7 Tips for NaNoWriMo

(Tip Thursday: Every other Thursday (or so), I’ll post writing/editing tips that I’ve personally found useful.)

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It’s time to head back to Camp (NaNoWriMo) for July. In fact, today marks the end of the first week. Here are a few tips for participating writers looking to quickly grow their word counts.

 

  1. If you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo before, you’ve probably heard of word sprints: choosing a fifteen minute slot (usually using notations such as on the :00 or :30, etc, to account for timezone differences online) and competing with other writers to see who can write the most during that time. However, even if you can’t find sprinting partners, word sprints can still be useful if you play against yourself for the “high score”. Set a timer for fifteen minutes or so and see how many words you can write! Record your current record and try to beat it.
  2. Similarly, some writers like the Pomodoro Technique: working nonstop in sets of 25 minutes with 5 minute rest breaks in between.
  3. If you really need an extra push to shut down the inner editor and keep on writing, sites like The Most Dangerous Writing App or Write or Die, which penalize you by deleting words if you hesitate, can be useful.
  4. While writing, elongate descriptions as much as you can. A few big paragraphs do wonders for the word count. If you’re like me and tend to underwrite the first draft, this can actually end up being beneficial in the long run, too. Remember to focus on all five senses, rather than just sight, and on both the external and internal worlds.
  5. Unless it’s absolutely vital, don’t get caught up in choosing names or conducting research during the first draft. Just leave [Friend’s Name] or a similar tag in the text if you run into a spot where you’re not sure what to put down and come back to it during the second draft. You can even replace whole scenes with temporary stubs – for example, [Jacob and Julie have an argument about when to leave for the hospital] – if you get stuck on one.
  6. Even if you’re more of a pantser, try the headlights method of outlining – that is, try planning out content for just the next chapter or so. This gives you an opportunity to focus on the story as separate from the act of writing, which in turn frees up time to focus on simply getting the words down as fast as you can later. After all, writer’s block most commonly comes from two sources – a lack of motivation to write or not knowing what happens next in the plot. Having a plan – even a loose, subject to change, short-term one – helps with both of these obstacles.
  7. Keep a physical or digital notebook on hand. If you run into a problem, like a plot hole or an inconsistency, write it down rather than worrying about fixing it now. If your word processor has a comment function, it can be useful for the same purpose. You can also simply highlight any sections you know will need editing later, then give yourself permission to put them out of your mind for now. Don’t come back to your comments or notes until the second draft. Keep moving forward.

Are you participating in Camp this month? Feel free to share your progress or any of your own tips in the comments.

Summer Writing Goals

(Friday Updates: I’ll post updates from my projects (about) every other Friday).

With my vacation from school well under way, and summer officially beginning next month, it’s time to get my writing goals organized (I’ve got a few game design projects going on too, but that’s a whole other post). Here’s what I’ll be writing over the season:


Writer’s Games 2018

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Each year, The Writer’s Workout hosts a contest in which participants write 1 short story a week for 7 weeks. Each week has its own theme, announced on Friday, with a story based on that theme due 72 hours later. It also offers feedback for each story and publication in the contest’s anthology for the top 5 stories of each theme. The contest is currently in its third week. I’ve dabbled with short fiction, but this is the first time I’ve really focused on it. I have to say, it’s definitely growing on me, and I feel like I’ve already learned a lot. It’s paying off, too – I found out just yesterday that my story for the second theme (silence) took 1st place! New, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about a robot and a mermaid-like creature, will be published in the upcoming anthology.

The current round of the contest is closed to new entrants, but another will be starting in August. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to practice their short fiction. It’s been a great experience so far.

Re-Publishing Night Plague

Night Plague, my first novel, was originally published in 2014 by Severed Press. Its contract expired a couple of months ago and it’s quickly gone out of print, so I’ll self-publish and re-release it on June 10th to get it back out into the world. I’m currently taking the opportunity to review and edit it to bring it up to par with my current works (I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the four years since its publication). The changes are minor, but I’ve found that the little details definitely do make a difference. Reading it over again is actually pretty fun, since I keep on running into moments I’d forgotten about.

If you’re interested in reading Night Plague, subscribers to my email list will get a free digital copy upon release.

