Archive for writing life

writing life

Novel Writing Month

One of the big traditions in the writing community is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. One of my big annual traditions is complaining about who had the bright idea to make it a tradition to write a whole novel during a month with only 30 days in it with a major holiday (in the US) in the middle and during the build up to a major holiday season. It’s like they were looking for stress (or had no preparation or travel responsibilities for Thanksgiving). Besides, most of November is when we get our best fall weather around here, so it’s when I want to work the least. I think January is a better month to spend writing a novel. You get 31 days, and there are no major shopping/cooking/travel holidays during the month, plus the weather is conducive to staying inside and writing.

However, this year I will be writing a book in November. I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve already got some of this book written, so it wouldn’t qualify officially, and I’m not going to try to have it totally finished by the end of the month. I didn’t plan to be working during this month. I usually try to leave this time of year open for vacation/rest/recovery. This is just where things fell in my work schedule in order to have something to release next year. I’ve done most of the prep work I need to do in order to get started, so I think anything else I do would just be procrastination, and I may as well get going. So, on Monday I’ll get into the manuscript.

I’m going to try for some work-life balance, though. If it’s a nice day and I want to be outside, I’ll go for a walk or hike and let myself have fun. I may bring a notebook and do some work outdoors. I’ll take most of Thanksgiving week off and just enjoy myself while visiting my parents. I’m not going to push for massive daily word counts. I’m setting a deadline to keep myself motivated, but it’s going to be generous enough that I don’t have to push too hard. I’m not even sure what my target word count is going to be. I may set it low to start and see how the book shapes up as I go.

We’ll see if I manage to get that work-life balance or if I go full all-or-nothing, like I tend to. I’ve done a lot of cooking this week, so I’ve got leftovers in the freezer for quick, easy meals, and I’m planning a housework binge this weekend to have the house more or less in order before I fall into the book. And then I get to dive into a world I started coming up with a very long time ago. I’ve finally found the right story to tell in that world.

writing life

Writing Happiness

I’ve come to the realization that writing is good for my mental and emotional health. Maybe not the publishing part, but I need the creation part of things to stay healthy and happy. I feel like I keep having this realization at least once a year, and I’ve probably even written about it before, but I’ve got enough data points now to be sure of it.

A few weeks ago, I was in a real down phase. I suspected it had to do with the summer and being so hot and not being able to go outdoors, along with financial worries and feeling like I was out of control of my life. At that time, I was revising the book I was working on, and I’d been doing that for weeks. Then I went back to work on the mystery book, and after writing every weekday for a couple of weeks, I’ve found that my mood has lifted considerably. It’s still summer, still too hot to go outside, and my financial situation hasn’t changed, but I feel a lot better.

Last year, I was kind of blaming the mysteries for the down mood I was having at the time, but I think it was just that I was writing them back-to-back and spending a lot of time on revision and editing. I ended up feeling burned out last year, and I thought it was because I’d done so much writing, but maybe the problem was that I hadn’t done enough writing. I was writing a lot, but that meant I had a lot of material that needed to be edited, so I was spending weeks not writing. To recover from the burnout, I took a break from writing-related work, which may have been the wrong thing to do.

Now that I’m almost done with this draft, I think I’m going to try keeping up with some kind of drafting alongside the editing, revision, and proofreading phase. Even just half an hour to an hour a day of writing something may help. I may play with short stories or some entirely different kind of book while I’m doing the non-writing work on another project, and maybe that will keep me from getting burned out from not creating. As a bonus, it means I’ll have more stuff written, which is always good. I can still allow myself to take breaks and vacations from work, and I try to take weekends off unless I have a deadline, but fitting a little creation in with the other work may help me avoid burnout.

I think part of it is that writing is fun for me. Part of it may be that it gives me a stronger sense of control. I can’t control the world around me, but when I’m writing I’m controlling my fictional world, and I feel less out of control from everything else. Part of it may be that it keeps me too busy to dwell on things that aren’t going well. I get lost in my imaginary world, and I’m hanging out with fictional people I love. I don’t get that same lost experience from revision. Editing and revision tap into the critical side of my brain, which tends to leave me critical about everything. Creating turns that off.

