The Creativity Corner: Summer 2017

Summer ends tomorrow, and what a busy season it’s been. Traveling, sightseeing, getting a head cold (OK, that wasn’t fun, but it did happen), and through it all I managed to get a lot of writing and reading done. So despite the busyness, it was a productive and satisfying summer. 🙂

Without further ado, let’s launch into the Creativity Corner for a recap of what I’ve been writing and reading, and other related happenings, since the end-of-spring edition in June.

Writer’s Digest Conference & the Anathema Concert

Last month’s NYC trip was nothing short of amazing. The Anathema concert at Gramercy Theater is now one of my all-time favorites (click here to read a short summary of it), and the Writer’s Digest Conference proved once again to be an invaluable experience. I finally posted my recap of the conference last week, so if you had missed it before, you can catch up now by reading it here.

Apart from the main events, I also visited Central Park for the first time – and man, I wish I’d brought my camera to NYC, because Central Park is gorgeous and HUGE. You need an entire day to explore the whole place! I also ate at some fantastic restaurants, so give these a try if you’re in the Big Apple:

  • Argo Tea, a loose-leaf tea retailer with cafe locations in NYC where you can pair hot or iced tea with pastries, sandwiches, salads, and other foods.
  • Chopt, which focuses on salads and vegetarian dishes and do so deliciously.
  • La Bonne Soupe, a French bistro that serves omelettes, quiches, and crepes along with American favorites with a distinctive French twist.
  • Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery-restaurant chain inspired by Belgian boulangeries that’s highlighted by its breads, fresh ingredients, and communal table seating.
  • Pazza Notte, which specializes in “Italo-American home cooking.” Need I say more?

What I’ve Been Writing

The New WIP: Since the end-of-spring Corner posted, I’ve more than doubled the word count on my new WIP Storm, bringing its first-draft word count to over 41,000. This makes me all kinds of happy because, “Yay! It’s progress!” But the nerve-wracking part about sharing that word count? Other writers have responded with, “That’s awesome! You’re almost halfway done!” And my reaction?

The truth is, I don’t think it’s halfway done yet. Maybe somewhere between 33% and 50%, but it’s hard to tell since 1) I overwrite my first drafts, and 2) I skip around when working on first drafts. Right now, 10 chapters are complete, and 18 others are in various stages of being written. It’s intuitive and a bit disorganized, but that’s how my brain operates during first drafts. I work on whatever scene or chapter I visualize most clearly at the time until it’s done. If I get stuck, or if I need to do more research, I’ll come back to that scene or chapter when I’m ready.

Thank goodness I keep a tracking sheet to remind myself which chapters are finished and which ones aren’t.

I’ve also started sharing the premise of Storm with other writers. In fact, last week’s post on the Writer’s Digest Conference was the first time I shared it here on the blog. In case you missed it:

Storm is a YA magical realism novel about a girl with anxiety as she faces the challenges of her first year in college.

It’s more personal than my previous WIP. Parts of it were inspired by my struggles with anxiety (recently) and during my freshman year of college (not as recent, but you get the idea). I’ve also been researching and interviewing people who suffer from either anxiety and depression, or who had trouble adjusting to college life. It’s important that my protagonist’s experience isn’t based solely on my own, and talking to other people and getting their perspective has both opened my eyes and validated the direction I hope this story will take.

Poetry: I’ve written a few more poems and resurrected a couple more “oldies” for revision. To be honest, though, the amount of time I’ve spent on poetry pales in comparison to the amount of time I’ve spent on Storm. But I’ve got my eye on an October 2nd submission deadline for a poetry contest, so over the next couple weeks I’m restructuring my writing time slightly to choose and finalize those pieces. Any prize or placement will be icing on the cake. Right now, it’s more important that I get back in the habit of submitting my work. That will encourage me to keep writing new poems, keep revising, and keep submitting to other journals.

