Sunday, October 27, 2013


Every once in a while, I get in a really crafty mood. Sometimes it's the result of a project that's been mulling in my head and finally spills out, demanding attention (must! buy! yarn!). Other times it's from a need to do something with my hands and be away from people. Often, it's the drive to try something new.

For the last week or two, I've been working on my Halloween costume, a Regency-style dress so I can be Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. (Yes... book nerd...) I've never done such an involved sewing project before. I had to carefully read the instructions, troubleshoot problems, and worst of all, hand sew buttonholes. I even opted for period accuracy and hand stitched the visible seams. I usually wouldn't put in so much time for a Halloween costume, but my hope is that I can possibly use it in the future for reenactments and cosplay. (And now I can be Lizzie Bennet whenever I want.)

Making the dress started me thinking about the patience it must have taken to live in a time where people had to make their own clothes, grow their own food, and repair their own tools. Things we take for granted, even get irritated about if they take too long, were simply considered work to be done. People had to be productive in order to get to what was more important.

Except I realized that didn't have anything to do with me making the dress.

For me, doing something like sewing a dress simply because I can is a way to instantly feel accomplished. Since I'm good at doing crafty things, trying a different crafty thing feels like something new, but really it's just another exercise in things I know I can do. It doesn't take too much effort, but I still end up with a tangible manifestation of how skillful I am.
Even when I try something completely new to me, the beginning stages are often easier to grasp, so it feels like I'm making progress. I do believe it's important for a person to be able to do a wide variety of things, but in RPG terms, my weakness is a tendency to multiclass. And giving in to the excitement of trying new things can take away from working on more important things -- skills where I now need to put in a lot of effort to improve and really accomplish something.

Namely, writing.

Because I love learning, it's easy to feel satisfied when trying something new. It is much harder to get past the beginning stages and dedicate myself to becoming an expert. Writing my novel is proving difficult. It's no longer new and interesting, but if I want to excel at it, I'm only going to improve if I keep working, rather than distracting myself with easier projects.

It's funny how doing something by hand can show you how short your attention span really is.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Upcoming NaNoWriMo

I came up with a list of posts this week so I'll never be stuck without an idea on a Sunday evening. Unfortunately, I don't have enough brain at the moment to write any of those. Instead, I've got a quick update on one of my favorite things -- National Novel Writing Month.

Last year I did an August NaNoWriMo instead of the November version. This ran over into the beginning of school, but the summer version helped me avoid most of the stress of balancing school, theater, and writing for an entire month. This year, I've got another approach -- halving my word count.

My third year of NaNoWriMo, I wrote a book (based on Jack and the Beanstalk) that I realized wanted to be a graphic novel. It was painful trying to pack it with enough padding to make word count. The thing that really captured my imagination was the aesthetic of the world I imagined, one it took me a while to understand would work best in a visual medium. Since I want to illustrate it, that project is shelved until I get more experience in scripting and illustration.

This year I have an idea I'm also anticipating will be a shorter work. I'm going to shoot for 25,000 words, which will only be 833 words a day. (Or less than a page and a half. I can do that, right?) It is again a rewritten fairy tale -- maybe next year I'll try to shift out of that. I'm excited because I've never written a novella before, and I'm hoping I'll be able to play to the tightened medium. I'm also excited because the magic system is based on origami. This means I have to do research, but it also means I get to learn a new craft.

Unfortunately, my novel is still at a standstill, but I think it might be good to start a new and fun project for a change of pace.

Are you going to write a novel next month? If not -- what's keeping you?

Happy writing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Steelheart review

I should have learned long ago when my older brother handed me The Hobbit to trust his taste in books. Still, it's taken a couple years. There have been many cases when he would recommend a book, I'd tell him I'd get to it eventually, and then go about my daily life thinking I could find books perfectly well myself, thanks.

Then, since I'd delayed reading Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson much longer than necessary, he bought a copy and gave it to me. Since then I've been a bit more willing to trust. Also, he no longer has to remind me to read Brandon Sanderson's books.

I read Steelheart last week with high hopes. In short, it met expectations I might have had for any other book with its premise, but didn't quite reach typical Sandersonian levels of awesome.

Don't get me wrong. I liked it quite a lot. We've got an evil superpowered ruler and a team of resisters. We've got cool technology and character development. We've got edge-of-the-seat moments sprinkled with the ethics of rebellion.

What we're missing is the Brandon Avalanche -- the part of the book where stuff starts happening and then holy cow I didn't think of that and then things keep happening and, by the end, you're left in awe of the sheer brilliance of all the plot details and action you couldn't have imagined coming together in so short a time. Instead, we get a somewhat tamer climax.

But there are more books coming, and there are still questions unanswered. Nicely done, Sanderson.

As per usual, things were most exciting when we got to see the worldbuilding work. Supervillains -- called Epics -- exercise their powers and succumb to weaknesses. A city turned entirely to steel changes the lives of the people of Newcago. And we see how these things changed how one young man grew up -- David, the main character.

David is kind of awkward. I had to accept the awkwardness as part of the character and not the writing itself, but once I did, I was willing to go along with some of the running jokes (David's inability to make a good metaphor, being distracted in his thoughts as he talks to the reader, etc.). It works to show a kid who didn't get a normal childhood because he was too busy plotting revenge on his father's killer and still has some growing up to do. (Seeing this quirky 18-year-old guy launched into a group of hardened fighters is pretty endearing.)

The book isn't long, but it's packed full. Details are dropped at a headlong run as the story progresses, which was great, but description isn't Sanderson's strongest point. Again, I got used to it as we went along, but I might have wished some of the information to be more smoothly integrated into the plot. Usually I cared too much about what was happening for it to pull me out.

Team and leadership dynamics are some of Sanderson's favorite things, and we revisit those here. I love that in a tough, dystopian world, Sanderson makes his characters laugh. The thing is, he seems to like to do that by inserting at least one character who acts the clown. I love zany, humorous characters, but it's just not as fun when an author uses the same zany, humorous character every time (okay, so just once before in Alloy of Law, but still).

I've been nitpicking, but that doesn't negate the fact that I read this book within a day even though I kept telling myself I had homework to do. Do yourself a favor. Read this one, and then wait breathlessly for Firefight to come out next year.

And Mr. Sanderson? Bring back the avalanche. I know you want to.