Archive for writing life

writing life

And Back to Work

I was just feeling weird about not being in the middle of working on a book, and then I got copyedits on another book, so I guess I’m set for something to do. Fortunately, I got my house mostly tidied yesterday.

I’ve had overlapping projects for about a year now — I was drafting a book, paused to write a proposal, was working on another book, went back to drafting, then wrote another book, then while waiting on copyedits and edits on two projects started researching another book, then was bouncing around between production, revision, and writing on three different projects. Finally, one of them got finished and published, one was in the editor’s hands, and then Monday another one got done (for now). So for a whole day, I wasn’t really working on anything, and it felt weird. But now I’m back to normal with something I should be working on.

It’s actually quite good timing because I was just starting to ramp up research on something else, and research and copyedits fit well together because research makes for a nice break.

I think I am going to reschedule my flu shot plans, though. I’d been planning to do it tomorrow, then take the weekend to recover (because it always leaves me feeling tired and crabby). Since I’ll need to be alert the next few days, I’ll just do it next week.

writing life

Rushing to the End

I finished my draft yesterday! But I already know I’m going to have to rewrite the ending. There’s a lot and not enough going on at the same time, and I seem to be missing a climactic final confrontation. There’s a big emotional moment, but the conflict is off the edge of the “screen.” There’s a danger out there, somewhere, but nothing direct that the characters have to confront. They’re just trying to get away from it. And then I’m afraid there’s a “Return of the King” ending, so the main plot ends, but then there are lots of little endings to wrap things up. Now that I have something on paper (well, metaphorically speaking), I feel like I’ve written an end, and that means I can think it through and come up with something without that weird anxious rush I always get when writing an ending. Sometimes I don’t want the book to end, sometimes I want to get it over with, sometimes I’m just excited, but I always careen recklessly through the last chapters and have to go back and rewrite.

This morning, though, I’ve been a complete slug. It was rainy, which always seems to make for a lazy morning, and I’ve been catching up on other things. There are errands to run and there’s housework to do.

And then back to writing. I’ve had the wacky idea that I need to write another Christmas book, and I’ve got an idea for a short story that might fit an anthology. Meanwhile, I’m researching ideas for the next Rebels book, and it may go in an entirely different direction than I originally planned. The planned book may get moved to the one after this one.

writing life

Optimizing My Life

This year, I’ve been contributing posts to Fiction University about various aspects of the writing life. My latest, from last week, is about creativity boosters.

This series has come out of my ongoing quest to optimize my life. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about productivity and creativity, and I think it’s making a big difference. For one thing, I’m really getting my house in order. Some of the trouble spots I’ve fought for years are clear and have stayed that way for weeks, even months. I’ve organized my closet and drawers, my bathroom, and my kitchen, and that’s turned into a big time saver because I don’t have to go searching for things. Everything I need is right where it’s supposed to be. I think I’ve shaved a good five to ten minutes off my morning routine just because I can just reach for what I need. That’s really nice on mornings when I have to be somewhere. There’s no frantic search for the shoes I want to wear.

Then the tidiness has led to being able to keep things cleaner. When you don’t have to move things to dust or vacuum, it’s quicker and easier to dust or vacuum.

This has a ripple effect that seems to be making me work more effectively. When the room is clean and orderly, I can focus on my work. I do still sometimes get sidetracked with thoughts about what I need to be doing, but it’s not quite as bad.

Meanwhile, I’ve really established an exercise habit, which also helps my productivity and creativity (there’s science behind that).

You can read a lot more of my tips in my Fiction University posts.

I’ve been doing this reading for years, but it seems to finally all be coming together. I think it really started when I was in physical therapy for my knee a couple of years ago. That meant I had to do exercises daily, and that started a new habit, which led to more new habits, and those new habits have pretty much stuck, so I’ve been able to start more new habits.

This year, I’m on track to have spent more time writing than I have in years, I just have the upstairs to get organized and cleaned (which has to wait for cooler weather because it’s unpleasant up there right now), and I’m on track to surpass my annual reading goal.

The really important thing I seem to have finally worked out is that failure in any one thing doesn’t mean everything has to fall apart. If I get busy and things get untidy, I don’t just give up (which used to be a bad habit of mine). I merely tidy it up again and get back to my habits. Ditto with exercise, eating right, and writing. In the past, every time I started a diet, exercise program, housekeeping routine, or writing schedule, I’d do fine as long as I could keep things the way I wanted them. Then when something upset my system, it would all fall apart. I seem to be doing better now about forgiving myself for little lapses and then going back to my routines.

