Why do I write like I’m running out of time?

The most common question I get regarding my NaNoWriMo word count is “How on earth do you write so fast?” The answer to this question isn’t very interesting: a childhood of typing games to make my fingers catch up with my brain, butt in chair, hands on keyboard, a willingness to embrace whatever happens next in the story even if I have no idea what’s going on. Years of practice is not what the asker wants to hear.

Question number two is usually “Why on earth do you write so fast?” While these two questions do have some overlap in their answer, the answer to this question is much more interesting.

Readers who have been around for awhile may remember that I’m a pretty anxious person. This anxiety fuels my writing, not just in worrying what other people think about my words (although that nagging in my head is persistently there), but in getting the words down in the first place.

My writing process is best described as a two-player game of Tag. The inner critic is It, and it’s chasing me around the field, trying to tag me. Except when the inner critic tags me, the game’s over. The only way for me to win is to keep running, keep writing. I may be a slow runner, but my fingers will give most people a challenge if they want to keep up.

When I’m writing at a breakneck pace, I sometimes reach a pace where my fingers can’t keep up. This results in typos everywhere that I don’t bother to correct after multiple attempts. That’s fine and good, but more importantly, writing as fast as I can means the inner critic can’t keep up. There’s no time to correct a turn of phrase when the next sentence is already formed in my mind, and writing it down is the best way to ensure it doesn’t leave my mind.

The process breaks down when I write more slowly. That’s when the inner critic chases me down. I freeze at the screen, trying to think of the next few words or sentences. Then I type something down, think for a minute, and backspace all of it. Sometimes I retype the same thing I wrote the first time; other times, I write something totally different or a scrap of an idea. After that I might check IRC or Twitter or the NaNo forums or something related to what I’m writing, proceeding to waste far too much time on these things. And then I turn back to the writing document and wonder if this is ever going to be worthy.

This is why I haven’t managed to get the hang of editing yet. The editing process is full of slowing down and making sure everything works. It’s also full of slowing down to a stop and questioning whether what I’ve written is any good at all. Unfortunately for my writing process, there is no speed editing process.

So why do I write like it’s going out of style? Because if I don’t write fast, I won’t write at all.

Confession: I’m kind of scared for NaNoWriMo this year

I’ve wanted to be a writer since age eleven. At the time, the term “writer” was synomymous with “novelist”, because even though I was a fairly intelligent kid, it never occurred to me that a writer could write things besides novels. You know, even though journalists and technical writers and writers of many other stripes existed even pre-Internet.

About a year later, I realized that the only thing I was doing to become a writer was writing down my observations (and okay, my “I heart [some boy]” scribblings) in my paper journals. This needed to be corrected, so I started writing a novel. It was about a seventh grade girl (autobiographical much?) who wanted nothing more than to stay in the same school for one full school year (not so autobiographical–the closest I came to moving as a kid was changing bedrooms) but couldn’t because her dad was out of prison and she and her mother were on the run (definitely not autobiographical, but Adult Me says “Seriously, Past Self?”). Out of excitement for my idea, I chose a blue notebook for this story, scribbled my title in progress on the front cover, and got started.

That novel never got past three chapters, but it taught me one big thing: writing a novel is HARD.

A few years later I discovered, joined, and eventually won NaNoWriMo. After all, writing a novel was what real writers did, and how could I be a writer if I couldn’t write a book? NaNoWriMo helped me write that book, along with many more stories over the years. I’ve done NaNo in high school, college, and as an adult, while unemployed and working a full-time job, while MLing or leading @nanowordsprints or wasting way too much time on the NaNo forums or any combination of the above. I’ve done NaNo with a fully formed idea months in advance, a vague concept that popped up the week before, and even a few ideas that someone else chose thanks to my Night of Writing Dangerously fundraising.

Now NaNoWriMo is less than three weeks away, and I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a glimmer of an idea, some inspirational spark that turns into a fully fledged idea (or at least something I can make up as I go along).

You know what? This scares the crap out of me.

I’ve gone into November with nothing before. Multiple Novembers, in fact. I remember worrying about my lack of ideas back in 2009, only to get hit by what eventually became the pumpkin novel I’m still trying to figure out. And when I finished that novel midmonth, several people suggested writing a book about someone doing NaNo, which turned into Wrimonia… and started my adventures in writing multiple novels in a month.