I’ll be going into revision mode soon, so I’ll put this to the test and see if it works and how much writing a day I need to do to stay happy.

Books, writing life

Little Habits

For another entry in the “life hacks” and productivity category, I recently read a book that may prove to be life-changing, Small Move, Big Change, by Caroline L. Arnold. The premise of the book is that we generally fail at big goals like New Year’s resolutions because they’re too big and vague. You’ll have more success with what the author calls “microresolutions,” which are small but meaningful behavior changes. For instance, a broad resolution to get and keep the house tidy is bound to fail because there’s no sense of when or how to start, exactly what to do, or how to measure it. But you might succeed in resolving to make the bed every morning. That will make the bedroom automatically look a lot neater, and that might motivate you to do other things to tidy the bedroom. After a while, when it becomes a habit you don’t have to think about anymore, you could start a new microresolution, like putting away the laundry right after you do it instead of letting it pile up in a chair. Over time, all those new little habits will add up to accomplishing that big-picture goal.

It’s hardly earthshattering stuff. I wrote a radio feature years ago with a psychiatrist’s tips for sticking to resolutions that included making the goal small enough to achieve and measurable, but the way it’s phrased in this book clicked with me, and the author offers a lot of tips for making it work.

One suggestion she has is to create a mental message that goes with the habit, something you think to yourself to motivate you to do it. For the bed making resolution, you might remind yourself how much you’re going to like coming home to a neatly made bed or how nice it will be at bedtime. It also helps to have a cue to trigger the behavior you’d like to turn into a habit. Tying it to another habit you already have makes it easier to create a new habit. You might make the bed when you get dressed. You can remember “dress yourself, dress the bed.” The resolution may take some fine-tuning to figure out exactly the action to take, the cue, or the message you tell yourself, as well as spotting any obstacles that make the behavior harder. It may turn out that your reluctance to make the bed every day is because you’ve got an elaborate “bedscape” involving layers of coverlets and a complicated arrangement of throw pillows. Switching that out for a comforter and pillow shams so that making the bed is quicker and easier might make you more likely to make the bed.

She also gets into how to find the behavior that will have the most impact. The example she gave from her own life was her desire to get to work on time more consistently. She had to analyze her morning routine to figure out where the trouble spots were, and she figured out that one of her biggest problems was at the train station. She often had to dig in her bag for her fare card, then she didn’t know how much money was on it, so she’d have to check, and then she often had to add money to it for the morning ride, but the credit card readers on the ticket machines were generally not working, so she’d have to scrounge for cash to add just enough for one trip. Meanwhile, she’d miss a train and have to wait for the next one, which made her late. After some trial and error to figure out what would make this go better, she ended up keeping a separate fare card just for the morning commute, which she kept in a special coin purse so she could find it easily. Every Friday before she left the station on the way home, she’d add enough money to it to cover the next week’s morning rides, and she carried enough cash in the coin purse to pay for that. Once she started being able to go right to the turnstiles every morning, she stopped being late to work.

The second half of the book is a lot of specific examples covering some of the bigger resolution categories, like diet, exercise, communication, and organization.

By the time I’d finished reading the first few chapters, I’d enthusiastically made a long list of microresolutions, but then I got to the part where it says to do no more than two at a time because that’s all the willpower your brain really has. Focus on those two, and when they become habit, you can add two more. It takes three to eight (or more) weeks to really develop a habit, depending on how frequently you do a behavior and how big a change it is for you.

