on the project for November NaNoWriMo. That fresh start has been a slight slog but I know the WIP is stronger and better for it.

As part of the world building when I have not been writing the WIP, I have began learning Welsh. Why? Well, the WIP has lost at least some of it’s Steampunk-ish feel, taken on an Arthurian Legends base and I am using the basic Welsh version of the story to help me. This also led me to realise therefore that the language of magic in the world is Welsh. I know it seems crazy to be learning it purely for a story but I want to make sure everything is right when the characters speak it.

The Hallie WIP has been my main focus for 8 months of the year. The other 4 have been taken up by the Dragon Rider one.

From a plot bunny that bit me and refused to let go of me in November 2017, this one has developed from a barely coherent story, plot and world building into something more solid. It does mean that, like the Hallie WIP, there is some mess and disjointedness but at the same time, this one also feels like it has developed and settled much faster once the work was put into it. I also feel that, unlike the Hallie one which could run on a bit, this one is more finite (and shorter!). With that in mind, I think I do have time to be working on the Steampunk aspect to make sure it is ingrained in the story rather than window dressing. The story I feel could take care of itself (with a bit more planning).

I am therefore keeping this goal obviously and hopefully, both will be much further along this time next year.

My goals for the next year are as follows then:

1) Write Something, once a week, every week.

2) Read more.

3) Continue to work on the Steampunk Dragon Rider WIP and the Hallie/Dark Witch WIP.

How has your 2018 been? Successful? Mixed? Otherwise? Feel free to comment below.

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Writing and Body Language

Definitely worth bookmarking for when you get stuck.

Jens Thoughts

I find one of the most talked about topics in writing is “show don’t tell”. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I try not to I still do, and I also find myself repeating words or not describing actions well.

I stumbled on this list of body language for us to keep near us while writing.

body-language-for-writers

he lowered his head
she hung her head
he ducked
she bowed her head
he covered his eyes with a hand
she pressed her hands to her cheeks

she raised her chin
he lifted his chin

her hands squeezed into fists
his hands tightened into fists
she clenched her fists
she balled her fists
he unclenched his fists
her arms remained at her sides

he shrugged
she gave a half shrug
he lifted his shoulder in a half shrug
she gave a dismissive wave of her hand

she raised a hand in greeting
he…

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Book Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

I want to preface this review now with my opinion is purely that: my opinion!

Farfield is a town divided between the North and the South.

On North side is the American Ellis family. Daughter Brittany appears for all the world the perfect all-American girl. Blonde hair, designer clothes, head cheerleader and dating a footballer. But it is all a façade. At home, things are not perfect with a often absent father, a mother on the edge and an older disabled sister who uses a wheelchair.

On the South side is the Mexican Fuentes family. Alex lives with his hard-working mother and brothers Carlos and Luis. To the outside world, Alex is THE bad boy, playing up his Latino Blood gang membership however this is Alex’s own mask. He is intelligent and could go far, if he was able to get out of the gang and still protect his family.

When Brittany and Alex are put together for a Chemistry project, sparks fly and the appearances that each of them put on begin to slip…

I will say it now. This book is so bad it’s good. Before I go on to why it’s so bad, I want to point out the good elements that actually made me read this cover to cover.

Elkeles uses the first person narration of each character to give both sides of the story and show the world of Farfield through the characters eyes very vividly. She shows the extreme differences in the fictional town as well as the big differences in the  characters worlds. But within that is also the juxtaposition that actually the characters are very similar. They have their family troubles whether caused by internal or external forces and each character must put on an act.

Because of the first person perspective, the readers gain a real insight on the characters instead of having their views on characters heavily influenced by others. This book definitely would not have worked as well if the story had been told from the third person.

On the subject of worlds, Elkeles  has really shown a strong and colourful understanding of Mexican culture, the protective nature of families and the close-knit community, minus the gang part. The research she put into the book really shows and something to be praised. (I don’t know if all the Spanish is correct as my own is very limited so I can’t really say if it is right).