Last year I wrote three novels, one for my top Night of Writing Dangerously donor, and two rewrites. That’s not entirely accurate. It was more like one full rewrite and another half-rewrite that I got tired of by the end of the month. This all but eliminates the idea of doing a rewrite this year because working on zero new ideas of my own creation last NaNo was hard. Really hard. I don’t know how all you rewriters for NaNo do it (though I suspect the answer is lots of planning and editing the first draft beforehand).

But this year? I have absolutely nothing. And nothing has really jogged the inspiration engine lately.

“You’re a pantser and you win every year, so what’s the big deal?” you might ask.

Plenty, and not all of it having to do with my ability to find a plot. Ideas are everywhere, ready to be grabbed and written. I haven’t had any good fiction ideas at all since 2013, even in what’s considered the NaNoWriMo off-season. What if I’m out of good ideas? What if I can’t come up with anything by November first? What if this means I’m not excited about writing anymore?

As a worrier, my lack of ideas affects me more than it should. What if I don’t come up with anything? I’ll probably come up with a vague character or concept and run from there, no matter how terrible the concept is. What if I’m flat out of ideas? What if I’m flat out of ideas because I just don’t like writing anymore?

That last one seems silly–after all, I’m sitting in a crowded coffee shop writing this post instead of browsing the NaNo forums or playing silly phone games. I can’t help but let that thought cross my mind occasionally, though. Like right now.

So much of my identity is wrapped up in writing and reading. Almost every online username I’ve ever come up with involves writing or sushi (or both!) in some way. So what happens if I don’t come up with anything? What if I’m not a writer like I’ve been fooling myself into thinking for half my life?

Discover New Artists with the Power of Randomness

According to my last.fm profile, I’ve listened to over 360,000 songs and 18,000 artists since February 2006. However, I’ve listened to 15,000 of those artists fewer than 20 times each. That’s 20 times each over the course of nearly ten years, yet these artists make up many of my tracks listened to. These artists could have come from anywhere: Pandora, Spotify, online radio based on a niche, Stereomood, Last.fm’s Discover radio,… just about anywhere.

Yet I still find myself complaining about how hard it is to discover new music. This isn’t entirely true–there’s a world of music out there, after all. But sometimes I want a specific sound, so I put on a radio station and discover that I already know 90% of what’s playing. (This happened a few days ago, in fact. I played Spotify’s Grizzly Bear station and recognized almost everything that played.)

There’s no way my brain can hold on to 18,000 artists, much less get to know the discographies of 18,000 artists. Heck, I’ve listened to most of these artists in the range of two or three tracks a year. Somewhere buried in those many artists are musical gems that I haven’t truly discovered yet, and I’ve figured out a way to discover more of these artists, along with artists like them.

Step 1: Use random.org to choose a number between 1 and the total number of artists in my last.fm library (18,191 as of this writing).

Step 2: If the number generated is less than the number of pages in my last.fm artist library (364 as of now), go to that page number. Then choose a number between 1 and 50 and start a radio station for the nth artist on that page.

Step 2.5: Otherwise, if the first number generated is greater than the number of pages in my last.fm library, start a radio station for that numbered artist. To find out which artist is attached to that number, divide that number by 50. Ignore any decimal, and add 1 to the number. Then go to http://www.last.fm/user/YOURLASTFMNAME/library/artists?page=x, where x is equal to the random number, divided by 50, plus one, rounded down to the next lowest whole number. Find the artist and start discovering!

These steps ensure that I’ll rarely run into an artist I’m already very familiar with but instead am forced to discover the new things. Case in point: the second time I took these steps to discover someone new, random.org chose 21. I’m already familiar with artist number 21 in my library (of Montreal as of this writing), and I’m pretty familiar with my top 400 or so artists.

Off to discover more things I go!

