January 2022 Wrap-Up — Reading or Not

I mentioned in my last post that I started the year in a major reading slump that lasted for the whole first half of January. So what happened? And why didn’t I picked up a book?

In retrospect, I think the problem was that I set myself this goal of re-reading all my Modern Fae books in January so that I would be ready to start developmental edits of book five in February. Whenever I had time to read, I felt like I should be reading those. But that wasn’t what I was in the mood for, so I just didn’t read. It’s the classic problem I have with TBRs and why I gave up on making them.

I picked up a couple of other books during the first half of the month, read the first chapter or two, and then set them down again, feeling guilty that I was cheating on what I was supposed to be reading, even though I was actually really enjoying them. Eventually, I picked up my buddy read book for the month, Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, because I could rationalize that I had to finish it before my next virtual meet-up with my two bookish friends.

That book sucked me in. I think I was expecting more sci-fi and/or space opera based on the cover. I don’t think I ever read the blurb. I picked it because it had been highly recommended by other readers I listen to on podcasts and YouTube. So, when the first chapters were very real-world contemporary with a splash of paranormal, I was a little surprised. In a good way. I love that there were elements of both sci-fi and fantasy in this story! The donut shop scenes were great, and I loved the competitive violin world. The story pulled me in because I really needed to know what was going to happen to these very interesting people next. This book deserves the hype. I definitely recommend it. But be warned that all the delicious food descriptions are going to make you hungry.

Then, because one of the main characters in Light from Uncommon Stars is trans, and I wanted to learn more and educate myself about her experience, I picked up Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. I devoured that, too. I learned enough to remind myself how much more I have to learn, which is basically what happens every time I read non-fiction. So then I pulled a bunch more non-fiction books to the top of my TBR.

Overall, January wasn’t a big (quantity) reading month for me, but it was a good (quality) reading month. I didn’t finish (or even get very far into) my Modern Fae re-read, and I only read two books, but the books I read were both really good.

Even though I am starting edits on book five, I’m hoping to spend more of my spare time reading in February. We’re only a day and a half in, but the month is already off to a great start. I’ve got some big (ambitious) reading plans for February, and I’ll tell you more about them later this week when I post my February reading journal set-up.

Until then, I hope you are enjoying whatever it is that you’re reading!

2022 Reading Goals

After writing my 2021 reading wrap-up post, I nearly threw in the towel on tracking my reading at all, let alone keeping up this reading journal I’ve started. Then I took a breath and reconsidered.

For nearly three weeks…

While I was also in the middle of a massive reading slump…

I tried not to let that influence my thinking.

I’ve finally started to enjoy writing notes about the books I’m reading. Not for review purposes, but just as a way to think through how stories work and what makes them work for me, specifically. In other words, figuring out the commonalities in what I like vs. what I don’t like.

So, I’m not ditching the reading journal…yet.

But, I decided that I definitely needed a new plan for how I track my reading stats. After all those weeks of reflection, I broke down and spent an evening modifying the most basic reading spreadsheet I could find and adapting it to track only the metrics I care about.

This new approach means that I’m using three different tools (Goodreads, reading journal, and spreadsheet) instead of just two (like last year), which is not ideal. BUT each of them are going to be used for different purposes. Here’s how I’m thinking it’s going to work…

Goodreads is a pretty good database tool. Its search function is not great, but I’m not planning on building my own database of books anytime soon, and I don’t think anyone else is doing the book database thing better. That probably has something to do with Goodreads being owned by Amazon, but whatever. I don’t need to (or want to) reproduce all that info in my spreadsheet when they already did it for me. So I will continue to use Goodreads to browse book covers and other relevant info when I am trying to decide what to read next.

Then, once I decide what I want to read, I’ll enter it into my spreadsheet. When I’m done reading, I’ll mark it as read on Goodreads, write some notes in my reading journal, and repeat.

That covers my process changes, but what about reading goals? That was the topic for this post, right?

At the end of 2021, I drafted up some pretty ambitious goals for 2022. Then I proceeded to enter a reading slump and read zero books for the first half of January. Not good.

I’m reading again now. So I’m going to give it a little more time before I revise my initial 2022 reading goals. I mean, goals are just goals. They’re meant to point you in a direction. You don’t have to necessarily achieve them. You are allowed to change your mind about your desired destination along the way.

When I drew that table on the left-hand page, I assumed I would be using it to tally up reading stats. I just wasn’t sure what stats I wanted to track, so I only made one column for number of books read each month. Since I decided to go the spreadsheet route, I’m going to leave that space blank and use it to write notes on my reading mood and/or trends for the month and/or my favorite book I read that month. TBD.

The right-hand page is where I really went big. Not only did I give myself more goals than last year, I also made myself a little TBR pocket. With sideways evergreen trees. Do you think that maybe I should have taken that as a sign that this was probably a bad idea? Can I hear you saying “uh oh… what was she thinking?”

Let’s break it down.

The first two goals aren’t bad. They are the same ones that I gave myself last year and that I give myself pretty much every year. Specifically:

  • Read at least 52 books
  • Read at least 12 books by Black authors, at least 12 books by non-Black authors of color, and at least 12 books by queer authors (or featuring a POV queer character with positive representation).

