The Life and Death of my 2018 Nanowrimo Novel

Dear Nanowrimo 2018,

I’m sorry, but it isn’t happening this year. For some reason, my last two Novembers weren’t busy at all. In 2016 it was the senioritis and existential dread of the presidental election that gave me the motivation to win. And in 2017, my unusually easy classes and lack of a social life allowed me to write a sequel. This year… I’m swamped with school, work, friends, and trying to carve out time for myself. My outline for Nano fell by the wayside. I think that’s a good thing. So here are my reasons to justify quitting Nano three days in:

  1. Instead of focusing on a single, all-consuming task, I’ve diversified. What I’ve improved at this semester:
  • drawing, thanks to my art class I realized I actually have some skill!
  • writing short stories, not novels
  • keeping a daily diary
  • making friends, going out with them, being a normal human being?
  • touch typing
  • holding a steady job and learning to save my money, banishing micro transactions to the abyss
  • procrastinating on writing stationery reviews, I’M SORRY OK

Yes, I wish I had time to write a full novel. But that means I would have to put aside my other commitments.

2. I don’t know if writing so rapidly actually produces quality work. It’s been two years since I wrote my first novel and it’s still a giant mess. The prose is choppy, there are gaping plotholes everywhere, and I made the big mistake of starting in the middle of the plot, getting to the end, then writing the beginning. DON’T DO THAT YOU WILL REGRET IT. I think my novel would have turned out better if I slowed down and concentrated on quality not quantity. Right now, the story is horrible and I’m not quite sure how to fix it. As a result, I might scrap or rewrite all 120,000 WORDS I wrote. That’s not going to be fun. O_O

3. I learned how to finish a novel. I proved myself, twice, that I can commit to writing at least 50,000 words. Before 2016, I never wrote more than 10,000 words. My stories fizzled out after a few pages. So I should be proud of how far I’ve come. I don’t need Nanowrimo anymore to inspire me to finish. And that’s the beauty of this hellish month-long torture exercise.

Goodbye, Nanowrimo. I’ve learned so much from you but now it’s time to put you aside. But I’ll always remember that sweet satisfaction of hitting my daily word count.

-Sara

Elemental Notebooks Review

For the second time, I’ve been burned by Kickstarter. The first time was with the Hippo Noto’s long wait time and questionable sturdiness. At least the Elemental Notebooks delivered fast. Also, the chemistry-themed design is spectacular, living up to every picture released. It reminds me of another cloth-covered favorite, Baron Fig notebooks. I bought the Nitrogen and Hydrogen, and a set of Unobtanium pocket notebooks. (I forgot Oxygen had the blue cover, this is why I hated Chemistry lol) But the paper is more important than anything else for me, so the Elemental Notebooks were a massive letdown.

Once again, I’m late to the show. Check out Mountain of Ink’s review here. In the next paragraphs, I review the Nitrogen notebook and the Unobtanium add-ons.

Specs:

  • 100 gsm cream dot grid paper
  • A5 size, or 3.5 by 5.5 inches for Unobtanium
  • $20 per notebook, pocket Unobtaniums were add-ons for $12
  • 192 pages
  • two ribbon bookmarks
  • no table of contents or numbered pages

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Appearance:

I was impressed by the Elemental notebooks as soon as I got them. The packaging is gorgeous! The notebooks come in black slipcases that explain the element the notebook is named after. The cover is made of a slightly rough cloth, with no decorations on the front. It reminds me of an old library book, especially with the indent near the spine. The dark green of Nitrogen is beautiful. The endpapers are well thought out. There’s a space in the shape of the periodic table to put your name in. The bottom of the spine is imprinted with gold foil showing the periodic element. It’s a nice touch. The edges of the book are tinted black with tiny colorful stripes meant to emulate the emissions spectrum of Nitrogen.

The Unobtanium notebooks have the element stamped in green foil on the lower right side. It’s made of a soft pleather material. They are the size of Field Notes, but have stitched bindings like Baron Fig Vanguards.

