Archive for writing life

writing life

Hiding in the Cave

It’s supposed to be the hottest week of the year this week (at least, I hope there isn’t another worse one coming). Temperatures above 100 all week, and never going below 80, even at night. That means I’m going to have to get up earlier to take a walk before it gets sweltering, which means going to bed earlier. But it also means hiding inside under my ceiling fan, which is good because I need to be writing. I’m so close to the end of this book, and maybe if I buckle down and get to work, I can finish this draft this week and emerge from my darkened cave when temperatures go below 100.

Meanwhile, I’m counting the days to autumn.

Summer is generally when I’m planning books, which may be why it’s harder for me to actually draft right now. I have drafted in the summer, but for the most part, that’s when the ideas are coming at me and I’m creating worlds and characters, doing research, generally playing with the idea without actually putting it into words. Then I settle down to the actual writing in the fall.

But fall tends to be busy with conferences, conventions, and book festivals. Most of my weekends this fall are already spoken for, and there’s usually pre-weekend time devoted to preparation, travel, and recovery. That means fall may become my thinking about it time, since that can happen anywhere and doesn’t necessarily require concentration. In fact, going to different places and being in a variety of settings is good for thinking because it shakes things up. Then winter should be a good time for drafting because there’s not much going on.

I don’t always have that much control over my writing schedule, since a lot of it depends on the publisher’s schedule, but for the books I manage for myself, it might be good to keep this flow in mind.

writing life

Done! And Moving On …

I finished the book yesterday, and I’m happy enough with it that I’m going to send it to my agent to see if she can find it a good home.

Oddly enough, I also finished the Shawl that Would Not Die on the same day, the one I saw as a metaphor for this book because I kept having to rip out large amounts and start over. I honestly didn’t plan it that way. It just happened.

I think I’m going to use the rest of the week as catch-up time to take care of some business-related stuff, promo work, brainstorming, and planning before I dive back into Book 9 and try to get that finished. I have a list of things I’ve been saying I need to get around to doing, and I think knocking most of them out will feel really good. Having a slight transition between projects is also good for the brain.

I think I am going to compile and edit my writing articles and maybe write a few new pieces and put it together as an e-book. For one thing, it will give me practice for formatting and playing with some of the features of the e-book distributors. For another, it might give me some income and might help promote my other work. It’s like advertising I get paid for. I don’t know when I’ll get it done, so stay tuned for news.

I guess I also need to start thinking about whether I want to do another Christmas book. The last one didn’t make that much money last year, but it may get another bump this year when the season rolls around, and doing another one might raise visibility for both of them. We’ll see if an idea strikes me and if I have time to work on it.

I used to say “so many books, so little time” about my to-be-read pile, but it also applies to my “to-write” list.

writing life

Brain Blinders

I had a weird case of overwhelmed paralysis yesterday, where there were about three things of equal importance vying for attention in my brain, which meant I had a hard time making any progress on any of them. It was like the work equivalent of when you start to head to one room to get or do something, but then you think of something else you need to do in another room and you find yourself standing still as you try to go both places at once, putting your weight on one foot to head one direction, then shifting your weight to the other foot to head the other direction. Eventually, you have to pick a direction and go. But when that’s happening when you’re writing, even when you pick one, the other ones pop up in your head to distract you while you’re working on that thing.

Yesterday, I had three books shouting for attention, plus there’s that vacation planning thing that got complicated by figuring out how to actually redeem that voucher. Meanwhile, I started thinking about what I need to do about marketing because my book sales are down a bit.

There’s a marketing workshop on Sunday that I was pondering, but I suspect I know what they’d tell me to do, and the problem is that I won’t want to do any of it, and I’m not entirely convinced that it would work. They’re going to tell us to have a mailing list and do social media, maybe get a “street team” and possibly Facebook ads.

I’m not sure that addresses my particular issue, which is that the people who know about me love my books and buy them, but I’m almost entirely unknown outside that small group. Almost any bit of marketing I can do is preaching to the choir, reaching people who’ve already bought everything. A mailing list might be nice for reminding people when I have something new out, but it’s not going to bring in new readers. I’m not even sure how effective it would be when everyone and their dog has a mailing list. You can’t visit a web site these days without getting one of those “sign up for my mailing list” pop-ups. I suspect most people run screaming at the thought of another mailing list.

I haven’t managed to get 600 Twitter followers in three years. Facebook doesn’t even spread your posts to the people who’ve actively asked to see them. And, again, preaching to the choir.