The problem is that I decided to add a few reading projects to challenge myself a bit:

  • Read at least five indie-published books, and ideally not all by the same author — this goal is somewhat associated with Fantasy Romance February which I’m participating in this year.
  • Read at least six non-fiction books about anti-racism and/or social justice — this is a continuation of the goals I set for myself after reading Me and White Supremacy last year.
  • Read (or DNF and donate) at least three books from my unread physical TBR — my unread stack of paperbacks and hardcovers is getting too big, and I’m not buying any more bookcases.

At the moment, this seems like too many challenges, but I’m not going to give up yet. I’m planning on revisiting this list in a few months. I’ll see how I’m feeling about it then and recalibrate as necessary. This first quarter is particularly challenging for me because I have a lot of writing and publishing stuff that I’m focused on. Reading is taking a bit of a back seat. It’s probably not going to be like that all year, though. This may seem a lot more do-able by the end of March.

I have, at this point, finished at least one book this month. And I finally finished this post! Even better, I feel like I’m back in the reading groove. So I’ll have something to talk about in my January wrap up! Hooray!

Unfortunately, it’s nearly time to set up my reading journal for February…

I really hope your year in reading is off to a better start than mine!

Until next time, happy reading!

Reading Wrap-up for 2021

Now that I’ve had a week or so to reflect on my 2021 reading and collect my reading stats, it’s time for another recap. I almost didn’t post this one. It was a total pain to put together. I couldn’t figure out why I was struggling so hard to compare this year’s reading to previous years. Then I remembered that because I didn’t use a spreadsheet to track my reading this year, I must have accidentially or on purpose? changed all the data I was collecting. Oops. Oh well.

If you stick with me through my painstakingly gathered stats, I’ll reward you with my top five favorite books at the end of the post. Or just skim the stats and skip to the bottom. Either way is fine with me.

We will start this journey by paging through the reading summary pages I made back at the end of 2020 when I was setting up my reading journal for 2021.

Remember the bookshelf spread I made? Here’s how that turned out.

Surprise! I actually really like this spread.

If you remember, I had a color code I used to mark the books spines with the appropriate genre, and I added a little heart to the spine if it was also a romance. I did it this way because I wanted to track romances separately from genre because romance novels come in all genres, and I didn’t want to lose track of the genre breakdown just because I marked something as a romance. The only problem is, because of this completely logical and brilliant change, it turns out that I completely busted my ability to track my year over year genre stats. Whee!

Oh well.

I counted up the spines (another sad side effect of not using a spreadsheet) and twenty of the fifty-nine books I read in 2021 were romances (meaning they had a primary romance plot that ends “happily ever after” or “happily for now”). That’s about one third of the books I read last year.

I don’t really have any sort of goal or target or limit or whatever associated with how many romances I read each year. It’s just a meaningless data point. The first of many in this post.

I suppose what is interesting is the distribution of where those romances fall on my tracker, which is something you can’t see easily when you’re tracking things in a spreadsheet. Score one for the reading journal approach, I guess? Anyway, as I was saying, if you look for the hearts on the spines in the image above, you may notice that my romance reading was heavily weighted toward the end of the year, just as things in my life (and in the world) were starting to get stressful again. Coincidence? Probably not.

Oh, yeah. One more side note. For any detail-oriented folks reading this, yes, there are sixty books on the shelves in that photo, and I keep saying I only read 59. I ended up abandoning one of these books at about the halfway point, but I’d already drawn it in. I do plan to finish it later, so I included it on my shelves. I just decided not to include it in my total stats. I suppose this is one downside of drawing in pen. Not really a problem if you use a spreadsheet. I guess that’s minus one for the reading journal approach.

After more spine counting (and re-counting, just to make sure I didn’t mess it up), here’s how many books I read in each genre and what percent of my reading that turns out to be, in descending order (most to least read).

  • Fantasy — 15 books (25%)
  • Sci-Fi — 13 books (22%)
  • Contemporary — 12 books (20%)
  • Mystery — 8 books (13%)
  • Self help / writing / business — 6 books (10%)
  • General non-fiction — 2 books (3%)
  • Memoir — 2 books (3%)
  • Historical — 2 books (3%)

If you’re thinking, “Aren’t these just more meaningless data points?”, the answer is yes!

What do I even do with this information I’ve gathered? Nothing.

I mean, I don’t have any goals pertaining to which genres I read, and I don’t plan to create any for 2022. And, because of the genre tracking changes I made, I can’t even compare these percentages to last year in any meaningful way.

Are you beginning to see why this was a very frustrating post to try to write?

Oh hey! Check it out! When you turn the page, there are even more book stats and goals to review. This should be fun.

Whatever possessed me to create a table with numbers that I was going to have to eventually tally up in a notebook?

This right here is why god invented spreadsheets. I really want to kick past me in the shins right now. Once for the data table and then a second time for thinking that creating a “21 in 2021” TBR was a good idea.