My latest attempted habit development is focusing on promotion and marketing, trying to dedicate time to that every day, with plans for specific things to do. I’ve had lists of things I felt I ought to be doing that I never did, but now I’m trying to make it a priority to actually do them.

It’s weird how all of these things tie together — being more organized seems to make me not only more productive but more creative, and that spills over into being healthier, and the overall result is being a bit happier and more satisfied with life.

writing life

Goal Review

I woke up groggy this morning from a persistent nightmare (woke up in the middle of the night from it, reassured myself that it was a dream, finally went back to sleep, and found myself in the same nightmare), so I warmed up my brain this morning by flipping through my journal. It was interesting to go back and read what was going on around this time last year. Some things just don’t seem to change. Most of my plans are more or less the same, just with different book names. I even have some of the same promotional ideas that I haven’t gotten around to implementing.

Last summer, I was apparently having a milder version of the career crisis I had earlier this year. I’d set deadlines for myself for getting things together or finding a real job. I guess I don’t really want to find another job because those deadlines keep slipping.

I have made progress on some things. I was making plans last year to get the house decluttered and organized, and this year I have the downstairs mostly done. I just have some tidying to do in the living room and bedroom, but the bathroom and closets are done, and the trouble spots have been cleared out. I’ve also done the upstairs closets and bookcases, and I’ve made a good start on the office and loft. It will have to wait until it gets cooler before I get back to work up there because the air conditioning barely reaches upstairs. I should have the downstairs the way I want it before fall, and I’m on target to have the whole house done by the holidays.

I’m on target to reach my writing goals for the year, though I seem to keep changing what I’m planning to write. There was something I planned for last fall that I ended up not doing, and that gave me an idea for what I can do this fall because the timing should work out perfectly — unless something comes up.

The main thing I need to do is get better about promotion and marketing. I really hate doing that stuff, probably because that was the day job career I fled. I’d rather just hide in a cave and write.

But it’s nice to know that even though I keep making the same plans, I am actually starting to bring some of them to fruition.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Katherine Kurtz

In my ongoing series of posts about the origins and influences on my writing, I seem to have reached my teen years. That was when I really got into modern fantasy. I’d been obsessed with Narnia and had read Tolkien, and that had led into some of the “children’s” fantasy, such as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series and the Oz books. When Alan Dean Foster, whose science fiction books I’d loved, wrote a fantasy series, the Spellsinger books, I read those. But I hadn’t delved into most of the other fantasy being published at that time.

Then a book caught my eye at the library, mostly because of the cover. The art was similar to that on the covers of the Alan Dean Foster books, but it looked like something out of a fairy tale. I picked it up to look at and ended up checking it out. The book was Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz. I plowed through that book, then got the rest of the series the next time we went to the library, and then bought copies of the series for myself. I was utterly obsessed with those books. I fell madly in love with the characters, and I loved the sense of history. It was like it was a real world whose history we were getting to read. I also enjoyed the thread of faith worked into those books (complete with Bible verses at the beginnings of chapters). It worked like in the real medieval world, when faith was pivotal to people’s lives, and while there were evil people who used faith as a weapon to help them maintain power, the good guys also had faith and tried to live in accordance with it. This is an element that’s frequently left out of fantasy worldbuilding, and the way it was presented in these books rang true to me as a person of faith.

That led me into reading other fantasy published in the 70s and 80s, in the initial wave that came after the Ballantine publication of The Lord of the Rings. Most of it, I don’t remember much of. I do know I read The Sword of Shannara and Elfstones of Shannara. But there were so many others, some of which are probably forgotten now because there was a lot of “disposable” fantasy.

Strangely, I didn’t read the other Deryni books for some time because when I looked at the second trilogy, I saw that it was set in the past. I wanted to read about those original characters, not about other people. During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I went with a friend to a flea market. She told me it was a great place to find books, but I hadn’t found anything to interest me. I did see a copy of the first book in that second trilogy, Camber of Culdi, and bought it just to buy something to make my friend feel better about dragging me there. It was a few months after that before I finally read it — and then fell even more madly in love with those characters and that time period than I had been with the original trilogy. Rhys Thuryn from those books remains my primary Book Boyfriend. I eagerly got the next two books. I was overjoyed when I learned that a new trilogy was coming out. I was so excited about these books that I bought a set to give to a friend just so I’d have someone to discuss them with (how I’d have loved to have the Internet then). When I went to college, I displayed these books in my dorm room and used that as an icebreaker. I found a few friends because I knew they’d be kindred spirits since they’d read them, too. I did a paper on the world of these books for my parageography class in college.

