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I tend to be a very organized person. I like to plan. I enjoy the process of planning, and then I enjoy having everything be smooth and fun and efficient because I planned well. I’ve never had to pull an all-nighter. In college, if I stayed up all night, it was either because I had insomnia or because I was having a good time. The good time often involved playing bridge or hanging out with a cute boy. Both seemed totally worth the sleep deprivation.

I even plan when I’m not going to plan. If you plan that you’re going to be spontaneous, are you still being spontaneous? I’m not sure, but that is totally me. When I purposefully have no plan, I lower my expectations instead, and then it usually all works out very nicely. I’m also usually aware ahead of time of backup plans and which plans are super important versus which plans can be changed without it being a big deal. I don’t even do these things on purpose a lot of the time; my brain does them automatically.

Enter the Creative Process.

There are many parts of the creative process I can plan too. I can plan uninterrupted writing time. I can make daily word count goals, or scene revision goals, or what-have-you. I can make lists and notes and world building sheets. I can outline until the cows come home. I almost always know within a week or two when I’m going to finish a draft. I know what scene I’m going to write tomorrow.

But to my infinite discomfort, there are aspects of my creative process that I cannot plan. Novels, it turns out, are complicated; they consist of many interlocking parts, and sometimes the parts don’t interlock the way I think they’re going to. Sometimes either my planning or my execution is imperfect, and things aren’t set up properly the way they were supposed to be. Sometimes I come up with an idea that is ten times better than what I originally planned to do.

And sometimes ideas simply aren’t ripe. This sounds kind of woo-woo, and that annoys me, but for now, for me, it also seems to be true. Some ideas aren’t ready to go when I want them to be ready. They have pieces missing, and I can sit and think and think and think, and the pieces don’t always fall into place. And then I can’t write the rough draft because I don’t understand the novel well enough to start putting down words. I don’t know who all the POV characters are, or I don’t really understand what I’m trying to say, or I don’t have a solid structure to hang everything from, or my world doesn’t make sense yet.

And then suddenly, in its own damned time, a piece or two or three will fall into place, and the novel idea is ripe, and I can contemplate writing it and maybe even make an actual plan.

I find this both annoying and exhilarating. Annoying because I want to be able to plan further ahead, and more reliably, and I want my ideas to always cooperate with me. Exhilarating because there is nothing like that feeling when a few pieces DO fall into place, and suddenly I’ve got something where before I had nothing at all.

Anyway, I’ve been pounding my head against a novel idea for the past few months, and it wasn’t budging. So finally I turned my head to a different, older idea, and a few pieces fell into place, and maybe I’ve found my novel project for 2016. I certainly hope so.

Because I’m usually happiest when I have a plan, and I can work towards it.

This is an otter. It is very cute and otherwise has nothing to do with this blog post.

This is an otter. It is very cute and has nothing to do with this blog post.

This is the last of my 2015 wrap-up posts: the one in which I look over the last year of my blog. I wrote many things! A lot of them are pretty good! Hooray!

I’ve compiled a list of my top ten posts from 2015, chosen by you, ordered from least popular to most popular, with a couple of honorable mentions.

Looking down the list, about half of them are about or related to dating. Three of them are about my own personal development, including one about that perennial favorite, imposter syndrome. And two have to do with social lives and building connection. I also notice the headlines (a historical weakness of mine, alas, alas) are actually on the punchy side, which is awesome. I experimented a bit more with the blog this year, and I’m really glad I did.

Honorable Mentions:

I don’t think shared interests are that important in dating, because this perhaps sparked the most conversations this year.

I Have an Agent!, because I’ve been waiting a looooong time to write this post.

 

Top Ten 2015 Posts:

The Maybe-Date

We Are All Insane Together

On Dating as a Feminist

The Most Boring Question of All Time

How to Build a Support System

If you have a lot of assholes in your life, maybe this is why

What I Really Did Last Summer

I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

How I Met My Boyfriend

 

and the most popular post of the year….

A Ten Never Marries a One

 

Thanks for coming along with me for another year at The Practical Free Spirit. And now it’s time to look forward and sally forth into 2016!

Wishes for the New Year

We are on the eve of 2016.

