What’s in a Name?

roseHi, how is everyone doing out in blog-ville? Life has been fairly busy over on this end. Let’s catch up, shall we?

I’m happy to report that I finished the first draft of my book back in mid-November, November 14th, 2014, to be exact. I participated in NaNoWriMo once again this year, and it gave me the final oomph I needed to get over the finish line. It was such an amazing feeling!

However, the next morning, I found myself looking around and thinking…uh, guys? Now what? I realized that I needed to get it edited, so started researching how to edit and how to find an editor. Most of what I found suggested that I set the first draft aside for anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month before I start taking a second look at it. This actually worked out great since Terry and I were planning a trip for the holidays.

Terry and I went on a cross-country road trip back to Seattle to visit his family, friends, and then headed down to Oregon to visit with my brother, sister-in-law, and little nephew. (It’s amazing how big he’s gotten! Seems like just yesterday I was blogging about him being born.)

It was a wonderful way to spend the holiday season. Coincidentally, it also happened to be our tenth wedding anniversary. You know you have to still be head over heels for someone if you voluntarily decide to get stuck in a car with them for over 3,000 miles!

After I got back, I felt a bit at odds with how to take the next step. It wasn’t just a matter of needing to get back into the swing of things, either. If I could have come back and sat a keyboard, it probably would have been easier. But, finding an editor? Figuring out what to do? That was a bit more challenging.

Luckily, I sucked it up and found three editors and sent off samples to them. After much deliberation, I’ve managed to find someone that I can work really well with.

All of which, leads me to now. February 1st. Can you believe it’s almost been a year since I’ve started this journey? I gave myself until April to get my first book written and published, and the time just seems to be streaming through my fingertips. I’ve started looking down the road to the next steps of formatting, and finding a cover artist…

not to mention marketing! And networking!

Ahh, marketing. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from self-published authors about that. As a reader, I can say I’m VERY AVERSE to being “sold” to. Haven’t we all seen “that one guy” that likes to spam his title over and over again day in and day out? Yeah, that’s not going to be me. However, I do think there are some things that I can do that will better reflect who I am and what I’m about.

Then I started thinking about this little blog. “Janyaa’s Scrapbook.” Not a great name. I have to admit, I kind of cringe every time I come to this site. Have you ever noticed in the URL it kind of looks like “Janyaa’s Crap Book?”

Um, not exactly the kind of branding I’m looking for. Especially as an author just starting out. Besides, Janyaa is my internet name that I prefer to use in order to stay anonymous. However, if I’m going to be an author, the last thing I want to be is “anonymous.”

That train of thought, lead me to another train of thought. Should I publish under my real name, or use a pen name? Either path seems fairly well worn. It’s certainly not uncommon that an author would choose to publish under a pen name. There are benefits, not least of which is it helps you keep a bit of privacy and as a female, it’s safer.

Yet, there’s also a draw to publishing under my real name and just taking ownership of my work. Being able to point to it and say, “That’s me!”

This is a debate that I’ve been struggling with for most of this past year. For awhile, I was about 50/50 on the matter. However, about three months ago, I started really leaning towards just going for it and publishing under my real name. It’s taken a lot of courage to quit my job and pursue my dreams. I don’t want to start wimping out now. Additionally, I feel there’s more pressure to set the bar high if I’m going to have my work under my real name.

All of which brings me to the point of this post. I’ve decided I’m going to set up a new official Author Blog under my real name and start trying to write about the processes and books over there. I won’t be taking this blog down, exactly, but it will probably stay fairly inactive as I make the transition over. Once the other site gets established, I’ll be sure to post the new address here for anybody interested in following me.

If you’re a reader that won’t be coming with me, no hard feelings! I appreciate that you thought highly enough of a post or two I’ve written in the past to sign up and get updates from me at all. If you do plan on making the transition with me, it will be great to see you! I’ll be sure to give you all a heads up once I get the website looking a bit more decent.

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Plotting the Course

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Good news! This past Friday, I finished plotting my book and now have a road map for my novel. Granted, it’s taken longer than I would have liked to get to this point, but this is a pretty big step for me.

One of the funny things I’ve had to come to terms with is that I AM going to have missteps during this year of writing. For example, the day after I quit my job, I jumped right into writing. There was a part of me that felt I needed to “earn my keep.” I didn’t feel like I was being productive unless I was sitting down and writing for a designated amount of time.

