Archive for writing life

writing life

Avoiding Intensity

Apologies for skipping the Friday post. I found out Thursday evening that I had an appointment for my COVID vaccine Friday morning, so I spent Friday morning driving across the metro area, waiting in traffic, and then getting the shot before driving in heavy traffic back across the metro area and then promptly collapsing. The drive was far worse than the shot itself. I ended up just having some soreness on my arm for a couple of days. It didn’t occur to me until later that I’d totally forgotten to post a blog.

One issue I’ve run into in the past year or so is that I’ve become very conflict-averse. I always have been, to some extent. I’m the weirdo who doesn’t necessarily want an emotionally intense reading or viewing experience. I worry far too much about the characters and get way too invested for me to be able to cope when really bad things happen to them. When I had my “hide behind the sofa” moments as a kid, it wasn’t generally because I was scared, but rather because things were so intense I couldn’t bear it. I still will occasionally flip ahead in a book if things are getting to be too much so I can see how it works out, and then I can go back and read the intense part without so much worry.

It’s not the big action scenes that are the problem. It’s more the emotional low points, what they call in romance writing “the black moment,” when it seems absolutely impossible for things to work out. A lot of the time, that may even come before the big action scene in the superhero movies, when all seems lost, but then they rally and fight back. The things that really get me include injustice—when the main character is framed or falsely accused, and especially if the system is corrupt, so he has nowhere to turn for help—or betrayal—when the people the hero should be able to count on turn on him. Anything that feels unfair will get to me. Physical jeopardy may bother me, but it’s the emotional jeopardy I find hardest to deal with.

But it got even worse in the past year because there was so much stress in real life that fictional stress was more than I could take. I watched a lot of documentaries because there’s not a lot of suspense there if you know the subject, and it’s less immediate. I rewatched and reread a lot of things because I’d already know a book was “safe,” and knowing how it came out made it easier to get through the somewhat suspenseful parts that are even in “safe” things (since you don’t get fiction without some conflict). I catch myself getting distracted when things I’m watching get intense. That’s when I check e-mail, Twitter, or the movie’s IMDB page.

Being conflict-averse makes writing a bit of a challenge. While I’m sure there are other readers like me who might be okay with low-stress reads, generally the books that stick in readers’ minds are those that make them feel something. There needs to be some intensity. I had to rewrite Case of the Curious Crystals a few times because I was in the middle of that book when the pandemic hit and I guess I just shut down. The first draft read like a user manual. I went back in and added emotions. Then I realized that nothing was at stake, so that took another rewrite.

I caught myself doing the same thing this week with the book I’m currently working on. There’s something that one character has been worried about the other character learning about him. He’s held back on telling her, hoping he can ease into it gently, and he’s not sure how she’ll respond. His hand gets forced, and he has to reveal this information in order to save them. And the way I wrote it going, she’s curious and asks questions, but she’s generally pretty cool about it. In the middle of the night last night it struck me that this was probably pretty anticlimactic. I don’t think I want it to be a case of him worrying too much and it working out fine. Eventually it will work out okay, but there needs to be a bit more friction at first. So, I’m going to remind myself that I know how it works out, so it’s okay for there to be some tension now, and I’ll rewrite it to make it more intense.

It probably won’t be gut-wrenching and won’t leave readers sobbing. I don’t write that kind of book. But I do want readers to worry enough about whether it might work out that they’re compelled to keep turning pages, and I want them to feel a bit bad for the characters.

writing life

The State of the Shanna 2021

Happy New Year!

I love the chance to reset and make a fresh start on a new year, starting with a blank calendar and all my usual forms and charts being clean and ready to be filled in as I make progress. I’ve made a business plan for the first half of the year. What happens after that will depend on how the first half of the year goes. In my business, it’s hard to plan too far in advance because I don’t know how long it will take me to do the things I planned.

I figure this is a good time for a general “how things work here” post. I’m going to stick with the Wednesday and Friday blogging schedule. That gives me time to write posts without interfering with my best writing time. Any news that falls between blogging slots will be in the “news” box on the front page of my web site and/or I’ll announce it on social media.