Querying or Self-Publishing Paragon

Paragon, a dark/high fantasy thriller about a wayward scientist who wants to rewrite his world, is my favorite child longest running novel project. Although I’m doing one more read-through to make sure it’s as polished as it can be, it’s essentially ready to go. I haven’t decided whether I want to query agents for it, or if self-publishing would be the better choice. I’m really torn. It’s also not particularly commercial in style, so I’m not sure whether the latter is an option or not. Either way, though, I’m excited to share it soon. If I do commit to shopping it around then I can’t say for sure how long the process will take, but if I go the self-publishing route, it’ll release sometime before 2019. I’ll post updates as they happen.

Finishing the Final Draft of The Atlantean Crown

I’ve got a few plot tweaks to make to the The Atlantean Crown, a YA sci-fi novel about a power-hungry princess and an impending apocalypse, and it’ll also need one more read-through for polish, but this one’s also within in range of querying or self-publishing this summer. At the very least, I’m aiming to finish the final draft. In terms of how it’ll actually release, it’s in a similar situation to Paragon.

Finishing a few First Drafts

There are a couple of other novels I’m not quite ready to talk about yet, but both are near ‘the end’. While not as high of a priority, I’d love to knock out their messy first drafts.

Participating in Activities and Challenges: Camp-2018-Writer-Profile-PhotoFrom Ninja Writers 30 Day Writing Challenge to Camp NaNoWriMo to Ela Thier’s 6-Day Freewriting Challenge, I’m pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and participating in as many activities as I can. It’s always interesting to meet other writers and try out new approaches to the craft. After all, with school on break, this is the best chance I have to experiment, grow, and of course, write like mad.


Whew! I don’t know if I’m going to manage all that, but I’m damn well going to try.

What goals are you writing towards over the summer?

 

 

Yearly Digest?

Whelp, it’s been forever since I updated this blog. The hush hasn’t been a lack of happenings, so much as a lack of time. Primarily, this is because I began attending a new college last fall. When this year’s summer break ends and fall semester starts anew, I’ll be a sophomore at DigiPen Institute of Technology, where I am pursing a Bachelor’s of Arts in Game Design.

Still, I’m going to make an effort to try to keep this place up to date, so to start, here’s a digest of what’s been happening in the past year.

First draft down!

I can happily report that I finally finished the first draft one of my upcoming novels, The Blue Crown. This is the same novel I talked about working on during Camp NaNoWriMo in my final post of 2015, and it so happened that I managed to finish off this draft during this year’s Camp sessions! The Blue Crown, now complete at 104k words, continued to surprise me. I’d expected to struggle and slosh through the final few chapters, but once I sat down and started, the end of the story came easily. This novel still needs a lot of work before it’s ready for readers, but it felt great to finally write ‘the end’ once more.

Final drafts are getting there?

The other novel I’ve mentioned quite a bit in the past, Paragon, is still in the works. I’m about 85% done with the fourth draft, but because of a bunch of plot and character changes, I believe it’s still going to need one more read through. I had hoped to complete the final draft and prepare it for querying before the end of the summer, but it doesn’t seem that’s going to happen. However, I do believe that getting Paragon out there by the end of year is very possible, and that will be my next major goal.

I’ve also already begun to pick at The Blue Crown. It is admittedly a bit of a mess in its current state, but not as much as Paragon was after it’s first draft. There are a few plot holes that need to be plugged and some rough edges that need to be polished, but I actually think there’s a possibility of this one being ready to go before 2017, as well.

That game demo is almost done

As for that demo of Glass, my full-length RPG game project, it’s almost done. It’s taken a hell of a lot longer to get it ready to share than I expected, with lots of little bugs and balance issues rearing their ugly heads, but I’ve also taken the time to add in a bunch of new combat and exploration features that I’m pretty happy with. It’s slow going, partially because I’ve also begun working on a few other game projects and because school kept me busy with game development work as well, but it is getting there. The only thing I have left to do is run through the content several times and make sure everything goes smoothly, from beginning to end.

On that note, if anyone would be interested in doing some pre-release playtesting of the demo, don’t hesitate to let me know. When the time comes, I should be able to offer compensation to those willing to test the game and provide feedback, but I’ll post more about this once it’s ready to go.

