Archive for writing life

writing life

Getting Precious About the Process

One of the panels I went to at the Nebula conference was on productivity tools, but the big takeaway for me wasn’t any specific tool, but rather something that should become my new mantra: Don’t get precious about your process.

I’m really bad about coming up with what feels like a magical formula and then feeling like all is lost if I can’t do it exactly. I’ve determined that I have my most productive days when I get up fairly early, go for a walk either before or after breakfast, then start writing immediately before I break to write my blog post and then finally check e-mail, social media, etc. But if circumstances result in me breaking that pattern, the rest of the day seems to fall apart for no good reason. It’s as though I figure the day’s a loss. And that’s silly because I can reboot at any time of the day and just make the rest of the day go okay.

I’m the same way when I make a schedule for the day. If something unplanned throws me off, instead of just getting back on track, I tend to give up entirely.

The truth is, there is no magical formula. There are ways that tend to work better for me, but if I don’t do the absolute best thing, there’s nothing stopping me from doing a pretty good thing.

I haven’t been able to stick to my process lately because I was having to deal with all the pre-convention stuff, and now the post-convention stuff. I’m going to try to do better today and just pick up where I can in spite of being off schedule because I desperately needed groceries in order to eat lunch today.

It’s not a magical spell, a recipe, or a scientific formula. If something happens out of order or if a step is skipped, the whole thing isn’t ruined.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Spy and War Novels

Picking up on the discussion of my origins and influences as a writer … I have one category that doesn’t really fit in with most of the others, though I suppose you could see it as an extension of the girl sleuth thing: spy and war novels.

I went through a big phase in 7th and 8th grades of being really into spy/adventure/war stories. I was particularly into World War II. I still am, from a history perspective, though I don’t read as many novels about it. I think a lot of it stemmed from the summer vacation we took between sixth and seventh grade. We were living in Germany, and we visited the American military recreation center that was in Berchtesgaden. The hotel was on the Obersalzburg mountain, and it turned out that it actually had been the Nazi VIP headquarters when Hitler had his home there. We were in the middle of what had been the Nazi compound. We took a tour of the bunker system during our stay and learned where all the main buildings had been. I was already somewhat aware of the war. There were visible bomb craters near our home, and I’d heard about how the place we’d lived previously had more or less been wiped off the map by the RAF, but this really brought it home. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how anyone could have let it happen. This was in the late 70s and early 80s, so most of the adults around us had been alive during the war, and I couldn’t imagine the ones I’d met being so cruel as to support Hitler and putting people in concentration camps.

So, I started studying the subject to try to understand it. I’m still studying it, and I still don’t have a good answer. But I think I did find some comfort in the stories of people who did make the right choices, who were brave and self-sacrificing. Reading novels about that made it make a lot more sense. I wasn’t so interested in the military side of things, all the battles and strategy. I’m more interested in things on the individual scale, which meant I read a lot of spy novels about individuals doing their thing even if no one would ever know their contributions. I read authors like Jack Higgins (and his alter ego, Harry Patterson) and Alistair Maclean and many others I don’t remember and don’t still have on my bookshelf. In seventh grade, we shared a library with the high school, so they had adult books, and they were all mixed in on the shelves with the teen books, so that was how I started discovering authors from the adult side of the regular library.

Some of my earliest attempts at actually writing a novel — typing out “chapter one” and an opening scene — were actually spy novels. I had a tendency to make up scenarios starring whatever actor I had a crush on at the time, casting him as my hero. I don’t think I ever got beyond the opening scene of any of these stories because I hadn’t really learned to plot yet. I just knew the situation, so I had the briefing scene in which the spy was given his mission (which may not even have needed to be in the book), but I had no idea where to take it from there. The main thing I learned was how to type. We had a manual typewriter that I found when we moved back to the States and got our stuff out of storage, and I taught myself to type on it as I wrote out these attempts at novels.

I don’t read a lot of those kind of thrillers these days, and I have zero desire to write one, but the idea of spies and secret missions still manages to make its way into my stories. And I do still love war movies and documentaries.

writing life

Today’s a double whammy blog day, as I also have a guest post at Fiction University on figuring out the best writing schedule for you.

Meanwhile, I think I need to give an update after my little meltdown from March, when I said I might quit writing. Strangely, I think that just giving myself that permission and letting myself consider other options made me feel a lot better about it. It may have turned it from something I felt obligated to do to something I was actively choosing to do. I think my social media purge also helped, as well as adjusting my ideas of what counted as “success.”

I said I might quit unless something happened to change the situation. I guess I was looking for a sign. Well, the next week, there was a Kindle Daily Deal on Enchanted, Inc., and my sales since then have doubled, and they’ve stayed at that level for more than a month. My May and June royalties on my independently published books will be a lot higher than they’ve been, and my next two Random House royalty payments should be pretty good, as well as possibly my audio royalties. And I sold book 9 to Audible. So, my money worries aren’t completely resolved, but my finances look a lot better than they did.