You can find me on social media on Twitter, where I talk about all kinds of things, not just my books, and on Facebook. There’s a page that focuses on my books and you can also discuss with fellow fans. My personal profile is fairly public. I only accept friend requests from people I actually know and have interacted with, but most of my posts are public, so you can follow me without being a “friend.” That’s where I talk about life and interact with friends and family. I haven’t been as active on Facebook lately because I loathe their new design and can’t bear to look at it. I cross-post my blog to Goodreads, but I don’t accept Goodreads friend requests (there have been some issues with people not being allowed to post Amazon reviews because Amazon thinks them being social media friends with authors means they’re friends, so their reviews don’t count). About all I do on Goodreads right now is cross-post the blog and occasionally respond to comments when that’s warranted. I have an Instagram account, but I don’t do much with it now because I only really use my phone when I leave the house, so I don’t think about Instagram when I’m at home, and I’m at home all the time now.

I have a newsletter that goes out once a month with book news and some behind the scenes info about my books, and if you’re signed up for that list, you also get alerts when there’s a new book. I’ve been trying to let newsletter subscribers know about stuff earlier than I put it out in other places. Today I’ll be sending out a newsletter with the cover of the next Lucky Lexie book and the release date. There are also short stories available exclusively to newsletter subscribers, with an Enchanted, Inc. aftermath story from Owen’s perspective and a backstory episode in the Lucky Lexie universe, with Jean on the case when the carnival gets stuck in town. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

The plan for the year is to do a few more mysteries, with one coming out in January, one sometime in the spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall, but that depends on how the writing goes. I also plan to do a print (e-book and paperback) edition of the book that was an Audible exclusive last year. I still haven’t heard whether they want me to write more books in that series, so I guess that would depend on whether the e-book and paperback sell well enough to make it worthwhile for me to keep doing (and I’ll have to check my contract to see if I’m allowed without sending Audible a proposal to reject first). I’m developing a new fantasy series, but I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to approach it, whether I’ll release as I write, write several and release them around the same time (a month or so apart), or possibly even submit to publishers. I won’t have a good sense of that until I get something written.

So, that’s the State of the Shanna for 2021. A couple of years ago, I went through a bit of a career crisis in which I seriously considered quitting and decided I liked writing too much and hated the idea of a regular job too much. Now the odds of even being able to get a regular job are pretty slim and I don’t really want to have to work outside my home, but unless I can make the writing pay off a bit better, I’m going to have to figure something out. This is my year to see if I can build a little more momentum and try some new promo methods to see if I can build an audience.

writing life

2020 Hindsight

One last post for the year, looking back on a year that didn’t quite go the way anyone hoped or planned.

At this time last year, I was looking up activities and groups, making plans to get out there and do the things I enjoy doing but never seem to get around to doing and to meet other people who do those things. I got a good start to the year by going on a group hike at a state park on New Year’s Day, then I went to a Sisters in Crime meeting in February as part of my effort to find a good writing support group.

And then a couple of weeks later, everything came to a screeching halt. There would be no more meetings or group activities.

I’m pretty much built for lockdowns. In some respects, it took some pressure off me. There were no obligatory gatherings that I went to reluctantly, no rehearsals or meetings. I sometimes missed socializing, and I wished I could do more of the kind of socializing I’d prefer to do (something else I was planning to make more of an effort for), but for the most part, holing up inside my house is my comfort zone.

I think I used the time pretty well. I took a few online courses, attended a lot of online lectures, and started learning Norwegian (in case we can ever travel again and I can take my dream trip). I wrote two books start to finish, revised another and did a final round of editing on another. I released three new print books and two audio books. I also did a lot of the work toward developing a new book that I plan to write next year.