I made a goal to sit down and write for a minimum of three hours every day Monday through Friday. Now, some of you may think, “Three hours? That’s it? Shouldn’t you be trying to write 9-5?” Unfortunately, writing doesn’t really work that way for me. Three hours is a very good chunk of time. After that, ideas start to dry up and my creativity well starts to feel tapped out.

So, Monday through Friday, for at least three hours, I was going to sit down and write. And, I did! For five weeks I kept to my self-imposed schedule and wrote.

The problem was, I kept writing myself into corners. I’d be inspired and writing one day, then get a different idea or direction for my story the next, and find myself having to go back through what I’d already done to “fix” things.

The first time I did it, no big deal. I was game to hunt through all the text already produced and make adjustments. However, my patience was out by the third or fourth time of this happening. I realized that I wasn’t a “fly by the seat of my pants” author like I’d always assumed. I was going to actually have to bite the bullet, sit down, and plot my book out.

But how? I mean, I’ve made an outline for a ten page paper before, but actually plotting out a book was beyond the scope of my experience. So, I took another two weeks just researching the various methods out there.

What I found was both liberating and scary. There isn’t any “one right way” to plot a book. For every writer out there, there was a different method. Some of the ideas were similar, yet many others were completely out of left field.

I came to a conclusion. I could spend the whole year learning and reading about how to plot a book…but I wouldn’t ever actually make any progress if I did so.

So, I pulled a couple of ideas together from a few different methods and started to piecemeal them together. In essence, I had to learn what my own, personal process would be. Unfortunately, that takes time.

Learning to be patient with myself, allowing myself to fumble, and recognizing that it’s not a “waste of time,” is definitely one of the harder challenges I’m dealing with right now.

Originally, I tried using a whiteboard to help visualize my storyline. However, it was hard to erase and make adjustments, and there just wasn’t enough space on the board to fit the whole story in.

Next, I tried using an outline form, but felt it was too restrictive. Every time I tried to insert something, I felt compelled to go and adjust all the headings, titles, etc. Not good.

I decided to be a bit looser with my structure and basically wrote out a synopsis of each chapter. I notated where I’d want a new chapter (but didn’t number it,) specified the perspective I wanted to write from, then gave a brief account of what I wanted that chapter to accomplish.

Some of the chapters are only a paragraph long and don’t have a lot of details. They’re basically placeholders where I know a defined event has to occur. Things started to flow and get easier in the later chapters as I started to get comfortable with the format and characters of the story.

The last few chapters are multiple paragraphs. If I came up with a certain phrase, or knew a character would respond in a particular way, I wrote it in. However, I didn’t impose the need to write out all the dialogue, or go into specifics of the environment or scene.

So, that brings us back to present day. I’ve finally managed to plot my book. In the end, I’m left with a good idea of the scenery and a specific direction for my writing to travel. In essence, a road map for my story. This weekend, I’m going to kick the tires, fill up the tank and get ready to go on my trip. Here’s hoping I don’t get too lost!

Hitting the Life “Reset” Button

Thought I’d try to blow the dust off this little blog. I miss having this outlet for my writing. There’s been so much that has happened in the past…year. (Year?! Has it really been that long?!) I feel like I should write about these experiences while they’re still fresh in my memory. It’d be nice to be able to look back and remember some of what I’ve felt going through this transition.

To be honest, I don’t know even where to begin. How about a few highlights? A couple of posts ago, I wrote about wanting to jump tracks. I felt like I was headed in exactly the wrong direction doing exactly the wrong kind of job.

Well, at the end of March I put actions to my words and quit my job to officially pursue my writing. I didn’t go into this decision lightly. I talked to Terry about it and we planned for a full year before making this jump. There were three main goals and a set of expectations that we came up with.

To start, this was not going to be an open-ended situation. Terry agreed to give me one year to make something happen. That’s not to say I have to become a bestseller in a year. I need to keep my expectations realistic and that’s unlikely. It is to say I’ve committed to finishing a book and taking the steps necessary to getting it published. (Getting it professionally edited, getting a cover professionally done, putting an author site together, marketing, etc…)

As far as goals go, one major one was to pay off all of our credit cards. The last thing we needed was to have any extra overhanging expenses if we were going to drop down to one salary. Plus, it’s just financially smarter not to carry around debt. It’s one of those things you always mean to do, but me planning to quit my job gave us the extra little push we needed to really commit to doing it.

