My 10 Most Popular Posts of 2017 and My Plan for 2018

I got a lot of new subscribers in 2017, which was nice. (I know you’re there, even if you’re not talking… come join the conversation!)

2017 was a year I tried to settle into a groove with blogging. In previous years, I tried to do daily (which was way too much) and other times when I had no schedule. In 2017, I tried to post on Tuesdays and Fridays. For 2018, I’m going to go back to a Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday format. Because of the interest in book challenges, I’m going to try to check in once a week with what I’m reading and my progress on various challenges. Starting next week, that will be on Mondays. (Happy New Year, BTW!)

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Most of the popular posts from this list are from 2017, but some are older (some much older). Without further ado, my top 10 from this year…

  1. 11 Best Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness You have no idea how happy I am to see this at #1. People are becoming more interested in mental illness, and I think that’s a wonderful step toward conversation and destigmatizing what so many people struggle with.
  2. 10 Best Novels from Over 100 Years Ago This post is from 2011 and has consistently been one of my most popular posts. It’s a little sparse, back when I just made lists but didn’t consistently post pictures or say anything about the books. But… I guess that’s what Amazon is for?
  3. What Bullying Looks Like as An Adult Again, another post I’m happy to see as popular. We really, really need to stop telling children no to be bullies and then turn around and do it ourselves. Take a look to see the subtle ways you might be participating in bullying.
  4. Don’t Ban Eleanor & Park A post from 2016. I’m so against book banning. I think that any book that really speaks to someone is going to make someone else mad, and that’s okay. Kids need books like these. Eleanor & Park is a book I wish had been around when I was in high school
  5. Book Challenges 2018 A very recent post, but it just goes to show how interested in book challenges people are becoming. I’m going to try to be better about posting updates on my progress next year. Join me and feel free to update me on your progress too!
  6. Open Letter to the Writer Who Left My Writer’s Group You know, I almost didn’t write this post. I hate that I may have contributed to discouraging another writer. But it wasn’t done out of a spirit of meanness, and I think that it’s important to admit to my mistakes so I can become a better person. None of us are perfect. And even though the writer who this letter was intended for will probably never see it, maybe someone else who needs to see it will.
  7. 5 Things Not to Say to a Writer This post is from 2013, and I remember what made me write it. I was still working at crisis back then. We had some down time and were sitting around. I was working on a story and started bouncing ideas off my Arizona bestie, who is not a writer. He pretty much said everything on this list, and it made me crazy. When I showed him the blog post, he laughed.
  8. Promoting Kindness This post was inspired by all the vitriol I see (even among friends) over differing opinions regarding politics.
  9. 10 Best Fiction Books About Mental Illness I love that more people are trying to write characters with mental illnesses; I just prefer that people get it right. Exposure to fiction is known to increase empathy, so reading about characters with mental illness definitely can promote understanding and reduce fear of these disorders.
  10. The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops Spoiler alert… it’s not my thing!

Doing a very scientific analysis, it seems that my most popular posts are lists of books and more personal type posts. I’ll try to keep that in mind as I’m brainstorming topics next year.

Are there any topics you’d like to see me write about? Any topics you’d like less of? I’m always open to suggestions, so feel free to comment on this (or any post) or email me at doreeweller@gmail.com.

Thanks for coming along for the ride that was 2017 for me! I’m hoping that 2018 will be even better.

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5 Things I Learned When I Critiqued Harry Potter

For awhile, my critique partner and I were reading and critiquing published novels. One day, he suggested critiquing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a book we’d both enjoyed. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times, and while I know they’re not perfect, I also know that they’re wonderful.

But an odd thing happened when I read Harry Potter with an eye to critique it. I found tons of flaws. If JK Rowling had brought the manuscript to group, I would have probably shredded it.

It taught me valuable lessons that have somewhat changed the way I approach critiquing and being critiqued.

  1. No book, no matter how wonderful, is perfect. These books are among the most popular of all time. A book doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to invoke that magical connection with the reader.
  2. If you look for the flaws, you’ll find them. The “flaws” in Harry Potter were always there, but I wasn’t looking for them, so all I saw was what I enjoyed. When I started looking, they were everywhere.
  3. Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.   (paraphrased) Proverbs 11:27

  4. Flaws don’t interfere with the reading experience. I’d never noticed any of the so-called flaws before I went looking for them. In some books, I can’t ignore the flaws. They’re so glaring and make me angry. But any flaws in Harry Potter melted into the background because the story, the characters, and the setting are so engaging that the rest were just details.
  5. When writers bring work to group to be critiqued, I should balance looking for flaws and enjoying the story. It’s not an easy thing to do, read with both my critic hat on and my reader hat. I want to point out as many “flaws” as possible so that the writer sees them. That doesn’t mean they have to change everything I point out, just that they should be aware of them. At the same time, I need to ask myself, “Would I read this story if I weren’t critiquing it? Why or why not?” It makes a difference to what I point out and what I choose not to.
  6. My story is never going to be perfect, and it doesn’t need to be. When other group members ask me questions I don’t have answers to, or that I just didn’t put in the story, I feel myself tightening up, like I should have all the answers to every possible question anyone can think of. (Overachiever alert!) JK Rowling didn’t answer every question I ever had about the Harry Potter universe, and I still love those books.
  7. “Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire

  8. Critiquing Harry Potter was probably one of the best things I could have done. I can know that there are flaws and still love it. (And read past them when I reread it in the future.) Have you ever tried critiquing a published novel? What did you learn from it?