Unfortunately, all those new releases didn’t add up to much, financially. People seem to like my new series, but not very many people are buying it. I’m hoping that with each release the word will spread and more people will find it, and I’m going to try some new promo things around the release of book 3. If it doesn’t catch on, I may have to rethink that series. Right now, I’m not making minimum wage with it. But I figured it was worth a shot, and I learned a lot about writing productivity from it. I broke my personal record for time spent on writing activities this year.

Oh, and I had my first short story sale, took on a new volunteer role, and got a new freelance client. I guess it was a busy year, considering I seldom left the house.

Meanwhile, I also broke my personal record for number of books read this year. I just about gave up TV, since there wasn’t much on, and I spent that time reading instead. By the end of the year, I’ll have read at least 112 books, depending on how much I read in the next couple of days. It’s cold and rainy, so I’m planning a big reading binge.

I’m pretty much at the bottom of the vaccine priority list, since I can safely isolate and am not in the really high-risk groups (I just have a lot of conditions that are considered possible moderate risk), so I don’t see things changing too much for the first half of next year. I’ll be releasing book 3 in the mystery series next month. I’ll probably do an e-book/print version of that Audible exclusive book. I want to get started on that fantasy series I’ve been developing.

With that in mind, my main plan for January is to do a deep dive into “traditional” fantasy. That was what I first fell in love with that made me want to be a writer and what my first stabs at writing were in, though I haven’t published anything like that. I plan to reread The Lord of the Rings for the first time since I was in college and try to figure out what it was that so enthralled me when I first read it in sixth grade. Then I’ll branch out to some of the newer stuff. I may enhance the experience with appropriate food and drink. At the same time, I’ll be digging into the more specific worldbuilding and plotting for my series.

I don’t think I’m going to make real resolutions this year. I just want to build on what I started this year, working on good habits and consistency. And I hope I get a bit more payoff from the previous work.

Happy New Year, and see you in 2021!

writing life

Showing Up

Over the past few weeks, while I’ve been taking time off from heavy-duty writing and trying to shake up my routine, one thing I’ve done is participate in a 30-day yoga challenge. There’s a program on YouTube that was set up for the start of the year, and I began it but only got a few days into it. I’d been thinking about giving it another go when someone in a writing group I’m in welcomed others to join her in doing it. And so, I’ve been doing a yoga practice daily.

And, wow, there really is a power in showing up every day to work on something. I’d taken a yoga class before, but it was once a week, and I’d done some things sporadically, but after doing it every day, I can feel such a difference in my strength and flexibility. Things that seemed impossible at first have become almost easy.

I’ve experienced something like this before, when I was doing physical therapy for my knees, and I was really good about doing the exercises daily. I finally got the range of motion I wanted, and I could get up and down the stairs easily.

This translates to so many other things, including writing. When I make a real effort to show up every day and put in the writing time, my output increases, and I think the quality does, as well. The more time you spend using your creativity, the more creative you are.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean every single day. I think “write every day” is bad advice because your mind needs breaks to stay productive. Even with the yoga, although this program involves doing something every day, it’s designed so that some days are breaks. You may have a few days that are really challenging for the body, followed by a day that’s just some gentle stretching and breathing. Find the gentle stretching and breathing for your mind. That may be a day to read a book instead of trying to write one. A better phrasing I’ve seen was “write every day you intend to.” Schedule breaks and vacations, but if it’s supposed to be a work day, show up and do the work.

Meanwhile, I have a 211-day streak on Duolingo for learning Norwegian. Even just doing 15 or so minutes a day is leading to real progress.

That may be my intention going through the rest of this year and into the next year, to show up every day (on the days I plan to) to work on the things that are important to me.

writing life

Taking a Break

I’m starting to see people talking about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and though I’ve informally participated the past couple of years (Interview with a Dead Editor was last year’s book), I’m doing the exact opposite this year. I’m not planning to actually write during November. I’m hoping to take a bit of a break. I may do revisions on the book I’m working on now, but otherwise, the plan is to have a sort of creative retreat.