Secondly, we decided on a specific amount of money to have saved by the end of the year. This was to create a bit of padding in case of contingencies. Life happens. Last October our furnace blew out and cost us $8000. We could handle the expense with both of our salaries, but what if that had happened with me out of work? Having more than the usual little cushion would help.

Lastly, I made it my goal to participate and complete NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s basically a challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I first heard about NaNoWriMo back in 2011, but it was halfway through the month and too late to participate. I can’t remember the exact reasons why I didn’t do it in 2012. I seem to remember being too intimidated. 2013, I finally got my shit together and signed up. I’m happy to say I succeeded, or “won” as they say in NaNo vernacular.

To be honest, I took a look at the novel I started for NaNo, and wasn’t too impressed with what I had produced. However, the very fact that I could produce that much material and create the habit of writing everyday was the main focus for my participating. I got a pleasant bonus out of it by getting a chance to meet fellow writers in my area, specifically my WriNoShores peeps. (More on them later.)

So, with those three goals accomplished, the way was clear for me to make the next step…actually quitting my job. I’ll admit, it was stomach clenching. In fact, the original plan was to quit at the beginning of the year…but I couldn’t quite do it. My January month was shaping up really well and I stood to make a good quarterly bonus. If I quit before the end of March, I would be walking away from a few thousand extra dollars. Money that I knew would come in handy for the next year. Plus, let’s face it, now that the time had actually come, I was scared shitless.

I decided to put quitting my job off until the end of March. Forget New Year’s resolutions, I feel Springtime is more inspirational for starting new projects, anyway. So, I waited, continued to save, and started to get antsy. The longer I waited, the more self-doubt crept in. I had to remind myself of all the preparations Terry and I had done. We WERE able to do this.

I decided to give a soft notice and let my manager know what I was planning. By stating my intentions out loud to someone other than my husband or my sister, I was reaffirming my commitment. Plus, it gave him the chance to start looking for my replacement a bit early, something I know he appreciated.

He was really supportive about my plans, which helped. Mid-March finally came and it was time to put my two week notice in. My fingers trembled as I drafted the e-mail to send to HR. I read it and re-read it. Edited it. Sent it to my manager to have him read over it… and finally – finally – hit send.

The last two weeks seemed to drag forever. Eight hours became eight lifetimes. I resisted telling my clients that I was planning on leaving. I assumed they would think I was crazy to be giving up my well paying job with benefits to basically become an unemployed writer following my dreams.

March 31st happened to fall on a Monday this year. It was weird to go into the office for my last day on a Monday. It kind of threw the rest of the week off a little bit, especially since my sister and my birthdays were also that week. However, I was determined to start good habits early, and insisted on putting a couple of hours of writing in everyday. It was important for me to set a good pace right out of the gate.

That first day off was surreal. April 1st. A new kind of pressure took hold. This was it. Time to actively pursue my dreams. No excuses and nothing stopping me other than myself. Could I get out of my own way and make this happen? Because, if I don’t do it this year, then that’s it. I’m going to need to do some serious gut-searching about who I am and what I can contribute.

It’s been a little over two months as a “Self-Employed Writer.” For the most part, I’m happy to say it’s been a good experience. I will admit, that I have had days where I’ve stared in the mirror and questioned my sanity. There have been mornings where I’ve hated everything I’ve written so far and wanted to scrap every. single. word. and start over again.

There have been moments where I’m doing dishes and will get struck by a thought or scene and dropped everything like a madwoman to get to my computer and type it down before I forget. I’ve been haunted by plotting dilemmas and woken up – eyes wide – at 4am with the perfect solution…only to have it evaporate the moment I got up out of bed.

I will probably make an entirely separate post for all these little challenges that I’m encountering on a daily basis…and the successes, as I find them. I also want to write more about the awesome writing group I’ve joined through NaNoWriMo. More than anything, good or bad, I want to fully immerse myself in this experience and be able to remember it in the future.

If you’re out there and reading this, you’re welcome to join me.

