Sunday, September 17, 2017

Change

It has been a bad week.

Between the spouse getting injured at work, one of the cars breaking down and both of us getting sick back to back, it's been hard to get any momentum on anything.

And that's not even mentioning the worst part of the week.

We lost our sweet old man, Rascal, on Tuesday.


I adopted Rascal back in 1998, so to say that losing him was like losing a child (or I guess really a sibling--I was only 10 when we took him home) isn't an exaggeration. Adjusting to his absence over the past few days has been difficult for everyone in my house--people and animals.

So I guess it's not surprising that I've not been able to devote much head space to my work. My as-yet-unannouncable project has languished since Monday, and I haven't put in any serious work on revisions or on the new novel.

But I have tried to engage with the writerly part of myself at least a little each day.

I'm terrified of my writing ability atrophying--which is not something that's likely to happen in the space of a week, but I'm really good at panic. Even if I can't do "real" work (and by "real" I just mean work that will eventually see print), I feel like I need to do something.

Writing is in many ways a source of comfort for me, though when I'm neck-deep in deadlines and obligations, it can stop feeling that way. I had to shift my focus this week. I couldn't write for anyone else. I was too far in my own head and too stuck in my own feelings. So I did something different: I wrote just for me.

I spent a little more time in the world of Project 2016--I've lived with those characters and that world long enough that visiting them is a little like going home. I worked on some simple revisions for a short story for my writing group. I played around with some different styles, just to see what happened.

Self-care can take a lot of different forms, but I'm glad that, even though I didn't write what I needed to, I still had the chance to get in that creative space. It wasn't as happy as it could have been, but it was, in its own way, a comfort.

That being said, I really have to get back on my contract work. My writing time for the next several weeks is going to have to be focused on meeting those obligations. Which puts me in a bit of a pickle as far as this blog is concerned. Much as I like writing these posts, the time I spend on them will, for a while, need to be devoted to other things.

But I don't want to leave you out in the cold, so I've come up with a plan. Over the next several weeks, I'll be posting a series of interviews and guest post by other authors. You'll still be getting a weekly post, but it won't be one of my rambles. I'm pretty excited about the people I've got lined up, so I hope you'll come back and check out their posts.

Thanks for sticking with me. See you on the other side of the deadlines.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Multitasking

Fall is a busy time of year for me. My day jobs pick back up (as does my pay, thankfully) and fills my schedule beyond the stereotypical nine-to-five hours. I'm querying my most recent novel--and, depending on the response to this batch of queries, seeking editorial assistance to give it another polish. This also tends to be the time of year when I get first drafts knocked out--NaNoWriMo is approaching faster than I really want to think about, and I hope to use it to get the first draft of my next project (which I expect will be between 75 and 80 thousand words) out by the end of the year. And I've taken on a couple of extra projects this year: a 5,000 work short for my writing group's anthology, and a 15 to 20 thousand word project for a publisher that I can't officially announce yet that's due in December.

For those that are keeping track, that's about 105 thousand words that I'm meant to get out before the end of the year, and about 25 thousand of those words need to be polished finals. And, again, this is aside from the work, both anticipated and not, that will come from my (three) day jobs.

So, yeah, I'm busy.

I don't mind having a lot of work to do. I get restless and anxious when my time is too empty. Having something to focus on keeps my imagination from spinning down paths that end with me imagining worst-case scenarios for literally every interaction I have with anyone and literally every action I take. But this workload is a lot, even for me, and I'm having to multitask more than I'm used to.

I've mentioned before, both on this blog and in guest posts on other blogs, that I'm on the planner side of the planner/pantser spectrum. This tendency extends beyond my writing. I like to know what I'm going to have to do ahead of time. I'm a to-do list person. I might not physically write down the list, but when I get up in the morning, I walk myself through all of the goals I need to accomplish in that day.

Some insight into planning from V.E. Schwab, whose work I enjoy more and more the longer it sits with me.
What complicates all of this is my physical and mental health. I can't predict when a blinding migraine will keep me sidelined or when my mental condition will bottom out and sap my energy, motivation, and self-worth. Sometimes what should be a doable set of tasks become impossible, and sometimes I have to decide if I'm going to be able to do work to further my writing career or if I'm going to give my limited energy to my day job.