I like that number.

As previously stated, I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, per say, but I do think the end of the year can be a good time to reflect on goals and priorities and potentially re-focus on the things that matter to you. So I’ve been thinking about what I’m looking forward to in 2016 and what I want to be keeping in mind.

This might sound kind of funny, but one of the things I’m most looking forward to is to have some time when not much is going on. The last few months have been a veritable whirlwind of excitement: all the holidays and their trappings, a trip to Disneyland, big concerts, the French Laundry, a few big movie events, etc. And it has been great! I’ve had such a good time!

And now I am very tired. And I am so looking forward to getting back to my normal schedule. I can’t wait to start working in earnest on a new writing project (right now I’m in the brainstorming stage, which is fun but also drives me a little nuts). I can’t wait to get back to dancing every Thursday night. I can’t wait to reconnect with friends when I’m not on constant excitement overdrive. I spent some time with one of my close friends a few nights ago, and we sat quietly with some hot cider and talked about our lives, and it was the best thing ever. I’m looking forward to more of that.

I’m looking forward to doing a bit more writing travel in 2016 because that means I’ll get to spend more time with many dear friends. And I miss my writer friends. Often I get to see them two or three times a year, but this past year I only got to see most of them once, if at all. And I just got my panel schedule for ConFusion, which is happening only a few weeks now, and I get to talk about such interesting things!

I’m looking forward to continuing to work on personal growth as well. The other week a friend of mine told me, “You’re really good at boundaries now!” and that felt really good to hear. And I am a lot better than I was. But the truth is, my starting point was very low. I’ve progressed a lot, but there is still more room to improve. One of the hard truths about change is that sometimes it takes a long time. But one of the great things about change is that you can see what a positive impact it is having, which is very inspiring.

On a more mundane note, I am looking forward to having (hopefully) improved health insurance, after doing the work to switch to a provider I hope will better meet my needs. And I’ve finally done the work to update my calendar/scheduling system, consolidating everything into one place instead of…um…four, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that works. It’s color-coded and everything!

Mostly, my hope for 2016 is that I get to spend time doing the things that are important to me: writing, singing, dancing, playing with Nala, spending time with the people I love, learning about myself and the world around me, and pursuing my hobbies. I hope I get to try something new. I hope I move through my difficulties with grace. I hope I remember to appreciate all the good things. I hope I am kind, both to myself and to others. I hope I am joyful. I hope I make the space around me a little bit brighter.

Here is my wish for us this New Year’s Eve: May we all have a positive and meaningful 2016. And thank you so much for sharing 2015 with me.

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It’s the time of year when I get particularly reflective and spend more time than usual considering what has happened in my recent past and looking at where I think I’m heading.

So then, 2015, what am I thinking?

Overall, 2015 was a wonderful year for me. After quite a few mixed to not-good years, this was an extremely welcome change.

Writing:

I completed four drafts of my YA London novel, thereby breaking my streak of writing a novel every other year, so that was very satisfying. But of course, the big news of the year was signing with my agent Kirsten Carleton, a goal I’d been working towards for several years. The blog had its highest traffic day of all time this year, and I sold my first piece of paid nonfiction. So yeah, on the career front, this was an amazing year.

Travel:

I did the least amount of writing-related travel I’ve done since I began attending retreats and workshops and cons. I think I needed a break! I went to ConFusion in Detroit last January and the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat in Washington in February, and then I stayed home for several months. Luckily several of my writer friends happened to be in town this year, and between their visits and my local writer friends, I was able to have enough writer talk to keep me happy.

For fun travel, I spent two weeks in Bali this fall, which was an extremely positive experience. And I popped over for a few days of Disneyland before the end of the year.

Entertainment:

I kept myself very busy this year! I read sixty books, which I talked about a few weeks ago. (Yes, I got to sixty! Whee!) I saw sixteen movies in theaters. My favorite, excluding Star Wars because that is kind of its own thing, was probably The End of the Tour. I also saw TWENTY-FIVE plays and musicals, which I’m pretty sure has never happened before. I think my favorite was Mr. Burns at ACT. Or maybe If/Then. And I saw fourteen concerts, and I don’t think I can choose a favorite, given they included The Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, Hardwell, Marian Hill, the Crystal Method, and Muse.