I’ve been working pretty hard this year, under some difficult circumstances. A lot of that has been on the business and administrative side of things, or else editing and analyzing. I need to get back to a sense of play that will carry me forward into the next year, when I hope to do even more writing. I’m already at the point in time spent on writing work where I was a month later in the year last year, and I’ve spent more time on writing work now than I did in the entire year for several years prior to that. So, I think I deserve a break.

Part of this will be prep work for a fantasy series I’ve been developing — a good, old-fashioned traditional secondary world fantasy with lots of adventure, a few quests, maybe a dash of romance. I’ve spent the year doing a lot of research to pick up ideas, and now it’s time to really flesh out the world and the stories. I have lots of little ideas, and now it’s time to start pulling it all together into a cohesive whole.

But I’m also hoping to loosen up the brain a little, doing things like art, journaling, music, and trying new things. The plan is to dig through my massive collection of recipes I’ve saved or clipped but never tried and try one every day or so. It’s my way of having some of the effects of a vacation with a change of pace and a different setting, but without leaving home. I figure that if I just declare it a “staycation,” I’ll probably end up doing what I always do, but without the actual writing time, and that not only won’t feel like a break, but it will develop bad habits and make it harder to get into writing mode again. By giving it a little structure, it might feel more like a vacation.

This is reminding me of a fall back when I first moved into this house. I got offered a new job, set a start date so that I’d have some time off after my two-weeks notice, but my boss got paranoid about me going to work for a competitor (never mind that the reason they recruited me was that they’d already started working with my former clients, and the clients wanted me on their accounts, so there was nobody for me to steal to take to my new job), and I got walked to the door. I ended up with three weeks off between jobs, and it was sheer bliss, exactly the break I needed. I took lots of long walks, read a lot, cooked, got my house in order, and did some writing. I haven’t really taken that kind of deep, long break since then. I have have gone some time without writing, but it wasn’t an intentional break. It was just procrastination, which feels different.

I hope to finish the first draft of this book today or tomorrow, and after that, I’m taking time off from serious work. I’ll still be maintaining my posting schedule and being around on social media, since I can’t really vanish while I’m launching books. I’m just not going to stick to my usual working routine. Now I just have one big scene left to write!

writing life

Weekends

The book has launched, and I’ve already made a bit of a profit, based on the actual cost of publication. I don’t want to think about what I’ve earned per hour for the work I put into it. That way lies madness and submitting an application at McDonald’s. I have to remind myself that one of the points of publishing for myself is that I can play the long game instead of being like the big publishers that expect instant results. Big thanks to those who’ve bought a copy already. I really hope you enjoy it.

I started writing book 3 in this series this week, and I’m really having fun with it. I’m trying to be creative about the kinds of crimes that need to be investigated. They won’t all be murders because I’m trying to avoid having a small town whose murder rate rivals that of most big cities. The mystery in book 2 involves theft. The case in book 3 is based on something that actually happened in the city where I live. I saved a copy of a news article about it because I thought it might make a good basis for a mystery novel someday, and I think it’s the kind of thing that might happen in a town like the one in the books.

I have to say, it feels good to get back to writing. I feel like I’ve spent the past couple of months doing editing, proofreading, formatting, and administrative work, and having all the business stuff done is a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I just get to sit around and make things up all day.

One thing I’m looking forward to is having an actual weekend. For the past month or so, I’ve either been working through the weekend or I’ve been recovering from a vaccination. When I’m editing and proofreading, I try not to take days off, even if I just do a little bit of work, because I want the book to stay fresh in my head. I need to remember that I used that phrase in the previous chapter or that I’ve already used that joke. There’s a tendency when revising to think of the perfect thing to say and to stick it in — without realizing that you already said it elsewhere in the book in a previous draft. So I’ve been working during weekends, and when I’ve had a free weekend, I’ve had a shingles shot and then a flu shot, so I spent the weekend feeling bad and resting.

