Archive for June, 2019

writing life

Routines and Magic Formulas

My progress decreased quite a bit yesterday because such a big chunk of time during my prime writing hours was devoted to dealing with the air conditioner service. I don’t know if my tech was new and they were having a supervisor check on him or if he was baffled by something and called in a supervisor, but I ended up with a bonus person checking things out. Apparently, everything with the way my system is set up is a bad configuration. I pointed out that they were the ones who installed it, and they had to admit that there really isn’t a way to do it better in this house without doing major remodeling. It’s just a bad design. I’d told the first guy that I knew it needed coolant. He tried to tell me the problem was in the configuration and in the kind of filter I had. When he finally went out to check the outside unit, he found that it was almost entirely out of coolant. As I told him. Now my house is cooling better.

But this adds to the reasons why I want to get a different house. So please buy books and tell people about my books so I can afford to buy a new house.

The break in routine and resulting decrease in productivity made it clear how routine-oriented I am. I may not believe in literal magic, but I definitely function as though there are magic formulas for things. When I find something that works, I can get a bit obsessive about it, to the point I treat it like it’s magic and if I can’t do that bit of “magic,” everything goes wrong. I discovered that writing before I do anything else on the computer drastically improves my productivity, so now I feel like the whole day is ruined if I so much as glance at e-mail before I start writing. I’ve been trying to get a certain number of words written before lunch, and when I didn’t do that yesterday, I felt like it threw the day off.

I’m trying to get better about resetting and moving forward when something messes up my pattern. I’m also working on dealing with the raging perfectionism. There’s a big difference between striving for excellence, figuring out the best way to do things and trying to be perfect, clinging to routines.

I’ve made great progress this week, about 25,000 words so far and still this afternoon to go. I like a lot of what I’ve written, and I’ve come up with some great ideas. I was supposed to be getting revision notes on another book today, but I found out that’s happening after next week, so I may get to finish this draft first. I’m planning to make July a month of intense focus. It’ll be too hot to get out and do much of anything, so I might as well use the cave time to get things done.

writing life

Not Wasting Time

I made it up to more than 7,000 words yesterday. I think my record is just under 9,000, on a day when my ISP went down and I had no Internet all day during the time before I got a smart phone. I think that says something about how I use my time. It’s way too easy to just hop online during a writing break to check e-mail, then turn that into an hour-long surfing session without even realizing it.

I do seem to do better if the first thing I do when I sit at the computer is write, before I check e-mail or do anything else (aside from maybe checking the radar before I go on a walk, if it looks like it might rain or storm). I may still waste some time during the day, but I’m less likely to get into the “doom loop” behavior in which I go round and around the same sites before I force myself to get to work.

I’m trying to schedule my social media time so that I only do it during those times and not on my usual breaks. I need to spend my writing breaks moving, not sitting at the computer. I’m also making myself take the computer to a desk where I sit on a balance ball as a chair when I’m doing online stuff. That makes it harder to lose track of time and it means I’m doing something mildly active just in sitting there.

This book is going off in some unexpected directions, largely thanks to the research reading I did during the Vacation Bible School week. The major event I had planned now isn’t going to happen at all because it’s been replaced by another major event that’s more relevant to the plot (the one I had planned just sort of happened and my characters had to react to it). That’s the event I get to write today, and I’m rather excited about it. It’s so vivid in my head, and I hope I can capture that and put it into words.

My routine is going to be somewhat interrupted today since I’m having my annual air conditioner tuneup. My appointment was 10-noon, and they called at about 9:30 to say it would more likely be in the 11-noon timeframe, so I’m in waiting mode. It’s been a cooler-than-normal summer for us so far, but I want to be sure everything’s working properly before July hits and we start getting our usual weather.


Zooming Along

I made it to a little more than 6,500 words yesterday, so I’m still going strong. Whenever I do this kind of intense writing push, I find myself wondering why I don’t do this more often, and I get grand ideas about how much I could write if I worked at this level all the time. I’m not sure I could sustain this kind of intensity all the time, but even doing it a week or so a month would probably up my production.