I narrowed my resolutions down to an easy one and an important one. The easy one involves the “nest” that tends to develop on my sofa. That’s where I sit to read the newspaper, work crossword puzzles, do knitting or embroidery, brainstorm or outline books, read, etc. I end up with piles of books, papers, notebooks, newspapers, and craft supplies on the sofa, which makes the whole living room look messy. I resolved to totally clear off and reset the sofa before I go to bed every night. There will be nothing left on the sofa — books on the coffee table or end table, newspapers in the recycling stack, craft projects put away — and I’ll straighten the pillows and the throw I keep on the sofa. To encourage myself to do it, I tell myself that it will be so nice to come into the living room in the morning and see it looking neat. The first day was the most difficult, when I had a lot more stuff to put away, but it’s been pretty easy since then, and after three weeks I think it’s become enough of a habit that I’ve taken on a new resolution, to clean up all the dishes from dinner right after dinner — load the dishwasher and wash anything from cooking that has to be hand-washed. I tend to let things pile up in the sink to the point that I can’t fit everything in the dishwasher once I finally get around to loading it. It’s only been a few days, but it’s going well so far. Again, day one was more difficult, but since then there’s less to do and I love coming into the kitchen in the morning and not seeing dirty dishes.

The important one involves work productivity and avoiding distractions, mostly social media and e-mail. I had a bad habit from back in my day job days of checking e-mail as soon as I got on the computer, since e-mail was a big part of my work, and I kept doing that once I started freelancing, then social media got attached to e-mail since that’s also communication related to my work. I might end up reading e-mail and social media and then realize it was lunchtime. A few years ago, I started writing before I go online, since e-mail first thing in the morning is less important to my work now. I formalized that as a resolution to not go online until 10:30. That’s worked pretty well, and I may need to add to that and not answer the phone during my peak working time because that also kills my productivity for the day. I’m still fine tuning what to do about the afternoon, trying to find the right schedule to follow or the right approach. A lot of it is a procrastination tactic, or else the way I take “breaks” when I get stuck, so I need to think of a way to deal with this. I do need to check e-mail after lunch, since that’s when the people I usually deal with for business tend to get back to me about things, so I need to find a way to do that without getting sucked into the rest of it. I think my next tactic will be a designated time for online stuff other than e-mail, and maybe a list of things that must be done before I check social media or any other online stuff that’s likely to eat up a lot of time.

Just a few weeks after I started reading this book I already have a visible difference in my house and a good boost in my writing productivity, so it seems to be working. The question will be whether or not it will stick once the initial enthusiasm wears off. The book is a quick and easy read and even pretty entertaining, so look for it at your library if you’re looking for ways to make changes that work.

writing life, memoir

A Lifetime of Stories

Here’s another installment in my writing career memoir. I mentioned before that I didn’t really start writing until I was almost twelve, but I’ve been a storyteller my entire life. That’s been my primary way of playing and of soothing myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever been a good sleeper. It takes me a long time to fall asleep. My parents say that as a baby and toddler I fought sleep, but I’m not sure if I fought it or if it just didn’t happen (or maybe the reason I have trouble is that I trained myself to fight sleep). I’ve never been someone who could fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow, no matter how tired I am. I can do all the calming things before bed—dim lights, soft music, reading until I can’t keep my eyes open—and it still takes me about half an hour to actually fall asleep once I put the book down and turn out the light. And that’s story time. Ever since I can remember, I would make up stories in my head to try to settle down enough to sleep. That’s the only way to stop all the other stuff, like planning the next day, remembering the day that just passed, worrying about stuff, fretting over things I’ve said or done, etc., from swirling around in my brain and keeping me awake. The earliest story I can remember was when I was two and I made up stories about the bear in my room. There was a tree outside my window, and the streetlamp made it cast a shadow on the wall over my bed that looked like a bear standing up, upper legs poised for attack. If a car drove by, the headlights made the shadow move like the bear was rushing toward me. I made up stories about being lost in the woods and chased by the bear, or variations on Goldilocks, or sometimes I was the bear. I managed to psych myself out a few times so that I was convinced the bear was real and called out to my parents, who would have to tell me there was no bear, that it was just a shadow (and then they saw what passing headlights did to it and understood).

As I got older and was watching or reading more complex things with actual stories and characters than you find in toddler entertainment, my mental stories were often essentially fan fiction. I made up more stories for my favorite shows or books, or since a secondary character was usually my favorite, I’d make up stories in which that character was the hero. Since I was trying to get to sleep, the bedtime stories tended to be quieter, like the characters just hanging out and talking or even going to sleep.