What I’m Reading, September 2015

Let’s be honest, I forgot to write reviews for the last couple of August books, not to mention all the BSC books I’ve been reading lately. But here goes the last full month of regular reading before NaNo season madness kicks in.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull: I listened to this book. While there was a good bit of stuff about encouraging creativity in the corporate world, a lot of this book was a Pixar memoir, which was mildly interesting at best. (3/5)

Rumpled by Lacey Louwagie: Someone on Twitter recommended this book. As you might guess from the title, this book is a retelling of the Rumplestiltskin tale with a twist. I like this telling better, as it gets more into the characters and gives them room to grow. (4/5)

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord: This book was… okay. It was pretty much your typical YA romance except there are teen pop stars. It had its touching moments, but nothing about this book stood out to me. (3/5)

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan: I listened to this book, narrated by the author. I was one of those teens who read The Great Gatsby in high school and didn’t really GET it. Corrigan does a great job of weaving F. Scott Fitzgerald’s personal story with that of his novel and its long road to success. She also made me want to reread Gatsby, a rare feat indeed. (4/5)

Zer0es by Chuck Wendig: I met Chuck at Decatur Book Festival this year and got my copy of the book signed. He also retweeted our selfie. Oh right, on to the review. This book is pretty good. It’s slow to start, but once the book picks up pace, it goes by really quickly. I particularly loved how the characters weren’t just all straight white dudes, but no one makes a big deal about the book being ~diverse~. (4/5)

Assaulted Pretzel by Laura Bradford: Won’t lie, I picked this one up just for the title. It turned out to be an Amish mystery with the title as the best part. I know there are some people who are into the cozy mystery subgenre, but I’m not that person. There was a lot of telling instead of showing what was happening, and a lot of the characters just talked and talked without indicating who was doing the talking. And it didn’t help that a lot of the characters sounded the same. (2/5)

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman: So much of this book made me cringe or laugh, but that was the point–to show off truly bad examples of writing. This book deals with bad examples of plot, character, setting, and style. I know I’m guilty of some of these points in my first draft, but this book showed me what to look for when editing. If you’re not sure what truly bad writing looks like, or you’re convinced your novel is the best thing since sliced bread, read this book. (4/5)

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow: I listened to about half of this audiobook about six months ago, then ditched the book because I had no idea what was going on. Mostly I just finished this book out of curiosity, but truth be told, I couldn’t get into it. The characters were shallow and dull, and while the premise grabbed me, the story itself was very disjointed and affected my enjoyment. The jumps in plot meant I lost track of what happened. This isn’t a slight on Doctorow’s work as a whole–I’ve read and enjoyed several of his other works and this book was his first–but I was not a fan of this one. (2/5)

Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson: I listened to this book. It probably would have been more interesting if I knew more about Queen Victoria and her life because there were entire chapters devoted to seemingly small incidents in Victoria’s life. It also would have been easier for me to follow if the characters were better developed. That said, I would have been fine with reading this book, but following a biography on audio presents many of the same challenges as following fiction does, and my brain doesn’t work well following long fiction–or biographies, apparently. (3/5)

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume: I love Judy Blume’s books for kids, so this book for adults landed on the Must Read list. This book wasn’t underwhelming (so was it just whelming?). However, it was very confusing to follow at first, with around twenty points of view. Once I got used to one character’s voice, another one would take over, and these twenty or so voices weren’t all distinct. There were also so many passages with just dialogue and no dialogue tags, so I lost track of who was talking pretty regularly. That said, I did enjoy Miri, the main narrator, and was invested in finding out what happened to her. The others, eh. (3/5)

The Unbound by Victoria Schwab: Sequels are hard. This one, however, is outstanding. Even though it had been awhile since reading The Archived, this book makes catching up on the main events easy while setting up for a possible third book and having a storyline of its own. Every scene is important, which is something I’ve grown to love about these books. And while many YA books suffer from absent parent syndrome, it’s a relief to have Mackenzie’s parents present and concerned about her well-being, even if she can’t tell them the truth. (5/5)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: I listened to this book. While a lot of the advice in this book is common sense (“People like talking about themselves”–well, duh), the examples and the straightforward advice made this book worth reading. This would be a good book for anyone in management to read. (4/5)

500 Ways to Write Harder by Chuck Wendig: This book is more like a collection of bite-sized pieces to help you write harder. The topics range from genre to getting unstuck to taking care of yourself, and the bits of advice are just that–bits. Wendig’s humor and penchant for profanity make this book worth reading. (4/5)

Music and Its Strange Associations

Music is a powerful thing, and its effect on the brain has been studied extensively. It’s easy to associate some songs with life experiences, connecting romantic songs to a romantic partner, singalong-worthy songs to road trips, and even songs with a location to that location. But music is powerful enough to transcend these associations, making some music-life connections stranger than ever. Here are a few of those associations.