I’m not doing a lot more than writing, but it’s not as though I’m letting everything else slide, either. I’ve been managing my morning walks and exercise in the evening. Yesterday I made yogurt and did laundry, and I’ve even been watching a little TV and reading. I don’t know if it’s the exercise or the intense writing, but I’ve been sleeping like the dead this week. I fall asleep pretty quickly and mostly sleep through the night. When I have the 3 a.m. wakeup, I fall back asleep quickly, and I wake up in the morning feeling rested, if a bit groggy.

One thing that the fast pace really helps is the flow of the book. I think I’ve been overanalyzing this story, and going full speed ahead has stopped some of that. There are scenes I’ll probably have to revise (or cut) later, but without stopping to analyze stuff like scene goal and the emotional pivot point, I think I actually get more lively scenes. It’s less “writing” and more “storytelling,” and it’s a lot more fun. It feels like play.

I’ll have to consider how I want to work going forward. Maybe do an intense week to get started, then a couple more “normal” weeks and then a “catch up on everything else” week.


Historical Language vs. “Historical” Language

My first day of Book in a Week went pretty well, with a little more than 6,000 words for the day. I’m going to try to top that today.

Meanwhile, in reading, I suppose I’ve been on a Regency kick, reading Jane Austen and other books set during that period. There was Sorcerer to the Crown, then I read a modern author’s sequel to Sense and Sensibility (about Margaret when she’s grown up), and now I’m reading a Georgette Heyer book from the To Be Read shelf.

One thing I’m finding interesting is that the actual Austen was easier to get through than the modern books set in that time. The language is more florid than in most of our modern literature, but it’s still simpler and more straightforward than the modern books that are trying to imitate that style. I suspect it’s because the more modern authors are attempting “worldbuilding” in re-creating a time and place they aren’t actually experienced with. They’re trying to mimic the style of the time. Austen was just writing contemporary books without trying to build anything. She was writing about her own time and place, using the language she used in everyday life.

I think another difference with the Heyer may be that she’s writing about a different kind of people. Austen focused on the country gentry while Heyer tends to deal with the titled nobility, those who go to London for the Season, and all that. She’s trying to use the flash slang of the upper class. In the book I’m reading (Cousin Kate) she’s also dealing with a heroine who’s the daughter of a soldier and who grew up around the military, so she’s picked up a lot of that slang. And then there are the lower-class characters who use their slang. I’m having to practically translate as I read. I can’t help but wonder quite how accurate her use of language is — does it really come from the period, or is she making up something to give an impression?

The straightforward language may be one reason Austen is still so widely read today. It’s a bit more difficult than reading modern books, but it’s not as though it’s almost a foreign language.

When I write in historical-type settings (whether alternate history or another world in a period similar to our history), I try to do just enough to give a sense of flavor without making it hard to decipher. I don’t want my language to throw anyone out of the story.


Book in a Week

I found out this morning that I’ll be getting another round of revision notes on the book for Audible at the end of the week, which means I really need to make progress on the book I’ve been working on before then. I’m going to try something wild and crazy called Book in a Week. That’s when you try to write as much of a book as possible in a week. It’s a combination of really digging in and focusing on writing and doing a fairly rough draft rather than a lot of wordsmithing. You’re spending as much time as possible on writing and you’re trying to get as much as possible written.

It’s a good week for doing this, since I have no real obligations this week, no errands that need to be run, not a lot of cooking to do, since I already have leftovers. I can put my head down and really get some writing done. I don’t know if I’ll get to the end of this draft, but I can at least get up to the climactic part of the book.

This will be an interesting challenge for me. We’ll see how much I can manage to get done. Stay tuned for results!


Back Again!

I managed to survive the week of Vacation Bible School. I was one of the adults in charge of kindergarten, and we had about 40 kids to keep track of. Fortunately, we had about ten teenagers, with each teen being responsible for four or five kids, so I just had to be there to help the teens and move them along. The other adult in our group was the pastor’s wife, who’s an experienced mom and teacher, so it was easy on me. I dealt with keeping track of time and keeping things moving as we went from place to place, and she dealt with discipline issues.