Here are some fun stats that I collected in that sweet data table that I didn’t have any goals associated with:

  • 86% of the books I read were ebooks with 7% paper and 7% audiobook.
  • 76% of the books I read were adult vs. 24% YA.
  • I got 58% of the books I read from the library.
  • 29% of the books I read were new releases (published in 2021).
  • 93% of the books I read were traditionally published.

Dear future self: Stop compiling meaningless reading stats. Just stop.

Also buried in that table on the left page are the numbers I needed to add up to help me determine if I accomplished my actual reading goals or not. Here’s how I did on my 2021 Reading Goals.

  • Read at least 52 books — Accomplished! I read a total of 59.
  • Read at least 12 books by Black authors — Yep. I read 13.
  • Read at least 12 books by other authors of color — Not quite… I read 8.
  • Read at least 12 books by queer authors (and/or with strong positive queer rep) — Done. I read 13.
  • Read my “21 in 2021” TBR — Hahahahaha. No. I read 1 of the 21 books on this list.

Not terrible considering that I think we can all agree that the “21 in 2021” TBR was a very bad idea. So I’m not going to feel bad about that epic fail.

I feel a lot worse about the four books I fell short of my goal on reading books by non-Black authors of color. At least I did better on those metrics than I did last year (36% total books written by BIPOC authors vs. 28% last year, and 22% written by queer authors and/or with queer POV characters vs. 12% last year). These are possibly the only data points I’m tracking that I care about.

But hang on! We’re not quite done, yet. (Even though we probably should be.) On the next two pages I also decided to track a couple more things that weren’t part of my goals.

Why do I do this?

On the bright side, it looks like I did complete a handful of the 2021 Read Harder Challenge tasks without really trying (5 out of 24, or 21%).

However, it appears that I abandoned the book haul list I’d intended to keep. I know I bought more than three books in 2021. I suppose I could go back, figure out what I purchased, and then fill this page in, but who am I kidding? That seems like a lot of work, and it’s just more meaningless data.

I honestly wish I could say that I learned something from this exercise, but I think I just can’t help myself from collecting data, even if I’m doing nothing with it. It’s like I’ve become the evil boss guy from Office Space with the TPS reports. Gross.

Okay. That’s it. Data tables and spreadsheets have been officially banned from my reading life in 2022.

But I’ll keep my color-coded book spines with the little hearts on the ones that are romances. That’s fun.

All right. We’re done with the data. Phew. And I promised you a top five list. So let’s move on from the numbers and get to the unquantifiable part of my 2021 wrap-up, shall we?

Back when I was trying to decide if I wanted to make a reading journal, I watched a bunch of reading journal set-ups on YouTube. Come to think of it, that may be where I got the terrible idea for the “21 in 2021” TBR in the first place. But there was good stuff in there, too. I think.

Anyway, I remember seeing some people do a sort of “battle of the books” bracket tournament thing. I liked the idea. The only catch was, I didn’t think it was fair to pit two books against each other just because I happened to read them in consecutive months. So I did my favorites a little differently.

I meant to put something in the middle of this spread, but then I couldn’t figure out what to do, so I ended up leaving it sad and blank.

As you can see in the photo, I picked a favorite book read from each month. Then I eliminated the two non-fiction contenders, because I didn’t think it was fair to mix fiction and non-fiction. That left me with ten favorite fiction books, and I wanted to narrow that down to a top five. Because I like top five lists.

Because Internet and Why We Swim were the two non-fiction books that get honorary “favorite non-fiction from 2021” awards.

And here are the top five (fiction) books I read in 2021 (listed in the order I read them):

Unsurprisingly, they are all sci-fi / fantasy novels. Possibly more surprising is that only one of them could also be considered to be a romance (Winter’s Orbit). They are all really good reads, though. So, if you haven’t checked them out, go read the blurbs and grab one that sounds appealing to you.

Now, that this post is done, it’s time for me to have a long think about what data associated with my reading that I actually care about tracking in 2022. While I do that, let me know in comments, what was your favorite book that you read in 2021?

I’ll be back soon with some “looking ahead to 2022” posts (aka “2022 Goals”). Until then, happy reading!

December Reading Wrap-up

Happy New Year! I meant to get this post up sooner, but the first few days of 2022 have been busy! I haven’t even had a chance to officially pick out my first read of the New Year! I’ve read the first chapter of a couple of books, but I’m still undecided about which one I want to dive into next. Maybe if I get December wrapped up, I can move on to January reading. Let’s talk about what I read in the last month of 2021…

I did read a couple of those holiday books that I put on my book buffet for December. The first of those was Under A Winter Sky, an anthology featuring stories by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope, and Grace Draven. These were all more solstice themed, except for the first one by Kelley Armstrong. That one was kind of Outlander-esque Scottish time travel where the two main characters were celebrating Christmas in both modern day and the Victorian era. It was cute, but definitely one of those that felt like a bonus written for people who are already fans of that series. I’ve never read her other books, so the fan service love scenes fell a little flat for me. The second story by Jeffe Kennedy also felt like I was missing something having not read anything else by the author. There was a TON of world-building in that one for such a short story. My favorite was probably the Grace Draven story at the end, but it was also the shortest and the one with the most ambiguous ending (not quite a HEA… more like a promise for pinning?). I did really enjoy the world-building in both Melissa Marr’s story and L. Penelope’s story. Since I’ve already read a full length novel by Grace Draven and know that I enjoy her writing, those are the two new-to-me authors who I think I want to try reading more from after reading this anthology.