I played perhaps fewer board games this year, but I still had several favorites. And last week I got to try two new games, both of which I enjoyed: Dead of Winter and Mysterium. In TV land, I continued my first watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation (I’m now halfway through season five, so two and half seasons to go!), re-watched some Gilmore Girls, saw half of the most recent season of Game of Thrones before konking out, really enjoyed Sense8 and part of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and have been catching up on The Office, which I never saw while it was airing.

Dancing:

I am giving this its own sub-heading because that is how excited I am about it! 2015 is the year I started dancing again, and my ankle cooperated, and my knees cooperated, and I am very very happy. Granted, I had to take several months off when I sprained my toe this summer, but the toe is finally feeling much better, and I am very much looking forward to a lot more dancing in my future.

Social Stuff:

A good barometer of how happy I am with my social life is how little traveling (relatively speaking) I did this year. I continued to meet many new people, but also spent a lot of time settling in and spending quality time with the friends I have. They are great. I really like them. I feel very lucky. Perhaps particularly heartening was that my social life didn’t dry up and disappear after I sprained my toe and was laid up for several weeks. I also threw a big birthday party for myself this summer, and then finally got over my planning burn-out and arranged several group game days and movie outings.

And of course, I began dating the Boyfriend in the summer, and we’ve been doing many exciting and fun things and learning a lot from each other. And Nala has been doing well too.

Other Firsts:

I went to the Walt Disney Family Museum for the first time. And also the Sutro Baths. I ate at the French Laundry! I did my first escape room. I drove a Tesla. I went to my first dancing convention. I went to Cars Land at California Adventure for the first time, and got to ride on a Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain. I got my arm signed by the famous Ferrett Steinmetz. I watched a Terminator movie for the first time. I tried star fruit for the first time. I found out the Japanese market down the street from me sells divine cream puffs. I did blues dancing on the beach at night. A monkey crawled up my leg, and a baby sea turtle touched my finger. I went to my first comedy festival. I brought a vanilla chai into a shop at the mall and they didn’t yell at me. I got to hear Margaret Atwood speak, which was a real privilege.

Yes, I really liked this year. Which is why I decided to give my 2015 photo book this title:

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I usually write a blog post around this time that is about my theme for the year.

I spent some time this morning going through old blog posts and thinking about theme ideas. And, all in all, this has been a really good year for me. REALLY good.

List of possible 2015 themes:

Peaches.

Look, I’m happy!

Cool, I think I’m going to go take care of myself now.

Yeah, I got this.

Thanks for being my friend, you rock!

No thanks.

The important thing is the work.

Milkshakes! Pancakes! Peanut butter pie!

Shake it off.

This is one picture of happiness.

This is one picture of happiness.

Hmm, which one of these should I use as the headline of this post? Decisions, decisions.

But in all seriousness, just because I had a positive year doesn’t mean I didn’t still learn a lot. Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. Dancing helps with my physical health in the medium term.
  2. Also it’s freaking awesome.
  3. Also it automatically improves my mood.
  4. My apartment is my sanctuary, and as such, it’s worth every cent I pay in rent.
  5. Sprained toes take a really long time to heal.
  6. Sometimes taking a break from networking can be beneficial to my mental health.
  7. Because it’s the actual writing that matters the most.
  8. Just because I’m afraid is not a reason not to do a thing. It’s also not a reason to automatically do a thing.
  9. I really like my friends. Well, okay, I guess I already knew this, but I get constant reminders.
  10. I like to see as many friends as possible at least once a month. By the time I’m going three months without seeing them, I am less happy.
  11. Finding meaning in your life is super important.
  12. Life after getting an agent is pretty much the same as life before. Except without the endless querying.
  13. Sometimes it is really hard to let go.
  14. Being gentle with yourself doesn’t mean you automatically stop learning from your mistakes. It more often means you’re not damaging your self-esteem so much in the process.
  15. People are different, and they pay different energy costs for different things. And that’s okay.
  16. Being indirect often does not pay off. And at least with directness you know you said what you wanted to say.
  17. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also important to strive for kindness. You can be direct and kind at the same time.
  18. Sometimes you’re not going to say what the other person wants to hear. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say it.
  19. We all have quirks and eccentricities. Learning to accept this is important. About yourself too, not just about other people.
  20. Some comedy is actually funny. Yes, I know you already knew this. Now I do too!
  21. But some comedy is still not that funny at all.
  22. The necessity of sometimes having to wait isn’t going to go anywhere.
  23. Having a lot of lemonade in my fridge is wonderful.
  24. So much that’s going on has very little to do with me. I learn this every year. The trick, then, is to figure out what does have to do with me and focus on that.
  25. When you can make the choice to think positively, that’s the right choice to make. When you can’t, allowing that to be okay too can sometimes help you get back to a happier frame of mind more quickly.
  26. It’s important to allow other people to make their own mistakes. Even when it’s painful to watch. But if it’s too tiring to watch, it’s okay to take a little break.
  27. Differentiating between short-term and long-term problems can save a lot of energy.
  28. Mashed potatoes taste better when you add a lot of butter.
  29. Everyone has problems. People who understand this tend to be good people to have around.
  30. Loving yourself is still one of the most important things you can learn how to do.