The book also shows a real, positive representation of a person with disability. The sisterly bond between Brittany and Shelley, her sister, is touching and lovingly portrayed. The book also shows the struggles of a modern family with a disabled child. The act put on by Brittany’s parents to hide Shelley as well as the pressure they place on Brittany to do the same is very interesting and really makes the reader invest in this characters, wanting to see the sisters triumph against their parents’ act and no longer have to hide from the world.

Elkeles could have portrayed the character in a very dim light, showing the character as stupid and being completely unable to understand anything but instead it is a bright light that is put on Shelley, showing her as intelligent and perfectly able to make her own informed choices on matters about her.  The only other positive representation of disability I have seen lately, that also shows these traits in such characters, has been in Episode 5 of Call the Midwife.

Sadly, these are the only real positives I have found in the book.

The good writing and character portrayals is seriously hampered by the seriously clichéd characters and story.

Let’s start with the characters.

Of course the boy is in a minority group (Mexican) and is a gangbanger. He is also mixed up with the rougher people in society and gets into trouble with drugs and the police. He’s only dating her for a bet but oh, he really loves her so changes himself enough to be with her.

Of course the girl is the typical blonde, smart cheerleader who’s dating the football star. She breaks up with him for the boy from across the tracks who she must hide from her family, friends and society. Eventually, when he changes, she is able to go out with him freely in public!

I also have an issue with Brittany’s name. Why is the stereotypical blonde, cheerleading captain called Brittany? Why? It just feels so overused that the character has become almost the symbol of the American school system and must be used when a writer writes a story set in the classic American high school setting.

Plus, why do they meet in a Chemistry class? Why do the characters have to meet like that? I was having serious Twilight flashbacks at that point.

Really? Does the world really need this story AGAIN?! I realise that it is said there are only 7 stories in the world and it is how we dress them up that we create a new twist on that story but it feels like Elkeles tried in some areas of the book but not in others. Unfortunately, it is in arguably the two most important areas of a book that got neglected badly: the story and the characters.

I feel she had a real chance to do a great twist on the genre, challenging the stereotypes and the traditional codes and conventions that have come to epitomise the teen romance genre.

The only way the story could have been improved is if she had scrapped it completely and done something else by allowing the characters to lead. Why not have the girl as the Mexican or another minority and the boy as maybe an invisible geek who sits in the back of the class? What would happen when these two came together?

Having spoken to a friend of mine in the USA about the chemistry class plot point, they told me that joint assignments take place in other classes, like English. Providing it wasn’t a clichéd romance book or even Shakespeare play, maybe the characters could have met there or another class or maybe even outside of school! Do American teenagers lives really completely revolve around high school?

Whilst I had Twilight flashbacks during the chemistry class scenes, throughout much of the book, I also couldn’t help thinking of the Bring It On: All Or Nothing film. The film and this book were almost identical in the main staples of the story and characters.

I also feel that the epilogue was completely unnecessary. There was enough closure in the ending of the previous chapter but open-ended enough that it left the readers able to make up their own ideas of what happened next. The epilogue robs the readers of that and seems to be restarting the story again unneeded.

Problem is, Elkeles is a good writer. She chose the right point of view for the book, creates a town that feels so real, the reader could go there, gives an excellent portrayal of the Mexican people, culture and community and represents disability in such a brilliant way and positive light. It’s with these elements of the book that she manages to hook her audience, makes the readers become emotionally invested in the characters so that, despite all the horrible clichés, the reader keeps on reading to the last page.

It’s because of this that I feel the book is annoyingly addictive and I hope vindicates my view that the book is so bad, it’s good! I’m not sure I would recommend this book necessarily to someone who is experienced with the genre but as a starting point, I think it is a good introduction for new readers to the genre. It has all the stereotypes, the codes and conventions and every last little thing someone would expect from a Young Adult Romance book. For a writer, I think it’s a good book to look at to learn those very same things and to get a grounding in the genre before they start writing their own stories.