Road Trip Wednesday: Best Book of January

{Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway‘s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered.

This week’s question: What was the best book you read in January?}

First of all, I can’t believe that January is gone, let alone have a “best of” for it. I’ve been so tunnel-vision-y with My Plan to finish this draft of WIP2 (which is still not done, ahem) on top of the everyday fires I had to put out responsibilities that I had to take care of for the paythebills job (main reason why WIP2’s current draft isn’t done yet), that even though I wanted to read so. Many. Awesome. Books. I just couldn’t.* I had to do the Grown Up Thing and Prioritize. *pout*

So, despite acquiring a bunch of books, most of which were sponsored by my friends and family via birthday presents (THANK YOU ALL!), I only really read three books: Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake; Pandemonium, by Lauren Oliver; and The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. (If you KNEW how quickly I devoured books you would be shocked, SHOCKED by this paltry number!)

I know this is a cop-out answer, but considering I prioritized my life to read these books, I would say ALL THREE were truly awesome. Plus, since they were distinctively different genres/styles, they all fed different Book Cravings that I’d been jonesing for.

If I must, MUST choose one, I would HAVE to choose The Fault in Our Stars, since that book is so life-changing AMAZING. (The fact that I’m choosing to spend my meager pennies to buy another copy to giveaway would ALSO be a great indicator to how much I loved it, I would imagine!)

I will eventually come to the point where I can read more science fiction and fantasy, the genre of my heart, but I am waiting till this draft is winging its way to my crit partners before I indulge. (See how Grown Up I am? See??)

So, what was the best book YOU read in January?

[*Waiting in the wings for me to finish WIP2 are Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi, Legend, by Marie Lu, 77th Shadow Street by Dean Koontz, Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I. So. Can’t. Wait!]

All Thinking and No Typing Makes Me Not A Writer

I had a blog post written for this week. Several actually. They’re still waiting to be re-read and polished into something coherent in Microsoft Word. But, somehow, I couldn’t muster up the will to actually re-read anything that I’ve written, let alone, clean up a draft. Lately, I’ve just been in the mood to type type type all the random (and not so random) little things that flit through my mind, and though I know this is my blog, and I can post whatever I want on it, I respect the general blogosphere enough not to throw out word vomit just for the heck of it. Believe me, no one needs to see what my unfiltered, newly awake, pre-coffee mind is capable of. (No, it’s not anything negative or controversial. I just don’t want anyone to question that English is my native language.)

Unfortunately, my type type type disease hasn’t translated to my WIP2 very well. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. I will re-read and tinker with the bits that I’ve already written, and yet d.r.a.g. my metaphorical feet to get to the next step in the action. It’s not procrastination. Not really. Nor is it a “what happens next?” thing. I think honestly, I over analyzed the story, and now I’m too bored (for lack of a better word) to continue.

I like my story. I know I do. But, I think that I’ve spent a little too much time thinking about The Story and writing about it via plotting methods of all sorts that I’ve lost touch with my MC, who, I admit, is the main reason why I like my story in the first place. After all this time, MC started to feel like, well, a character and not a real person. Well, I know MC isn’t real, but I started to think of the story as scenes that would lead to other scenes, and things that MC would need to do to get to those scenes, etc, that I lost sight of my recently learned lesson: story comes from the choices that the MC makes.

Random Interjection By My Brain Elves

Thinking about cardboard characters kind of reminds me of the flannelgraph stories I used to sit through during Sunday school.

The teacher would change the main elements of the story on a flannel board as she told the story. So, I would sit there, listening to her words, and yet, mostly stare at a static scene. Sure, sometimes she’d wiggle the characters if they were supposedly walking across the room, or a desert, but ultimately, the characters were lifeless, and no amount of moving by the teacher convinced me of the actions they were supposed to convey from the story. (Story time is definitely best served with an animated voice fueling a listener’s imagination, no visuals necessary. My two cents.)

Anyway, that’s how I’ve started to feel with WIP2. That I’m just pushing this cutout of MC around varying backdrops, which all amounts to a big, fat “So what?”

/End interjection.

Looking back, I can see where I’ve tripped myself up. I probably should have kept working on it privately first, before letting alpha readers give me initial feedback. After all, the Almighty Stephen King proclaimed that writers should write first with the door closed. That first drafts were a time for exploring and uncovering the story; a time to wallow in back story, adverbs, and tense shifts (oh my!). First drafts are supposed to be a free-for-all creative time, without that nagging feeling of “I hope they like this” poking at me.

And, for me, the “door closed” would also apply to reading anything to do with the publishing industry at all. It’s too discouraging to see books being sold and/or released that are too similar in concept to anything I’m working on. I know, I know, I’m supposed to read a lot and research widely, etc, and I do, believe me. But, I shouldn’t during the “door closed” phase. I know this about myself now, and I won’t waste time trying to convince myself that many books with similar concepts are published all the time, blahblahblah. It’s easier just to avoid news of that sort all together. Besides, there are plenty of non-adventure, non-science-fiction books out there to satisfy my reading addiction. (Sidenote: currently reading Kirsten Hubbard’s Wanderlove. LOVE IT. It releases March 2012. Mark your calendars!)

Another thing that I must must must remember: even though I enjoy planning and organizing my day, week, month, year, and have been encouraged to do so in my pay the bills job with extremely positive results (no surprise, running a business requires thoughtful planning and preparing for the unexpected), when it comes to writing a novel, pre-planning just doesn’t work for me. It’s hard for an uberplanner like me to admit that, but it’s scarily true. I hit my stride with my story when I just wrote it all out, no outlines or anything. I was always able to push through a “writer’s block” by thoughtfully considering next steps, and then writing them out. But, thoughtful consideration should not equate to plotting out my novel scene by scene. My muses, aka the above-mentioned brain elves, simply don’t work that way, and I have to accept that. I need to stop trying so hard to conform to a random ideal of how I should work, and instead, embrace the process that works for me. Because, this trend of barely writing a (ridiculous, word vomit-y) page during each writing session is getting really tiresome, and it’s not moving me toward my goal.

One highlight in all this self-reflection is that I re-discovered my original author role model, Dean Koontz, whose writing process and mindset resonates with me greatly. He shared this on his website:

On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad. And the secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions.

Because I don’t do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character. I have a low boredom threshold, and in part I suspect I fell into this method of working in order to keep myself mystified about the direction of the piece–and therefore entertained.

The part I truly loved reading (apart from his tireless work ethic) is the idea of a low-boredom threshold, and keeping himself entertained by being mystified about the direction his story is going. Knowing that, was an A-HA! moment for me. I realized that I stopped looking forward to working on my story because I took away the fun factor, that motivation to keep working on it.

To that end, I have reverted to earlier versions of WIP2, and have reacquainted myself with that MC and storyline to recapture that sense of mystery again.