And I keep coming up with new ideas, which is a sign that my brain isn’t ready to quit. So, I think I’ll take it one book at a time. The book I’m revising now, the one for Audible, is coming out in the fourth quarter, and we’re looking at an August release for Enchanted, Inc. book 9 (so that I can release in e-book, print, and audio at the same time), so I probably won’t want to be juggling a lot of other work during all this time. Thinking about doing any other kind of job made me appreciate writing more, so I may address the financial issues by looking at other writing I can do. I keep joking about the low-stress, cozy fantasy thing, but I’m thinking in terms of maybe writing some “category” romantic fantasy — some short, light fantasy reads with a dash of “sweet” romance — and test the market for that. While I love a big, juicy fantasy epic every so often, when I’m busy and stressed, I would love something I could read in maybe a couple of sittings or on a weekend afternoon that’s just a fun escape with maybe some excitement but without a lot of additional stress. Sometimes you want a real page-turner whose outcome is in doubt, and sometimes you just want to run away to a magical place. Surely I’m not the only one.

So, that’s where things stand right now. I have too many stories I want to write to be able to stop, and if things keep going the way they have, I’ll be able to stick with it for at least a little while longer. I’m more at peace with where I am. I think I’ve also figured some of the emotional/psychological things that set it all off, but that’s fodder for another post. Thanks for all the support in the e-mails and blog comments. It was nice to be reminded that what I do brings joy to other people.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Narnia

I mentioned in the previous post about the influence of Tolkien on me as a reader and writer that I discovered C.S. Lewis around the same time—the fall semester of sixth grade. I’m not entirely sure which one came first.

I do remember how I discovered C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books. One day, there was something my mom and I were going to do after she got off work (I don’t remember what), so I was to ride the shuttle bus to her office after school instead of taking the school bus home. It must have been fairly early in the fall because I was wearing only a light jacket. I remember feeling very grown-up about riding the shuttle bus on my own, even though it was a green army bus just like the school bus (I was rather confused as a kid because books, TV, and movies all showed school buses as being yellow, but every school bus I’d seen was green). When I got to my mom’s office, she gave me a book she’d bought for me to keep me occupied until she got off work.

That book was The Silver Chair, and I was immediately captivated. That may be why I don’t remember why I needed to meet my mom at her office. Whatever we went to do, all I could think of was getting back to that book. I loved the idea of stepping into another world and going on a quest to rescue a prince, meeting up with all kinds of strange creatures along the way. I wanted desperately to find a way into Narnia. I really liked Jill as a heroine. For one thing, it was fun to have a girl a lot like me as one of the main characters. I’d read plenty of books with main character girls, like Nancy Drew, but they all tended to be people you could aspire to being, less people you could imagine being. But Jill was totally ordinary, caught up in all kinds of crazy things (gee, I don’t know where I might have gone with that concept in my own work).

I was really excited to find out that this book was part of a series, so there were even more books like it. I must have been rationing them so I wouldn’t get through them all at once and then have no more to look forward to, because we moved in February of the next year, and I know I didn’t read the last book until we were in the new place. The Lord of the Rings may have come into play for that because I know I read that whole series that fall, and that likely took a huge chunk of time away from potentially reading Narnia books. Finding both those series around the same time was what made me realize that there was an actual genre of books like that. Previously, I’d read by topic, sometimes by author, but it finally occurred to me that there was a whole huge category of books about magic and other worlds, and they could be very different from each other even while having things in common.

I did discover that I’d already read one of the books, The Horse and His Boy, during my horse phase, when I was checking every book out of the library that had the word “horse” in the title or had a picture of a horse on the cover. But that one’s a one-off that only tangentially ties into the rest of the series, and I was reading it as a horse book rather than as a fantasy book. I guess I got sidetracked into Nancy Drew during my witch book phase before I got to the L section where I’d have found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Narnia books became even more important to me after we moved because I went from a place where I was happy, popular, had a lot of friends, and was involved in a lot of activities to a place where I was the new kid no one wanted (I later learned that the teacher told the class the day before I started in that school that the new kid was really smart and they’d have to work harder. So of course they hated me before they met me). They didn’t have band at the new school, so I had to stop that, and they wouldn’t let me in the choir because it had already formed. The school didn’t have a cafeteria (or wasn’t using it), so they had a weird “accelerated” schedule in which we had only a very short recess and you were supposed to bring a snack to eat at your desk instead of having a lunch break, and then the school day ended at 2. I would head straight home and escape to Narnia. I wasn’t writing down the stories in my head yet, but I did dream up all kinds of scenarios in which I ended up going to Narnia or to places like Narnia. For a while, it even shoved Star Wars out of my imagination (at least until The Empire Strikes Back came out).

