Me — Back to Audiobooks!

I’ve recently started going through audiobooks again—before that I had been listening to Jukebox the Ghost almost exclusively, and about 7 weeks later their charm is only just starting to wear off on me. So, I thought I would tune that down while I catch up on books.

Well, back at my old job at Target this worked pretty well. I worked night shifts, generally, and being cart attendant meant I was outside in the quiet dark a lot. So, two or three nights a week I’d listen to 4 or 5 hours of an audiobook and I made good time.

But now, I’m working full time and listening to audiobooks for pretty much all of it. At 1.4x speed, so, well, that’s about 50 hours of content a week, or 4 typical novels. Problem is, I only had about 6 books to catch up on, so here we are. I’ve still have 2 to go, and by the time I’m through with Friday I expect I’ll only have half a book left.

Now, in this circumstance my preference is certainly audiobooks, but if I kept at it at this rate, that would be over $200 a month of new books. Now, don’t get me wrong, if I was overflowing with money, I would love to do that. At 4 books a week, that’s over 200 per year, which, if I keep up this rate for all of my working career (which I certainly hope I don’t), would be about 8,000 books, and on the clock to boot. Nevermind the $80,000 that audio library would cost me.

No, no. Podcasts are what it will have to be for the foreseeable future. Which is fine, I have no shortage of these, either. I have Hello InternetWelcome to Nightvale, and if I find them as interesting as a brother does, My Brother, My Brother, and I as well as the half a dozen other D&D campaigns he follows. I’m sure all of those podcasts combined is well over 1,000 hours, or, 18 weeks if I can make good time.

This is part of the reason why I love my job. It’s sort of complex—there’s a lot of nuance that goes into it, but for the most part lately it’s just been a lot of things that take a lot of time, I’m not bouncing around everywhere. I’m not talking to customers and I don’t need to talk to coworkers all that much, and so it’s a prime environment to listen to stuff.

I love that fact because it means I can multitask in the most efficient of ways: gaining money while also working on what I consider to be self-improvement. Maybe I’m a little crazy in thinking that podcasts are about improving the self, not a mere replacement for music, but that’s what I think of it as. Maybe less so the D&D related podcasts, but you get the idea.

In other news, the fact that I’m going to be listening to so many new things in the near future means more meaningful Review posts! I’ve just finished the first book of the Belgariad as well as the first book of Dan Wells’ Mirador series. By the time Tuesday rolls around, I expect to have at least another review candidate! Maybe the next few Thursdays will be more Reviews rather than Me posts.


Me — Daily Habits

Daily habits are a tricky thing. The bad ones are hard to break and the easy ones are a struggle to maintain. For me, my biggest problem is continuing because not seeing immediate results is discouraging. When 2018 hit, I wanted to hold myself accountable for things and not simply force myself to do things, but to do them so often that they became routine.

I had already been meditating for about fifteen minutes every day. It was something I had been doing since November. With this I wanted to find a more peaceful way to handle stressful situations. I’m one of those people that always has to be doing at least two things constantly. Even when I’m relaxing by playing video games I’m usually also listening to an audiobook or podcast. So meditation was supposed to teach me to accept tuning that part of me down a notch.

I haven’t meditated in almost a month now. Not because I can’t or that I don’t have the time or anything like that. Honestly, I just skipped a day and felt no difference whatsoever in my mood. My attitude didn’t change, my stress levels didn’t change, nothing. So I felt no reason not to skip the next day… and the next, and so on. Some time ago I also tried to start a habit of drinking more water every day, but the only difference I noticed was that I had to pee a lot more. So I just stopped.

Part of it, of course, is that these changes take time. You’re not going to suddenly feel great about yourself just because you drank an extra liter of water throughout the course of the day. But it makes me wonder: how much of that habit really changes you, rather than your outlook on the world and your day as a result of you having the fortitude to keep up that habit?

As soon as January started, I also wanted to get into the habit of reading every day. Nothing major, just one chapter every night before I went to bed. This one, of course, doesn’t change anything about your health or day. It’s just good (especially for a writer) to always be reading. But I’ve never been able to reconcile the fact that I’m a visual person. I have to look at each word and read it to myself in my head, and it makes for very slow reading. One chapter a night usually means over forty minutes of reading, and the first book on the list was Return of the King.