I also read Christmas With Holly by Lisa Kleypas. It was cute. I can see why they made it into a Hallmark movie. The author’s local knowledge was good. I believed that she had spent time on San Juan Island, or had at least done her homework and/or had a local gut check her book for her. If the book didn’t have that local setting, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, and I’m not drawn enough to the author’s writing that I’m going to run out and read more books by her (mostly because she writes in genres that aren’t my favorite), but if I came across one with a premise that sounded like something I’d be really into, I’d pick it up for sure.

Then I decided to check out The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon to see how she did with the section of the book that I’d heard was set on Orcas Island (where I live). Unfortunately, they spend most of their time on the island in an AirBnB, in a thunder storm. Which is weird because thunder storms are really rare here. Also, they go antiquing. I don’t think I could name one antique store on this island. Art galleries, sure, but not antiques. So, I was a little disappointed with that because the author’s bio says she lives in Seattle. I guess I kind of expected more. Also, the main character is dealing with grief over the sudden loss of her father from a heart attack. The death happened long before the books starts, so it’s not fresh grief, but still. I wasn’t really expecting that part going in, and that bit of backstory hit a little close to home for me, especially reading it around the holidays. But the rest of the book was good. So don’t let the weird portrayal of Orcas Island stop you from checking out what is otherwise a really cute rom-com.

Probably my two favorites of the month were (unsurprisingly) Forrest for the Trees by Kilby Blades and Fated Blades by Ilona Andrews. Two very different books, but both page-turning romances. Forrest for the Trees is a contemporary romance between a fire marshal and a park ranger who have to work together to figure out who is setting fires in the section of National Park where they work. I loved the characters and thought the mystery plot was really well done. I am finally realizing that, if a contemporary romance doesn’t have an external plot bringing the love interests together, I am probably not going to like it. This one did, and it was awesome.

Fated Blades also had an external plot that brought the love interests together, except it was a sci-fi (or maybe sci-fantasy) romance instead of a contemporary romance. And there were some unfortunate plot holes in that external plot which reduced my enjoyment of the story. There was a sort of “only one bed” scenario and a training montage that somewhat made up for it. But, in the end, Forrest for the Trees nudged out Fated Blades to take the win as my favorite book read in December. Which is a bit shocking. Me, putting a contemporary romance above a sci-fantasy, “ballgowns in space,” romance? Who even am I? I was not expecting that.

The last book I read in 2021 was the graphic novel version of one of my all-time favorite YA novels, Graceling by Kirstin Cashore and Gareth Hinds. Because the story itself is a re-read, just in a different format (graphic novel), I excluded it when trying to decide on which book I read in December was my favorite. If I’m re-reading a book it’s because it already is a favorite, so it’s not fair to include it. I really enjoyed revisiting this story. I’d forgotten most of the details, and the drawings were a nice addition. Two of my nieces are almost old enough to give them copies of this one (I’d forgotten how violent in is), and I cannot wait to share this story with them. I love that there is now a graphic novel option because I think that has the potential to open up this story to new audiences.

Now that December is done, I can calculate my reading stats for 2021 and figure out which books I read last year were my top five favorites. I probably won’t get to that until the weekend, though. So, stay tuned for my 2021 reading wrap up and 2022 reading goals.

Until then, happy reading!

Setting up January 2022 in my Reading Journal

Would you believe me if I told you that this spread was shaping up to be a hot mess before it ultimately ended up becoming something I don’t hate?

There is a lesson for the New Year somewhere in here, I think… But somehow I managed to take some leftover wrapping paper scraps and a bunch of miscellaneous stickers and create a nature inspired cover page for the first month of the New Year. #FeelingCrafty

Wondering what’s in the reading pocket for this month? Placeholders, mostly. I’m still finishing my last read of 2021. Tomorrow I’ll decide what I feel like reading next.

Happy New Year! Hope your first read of 2022 is a five star favorite! ๐Ÿ’–

Setting up my reading journal for the New Year

We’ve been having a week of cold and stormy weather where I live. So I’ve been home, hanging out by the fire, and working on setting up my reading journal for 2022.

Despite my ongoing love/hate relationship with my reading journal, I’ve decided to continue using it next year. Some of that decision has to do with the fact that I’ve only filled half the pages in this notebook. But also, I am starting to prefer tracking my reading in my journal to tracking it on Goodreads. Plus, I think I’ve finally figured out how I want to use it to track notes about the books I’ve read.

So, keep scrolling if you want to see how I’ve set things up for 2022 and what I’ve kept and changed from last year’s set up.