6 Reasons NaNoWriMo Doesn’t Work For Me (But Why It’s Still Great)

IMG_9029For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is the idea that, every November, writers can sit down and get 50,000 words on paper, writing a novel in a month. That’s 1,667 words per day. You upload it to the NaNoWriMo site, and if you get those 50,000 words, you win!

The idea is to spark creativity and overcome self-doubt. Some people would like to write a novel, but can’t get the words on the page. Having a set goal like that is supposed to encourage people to silence their inner critic and just go for it.

I love the idea, and I participated (and failed) for about four or five years. It took me a long time to figure out why it didn’t work for me, but I get it now.

Here’s why:

  1. I consistently “fail” at daily tasks. I don’t know why this is, but it is. On Facebook, I was nominated for that 7 days/ 7 black and white pictures challenge. I missed day 5. I got back to it and posted my day 5 the next day, but I always do it. In years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, I’m usually full steam ahead for about the first week, and then I start missing days. It’s just not my work style, I guess.
  2. I need to work from an outline. In the past, I’ve been a “pantser,” meaning I just write by the seat of my pants. It never worked for me. I struggled to finish; I did multiple drafts; my point was lost or I forgot to tie up threads. Then a friend recommended Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. This book makes so much sense to me. It’s not an outline, per se, but rather a set of story points one must work toward.
  3. 50,000 words isn’t actually a novel, so I’d have to add a lot more to it to make it one. I write YA, which is the shortest novel you can get, outside of middle grade. Word count for YA ranges from 55,000 to 79,999 words, according to Writer’s Digest. I always have to put more words in, and don’t want to start at a deficit. My style tends to be pretty stripped down anyway. “Plot-focused,” one of the writers in my group calls it.
  4. It stresses me out. There are days when I can put 5,000 words on paper. But I don’t write every day. And if I miss a day or two with NaNoWriMo, I’ve already “failed,” so what’s the point in continuing?
  5. I don’t care about praise or fake badges. Studies show that badges in fitness apps and praise for doing things increases the likelihood that someone will do a behavior, but that stuff doesn’t work on me. I think it’s great when it does provide encouragement for people, but it doesn’t work like that for me. (Neither does advertising or “hard sells.”) Knowing that, at the end of the month, I’ll get a “congrats!” for “winning” isn’t encouraging for me.
  6. November doesn’t work for me. I’ve actually thought about doing my own personal NaNoWriMo during April or May, any month that isn’t so crazy. But something about November, which is stuck between Halloween and Christmas just makes it crazier to me. In November, I want to take down Halloween decorations and put up Christmas ones. I want to bake cookies and travel to see family. I do write in November, but not at the crazy, flat out pace that NaNoWriMo requires.

I know I sound like a Negative Nancy, but I actually think NaNoWriMo can be wonderful for people who are struggling with writing that first novel. For anyone who wants to write but suffers from self-doubt, those first steps can be the most important ones. For people who do respond to routine or praise, it can be a great encouragement. Plus, the NaNoWriMo community is welcoming. They have events all over the country where people can go and write together.

If you’re on the fence about whether to try NaNoWriMo, at least check it out. They have progress trackers, pep talks, support, community, etc.

For me, I just like the idea more than the reality.

Have you ever done or considered doing NaNoWriMo? What do you think about it?

 

Five Things Friday

One

What I’m Reading

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s not a book I would have picked for myself, but I’m enjoying it. It was a birthday present from a friend. I love getting books as gifts because it challenges me to read things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

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I started Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, on audiobook. It’s to fulfill the Popsugar Reading Challenge Category: A Steampunk Novel. So far, it’s okay, but I can’t say I’m loving it.

Two

What I’m Writing

In my August edition of “Five Things Friday,” I told you I was just starting the edits on Not Dead Enough. I’m happy to say that I’ve finished the paper read through. Now for the oral read through, and then I’m ready to start querying it… yay!

I’m also still working on my other book, The Cycle, and I feel like I’ve gotten into the groove of writing it. Normally I wouldn’t be working on editing one book at the same time I’m writing another, but these are so different that it’s no struggle keeping them in separate mental compartments.

Three

What I Read This Week

I finished Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (rated 4 stars on Goodreads). I can’t believe I’ve never read this before!

The new Writer’s Digest issue.

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Apparently Alan Alda is a writer… who knew?

Four

When I Wasn’t Reading

Well… I was cleaning up around the house. Let’s just say I have an older dog and leave it at that. I was also editing and writing.

Five

Favorite Picture of the Week

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These guys made me laugh with how they’re passed out, like they’re exhausted!

What have you been up to this week?