I do try to take weekends off, otherwise. I hear people saying you have to write every day to be a “real” writer, and I think “Oh, no, bad idea.” You need rest to recharge, and that’s even more important when you work at home, where it’s easy to fall into a routine in which all days are the same. I make a point of making an occasion out of weekends. Friday night is movie or TV night. I make a fun dinner and then watch something. Saturday is for a leisurely breakfast, a pot of tea, and the Saturday crossword puzzle before I play the housework game. I wash my bed linens, and I try to do as much housework as possible while the laundry is going. Once the sheets are out of the dryer and back on the bed, I get to take the rest of the day off. I’m trying to be better about doing things rather than goofing off online. I may work with my plants, read, bake, or practice music. Saturday night is either another movie night or a reading night, depending on how I feel, what book I have, and what the classical radio station is playing.

I get in bed relatively early on Saturday night because a radio program I like starts at 10. It’s a show about musical theater, and I like to lie in bed and listen to it. It usually covers some kind of theme and will play songs that fit that theme or songs from musicals that cover the theme. I have fun playing “name that singer” and figuring out which cast recording they’re using. One thing I find interesting is how many of the TV stars of the 1970s got their start in musicals. There were some I knew about, like Hal Linden from Barney Miller and Linda Lavin from Alice, but there were a lot of others. Like, I didn’t know Alan Alda from M*A*S*H had done musical theater, but he had a fantastic voice. Also from M*A*S*H, Gary Burghoff, Radar, was the original Charlie Brown from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. A lot of guest and supporting cast members from sitcoms had been pretty big on Broadway. I keep having to pull up IMDB on my tablet to look up familiar names.

I try to keep Sunday as a quiet day. There’s church (online for now), the Sunday newspaper and crossword puzzles, and a lot of reading. That’s usually a PBS night on TV, if there’s something good on Masterpiece Theatre. If not, there’s a choral music show and an early music show on the radio.

It’s not an exciting weekend, but I try to make it feel different from a weekday. That helps me keep the days straight and gives my brain a break. Then I actually feel somewhat energized and ready to go on Monday.

I’ll have a lot of housework to catch up on this weekend after either not feeling well or having other work to do for the past four or so weekends. But I think there will also be some celebrating getting the book out. It’s easy to get so caught up in the work that I forget to celebrate the victories.

writing life

Recharging

Since my birthday is this Friday, this is going to be a short work week for me. I’m taking Thursday and Friday off. I’ve realized that I need to recharge a bit, to refill the well, so to speak. I’ve been working pretty intensely for most of the year, in some unusual and difficult circumstances, and I feel a bit drained and tired. Last Sunday, I made an effort not to think about work for the whole day, and it was amazing the difference it made. I hadn’t realized just how much it was consuming me. Even when I’m not actively writing, my brain is constantly spinning, thinking about stories, business plans, publicity I should be doing, how much money I’m making (or not making), etc. I need to spend a few days not thinking about that stuff.

Instead, I need to do other creative things. The plan is to spend the next few days reading, watching movies, maybe doing some sewing or embroidery, possibly some coloring or painting, some music, etc. Stuff that’s not writing or thinking about writing, business, etc. Even the stuff I’ve been watching for the past few months has been somewhat work-related.

I knew it was getting bad when last night I dreamed about new covers for the Enchanted, Inc. books. I’ve been doing a lot of research on book cover design lately, trying to figure out where the things I’ve been writing fit, and although I love the look of my books, they’re pretty dated right now. They’re back in 2005 and don’t really say “contemporary fantasy” in today’s design language. I think my rewatching The Office on DVD also had an influence there, as the covers in my mind were pretty much like the menu screen on the DVDs, showing a desk with various office items on it, but with some additional magical stuff, like a crystal ball and a book about spells, on the desk.

Unfortunately, the publisher still controls the first four books in the US, so even if I changed covers for the ones I control, it wouldn’t affect the first book, the one that brings in new readers, unless maybe I could persuade the publisher to change at least the e-book covers.

That’s the kind of constant brain spinning I need to get away from for a few days.