I need to figure out some ways to get beyond my loyal fans and make new loyal fans, or at least get new people to give my books a shot. That’s tricky when everything right now qualifies as backlist, with nothing new in a while. Yeah, that shouldn’t matter for new people, but it’s hard to get any kind of attention for a 13-year-old book. I guess I need to come up with a brilliantly viral tweet, or something.

For once, I have a Saturday and Sunday without plans (unless I do that workshop), so I may devote some time to thinking about this and coming up with a specific plan. Until then, it may keep begging for attention, along with all the other things. I need brain blinders.

writing life

Scheduling

I’ve been reading a book on how the conventional wisdom about success is often wrong, and I’ll discuss it in more detail once I’ve thought about it some more, but one thing it did do was reinforce my scheduling habit. The “conventional wisdom” was that you should have a to-do list to keep track of tasks, and the better way is to have a schedule, instead, because the to-do list doesn’t do you much good if you don’t allocate the time to do those items. Scheduling time to do the things you need to do makes you more likely to do them.

I actually have both. I use the Stickies app on my computer to keep a to-do list for each day of the week. When I think of something I need to do, I put it on that day’s list. Then when I do my scheduling for that day, I schedule those tasks.

But the schedule really is a life changer for people who tend to procrastinate or who have trouble getting started. I find that I get so much more done, and actually get those tasks on my list done, when I make a schedule every morning. It even works on weekends because I schedule my chores and the fun things I want to do. That makes me more likely to make time for the fun stuff. If I don’t schedule, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just surfing the Internet or watching TV, and then I feel guilty for doing that, so even that’s not fun. So, I schedule my Internet and TV time, along with other stuff I want to do, and then I can relax and enjoy all the activities.

That’s what the author of this book was showing, that while the conventional wisdom is that a schedule will make you feel constrained, and you definitely don’t want to have to stick to a plan on the weekend, it actually works out that you’re happier when you’re conscious and deliberate about how you use your time. You’re more likely to do the things that make you happy instead of wasting your time on things that are easy to fall into without thinking, and you feel better about yourself when you don’t feel like you wasted time. It’s nice to be at the end of a weekend and able to look back at what you accomplished and the things you did rather than wondering where all the time went.

I’m still working out the best way to use my schedule. I’ve learned to overestimate how much time something will take. I only schedule half-hour blocks because any tighter than that adds to stress. If a task doesn’t take that much time, it gives me a cushion in case something else takes longer or there’s an interruption. In fact, I deliberately plan a few blocks that I know will only take a few minutes. The tricky part is scheduling writing time because I know I need a few breaks just to get up and move, but those are too short to put on the schedule, but if there’s not a firm “back to work” time, it’s easy for those breaks to expand. Using the timer on my phone for the breaks helps. It also depends on which stage of a project I’m on. I want longer working blocks when I’m drafting because I want to get into a state of flow where I’m immersed in the world. When I’m editing or proofreading, I don’t want that flow because I want to be focused and aware, so I may schedule shorter blocks with breaks to go do something else in between.

And now my schedule is telling me that it’s time to write.

writing life

When Life Affects Art

I have reached the phase of revisions in which I’m really doubting myself, and I don’t know if there’s something lacking in the story or if I’ve just spent so much time agonizing over every word that it’s lost the magic for me. This may be when I need to let someone else look at it. I do think there are some things that need to be amped up, but I’m not sure how.

I think part of my problem is that I wrote a lot of this book, particularly the end, while I was in a mode where I needed low-stress reads, so it gets very low-stress at times, and low-stress is hard to sell.

That’s one of the tricky things about writing. Even if you don’t realize you’re doing it, your real life seeps into what you’re writing. I had to scrap large parts of Damsel Under Stress and completely rewrite the ending because one of my close friends died while I was midway through the book. She’d been a kind of critique partner, someone I sent chapters to as I wrote them. You can thank her for Owen playing such a large role in the Enchanted, Inc. series because in the first draft of the first book she loved him, and that encouraged me to give him a larger role. It was hard continuing with that book after her death. I was in a kind of fog. I didn’t even realize how gloomy that book was until my agent gave me her feedback, and after I’d had time away from it and had emerged from the fog, I re-read the book again and couldn’t believe what I wrote.

With the book I’m working on now, I wrote this draft of the ending while going through a lot of medical stuff, in the phase where there had been some tests, and those results had led to the need for other tests, but I was waiting on appointments, so there was a lot of uncertainty. My TV viewing was mostly along the lines of “let’s visit these lovely gardens” or “let’s walk around to sites related to famous novels” just because I needed to keep my blood pressure and adrenaline levels down. That made it hard to write a really gripping climax in which my characters were in danger and had to save the day.

