writing life

Making Plans

Apologies if I alarmed anyone yesterday. I think our culture has some unhealthy attitudes toward negative feelings, so that expressing them is seen as some kind of danger sign. I’m actually feeling really good. I’ve had so much of that negativity simmering beneath the surface for so long, with me refusing to acknowledge it, so being able to say that this is bad and I’m unhappy about it and going to do something about it was a rather positive thing. I feel like I’ve taken back control of my life.

If I were working for someone else and my pay kept getting cut even though I was doing the same amount of work and even though my work was generally considered to be of good quality, and if I kept having new duties added to my work that weren’t in my original job description, and if I never got promoted and I was ignored or forgotten when it came to getting assignments or opportunities, I’d definitely be looking for another job, even if I liked what I was doing. Why not allow myself the same consideration when I’m working for myself?

I started thinking about what I’d want to do if writing fiction was off the table, and I think my dream job using my existing skill set would be to do communications work for a non-profit, some cause I could believe in. That’s where being able to find and tell a story using narrative structure can really help. Spouting statistics doesn’t get much of a response. Telling a story about people we can relate to does. And as soon as I put that out there, I got a response from someone who wants to talk.

That gave me the idea of maybe starting a business doing this as a consultant to smaller organizations that can’t necessarily hire a full-time staff member but still need some help. Sometimes just helping them find their story and developing their talking points and then maybe creating some brochures and web site copy is all they need to get them going, and they can take it from there. That way, I’d still have the flexibility and freedom I enjoy now, but I’d have another source of income and something else going on in my life to give me a sense of accomplishment and purpose. That would lessen the sting from all the ups and downs of a writing career. And I might still be able to write — if I didn’t have a lot of work, I could do some writing, or if I had a writing deadline, I could back off on work.

I may still need a little time away from the publishing world just to get my head back on straight and find the joy in it again. I’m feeling pretty beaten up right now and need a new perspective. I guess I’m still looking for a sign that I should stay in it.

But it’s amazing how good it feels to have a plan. You can’t have a solution to a problem unless you acknowledge the problem, and that can mean facing some negative things. But once you analyze the problem, you can start coming up with solutions. I hadn’t realized how long I’ve been living in a constant state of worry, hurt, and misery, and it feels like a huge weight off my shoulders to get it out of my system. I wonder if some of my health problems may even have been related to this eating away at me. Now, in the immortal words of Elsa, I can Let It Go!

writing life

Moving On

I had kind of a rough Monday in which a lot of things that had been simmering below the surface came up all at once, which forced me to look at some things in a different way, with the result being that I actually let myself acknowledge some issues, and that may end up leading to some big changes.

So, there’s a good chance that I’m going to quit writing for publication this year. I’m essentially moving backwards, selling fewer and fewer books, making less money, being less known. When I got upset about not being invited to cons, not being considered as a special guest, not being included as a workshop speaker, I tried telling myself that it didn’t really matter, that it was just my ego being bruised. But the fact is, if you’re not known in this business, you’re not selling books. You have to have a certain amount of visibility to get fame, and you have to have a certain amount of fame to get visibility. I’ve had a few times when I seemed close to cracking into that cycle, but it never stuck, and now, after 14 years of being published in fantasy and 14 books, I’m farther away than I ever have been. I’ve done what I can to promote, and now am at the point where making it anywhere is going to take something bigger than me, beyond what I can do, something I can’t control or make happen — a movie or TV series based on one of my books, a celebrity discovering my books and talking about them, going viral in a good way.

Otherwise, maybe this isn’t where I need to be. My work may be lacking whatever “it” it takes to break out. People like it, but it doesn’t seem to generate the kind of passion that makes something take off, that makes a publisher give it a push, that creates an active fandom that gets noticed. There’s also the fact that I really hate being my own publisher. I don’t like having to deal with and negotiate with people to do editing, art, and design. I’m currently in the middle of a weeks-long panic attack about contacting an artist about cover art. I was doing this through my agent, and she handled that stuff, but she got out of that and now it’s on me, and I’m not very good at it and don’t enjoy it, but publishers haven’t been all that interested in me lately, and I don’t have the numbers to get them interested. I like writing, but publishing is getting to me. Meanwhile, I’m making less and less money with each book, and it’s no longer enough to make a living. That means I need to change careers.