Research for Other Stories: Currently on the backburner while I concentrate on Storm. But it was awesomely informative and exciting when I first dug into it, and I (patiently) look forward to resuming it in the future.

The Secret Project: I recently completed a short writing project that I’m REALLY excited about. I can’t say much about it yet, other than it’s for a blogging friend who has something deliciously delightful in the works. But when the time is right, I’ll share more here!

What I’ve Been Listening to While Writing

As I’ve continued drafting Storm, I’ve also added more songs to its playlist. And so far, it’s turning out to be an interesting mix. Progressive rock, melodic metal, soothing flutes, singer-songwriter pop/rock – and who knows what else will sneak its way in? 😉 Here are some of the latest additions:

What I’ve Been Reading

Boy, did I LOVE my summer reading choices! I read 16 books since the previous Corner, bringing my year-to-date total to 39. And when I say I loved my reading choices, I mean the quality of those stories. I didn’t DNF a single book all summer; and apart from four books, I enjoyed each one enough to give it 4 stars or higher on Goodreads.

I’ve also changed my reading priorities slightly to work in “market research” reads for Storm. The plan is to focus on YA magical realism, with some YA contemporaries (either with college settings or a mental health focus) and adult magical realism. I’m hoping to borrow as many of these books as possible from my local library, since (*ahem*) someone is running out of bookshelf space. (*looks around sheepishly*) So far I’ve read seven books that count toward this project, and I’ve really enjoyed them. In fact, I think I’m enjoying this market research more than the comp titles I was reading for TKC. Go figure, right?

So which books were my favorites over the summer? Here are the top five, along with links to my reviews on Goodreads:

  • Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh: This historical fiction debut is an imagining of Bonnie Parker’s life when she first met Clyde Barrow (and before they became the infamous Bonnie & Clyde). Between the immersion in Prohibition Era / early Great Depression era America, Bonnie’s charming first-person “voice,” and her arc from wholesome good girl to criminal infancy, this book was an irresistible companion at the end of my NYC trip.
  • Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab: Gosh, did this sequel to last year’s This Savage Song leave me stunned. It’s more of everything I enjoyed most about its predecessor – suspenseful, action-packed, and full of unique and frightening monsters – but with a dark psychological twist that forces the protagonists to confront their inner demons as well as the monsters who want to take control of their city.
  • The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, Book #3) by N.K. Jemisin: I give up on finding words other than “masterpiece” for this book, and this series as a whole. It’s such a powerful story, in all its pain, hope, and heartbreak; and there are no easy choices for Essun and Nassun, mother and daughter who are caught on opposite sides of the main conflict: saving the world, or ending it. Fantasy readers NEED to get on this series if they haven’t yet.
  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: Part ghost story, part real-life nightmare, this YA novel brilliantly blurs the lines between magical realism and paranormal horror. Suma uses flashbacks, a shifting timeline, and two unreliable narrators (one dead, the other alive) to paint a chilling picture of what happens when murder destroys a friendship, innocence is confused with guilt, and justice is hard to come by.
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore: I enjoyed McLemore’s debut novel The Weight of Feathers, but her second one… Wow. A haunting, evocatively written work of YA magical realism about love, family, and the shattering liberation of telling one’s truth. It’s also respectful and eye-opening in its handling of LGBT characters.

Other summer reads I really liked are Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven (science fiction), Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades (grimdark fantasy), Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (YA / college-age comtemporary), A.J. Hartley’s Firebrand (YA steampunk mystery), and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate (magical realism for food and romance lovers).

Looking Forward to the Fall

Creatively speaking, the rest of the year looks quiet. I’m planning to go to the Boston Book Festival in October with a friend and am already excited about it. Otherwise, I’ll work on Storm and poetry as much as I can until Thanksgiving and the Christmas season are in full swing. So unless there’s any news or important updates on the writing front, I hope to post a new Creativity Corner around the winter solstice.