“I Try” by Macy Gray: When I was a kid, I used my tape player to record my favorite songs on the radio, then carry the tape and my tape player everywhere to listen to those songs. By March 2000, “I Try” was constantly playing on the radio and I had adopted the song as a favorite. It was also spelling bee season, and March meant competing at the regional bee for a chance to go to the national bee in Washington, DC. Despite all my best efforts, I placed fifth and left very upset because of the easy word I missed. Back in the car, I drowned myself in the music instead of talking to my parents. The first song to play? “I Try”. And I did try, even tried my hardest. And that’s all I can do.

The Dresden Dolls’ self-titled album: This one always gets an interesting reaction when I explain the association with number theory, a field of math that’s about special numbers like primes and perfect numbers. But toward the end of that semester, I was struggling. We were moving quickly to complete the course material and I didn’t understand a lot of the material that was on the third and final test before the final exam. Elliptic curves, cryptography, all fascinating materials, all reviewed so quickly that I didn’t understand it the first time or the second time or even the third time. Number theory was the last of my exams that semester, and I put all my extra energy into studying for that exam, usually with some kind of music in the background. One album that stands out was the Dresden Dolls’ self-titled album. Think dark cabaret with some rock mixed in–lots of loud music designed to strike you right in the heart and brain. And strike me in the heart and brain it did–every time I cracked open my number theory notes, “Coin-Operated Boy” played in my head even when I was listening to something more soothing that I don’t remember now. When I opened the envelope containing the number theory final exam, “Girl Anachronism” played in my head, It stayed there through the exam, making my effort at concentrating a difficult one. I still made an A- in the class. Thank you, past self.

“Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey: My last semester of college had finally arrived. Despite my possibly-poor life choice of taking a course overload and finishing a second major, the world economy crashing left and right with no end in sight, and a breakup with a guy I had been dating for almost a year, I was still determined to end college on a high note. The course load meant a lot of time at my library study carrel. Stack two, next to the literature and humanities books I was using for my French thesis. Books and piles of papers everywhere around the carrel, making me thank any gods out there that this was my reserved carrel. And of course wifi. Thanks to the wifi, I spent a lot of time listening to various Pandora stations while studying, often shuffling all my Pandora stations for maximum shuffle effect. “Don’t Stop Believing” was one of those songs that came up regularly. And if there was one thing I was determined to do, it was to never stop believing in what I could do. Sure, I was practically living in the library, trying not to cry at the drop of a hat. (I did nearly cry in front of my math advisor once a few weeks after that breakup, but that’s neither here nor there.) And sure, I was honestly not sure how to make it through the end of the semester without some voodoo and a few more hours in a day. Because when “Don’t Stop Believing” came on, none of that mattered. I was going to get through somehow. Streetlights, people. This song also led to my longest NaNo novel to date–my third 2010 NaNo novel, which pushed my total word count over 300k. (Semirelated: Another song that came up regularly was A Fine Frenzy’s “Almost Lover”, which was definitely appropriate for the time.)

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley: I visited San Francisco for the first time in November 2011. It was the trip of a lifetime: visiting NaNoWriMo HQ, meeting Wrimos from all over the world… oh yeah, and exploring this brand new city, even if I only had the money to stay for a weekend. I stayed in a hostel near Union Square and spent Sunday morning wandering around the area near Union Square. The ice skating rink had been set up. If I had the money to spare, I might have gone ice skating. I didn’t have the money, so I leaned on a railing outside the skating rink and lost myself in thought for awhile while “The Boys of Summer” played. Did I have to go back to Georgia? Couldn’t I just stay in San Francisco forever, stay with my new Night of Writing Dangerously friends and NaNoWriMo people, stay in this part of the world where tech ads were normal and the weather was perfect, if a little drizzly later in the afternoon? All those years of noveling and getting to know other writers and helping out newbies and feeling like I was part of something that mattered, all that was building up to a trip home. And by that point, nothing was stopping the tears. My seat on the flight back to Atlanta included a radio station. I plugged in my headphones and chose an 80s station. The song was nearly over, but the next song started up immediately. As “The Boys of Summer” played and the plane prepared for takeoff, I looked out the window and sobbed my eyes out. Sometimes music leaves a trail to your heart, and sometimes it helps you find the heart you left behind. This time it did both.

