Archive for writing life

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.

writing life

Writing for Health

For the past week or so, I’ve been writing a first draft, and I think I’ve validated my theory that it’s the business part of publishing that burns me out. Once I started writing instead of spending all my time on business tasks and proofreading, etc., I felt so much better. I have more energy, I’m less stressed, I sleep better, and I even have less physical pain.

Yes, writing seems to be good for my body, while doing other stuff is bad for me. Mostly, that’s about the way I sit when I do other stuff. When I’m typing, I sit more or less like a normal person, facing the computer, my hands on the keyboard. When I’m reading things on the computer but not typing, I tend to get into weird, twisted positions and lean to the side, so I end up with a sore shoulder. Meanwhile, scrolling and clicking makes my right hand sore if I do it all day. When I’m typing, all the fingers on both hands are working, and nothing feels overused or strained.

It also helps that I’ve seen more results from my work lately, so I have less of that helpless feeling that I think contributes to the sense of burnout. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time. Getting a couple of books ready for publication and seeing sales makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. Plus, there’s some other stuff that may be in the works that I hope to be able to discuss later that’s made me feel a bit better about work.

I’m going to have to figure out a way to get better balance going forward. I do need to do the business stuff because writing the books doesn’t do much good if I’m not selling them. I just need to find a way to make sure I’m writing more often and don’t end up with too many days in a row of just proofreading and promoting. Even when I’m in editing and marketing mode, maybe I should work on a short story, or something, purely for health reasons. I guess I’m the kind of writer who’d be happy just hiding in my cave and churning out stories, but it’s really hard to make a living doing that these days. You’re always going to have to deal with business issues, and all authors are expected to participate in promotion and publicity, even if they’re dealing with one of the big publishers.

In the meantime, I’ve got a book releasing Friday, so I suppose I should be doing some promo, but first I need to write a couple thousand more words for the day.

writing life

Fiction Friday: Brainstorming Day

After coming up with the idea for doing Fiction Fridays a couple of weeks ago, I might actually get to do it this week. I launched a book and finished one proofing pass on another. I wrapped up the freelance articles I’ve been working on. There’s administrative work I could be doing, but none of it is urgent. I have a virtual conference Zoom roundtable discussion this afternoon, but other than that, I have a day free for making up stuff. And that means I’m going to start brainstorming and outlining the next mystery book.

I’m excited about this one because the general concept is something that’s been in my head for a couple of decades, with different characters in the lead. I keep “auditioning” characters for this story, and I’ve never had a good place for it until now. And now I have the perfect place for it.

I realized, though, when I started thinking about the outline for this book that the story concept I’ve had all this time was pretty thin. It gives me a setting and a very basic situation. I still have to come up with the actual crime and how it’s going to be solved, and whatever else they’ll discover along the way. That’s going to take some serious pen-and-paper work, maybe some pacing and talking to myself. Which, I guess, counts as exercise, while I’m at it.

So, that’s most of my day set. It’ll feel like an early start to the weekend.

writing life

Business vs. Writing

Because I love optimizing things, I’ve been thinking more about ways to get better work-life balance, and one thing I realized is that what tires my brain and burns me out isn’t the writing part. It’s the business side of things and more analytical stuff, things like editing, marketing, bookkeeping, publishing, etc. That also includes non-fiction writing, where there’s interviewing, chasing down interview subjects, writing, editing, invoicing, etc. Making stuff up is the fun part of my work.

But the business side of things has to be done if I want to make a living at the fun stuff. I have to do all the things it takes to get a book published in order for it to be able to make any money, and I need to do marketing if I want to sell books. The non-fiction writing is helping supplement my income. I’d love to be able to stop it entirely, but right now the book sales aren’t there and I’m grateful to have this opportunity.

The problem for me lately has been that I’ve been in pure business mode for the past month or so. I’ve been editing, proofreading, dealing with covers, doing a lot of little marketing tasks and doing a lot of freelance non-fiction writing. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to just make things up. No wonder I’m tired!

I think I may start a routine of Fiction Fridays. All the business stuff will happen early in the week, and Fridays will be devoted to making stuff up. This will be less of an issue when I’m actually writing a book, but will be a good thing to do when I’m in the middle of Business Mode. That’ll remind me of why I’m doing all the business stuff. I can’t do it today because I have an article due, but I should be able to wrap that up quickly (it’s written, so I just need to polish it up a bit and edit it) and then go to some more fun work.

A few years ago, I had Getting Stuff Done Wednesdays, so that I spent two days doing intense writing and nothing else, then did all the other stuff on Wednesdays, including errands. It was also choir night, so it was a short day, anyway. Then two more days of intense writing without anything else to worry about. That fell by the wayside when I had too much stuff to get done in one day, and I found that I dreaded Wednesdays and didn’t get any writing momentum when I broke off midway during the week. What I may do is designate a Getting Stuff Done hour daily for all the little tasks. Bigger tasks like proofreading and editing will have to be scheduled separately.