5 Things Friday

It’s been a busy month for me, and while I have a lot of great ideas for posts, I don’t have the energy to do them justice right now. So, instead of skipping today, I thought I’d do a fast and fun five things Friday. (It’s apparently a thing.)

One

What I’m Reading

Because I tend to reach for things I’ve already read when life gets stressful, I just finished rereading The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

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Two

What I’m Writing

I’m just about to start seriously editing the last novel I wrote, Not Dead Enough, a YA thriller about a teenager whose boyfriend died in a car accident. But when she starts getting messages from someone claiming to be him, she has to question if she’s being stalked, or if he’s somehow communicating with her.

I’m also writing a novel tentatively called The Cycle about a woman whose children get taken into foster care. She grew up in foster care and group homes. The story is told with dual timelines of her at 13 and 22. Actually, that’s probably what made me think about The Language of Flowers.

Three

What I Read This Week

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

Four

When I Wasn’t Reading

I was writing, chauffeuring my two sick cats to the veterinarian, finishing some touch up work on the bathroom I painted awhile back, and walking the dog.

Five

Favorite Picture of the Week

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This greedy squirrel is pretty much constantly eating. One of my cats loves watching him, and we call her a “TV addict.”

What have you been doing this week?

 

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Collecting Rejections

Stack of books

Some famous “rejects.”

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about dealing with criticism. Which is hard enough, but in some ways, dealing with rejection is worse.

I “collect” rejection stories. Carrie, by Stephen King, was rejected 30 times. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling, was rejected 12 times. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, was rejected 38 times. And on and on and on.

I pull these stories out whenever I need to remind myself that a rejection doesn’t mean the story is bad; it just means that it didn’t find its match. It’s kind of like dating that way. I’ve abandoned many books that other people loved, and loved books other people hate. Unless a book is actually poorly written, whether or not it’s “good” is more about the taste of the reader than the actual story. And even then, I like some “poorly written” stories.

Recently, I had a tough rejection. I have a goal to get a story into a particular online magazine. I read it, I follow it, and I know what type of stories they take. My story is better than some of the stories I read there. Not better than all of them, but better than some. (This is, of course, my extremely biased opinion.)

Usually, this magazine rejects within 30 days, so when a month came and went, my excitement built. And built. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t mean they’d accept my story, but of course, I didn’t listen.

When they had the story 75 days, I got a form rejection back with the usual, “Thank you but this wasn’t a good fit for us.” My heart plummeted. But on the bottom was a “PS,” the email equivalent of a handwritten note. It said: “PS We enjoyed this story, but it didn’t make our final cut.”

(insert screaming face)

Truthfully though, I really appreciated that feedback, because it told me what I believed; it was a good story. Just not quite good enough? Too similar to another story that’s being published soon? Drew the short straw? I don’t know. But since a publication I respect liked it (even if they didn’t publish it), someone else probably will too.

I recently read a story about how someone, inspired by Stephen King’s tale of collecting rejection slips on a nail on his wall, has made it a goal to get 100 rejections this year. Because, with rejections, come acceptances. I think that’s a pretty great attitude.

So, instead of being upset by this latest rejection, I’m just going to add it to my collection, and see how many I can get this year. Last year I got 15 rejections and 1 acceptance on short stories. This year, so far, I’m at 14 rejections and 1 acceptance. Considering we’re only at halfway through the year, I’ve done 100% better than last year.

Now I just need to keep up the good work.

Related posts: Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

When Writing Isn’t Going Well

IMG_9029I have this great novel idea. I’ve been nurturing and taking notes on it for months. I know my characters, I know where the story is going and how it gets there.

I sat down at my computer to start this novel recently. And suddenly, it’s like my brain is coated in molasses.

This will be my third (hopefully good) book. I wrote my first (bad) novel in high school. If I’m counting all the way back that far, when it’s complete, this will be book number seven (I think). So I’m no stranger to sitting down and writing 70,000 words or so.

But for some reason, this one is just fighting me, and it’s making me wonder: should I be writing something else right now?

For weeks, I’ve been sitting at my computer, forcing myself to write 500 words or so, and then when I felt battle-weary, I’d get up and do something else, hoping that physical activity, organizing, cleaning, would jar the words out of my brain.

It hasn’t worked though. Oh, I feel ready to sit down and write, but the minute I do, it all dries up again, and the molasses is back. I thought about taking a break from this new book, maybe starting something else. But abandoning a book is the reason I have approximately 1,356,791* unfinished novels on my computer.

So, with my last two books, I forced myself to finish, and I think they turned out pretty good. With this one, I’ve decided to abandon the beginning. I almost always rewrite my beginnings anyway. (Why are beginnings so hard?) I’ve skipped ahead to the first plot point, and am writing from there. It seems to be working at least somewhat better.

Sometimes writing is so much fun! Sometimes it’s easy! And the ideas flow! And the characters speak to me and we have tea parties and share secrets!

And sometimes writing feels like walking forward into a hailstorm when the wind blows you backward and turns your umbrella inside out. Sometimes the characters have locked me out and hung up a sign, “Fictional People Only.”

But I still love it.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Fellow writers, what do you do when the writing is not going according to plan?

*This number is slightly exaggerated.