How are your writing projects going? What books have you read lately? How about musicians or albums you’ve been listening to? Did you go anyplace this summer (literary-related or not) that was fun or inspiring? How about any plans for the fall?

29 thoughts on “The Creativity Corner: Summer 2017

  1. Hi Sara!

    Sounds like you’ve been busy accomplishing amazing work! I really loved reading your longline – so clean cut and I think that story would appeal to a wide range of readers. I’ll be rooting for you! If you ever need a beta reader in the long run, I’d love to give it a read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Doesn’t it feel so amazing to recap what you’ve accomplished? I often feel like I’m not making any progress until someone asks me what I’ve been working on, and I start explaining everything I’ve finished, and suddenly I feel like I actually get work done around here. 😀
    Anyway, fun to read what you’ve been working on, and I suddenly feel a push to get a bunch of work done today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does, yes! I know a lot of writer friends who like to look ahead at what they’d like to accomplish in a certain timeframe… But when I do that, either my mind draws a blank or I give myself anxiety. I do better with simply chugging toward my goals and making time for those pursuits, then looking back to see how far I’ve come.

      You know what makes me happiest about your comment though, Mandie? Knowing that it inspired and motivated you in return. 🙂 I hope you had a productive rest of your day!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m with you. Creating deadlines for my writing makes me panic. I’ve had several jobs with tight deadlines, so I know how to work with that, but something about deadlines for my writing kills my creativity. I am much more successful if my plan is just to get work done. Constantly moving toward my goal.
        And I have been productive today. I’ve been editing, and it feels great!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! I knew that you were on a roll with STORM, but I’m so impressed with your wordcount. And I wouldn’t worry about folks making assumptions about how much you’ve written versus how much you’ve still got to write. In my experience as a writing tutor, I’ve discovered that first draft lengths are such a very personal thing. People are either adders or snippers – and I already know that you’re a snipper. I think this sounds a brilliant premise and I also am delighted that you have had such a great summer creatively – your book list is wonderful. I MUST get around to The Stone Sky! I hope this autumn also proves to be successful and enriching, Sara:))

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me, too! This one is drafting up much faster than TKC, though I think part of it is because I’ve made writing a bigger priority than I did four years ago. And yes, you’re right about the snipping. Revising / editing is the part of the writing process I feel most comfortable with.

      My biggest concern right now is to not feel rushed with finishing the first draft. Sometimes I feel guilty when I take time off from STORM to research or work on poetry. I know I shouldn’t, but I do anyway. Although I’ve actually taken a break from it this week to focus on revising and editing poems so I can choose which ones to submit for the contest… and I haven’t felt that bad about it. 🙂

      YES. You need to read The Stone Sky soon. Maybe it should be the next book you read? 😉

      Thank you for your thoughts on the premise of STORM, by the way. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes… and I would also echo your concern. Do NOT feel guilty about giving yourself a break when writing the book – there’s a chance that you need some downtime to be able to fully consider aspects of the plot/characters/world before moving on. And this book will be faster to write because this time around, you will know more about your own writing rhythms and work patterns – though I am always struck by how different every book actually is to write… Best of luck with it, Sara:) And I am DEFINITELY going to make The Stone Sky my next read, once I have the netgalley arcs out of the way…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, don’t writers often say that their stories are like children? So not only would each have its own personality, but each one would be different to “raise,” so to speak. And Storm is a much different animal than TKC in both areas.

        I’m glad you reinforced the idea of not being guilty about talking a few days off from Storm. I spent the past three nights typing up and revising / editing poems, and also attended a webinar run by a lovely creative entrepreneur I met during Writer’s Digest Conference. And last night I realized there hadn’t been a second when I felt bad about not working on Storm those nights. I was doing things that were still important to the writer in me, working toward goals I want to accomplish. And I remembered what you had said (I’d read your comment last night as well), and it made me smile. 🙂

        I can’t wait to hear what you think of The Stone Sky. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It sounds like you’ve had a good month! I’m looking forward to fall too. ^ ^ I’m excited for NaNoWrimo. I’ve been working on planning for that and I’m going to another convention next weekend. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • And a good summer overall, yes. 🙂

      Good luck with your upcoming NaNoWriMo! You’re incredibly ambitious for tackling it year after year after year – though you win it every time, too, and I’ve no doubts you’ll do it again. 😉 What convention did you attend this past weekend (or are planning to attend, if it hasn’t happened yet)?