I probably won’t be able to get back to actual writing of fiction until next month, so I’ll have a few weeks to play with this concept and see how it works. Meanwhile, I’m doing better about shutting off the work-related activity earlier in the evening and doing something else for fun, and I think it’s giving me a bit more mental energy. July’s going to be a challenge because I’m doing an online conference that runs on weekends. A lot of the sessions are recorded, so I can watch them whenever, but there will be roundtable discussions and Q&A sessions on the weekends. I may have to work more relaxation into weekdays so I don’t overdo it.

And lest anyone worry, I’m not in any kind of real burnout or other emotional trouble. This is mostly me noticing that I’m starting to run out of steam, recognizing some patterns, and doing preventative maintenance to avoid trouble. It’s like putting on a coat when you notice it’s getting cold, long before you’re in danger of hypothermia.

writing life

Work-Life Balance

I hit a wall late last week when I was trying to read information I was given to turn into an article and the words just blurred together. I decided that what I needed was some rest, so I gave myself an extra long weekend to not do any work. And it was amazing the difference it made. I slept better and ended up feeling refreshed.

That reminded me of how important work-life balance is. It gets tricky when your work is something you once did for fun, as a hobby. Everything turns into work. You’re always thinking in terms of what would work in a book. When you read or watch something, you find yourself analyzing the story. I tend to spend my evenings doing research reading or reading how-to books.

But the brain needs a break from work, even when your work is fun, and taking a few evenings to not read books about writing did me a lot of good. I don’t know that I’m going to stop spending my evenings on work-related stuff all the time because I actually enjoy that. There’s a classical music radio show on in the early evenings that I like to listen to, and it’s nice to have that show on while I read reference books for a book I’m planning or read information about writing or publishing. Then they play symphony concerts after that, and if the program is something I like, I keep working. I think I need to shut off the work earlier so that I don’t go to bed with my brain spinning about books and plots. I need some transitional leisure activities to allow me to relax a bit more. “Leisure” isn’t the same as goofing off during the workday. That’s usually just procrastination, doing things I don’t really enjoy and feeling guilty about it. Real leisure is choosing to do something for fun, with no sense that I should be doing something else. Oddly, not watching as much TV meant I stopped doing much leisure. When I’m listening to the radio, I end up doing writing-related work, like the reference reading and brainstorming. Not that I should go back to watching a lot of TV, but I need to find more things I can do in the evening that aren’t work or TV. I’ve been trying this week to shut off the work earlier and then read for fun, but even reading may feel like work because it’s still story, which hits the same parts of the brain as my work. I guess I need to find new hobbies.

I also think I’ll make more of an effort to take defined breaks every so often. One nice thing about working for myself at home is that I can weave life around work, and vice versa, but that often means that I never entirely stop working. I may take a break during the day to go grocery shopping or do chores, but that also means I may spend evenings and weekends at least thinking about books. Taking time to “refill the well” and recharge is also important. I need to be better about cultivating activities that aren’t about work, which has been harder while stuck at home this past year. Generally, when I go out, that’s a clean break from work. No going out means fewer breaks in routine.

I was able to get back to one of my activities last weekend. My church had an outdoor service at an amphitheater on the shore of a nearby lake Sunday morning, and since we were outdoors, the choir actually got to sing. We had a rehearsal Saturday, then the service and a short concert Sunday morning, after which I did some walking around the lake. We had unusually cool weather for this time of year, so being outdoors was nice.

I’m going to aim for another long weekend next month, with no thinking about work or work-related activity and some time spent doing other activities that get me out of my head.

writing life, My Books

Finding my Niche

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m trying to deal with the business aspects of publishing so I can keep actually making a living at this. As part of that, I’ve been trying to level up on the business side of things, doing a lot of reading, attending workshops, etc. I went to a webinar this week that offered some good advice, but that also made me worry that I may not be suited to independent publishing.

One of the main pieces of advice was to find your niche and stick with it. Being consistent and delivering something tried and true is the best way to build, sustain, and grow a readership. A niche is a specific kind of book within a subgenre, such as, say, romantic comedy set in small towns with heroes who are ex-military. When you do this, you can build a steady readership who knows what they’re going to get when they read one of your books, and when they’re in the mood for the sort of thing you write, you’re the author they’ll turn to. Each book you write will have a built-in customer base.

I know this works because I know people who’ve been wildly successful doing this. But just thinking about everything I write being in the same niche gives me a panic attack. I don’t even know what my niche would be. If we go with what I’ve been most successful with, it would be light humorous contemporary fantasy with a hint of romance set in New York with adorkable wizards. You could fit most of what I’ve published so far into that niche. Take away the “New York” part and you could maybe even squeeze the mysteries in there. The YA books would be the outliers, though Rebel Mechanics fits if you remove “contemporary,” since it’s got New York and an adorkable wizard.