It was through this obsession that I decided that fantasy was what I wanted to write. My first attempts at writing had been science fiction. Then I’d tried to write spy thrillers. But I started seriously writing with attempts at writing fantasy novels. When I was right out of college, I even won the fantasy category of a writing contest a couple of times (I eventually finished those books but haven’t sold them). Oddly enough, I still haven’t sold a “traditional” fantasy novel along the lines of Kurtz, and I’ve only drafted a couple of attempts at one. Everything I’ve published has been contemporary or Victorian/Steampunk.

I’ve actually met both of the people who led to this obsession. Darrell K. Sweet, the artist who did covers for both Alan Dean Foster and Katherine Kurtz, was artist guest of honor at FenCon once. And I was a guest at a convention where Katherine Kurtz was a guest of honor. I had a major fangirl moment when I ended up sitting next to her at a booksigning, and I thought I would faint when she picked up one of my books to read the back. I eventually managed to pull myself together enough to mention what her books had meant to me, and I got to hang out with her some, which felt rather like an out-of-body experience. I actually ended up spending more time that weekend with her husband, since it turned out that we had similar backgrounds as military brats and had lived at some of the same places, so there was a lot of “did you ever go to …” going on.

I do still want to write a traditional fantasy along the lines of the Deryni books. It’s a harder sell these days because it’s been done to death and you have to find some new twist on it. Right now, grimdark seems to be the trend, but I’m not so into the blood-and-guts, life sucks thing. I may just do it and publish it myself so I can tick that box off my literary bucket list.

writing life

Routines and Magic Formulas

My progress decreased quite a bit yesterday because such a big chunk of time during my prime writing hours was devoted to dealing with the air conditioner service. I don’t know if my tech was new and they were having a supervisor check on him or if he was baffled by something and called in a supervisor, but I ended up with a bonus person checking things out. Apparently, everything with the way my system is set up is a bad configuration. I pointed out that they were the ones who installed it, and they had to admit that there really isn’t a way to do it better in this house without doing major remodeling. It’s just a bad design. I’d told the first guy that I knew it needed coolant. He tried to tell me the problem was in the configuration and in the kind of filter I had. When he finally went out to check the outside unit, he found that it was almost entirely out of coolant. As I told him. Now my house is cooling better.

But this adds to the reasons why I want to get a different house. So please buy books and tell people about my books so I can afford to buy a new house.

The break in routine and resulting decrease in productivity made it clear how routine-oriented I am. I may not believe in literal magic, but I definitely function as though there are magic formulas for things. When I find something that works, I can get a bit obsessive about it, to the point I treat it like it’s magic and if I can’t do that bit of “magic,” everything goes wrong. I discovered that writing before I do anything else on the computer drastically improves my productivity, so now I feel like the whole day is ruined if I so much as glance at e-mail before I start writing. I’ve been trying to get a certain number of words written before lunch, and when I didn’t do that yesterday, I felt like it threw the day off.

I’m trying to get better about resetting and moving forward when something messes up my pattern. I’m also working on dealing with the raging perfectionism. There’s a big difference between striving for excellence, figuring out the best way to do things and trying to be perfect, clinging to routines.

I’ve made great progress this week, about 25,000 words so far and still this afternoon to go. I like a lot of what I’ve written, and I’ve come up with some great ideas. I was supposed to be getting revision notes on another book today, but I found out that’s happening after next week, so I may get to finish this draft first. I’m planning to make July a month of intense focus. It’ll be too hot to get out and do much of anything, so I might as well use the cave time to get things done.

writing life

Not Wasting Time

I made it up to more than 7,000 words yesterday. I think my record is just under 9,000, on a day when my ISP went down and I had no Internet all day during the time before I got a smart phone. I think that says something about how I use my time. It’s way too easy to just hop online during a writing break to check e-mail, then turn that into an hour-long surfing session without even realizing it.

I do seem to do better if the first thing I do when I sit at the computer is write, before I check e-mail or do anything else (aside from maybe checking the radar before I go on a walk, if it looks like it might rain or storm). I may still waste some time during the day, but I’m less likely to get into the “doom loop” behavior in which I go round and around the same sites before I force myself to get to work.

I’m trying to schedule my social media time so that I only do it during those times and not on my usual breaks. I need to spend my writing breaks moving, not sitting at the computer. I’m also making myself take the computer to a desk where I sit on a balance ball as a chair when I’m doing online stuff. That makes it harder to lose track of time and it means I’m doing something mildly active just in sitting there.

This book is going off in some unexpected directions, largely thanks to the research reading I did during the Vacation Bible School week. The major event I had planned now isn’t going to happen at all because it’s been replaced by another major event that’s more relevant to the plot (the one I had planned just sort of happened and my characters had to react to it). That’s the event I get to write today, and I’m rather excited about it. It’s so vivid in my head, and I hope I can capture that and put it into words.