It’s also hard to write a romance novel when your boyfriend has dumped you and you’re going through a bitter “I don’t believe in love anymore” phase.

Maybe there are some writers who can immerse themselves into their worlds so much that their own lives are never reflected in their books, but I find that if I shut off my own life, the book comes across as cold and lifeless. The trick seems to be to be able to see in the work where life has made an impact and fix it in edits. That requires a lot of self awareness, or else a good critique partner who can call you on it.

writing life

Nebulas 2018

I’m home from the Nebula Conference, which is the annual conference of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This is my one real travel convention of the year and is one that I prioritize. The first time I went to one of these, it was really just about the awards banquet, with a few programming items and the business meeting, but it’s evolved into a real conference that’s exactly what I’d been looking for.

When I first started writing, I belonged to the Romance Writers of America. Although I always wanted to be a fantasy writer, I started off in romance, mostly because that’s what I had information about. RWA had local chapters with monthly meetings and a big annual conference. This was where I learned everything about the business of publishing, as well as a lot about craft. After a few romance novels, I really found my footing in fantasy, but since my fantasy novels had strong romantic elements, I kept a foot in both worlds for a while. Then RWA moved away from the “strong romantic elements” stuff to focus more squarely on romance, and I let my membership drop. But I did miss that annual conference, several days of being with other writers in my field and learning about what’s going on in the industry.

The Nebula Conference is now very much like that RWA conference used to be, though on a smaller scale. There’s a mass autographing session, conference workshops, and the awards ceremony. I like that the scale is smaller because it’s a lot more intimate and less overwhelming. I also like that it’s built more on the model of a science fiction convention, so the programming starts at 10 (rather than 8) and there’s a hospitality suite for meals rather than all those hotel luncheons. It’s kind of like the writing/publishing side of a WorldCon, broken out into its own event.

What did I learn this week?

  • I learned something about Draft 2 Digital that I wasn’t aware of previously, which should end up earning me more money.
  • I learned about ways to get more/better speaking engagements, which should end up earning me more money.
  • I learned enough about online advertising for books that I might dip my toes into that, and we’ll see if that earns me more money (are we seeing a theme?).
  • I picked up some hints on how to use social medial more effectively. Maybe one day I’ll really figure that out.
  • I got some ideas of how I might be able to use a patronage type thing to promote my work and maybe earn some more money.

I came away with a rather epic to-do list, and as soon as I get past a couple of deadlines I’m hoping to carve out daily time for dealing with this business stuff.

Meanwhile, I met a lot of interesting people. I think I pick up more new Twitter followers at one of these conferences than I tend to do at a WorldCon. I got to present a Nebula Award to a friend, which was almost as good as winning one, myself.

The people doing the matching for the mentor program should start a matchmaking service because they were almost eerie in how well people were matched. I was glad I signed up as a mentor, in spite of the Imposter Syndrome kicking in and trying to tell me I had nothing to teach, because looking out for someone else and making sure she had a good conference helped me not have my usual social awkwardness and shyness.

Oh, and I came home with more additions to the Strategic Book Reserve. My goal is to read some of the advance reading copies before the books are officially published.

writing life

Almost Done!

I’m so very close to the end of this draft of this book (which was almost a complete rewrite). Of course, that’s when it’s as though every fiber of my being wants to do everything but write this book. I suddenly desperately want to clean my house, organize things, nap, read, research obscure subjects, and learn opera arias. Every other story idea I’ve had for years is suddenly jumping up and demanding attention.

But I will push through. I have to tell myself that I can’t work on those other things until this book is finished. I’m even going to work Saturday, if I have to.

Though I do have other stuff to do Saturday. I’m doing a talk at church Sunday night that needs some preparation, and then I’m doing a workshop at the Nebula Awards conference that I need to write because I need to get the handouts to them ahead of time. I have some promo stuff I really should take care of. I also want to get my house in order because, distraction and procrastination aside, it really is awful right now. And then there’s that trip to the Nebula Awards. I’m presenting an award, which means I may need to dress a little fancier than I was planning to (well, since I wasn’t actually planning to go to the awards ceremony at all, I guess it’s a lot fancier because if they hadn’t asked me to present, I’d have been wearing yoga pants and my nightshirt and lounging in my hotel room). Some people wear ballgowns to this event. I’m not going that far, but should probably find something fancier than yoga pants and a Star Wars nightshirt.