It was actually a lot of fun, though very tiring, and I now have some annoying songs stuck in my head. I picked up some ideas for things I want to do from the craft and science sessions, and I got a few ideas for dealing with the choir kids. It must have been fun for the kids, too, given that one had a screaming temper tantrum when his mom picked him up on the last day because he didn’t want it to be over with.

One thing I really liked was that they let the teens play a big role. They were the ones doing the skits and story times. I think the kids relate to them better than they would adults, and it seems less weird for the teens to be doing the corny skits than if adults do it. I remember feeling like I would die of secondhand embarrassment when I was a kid and watched adults doing those corny skits or pretending to be children. But it’s cute and silly when 12-15 year olds do it.

Although it was fun, I must say that I’m really enjoying the silence today at home. Now I can get back to work. I didn’t manage to write words this week. I just managed to do some research reading that I started doing just so I could feel like I’d done some “work,” but I ended up getting some great ideas that will really flesh out the book.

And now I intend to spend today and the weekend in silence, accomplishing things, and catching up on my rest.


If Jane Austen Wrote Fantasy

I’ve been on a Jane Austen kick lately — not just reading Austen (though I have, since one of my friends started a Jane Austen book club), but reading biographies and things about that era. The one thing her books are missing is magic, and I’ve recently discovered a series that takes care of that. Well, with books like you might imagine Jane Austen might have written if she’d been writing fantasy, not those mash-ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The first book in the series is Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. A young man has recently taken the role of Royal Sorcerer after the death of the previous one, his mentor, and he’s got a number of crises on his hands. For one thing, the other sorcerers aren’t too keen on him, given that he’s an African former slave bought, freed, and adopted by his mentor, and they’re just looking for an excuse to strip him of his office. For another thing, amounts of magic in England have slowed to a trickle, and if he can’t figure out and resolve the problem, that will give his enemies ammunition against him. And then there are the magical assassination attempts. Things get even crazier when he goes to speak at a girls’ school and realizes that the conventional wisdom about women being incapable of handling magic is all wrong. The school is supposed to be teaching girls how to suppress their magic so it won’t harm them, but there are some powerful magicians there — especially one girl who’s sort of a teacher, sort of household staff, the orphaned daughter of a friend of the headmistress. She’s powerful enough that she has to be taught. But insisting on teaching women isn’t going to make him any more popular. Meanwhile, she’s just starting to uncover her own startling legacy and doesn’t have a lot of interest in boring lessons. She does, however, want to find a husband who can support her endeavors.

This is such a fun book that I’d recommend to fans of Jane Austen or those who loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It’s written in a very Austen-like style. The characters fairly jump off the page. The dialogue is witty and vivid and at times is laugh-out-loud funny. There’s action, magical battles, drawing room intrigue, and a dash of romance. The second book in the series was in my goody bag at the Nebulas Conference, so I found the first book, and I’m about to break my rule about not reading a series back-to-back since this is exactly the sort of thing I’m in the mood for.

In other news, I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week because I’m volunteering for Vacation Bible School, and that will eat up my mornings. See you the week after that!

writing life

Breaking Out of the Bubble

I spent most of yesterday feeling stuck, which usually means there’s a problem with what I’m working on. I’m trying to follow my outline, but the outline is the wrong way to go. After an afternoon trying to outline a scene, I gave up and did something else, then last night I sat down and listed the plot points that need to happen between now and the end.

And then I got sidetracked in the middle with a what if that turns out to probably be the key to the book. So now I have to replot, but that’s good. I’m actually going to be mean to my heroine, which I need to do, but I always have a hard time doing. I’m not a “put your characters in a tree, set the tree on fire, and throw rocks at them” kind of writer. I’m not even a “think of the worst thing that can happen, then make it happen” person. Though this plot development comes close. We’ll see how it works.

In the meantime, I’m pondering promotional stuff I might do. I’ve seen the statistics and demographics for YouTube and am pondering doing something with that. My degree is in broadcast news, so that’s definitely in my skill set. I haven’t really thought that it would be a good venue for promoting books, since if you’re watching YouTube, you’re not reading, but book content seems to be huge there. I’d need to figure out what to do with it. Maybe writing advice, talking about the background ideas for my books, some book reviews.