New RPG Maker MV projects

The semi-recent release of RPG Maker MV has served as a somewhat productive distraction from several of my other projects. After all, it’s hard to ignore an engine that’s shiny and new.

Right now, I actually have two game projects going in MV. On is a life simulation game mixed with dungeon crawling elements, which is still in its early stages of production. The other…I think I’m going to keep a bit of a secret, for now. However, I do hope to have this one ready for release by the end of 2016, as it’s already in its alpha stage of development.

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A screenshot of one of my MV projects. Hmm…this one looks a lot like Happy Birthday.

Fun with Unity Engine

Aside from RPG Maker, I’ve also invested some time in learning to use the Unity Engine. Actually, this is partially because it’s very similar to DigiPen’s Zero Engine, which is what I’ve been learning and using at school. It seems a shame to not be able to put some of those new skills to use in personal projects, since academic projects, while valuable in their own way, just aren’t the same, and I feel that getting your hands dirty on your own is often actually the easiest way to really learn and grow. So far, I’ve mostly gone through a bunch of different tutorials, but I do have a simple platformer game in the planning stages. Working with a new engine and on a new gameplay genre has admittedly been a breath of fresh air. Unity really is tons of fun.

Academic game projects

Of course, what I’ve spent most of my time with over the past year has been school. DigiPen likes to talk about its rigorous course work, and after freshman year, I can safely say that it isn’t kidding. DigiPen delights in keeping its students busy.

Still, at least the coursework is fun in its own right. While at the school, I’ve actually assisted in the creation of three game prototypes, lead the creation of one complete game, and designed and created several different board games, which was something almost entirely new to me, but surprisingly engaging.

I’ll talk more about these academic games projects, and what the experience at DigiPen has really been like, in a separate post on the topic, but in summary, in my first semester, I did narrative design for an adventure/puzzle game called Push the Button, level design for a puzzle game called Quantum, and narrative design and level design for a puzzle platformer called Artificial Platformer. In my second semester, I was both the lead designer and the lead writer for a murder mystery adventure game…expect it wasn’t a murder mystery because the college’s strict ‘PG’ content rating doesn’t allow murder in its projects, it was about a cookie jar. That was a fun one, in its own dysfunctional way. All of these games were completed in teams, and aside from working on the design of the games’ content and their narratives, I also dabbled with art and sound design, and did a hefty amount of programming and gameplay implementation from scratch, especially with Cookie Jar.

All in all, school has been a really great experience. There are a few things that bother me, such as a couple of sub-par teachers and the school’s general, dismissive attitude towards the subjects of solo projects and narrative design. Personally, I feel solo projects are really important for any game designer/developer in terms of learning who they are as a designer, and in terms of becoming well-rounded. Team projects have their own benefits, for sure, but they aren’t the same as really digging into your own project and facing down your own weaknesses, as well as really building on and discovering your strengths. In a team, it’s too easy to stick to only what you already know. Also, anyone who doesn’t believe that narrative design is an important aspect of game design is out of touch with the game industry and its diverse audiences as a whole, but these topics would also be better off in a different post. Despite these complaints, however, the school has definitely helped me grow as both a game designer and as a person, and I’m looking forward to returning next month.


All of this aside, I’ll update this blog more often during the coming school year. If there is anything you’d especially like to hear about, let me know. Has anyone experienced any exciting happenings since the August of 2015?

 

Back from Camp

WinnerCamp2015-73x73Well, I survived yet another Camp (of the imaginary, NaNoWriMo kind, that is). At least this time I got to take home a winner’s badge after reaching my 35k word goal!

Last month’s writing challenge actually went really well. Choosing to work on the particular WIP that I did (tentatively titled the The Blue Crown) was definitely the right decision. Instead of trying to force myself to work on something that I didn’t particularly want to, I got to have fun messing around with a plot and characters that I enjoy, and write towards a goal that actually felt attainable. I also discovered that I love this WIP a lot more than I thought I did (and oddly, a lot more than I did when I first began the story, back in the November NaNoWriMo of 2013).