I can’t quit right away, since I still have editorial revisions to come on the book for Audible, and I have some other commitments, so I can’t even start looking for a job until May. I’m going to keep working on the book I’m currently writing, and maybe it will be something publishers are interested in and that will make me change my mind. There are things that can happen between now and then that may change the way I feel — if my sales go up, if Enchanted Inc. 9 does really well and gets a lot of attention, if something happens to give me hope that things will get better. I’m just giving myself permission to quit and move on if I still feel the way I do now.

The ninth Enchanted Inc. book will still come out (if I can make myself arrange for cover art). I don’t know beyond that. I may still end up writing in my spare time because that’s what I like doing, but if I go back to a full-time job, I’m not going to force myself to spend my spare time that way, and I may not worry about dealing with publication. I’m so used to working at home that an office job will be a huge adjustment. If it takes a while to find a job, I may work on Rebels 4 in the meantime. Or something wonderful may happen that gets me going again and this will have just been a down phase in my career that makes me appreciate the good things. But at the moment, I think it’s been fun, but I’m ready to move on instead of constantly worrying and struggling and feeling bad.

I’m sorry if I’m leaving any series incomplete or disappointing readers, but I can’t afford to essentially work for below minimum wage and keep taking pay cuts, and I’m just not emotionally up to everything that comes with publishing. I need some financial security and to not have what I’m doing so tied into my self-image.

Out of the Comfort Zone

Sunday was a big “step out of the comfort zone” day for me. Our church was doing a Sunday focusing on women and their role in the church, so they had women doing all the major parts of the service. But we have two simultaneous services and one female pastor, so our pastor asked me to do the “sermon” part for the traditional service (since I had to sing in the choir). It wasn’t a regular sermon. What they were doing was a dramatic monologue done from the perspective of a woman in a Bible story, and they looked to me, as a writer, to write and present something.

I used to do a lot of drama stuff. In high school, I was in drama club. I was in plays and competed in things like prose interpretation and dramatic monologues. I took drama classes as most of my electives in college, and they were my favorite classes. I took some acting classes and was in a show when I was right out of college, so this was within my skill set. But doing a play is different from essentially presenting the sermon in church on a Sunday morning, especially when it was an unusual kind of sermon. There’s some resistance to “drama” in church. That made this a little scarier than reading scripture (which I’ve done) or even singing a solo.

I spent most of Saturday rehearsing it, trying to memorize it. Then it turned out on Sunday morning that there was a handy spot to hide my notes for reference, which relaxed me, though I ended up not even looking at them. I think it went pretty well, but I went into out-of-body experience mode and don’t really remember it. I just started talking and it all came out, and next thing I knew it was over and I had to run back to the choir to sing.

It’ll be nice to let the pastor talk next Sunday, I think.

And now back to writing my usual stuff.


Unfair World

I’m sure everyone’s heard of the college admissions scandal that’s made the news this week. I went to one of the universities involved (the University of Texas). I did get in fair and square, and although it’s a lot harder to get into now than it was then, I probably still would have been automatically admitted since I was a valedictorian and National Merit Scholar.

I didn’t even know until I got to school that there were courses you could take to learn to take the SAT. I just took the practice exams in the registration book, and I think I got a book from the library with more practice tests. Then I got to the university and learned that there were things like advanced placement courses you could get college credit for, as well as test prep classes. I was from a small town that didn’t have any of these options. I couldn’t help but wonder what my score would have been if I’d had that kind of help.