What did you learn this year?

Last week I talked about some great YA novels. Today I’m going to talk about my favorite nonfiction and SF/F titles I read this past year.

I read a lot more nonfiction than usual this year. I spent a month studying the memoir form, which contributed strongly to this change. In the novel category, outside of the YA genre, I read almost exclusively SF/F, which is also a bit unusual, but makes sense given that I spent so much more time reading nonfiction.

Favorite Nonfiction:

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

I’d never read Joan Didion before, and for me it was like being wrapped up in warm velvet. Interesting prose, emotional depth, and poignant subject matter (grief and uncertainty) all combined to make this my favorite memoir read of the year.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown

I love Brene Brown’s work and have referenced it more than once in this blog. This book expands on some of the ideas she presents in her popular TED talks. I didn’t find the entire book equally relevant, but it was still an influential read.

Story, by Robert McKee

I finally got around to reading this tome on screenwriting in specific, and storytelling principles in general, and it definitely taught me some interesting concepts and gave me useful food for thought.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl

I think this book is so important, I wrote an entire blog post about it. This is a classic, and it deserves that distinction.

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Favorite SF/F novels:

Elysium, by Jennifer Marie Brissett (SF)

I read this novel towards the beginning of the year, so my memory of it isn’t as sharp as with the other books on this list. The impression I have left is that I really liked this book because it was weird and different. It was a challenging read, with not much spoon-feeding and a complicated structure and premise, and it was fun to try to keep up with it.

Apex, by Ramez Naam (SF)

A satisfying and page-turning conclusion to the Nexus trilogy, all three books of which I’ve really enjoyed.

Persona, by Genevieve Valentine (SF)

This one is a science fiction thriller. Populated by some fascinating characters, it has a bunch of action and spy-like sequences, while also focusing on political intrigue and maneuvering.  I hope there’s a sequel.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (SF)

This was my first Dick novel, and I was so happy it lived up to the hype. I was particularly impressed by the world building, and how Dick seemed to pick just the perfect telling details to flesh out his future world. He is so efficient! And he implies so much that the reader has to think about to truly appreciate.

Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie (SF)

Following Ancillary Justice, these novels were a bit different in that they didn’t have the same structure of one narrative in the present and one in the past. I actually felt the plots were stronger in these two, though, although perhaps that’s because I enjoy reading about political maneuvering so very much. And I think my favorite of the three might be the middle one, Ancillary Sword, which is quite rare.

 

And my two favorite SF/F novels I read this year:

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (Fantasy)

It was like this book was written specifically for me. It is exactly what I like in my fantasy: a fairy tale feeling but while feeling fresh and not too derivative, magic with rules but not rules that force you to wade through dense walls of text to understand them, well-drawn and psychologically interesting characters, and lots of terrible obstacles. I liked how this started feeling like it was going to be telling a somewhat familiar story, but then it branched out into doing its own thing, which was even better since I didn’t really expect it. I also really liked the way it dealt with one of its central friendships. This reminded me a lot of Robin McKinley’s Kingdom of Damar books but aimed at a slightly older (aka adult) audience.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (SF)

It is a testament to the strength of this novel that even though I read it in—March?—this is still the book I think about when someone asks me what I’ve been reading lately and still the book I want to talk about. I loved this novel’s deft exploration and excavation of its characters. I loved the idea of a Shakespeare/music troupe wandering across a dangerous post-apocalyptic landscape. I loved the way the various strands of narrative interlaced through time and location and character. I loved this book so much.