Aside from just picking the right project, I also made sure to get a stronger start during the first week, which led into a pretty fantastic second week, too. The momentum managed to push me through some scenes I’d been dreading since 2013, and also led to some new plot directions that I didn’t necessarily have planned on my old, bare bones outline. It was a blast. The third week also went quite well, but I did start dragging my feet a bit during the final one. I ended up having to pull off a marathon final day to reach my 35k goal (at five minutes to midnight!), but, well, maybe it wouldn’t have felt like NaNo without that accidental tradition. At least I finally broke my NaNo losing streak!

Unfortunately, though, while I may have reached my word count goal for the month, I didn’t manage my goal of hitting the end of the manuscript. I realized that that wasn’t actually going to happen fairly early on, though. It seemed plausible in my head, before I actually started writing again, but once I did, all the scenes and chapters ballooned out, taking up much more words and time than I had expected. As of today, The Blue Crown sits at about 85k words total, with 20 completed chapters. There are about 2-3 chapters and an epilogue left to write. In the end, I’m still pretty pleased with the progress I made. I got through some really difficult sections, had a lot of fun, and there isn’t much more left to go before ‘the end’. Now to keep up the momentum… I determined to finish the thing at this point.

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Finally reached the end point of the demo!

On another note, I’ve also been putting a lot of time into my game project, Glass. Actually, that was one of the reasons that I fell behind during Camp’s final week. Glass is sort of an odd thing – I either have no inspiration for it whatsoever, or I have so much inspiration for it, that I work on it almost to the point of obsession. Inspiration fluctuates for any project, but Glass somehow takes that to its extreme.

It’s such a large-scale project that it sometimes feels a bit endless, but just earlier today, I finally completed the “first draft” of the demo! I still have tons of polishing and playtesting to do, and in particular, I want to work on enhancing the battle system and balancing the combat difficulty, but at least I have a completed backbone to work with. Even then, the demo only covers the first few hours of gameplay, so I’ve still got months of work to do before this whole thing is complete, but it will feel good to finally have something playable to share once the demo is polished up.

Did anyone else participate in Camp last month? If so, how did it go?

Denying Distractions

I’d wager that most authors would name distractions as productivity’s biggest enemy, particularly the siren song of the internet. Here are a few tips, and some helpful resources, to help combat common distractions:

Distraction-Free Word Processors

There are some pretty complex, fully-featured options out there as far as word processors go. Programs like Scrivener and Liquid Story Binder offer a ton of powerful features that not only help you write your words, but outline the story, do you research, search through dictionaries and thesauruses, check your spelling, mark-up your edits, and organize and format everything. Even Microsoft Word and comparable office suites come with a slew of features. While these features are great when its time to outline and edit, I sometimes find that these features can be distracting, in and of themselves, during the drafting process. They also bring out the perfectionist in me, and I sometimes spend as much time organizing and cross-checking everything with my notes and research as I do actually pounding words out of the keyboard.

If you have similar tendencies, I’d highly suggest trying out a simple, dedicated word processor, just for the drafting process. There are plenty of options out there that are purposely minimal – designed to put as little buffer as possible between you and the page, staying out of the way and leaving you alone with your words.

My personal favorite right now is Dark Room. It’s a simple, free, full-screen word processor with just the right amount of features. You can set your margins, the color and font of the background and text to fit your preferences or your story (it’s styled like an old electronic typewriter by default, which I kind of love, since that was originally what I used when I first started writing – on those things, you had nothing to do but write), and, fortunately for us Wrimos, it still has a word counter! It’s immersive and distraction-free. Other options are the similar WriteRoom (for Mac), the meditative Ommwriter, or the slightly more complex WriteMonkey.

I was surprised how much using such minimalist software actually helped me focus. I don’t think it’s just that it removes the common word-processor distractions, so much as that it somehow makes the drafting process itself much more engrossing, and hence helps soften the call of other, outside distractions, as well.

Internet/Distraction Blockers

Most of the time, however, the biggest distractions don’t come from inside the word software, but from all the other temptations floating around inside our computers. The internet. Games. Videos. Email. Social media. If you need a little extra willpower when it comes to resisting these things, internet and distraction blockers can help.

