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     At this time last week, I was consumed with ideas for one of my series.  Although the plan for the next few weeks did not include writing, I couldn’t get the series out of my head and set to work revisiting a book that I had attempted to write over four years ago.  Combing through my documents, I found two very lengthy character bios, one for the main character and one for a friend of hers.

     It may sound odd, but I really didn’t remember putting so much effort into writing these bios; but I was happy to find them because they contained a lot of the ideas I had for the entire series, spanning several years.  What I did remember from the time when I first came up with the concept was some research that I had done, but for some reason, I couldn’t find any of it.  Of course, this means that I needed to do it again, because if you hadn’t noticed by now, I can’t do anything without first doing extensive research.  Even if I don’t retain half of what I’ve looked up, I feel better just for having done it.

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     I got so caught up in the research over the next day or two that I only managed to write the opening for the book.  After that, the creative ideas that had been bombarding me, slowly but surely subsided and I was able to focus on my reading, which was my original plan.  I managed to finish one book and make significant headway in a book that I am critiquing for a fellow author.  

     The second book is taking me a little longer than usual because I want to try to be as thorough as possible.  I don’t think I was really built to be a book critic because when I read, I don’t analyze the book word for word the way I have seen in many reviews.  Instead, I base my opinion on how the storyline grabs my attention or fails to.  Does the story make sense or is it something I wish could really happen?  I focus on the characters and whether or not I can relate to them.  Do they remind me of myself or anyone I know?  I let my emotions take the lead.  Did I feel the emotion the author was trying to convey allowing me to feel what the character(s) felt?  If the answer to these questions is yes, then I count that as a good book.  

     I don’t try to discover hidden meanings in what I’ve read.  I don’t pick the story apart and question each and every choice the author made.  I don’t take it so seriously that I fail to find the magic of the portrait the author is trying to paint.  To me, this is like looking at the Mona Lisa and wondering why da Vinci didn’t choose a happier model, a lusher landscape, or a more cheerful color palette.  The Mona Lisa would not be the Mona Lisa if da Vinci had made any other choices; yet, this simple work of art is one of the most famous paintings, still known to the masses after over 500 years.

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     But, I digress.  Having reverted back to my original plan, the writing is once again on hold.  The focus is on reading and eagerly awaiting feedback on my novel that was submitted for peer review about a week and a half ago.  I’m trying not to do any writing in an effort to clear my head and prepare for the feedback I get.  If I set my mind to having the novel go a certain way, then I won’t be open to hearing the feedback I get and won’t be able to grow and learn how to become a better writer. 

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     Last Friday, was my deadline; time for me to submit my novel for a peer review so that I can get some feedback on what I’m doing right and what I need to work on.  It is the first time I have done something like this and it is both frightening and a relief.  The plan was to stop writing for a bit, read a novel written by a fellow author to provide my own critique and to catch up on my reading list so that I don’t fall behind on my reading goal for 2013.  But as anyone who has been paying attention knows, plans and I don’t mix well.

     A series that I had attempted to write several years ago, even before my first foray into NaNoWriMo, has been gnawing at me lately.  It first started just before this year’s NaNoWriMo but I put the thought aside to focus on my NaNo project.  These last few weeks though, it has been difficult to ignore.  “You’ve ignored me long enough,” it says.  “I’ve waited quietly and patiently while you began your new series, but it is my time now,” it insists.  “Write me before you forget!” it pleads.  Refusing to be ignored any longer, it has been increasingly persistent, getting louder and louder each time and so, I can no longer push it aside.  I must give in to the story before it consumes me and I can think of absolutely nothing else. 

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     Yes, I know how that sounds.  And no, I’m not certifiably crazy; no need to call for the padded wagons, I don’t actually hear voices in my head.  But, if there is one thing I have learned over the last several months, it is that there are plenty of people out there who understand exactly what I am talking about.  Any author that has tried to ignore a story knows that you can only do so for so long before you are compelled to write it.