Adventures in Anxiety, Part Three: What If?

Missed the other posts in this series? Check out Part One and Part Two.

Most people (possibly including you) would never guess that somewhere underneath the cool exterior lies a bundle of worries. I can leave the house without having a panic attack, I can make small talk with strangers, and I’ve made speeches in front of large audiences with just a few jitters.

While some of my anxieties are expected, others manifest themselves in ways few people would expect. Continue reading

Adventures in Anxiety, Part Two: Getting Help

Did you miss Part One? Read Part One here.

My first round of therapy happened during my last year of college. As a kid, I would try to befriend the new kid before all the other established social groups could. While many social groups were established things, I would wander from friend group to friend group, eating with them at lunch and talking to them in class but rarely getting invited to birthday parties or even to hang out after my many extracurriculars. In high school most of the friends I did hang out with on a regular basis were older than me, and by junior year most of them had graduated, leaving me in the socially awkward dust.

This behavior continued through college, and by fall of senior year my emotions had caught up. I talked about this with a couple of good friends and finally decided to take advantage of the mental health services on campus. I sat down, we talked for a few minutes, and when we started talking about friend groups and being social, I burst into tears while trying to make sense of what was going on my brain.

That was the real problem: I had no idea what I wanted to get out of these sessions, but whatever it was, I didn’t want to go through these tearful appointments and struggling to figure everything out while sitting on a couch. Sure, I usually felt better after these sessions, but some of the emotions weighed on me for a few hours afterward. Writing would be better, not that I had much time for my paper journal. A few weeks later, I stopped going altogether after forgetting to reschedule a session.

I was much more prepared for the second round of therapy. It was early 2013, and the guy I had been seeing for the past couple of months had called it off. He was the first guy I had dated since graduating from college several years before (coincidentally, around the same time as Therapy, Round One). He pointed out that I was really bad at deciding things, like where to eat or what to do for the evening. I explained how I was really bad at making decisions and initiating things. He said I needed therapy.

He wasn’t wrong. A few weeks later I did research and walked into my first therapy session.

My therapist got straight to business, even giving me homework after each session. My early assignments included observing my interactions with others and taking note of what my body does. This is stupid, I kept telling myself. Why should I be paying attention to things like my breathing and heart rate and headache? I already worry enough about aches and pains. Is adding more stuff to pay attention to even necessary?

As a result, I wouldn’t put much effort into these assignments, thus disappointing my therapist. Months passed, as did many tearful sessions. Something happened as the time went by, though. The tearful sessions decreased in number and frequency. I started noticing things: the perma-headache that liked to hang around longer than necessary, the feeling of wanting to cry all the time that often accompanied the headache, the way I took deep breaths to counter the tightness in my chest.

Every week my therapist asked me to fill out a questionnaire rating how I did on certain things. The specific items on the questionnaire were topics I expressed interest in improving: making decisions, making plans, initiating things with others. Rating myself on the questionnaire was the hardest thing I did some weeks. What was a four? What about a five? What if I was somewhere in between–what rating would that get? And what kind of scale was this, anyway–linear? Logarithmic? I tried to maintain a consistent scale in my head, but some weeks I failed at this miserably.

A couple of things happened as time went by. One, my self-rated assessments did improve to the point where sometime the following summer, I ran out of things to talk about without going over the same stuff over and over. And two, I finally saw the meaning of all those exercises my therapist gave me in the beginning and therefore was ready to cope with them on my own.

I was ready to take on my worries with these newly developed skills. And if I ever needed to, I could always come back.

P.S. Part Three is up. Read it here.

Adventures in Anxiety, Part One: Beginnings

A few weeks ago I took an online version of the GAD-7, a test that can help measure anxiety. I scored 13. This classifies as moderate anxiety, one that could be diagnosed. Interestingly, taking the test made me anxious. Did I really experience these symptoms every day? What about over half those days? Exactly how many days did I experience a symptom like a headache? I might have. At least, I might have experienced those symptoms a lot over the past week, but that didn’t mean I experienced those symptoms a lot over the past two weeks.