My routine is going to be somewhat interrupted today since I’m having my annual air conditioner tuneup. My appointment was 10-noon, and they called at about 9:30 to say it would more likely be in the 11-noon timeframe, so I’m in waiting mode. It’s been a cooler-than-normal summer for us so far, but I want to be sure everything’s working properly before July hits and we start getting our usual weather.

writing life

Breaking Out of the Bubble

I spent most of yesterday feeling stuck, which usually means there’s a problem with what I’m working on. I’m trying to follow my outline, but the outline is the wrong way to go. After an afternoon trying to outline a scene, I gave up and did something else, then last night I sat down and listed the plot points that need to happen between now and the end.

And then I got sidetracked in the middle with a what if that turns out to probably be the key to the book. So now I have to replot, but that’s good. I’m actually going to be mean to my heroine, which I need to do, but I always have a hard time doing. I’m not a “put your characters in a tree, set the tree on fire, and throw rocks at them” kind of writer. I’m not even a “think of the worst thing that can happen, then make it happen” person. Though this plot development comes close. We’ll see how it works.

In the meantime, I’m pondering promotional stuff I might do. I’ve seen the statistics and demographics for YouTube and am pondering doing something with that. My degree is in broadcast news, so that’s definitely in my skill set. I haven’t really thought that it would be a good venue for promoting books, since if you’re watching YouTube, you’re not reading, but book content seems to be huge there. I’d need to figure out what to do with it. Maybe writing advice, talking about the background ideas for my books, some book reviews.

I suspect that the core YouTube audience doesn’t overlap with the core blog readership (which is kind of the point), but does anyone have any thoughts? Do you seek out authors on YouTube? I know I’d prefer to read something than watch a video, but maybe I’m not the kind of person I’m trying to reach here.

Then there’s podcasting. Again, I’d rather read something than listen to it, but I know there are people who use this for commuting or exercising. I used to love doing radio features (the kind of thing they do on NPR), so I could possibly have fun with that.

I’m just trying to find a way to break out of my bubble. My books are well-received. People who read them seem to like them. But very few people seem to have heard of me, and everything I do for promotion only seems to reach the same people who’ve already heard of me. I think if more people discovered my books, great things could happen. I just don’t know how to reach those more people. I’m particularly invisible in the fantasy world, and going to conventions doesn’t seem to have helped much. I don’t know what else to do to make a name there.

writing life

Inside the Mind of a Writer

Today I give you a glimpse into the strange mind of a writer.

Last night, I had a vivid and weirdly specific dream in which I was house/pet sitting for some friends while they were on vacation. Their cat, Yuki, had an odd fascination with one of the kitchen cabinets. She’d sit in front of it and yowl sadly, and if I ever opened that cabinet to get something, she’d crawl inside and look around. I thought it was sweet and funny that she was missing her people but thought that they’d gone into the cabinet when they went away. Then one day she came into the kitchen carrying a sheet of lined notebook paper, and she stuck the paper through the pull handle on the cabinet. I looked at it, and written on it in a childish scrawl in pencil was “Yuki (heart) you.” I wasn’t sure if the cat had managed to learn to write or if maybe she’d managed to get out of the house and some neighborhood kid had written it. Either way, it was a little astonishing that the cat had actually left a written note for her owners.

When I woke up from this dream in the middle of the night, my first thought after “that was weird” was “there’s got to be a story in there.” I ended up staying awake for some time as I worked out how it was sort of a reverse Narnia thing, with Yuki being from another world and coming through a portal that came out in a kitchen cabinet in our world. The people in that house didn’t know where she came from and just thought they’d been “adopted” by a cat. For a while, she enjoyed being treated like a goddess, but she was getting homesick. She thought that the absence of her captors would be the perfect opportunity for her to escape. They never allowed her in the kitchen cabinet, but the petsitter wasn’t as quick. Except, alas, the portal was closed and she couldn’t get back, so she left a sad note in tribute to her lost people.

Maybe the petsitter figures out that something’s up and helps her get a portal open to go back, then has to make up some story about the cat running away while she was petsitting.

And after all this middle of the night brainstorming, I overslept.

I’m not sure what triggered this dream. The subject of petsitters did come up in a conversation with friends last night, but we weren’t talking about cats, and I’d never be able to petsit for a cat if I had to stay in the house because I end up coming down with bronchitis if I spend the night in a home with a cat. And I really don’t know how I came up with the cat’s name.

I will have to add this to the idea file. Probably not for a whole novel, but it might make a cute short story.

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.