Paper:

But the paper is where it all goes downhill… I opened up my Nitrogen to see large, dark, dots. I hate when the ruling is too dark. It distracts me from my writing and looks generally unpleasant. But then I used my new Sailor Kingdom Note fountain pen to write the header and was instantly disappointed.

Feathering everywhere! No shading, only a flat color. Something I’ve noticed with bad paper is that “splotches” appear, instead of shading. I experienced that here. There was more show through than I’d like, but it’s not terrible. The paper itself was an off-white color, with some tooth to it, like Baron Fig. This paper is really bad. It’s usable with gel pens, ballpoints and pencils, but the dots are still too dark for me. So I don’t know what to use these for? The Unobtanium has the same paper. At least I use those for taking quick notes and the dot grid doesn’t matter as much.

Honestly, I feel misled. The creators of Elemental notebooks specifically said the paper was good for fountain pens. They even posed the Oxygen with a blue TWSBI Eco-T in a promotional picture! They also said the dark dots were part of the prototype and would be lighter in the final production. I wouldn’t have spent $47 on these notebooks if I knew they weren’t fountain pen friendly.

Comparison to Baron Fig:

The Elemental Notebook just begs comparison with the Baron Fig! I’m a huge fan of the BF Confidant, so this newcomer had a lot to live up to. I’d say BF won, for pure stylishness and usable paper. My Nitrogen is a typical A5 size, while the Confidant is more compact. The ribbons on Nitrogen are longer, and there’s two of them. See how they lay flat and are easy to pull on? That’s what BF needs. The stubby bookmark isn’t enough for me.

The Nitrogen is more like a library book, complete with the crease near the spine and rough linen cover. The Confidant is like a luxury product, with softer covers and a modern style.

The Confidant wins the paper battle, by far. First of all, its dot grid is large but a soft gray. The Nitrogen has the problem of both dark and large dots, which makes writing very distracting.

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Comparing the dot grid on the Confidant, on top, with the bottom Elemental notebook

The Confidant doesn’t have the luxurious Tomoe River feeling, but I actually like the slight tooth while using my fountain pens. Nib sizes tend to spread a bit, but don’t feather. The colors are vibrant and accurate. Honestly, I’ve only used the limited edition Confidants, and other reviews have made me question the paper quality. I want to do my own test on the regular Confidant. But the Nitrogen feathers and spreads everywhere. Instead of shading, I get weird splotchiness.

Overall, if you want a cloth-cover A5 notebook with dot grid, get the Baron Fig. It’s cheaper at $18 and has better paper.

Conclusion:

I think I’ve learned my lesson about not funding kickstarters. Both times, I’ve been disappointed. The nature of a kickstarter is itself fickle. It’s easy to run out of money, find problems in production, or deliver months late. I don’t blame the creators for running into problems, but I’m done accepting them. From now on, I’m ordering notebooks that are in regular production.

I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review. 

Write Notepads “The Lawn” Review

I live in a suburbia of rolling green lawns, as far as the eye can see. Even in the summer, the grass is trimmed to perfection. Well-kept lawns are always in my summertime memories. I remember getting green stains on my knees, running through sprinklers and tall grass, swimming and roasting smores on a campfire. Maybe that’s why Write Notepads’ “The Lawn” edition touched me so much. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling.

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Specs:

  • 3.75” x 5.5” inches
  • 48 pages
  • 70# paper with 6.35 mm lines
  • three gold staples
  • 3 pack for $12.99

I reviewed the “Sakura” pocket notebook edition in a previous review. I enjoy this edition even more! However, I’m a bit late to the show. Johnny from Pencil Revolution also reviewed it here. Once again, Write Notepads came up with a simple yet creative theme. The notebook is slightly wider than the usual Field Notes 3.5 x 5.5 size. It gives me more space to write and it’s not like I actually put my pocket notebook in my pocket. 😛 The notebook is a deep green, more olive than emerald. Tiny blades of grass are letterpressed on the cover. They seem slightly raised, giving it a texture when I run a hand over it. The Lawn is staple bound, with three sturdy golden staples. My three-pack was held together with a checkered red and white belly band, like a picnic blanket! My pack also came with a sheet of STICKERS!!! I love the whimsical art of garden gnomes, lawn chairs and flamingoes. They blend into the grassy cover perfectly. I hid the beer cans sticker on the back. 😉 I forgot to take a pic before I used them, sorry about that!