Then there were the things people with money could take advantage of once they were at school. There were entire businesses providing notes and materials for classes — professional note takers who went to the big lecture classes (we had some classes with as many as 800 people in them) and took notes that students could buy so they didn’t have to attend the classes. The fraternities and sororities supposedly kept files of the notes and past exams for these courses to help their members.

But I think my first real awareness of just how unfair the world could be came when I was applying for internships in my field, broadcast journalism. There was one highly coveted internship with the Austin bureau of one of the Dallas TV stations. That intern not only got to do real work, but it was a rare paid internship — a whole $4 an hour. I went above and beyond to apply, not only going through the formal process of submitting an application, but since I had press credentials for the state legislature, thanks to another internship, I got into the capital newsroom and approached the correspondent to talk to him about my application. He called me in for an interview, then had me come back for a second interview. He liked my work samples and my resume tape. I had high grades, good previous internships, and had even won a scholarship granted by the company that owned his station. He made it sound like I had the job and he’d be getting in touch with me to finalize it.

About a week later, I ran into one of my professors, who asked what I was doing for an internship that summer. I told him it sounded like I had that one. He then told me that, actually, someone else had been hired. The photographer at the bureau next door had brought his younger brother with him to work and sent him over to talk to the correspondent. The younger brother was a bit of a screwup who’d dropped out of the school he was in (he hadn’t made it in to my school) and was looking for something to do. Not only was his brother in the business, but his father had been in the business and was influential. So he got the job on the spot.

Then when I’d graduated and was looking for a job, I heard about an open position at the Dallas bureau of one of the networks. My real career goal was to be a field producer for a network — not being the on-camera person, but doing the groundwork to prepare the story — so getting in at the ground floor at a network seemed like a good idea. It turned out that this was more of an administrative/clerical job, part time, and at minimum wage. The bureau chief liked my resume and my tape and said I had the ability to do what I wanted — but I would probably never make it. He was willing to hire me, but he discouraged me from taking the job because it wouldn’t get me where I wanted to go. I’d have a better chance getting a reporting job at a local station and hoping for a big news event that would bring me to network attention. Otherwise, all the jobs were pretty much filled by network executives hiring their friends’ kids, and their friends hired their kids in return. If I didn’t have some connection with a major corporate executive or politician, I would have a very hard time making it in the business.

After that, I started looking for other jobs in addition to reporting jobs, and after I got tired of going to interviews with news directors who were enthusiastic about me but admitted that they couldn’t hire me, I took a job in public relations. It was probably for the best because what I really, truly wanted to do with my life was write books, and I’m not sure I’d have had time to write novels while traveling the globe, doing the groundwork and investigation for TV news stories. But I do have to wonder how many talented, bright people there are who missed out on opportunities because they didn’t have connections. And then there are all the people without the smarts or talent who got opportunities handed to them and probably wasted them. I don’t think that guy who got the internship I was on the verge of getting ever ended up going into the business, in spite of his connections. As far as I know, he didn’t even finish school. For him, it was just something to do with his summer to keep him out of trouble and make his father happy. For someone else, it might have opened the door to a career.

I guess this is something I’m also thinking about because the book I’m working on is about someone struggling to get past doors that have been shut to people like her. I do seem to be writing a lot lately about people upending unfair systems.


A Good Start

I’m more than 14,000 words into the new book, and I think it’s going well. This method of scene-by-scene outlining seems to be working. I’ve had a couple of cases when it turned out that what I’d planned as two separate scenes morphed into one as some events turned out not to be as big as I’d imagined. I’m sure there will be some tinkering in revision. But otherwise I feel like it’s focused what I’m doing.

Now I’m at the point when I need to do a little more outlining. I’ve got the next few scenes planned, but I need to dig a little deeper into them before I write them. I’ve seem a few different versions of the mental movie and need to pick which one I’m going with. There’s an incident that I keep moving around. I’m not sure if it goes in this scene or a later scene.