It wasn’t just trying to fall asleep at night. I amused myself by making up stories whenever I didn’t have anything else to do. During car rides, I was on a pirate ship, spaceship, or covered wagon, or I was being kidnapped. I acted out stories as a way of playing. I had a drawer full of dress-up clothes, and I’d put on costumes and act out stories, or I’d have my toys act out the stories. I made up stories to string together the songs on cast albums from musicals if I hadn’t actually seen the shows and didn’t know the context for the songs. Or I’d make up new stories for the songs from musicals I knew.

When I was seven, we moved to a neighborhood that had a lot of kids around my age, so I had a big neighborhood gang to hang out with, and we mostly played “let’s pretend.” We never just rode our bikes around the neighborhood. We were riding horses or motorcycles or flying fighter planes. We acted out TV shows, playing things like Star Trek or M*A*S*H. Often, this required making up new characters because there usually weren’t enough female characters for all the girls to take part. We loved it when Charlie’s Angels came out because there were actually three girls, and it was the boys who had to make up new characters. I’d often continue the story from the day’s play as my bedtime story, or I’d make up new stuff for the characters I’d created.

Star Wars came out near the end of third grade for me, but I didn’t see it until I’d started fourth grade, and when everyone in the neighborhood had seen it, that became one of the main things to play. When we played in the swings or rode our bikes, we were flying X-Wings or TIE Fighters. We had lightsaber duels with whatever was handy. Again, I had to make up a new character to play since the girls fought over who got to be Leia, and I made up so many stories about that character that they soon branched out from the Star Wars universe to be their own thing.

Still, in all this time, it never occurred to me to write any of these stories down. I didn’t connect the stories I made up in my head with things like books I read or movies I watched, didn’t consider that all of these were stories someone else had made up and then written down.

I still make up stories in my head to entertain myself. Now, though, I write them down and sell them. My bedtime stories are prime writing time, when I figure out things that can happen in my books. I do still occasionally play with mental fan fiction. That’s a good way to test out plot or character ideas without actually putting them in the book I’m working on, or it gives me ideas for stories when the series my mental fan fiction is based on goes in a different direction from the story in my head and I like my version better.

Next: How the writing began.

writing life

Things I Hate Being True

One of my hobbies is optimizing my life. I love finding productivity methods and other tricks to make life work a little better or to make things go more easily. I’m always looking for some new thing that will improve my life. But there’s a lot of advice I resist because I don’t really want it to be true—and then I finally give in and try it and find out that it works even if it’s not fun. So, here are the things that I have found to be true, even though I hate that they’re true:

1) My day goes better when I set an alarm in the morning, even though I work for myself and don’t have to be at work at any particular time.
Not only do I get an earlier start (though not much earlier; we’re talking 10-20 minutes), but I’m more alert and less groggy, and I fall asleep more easily at night. I’m not entirely sure why it works this way for me. It may have something to do with the kind of alarm clock I have. I have a light alarm clock that wakes you up with light. Half an hour before the time you set, a light comes on, dim at first and gradually growing brighter. If you haven’t turned it off by the time you set the alarm for, it will play some kind of sound. I almost never make it all the way to the sound. Usually I wake up about 10 minutes after the light comes on. I love this clock because it makes me feel like I naturally woke up at the time I wanted instead of being startled out of sleep by the alarm. It’s possible that the light does something to reset my circadian rhythms and that’s why setting an alarm makes me sleep better at night.

Anyway, I kind of hate this. I’d rather just sleep until I wake up every morning, but I have to admit that my days go better when I set an alarm. One other good thing is that it makes weekends and holidays, when I don’t set an alarm, feel different from my weekdays.

2) Exercise first thing in the morning gives me more energy all day.
I really resisted this. I thought if I didn’t eat breakfast as soon as I got up, I’d feel awful. I thought I didn’t have the time. But once I started walking in the morning, I had to admit that it made things better. Ideally, I go walking outdoors, but when weather, or sometimes time, doesn’t permit, I may do yoga or even just do some jumping jacks, windmills, or other exercises. Even if it’s just five minutes of movement, it really helps set up the whole day, and I hate that. I’d rather lie in bed and then drag myself to the kitchen for breakfast.