So I try to account for this when I set my goals. I give myself ranges: "I need to add 250 to 1,000 words to this project." "I need to outline this arc or this chapter." "If there's time, I need to edit these pages." This gives me a way out when I've overestimated what I can accomplish but also keeps me doing something. It also lets me build in days when I can rest--a couple of days hitting the top range of my goals gets me ahead of where I need to be and gives me the freedom to take a break. And sometimes those breaks are the best thing I can do for my work.

All of this involves a sort of long-range planning. It's not just about knowing what I can do in a day. It's about knowing what the long-term goal is--whether that's completing a work by a deadline or marking an accomplishment off of the list.

The planning is stressful. But I knew that there would be stress--considerable stress--involved with trying to turn writing from a hobby to a career (even if, as it is now, it has to be a second career). And the stress is worth it in the moments when I'm able to track my own progress. I've taken on so much work this year, but the work is opening doors. Or at least windows. It's worth it.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tough Advice

Over the past year, I've focused my energy on my writing. I picked a lane. My limited free time is devoted finding resources on the publishing industry, learning more about the craft of writing, and actually getting words on the page.

When it comes to my writing, I'm generally optimistic--or at least tenacious. I know this is what I want, and I know how much work goes into it (or at least, as much as someone with my level of experience can). But now and then the advice and the information bog me down.

The thing I've been bumping against recently is the advice that a writer's space needs to be sacred.

There's nothing wrong with this advice, really. There's something to be said for ritualizing the writing process. Building a habit makes it easier to keep in the swing of things. Turning writing into a habit has certainly increased my word output this past year--and the practice has increased the quality of my work. Still, though, something about this advice always rubs me the wrong way.

The advice about making a writer's space sacred usually goes something like this: a writer needs a specific space set aside for their work. This space needs to be theirs, a place where they can set up and organize without having to pick it up at the end of every writing session. The members of the writer's family need to respect this space. It needs to have a door. To be a retreat for the writer.

Behold, the Writer's Lair--birthplace of fiction.
 All of that sounds great. It really does. I would love to have a writing nook, a place where I can shut out the rest of the noise of the house and focus or read my work aloud (which sounds dumb but is the best way to catch something that's not working).

That's not feasible for me. The physical space of my home and the number of residents in it doesn't allow for a specific writing space, at least not in its current condition--and it's current condition has been the same more or less since we moved in.

I write where I can--usually at the kitchen table or on the couch. And it works for me--it's not ideal, but I get the work done. Not having a writing space set aside specifically for my work doesn't keep me from working. Nor should it, not if I'm really dedicated to writing. I know that this advice is a suggestion, not a rule, as most advice about writing is.

But damn, does not being able to follow it make me feel like a fake.

It's a stupid little thing, but sometimes writing advice like this gets at me. The advice is well-intentioned, and it's good advice for the people who can follow it. Sometimes, though, it can feel like one more thing that's keeping me from being a "real" writer.

A lot of this kind of advice--stuff like having a specific, private space or having a set time for writing or traveling or paying for conferences and meet ups--comes from people with a different set of experiences. For them, it's probably a simple--or at least simpler thing to set a side the space or time or money. For me, it's not. But that doesn't mean that I can't do some of those things. That I can't adapt and make things work. That I can't get the work done. It still gets in my head.

It can feel like there's a checklist for being a writer that I can't complete. Imposter syndrome is an on-going battle. And I see enough posts and comments from established authors that are variations of "I still don't feel like I know what I'm doing" to know that this is normal. I'm able to keep going--more importantly, I want to--need to--keep going.

This kind of advice that I can't follow isn't going to stop me. But, you know, maybe think twice before telling me to create my own sacred writing space.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Conventioning

I spent most of the day yesterday at the Southern Authors Expo at my local library. It was a relatively small show--around 65 authors--hosted on the first floor of the library.

This was my first show. Or, at least, the first show I actually physically went to as a vendor. I co-ran my spouse's table at a few shows, and Evin's publisher took copies of my book with them to Indies in Indy last month (and will have copies at another show in October--more details on that when I have them), but I've never manned a table for my own work. Until yesterday.

 
My table. Little, but so pretty.

 
Getting to go to an author event for the first time as an author rather than a reader was an exciting thing. Meeting potential readers face-to-face is invigorating. I wouldn't call myself a great salesperson, but I do feel like I do a little better pitching my work in person than the blurbs on websites do. I had a few chances to talk up my book, and the response I got to these pitches were positive. 