I’m starting to think that I’m not reading at the right time. Before bed is just not a good time slot, because that’s usually my relaxing time when I spend time with my brothers playing video games. I can’t do both (not really, anyway). I could perhaps make it the first thing I do every day, but that would only work on days that I don’t have school.

So, despite my attempts, daily habits still elude me. At least I can still be proud of the fact that I can write every day. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I don’t beat myself over falling short — writing is by far the most important of the four habits I’ve mentioned.

I still hope to make all of these part of my daily routine one day. But just like Aragorn said: “Maybe tomorrow instead.” That’s the quote, right? I don’t know, I haven’t read the book yet.

Me — Constant Improvement

I try to live my life in a state of constant improvement. I didn’t like that I called myself a writer when I didn’t write, so I started a blog. I didn’t like how I dressed, so I changed it. I’ve noticed I can be a narcissistic jerk sometimes, so I stopped… Okay, I’m still working on that one.

Point is, I try to fix everything I don’t like about myself over time, tackling one thing at a time. For the new year, I wanted to read a chapter every day and fit in some meditation time, too. (I had been doing the latter for a good month or two, though.)

But as it so happens, my schedule is pretty tight. I’m 100% busy from basically Monday 8am to Wednesday 10pm. So it can be pretty tough to fit that sort of thing in. Last Wednesday, I allowed myself to skip a day of reading and meditating.

Problem is, I literally haven’t done either ever since.

I’m not that broken up about it, though. I don’t feel like mediating was really doing anything for me. That probably means I was doing something wrong (because a few times I started drifting off to sleep). It did help me learn to just stop overcoming short term anxiety, but that’s basically all I use those techniques for now.

As for reading, it’s still just really hard. I don’t know what it is, really. I’m such a slow reader, and it makes it extremely hard to want to read. And audiobooks are amazing and all, but I’m actually a visual person, so sometimes I will misunderstand or skip things entirely with audiobooks because I’ll accidentally tune out. Oh well.

Does that mean I’m doing a bad job with improving myself? I mean, maybe. But I’m also doing a bunch of stuff still, so dropping a few things doesn’t feel terrible. On one hand, writing (and narrating) a short story every week. I’m also prepping for a big project, which I’m still debating on whether or not to post on the blog (I probably will, but I make no promises).

I know that a lot of people will say “Dude, chill, you don’t have to be productive 200% of the time. It’s not good for you. Take some time to unwind once in a while.”

The problem with that is that part of me feels like I am relaxing a lot, and I just give off the vibe that I’m extremely busy. I would love to get inside the head of the average Joe for a day just for some perspective. How much is my drive to become better is unnecessary?

I’ll admit—I almost didn’t write today. I know nobody is reading this, and I don’t blame them. It’s no cool fantasy story. But I think writing even when it’s hard builds character, and the last thing I want is to get into the habit of skipping blog days just because I’m tired or have nothing to say.

Tune in Friday for content that won’t be a waste of your time!

Learning! — Beginners are Unoriginal

A big problem that beginning writers (and other content creators) have is that they struggle with the concept of being original. Obviously, it’s really hard to come up with things that are original. There are so many things out there it almost goes without saying that anything you try will have been done before.

But what many aspiring writers don’t realize is that this doesn’t really matter. One of my first blog posts was about how originality is a myth, but really the core concept of being unique boils down to three things.

The first is that the single most important thing for a writer to do is to read and write. It doesn’t matter much what you read and write, in fact. You could spend your days reading magazines and writing a blog (self burn) and it still counts for author brownie points. They may not teach you as much as reading and writing novels, but practice is practice. Don’t waste your time not writing because you’re worried about the words not being poetic or unique. That’s not what matters.

In fact, this leads me to my second point, and that is that originality is far from unattainable. The only thing that isn’t original, in fact, is straight up plagiarism. If I told you to sit down and spend the next few weeks writing The Lord of the Rings from memory, filling in all the gaps with plausible plot points, it would end up being pretty different. I’d bet that if you changed all the names, the only thing that would bear much resemblance to Lord of the Rings would be the plot structure . Certainly the words wouldn’t be the same. Tolkien is practically old enough to be considered literature, for crying out loud. All things considered, I’d wager an experienced writer that took me up on this bet would be able to publish if those gaps they guessed at were compelling enough. (This activity would probably be an excruciatingly painful and unfulfilling exercise, though. Would not recommend.)

