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?

Update on Me

I know I sort of dropped off the face of the earth and hadn’t been posting for a couple of weeks, so I wanted to let everyone know where I went.

I had a family emergency, and had to drive from Austin to Phoenix. While I was in Arizona, one of my cats died in her sleep.

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Goblyn was the cat probably most pictured on this blog. She was the one who sat on my desk and often on my keyboard, making writing difficult. She was the one who helped me take interesting pictures of books.

Goblyn is the third of my cats to die this year. We had an 18 year old die in January, then another 18 year old a month ago. Goblyn was only 17, and it was unexpected.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, and I didn’t feel like doing any writing. I decided to let myself take a break and not worry about it.

I’m back now, and starting next week, should resume the regular Tuesday/ Friday posting schedule.

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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The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops

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Epoch Coffee, Austin TX

For the past four weeks, I’ve been taking my cat for daily medical treatments. The vet’s office was about 20 minutes (or so) away from home, so instead of running back and forth, I parked myself in a local coffee shop and worked there.

I’ve always had this romantic notion of working in coffee shops. JK Rowling talks about her time writing Harry Potter in coffee shops, and it’s always seemed like the perfect place to get work done.

There’s coffee, and fewer distractions, and usually plugs for my laptop. What more could I ask for?

Well…

The Good

  1. It’s an uninterrupted period when I can get work done. I have difficulty setting aside time to write. Because I enjoy it, it feels like it should be low on my priority list. I’m working on that, but it’s still a thing.
  2. * Fewer distractions of a certain type. There’s no laundry to be done or dishwasher to unload. There are no dogs begging for attention, or cats laying across the keyboard.
  3. Great atmosphere. I love the way coffee shops smell. In independent coffee shops, I love the artwork, and the interesting decor. I enjoy the torn up couches, and watching the variety of people who patronize them.
  4. *Essentially no wi-fi. The coffee shop I most frequented had unsecured wi-fi (which I’m always wary of), and it was slow. So slow, I didn’t use it. Which was good because I wasn’t getting sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook, etc.

The Bad

  1. More distractions. But wait… you just said there were fewer. Yeah, fewer homestyle distractions. But there’s music I don’t always like playing over the speakers. One day, there was a guy tapping his flip flop shod foot on the floor. It made a slapping sound, and I wasn’t the only one who was thinking about stabbing him.
  2. My favorite seat was sometimes taken. I spent the most time in a coffee shop that had armchairs and couches, as well as wooden chairs. Finding seats where my feet touch the floor is difficult. This place had one particular chair that seemed sized perfectly for me. I could put my back against the back and still have my feet touch the floor. But I wasn’t the only one who liked it.
  3. Gathering up all my stuff when I went to the bathroom or leaving it to fate. I’m not a very trusting soul (at least not with my laptop). Maybe it’s because, as a therapist, I worked with lots of people who stole. I’d see other people leave their laptops and be amazed at their ability to trust. I did it once or twice, but it was too uncomfortable. After all, I only have to be wrong once. Of all the things I own, my laptop is my most beloved.
  4. If I want to listen to music I like, I have to wear headphones. I’m moody when it comes to liking music when I work or not. But no matter what, I’m not a fan of headphones. The earbud type hurt my ears, and the over ear ones can be cumbersome to travel with.
  5. It’s too noisy. Sometimes I just like silence. I took to wearing headphones with nothing playing, just to block out some of the noise. Most days, I left with a headache.
  6. Lots of temptation. I try not to eat a lot of baked goods, but scones are a special love of mine. Coffee shops always have tasty looking scones, muffins, croissants, etc.
  7. It was freezing! In the winter, I laugh sadistically at my husband when he begs to turn the heat up and just tell him to put on more clothes. This place was so cold that when I walked outside into the 109 degree afternoon, it actually felt good.
  8. *Essentially no wi-fi. If I wanted to look something up, it was slow to do so. I didn’t blog while I was there because I couldn’t get online. (And yes, I could have written them offline and then posted them later. But I didn’t.)

The Verdict

It’s not my thing. Even the positive of having a certain time set aside to write doesn’t outweigh all the reasons I didn’t like it, in my opinion. I’ve read articles by people who love working in coffee shops so they can be surrounded by people but not have to interact with them, but I’d argue that I was interacting with them, far more than I wanted to. I was listening to the buzz of their conversations, their flip flops slapping, fighting with them for the good chair, not leaving my stuff so it didn’t get stolen.

That being said, I’m an extreme introvert who’s happiest when I don’t have to leave my house for several days in a row. I like quiet, and I see no problem with eating meals alone or not talking to other people for extended periods of time.

What’s your opinion on reading or writing in coffee shops?