First, though, I’m close to finishing this draft. I’m going to get that done today, then take care of my usual weekend housework chores this afternoon, and then I get to relax for a few days. I don’t have big plans for the birthday, thanks to social distancing and living in a hotspot area. I’m going to run to the grocery store tomorrow, and I think I’m going to get some kind of cake and maybe figure out a present to buy myself. I’m less than thrilled with the toaster oven I bought a few weeks ago—it’s smaller than the one I was replacing—so I’m thinking about maybe getting a bigger one. I use the toaster oven for most of my summer cooking, and I can barely fit a potato in this one without it getting too close to the coils. Yes, I have an exciting life.

writing life

Rebounding

One of the panels I watched during the recent Nebula conference was on rebounding — making a comeback after your career has had a setback. I found it rather reassuring to see that people I thought were successful had been through some kind of change or setback, and they’d all come out of it in some way.

I’ve had a bunch of “careers” along the way. I got a quick and early start, selling my first book to the second publisher I sent it to. It was a small press that distributed only to libraries, so I didn’t make a lot of money on it, but it was a foot in the door. I sold them two more books in short order. I’m afraid that this gave me a very unrealistic view of publishing. I’d sold everything I’d written and only had one rejection. I probably sounded like that scene in the movie Legally Blonde in which the blond sorority girl gets in to Harvard Law School so she can follow her ex-boyfriend and get him back, and when he’s astonished that she got in, she scoffs and says, “Like that’s hard.” People would talk about how tough it was to get published, and I’d think, “Like that’s hard.” That impression continued when I sold a book to Harlequin — a big publisher. I did have a little struggle after that. They rejected the next couple of proposals I sent, but then bought another book.

Soon after that, though, career #1 came to a crashing halt. My editor left publishing and New York, and I got passed around to other editors. The line I’d been writing for folded, so there really wasn’t a place for me at that publisher. They were trying to edge all their books to be “hotter.” Even the remaining “sweet” line wanted a lot more sexual tension than I could write well. I don’t know how many proposals I sent them, but none of them sold. My editor ended up sending a manuscript back to me (after months of back and forth of edits) with a photocopy of an article about a book called Bridget Jones’s Diary, the business card of an agent, and a note saying “I think you could write this kind of thing, maybe turn this book into a single title.” I did talk to that agent. She was encouraging about my writing, but she said she thought what I’d written was the perfect category book and she couldn’t imagine trying to sell it as single title. The “chick lit” books hadn’t yet taken off in the US, but the contemporary romantic comedy books were doing well. I don’t think Bridget Jones had even been published here, so I was assuming it was like the contemporary romances with cartoony covers.

I spent some time rewriting that book, found an agent who liked it, and she submitted it to a few publishers. They rejected it, but asked to see something else. I wrote something else, but never heard anything from any publishers. I now wonder if that agent even submitted it because I’ve since talked to the editors who supposedly had it, and they didn’t remember seeing it. After working with a different agent, I know that you get an answer, one way or another. An agent doesn’t let a book sit on an editor’s desk for a year with no response. Around that time, the chick lit craze hit the US, and I thought that was actually a better fit for that book, so I revised it for that market and sent it to my agent. The next thing I heard about that book, a package landed on my doorstep four months later. It was that manuscript (back in the days when they were still doing hard copy, not electronic submissions) with a note handwritten on top of my cover letter saying, “This will never sell.” I sent the certified letter firing that agent that day, not because she didn’t like the book, but because of the way she handled it.

I wrote a number of proposals and shopped them around to agents and editors. Finally, I was at a conference and chatting with an editor about this crazy idea I’d had about a chick lit story with magic. The editor asked to see it, and I wrote Enchanted, Inc. That editor didn’t buy it, but I got an agent and the book sold, six years after my last publication. Thus began career #2.

Enchanted, Inc. came out to very positive response, went back to print, and the second book did well, too. I got another contract for two more books. Things seemed to be going great. And then they dropped the series. I wrote a proposal for something different, and no one bought it. I wrote A Fairy Tale with the idea of having something to submit to those editors who wanted something like Enchanted, Inc., but I wasn’t really happy with it and put it aside to think about it.