And I got to meet other local authors. This is great firstly because writing can sometimes feel deeply lonely. The reminder that there are other people that share some of my experiences helps keep me grounded. It makes me feel less alone in the world while I work--not just on the writing itself, but also on developing a platform and trying to get my work out there. The second benefit of meeting other authors is getting to pick their brains for resources. I got the names of a few new publishers and agents and guilds and writing groups that I'm going to check out. I might have come across these resources on my own--I spend a pretty substantial amount of time researching the publishing industry--but this saves me a little time and gives me a baseline expectation for groups before I go in.

There are a lot of benefits to shows like this, but the drawbacks are worth noting. 

This particular event didn't have fantastic attendance. There were plenty of authors, but there our tables didn't get much in the way of foot traffic. Some of this is the result of the event being relatively new. It takes a while for an event to build an audience. I didn't participate in the event last year, but, from what some of the other authors told me, there had been a few improvements in the way the event was run between last year and this year. The addition of author panels was one of the positive steps made, and the advertising was somewhat improved. That's promising, and enough to encourage me to come back, but some of the folks that showed up the first two years might have less patience. 

The relatively low attendance also meant that several authors didn't sell anything. I did relatively well--better than some of my neighbors--but I didn't make back what I spent on the table, the books, and the other odds and ends I picked up for my table. I expected this. I knew about how well most author attendees did last year, so I expected to lose out. I imagine some of the others did, too, but it does sting to not sell much--or at all.

If I view the event from a money-making standpoint, I couldn't really call it a success. But, if I view it as a way to get some facetime with readers, to get my name out, to network with other authors, it was one of the best bits of marketing I've done.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It's Always so Busy

We've hit back-to-school season where I'm from. K-12 students started back in the first week of the month. Working at the collegiate level gave me a few more weeks away, but my summer (such as it was--I taught a course over the break, so I didn't do much summering) ends Thursday. I've been trying to make use of the free time I've got left, and I think I've done a decent job. I've divided my time between making industry connections and gaining insight, author appearances and sales, and starting a new project.

Saturday, I spent the day at an Author-Preneur workshop hosted by the Corvisiero Literary agency (more on their workshops here, if you're interested). I went to a similar event in February, which I wrote about here. The crowd for this event was somewhat smaller--about 30 people as opposed to 100. But that worked for me. There was more opportunity for interaction and questions. It's always useful to hear about the publishing industry from people on the inside (even if there is a very enthusiastic church service in the next room that keeps getting loud--nothing like publishing advice peppered with a few "hallelujahs"). I can't stress enough how much writers can benefit from events like this one. In a lot of ways, publishing can seem like an impersonal, faceless industry. These workshops let you see some of the people involved and get some face time. They offer a glimpse into what the people evaluating your work are thinking.

This Saturday, I'll be focusing my efforts on selling some books. I'm participating in the Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville Public Library. I've ordered books already.

This is what I'm taking to the Expo! The books, not the cat. Rascal is not for sale.

I haven't had much opportunity to pound the pavement with EVIN, so I'm excited to get out there and put my book in people's hands. I'm also looking forward to networking with other local authors and sitting in on a few panels, if I get the chance. My book has been to a few events like this, but this is the first time I'll get to sell copies in person. That potential for connection with a reader is probably what I'm most looking forward to.

Also, there will be food trucks--which is not relevant to writing, but still exciting.

The other thing I've been devoting my time to in the waning weeks of summer is a new project. Project 2016 is about as polished as I can get it without some outside help, and I've been researching where to find that help. But I want to keep working in the meantime. The obvious thing would be to work on the second book of the series--I actually have an older draft of it that I could start sprucing up. Instead, I'm starting something new. I want to take a bit of a break from the Delphinus universe so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

And this new idea is begging me to spend some time with it.

I spent last week getting down what is, for a lack of better words, a long, shitty synopsis. I've done a few character sketches and some world building. This week, I wrote the first few hundred words. They're wonderful and terrible, as starts of first drafts always are. My goal is to have an alpha draft done by the end of the year, which might be difficult with my work schedule, but should be doable.

I'm a little sad to have to go back to devoting most of my time to my day job rather than my writing, but maybe the shift will be good for me. I've been productive this summer, but I've not done so well with sticking to a schedule (as the updates on this blog suggest). Here's hoping the busy time will help me get back on track.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

New Beginnings

The blog has been on hiatus for the past couple of weeks in preparation. I entered Project 2016 in Pitch Wars this week. For those unfamiliar, this is a contest where published/agented authors or teams of authors select a mentee based on a submitted work to help the mentee get the work ready for agents. Mentees won't be announced until later this month, but what this means for me and my writing in the meantime is that I've got to set Project 2016 aside until I've heard one way or another. I might do some formatting tweaks and make some notes, but it's time for me to work on other things.