My third point is that it is perfectly acceptable for an aspiring writer to be intentionally unoriginal. Fanfictions are good writing practice, because the story structure is all yours. It’s a good crutch because you don’t have to invent new characters, but it still teaches you a lot. At the same time, writing a story about a group of kids that discover a new world will teach you about pacing and description regardless of how much you base its characters or events off Narnia. I would actually consider this sort of thing a great idea if you want to hone a specific skill. If you want to know how to put sentences and paragraphs together before you start stitching personalities into characters, fanfiction is a great place to start. If you like to build characters, don’t be ashamed of copying the plot-line of your favorite book.

Here’s the takeaway, really. This goes for everything, not just originality.

An aspiring writer can do no wrong as long as they are both reading and writing.

Learning! — Writing for Yourself (345)

One of my biggest fears with whatever I wrote used to be my “target audience”. I read a lot of young adult fantasy, but I wasn’t sure if the grammar I used was good enough to be considered “YA” at the time (which wasn’t even a real concern). I used to think I had to write middle grade because, as a bad and inexperienced writer, I couldn’t weave a story complex enough to captivate an older audience more well versed in my genre.

But over the years, I learned that the first person you should write for is you. Don’t worry about your audience. Don’t worry about your voice. Don’t worry about how poorly the words are being translated from brain to page. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t find a level of satisfaction from the writing you produce, then you’re doing something wrong. If you’re anything like me, this is because you’re worrying too much about producing a level of quality you can’t yet attain rather than writing something you want to write.

This is a problem that a lot of aspiring writers encounter: They spend so much time trying to make their writing enjoyable to other people that they end up hating it. Let me tell you, it is really hard to write something if you don’t like it. That’s the primary reason I’m not working on any novels right now: I get bored and stop liking it, so rather than leave something half-finished, I’m writing shorter pieces I know I can enjoy writing.

You see, this doesn’t just apply to genre. Yes, being a fantasy geek makes me want to write fantasy stuff. You should always “write what you love”. But it goes further than that. I don’t write anything until I find a way to get excited about the prospect of writing. This was a foreign concept to me a year ago, and admittedly this isn’t always simple, but if you aren’t itching to sit down and get started, maybe it’s not interesting enough.

The first book I had ever planned for the universe of Nacre Then (whose main character was the seed the entire universe sprouted from) has never gotten past the “basic plot” phase. I’ve written his prequels, and tried my hand at writing a few of the first scenes, but I’ve never even tried to begin the first book in his series because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a way to structure the plot to make it exciting for me as its writer. The book is full of awesome magic, interesting characters, and some amazing plot twists, but to this day I have never figured out how to order them in a way that both makes sense and gets me rearing to go.

So, as simple as that, the most I have to show for this book I’ve been planning for over half a decade is a thrown together, half-finished outline of some major plot points. Am I mad? Not in the slightest. If I’m not excited to write it, maybe it’s just not ready to be written yet.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to stumble across three stories that are each compelling enough for me to want to write them. Will they be interesting reads to anyone else? Who knows? But that doesn’t even matter. If anything, I know they will be better reads than scrambling together that huge book I’ve been planning.

If the author isn’t sold on it, you can bet it’s not going to sell anyone else.

Me — February ’17 Update (330)

January was a pretty great month for me. I’ve accomplished a lot, but I think the most notable things that have happened have been markers of what is to come. For one, I’m excited to tackle three stories right now, all of which unfortunately will require some more preparation.

First and foremost, I can’t wait to start writing the third novelette in Aftermath of the Rupture (the new, tentative title of which is Rise of the Riftguard). I have the opening scene, but I still need to find a place for it in the overarching story of the anthology, because as of yet the characters/events have nothing to do with The Rupture and its consequences.

Second, Lisa Stenton has been getting a lot more love recently. I just finished her third short story, and I really want to keep writing her stuff, but the stuff I have fleshed out is too far in the timeline for me to write it just yet. I love the character and the style of writing I get to use when I’m telling her story because its so different from everything else I write, but if I’m too hasty I’ll risk giving too much or too little intrigue in what needs to be handled carefully.