I’ve re-read the books many times since then, and I was surprised when I re-read them as an adult how bare-bones they were. I guess my brain really fleshed them out. When I saw the recent movies, I found myself thinking that this was exactly how I imagined things, but then I read the books again and realized that I must have filled in a lot of details.

One thing I like is the way Lewis structured the series to be both standalone and series. You could read the books in any order, but you got more out of them if you read them in order. He had the same cast of main characters in the first two books, with a mostly different cast of Narnians for the second book. Then in the third, two of the main characters were out and a new character with a big growth arc was introduced. And then he became the main character, with another new character introduced. I may have to figure out a series that works that way. You could do more books without getting bored with the main character, there’s continuity between books to draw people through the series, but they can jump in at any point instead of having to start at the beginning.

I still want to write a portal fantasy. I love following a character from our world into a strange world, and it definitely is easier to write than a pure secondary world story because at least you have a frame of reference. You can have your viewpoint character compare the strange world to familiar things.

I wish they’d made it to The Silver Chair when they were making the Narnia movies. I like the BBC version from the early 90s (with Tom Baker as Puddleglum), but the special effects are so very old BBC. And I loved the kid who played Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I really wanted to see him get to do The Silver Chair.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Tolkien

Last year, I started doing some posts on my origins and influences as a writer: the things throughout my life that made me want to write or that made me want to write fantasy. I’ve talked about making up my own stories to go with musical theater cast albums, girl sleuths who probably influenced the kinds of heroines I write, Star Wars and how it woke my imagination in a big way, and children’s fantasy.

In sixth grade, I hit two things that had a huge impact on me. I’m not entirely sure exactly which came first because they were both in the same semester. That fall, I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (and at the time I didn’t know there was any connection between them).

I’d already read The Hobbit in fourth grade, when the animated TV version was on and my fourth-grade teacher read the book out loud to the class (and then I got impatient with the chapter-a-day pace, checked the book out of the library, and read the whole thing). But I hadn’t followed up with other books by the same author or even other books like that. I didn’t really think in genres then. I liked books about certain things or by certain authors, but I didn’t group books into categories. There were witch books and books with elves and books with talking horses, but I didn’t consider that they were all part of a larger category of fantasy.

Though I suppose one reason I didn’t find more books by Tolkien was that in fourth grade, I was using the elementary school library and the children’s department (its own room) in the post library, and I don’t think they generally put The Lord of the Rings in the children’s section. But when we moved to Germany right before I started fifth grade, the American school was divided up in an odd way. Kindergarten through third grade were in one campus and fourth through eighth grades were in another campus. That meant that our school library included books for older readers. I saw The Hobbit on the shelf, remembered liking it, and then saw that there were other books in that “series” and checked out The Fellowship of the Ring.

I was instantly hooked, though I must confess that my favorite part of that series is still the beginning, up until the party splits up. I just liked the travelogue through the world and getting to Rivendell. I wasn’t as fond of it as it got more serious and gritty. Still, I tore through all three books, then got very excited when I saw that they’d made a movie (the animated version), begged my dad to take me when it came to the base theater, then was very disappointed, especially when it just ended midway through the story. Still, the way they depicted the Ringwraiths was gloriously creepy.

Since I discovered the Narnia books at around the same time (though I think that will be its own post), this launched me into fantasy as a genre. I wanted more books about other worlds where magic was real. It was kind of like the fairy tale settings of the Disney movies, but made bigger, richer, and more real. I think my mental writing was still focused on Star Wars-related things at that time, but there were definitely some seeds planted.

I re-read the series in college when I was taking a parageography course and the professor referred to the books often, and I found it rather slow going. It’s funny, I tore through them when I was 11, but when I was 21 they were difficult. I think I may do another read next winter — they’re definitely fall/winter books for me, something to read with a cup of hot tea and a fire in the fireplace. I’m curious what I’ll think of them after seeing the more recent movies, after learning a lot more about Tolkien, and with many more years of life, reading, and writing experience.

There’s been some Internet noise lately after a clickbait blogger with an agenda picked up some tweets by an author I know about the disproportionate amount of shelf space given to Tolkien. It does seem odd how much shelf space this very old series gets in the chain bookstores, given that you can easily find all these books at any library and at any used bookstore. I don’t know who’s buying all these new copies. Maybe nice collector’s editions with lovely illustrations and leather binding, but paperbacks? I’m always tempted to hide a little bookmark in the backs of the books on the shelves full of Tolkien so I can monitor and see if those copies are actually selling or if they’re just taking up shelf space. I find it frustrating because the last few times I’ve gone to a store to buy a fantasy novel, a new release that really should be in the store, all I find are shelves full of “classics.” I hate buying books on Amazon, so when a new book I want in print comes out, I go to a bookstore. And then I usually end up coming home and buying on Amazon because the bookstore doesn’t have it but does have a shelf or two of Tolkien. Given the financials of the chain stores, I’m not sure they’re making the best merchandising decisions. But it’s dangerous to do anything that hurts the feelings of the manbaby whiners on the Internet. Apparently, it got brutal.