Let me know if you found any new favorite books of your own this year!

2015 was a mixed reading year for me. I didn’t fall head over heels with that many books in the first half of the year. In fact, I stopped reading altogether for a month this spring, which is unusual for me, and then spent the following month reading only nonfiction. Luckily things picked up in the summer, though, so I still have some great books to talk about.

So far this year I’ve read 56 books, which is one less than last year. However, I’m already partway through another book right now, with every expectation of finishing it, so I should finish the year on par or above last year’s mark, which makes me happy.

This year about a third of my reading was YA, a third was adult SF/F, and a third was nonfiction and memoir. Around 84% of the books I read were by women, which happens to be a bit higher than usual. Around 30% of the books I read were written by PoC, which is also higher than usual and something I have very consciously worked on.

Today I’m going to talk about the YA titles I particularly enjoyed reading this year. (Please note these aren’t all titles that came out this year, just ones that I happened to get around to reading.) Then on Tuesday I’ll talk about the (mostly science fiction) novels written for adults that I enjoyed, as well as the most impactful nonfiction I read.

Once again this year, the majority of my YA reading was contemporary YA (meaning YA set in the near-present day with no speculative element), as I’m finding these novels to be the strongest overall right now. I tried reading a few new high/historical fantasy YAs but was left mostly unimpressed (I’m in the middle of another one right now, so we’ll see how it goes). I did find a couple of speculative YA titles to recommend this year, along with several contemporary titles.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han (YA contemporary)

I discovered Jenny Han this year, and I read FIVE of her novels, mostly in great big gulps. This is my favorite of those five. I appreciated the voice, the characterizations (particularly of our protagonist), and the high concept romance angle.

All the Rage, by Courtney Summers (YA contemporary)

You might remember Courtney Summers from last year’s list. This is her newest novel, and I think it’s a very important one. To be clear, this novel was painful to read, and at times I had to force myself to keep going. It confronts rape culture head-on, which can be uncomfortable and upsetting. But it’s well written and shows a reality that too few novels dare to show.

Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill (YA dystopia)

This is another incredibly dark novel that doesn’t pull its punches. It’s a YA futuristic dystopia about society’s obsession with how women look and act. It deals with the beauty myth and body image issues, as well as double standards of behavior based on gender. This book hurts. I felt wrung out when I finished it. But like All the Rage, it’s an important read and well done.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness (YA Fantasy)

I was completely charmed by this novel, which is told from the POV of one of the “normal” kids in a world full of Chosen Ones and dangerous supernatural happenings. In this way, it reminded me a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Zeppo,” in which Buffy is off stopping another apocalypse, but the episode follows the mostly unrelated adventures of Xander instead. The concept is great, and the illustrations of different kinds of relationships between the teen characters are very well done. The protagonist also deals with having OCD, which is addressed with realism and sensitivity.

It's always exciting when I love a book I already bought in hardback!

It’s always exciting when I love a book I already bought in hardback!

The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby (YA contemporary)

I love the frame story of this book so much! It’s presented as our protagonist’s narrative nonfiction project for her arts school, and there is so much scope for creativity and character expression in this concept. I found the psychology behind the conflicts and characters of this story to be fascinating, and the theme of truth (when it’s good to reveal/discuss the truth and when the truth can be harmful) is handled deftly here.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromly (YA contemporary)

A screwball mystery a la Veronica Mars and Sherlock? Yay! This book made Publisher’s Weekly’s best of the year list, which is how I found out about it, and I then proceeded to read it in about twenty-four hours of bliss. The banter is great here, and the plot is fun and just convoluted enough to stay interesting.

Have any YA titles you read this year that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments! And I’ll see you back here on Tuesday for more book talk.

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