Lastly, I am still going to write a longer story set in the Spark universe. “A Big Discovery” gave all of us working on the game a much clearer view into this world, and as expected it made us ask questions we need to answer as we work on the project. So, going beyond this, if I write a longer story with more characters, worldbuilding, and background, we’ll find more questions and, necessarily, more answers.

I have no idea what I’m going to write next, honestly. All three of these projects are going to be longer than the conventional one to two thousand words, which means working on any one of them in earnest will occupy a few weeks of time. The best part about this is that I’m excited to write all of them, and me getting excited about writing is a luxury I rarely have.

Moving on from my writing projects, I’m making a few minor tweaks to my blog. Most prominently, I’m planning on making the Thursday Learning! posts focused on writing. That topic seems to get the most traffic, which isn’t surprising. I’ve studied writing for a while now (I’m an English major after all), so if I can use that knowledge to another’s benefit, that’s what I’ll do. Not every Thursday post will be about writing, but I’ll start making that the norm. Another change that I’m making to the blog is that I’m moving the publication of the audio recordings to Sunday rather than Monday. It makes more sense to provide the link to fiction at the preface to fiction rather than a post like this, so that’s where it’ll go.

On to everything else that’s going on with my life. Nothing super exciting is happening anywhere else. I’ve been playing a lot of OverwatchHearthstone, and, as of lately, Minecraft. I finally hit platinum rank in Overwatch, so I haven’t been playing it as much, and for the January season in Hearthstone I managed to get all the way up to rank three, which is apparently in the top one percentile in the region, and the highest I’ve ever gotten to. (It’s sort of ranked from one to twenty-five, one being the highest*). As far as Minecraft goes, it fills the same hole as Stardew Valley: the way my brothers and I play it is primarily for relaxing and building stuff. We’ve been playing it a few weeks, and I’ve got so many ideas for things I want to do, and I know I’ll get bored with the game way before I achieve most of them, but it is what it is.

While I’m playing, I’ve been listening to the Wheel of Time series again. I just finished Hero with a Thousand Faces, so I thought it was time to give it another shot, since I’ve never made it past book five. I’m on the third right now, but I don’t expect to have a whole lot of time to devote to reading (or gaming) in the next week or two.

As far as classes go, there isn’t much to say. I’m really enjoying my social psychology class, because I love the subject, but two of my classes still haven’t even started yet (they begin on the seventh), so it feels like I’m taking a light semester right now, when in reality the fun hasn’t really started yet. So, great start to the year, and I’ve got a lot of optimism for the future!

*There is a rank above One in Hearthstone, the “Legend” rank, so it’s kind of difficult to accurately explain how the ranking system works in a concise manner.



Review — Books of 2016 (290)

My New Year’s resolution of 2016 was to read at least fifty books, and as of ten minutes prior to writing this, I hit that goal. So I’ll be doing a quick rating system of one to ten (compared to everything else I read) of each book based on how much I think any person could pick this book (or series as the case may be) up and enjoy them. Note: Some of these were read for classes, so while the order is a simplified chronology of when I read them, I’m separating that from the rest of the fiction I read ‘just because’. I’ll just be listing them because they weren’t read for fun.

But before I get into it, I’d just like to apologize in advance for the length of this post. I don’t expect anyone to read through this entire thing. I’d imagine several people will just scan through to see if I’ve read a certain series and to read my thoughts on it. I’ll also include links to my other posts if I’ve given detailed reviews about that specific book or series!

1-3. The Old Kingdom Series — 6/10
It has lots of cool death magic, but everything is a little predictable if you’re an avid reader. There will be a fourth book, but I don’t plan to read it.

4. Bands of Mourning (Mistborn Era 2, Book 3) — 7/10
This is the third book in a sequel epic fantasy trilogy. Don’t pick it up unless you’ve already read everything prior. This singular book didn’t blow me out of the water, but I do expect the last book in this series to!

5-7. The Reckoners Series — 10/10
Definitely the best series I read this year. Flawlessly combines superheroes (villains?) with a post-apocalypse world, and is a super fun read. Can’t wait for the spinoff trilogy!

8. Ring of Solomon (The Bartimaeus Sequence) — 5/10
The prequel to a YA trilogy about demons in (almost) modern England. Good YA read, but this one wasn’t nearly as fun to read as the first three. Could be because I read this one as an adult, or it could be because this takes place thousands of years in the past and makes everything that happens feel very distant.