One program tailored towards writers is Stop Procrastinating, a desktop app that lets you choose whether to block only specific websites, or your internet connection entirely for a certain amount of time. It also lets you set goals, and track how you did. This software isn’t free, but it’s what I typically use, and I’ve found it to be quite helpful on those days when I just don’t have the willpower to leave the internet alone. There are also some free tools out there, as well.

Another interesting option is the free Writer’s Block. A minimalist, full-screen word-processor like those described earlier, Writer’s Block also blocks not just the internet, but the rest of the programs on your computer, and literally will not quit until you’ve either written a set amount of words, or for a set amount of time, which you choose at the start of each session. It clings to your desktop and leaves you with no choice but to complete your goals to get rid of it. It won’t even let you trick it by copy and pasting! It’s a militaristic tool that could work perfectly for those times when you’ve just got to hit a certain daily quota.

Music and Sound

There are also distractions that come from outside the computer entirely. In particular, other people.

I used to prefer writing in silence, without music, but given that I live with other people, silence is a pretty scarce resource. I’ve recently found that it often works much better to put on some noise-blocking headphones and drown out the world with background music. Personally, I find lyrics distracting, so I stick entirely with instrumental pieces, usually electronica or classical. Spotify, and its playlists, are a great free resource for this.

If you absolutely cannot concentrate with music on, though, there are also plenty of free background noise generators out there, offering nature sounds, rain, or simply white noise.

Physical Prevention

One often overlooked method of avoiding distractions is also perhaps the most straightforward: make it physically impossible for them to reach you. If the internet is your downfall, then take a laptop, or even a paper notebook, and go sit outside somewhere, where there is no Wi-Fi, or simply disconnect your router all together for a while. If computer programs and games in general are a problem, have one device that you use only for writing, and absolutely nothing else (I have one old netbook that is such a piece of crap that I couldn’t use it for anything but writing even if I wanted to…and it’s actually a great productivity tool!). If there are too many people around or too much ambient noise, then move somewhere else, where you can be alone. If the weather outside is simply too nice to stay indoors, then go ahead and sit in the sun with your draft. Coffee shops and parks are also great places to hide from the typical distractions of the home. Besides, I often find that changing the scene helps generate some fresh inspiration.

Anyway, I hope that someone finds these tips and tools useful for Camp NaNoWriMo this month, and beyond. Feel free to chime in with any techniques or resources of your own in the comments section!

Here We Go Again

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-BannerIt’s that time again: Camp NaNoWriMo. After an unsuccessful attempt in April, and a couple of months of letting my projects sit on the back-burner, I really want to invest some time into writing this month, and hopefully reach my goal.

This time, I’m aiming to finish my NaNoWriMo 2013 novel, a rather odd sci-fi suspense story (tentatively titled The Blue Crown), before the end of the month. I set my word-count goal at 35k, but that’s only an estimate, and may be adjusted up or down as the month goes on. What I really want to do is write ‘The End’ on the final page, something I haven’t been able to do for quite a long time, now. This may not be the most practical choice of project, but it’s were my inspiration is, and after making the mistake of trying to force myself to work on a project I wasn’t really interested in last Camp, I’m just going to roll with it this month.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had been doing a bit of editing on the previously completed sections of this particular draft, over the last month and a half or so. That’s the problem with leaving something in hiatus for almost two years – I could barely remember the story events, the character’s personalities and quirks, the upcoming twists…anything, really, especially considering that my old notes were pretty sloppy. I had to read through it, before I could actually start continuing the story.

On the other hand, that actually made it quite amusing to read through. There were plenty of surprises in those 50k words. And most of them were pleasant, actually. There were lots of humorous moments that unexpectedly made me giggle. Some shockingly forward dialogue. An extreme gore scene that goes way beyond anything I’ve written recently. Characters who were much more endearing and complex than I remembered, with some funny quirks that I’d forgotten about. Some pretty slick actions scenes. And there were even some plot twists that managed to catch me off guard.

The story definitely does have its issues, including some plot holes that need to be worked out, and it’s so odd that I’m not sure how I’ll market it, but overall, I think the novel actually has more potential than I gave it credit for back in 2013. I’m hoping I can do the rest of the story justice, this month.

Good luck to anyone else attempting Camp! If you’re still stuck on a project idea, I’d highly suggest dusting off something that’s been sitting there for a while, and taking another look at it. Who knows? You might find a few surprises buried in all those abandoned words.