2022 Reading cover page with a stack of books

I don’t like the placement of that quill and ink bottle sticker on my cover page, but other than that I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Like this year, the Tombow marker color I used for the genre is marked on the book spine, and I’ll be using this color coding when I draw in books on the book case in the following spread.

Books Read in 2022 with three empty bookshelves

I liked the year overview bookshelf that I did this year, so I decided to do it again. I only made a few changes. The stripes of black that serve as the base of the shelves are a bit wider this time, and I wrote the month under where I’m going to draw in the books instead of above. Also, I figured out that one of the rectangles on the ruler / stencil combo that I have is the perfect size to use as a book spine. I doodled some in on the May / June shelf just to test it out, and then I added a sticker for decoration.

2022 Reading Stats table with one line per month to fill in total books read and other relevant stats about my reading, and list of 2022 Reading Goals.

I haven’t quite finished this spread, yet. I’m still working on what data I actually want to keep track of (aside from number of books read). This year I kept track of things like book format, age category, and books written by BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ authors. I will probably do something similar in 2022, but I’m going to wait until I have my reading goals sorted out before I draw in any more columns. For example, what’s the point of tracking what format I read in (ebook vs. print vs. audio) or where the book comes from (owned vs. library vs. gift) if I don’t have a reading goal associated with that data? I mean, it’s interesting information. But maybe I can just make a note of that on the page of book notes and not track it here? I don’t know.

2022 Read Harder Challenge from Book Riot printed out and pasted into my journal

I’ve always enjoyed Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. I’ve participated on and off every year since the first one. But in 2021 I pretty much ignored the challenge completely. I put the prompts into my reading journal at the start of the year, just in case I changed my mind part way through and decided I wanted to participate. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t do any of them, even accidentally.

I’m putting the prompts in again for 2022, but this time, after looking over the prompts, I think I may end up participating at least a little bit. And maybe on purpose? We’ll see. I do think it’s a great list of prompts if you’re looking to diversify your reading (which is always one of my reading goals).

I love all the read a genre book by a BIPOC and/or LQBTQIA+ prompts, especially the “read a book in any genre by a POC thatโ€™s about joy and not trauma” prompt. Possibly my favorite of the prompts for 2022 is “read a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40.” My least favorite of the prompts is definitely “read an award-winning book from the year you were born,” because I think it’s going to be very hard for me to find a book I’m excited about reading that fits that prompt.

Aside from casual participation in the Read Harder Challenge, I don’t plan on doing any other official reading challenges, and I am not making a “22 books to read in 2022” list because that was an utter fail this year. I think I read maybe three of the books I put on that list?

I do have a couple of reading projects that I’ve set for myself. The first is a re-read of all the novels and novellas that I’ve published to date in my Modern Fae series. I want to complete this in January, if possible, before I dive into developmental edits on book five. So I made this spread to track my reading progress.

The Great Modern Fae Re-Read with cover images of the four novels and four novellas published to date and a check box next to each.

I also have a selection of writing books and a short list of non-fiction books on anti-racist and social justice topics that I want to read in 2022. Those are going to be incorporated into my goals, I think. I may also make a spread to track them. Other than that, I’m going to continue to resist the urge to make TBRs in 2022. Instead, I’m going to try to follow my reading whims where they lead.

I have one more book (maybe two?) that I want to try to finish before the end of 2021. Then I can do my December wrap-up and my 2021 reading stats posts. I also need to set up my cover page for January, once I decide what sort of cover image I want. And finish my 2022 reading goals. So stay tuned for more reading journal posts, coming soon.

And if you want to join in my Modern Fae re-read, I’m starting with Eve of the Fae on the first of January, and I’ll be posting progress over on Instagram.

In the meantime, do you have a reading journal or are you starting one for 2022? Are you setting any reading goals for 2022? Are you participating in any challenges or setting any reading projects for yourself? Let me know in the comments.

Writing Process Insights From NaNoWriMo

We’re just about halfway through December, and I am still working on finishing up the first draft of the novel I was working on for NaNoWriMo. I’m down to the final two chapters, and I’m dragging my feet about finishing them. Seemed like a good time to recap what I learned from this year’s NaNoWriMo.

I’m breaking this post into three parts. Part one includes the new things I tried to incorporate into my writing process in November that worked better than I thought they would. Part two is the stuff that did not work as well as I thought it would. And part three are the things I have carried over into December.