9. Elantris — 7.5/10
was the first book Brandon Sanderson published, and it does show. The sequels will be coming in a few years. It’s a good read! Lots of cool history and worldbuilding and whatnot.

10. Emperor’s Soul — 9/10
Emperor’s Soul isn’t really a sequel to Elantris, but it is set on the same planet. It’s pretty short, but compared to the other Sanderson magic systems, this one is probably my favorite. It involves rewriting the past of inanimate objects to change their present, and I just love that concept. I also quite enjoyed the characters!

11. Warbreaker — 8/10
Warbreaker is a nice standalone piece. A sequel is planned, but not anytime soon. It introduces some cool concepts, and one of my favorite character is a god that doesn’t believe in himself. I realize that makes no sense. You’d just have to read it.

12. Dangerous Women — 3.5/10
Anthology of stories where the main characters are all very strong female leads. These are written by all of today’s famous sci-fi and fantasy writers, but most of the stories didn’t interest me all that much.

13-16. Lockwood & Co. Series — 9/10
Good series about a bunch of kids running a business handling ghostly dealings. Really cool world, and I can’t wait for the fifth one.

17-20. The Wheel of Time Series — 4/10
I don’t know how this is one of the most famous book series. I put down the fifth book when I realized I didn’t care about a single character. It’s obviously got some huge world and good plots, but it reads too formally for me to enjoy.

21-25. John Cleaver Series — 8.5/10
Awesome series about a sociopath kid fighting demons. He has a hard time dealing with his emotions, and he tries to solve murders because it gives him some release.

26. The Colour of Magic — 6/10
Not bad, all things considered. The Discworld universe definitely isn’t my cup of tea. Everything is too silly for my taste, but I did find it quite amusing and a nice reprieve from all the epic fantasy I’ve read this year.

27. A Night of Blacker Darkness — 9.5/10
Incredible blend of macabre and humor. This book doesn’t take itself seriously, and I loved it start to finish. But the best part is, the silliness isn’t the world, it’s the people. This is a believable world (ours, in a manner of speaking,) and its the dialogue and situations that are funny.

28-29. The Stormlight Archive — 9/10
Great first two books to a series that may as well never be finished with how long it will take Sanderson to write. Many people will probably find the world too big, since there are mostly irrelevant interlude chapters, but I love pretty much everything about it so far.

30-32. The Partials Sequence — 7/10
Dystopia series about people fighting against a war of perfect humans. Humans can no longer reproduce, and as the series goes on, the conspiracies as to what’s really going on get thicker and thicker.

33. The Fellowship of the Ring — 6.5/10
Obviously, this is a classic. It reads far too much like literature for my taste, though, which is the same problem I had with the Wheel of Time. I do plan on finishing it some day, but these books put me right to sleep whenever I try to read them.

34-36. The Gentlemen Bastard Series — 8/10
I’ve heard mixed reviews from various people. I personally really enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series when it comes out, but it does have its flaws. I’d peg this as “adult fantasy” because of all the language and sex in it. The world and overarching story is pretty neat, though.

37. The Rithmatist — 7.5/10
Probably the least exciting Sanderson book I’ve read this year, but it still scores pretty high because he’s famous for a reason. This specific story isn’t particularly outstanding, but the ending left me excited to read the sequel! One day.

38. Ghost Talkers — 7/10
I don’t really read alternate history, but this one wasn’t bad. My qualms with it mostly include the fact that the main character feels like “generic strong female lead”. If you’re into alternate history, this one is a paranormal one set in World War I and is quite well written.

39-42. Alcatraz Series — 5/10
Middle grade series about evil librarians trying to take over the world. It’s kind of a secret history if you want to get technical, but its mostly a fantasy series that breaks all the rules of conventional writing. Mostly I’m not a huge fan because everything is too silly for my tastes. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, and “because it’s silly” isn’t good enough justification for me to call it out on its contradictions. Great series for middle-grade readers, I would say, and I do plan on finishing the series when all the books are out, but I don’t enjoy it as much as pretty much anything else I read this year.

43. The Postmortal.

44. “They Say/ I say”.

45. Hope Leslie.

46. The Blithedale Romance.

47. Moby Dick.

48. Inanna: Queen of Heaven & Earth.

49. Gilgamesh.

50. The English Patient.