Pro tip: Even if someone outright insults your favorite author, it does not merit a death threat. Suggesting that maybe bookstores should devote a little more shelf space to something newer definitely doesn’t merit death threats or even attacks and insults.

And as influential as The Lord of the Rings was in forming my reading taste, I must say that if it’s still your pinnacle of fantasy, maybe you should read more widely. I really side-eye any bookstore staff recommendation tags for Tolkien. I would hope that a) a bookseller would have read more widely and recently and b) they wouldn’t waste that promotional opportunity on showcasing something that anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock has already heard of. And bookstores might make more money if they actually stocked things that you can’t find shelves full of in any used bookstore.

writing life

Backtracking

I have generally found that when I’m stuck on a story, it’s because I’m doing something wrong, usually making a character do something because that’s what in the outline when it’s not something the character would actually do or when it’s not something that would naturally happen in those circumstances.

After spending a day getting frustrated about not being able to figure out how to move forward, I realized I’d put events out of order and had something happen before the logical next step. I backtracked and now it seems to be flowing again.

I think maybe that’s a good lesson for life, too. Sometimes when you can’t seem to move forward, the real problem may be that you’re heading in the wrong direction. You’re trying to force yourself down a path that isn’t right for you, and in order to really make progress, you need to backtrack and figure out what your path really should be.

I’m still working all that out for myself. I feel a lot better than I did last week. I’m still not sure where I’m going to go, but I’ve backtracked enough to allow myself to explore multiple options. My timeline has had to change because of things involving other people, so it may be summer before I start making decisions. I may end up changing nothing other than what my goal really is. But changing my attitude has helped immensely.

writing life

Letting it Go

I spent yesterday speaking to a college creative writing class about the realities of the writing business. I tried to be realistic without being too negative.

But the thing is, I seem to have shed a lot of the negativity this week by admitting it. It just is what it is, and it’s freeing to stop fretting about it. For a long time I’d pushed myself so hard, thinking that maybe if I did something more or did something different, I could change things. I came up with all kinds of schedules and policies to make myself write faster. I angsted over the fact that I can’t seem to get much traction in social media. Maybe if I posted more to Instagram or was active on YouTube, maybe if I went to all the conventions, maybe, maybe … and when I didn’t live up to these expectations, I felt like I was at fault for not becoming any kind of hit, not catching on.

And the truth is that few of these activities move the needle in a meaningful way.

I guess if I wrote more or faster I might make more money by getting more books out there, but from what I’ve heard, the Amazon algorithm is set to require you to publish something every 60 days to maintain any kind of visibility, and even if I wrote more or faster, I still couldn’t hit that and sustain it, not with the kinds of things I like to write that are longer and require a lot of research.

I don’t think I’ve sold enough books because of someone discovering me on social media for it to make that big a difference. Really breaking out in something like that requires something to go viral, which you can’t plan for or control, and it seldom actually affects book sales. Only something about the book itself going viral would do anything to book sales, and that’s not something I could post. Maybe if a celebrity posted about it, it would help, but if I go a few days without tweeting anything, it’s not going to make a difference in my book sales. Ditto with any other social media.

I think I got some boost from going to conventions early in my career, but once I became familiar at those cons, I don’t think it had much benefit. I never saw a corresponding rise in sales after going to a WorldCon. I spent a year in which I went to every event that invited me, and it didn’t change anything.

You can either look at that as depressing or see it as liberating. Realizing I can’t control things means that I’m not really to blame for not doing all of these things, and I can stop beating myself up over it. I can get back to the work, the part I like, and if I come up with something that I want to publish, I can, but I don’t expect anything I do to have a big payoff, and I don’t blame myself if it doesn’t.

Purging my twitter feed of the people I felt I should follow has already made me a lot happier. I was trying to be a good networker and followed people I met at cons or was on panels with, and I tried interacting with them. It turns out that few of them followed me back, and they didn’t engage when I tried interacting, and when I met them at later cons they acted like they’d never met me. I didn’t need a constant reminder of how great their careers were going. So, if they didn’t post things that I found interesting or that made me happy, if they didn’t follow me, and if they never interacted with me, I unfollowed or muted them.

I’ve realized that I’ve had fewer nightmares this week. I’ll have to check my blood pressure and see how that’s doing. I may give myself a mental health day today, then next week look at how I want to use my time. I do want to write, I know that now. I’m just not going to worry about what I’m going to do with it.

writing life

Making Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

Moving On

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

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

The Quest for Hot Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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