The Art of Packing

I’m flying to St. Louis today and will be there for a week on a business trip. So, naturally, part of this weekend was spent preparing and packing. As I was going through my normal routine, I got to thinking…I’m a really good packer. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but it’s one of those quirky little things that I take an unusual amount of pride in.

When I think about it, it doesn’t make any sense that I would be any good at it. I have a really bad sense of space and proportion. Ask me the best way to arrange a dishwasher, pick out the correct size tupperware for leftovers, or even choose the correct lid for a pot, and I’m rubbish. However, want to know if I can fit three pairs of shoes, a hair dryer, flat iron, five changes of clothes, and various toiletries, into a carry-on, and I’m your gal.

The best pack-job I ever did was probably the time I went to Las Vegas with a couple of girlfriends. I had my boots, two pairs of heels, flats, three club dresses, a pair of slacks, jeans, five tops, plus all the makeup, shampoo/ conditioner, hair gel, brush, hair dryer, flat iron, jewelry, and various necessary whatnots.

See, the key isn’t just about how much you can fit into your bag. It’s also about having the right combination of things in order to be prepared for whatever may come. For example, my best friend, R brought four pairs of heels to Vegas, but no flats. By the end of the week, her feet were absolutely killing her.

So, I figured I would do a little write-up on my method for packing, in case anybody else might find it helpful.

The first thing to do is to check the weather. According to Weather Bug, St. Louis is going to be sunny and in the 80’s for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. However, Thursday and Friday is going to be raining, and Friday’s temperature high is only in 50 degrees.

Traveling in the transition seasons can be more difficult because the weather is so unpredictable. To me, this means having a couple of different layering options in order to accommodate the changes.

Typically, I keep a few basic things stocked and automatically packed in my bag. I went to CVS and got a little package of 3oz. bottles to hold my shampoo, conditioner, and hair gel. It came in a pack of four and has a little zip-up case as extra protection against any leaks and spills. This also ensures that I stay within the TSA’s liquid limits.

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I put that into a large Ziploc bag along with my day and night moisturizer, dry shampoo, cover-up and deodorant. This bag gets put in the front zippered compartment of my suitcase, so it’s easy to grab and put into the bin through security.

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A few other things I always keep in my suitcase are a handful of extra tampons, a couple pairs of earplugs and a thing of brand new bobby pins. They stay in the inside zippered compartment of my suitcase. I also keep a small Ziploc bag for jewelry and an extra, empty bag tucked into the inside pocket- just in case.

Now, some people may be wondering why I bring a hair dryer with me when so many hotels provide one in the bathroom. My hair is super thick and takes an abnormally long time to dry. I need a dryer that is going to be strong and hot enough to get the job done sometime in the next century. Those little hotel dryers suck, in my opinion, and so I always insist on bringing my own.

Next step is to figure out what shoes I’m going to be needing. For ladies, I think there should always be at least one pair of heels and one pair of flats. The third pair is optional. For this trip, because I know it’s going to be colder and rainy, I’ve opted to bring a pair of ankle boots.

All the hard items get laid down in the suitcase first. This includes the hair dryer and flat iron, the ankle boots, and the heels. I’ll be wearing my flats on the plane. To save space, I pack my socks and stockings into my shoes and tuck an umbrella and a pair of glove in (just in case, 50 degrees is chilly.)

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Now it’s time for the clothes. Since this trip is a business trip, I need to keep things looking pretty professional, both for day and night. For this reason, I’ve decided to forego bringing any jeans this time.

Instead I’m packing two pairs of black slacks, two dresses (that can work day to night,) two camisoles, two cardigans, one long-sleeve black shirt, one button-down, and pajamas. Everything can be mixed and matched. I’ve stuck primarily to blacks with purple and gray accent colors.

Roll everything! (Don’t fold) Not only does this help save space, but it also helps to prevent wrinkles. I also always make sure to put my pajamas on top. After a long day of traveling, the last thing I want to do is dig through my suitcase, messing everything up just to find what I need to go to bed.