These questions should have been easy to answer, and yet they weren’t. That should have been the first sign. Continue reading

What I’m Reading, August 2015

Books books books. This month I passed 2014’s total of 121 books and am still going. 150 by the end of the year? Maybe?

Minus all the Baby-Sitters Club books, here’s what I’ve been reading in August.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson: This book was beautiful. The story centers around an unmarried 30-something woman in the 1960s, and her dreams explore what could have happened in her life. Then the dreams start affecting her real life. My only complaint is that it just… well, ended. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of ambiguous endings, which may be why I was disappointed in the ending. Ambiguous ending or not, this book grabbed my attention from beginning to end. (4/5)

In Between by Jenny B. Jones: This was a free download on Amazon awhile back, so I went ahead and grabbed it. The book sat on my Kindle app for who knows how long until I finally started it one night… and finished it before going to sleep. The main character has a strong voice that kept me turning the page and the rest of the cast was well-developed (even if Frances was a little annoying sometimes, and I say that as the kid who was in every club and super academic). While this book could be categorized as Christian fiction, the Christian aspect of it wasn’t overbearing or preachy. Heck, the main character isn’t that into Jesus. Overall the author did a good job at showing that everyone has problems regardless of their faith (or lack thereof) while putting together a strong story. (4/5)

Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy D. Wilson: I listened to this book while working and doing various other things. First, I get what the author was conveying–that we can redirect the stories we tell about ourselves–and he did a decent job of that. He just kept making this point over and over again. The beginning and end were strong, but the middle was the rest of the book, rehashed. (3/5)

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson: This book was about the unintended consequences of technologies that seem small to us now but were world-changing when they were invented and later popularized. As much as I curse time zones now, for instance, learning the history behind it made me appreciate them a lot more. The other technologies, such as artificial light and refrigeration, were similar in their unintended consequences, all of which were fascinating to learn about. (4/5)

Tilly Lake’s Road Trip by Francis Potts: First off, I know the author. In fact, a couple of the small details in the plot came from me, like the bit about having a website to watch beautiful women eat. About the book, though. Yes. Tilly Lake’s husband is found dead on April first, so she takes the money, buys a Firebird, and hires a guy to drive her around England. It’s a fun story, one that teaches Tilly about herself and her identity as much as it makes the reader think. While this book isn’t perfect, it’s light-hearted and delightfully weird. (4/5)

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I loved To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. Despite all the controversy surrounding this book and Harper Lee’s estate, I looked forward to the book as a curiosity but by no means expected it to be the masterpiece that Mockingbird was. This book was no Mockingbird, but it stood out in its own right. I wish there were more story to go along with the many flashbacks, but since Harper Lee is nearly 90 years old and this manuscript was just found, this is as good as we’re gonna get. One more thing: This book says Jean Louise (Scout) went to a women’s college in Georgia. She was a Scottie, right? 😀 (4/5)

Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern: I listened to this book. It’s a good thing I listened over a weekend because laughing every other minute at work while working on serious stuff would not have ended well. This book will make you laugh on one page and cringe on the next, but it’s definitely more laugh-inducing thanks to Justin Halpern’s writing style and (in my case) the audiobook voice effects. (4/5)

My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel: While I have some anxiety beyond normal levels myself, it’s not formally diagnosed and is (usually) not debilitating. (It’s also really weird compared to most folks I know with anxiety. Example: Strangers? Fine. People I already know well? Oh gods, what if I say something and they hate me forever. But that’s a separate post.) This book does a good job of balancing the history and science of anxiety with the author’s personal history with the disorder, so no matter which aspect you’re interested in, you’ll get something out of this book. (4/5)

On Basilisk Station by David Weber: The prose was solid and the main character kicked butt, but I just couldn’t get into this book. I found myself skimming the talking and thoughts a lot and therefore found myself missing important information that would come back later. Maybe I’m not a military scifi person. (3/5)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: Everyone I know who has read this book happened to like it, and their judgment was solid here. The storytelling style of going back and forth between time periods Before and After works well here, and it gave me insight into more of the characters, who all grabbed my attention. While this book is a little slow to get going, it’s well-written and grabbed my attention quickly. (4/5)