3) When writing is the first thing I do in my workday, I get so much more writing done and am more productive all day.
I resisted this one for decades. I thought I needed to ease my way into my day, and it was important to check my e-mail, in case there was some important information I needed to know. I’d sit down at the computer and start by reading e-mail, then social media, message boards, etc. Then I’d draft my blog post and make another round of social media, etc. I’d post my blog, check around again, and then lunchtime! Finally, I might start writing after lunch. There was no way I’d be alert enough first thing in the morning to write anything worthwhile.

Well, I finally gave it a shot, and it was amazing how well I could write first thing in the morning. Doing that before I started all the other stuff gave me a lot more focus. I reduce temptation by putting my computer to sleep at night with the browser minimized and my current document up on the screen, so that’s the first thing I see when I wake up the computer. I think keeping with this routine has improved the quantity and quality of my work. And I kind of hate it because I really would prefer to spend the morning drinking tea and surfing the Internet.

If your schedule doesn’t permit writing first thing in the morning, this applies to the beginning of any writing session. Do the writing first, the other stuff later. It’s amazing. And terrible.

4) Having a schedule makes the day go better.
One of the things I love about working for myself is setting my own schedule. I do what I want, when I want to. Except I don’t. Strangely, I’m bad about not getting around to doing things I want to do, often because I’m sidetracked by other stuff. I’ve learned that making a schedule makes me more likely to get to all the stuff I want to do. A lot of that has to do with how willpower and decision-making work. You really do run out of energy for making choices, especially late in the day, so if you make all the “what should I do today?” decisions early, then all you have to do later in the day is follow the schedule. My work routine has fallen into habit well enough that I don’t have to make a formal schedule unless there’s a change I have to accommodate, but where I really benefit from this is on weekends. Having a plan means I actually get to the fun stuff instead of just puttering around and then hitting Sunday night and wondering what happened to the weekend.

5) You see more progress when you do something daily.
I am pretty good about writing daily (except I give myself weekends off). It’s everything else that I tend to do weekly. I’d take an exercise or dance class that met once a week and not do anything in between. I had choir practice but wouldn’t sing the rest of the week. But last year, I started doing daily yoga, and it’s amazing how much a difference that made compared to the once a week class I used to take. I’ve been doing daily Norwegian lessons on Duolingo for a couple of years, and I feel like I’ve made more progress with just 15 or so minutes a day than I did in all the years I took Spanish classes in school. I need to get back to doing music this way. I’ve just about lost my singing voice after two years of barely even speaking, so I should start doing daily voice work so I can eventually get back to choir. This also works for housework, doing small things daily instead of doing it all on the weekend (or not doing it at all).

These all work for me, but may not necessarily work for everyone, since we’re all wired differently. But since I was absolutely certain they wouldn’t work for me until I tried them, it’s worth giving it a shot and seeing if these things work for you.

writing life, My Books

No More Murder

I’ve been working on the next Lucky Lexie mystery, hoping to have something to release by spring or summer, but I’m putting that on hold for now because murder is hitting a little too close to home right now, and it just upsets me to write about it.

First, I heard a murder happen near my house last week. In my neighborhood, the houses don’t face the main street. That street is just lined with trees and brick walls, and the houses face side streets or cul de sacs. My house is on a corner, so my office window on the second floor of my house overlooks a lawn, a wall, and then that main street. Last Thursday, I was sitting at my desk, writing, when I heard five loud pops in quick succession. I was still trying to figure out if that was gunfire and if I should call the police when I heard sirens, and soon an ambulance and a bunch of police converged. They closed the street, and it looked like there was a crime scene team taking pictures and measurements. In a later news release, the police department said that a young man had been found shot in his car, and he’d died on the way to the hospital. According to security footage they got from a business across the street, someone in another car leaned out the window while he was stopped at the intersection behind my house and shot him. The license tags of the shooter’s car were covered, which makes it sound like it was a planned hit. Last I heard, they haven’t made any arrests.

I wouldn’t have seen anything even if I’d been looking up at the right moment, but it’s still a bit shocking to know that I heard the shots that killed someone, and someone was killed right by me, in what’s normally a very quiet neighborhood.