Inside is a luscious white paper perfect for fountain pens. It has 6.35 mm green lines that fit my writing perfectly. Write Notepads must have changed their paper formula because this and the Sakura is much better than the old stock. The paper is smooth but not slippery like Field Notes. It has enough tooth for pencil and feels great with my felt and gel pens. It handles literally every fountain pen I throw at it, even my juicy Pelikan and Faber-Castell nibs. There is only some feathering with my F-C nib. There is no bleed through and barely any show through. The only other paper I’ve found like this was Baron Fig and Rhodia/Clairefontaine. My nib doesn’t catch on the paper fibers nor does it feel scratchy.

For research, I bought a pack of “Samuel Morse” notebooks, a previous Write Notepads limited edition. Though they share the same attention to detail, the “Morse” notebooks are perfect bound, meaning the spine is glued. This makes it much harder for pages to lay flat. The paper is also not good for fountain pens. It feathers and bleeds to the other side. Ink colors look flat and lifeless. In comparison, “The Lawn” has crisp lines and shows shading, though not sheen.

In the past, I didn’t buy Write Notepads limited editions because of the perfect binding and paper. But staple-bound, fountain pen friendly notebooks are always welcome in my horde. I hope Write Notepads makes more editions like “The Lawn” and “Sakura”. Hopefully they have a table at the D.C. Pen Show so I can come and visit!

I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review. 

Return from hiatus and pen meet ups!

Sorry for the hiatus! I was super busy this summer. Now, I finally have time to spend on my blog. Here’s what I hope to blog/review in the next weeks:

Currently, I’m using a Hippo Noto, a Rhodia Webbie and a Write Notepads Lawn pocket notebook, as my daily carries.

Onto the topic of meet ups. I first heard of a pen meet up in the D.C. area when I was browsing Facebook. At first, I was nervous to go. Pen shows had been my only outlet for my hobby but I was more interested in purchasing than talking to others. But when I went to the May meeting, everyone was so welcoming!

It’s so strange talking to people that understand your obsession of pens and paper! They know all about the latest inks and trends. I don’t have many people to talk to about my hobby, though I found one fellow fountain pen addict at my college.

Everyone brought inks to sample and let me handle their expensive pens. It was a great way to try out pens in person and see if I liked them. I dodged a bullet with some, now I know the Pilot Vanishing Point and Pelikan M805 Ocean Swirl isn’t for me! Ages ranged from mid 20’s onwards. I was the only college-aged student so I felt awkward at first, but it quickly faded away.

I finally was able to go to a second meeting, this time at Fahrney’s Pens in D.C. This is a great store for buying high-end pens and some stationery. They were kind enough to host  our group and even offered Montblanc and Sailor nibs to test. We got little gift bags too! I definitely will visit Fahrney’s more often. There was a table for ink testing and I tried some fun new colors.

Everyone should go to a pen meet up if they can! I had so much fun talking to fellow fans. The fountain pen “fandom” is the nicest community I’ve been in and I can’t wait to meet more people at the D.C. Pen Show.

 

 

Video: George Saunders – On Story

“The better state in my experience is to have some idea of what the story is and sometimes it’s just the tiniest kernel of something you enjoyed writing. Then once you put it down on the page and write it and rewrite it, it’s actually your own discontent with [your writing] that in some slow mysterious way urges it to that higher ground. Often it will do so in ways that surprise you. ”

-George Saunders

I watched this video in my creative writing class. I enjoyed hearing about George Saunders and his revision process. It is very similar to mine! You never know how your characters or plot will change over the course of a story. You shouldn’t be afraid to improvise and listen to your characters! If you haven’t read his books Lincoln in the Bardo or The Tenth of December, you really should. His stories are eclectic yet interesting.