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. I’m excited for fall season, all the pumpkins and spice and leaves, and wrapping up in a blanket while reading sipping something hot…
    I’m still reading Assassin’s Apprentice and now also the Grisha trilogy. I know what you mean by bulging bookshelves! I like owning the books, but I might have to start visiting the library for a few instead. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I do like pumpkin… and apple cider… and most of my cooler weather wardrobe. But I can’t seem to get excited about the weather of fall. I like it when the temperatures start to warm up, not cool down. (*blushes*)

      How are you liking Assassin’s Apprentice so far? And yay for the Grisha Trilogy! The first book Shadow & Bone is my favorite. What do you think of that one so far, too?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not a fan of cold, either. Coolish is okay, but I’m not a winter person. I keep needing hot lattes to warm me up.

        I’m still liking Assassin’s Apprentice, though I did pause for the Grisha Trilogy. Shadow and Bone was great! I still need to write a review of it on Goodreads. The world and the Fold are so fascinating!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Same here, though a tea will do me just fine. 😉 Or a hot cocoa, though I don’t drink that nearly as often because of all the sugar.

        Shadow and Bone is a great series intro, isn’t it? I liked the other two books as well, though S&B is still my favorite of that series. And I love how Leigh Bardugo has continued to expand on that world with Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, and her new short story collection The Language of Thorns.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds like you’ve been very productive and I’m curious about Storm. I like the premise because it’s different from my experience, which makes me curious about it.
    I really need to read a NK Jemisin book n glad you liked Emperor’s Blades cause I have it n was wondering how good it is.
    As for writing, I started a project cause I was bored at work. It’s my first time committing to writing n completing a novel n it’s so hard. I might go easy on myself and attempt to make it a short story first. It’s set in the woods n I know nothing about trees or nature so my confidence is low n I feel intimidated though excited at how it’ll turn out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Zezee. I’m still surprised as how much I did get done over the summer – though maybe it’s because I don’t like to spend a lot of time outside in the heat. And I’m glad you like the premise of Storm. It’s so different from the previous WIP, especially in how it’s allowing me to be more creative. And I’m enjoying that a lot.

      Yes, definitely read N.K. Jemisin when you have a chance. It’s hard to recommend which of her series to start with, since the only one I’ve finished so far is The Broken Earth Trilogy. Then again, all of the books I’ve read by her so far have been stunning, so I don’t think you can go wrong with whatever stands out to you most.

      And yes, The Emperor’s Blades was very good. My only complaint was that the sister Adare got significantly less page time as a POV character than her two brothers did. But I’ve heard that Brian Staveley rectified that problem in the later books.

      My best advice with the story idea you’re playing with? Go with your gut instinct in terms of length. If you think a short story is a better first step to take, then try that first. And if it needs to be longer, then you can make it longer.

      And I totally agree. Writing a novel is HARD. But if you find that you love writing one enough despite that, then there’s no need to question it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m here to remind you of all the exciting things that happened. 🙂
    I think personal is “good” when it comes to writing. It creates genuine experience for the readers. When I was writing Humanborn, I gave Kaja some of my experiences and background (she’s a gamer, but not really a bookworm), and I put a lot of my perception of Dublin into the story too. It seems to have paid off. I had a beta reader say “I’m not really interested in Dublin and Ireland in general, and urban fantasy and post-apo aren’t my favorite genres, but you made me care about all of it.”
    I hope reactions of your beta readers will be similar.

    Liked by 1 person

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