I’m at the part where the story really kicks into gear, so it should be fun, if a little trickier, to write. And I’m afraid I’m about to launch into all-or-nothing mode, where I don’t want to take my brain out of this story.

However, as today is Pi Day (3-14), I may have to pause to make a pie. I may see if I can cut a recipe down enough to make a 1-2 serving pie so I won’t have leftovers for days. Cooking is good for thinking.

I also think I’m going to have to pause to draw a couple of maps. I need a good layout for the place I’m trying to create so i can keep it all straight.

Storms and Sirens

The new book is zipping along, and I think I even like it. I might be somewhat less productive today, since a storm came through around 3 a.m. There was thunder and lightning and heavy rain, which sounds really loud on my tile roof. Then the high winds kicked in, howling fiercely. The tornado sirens went off around 5 a.m., really waking me up (I’d been dozing but not really sleeping). The odd thing was, the weather radio never went off.

I keep my tablet near my bed, since I use it as an e-reader, so I picked it up and checked Twitter, where I follow several local TV meteorologists, the National Weather Service, my city, and my city’s police department. It turned out they’d sounded the sirens for high straight-line winds. They’d recorded winds as high as 78 miles per hour at the airport nearby. But by the time they sounded the sirens, the worst of the winds seemed to have passed. Still, the sirens went on for a good 45 minutes.

I probably should have just got up, since there was no sleeping during all that, but I wasn’t entirely awake, either, and ended up falling back asleep and having weird dreams and then sleeping late. Now I’m groggy and behind on the day. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with the kindergarten choir tonight. At least all that lying semi-awake gave me an opportunity to brainstorm the next scene I need to write.

I don’t seem to have any real damage in my immediate area. The patio fence that tends to fall down is still standing. My patio table is still upright. There were a lot of leaves and twigs on my front porch, but I don’t see any roof tiles on the lawn.

I see a lot of tea in my future today, and possibly a nap.

writing life

The Quest for Hot Tea

I got the first chapter of the new book written yesterday and got so caught up in it that my tea got cold, even though I’d put it in a travel mug. That reminded me of my struggles with tea over the years.

When I first started working at home, I continued my old habit from my office job days of making my morning breakfast tea with a tea bag, then making a mid-morning cup with another tea bag. I got an insulated travel mug when I got tired of my tea getting cold, so that I had to go downstairs to the microwave to reheat it. I used loose tea to make my afternoon tea, probably carrying over the habit from my working days of just making a quick cup in the morning, but then having loose tea as a treat on days when I was home in the afternoon. Eventually, it dawned on me that I could have a pot of proper tea whenever I wanted now, so I started making loose-leaf tea for breakfast. The only problem was keeping a pot of tea hot. Even a tea cozy didn’t do much good.

The solution to that was a large thermos. I brewed my tea and strained it into a thermos so it was hot all day long, and I could top off a cup to warm it up, so I put the travel mug aside (since tea didn’t seem to taste as good from it as from a ceramic mug).

My next struggle was to find a way to carry hot tea with me for cold-weather hikes. First I tried a supposedly leak-proof travel flask. It wasn’t leak-proof, and it didn’t seem to keep anything hot for more than a few minutes. Then a friend gave me a small insulated flask that worked pretty well, but it only kept things hot for a little while and you couldn’t drink directly from it. It’s a pain to have to pour tea into a cup when you’re hiking. I found a small thermos that kept things hot longer, but had the same problem about drinking from it. It did work well for bringing tea with me to church when I had to sing in the early service and wanted tea between services. I finally found the Hydroflask, which keeps things warm a long time and is nicely spillproof. That’s become my go-to for hiking and for bringing tea with me to events. I should probably consider it for long working sessions, as well, now that I think about it.

At this point, I have the big thermos, two small thermoses, two insulated travel mugs and two Hydroflasks, so I’m covered for hot beverage containment. I also have several cups/flasks for keeping cool beverages cool that I use in the summer.