It's been a pretty long time since I've written a first draft (for a novel, anyway; I've pounded out a couple of short stories in the last few months). I wrote the first draft of this part of Project 2016 (remember, I ended up writing the second book in the set first) last October and finished it in November. Since then, I've adjusted and revised. I've written plenty of new material--more than one chapter got a total overhaul in the last round of revisions, and even more have had scenes added or reworked. None of this new material, though, has been written under the same blank slate circumstances I'm working with now.

"Blank slate" may actually be a little misleading. I sort of already know what my next project is. I haven't written a true outline yet, but I know the main goal and the main conflict. I have a decent idea of who my protagonist is, what she wants, and how she'll change through the course of the story. I'm not flying completely blind.

But there's a lot I haven't figured out.

It's amazing how the process changes each time. This is, if we count my false start with Project 2016, my fourth time writing a first draft of a novel. I've don't this before. The muscles are built. But I still feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm not even completely sure where to start with the outline.

I'm not worried that I won't figure it out--at least, I'm no more worried that I actually don't know how to write than I normally am (who needs background noise when you've got screaming self-doubt?). But the thought that this whole thing should be easier has definitely crossed my mind.

I'll work it out--I've done it before. It might be as simple as just pounding out a few words and getting moving.

The prospect of a new project is exciting. And terrifying. I've learned so much from the process for Project 2016. I've got a ton of new and useful tools at my disposal. But I also know better than ever how much I don't know. It's a daunting thing to realize how much you might get wrong.

I'm excited about my new project. It's a different age category and genre from what I've been working in with Project 2016. Ultimately, the excitement outweighs the nerves.

So I guess it's time to dive in.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Out of Hand

Project 2016 continues to be an on-going struggle.

Lately, I've been looking back over the responses to my queries. I still have a couple outstanding, but the responses so far have been nos. A couple of them have been form rejections, but the ones that have had even one non-form line have suggested that I've got something here--there's something about this project that has potential. It's just not quite clicking.

So, this has sent me back to the drawing board, so to speak. I've started another round of revisions on the project. The plan was to make a few tweaks. The structure of the story itself is pretty sound. There were a couple of big things that needed to be done--blank page rewrite on chapter 1, add a chapter in the first act, change a setting in act two. But I figured most of the revisions would be pretty small. Manageable.

As has been the trend with this project, I underestimated.

The thing that I've learned in this past year--the year that I started diving in to writing as a craft and as a pursuit in earnest--is that the writer that I am changes over the course of time.

I wrote the bulk of Evin in 2011. It was absolutely the best book I could write at that time. But, if I sat down with the intent to tell the same story today, I wouldn't end up with the same book. I can even see changes in my writing style between Evin and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which was written in 2014.

Changes in writing style over three years might not seem so surprising. What's been more striking is the changes I've seen in the way I write in this one year.

I wrote the first draft of the manuscript that I'm currently revising this past November. In the time since I wrote the draft, I've done a couple major revisions, written two short stories for anthologies, and done small writing exercises that were more for practice than anything else. I don't write every day, but I spend several hours a week engaged in my writing--actually drafting or building or outlining a scene in my head (or on my phone, as the case has been a couple of times).

That time spent with the work makes a difference.

When I did the blank-page rewrite of chapter one, the strategies I used were completely different. My focus was in a different place. Certainly, part of this was the fact that I knew the story better this time around, but it's impossible to discount the amount of time I've spent learning about writing and practicing what I learned.

This was great for the chapter rewrite. But it's turned into A Thing as far as the rest of the revisions are concerned.

I'm still working my way through act one. There have been a couple of chapters that I've only tweaked. But there have already been chapters that have moved from the "light revision" category to the "start it over" one.

The writer I am now isn't satisfied with some of what the writer I was before did.

This isn't a problem, really. In the end, the writer I am now is better than the writer I was earlier this year and late last year. Reworking parts of the project is letting me get closer to the story, the world, and the characters as they exist in my head. It's a good thing in the long run.

The theme with the work on project 2016 has been "this is getting out of hand." But I think, really, that's what a project like this should do.