Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo

Alternatively, a discussion on self-care.

This year has been rough. Like, “spent most of it in a memory-dissolving depression haze” rough. I made a lot of plans for myself that I simply couldn’t complete, let alone start. And of course, this made one nasty spiral as failure after failure added up and I became consumed by guilt over it.

One of the biggest “failures” came as of this month – and last. I’ve been getting into art more and more as of late. I wanted to challenge myself, so I decided I was going to do Inktober. And it failed. Terribly. I lasted… about a week, and I’m proud of what I managed to make, but then so much happened and I crashed and burned.

It is with this in mind that I decided that I didn’t need to do NaNoWriMo, either.

I suppose if I really put myself to it, I could do it. Maybe. There’s not much going on this month aside from my hectic work schedule. But still, I have been noticing a trend in creative spaces that I don’t think benefits me. I don’t think it benefits anyone. And it’s partaking in events regardless how much it stresses you out or how much time you actually have… almost, fetishizing destroying yourself for the sake of partaking in an event. We’ve seen all the memes about artists despairing in October, and I started seeing them again for November.

But, honestly? Endangering your mental health “for teh memes” or to feel like you’re a part of something isn’t worth it. And sure, NaNo is hard. That’s why it’s a challenge. I’ve done it before, and I’ve won and I’ve lost. But lately it feels almost… expected to do it. It’s all over our social media feeds. It’s a major topic in the writing community.

This year, I’m not doing NaNo. I don’t know if I’ll do it next year. All I know is that I know it isn’t good for me or anyone else to push our limits for the sake of an event that, while it fosters a sense of community, won’t benefit us mentally in the long run.

Instead, I’m taking the time this month to focus more on myself and my well-being, and to check in with myself often. And even if you’re partaking in NaNo, there are things you can do to keep yourself in check:

  • Make sure to stay hydrated. Water is best, but most fluids are beneficial.
  • Take breaks. Staring at screens all day hurts. Every hour or so, stand up, walk around, get your blood flowing. Just for five minutes.
  • Make sure to eat something! If you don’t have the energy to make an entire meal, that’s okay. Just make sure you eat something.
  • Check your posture!
  • Flex your wrists. Carpal tunnel is a bitch.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your goal. What’s important is you did your best.
  • If you need to take a day off, or multiple, do so.
  • Most importantly, check in with your loved ones and reach out if you need to be checked on! Reaching out is one of the hardest goddamn things to do, but know that you are valued and loved and needed.

An Outlier in a World of Box and Whisker Plots

Being trans is a difficult enough subject to broach on its own. If you don’t look the part, or you don’t fit societal expectations, the response can be anything from discomfort to deadly violence. And even in writing, a hobby so centered on escapism and release, it feels like we can never catch a break.

Being trans and a writer is difficult as well. How people treat me as a nonbinary individual is already bad enough. But, I’ve noticed, that when it comes to my trans characters, a lot of the feedback surrounding them is very… targeted. And of course, criticism is one thing, something I’ve adapted to over the years. But comments like these can’t really be considered criticism:

“Why did you use they? Is this multiple people?”

“I refuse to use these pronouns so I’m going to misgender them and ask you increasingly invasive questions.”

The second example is more vague – the actual conversation was nastier than I feel comfortable sharing – but the premise remains the same. I’ve learned that having a majority-cis audience is… hard. The moment you give them something they can’t understand, the best you can hope for is confusion. More likely, they’ll get upset.

There’s a common belief in writing circles that writers should be allowed to write whatever they want to. I mostly agree – within reason, of course – but have always scratched my head on how to write the things I want. A lot of it is so niche that it’s hard to find the intended audience. Instead, it gets rolled along on bigger, more encompassing waves: High political fantasy, or high fantasy in general, or contemporary thriller, or romance or…

Oftentimes, it is mighty discouraging realizing that you are the outlier. Even more discouraging is the negative response that the norm gives you. But that doesn’t mean that I or any other niche creator should be forced to give up on what it is we want. One of my biggest hopes is that, in time, aspects such as queerness and shades of the queer identity can become more normalized. More people will understand it. That can’t happen if we allow ourselves to be silenced by a majority threatened by our existence.

It’s hard being an outlier. It’s hard being trans and harder to have to try to act like I’m not. It’s hard becoming so used to escaping into the worlds and characters I created, just to have my comfort shattered by readers angry that I’m using singular they, or that I refuse to give out what bathroom a character uses. It’s hard being dehumanized, having your creations dehumanized, having everything you and your works are under such an intense microscope.

Still, we must persist.

I will never stop writing about the outliers. Angry readers can pry them from my cold, dead hands. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to be scrutinized sometimes.

Positives and Negatives: The Five Books that Disappointed Me Last Year and Five Books I’m Excited For

I didn’t read as much last year as I have in previous years. That much is certainly true. However, life and reading always finds a way, and find a way I did. And this year, I hope life allows me to read even more!

According to Goodreads, last year I read 21 books. Of those, I averaged a 3.14 review score. Looking at my list, a lot of reviews were either four stars or two. It was a very mixed bag in terms of reading choice. This year, I’ve again set my reading goal to twenty books.

It’s with this that I present the five books that disappointed me and the five books I’m looking forward to. Neither list focuses purely on ratings, but also on my expectations for them/reasons why I was excited and whether I thought/think I’d enjoy them.

The Five Disappointments of 2018

1. Words from this Woman: A Fantasy Anthology by Shannon Massey

I originally saw this book on Twitter after mentioning my preferences in fantasy. The author presented it to me and I was interested in the premise, so I elected to get it. What’s not to love about a fantasy anthology putting women first?