Then Wednesday night this week, I was watching the evening news when they did a story about a young woman being shot outside a coffee shop in the adjacent town. Then they said the victim’s name, and my heart dropped because I knew her. She’s the daughter of some old friends. I’ve known her since she was born. I was at her baptism. I had her baby picture on my refrigerator until a couple of years ago when I got a new one and cleared off all the clutter. I used to tease her about still having her baby picture on my fridge. I’ve watched her grow up and go off to college. The age they gave seemed a bit too old, so I was hoping against hope that maybe it was someone else with the same name who lived in the same town and was close to the same age. I was trying to think back to how long ago she was born, trying to reassure myself that she couldn’t be the victim because the age was wrong. But then I got an e-mail yesterday morning from the church giving the sad news and offering condolences for the family.

I’m utterly shattered. This beautiful, talented, sweet girl was shot by someone she knew, who then killed himself. And now I can’t make myself look at murder as something to make entertainment out of. I can’t write a funny, quirky story about the thing my friends are going through as they face the loss of their daughter. Not too long ago, I was laughing at myself because when I wrote the murder in the book I’m working on, I cried for the loss of this fictional person who hadn’t actually appeared in the book and I cried for his family’s loss.

Which is making me wonder if maybe this is the wrong genre for me. I think it’s important to humanize the victims and not dismiss the pain of their loved ones, but at the same time that really gets to me. When I was feeling burnt out last year, I wonder if maybe this had something to do with it, if it wasn’t so much because I was tired from working a lot or if writing about murder and what it does to the people left behind was getting to me.

I’m going to focus for now on this fantasy book I’m developing. I don’t think anyone will die in it. There’s no murder investigation, just some courtly intrigue. It’s possible that I may be able to return to the mysteries, but definitely not soon, and I’ll have to think about whether or not this is something I want to do. Until the mysteries, I hadn’t killed a character in a novel. I’d planned for a dragon to eat Mimi in No Quest for the Wicked, but I couldn’t bring myself to kill even her.

writing life

Back from Staycation

I’m “back” from my staycation — sort of. The original plan was to take a whole week off, so I guess I’d have been back today anyway, but I started working again on Monday. The weather didn’t really cooperate with my plans. I’d hoped to take some long walks, but we had a massive wind storm, with a couple of days with gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour. Walking would not have been fun. Then it got too hot for a long walk (especially in the sun), and then it got cold and rainy. If you’re not doing anything, then a “staycation” starts to feel like being lazy at home, and do that for too long and you just get into bad habits. I spent a couple of days obsessing over a puzzle, and then I got bored. I actually wanted to get back to work.

So, I’m transitioning into what I’m thinking of as a creative retreat with a flexible schedule. Before I start a new project, I like to immerse myself in things that inspire me for that project. I read and watch things for research, like documentaries relating to the setting or some element of the story, plus I look for things to watch that remind me in some way of the story. It may be a movie set in the setting of the story, or something that stars someone I’ve mentally cast as one of my characters, or just something that has an element in it that I want to put in my story. I may listen to music to come up with a “soundtrack” for the story. It’s all about giving my brain input to create the movie that plays in my head that I then transcribe into a novel.

So, I’ll be doing that, along with the usual admin stuff I need to be doing for work. But if it happens to be a perfect day to pack a picnic lunch and go for a long walk in the woods, I’ll do that. If it’s a perfect day to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book, I’ll do that (as I’m planning to do today since it’s cold and rainy).

It’s not a full-on writing schedule, but I am doing things that relate to work that move me closer to being able to start writing, but also with enough flexibility for me to take some time off and revive myself, so it functions like a vacation.


writing life

Celebrating the Wins

Yesterday was release day, and I “celebrated” by going grocery shopping and running some other errands.