In the meantime, the Japanese publisher wanted more Enchanted, Inc. books, so I wrote book 5. Then I got the idea for Rebel Mechanics and wrote that. It didn’t sell to the fantasy publishers, so I revised it as YA. It still took another year or so to sell, and during that time I wrote book 6 of Enchanted, Inc. I finished A Fairy Tale and it went on submission, but it didn’t sell. Around this time, my agent convinced me to publish the Enchanted, Inc. books myself. This may have been careers 3 and 4, happening simultaneously — young adult and self publishing.

Career 3 tanked pretty quickly when the publisher didn’t want more books (never mind that the book got great acclaim and was put on a number of state library reading lists). Career 4 is still sort of limping along. I’m making a living, which is good, but am not wildly successful, and I doubt I’d be able to sell a book to a traditional publisher right now. I may be poised for career #5 when I try mystery. We’ll see what happens there. But there are a lot of ups and downs in this business, and I’m not sure you can ever really feel like you’ve made it and can relax. I guess maybe if you have a massive bestseller that gets made into a movie and the publisher then wants everything you write you can relax, and if you make enough money on that book, it doesn’t matter so much if the next one tanks. It would be nice to find out. The main thing I keep reminding myself is that you only really fail if you quit.

I suspect that this kind of career is pretty common. I’ve learned over the years that even authors who seem to be doing well have had a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, getting dropped by publishers and agents, having to start over again with something new, going through rejections even after some success. In fact, that’s probably more common than the people who hit it big with their first book and just cruise on after that or those who have a slow, steady build without any setbacks.

writing life

The More You Know

I feel like I’ve spent forever revising the book I’m working on. It’s taken me longer to rewrite it than it took me to write it in the first place. But then I noticed that my “cut file” where I stick most of the things I cut from the book (in case I need them again elsewhere) is at around 8,000 words. There’s also a lot that I just cut without putting it in the file when it’s something I know I won’t use or when I’m just tightening up, condensing a paragraph or a sentence or removing something that’s redundant. Meanwhile, the manuscript is about 12,000 words longer than when I started. I’ve written nearly half a book while also having to make decisions about what needs to be changed. That explains a lot.

I’m starting to feel like the more I know about writing, the longer it takes me to do, but I think that’s because the more I know about writing, the more I can spot what’s wrong with a book. It just would be nice if I could figure that out on the first draft so I could do it right the first time and not spend all this time in revisions.

And that leads nicely into the topic of one of the panels I watched at the Nebula conference: Imposter Syndrome. It sounds like I’m not alone in struggling more with that fear that any of my success has been a fluke as I go further into my career. When you first start out, before reality hits, you’re full of confidence that your book is great and that it’s going to be a huge success. And then reality hits and it turns out not to be so easy. That’s when a lot of people start wondering if they really belong. The more you know about the craft and about the business, the more you doubt yourself. There may be some people who are totally confident in their abilities and are right about that, but I think it’s more common that the people without imposter syndrome are the ones who might actually be imposters. The people who really know what they’re doing doubt themselves because they know how much they don’t know. That’s not such a bad thing when it makes you strive to get better. Imposter syndrome becomes dangerous when it makes you give up.

It doesn’t help that the business makes it hard. Publishing is not a meritocracy. Some good books get handled well and do very well. Some talented, hard-working authors become successful. But many more don’t, while I’m sure we could all point to poorly written books that got a lot of publisher support and became big hits. I should know better by now, but I’m always surprised to learn what’s been going on behind the scenes in the careers of people I admire. So many of them have had starts, stops, and reverses, and some of the biggest successes tend to come after their careers seem to be almost over. It’s hard not to have imposter syndrome when your series gets dropped, when the publisher doesn’t do much to support your book, when you feel like your agent has lost interest in you, when your books never get mentioned when people ask for recommendations of something that’s exactly what you write. You have to wonder if maybe the problem is you, if maybe your books weren’t all that good and you should go find something else to do with your life.