How to Win NaNoWriMo

So, I’ve been super busy with essays, tests and writing an 18-page story for creative writing class! But I wanted to talk about an event that’s very important to me, NaNoWriMo! In case you don’t know what it is, Nano stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s like a marathon for writers! During the month of November, thousands of people write about 1,667 words a day, for a total of 50,000 by the 30th. It seems like a lot, but it just requires perseverance and some free time in the day. Nano is also held during April and July, as Camp Nano. I was going to write a post at the beginning of April, but better late than never! April and July are never good times for me, because of midterms or summer vacation.

The original criteria were to complete a prose novel in a month. But now, short stories, poems, scripts and editing are allowed. Most people write on their computers or tablets, but I’ve heard of some brave souls who wrote their novels by hand! And it’s okay to not hit your goal! The only reward you get from Nano is a virtual badge and satisfaction.

I’ve completed Nano in November two times, in 2016 and 2017. I knew about the event for years before that, but each time I wrote a few hundred words then gave up. These are the tactics I used to hit 50k+ words:

1. Read many books!!!

This is a given if you want to write novels. I learned so much about constructing narratives, characters, and settings from reading. I haven’t had much time to read books lately, but I read lots of Longform articles on my phone when I have free time in between classes.

2. Write every day! (with fountain pens :D) 

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but fountain pens and good stationery really helped me increase my writing productivity. Before I came obsessed with these wonderful pens, I wrote stories with a smeary pencil in cheap spiral notebooks. My hand always cramped and hurt from the spiral binding. (left-hand problems) Some of my earliest notebooks are illegible because of graphite transferring to the opposite page and making a mess. I loved writing by hand anyways because I was a slow typer. But by high school, writing on paper didn’t bring me the same joy anymore. My writing was in a slump by then, as I struggled with loads of homework and didn’t feel inspired.

Fountain pens made my handwriting look better, less of an illegible mess. Because of the nature of fps, I had to slow down. This gave me time to think and also let my hand rest. I also didn’t have to press down hard with fps, like I did with ballpoints.

Fountain pens put the joy back in writing for me. I loved seeing my words in crazy-colored ink. I feel good about using up my stationery hoard and being creative. I’ve finished three A5 notebooks that way, and plan to continue.

Now for more general advice! I started writing several pages every day. Yes, it’s hard but not as hard as you would think. I had pockets of time throughout the day where I just went on my phone. Instead, I worked on stories. My writing improved drastically. Looking back at one notebook, I see how I improved just in the spans of months. I wrote short stories in my notebooks to stretch my writing muscles. They were either full stories or scenes about characters. Writing constantly gave me the stamina to write 1,667 words a day.

3. WRITE AN OUTLINE

Not everyone needs an outline, but I suggest one especially for Nano. With such a tight schedule, you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of a story with no idea what to write. I used to be that person, called a “pantser” in the writing community because I wrote by the seat of my pants! Now, some people don’t need outlines, (like Stephen King, my fave writer), but for new writers, it’s a good idea. Not having an outline was my biggest problem. It hindered me completing Nano, and before that, from finishing any story longer than a few pages.

Outlines don’t have to be scary things you had to do for English class essays. They can be as simple or as complicated as you want. I start with a bullet point list of scenes I want to write, improvising as I go. Then I sketch out the specifics of the scenes, like what characters are in it and what’s going to happen. Make sure to have a good plan for the middle of your novel. That’s where most people get lost because they have an idea for the beginning and end but have no idea how to get to the conclusion! The more I outline, the tighter my plot was. This is especially helpful for fantasy and sci-fi writers with complicated stories. It’s much easier to plot your novel beforehand than writing 120,000 words and realizing there are massive plot holes.

Some people say that outlines stifle their creativity, but I felt like it increased mine! I didn’t stick to the outline completely. Sometimes I went off in an entirely new direction or didn’t write certain scenes. Outlines are like maps. They’re helpful guides but ultimately it’s your story and you can do whatever you want. As I went along, I added new scenes, characters and plots I hadn’t thought of before.

I hope these tips help you with NaNoWriMo! It was truly a life-changing event for me as a writer and I recommend it for any writers who want a challenge. My username is abyssaltourguide on the Nano website. If you want to friend me during November Nano, hit me up there!