Spring Summary

Well, I haven’t exactly done a fantastic job of updating this blog regularly. Part of this is because all of my projects have been fairly slow going recently, because honestly, these last couple of months have been fairly difficult. I have a lot going on in my life right now, both positive and negative, and it’s been hard to not so much find the time to write, but to focus on it. Things have been going slightly better recently, though, and I want to stay on top of both my projects and this blog during the summer.

So, in an attempt to catch up, here’s the condensed version of what went on during April and May:

Camp NaNoWriMo

I signed up for Camp with the standard 50k word goal, but it seems I bit off more than I could chew. When I went into Camp, I really wanted to push through and finish one particular novel that I’d started, just to get it out of the way, because, in truth, it’s a project that I don’t enjoy all that much, and I was writing it more for practical reasons (it’s a story with a plot and theme a publisher specifically requested). Turns out, that wasn’t exactly setting myself up for success. Not even the deadlines and motivation of Camp could keep me from procrastinating. After several missed days, I eventually jumped ship completely, and started ‘pantsing’ an entirely new novel. This actually went fairly well, and it was interesting, because this was the first time I’d ‘pantsed’ a story, with no planning whatsoever, for a long time. It felt really different. Nonetheless, while it was fun at first, not having a proper outline did eventually slow me down, and I only managed to reach a combined total of 25k words for the two projects during the month.

So, I lost Camp. For the first time. At least I did learn a few things, I think, about what works and what doesn’t. If this had been during a time when I had been more able to focus on writing, maybe it would have gone better, but I guess not everything always goes according to plan. I do still intend to work on both Camp novels, though. In particular, I’m going to do some proper outlining on the new one, and then get back to work on as soon as possible, as I’m really rather fond of it. The first one I attempted…I’ll continue it, but at a slower, side-project pace.

NaPoWriMo

NaPo went well during the first week, but afterwards, my lack of focus affected it, too, and I ended up dropping out of the challenge, save for the last three days, where I wrote three additional poems to bring my total to ten poems out of thirty. It was fun, but the timing was just really poor. I wish that NaPo wasn’t always the same month as April Camp. Nonetheless, I will more than likely give it another go next year.

Local “Exquisite Corpse” Event

By sheer chance, I happened to be at a local bookstore, and noticed a flyer for an “exquisite corpse” (composite story) writing event that it was holding for Independent Bookstore Day. On a whim, I signed up, and wrote chapter 7 of the composite story at a public desk, with the words displayed on a big projector screen in the middle of the store while I was writing. That was…interesting. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with what I wrote, but for the half an hour time limit, I suppose it wasn’t bad. I still haven’t picked up my copy of the finished book from the bookstore, yet. I’m eager to read the whole thing (I was only allowed to read chapter 6 prior to writing) and see how it sounds, and to see how the next writer continued off of my submission. This was actually really fun, though. I would definitely do something like this again.

The Avon Fanlit Writing Contest

The Avon Fanlit contest is going on at JukePop Serials right now, where anyone who wants to can contribute chapter submissions to an ongoing romance story, based on prompts. I don’t generally write straight-up romance, and doing so is pretty out of character for me, but the contest looked like too much fun to sit out on. I only found out about it 48 hours before the chapter 1 deadline, but I did get my submission finished on time. Chapter 2 is currently open for submissions, but I think I’m going to pass on this one. I will probably pick the contest back up on chapter 3, though, and will probably write at least a couple more of the five total prompts throughout the rest of the spring and summer. It’s actually a pretty neat way to let loose and experiment with writing, and to get some feedback. I’d recommend the contest to anyone with at least a mild interest in – or who’s at least tolerant of – the romance genre.

Other than that, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from my revisions on Paragon, the fantasy novel that I consider my main project. I’ll get back to it soon, but I needed a little change of pace. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of editing on my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel, and I’m hoping to get both the revisions and the rest of the drafting done on that one before NaNo 2015 rolls around. I’ve been trying to catch up on my serials, as well, and as mentioned in the last post, I’ve also been working heavily on Glass, my game project. Here’s hoping the summer will be productive!

Has anyone else had any big events or struggles during the spring?