I guess over the years the excitement of a new release has worn off. In the early days, it was exciting to celebrate every victory. I got the call from the editor offering to buy my first book when I was at work. When I got off the phone, I was shaking and had tears in my eyes. My boss, a motherly older lady, was passing my office and asked me what was wrong. I told her I’d sold my book, and she gave me a big hug. The office later had a party for me to celebrate the release of that book. When I sold a book to Silhouette, my first with a major publisher, I’d changed jobs since I’d submitted the proposal (it took months for them to buy the book), so I got home on a Friday afternoon to find a message from the editor, asking me to call her back. Then there was another message left later in the day, saying she figured I wouldn’t get the message until after business hours and it would be cruel to leave me wondering all weekend, so she told me she wanted to buy my book. I don’t remember what I did to celebrate that sale, but I bought a TV and VCR when I got the advance check. I’d already bought a nice brooch to celebrate submitting that proposal.

I still have the bottle from the sparkling wine I got to celebrate signing with an agent for Enchanted, Inc. (it now serves as a flower vase). I bought the Infamous Red Stilettos to celebrate getting the publisher’s offer for Enchanted, Inc. I bought a new outfit for release day when I went around to all the bookstores in my area to sign the copies they had in stock (which turned out to be a depressing exercise because most of them didn’t have it). There were booksignings, and those were fun.

But after that, sales and releases were less exciting. Getting the next contract felt more like a relief than a triumph, and the release came after a lot of work. With Rebel Mechanics, the release was a frustration because the publisher had basically forgotten about the book and did no publicity, but I didn’t know they weren’t doing anything until it was too late for me to do much.

An independently published release is a bit anticlimactic. It’s the end of a lot of work, so it’s like dragging yourself across the finish line. You can’t go visit it in a bookstore. You just see the sales numbers start to show up, and you’re already thinking about the next thing. Since you were the one who decided to publish the book rather than it being selected by someone else, it feels more like a choice than an achievement. There’s also no advance. You just get paid royalties every month, so it’s like getting a paycheck.

As you learn more about the industry, you become more cautious about celebrating and announcing a sale. Early in your career, you celebrate at “the call,” when you get the call that a publisher wants to make an offer (these days, I’m more likely to get an e-mail), and you want to immediately tell everyone you know about it. Later in your career, you’ve become wary, so you may wait for the contract to celebrate or announce the sale, or possibly even the advance payment. Sometimes these are spread out over months. You have to work out with your agent and the publisher when and how to announce the deal, so you can’t just run around telling everyone you sold your book as soon as you get the offer.

It’s even worse with TV or movie options. There may be the initial offer, then there’s the negotiated deal, then the actual contract and the payment, and then nothing else may happen. I’ve had possible deals fall apart at various of these stages along the way. Even if things are progressing, you may not be allowed to publicly announce what’s going on (since the studios like to be the ones to announce, and they do it on their timetable), which makes it feel less real. I may be at the point where I wouldn’t celebrate a TV or movie deal until I’m actually watching the show or movie. Then I might believe it’s for real.

I don’t think it’s just me being jaded that has changed things, though. For one thing, there’s a difference between making a book sale when you have a full-time job and when writing books is your job. “Announcing” also means something different now. For my first sale, the Internet was barely a thing, so announcing the sale meant calling my friends and announcing it at my local writing group. The Internet had really come along by the time I sold my later books, but even up to the point of selling Enchanted, Inc., it was a lot less public. There was no real social media, so the Internet amounted to a cluster of smaller communities. I announced the sales on the e-mail loops of various writing groups I was in and to newsgroups and forums I participated in, and while some of those were publicly accessible, it wasn’t as though anything announced there was going to get spread very far. Now, I have an audience beyond just my personal friends, and the Internet is a lot more public. If I announce something on Twitter, it can get spread widely pretty quickly, so I have to be a lot more careful. I generally let my agent make any announcements, and then I share what she announces.