Meanwhile, my tea drinking habits have shifted lately. I don’t drink as much black tea these days. I still like having a hot beverage while I’m writing, but I’m drinking a lot more herbal tea and am building up quite a collection of hibiscus-based teas. What I like to do with herbal tea is to leave the tea bag in the mug and keep topping it off with hot water as the tea gets stronger and colder. But I hated to get out of my writing or reading nest and interrupt the flow to get up and go get more water from the kettle. A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that I could fill one of the thermoses with hot water from the kettle when I first make the tea and then keep it at my side for topping off my mug. That works wonderfully.

I tried the supposedly leak-proof travel flask yesterday and remembered that it also didn’t keep things warm, so that one may get donated. I’ve seen ads for a bluetooth mug that you can program to keep a beverage a certain temperature, which seems like overkill. There’s also a gadget that’s basically an electric coaster that keeps mugs warm.

I know this seems like a lot of thought and effort being put into having hot tea while I write, but this is the fuel for my creativity. I’ve seen a thing going around about how writers take magic beans and turn them into stories, but since I don’t drink coffee, in my case it’s turning magic leaves (and petals, bark, and fruit bits) into stories.

writing life

Ready to Start!

I believe I’m finally ready to start writing. I have strong mental images of my characters, their homes, their villages and cities, and the way they dress. I haven’t drawn a map, but it may be a couple of days before I get to a point when I need that. I’ve written out my ideas of what the world is and how it works. So, after lunch I will dive in.

It’s fitting that I start with Daylight time because that’s when my body really seems to click into gear. I think my body clock is in that zone. Yesterday, I got up earlier for church than I usually do and actually felt alert instead of groggy and yawning. This morning I woke up earlier by the clock than I have been all winter, though I didn’t get out of bed right away because it turns out that the one clock I forgot to reset was the thermostat, and it doesn’t automatically adjust. It was so warm on Saturday that the house was still warm on Sunday morning, and I didn’t notice it, but this morning was a lot cooler after a cool day, and without the heater kicking on to warm up the house in the morning, the house was awfully chilly. I started to get out of bed and quickly retreated under the covers until the heat finally came on. That clock is now set properly, so tomorrow morning should go better.

The development phase of a book is my favorite part of writing because it feels like play. It’s a big game of what if. The moment I start putting it into words, it becomes more challenging, and that perfect idea in my head becomes an imperfect draft. But as I tell myself, it doesn’t do anyone any good in my head. It has to become a book before it can entertain anyone else or make me any money.

I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself or on this story. I realized that with the last thing I was working on, the book that got shelved, I had this underlying sense that this needed to be the book that would relaunch my career, the book that was Too Good To Ignore that publishers would fight over. I caught myself thinking like that with this book and decided to stop it. I’m going to treat it like I’m writing fan fiction, something I do mostly for myself because it’s fun to make up stories. I’m going to indulge myself and amuse myself and have fun. Then I’ll worry about making it marketable.


Getting Into Specifics

Just as I was ready to start writing yesterday, I realized that I’d hit another issue I tend to struggle with: specificity.

I knew my heroine inside and out, and I’d figured out bits about some of the other characters, but most of the secondary characters my heroine would be interacting with in the opening of the book were shapeless blobs. Even in my mental movie, they were essentially the adults in a Charlie Brown special — offscreen and just making noise. So, I needed to get specific about things I tend to handwave over. I had to name these people, think of what they looked like and what sort of people they were, what their relationship was to the heroine and how they’d be likely to interact.

It’s amazing what I uncovered while doing this. Not only did my mental movie get a lot more sharp and vivid, but I figured out some stuff that may affect the plot and that will definitely add some depth to the story. Now my heroine’s parents aren’t just generic parents. They’re people with personalities and their own goals and beliefs. I also realized I haven’t been entirely concrete about my settings and surroundings. In my mental movie, I see the characters moving through vague settings, and I’m not sure I could put that into words.