Well… As it turns out, a lot. Unfortunately, a lot of the main characters read the same to me, and they were all the same hyper-aggressive “strong female characters” that I’ve kind of grown tired of reading about. Their strength was only physical and that was it. I love women with muscles, but you don’t have to shit on everything feminine and that is what it felt like this book did – plus make the main characters shallow as a result. To add insult to injury, the writing was lackluster and nothing really stood out to me. Another round of edits was clearly needed.

2. The Lullaby Sky by Carolyn Brown

I saw this on one of Kindle’s many ebook deals and the premise interested me. A woman escapes an abusive relationship and rebuilds her life. Surely, that would be a great book for me!

Unfortunately, it was not. While at first Hannah certainly struggles with her trauma, the plot shifts very early on and it’s evident that this, at its heart, is a love story. And that’s fine and all, but that wasn’t what I was promised and I’m so very, very, very tired of abused persons in fiction whose problems are all solved by a love interest. Romance doesn’t make your trauma go away! We need to stop acting like it does.

Aside from that, again, the romance was obvious very early on. The author was practically beating my face in with this fact and it annoyed me.

3. Slave by Candace Blevins

I… Wanted to like this book, but the writing made it impossible. This was one I saw in a Facebook group and I was very excited. Queer women! BDSM! Fantasy! It ticked off all of my excitement boxes, so I got it.

Unfortunately, it was a let down. The sex is lackluster and at times, cringey to read. At one point, the Queen shoves her entire hand in the slaves (redacted) with NO prep and NO warning. That’s not hot! That’s dangerous and scary to think about. On top of that, I’m subjected to the same shit a lot of other erotic writers are guilty of: ridiculous names for genitalia. If I ever read the words “cunny” again I might just blast into orbit. Perhaps this just wasn’t the book for me. But I thought it might be.

4. The Cellar by Natasha Preston

This was one of the only Wattpad-turned-published novels I was excited to read, and it was a massive fucking let down. So much so it kind of made me angry.

The basic premise is a girl gets kidnapped and forced to live with three other women in a cellar for some creepy pervert. I’ve read this before. In fact, I read it with The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison and liked that so much better.

The problem with this book mostly comes down to narrator. She’s annoying the entire way through and, eventually, I only kept reading because of the other girls in the cellar. On top of that, the writing is painfully repetitive. Several actions are recycled throughout the book. We’re told about experiencing the same feeling or sensation several times over. We also tend to jump into flashbacks for what seems like no reason at all. After reading the entire book, I felt like a lot of the flashbacks didn’t serve the plot at all. And we dip into the antagonist’s point of view a LOT and it made me want to scream. I don’t care that Clover’s mother made him fucked up and he decided to kidnap a bunch of women as a result. I just don’t.

I think the biggest slap in the face, though, is what happens after Summer and Co get rescued. Two women died, Summer and another girl survive. And they act… Barely traumatized. At all. They were locked in a basement for seven months. They would have scars, but they really do not. We need to stop brushing aside trauma. Otherwise, stop writing about traumatic events.

5. Beyond Midnight: Volume One (an anthology)

This is another one of those books I heard about on Facebook and thought I might like. Of course, with all anthologies, there’s going to be a mix of writing style and flavor.

Unfortunately, most of these shorts were so lackluster and painful that I couldn’t finish them. The writing was clearly not edited and tended to center on plots I really do not care about. To add insult to injury, it’s evident a lot of the participants do not know how short stories work.

The only saving grace of this anthology was the… I think three shorts that I actually liked. They’re the sole reason I finished and also the reason I rated this book two stars over one. Those three authors I checked out and plan to read more from.

The rest…. No.

Five Books I’m Excited to Read in 2019

1. Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

I love Welcome to Night Vale to pieces; both the podcasts and the books. They’re a fun dive into such a strange desert town. As such, when I saw one of the creators has a book released, I figured I had to get it. I’m hoping this book doesn’t let me down.

2. The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

This came highly recommended to me by one of my best friends and I’m stoked to read it. It’s fantasy and queer and basically all the things I love. I can’t wait to crack this open!

3. The Black Tides of Heaven by Jy Yang

I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book from friends and from people on my Twitter feed. It’s another fantasy novel in a world that isn’t medieval Europe. This year I’m devoted to spending my time reading diverse books, and this is one of them. I’m excited beyond words!

4. They Both Die in the End by Adam Silvera

This is another book I’ve heard nothing but good things for and I’m hyped to read it. I can already tell it’s going to make me cry and be frustrated. I’m prepared for that. I just know it’ll be good.

5. Rat City by Tyffani Clark Kemp

The premise of this book is reminiscent to me of Remember Me and Mirror’s Edge, both of which games I love. I love reading about falling cities and information dealers and unique societies, so I know that when this book launches I’ll be one of the first in line.

And that wraps up my list! What books falled short for you in 2018? What books are you dying to get your hands on this year?

A Wild Alex Appears!

New accounts beg first posts to properly throw them into the world. This is mine.

Hello. My name is Alex. I’m a nonbinary writer from the Pacific Northwest and my main genre of choice is fantasy! Perhaps you might know me from my Wattpad account. Perhaps you’ve seen me on one of the many social media platforms the internet has to offer. And maybe you don’t know me at all. That’s okay, too.

The main point of this blog will be for writing and exploring the writings of others, so I’ll do my best not to deviate! Here’s some things to expect from this blog:

  • Writing excerpts
  • Reviews of books I’ve read
  • Discussions on certain tropes
  • Experiences I’ve had as a writing/with writing
  • Writing advice
  • Experiences with publishing (eventually!)

I might also rarely talk about video games I’ve played or make more personal posts. But, in general, this blog’s purpose is writing and that is what I will stick to.

It’s very nice to meet you!