But thinking about this has made me realize I need to find the joy again and remember that each book is an accomplishment. Which is why I made a point of making a nice dinner last night, and I had a s’more for dessert (something that goes with the book). I need to get back in the habit of buying something fun to commemorate each book. I have necklaces and brooches that relate to a lot of my earlier books, or I’ve bought shoes. I don’t know why I stopped doing that, and I shouldn’t have. I have writer friends who have book charm bracelets, and they get a charm to go with each book. I don’t wear bracelets, but I need to think of something to do to celebrate even the tiny victories, something to have that I can look at and remember that it represents a book.

writing life

The Terrifying Office

I got all the book work done, so now I can take things a little more slowly, though I do have launch-related work to do next week. I’ve spent this week so far doing a gradual deep clean of the house. I’m doing the kind of dusting where I take everything off a surface, then clean all the items and the surfaces and polish the furniture and the kind of vacuuming where I move the furniture and go along all the baseboards with a crevice tool. I’m managing about one room a day before I collapse, but I’m going to love the results when it’s all done.

The real challenge is going to be the office. I let my office, which is the upstairs bedroom, get out of control during the years when I was migrating around the house with my laptop instead of working in the office. It turned into a storage room, the place where I dumped everything when I was doing an emergency house cleaning. I got the area around the desk cleaned up earlier this year, so I can work in the office, but the rest needs work to make it a pleasant place to be. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’m not even sure where to begin because it’s the kind of thing where I need to clear out one space to put another thing away to clear that space, but I guess I just need to pick a spot and get started and let it all come together.

I’m also rethinking the way I have things arranged. I put the bookcase with all my books in a corner because I don’t often need to reach those (I have reference copies near my desk if I need to look something up while writing), and I have a cart with my mailing supplies and file folders on the wall behind my desk. But now there’s Zoom, and I don’t really want a bunch of envelopes and file folders as my background, so I’m thinking about switching so that my brag bookcase is behind me and the office supplies are out of sight.

I have this crazy idea to turn my office into a magical forest, but I don’t think that will work in this space. I’d have some fake trees hung with fairy lights and lots of plants. I don’t have the room for that the way things are now, and I haven’t found the right kind of fake tree. For now, I’d settle for the place merely being neat and organized. Then I’ll worry about decorating.

writing life

Sweater Weather

After giving myself Wednesday off to celebrate the arrival of fall, I got back to work yesterday, reading through the whole book in one day. That’s the best way to spot things like repetition (where a character says more or less the same thing multiple times or I use the same description repeatedly) or continuity errors and contradictions. But I did take advantage of our lovely weather by putting the manuscript on my tablet and sitting outside to read it.

I may want to tinker with the ending, but this book won’t require massive rewrites or revisions. I did have some repetition, with the same information conveyed multiple times. They’re talking to different people, so in reality might have told the same story more than once, but I can trim it or reword it so the reader won’t have to read it over and over again. There are also a couple of things I need to set up better. Otherwise, it’s mostly an issue of editing. I was weirdly sloppy in this book. Usually even my first drafts are pretty tight, without a lot of typos. But there are typos galore in this, as well as some repeated or skipped words. I guess I got excited and my brain was going too fast for my fingers. I also found at least one case where a character’s name that was changed didn’t get changed. I’d forgotten the original name, so in reading I had to wonder who that person was supposed to be before it finally dawned on me.

Now I’m doing my editing pass to tighten and polish the book. I’m still hoping to have it published before Halloween, since it’s kind of a Halloween book.

My “yay, I finished a draft” present to myself was a new hoodie. My fall “uniform” is generally a tank top and a hooded sweatshirt, but every year I find myself wishing I could find a lighter weight one, like maybe made of t-shirt material instead of fleece, so it’s just enough to cover my arms without adding a lot of weight but easier to take off when I get warm than if I actually wore a long-sleeved t-shirt. I’d done some searches at places I usually shop without finding anything and mentioned this on Twitter. Someone suggested a particular brand, and while they didn’t have anything, I tried a related brand and scored a jackpot. Even better, Amazon carried this item, and I have free shipping and a gift card, so it was essentially free. And it was in a local warehouse, so I got it the next day. It’s rather ridiculous how happy this one item has made me, but it’s perfect for a chilly morning out on the patio, then I can take it off when it gets warm. It’s actually a bit lighter and more open a weave than t-shirt material, which makes it perfect as a layering piece in semi-warm weather that changes a lot throughout the day.

We won’t get into how many hoodies I own now. And I’m trying to resist the temptation to get another one of these in a different color.