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Now, along with carefully considering what’s going in to your suitcase, it’s also important to choose your travel outfit wisely. Personally, I believe that you should dress a little nicer when you’re traveling. I know that others prefer to wear yoga pants and Uggs. However, I’ve always found that you get treated better through security and throughout the airport, rental car counter, and destination if you look nice.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable! My outfit for this trip will be a sleeveless cotton shirt, black skirt (slip-on, no zippers or hardware to cause discomfort or set the security off,) a cardigan (for the changes in temperatures in the plane cabin,) and flats. I always make sure to wear those little flat socks, so I can keep my feet covered, even when taking my shoes off for security.

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And, here’s the final result! I probably won’t be posting much this week (obviously…) But, will try to take a few photos in and around St. Louis. Hope I didn’t bore everybody with my little packing tutorial! Do you have a quirky super power you’d like to share?

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Boston Marathon

NBC still image taken from video shows an explosion at the Boston Marathon

When I first moved to Massachusetts (nearly seven years ago now) I didn’t know what Patriot’s Day was. I’d never heard of it before and was surprised to find that it was a big, highly celebrated Massachusetts state holiday that commemorates the anniversaries of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Those two battles were the first battles that started off the American Revolutionary War and our struggle towards freedom and independence  There are annual reenactments of the battles in the morning in both Lexington and Concord. There’s also a ride down the same path Paul Revere made on that fateful day, calling out his famous warning, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”

Students are out of school and many people in Massachusetts have the day off. For MOST people in Massachusetts, Patriot’s Day marks the day for the Boston Marathon. People come from all over the state and the world to line up along the 26 mile path and cheer the runners on.

It is the world’s oldest annual marathon. It attracts people from all parts of the Earth to compete, either with each other or with just themselves. It’s open for both professional and amateur qualifying runners. Meaning, it’s democratic.

Tens of thousands of regular everyday people run the course in any given year, many of them for specific charities or personal causes.

And yesterday, somebody decided to set off two explosions at the finish line.

So far, the morning after, there are 3 dead and over 100 injured. There are photos of people with their legs and limbs completely blown off. There are sidewalks awash in blood and gore. Images of people fleeing, cheeks tear-streaked, clad in athletic gear and running shoes.

In horrific and senseless moments like these, I try and look for the silver linings. The fact that there were so many first responders on hand to jump into immediate action and start saving the people who had been caught in the blast.

The fact that Massachusetts is known for it’s world class medical hospitals all within a short distance of the explosions, specifically geared towards traumas like these. Those are things we can point to and be thankful for.

I was inspired by the photos of regular race watchers running up to the fences and barricades that had fallen on people and helping lift and pry them apart with the policemen and official volunteers.

There was a Google document passed around twitter offering thousands of displaced racers food and shelter from Bostonians wanting to help. Remember, a lot of these people are not only visiting from out of town, but from out of the country.

After the explosions went off, the whole place went into lock down and was cleared out. Many of the racers and people couldn’t get to their cars or hotel rooms. Some didn’t even have access to their keys or cell phones being held by loved ones. They basically were stranded in the middle of a foreign city with no resources and unsure of where to go or what to do.

This is an international event. Our world is so interconnected now that this can’t simply be seen as an attack on Americans. That’s one of the things I think whoever did this doesn’t understand (among many.) Things are not as delineated as they once were. We are Earthlings, first.

One of the images that’s burned into my mind are the flags from all around the world streaming in the wind that the explosions made, then falling to the pavement. All the flags representing the world, being trampled on by people who hastened to help and rescue. Country colors muted, lying there, in the blood and debris.

Coincidentally, about a day and a half ago, just a day before this tragic event, I added a flag counter to my website. You can find it on the right-hand side-bar. In a little less than the 48 hours it’s been up, I’ve already collected 29 flags.

There’s a forum site that supports this seemingly simple little widget. On it, you’ll find people from all around the world asking to exchange flag clicks. I’ve visited many of their sites, giving them my +1 US flag. In doing so, I’ve found beautiful photography, music, art, food recipes, posts on life and love. All the usual and everyday things that people care about. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.

I don’t know who perpetrated this attack on us. It makes me sick to hear of some of the conclusions people are so quick to jump to and the amount of hate and vitriol that can come from something like this. Hate and vitriol is what leads to events like this.

I do know that whoever has done this attack has greatly underestimated the resiliency and the goodness in most people – and of the American people, specifically.

Remember, the Boston Marathon commemorates and marks the beginning of our Revolutionary War. We have known struggles like these; we have conquered them before.

Together, we will again.