I suspect that the core YouTube audience doesn’t overlap with the core blog readership (which is kind of the point), but does anyone have any thoughts? Do you seek out authors on YouTube? I know I’d prefer to read something than watch a video, but maybe I’m not the kind of person I’m trying to reach here.

Then there’s podcasting. Again, I’d rather read something than listen to it, but I know there are people who use this for commuting or exercising. I used to love doing radio features (the kind of thing they do on NPR), so I could possibly have fun with that.

I’m just trying to find a way to break out of my bubble. My books are well-received. People who read them seem to like them. But very few people seem to have heard of me, and everything I do for promotion only seems to reach the same people who’ve already heard of me. I think if more people discovered my books, great things could happen. I just don’t know how to reach those more people. I’m particularly invisible in the fantasy world, and going to conventions doesn’t seem to have helped much. I don’t know what else to do to make a name there.

writing life

Inside the Mind of a Writer

Today I give you a glimpse into the strange mind of a writer.

Last night, I had a vivid and weirdly specific dream in which I was house/pet sitting for some friends while they were on vacation. Their cat, Yuki, had an odd fascination with one of the kitchen cabinets. She’d sit in front of it and yowl sadly, and if I ever opened that cabinet to get something, she’d crawl inside and look around. I thought it was sweet and funny that she was missing her people but thought that they’d gone into the cabinet when they went away. Then one day she came into the kitchen carrying a sheet of lined notebook paper, and she stuck the paper through the pull handle on the cabinet. I looked at it, and written on it in a childish scrawl in pencil was “Yuki (heart) you.” I wasn’t sure if the cat had managed to learn to write or if maybe she’d managed to get out of the house and some neighborhood kid had written it. Either way, it was a little astonishing that the cat had actually left a written note for her owners.

When I woke up from this dream in the middle of the night, my first thought after “that was weird” was “there’s got to be a story in there.” I ended up staying awake for some time as I worked out how it was sort of a reverse Narnia thing, with Yuki being from another world and coming through a portal that came out in a kitchen cabinet in our world. The people in that house didn’t know where she came from and just thought they’d been “adopted” by a cat. For a while, she enjoyed being treated like a goddess, but she was getting homesick. She thought that the absence of her captors would be the perfect opportunity for her to escape. They never allowed her in the kitchen cabinet, but the petsitter wasn’t as quick. Except, alas, the portal was closed and she couldn’t get back, so she left a sad note in tribute to her lost people.

Maybe the petsitter figures out that something’s up and helps her get a portal open to go back, then has to make up some story about the cat running away while she was petsitting.

And after all this middle of the night brainstorming, I overslept.

I’m not sure what triggered this dream. The subject of petsitters did come up in a conversation with friends last night, but we weren’t talking about cats, and I’d never be able to petsit for a cat if I had to stay in the house because I end up coming down with bronchitis if I spend the night in a home with a cat. And I really don’t know how I came up with the cat’s name.

I will have to add this to the idea file. Probably not for a whole novel, but it might make a cute short story.

Thoughts Into Words

I’ve been having a weird writing week in which thoughts are flying furiously, but they’re not translating into words. I can see the scenes playing out or feel what’s going on with my characters, but then I sit at the computer and the words don’t come out through my fingers. Maybe this means I need to do brainstorming instead, just capture all those thoughts without trying to put them into narrative.

Unfortunately, this is happening for other writing I need to do, including e-mails. Just trying to translate ideas into words for a blog post has been a challenge. I’m normally a very verbal person. Words are how I express myself, so it’s weird to have all these ideas swirling around in my head and not have a way to get them out.

I think some of it may be a case of spring fever, since we had a weird front come through Sunday and now it feels like spring again. I’m enjoying having the windows open and a cool breeze coming through. It makes me want to read and nap and just listen to the birds singing. I know the summer weather will return eventually, alas.

Thinking really is an important part of writing, so maybe I just need to get all these thoughts processed, and then I can turn them into a story.