Things I tried this month that worked better than I expected

  • At least one sprint “first thing” in the morning — This was possibly the one thing that worked best for me and made me the most productive. By “first thing” I don’t mean that I got up at 5am to write. I’m not naturally a morning writer, and the 5am writers’ club has never really worked for me, even when I worked full time. I can exercise early in the morning, but it takes a while for my brain to wake up. This month, I decided to let myself wake up at a normal time for me. I ate my breakfast and drank my tea like I usually do. But instead of letting the morning get away from me, I tried to get into my office to write at least one sprint by 9am. I didn’t always succeed, but the days that I did, it was so much better. At some point, I realized that the longer I wait to write during the day the harder it is for me to sit my butt down and get it done. The resistance builds to the point where I start to think “meh, I’ll just do more tomorrow.” But if I write for even just thirty minutes right after breakfast, even if I ignore my project for the rest of the day, it’s so much easier to go back to it in the evening and finish my sprints. I have no idea why this works, but it does, and it’s become my new thing.
  • Alarm on my phone — I set an alarm for weekdays at 9am to remind me to get my butt out to my office and get to work. This allowed me to relax a bit more while I ate breakfast, checked my email, read, or listened to a podcast. I knew I could rely on my alarm to remind me to get to work (more so than a calendar reminder, which did NOT work).
  • Reprioritizing my “to-do” list — This goes along with writing “first thing” in the morning. Normally, I have all these little tasks that fill up my to-do list that I think are only going to take a few minutes and end up taking an hour or more. Since I like the satisfaction of checking things off my list, I do them first, even though I know I shouldn’t. Giving myself permission to basically ignore all that until December (or at least until I got my writing done for the day) was magic. All of a sudden I was doing what was important to me first instead of doing a bunch of admin stuff that was not time sensitive. And, I still got the satisfaction of checking things off my list because of the next two items.
  • Sprint log — I have never used one of these before, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to use it, but I thought I’d give it a try. It turns out that I found it super motivating to have a place to jot down my word count after each sprint! I don’t even care what the number was. Just the act of being able to write it down (and color in the box on my sprint summary log), gave me that boost of “yay! I did a thing! Let’s do it again!”
  • Word count progress chart — When I set this up, I thought maybe this was overkill, but I ended up really liking the visual progress tracker aspect of being able to color in boxes for each 1k words written. The stuff in the middle was a little redundant and unnecessary, but the progress chart was really helpful.
  • Limiting social media and other online distractions — I do this by using the digital health controls on my phone and allowing myself only five minutes (each) on Instagram and Twitter. Those are the only two social apps on my phone. I don’t log into any social apps on the computer in my office. Limiting the amount of time I could spend on an app made it so that I knew I could check it whenever, but I couldn’t get lost in the infinite scroll. Once my five minutes were up, they were gone for the day and it was time to get to work.

Things I tried that didn’t really work for me

  • Scheduling time to write on Google calendar — I thought this was going to help, but I didn’t even look at these time blocks once during the month. This method of time management just does not work for me.
  • Having consistent rules about what distractions were allowed and when they were allowed — I had this idea that I was going to outlaw all social media and gaming until after my writing was done for the day. That didn’t really work. I found that I was much more productive when I allowed myself to play some MtG Arena, or watch a YouTube video (or three), or even watch a full episode of a serial between writing sprints. Sure it delayed how long it took me to get my writing done for the day, but it also made it so that I never really felt like my creative well was going dry. This refueling became especially important on some of those days leading up to 50k when I only had to do two thirty minute writing sprints, but I was already pretty drained from writing so much in such a short amount of time. Honestly, this is the least burnt out I’ve felt after a NaNoWriMo, and I think that flexing this rule is why.
  • Crockpot meals — This one surprised me. I love crockpot meals. But unless the recipe was just “dump these four ingredients into the crockpot and turn it on,” preparing a crockpot meal used up valuable morning hours just to free up less valuable pre-dinner hours. Since getting out to my office and getting at least one sprint in turned out to be the most important thing I needed to do each day in order to get my writing done, I realized it was a lot easier to pick recipes that allowed me to do all the cooking in the evening.
  • Any cooking that required a lot of steps or prep — This one I underestimated. I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, but we have this one recipe that we eat all the time, and it’s pretty easy to prepare, but it involves a LOT of vegetable prep time. I had already purchased the veggies and they were going to rot if I didn’t use them, so I went ahead with my meal plan. But, after that first week, I decided that this recipe is not for NaNoWriMo, or at least not for days when I need to get a LOT of writing done.

What I’m doing for December (since I’m still finishing this draft)

I’m still using my spreadsheet to manage and tweak my daily word count goals, but I’ve combined what I think were the most useful and motivating parts of my various trackers into one layout. I’ve got the progress bar on the outside like last time, but this time I moved the daily word count and sprint tracker to the inside. The calendar is a Midori blank calendar sticker. The little unicorn sticker is from Procrastiplanner. The little arrows were supposed to mark reward milestones, but I decided not to do rewards this month. Each day, I’m putting my daily word count above the little line in the calendar box, and putting stars for sprints below the line. One star is equal to one sprint, or thirty minutes of writing.

I’m still using the sprint log to jot down when I’m writing and how many words I wrote in my thirty minute sprints. It’s become a bit less important now that I’m really only trying to get two sprints in per day instead of three or more like I was doing during NaNoWriMo. For that reason, I’m not sure if I’ll keep using this outside of periods like NaNoWriMo where I’m making a focused push to fast draft a first draft.

As you can see from the picture, I’ve changed quite a bit of the pre-printed tracker from Sarra Cannon’s NaNoWriMo Prep workbook. I’ve adapted it to fit better with what I actually want to track. Specifically, what time did I start the sprint, how many words did I write, and what’s my new total word count. If I decide to use a sprint tracker again, I’ll probably just make my own and either draw it directly into my notebook or make something that will fit the page better when I paste it in. That way I don’t have to keep cutting out headers and Frankensteining together the cut up bits of the original tracker.