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug: If you do anything with web design at all, you need to read this book. I’m still spotting things I see in this book on websites everywhere (or even spotting sites that actively did not abide by these principles). A lot of the book is common sense for those knowledgeable on usability and will have you saying “I knew that”, but the book offers straightforward ways to make your site more usable. I’ll be referring back to this book. (5/5)

Interactive Project Management: Pixels, People, and Process by Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker: I have a lot of downtime at work and spent a lot of last week reading industry books as a result. This book takes the reader through all the ins and outs of project management, from discussion to launch, while maintaining a friendly voice and not dumbing anything down. While I enjoyed it, I’m pretty sure I never want to be a project manager. (4/5)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: I remember my middle school years being tough, and I didn’t have the problems August Pullman had in this book. August, the main character, is in fifth grade, has craniofacial anomalies, and is going to school for the first time. I found myself rooting for almost all the characters in this book, hoping everything would be okay in the end. The characters had distinct voices displayed in the chapters they narrate, and overall, this was a good and mostly lighthearted read. (4/5)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz: I’ve read (well, listened to) quite a few books on business and management over the past few months, but this is the first one targeted toward executives. As a venture capitalist and former CEO himself, Ben Horowitz offers processes and advice to the hard questions, like when should you fire someone, how to do it, and what to do when smart people are bad employees. While I won’t be applying most of this book to my life immediately (or possibly ever), it was a good peek into the mind of an executive. (4/5)

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Laia lives with her grandparents and brother, barely surviving. Elias is a soldier about to graduate and is planning on deserting the Empire. When Laia is sent to spy on the commandant and Elias is forced not to desert, they meet and discover they’re not what they seem on the outside. This book is wonderful, and after the first few chapters, I was hooked. The prose, the connections between the characters, and the worldbuilding are excellent. 4.5 stars, rounded up. (5/5)

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle: The premise of this book was that we expect more than technology than from each other. While this isn’t a bad premise, this book presents only one side of the story. It doesn’t share the positive consequences of technology and socializing with tech, nor does it doesn’t share the stories of communities that wouldn’t be together if not for tech. This book is determined to say tech is terrible and tearing us apart, and that’s not entirely true. (3/5)

On running

Whenever fitness and health come up, most people assume that since I’m tall and thin, I must automatically be in good shape. These people clearly haven’t seen me try to run from zombies or take a flight of stairs to my apartment with groceries weighing down my back and hands, but the misconception remains nonetheless. There’s an underlying assumption in our society: thin people are all gorgeous and in the best shape, and anyone who isn’t supermodel thin is a lazy being whose main hobbies include sitting on the couch and watching Netflix while enjoying a Costco-sized bag of chips.

While I won’t deny my interest in sitting around and eating chips (particularly salt and pepper kettle chips–pass them over), this assumption is certainly not true. People’s exercise and fitness habits are as diverse as humanity itself, and that’s not getting into how genetics like to screw with our bodies. And my fitness habits involved me sitting in front of my computer, tapping out key after key in an attempt to make something. If exercising my wrists and fingers contributed to overall fitness, I’d be a younger Jane Fonda.

Unfortunately, finger exercise doesn’t count. When some of my friends started working on their fitness over the last year, the friendly peer pressure rubbed off on me, much like it does during NaNoWriMo with talk of higher word count goals and one more word war before bed. I can walk like no one’s business, but my dislike of walking without a destination makes me put off going for a walk for the sake of fitness alone. Why go on a walk if I’m just going to turn around and come back? I reasoned with myself that this line of thinking made no sense. If I had to run for any reason, I was screwed.

My newfound adventures in fitness started sometime in late March. I was returning home from somewhere and approached the top of a hill. Then I started walking down the hill faster and faster, letting gravity take its course. My fast walk turned into a gentle jog, one that I maintained when the hill turned to a flat surface. I jogged most of the 2km back home and wasn’t as exhausted as anticipated. Hot sweaty mess? Definitely. Hot sweaty mess so exhausted that I wanted to flop into bed without a shower? Not quite. My fitness standards are low, but they’re not that low. Continue reading