But I don’t really have any new ideas in that contemporary fantasy niche now. I’ve got plots for two more mysteries beyond what I’ve written. I sort of have an idea for another Fairy Tale book outlined, but am not really driven yet to write it. Right now, I’m not even reading contemporary-set books, fantasy or otherwise. I’ve tried to pick up a couple but have put them aside after a chapter because I just can’t get into that mindset. I don’t know if it’s everything going on in the world and wanting to escape right now or if it’s something else. I just don’t want to read about the “real” world in anything that looks like today, even if one of the characters is an adorkable wizard.

If I went by what I’m reading now and where my story ideas are, it would be “traditional” fantasy — secondary world, quasi-European (I’ve read some outside those lines, but I don’t know that I could write it), and set in a somewhat medieval-like past. That’s what I’m gravitating toward as a reader right now. I want castles and sailing ships and horses and forests, quests and swashbuckling. I have ideas for a couple of different series along those lines. Just about any new idea I come up with is in that realm. But I’ve never published anything like that. It would be entirely new, and the only thing in common with my previous books would be the adorkable wizards (they keep finding their way into my books), the snarky heroines, and probably the overall vibe. The settings would be entirely different from my other books, but I suspect it will still feel like me.

I may fall in love with something else a year from now, though, and want to write that. The thought of writing the same kind of book over and over again makes me queasy.

And not just the same kind of book, but the same series. That’s the other advice. And, again, I know it works. But I could only manage nine books in a series I loved before I started getting tired of it, and I even wrote a couple of other series in the meantime. The thought of writing 20 or more books in the same series, as some authors have, makes me twitchy. Now, most of these aren’t the kind of series where you have the same main characters and follow the same story arc. They’re more along the lines of the best friend from book 1 being the heroine of book 2, where heroine 1 is still a secondary character and heroine 3 is introduced. Or it’s a family, where each of the brothers gets his own book. There’s some variety there when you aren’t having to mine the same people for drama over and over again.

One of the fantasy ideas I have works kind of like that. I’m setting up a world where a lot of things can happen. There’s a throughline, but the main characters in each book will be different and there may be subseries within the series about different places in that world. I think I could have fun with that, though I don’t know if I could get to 20 books.

Really, I think I’m best suited for traditional publishing, where I don’t have to make the business decisions and where just being more or less within the same genre is good. They don’t want really massive series (unless they’re hugely successful, and then they’ll want to milk it as long as possible). Unfortunately, the kind of thing I like to write isn’t what publishers want. I keep coming up with ideas, and my agent tells me she can’t sell that. They’re backlogged thanks to the pandemic and the way that messed with publishing schedules and releases. My experiences there haven’t been all that great. I’ve never really felt like I’ve been in a situation where the people I was dealing with believed in me and backed me. I’ve never had a publisher let a series finish before they dropped me. Maybe I haven’t found the right editor with the right idea at the right time. Which means I want to keep doing this instead of getting a real job, I’ll need to suck it up and figure out a way to make it work. I think that fantasy series idea might work for me. At the very least, I could use it to establish myself in that field, and then if it does well, a traditional publisher might be interested in me. So far, what I’ve heard from publishers is that they want something like Enchanted, Inc. They don’t want to buy the Enchanted, Inc. series, but they don’t want anything that’s too different. That means I need to make my own name in something different for them to consider it.

writing life

Multitasking

I’m working on at least three fiction projects right now, all in different phases, and while I might have thought that would leave me scattered, it’s actually working pretty well. When I get tired of one, I can take a little time to play with another, and I’m even finding synergies between them.

I’m revising one project, which takes a lot of concentration. It’s nice to have something useful to do when I need to take a break because I’ve realized my eyes are sliding over words rather than really taking them in.

I’m developing another project, doing some in-depth character work and worldbuilding. This is that book that I thought would be quick and easy earlier this year when I decided to do something with a thirty-year-old story idea. It wasn’t so quick and easy, and now that I’m doing a deep dive into developing the characters and world, I’m seeing why it didn’t work so well. Just because the characters and world had been in my head for a long time, it didn’t mean they were actually developed. The world was a rather generic fantasy world, and it’s fun seeing it flesh out as I do the development work, like it’s going from a black-and-white outline to a full painting. I think the next time I take a stab at this story, it will go very differently, and I’m getting excited about the potential for this book. Some of the characterization exercises are giving me ideas for things I can do to deepen the book I’m revising.

Then there’s another project I’m researching. I only have the vaguest big-picture idea of what this series is going to end up being and am doing a lot of reading to help me figure out that world and how it works. Some of the things I’m reading are giving me ideas for building the world in that other project.

Meanwhile, I have two different non-fiction freelance projects in the works. And I should be doing more business and marketing work. Keeping busy is good during the summer because it makes the time pass more quickly. I may survive until late September, when it gets bearable again.