I have big writing plans for next year that include a lot more fast drafting, but I’ll talk about that more when I do a post on 2022 goals. So we’ll see how much of this new process stuff sticks in the New Year. In the meantime, let me know in the comments how your NaNoWriMo went. Did you learn anything new about what does and doesn’t work for your writing process?

December Reading Journal Set-Up

This post took me forever to write because I kept putting off drawing my cover page I had everything else done, but I just wasn’t in the mood to draw. Luckily, I found some time and inspiration yesterday, so I can share this with you today!

I scrolled through the Draw So Cute winter holiday art tutorials and decided on the snow globe. I think all this rain we’ve been having is kind of making me hope that it eventually turns to snow, at least for a little bit. The weather has recently turned a bit colder, and there’s been a little bit of snow up in our mountains, but nothing down where we live, yet.

I added some sparkle to the cover page, but it’s really hard to see in the photo. Also, now that I’m looking at it, I’m realizing that the right hand page doesn’t really coordinate well with the left hand page. Probably because I did one of them weeks ago and one of them yesterday. Oh well. I still like it.

So, did you notice those little book covers sticking out of the pocket on the right hand page of the spread? Well, I might have made a TBR for this month… But it’s not really a TBR. It’s more like a book buffet. I’m thinking of it like an extremely delicious selection of all the yummy books I might want to devour this month. None of these are “have to read” books.

I’ve divided them into different categories in the photo and in my summary below. Or, if you want to continue with the buffet metaphor, you could think of them like different food groups. No group is more important than any of the others, and you could nearly make a meal on any one of them.

I grouped them because I want to read according to what I’m in the mood for at any given time. So, if I just want to eat dessert, maybe I’ll just eat dessert. I’m a grown-up. I can do what I want.

This way, if I (for example) get really excited about holiday stories and just want to keep reading more of those, I’ve already picked out a bunch and don’t have to go looking for more. Or alternatively, if I read one holiday story and decide that’s plenty, I can move on to another group based on what I’m craving.

My first grouping is the new (sort-of) releases. Here’s why these, specifically, are at the top of my list:

  • Fated Blades by Ilona Andrews — I just finished The Kinsmen Universe anthology specifically so that I could read this new release which I’m very excited about because I’m into the “ballgowns in space” right now.
  • Graceling (graphic novel) by Kristin Cashore and Gareth Hinds — Graceling was maybe my first favorite YA fantasy book. I love the whole series. So, of course I have to read the graphic novel version that just came out.
  • The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon — I knew this was set in Seattle, but I just found out from a friend that that there’s a section set on the island where I live (which is NW of Seattle), so this got bumped up to the top of my TBR.

Next are books by friends that I’m really excited to read:

  • Forrest for the Trees by Kilby Blades — It’s been a while since I’ve read one of Kilby’s books, and the premise for this one is really calling to me. The hero is a fire marshal and the heroine is a park ranger, and there’s a mystery! Plus, I think it’s a grumpy / sunshine pairing, which I love.
  • The Bounce Back by Addie Woolridge — This is Addie’s follow up to The Checklist which came out earlier this year. I really enjoyed it. I will be looking for any signs that my secret ship (the socially awkward tech exec and the best friend from The Checklist) might get together in an upcoming book. (Addie, if you’re reading this, I’ll settle for a novella.)
  • House of Scepters by Anne Zoelle — I’ve been trying to get to this one all year! Anne is one of the few in my writing group who also writes fantasy romance, and I can’t believe it is taking me so long to read her latest series. Especially when all our friends can’t stop saying how good it is!

Then we have our selection of holiday romances:

  • Under A Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope, and Grace Draven — I’ve already started reading this one. The only author in this group that I’ve read anything by is Grace Draven, and I think her story is the shortest of the bunch. But I bought this last year because what better way to sample the writing of a group of fantasy romance authors I’ve been interested in checking out than to read an anthology of their winter holiday themed novellas? I’m only about half-way through, but I’m already loving it, and I know I will be adding more books by these authors to my TBR.
  • The Heart of Christmas by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, Courtney Milan — I can’t remember where I heard about this anthology. I think it was a podcast, maybe? All I remember is that I added it to my TBR earlier this year with the plan that I would read it during the holiday season. I’ve heard great things about Mary Balogh and will read pretty much anything by Courtney Milan.
  • Christmas With Holly by Lisa Kleypas — I’m pretty sure this got made into a Hallmark movie, but that’s not why I picked it up. I picked it up because it’s set on one of the islands where I live! I borrowed it from my library last year, then never got around to reading it. So I’m trying again this year.

And the next up in my two current favorite cozy mystery romance series:

  • Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas — I don’t think this one needs any explanation. If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know how much I love Lady Sherlock and know how excited I am to read this new release.
  • An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn — I’ve been dragging my feet on this one because it’s the last before I have to wait for a new one to be released (in spring 2022, I think). But, I’m still on my cozy mystery kick, so I may finally get to it this month.