So, yeah, I’ve got stuff I need to deal with after this book is done, so I’d better get cracking.

writing life

Taxes and Writers

My taxes are done and mailed. I had a pretty good year, which is a mixed blessing. It’s good to make more money than I expected, but then that means I had to pay more in taxes. Instead of getting a refund, I had to pay a bit more, and that means my estimated taxes for this year went up. That means doing your taxes is an emotional roller coaster. On the Schedule C you do for your business, it’s like “Wow, that’s more than I made in my best year at the day job, even when you factor in expenses!” Then you get to the Schedule SE for self-employment taxes, and then that means you net less than you made in the day job because self-employed people have to pay double the amount for Social Security, etc. Think about the amount that’s deducted from your paycheck, and double it. And then there’s income taxes, but at least you get to offset that with some deductions. I suspect I came out around the same as I did in my best year at my day job this year, but that was more than 17 years ago, and I would hope I’d have had a raise since then if I’d stayed in that career field.

Still, I feel like I’m better off because I’m doing what I love and answering to no one but myself, and it’s hard to put a dollar value on that.

But this sort of thing is why writers explode when readers complain about book prices or pirate books, or even have the gall to ask for free books. Most of us aren’t rich, and the fact that we’re doing what we love doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paid for it.

writing life

Creativity

Oops, I totally forgot to post yesterday. I slept a bit late (well, more thinking than sleeping, but still, stayed in bed a long time), then went to the library, then got home and got sidetracked on the day’s to-do list and didn’t realize until late in the day when I got an e-mail about needing to approve comments (all spam) that I hadn’t done a blog post. I guess I didn’t have anything I was dying to say.

My brain has been on creative overdrive lately, and thus the lying in bed and thinking in the morning. I keep getting story ideas in dreams, and when I wake up, I have to rerun and ponder everything I remember from the dreams so I don’t forget them.

Last week, I dreamed a title — in the dream, I saw a book and was immediately insanely jealous that someone else came up with such a great title and story idea because I really wanted to write that story. I still remembered that title when I woke up and a bit about what the story was about. It wasn’t quite as brilliant as I thought it was in the dream, but it was still a potentially fun idea. I searched that title on Amazon and on Google, and it doesn’t seem as though anyone else has used it, so that’s one for the idea file.

This week, I had a rather vivid dream that was essentially a story — something about smuggling babies for a resistance movement as a way of helping their parents escape (infants aren’t conducive to stealthy escapes, so the parents had a better chance of getting away if someone else took their babies). The more I thought about it, the more I started to think there was a story there. Then last night, I had a more fleshed-out version of the same dream, with more details, even bits of narrative (it’s possible there was some semi-conscious brainstorming also going on, weaving in and out of the dream). I think I captured it all upon waking, but I really need to write it all down.

The thing is, creativity breeds creativity. That’s why writers are more likely to have more ideas than they can ever get around to writing than they are to run out of ideas. About midway through any book, you’re just about guaranteed to get a brilliant idea for something else. The more you write, think, and create, the more ideas you’ll have. You also start training your brain to find ideas. You’ll see ideas in anything you read, watch, or experience. It may be something totally out of the blue, like smuggling babies, or it may be what ifs based on something you’ve seen, going a different way with someone else’s plot or character until it becomes your own thing. And, eventually, you learn which if these ideas are likely to be viable and how to develop them into something you can actually write.

writing life

Deadline Cleaning Urges

This is going to be a busy couple of weeks for me. I’ve got a proposal to finish and send to my agent, I’ve told myself I’m going to finish the current draft of the current book by the end of the month, and I’ve got a meeting tonight, a conference this weekend, and next week is Holy Week, which is busy when you’re in the choir.

Of course, this is when I suddenly want to clean and redecorate my house. Someone on Twitter joked about starting a service that schedules procrastinating writers to come clean your house, but I’m not sure that would work because it’s only my house I care about cleaning. I tell myself I’ll be so much more productive in a more ordered environment, so really I’m helping myself meet my deadline if I take a day or two off from writing to clean and organize. I usually push through it and make myself write, telling myself that when the book is done I’ll have an epic cleaning day, but when the book is done, I collapse on the sofa with either a book or the TV. I’ve also learned that I fizzle out when I try to do a whole day of cleaning. I do better with a few defined tasks for the day, spread out over a few days.

So, maybe when the book is done I’ll take a couple of days “off,” with cleaning mixed in with relaxing.

I do think the book is close to being done. I’m more than halfway to my target word count, and I like what I’ve done so far. The rest of the book is going to veer widely from the initial draft, which is good because that didn’t work. But it does mean I’m in original writing mode without being able to draw a lot from the first draft. It may be time to break out the Word Count M&Ms.

First, though, that proposal, which also underwent a dramatic change between drafts.