The people who succeed in the long term are those who can get over that feeling and keep trying without giving up. And who constantly work to get better, even if it means spending what feels like ages getting a book just right.

writing life

Working from Home

It looks like a lot of people are going to be working from home in the near future as we attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. I’ve been working from home for twenty years, first as a telecommuter and then as a freelancer, so here are some tips that may help you cope.

First, although it seems like one of the benefits of working from home is being able to work in pajamas, it really does help to get dressed in the morning before you start work. When you stay in the clothes you slept in, you don’t feel like the day has started. It’s like a really lazy weekend morning or a sick day. But here’s the fun thing: you can have “work” pajamas. The clothes you change into don’t have to be the kind of clothes you might wear to work. They just need to be different from the clothes you slept in. Of course, if you have a videoconference, you’ll want to put on a decent shirt and do something with your hair, but otherwise, wear something comfortable.

If you’re at all self-disciplined, you’ll probably get a lot more done when you’re working from home than you do in an office. When I started telecommuting, I found that I could get a full day’s work done in half a day. It’s amazing how much time is wasted in an office with other people around. This may not apply if you’ve got a micromanager boss who insists on daily conference calls or videoconferences while everyone’s working from home, but you may be able to multitask during a pointless conference call in a way that you can’t in a face-to-face meeting. Because of this increased productivity, don’t feel guilty about adjusting your working hours accordingly, especially if you have to keep time sheets. Log the time a task would have taken you in the office or else you’ll end up actually doing more work.

It’s also possible that you’ll go nuts with the freedom and do less work, especially if you’ve been really stressed or if you hate your job. No one will know if you’re playing online, watching a movie, or sleeping late. It’s easy to put off work, figuring you’ll just work later in the evening.

Whether you find yourself working more or less, sticking to a schedule really does help. Set an alarm and get to work at a regular time. Take a lunch break. End your day at a regular time. Try not to let work bleed into the rest of your life. Yeah, easier said than done, but it’s easier to hold the line with other people than it is with yourself. I used to have two different phone greetings I used, depending on whether I was at “work” or off-duty. If someone called me after hours, they got my casual “off-duty” greeting, which was a signal that they’d called me at “home” rather than at “work.” Now that I have caller-ID, it would be easier to distinguish between work calls and personal calls, but I think I’d still give a “home” greeting after hours. This also works in the opposite way for dealing with friends or family who call you when you’re at work but think you’re free to chat because you work at home.

Also, it’s a good idea to learn to always sound alert and with-it when you answer the phone for work, no matter what you happen to be doing. I got to the point that I could answer the phone in the middle of the night when awakened from a deep sleep and sound like I was at my desk. This was an issue because my main client was in Sweden, and when they were being weasels and doing something like canceling a launch we’d been working on, they’d try to be sneaky and call in the morning at their time, which was in the middle of the night our time, so they’d get voice mail. I think I scared them to death when I answered the phone. They quit the overnight phone calls. This skill is handy when you’re having a slow day and really need a nap, too.

Make a point of scheduling breaks. You don’t realize how often you get up and move around when you’re at the office. Working at home, because of that increased focus that allows more productivity, it’s easy to get in a zone and not get up to move. Try to give yourself at least a few minutes every half hour or so, even if it’s just to refill your water glass or coffee cup. Walk around a little and stretch a bit.

If you’re an introvert, you may find that you suddenly have a lot more energy. You’re not spending your social energy on the people at work, so you may find yourself wanting to socialize more than you usually do. Though that may be a problem if you’re supposed to be self-quarantining.

The really tough part will come when you have to go back to working in an office. Extroverts may be glad to go back. Introverts may be spoiled. We’ll have to see if employers learn from this experience to see that working from home makes some employees a lot more productive and if that leads to policy changes. I’m sure there are people who will be less productive because they need external accountability and supervision, but work situations shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all prospect. It seems silly to reduce the productivity of some workers because of the needs of a few other workers, but then that’s why I’ve worked for myself for so long.