I may need to write “be specific!” on the sticky note I have covering my laptop’s camera so I won’t forget. When I’m tempted to just toss something off, I need to force myself to dig into it.

Today’s task is to do some visual world building. I know the history and culture, but I realized I don’t know exactly what it looks like. There may be map drawing.

It is possible that I’m procrastinating on the moment when a potential book has to become a real one by being put into words, but all this stuff is making it so much richer. Yesterday I would have said I was ready to start writing, but what I would have written yesterday morning is so much weaker than what I’d write today, and I suspect that what I write Monday will be so much stronger than what I’d write today if I started writing today. One of my general weaknesses about writing is that I’m impatient. I want to jump right into it and get started, and that means some things aren’t as well developed as they should be. I’m going pretty quickly from the first germ of idea to getting ready to write, and it’s easier to develop all this now and weave it in as I write than it is to try to fit all that in after I’ve written a vague draft.


The Joy of Outlining

I normally consider myself some sort of unholy cross between a “plotter” and a “pantser” when it comes to writing. I can’t seem to start writing a book without at least a bit of a high-level outline — something like the stages on the hero’s journey — but then I never truly know what the book is about until I’ve written it, and then I have to do a lot of rewriting.

For the book I’m developing now, I’m trying something new and doing a scene-by-scene outline, digging into each scene to look at how it progresses the plot, how it affects the protagonist, where the conflict is, what the emotional pivot is, and what the result is. I haven’t started actually writing yet, and I can already tell a difference.

For one thing, there was a scene I envisioned that I thought did a good job of showing what the heroine’s issues were and building toward the decision she ultimately makes. But once I started digging into the scene, I realized I didn’t need it at all. The emotional beats were identical to those in the previous scene, and all this scene did was delay the start of the main action. I think previously I would have written the scene and then agonized over cutting it. This way, while outlining the previous scene I already knew I wouldn’t need the next one, so I didn’t waste a lot of time on it. I’d seen the mental “movie” of it, and I think I got some character insight from it. Some of the bits I like from that scene will probably end up in a later scene that’s more pivotal. The time I spent thinking about it isn’t wasted, but I’ve also saved myself a lot of writing time.

Then there’s something about analyzing a scene this way that forces you to see the nuts and bolts and how they work. One problem I had with a previous project I struggled with and then shelved was that my agent kept telling me my heroine wasn’t proactive enough. She did make decisions about how she reacted to things, but the major turning points in the story were all her reacting to other people’s actions rather than her taking action, and once I’d written the book, it was really hard to fix it without starting from scratch (which is why it’s shelved, at least temporarily).

Once I started digging into my planned scenes, I realized I was doing the same thing all over again. The heroine gets an opportunity to do something, and her parents bring it to the clan leader to decide. The clan leader rules on it, then assigns the heroine to prepare herself for it. After smacking myself on the head when I saw the pattern, I changed it so that the heroine is the one suggesting bringing it to the clan leader for a ruling, then the clan leader leaves the decision up to her, and then the heroine is the one seeking to train to prepare herself. These are minor tweaks to make now, but if I’d already written these scenes when I noticed it, it would have been more difficult. Even if I changed a few sentences to make it her decisions, the emotions and tone wouldn’t have been quite right, and the inner conflict would have been different.

And then after I fixed all that, in a later scene I caught myself setting it up that someone offers her help when really it should have been her asking for help.

Doing this kind of analysis before writing can also help fix those problem scenes — the scenes you need to convey information and set something up but that don’t really have any kind of inherent conflict. By digging into the potential and looking for conflict, I moved the scene to a new setting, made it more active, and added elements from a subplot to it. Now the main plot purpose may be mostly exposition and setup, but there’s stuff going on from a subplot to make it a real scene. I’m not sure I’d have noticed the problem if I’d just written the scene the way I originally thought of it.

Of course, the moment of truth will come when I have to actually start writing and I see if the plans translate well into actual words. That will likely come later today.