And finally, one last book off my 21 for 2021 list (which I am definitely not carrying over or recreating for 2022, but I’ll talk about that more when I do my 2022 reading goals):

  • Five Dark Fates by Kendare Blake — This is the last book in this series, and I keep forgetting about it, then seeing it on my TBR and kicking myself for forgetting. I think maybe I got frustrated with the last book I read in this series (book three?), but I was really liking it for the first two books, and I do want to see how it ends, but the reviews have me thinking that I will be disappointed, so I don’t know. It may be now or never.

And that’s my set up for the last month of 2021! What are you reading this month? Have you read any of the books on my book buffet for this month? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, I hope you are having a happy holiday season and that you have lots of good reading to cozy up with!

November Reading Wrap-up

Even though November was National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I managed to read three books! Well, two books plus a bind up of two novellas, and a short story. But whatever. I read some stuff! Read on to find out more.

Because this month was focused on writing, when I had spare time I mostly opted for stories in the form of movies, shows, and games. I think of those as quick-fix doses that feed my creative brain. Books take a lot longer to read, and sometimes you need the full story arc of something that feels like it could be a novel, but condensed down into an hour or two instead of the six to ten it might take to read a book.

I still made time to read. Mostly before bed, and mostly light and fluffy romance. The first book I finished was Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto. That one was contemporary romance.

Everything else I read fell into a sub-genre of sci-fi romance that I have started to think of as “ballgowns in space” because the world-building feels more like science-based fantasy than hard sci-fi. The primary example of this being people on presumably far-future space ships (or alternative Earth-like planets) who go to parties wearing current Earth fashions. The first of the “ballgowns in space” books was a YA sci-fi romance called The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne. After that, I read two novellas and a short story that had been re-published as a box set called The Kinsmen Universe by Ilona Andrews.

I didn’t realize this until after I read them, but Dial A For Aunties, The Stars We Steal, and the first of the Kinsmen novellas (Silent Blade) were all second chance romances. I realized this as I was making notes about the tropes in each book after I read them. At about the same time, I realized that I don’t really like the second chance romance trope. Or, maybe I do? But only in very specific cases? I don’t know. Let’s just say, it’s not an auto-buy trope for me.

Of the three of these stories with second chance romance arcs, I think Silent Blade worked best for me. After much reflection, I’ve realized that there are two things I need from a second chance romance. One is a believable but redeemable reason why the relationship didn’t work the first time (no cheaters, no liars). The second is character growth from the previous attempt at romance. I mean, it didn’t work the first time for a reason. Whatever that reason was has to get fixed, and if one of the two characters was a jerk, then there better be a really good grovel.

I don’t want to spoil the previous relationship between the two main characters in Silent Blade, but their break up satisfied my first second chance criteria. The hero was the jerk in this relationship, and at the start of the story, he hasn’t changed. When they meet again, the heroine is out for revenge, not reunion, and she is not a pushover. Things aren’t resolved with a simple apology. This required some serious grovel and character growth. All of which made the ending very satisfying.

Dial A For Aunties was really fun and funny, but I didn’t like how Meddy treated Nathan. Honesty is sort of a thing for me, and when the main character is lying to a love interest as sweet and pure of a character as Nathan, it’s going to be a hard sell for me, no matter how good their reasons are.

Similarly, The Stars We Steal was a really fun sci-fi romance with a catchy premise (The Bachelor in space). But when the previously perfect hero returns, he’s suddenly lying and hiding stuff from his “one true love.” Even though there is still obvious chemistry between the hero and the heroine (whose names I have sadly already forgotten), I could not root for the romance because he keeps acting like such a jerk, and she can’t make up her mind about what she wants. The romance I was rooting for was when she eventually “settles” for a political match with an ace guy she gets along with really well. And for reasons that would spoil the story, but that are probably obvious if you know how romance novels work, I was not a fan of the ending.

That said, these were all really fun, well written, and enjoyable reads. Anything I didn’t like just came down to personal tastes. They definitely left me craving more murder mysteries and more ballgowns in space. Which may have led me to create a TBR for December… But more on that in my next post, along with my December reading journal set-up.

Until then, happy reading!

A NaNoWriMo Victory

Well, I did it! I wrote 50k words and got my NaNoWriMo win! Hooray!

The only problem is, the novel isn’t done yet. I did expect this. But, remember how I started writing this novel before November? Well, I thought I would be closer to the end after writing another 50k, and I am not. I’m still firmly in the “bad guys close in” territory of the novel (about 70% done). After reassessing my outline this evening, I think I have about 25k words left to write. So, I will be continuing with my daily writing until I reach “the end.”

I definitely learned some things about what’s currently working for my writing process and what’s not. So I’ll probably do a recap on that at some point. But for now I just wanted to say, YAY! and celebrate. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you are writing, I hope it is going well for you. If you’re not, I hope you have something excellent to read or watch. I’ve read a couple of books this month, and I’m hoping to read at least one more before the month is over. But, I’ll tell you all about that in my reading recap post.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate, and happy reading!