     Thus, began my latest project, book one of The Butterfly Stages, a four to five book series that is a coming of age story for young adults.  It will follow one girl’s journey from her last days of eighth grade to high school and finally until she reaches adulthood.  It is completely different from The Eye of the Vampire series that I have been working on for the last three or four years and it is for this reason, that I have been thinking about the use of pen names (See last week’s blog).  I’m still not sure where I stand on that, but my projects take me from one genre to the next pretty frequently so either I need to use a pen name to distinguish the different genres or I will need to do one hell of a job of marketing my novels to the right audiences.  This is where an agent and a publicist would come in handy, but I have neither of those at the moment.

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     For now, it looks like the new plan is to keep reading (always keep reading) and work on this new series until I get some feedback on Lila’s Choice.  I’m pretty sure that even after I get feedback, I won’t immediately begin editing.  Knowing myself, I will beat myself up for any shortcomings that are pointed out and not want to touch it for a while.  Eventually, I will pull up my big girl panties and get back to work, keeping the feedback in mind, but in the meantime, it’s time to set the stage.

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     Reading is FUNdamental.  But what happens when you get a little too enthusiastic and become backlogged with your list of books to be read?  If you are anything like me, for every book you read and take off your “to read” list, you add another two or three in its place.  What do you do when your list gets so long, you think there is no way you will be able to get through them all?  Thorin Klosowski answers this question in an article on ( Can I Learn to Read Faster and Get Through My Backlog of Books? )  

     Thorin offers five suggestions on how to quickly get through that back log of books.  The first suggestion is to increase your reading speed.  Learning how to speed read will ensure that you reduce the time it takes to read a single book, but you will retain less information using this method.  Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, the whole point of reading is to get pulled into the story.  If you are reading so fast that your mind can’t handle all of the information, aren’t you losing some of that magic?

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     The second suggestion Thorin offers is to skip parts or even whole chapters.  He suggests that you accomplish this by reading the preface or introduction, followed by the final chapter or conclusion and then going back to read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter.  For those chapters that you find more interesting than others, feel free to continue reading.  To me, this is like watching the preview for a movie and counting that as having watched the movie itself.  It leaves so much unknown, so why even bother?

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     The third suggestion is to listen to audio books.  While driving in your car, working out or sitting in front of a computer working all day, listen to the book, leaving your hands free to take care of business.  Okay, so I have to admit that this one is not a bad suggestion at all.  I never really saw the benefit of listening to an audio book, maybe because when it comes to reading, I prefer to have something tangible that I can see and feel.  But I can definitely see situations where I would be able to listen to an audio book.

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     The fourth suggestion is to read more than one book at a time.  This one entails the combination of several suggestions.  Listen to an audio book when you can’t read; when you can, skim through the book, skipping parts or even whole chapters.  In order to keep track of the books and differentiate the stories, Thorin advises that it is probably best to read/listen to different genres so the stories are distinct and don’t blend into one another.  Again, I have to say I don’t think this is a tactic that I personally would find useful, but then, I am easily distracted and having too many stories to think about at once means that I’m not focusing on any of them.

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     The fifth and final suggestion is to abandon a book that just isn’t working.  If you can’t get into the story or you can’t connect with the characters to the point that you are not enjoying it, just stop reading.  I’ve had trouble with this one in the past.  No matter how much I don’t like a story, I feel an inane responsibility to see it through to the end.  But Thorin doesn’t suggest that every book you abandon, stay that way.  He reasons that perhaps it isn’t the right book at the right time and there may come a time where it does fit the bill.

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     Although I don’t think I will personally be using many of these tactics to get through my back log, I did find the article to be informative enough to share with you.  I think I have too much of a love affair with my reading to not give it my full attention every chance I get.  But I can definitely say during my earlier years, when I was forced to read books that I hated during school, I would have jumped on each and every one of these suggestions.  So for those of you, trudging through books where it feels more like a chore than an escape, you might want to check out the article to get more in-depth information on each of the suggested tactics and find what works for you.