Archive for writing life

writing life

Thinking Time

I guess I still had thinking I needed to do, or else there was a big part of me that really wanted to play hooky on a glorious fall day because I had a hard time concentrating. I ended up walking to the library because something I’d requested that’s a reference for this book had come in (which counts as work, right?), and I did some work on the patio, cleaning up after last week’s round of rain (just in time for this weekend’s round of rain). Then when I sat down to brainstorm, I had a much clearer idea of what I needed to fix. I’m still early enough in the book that I need to solidify some things. The proposal for this book was really vague, which means I need to get more specific now, and that means making some decisions about how, exactly, the magic works in this world and finding ways to hint at that in the early pages.

And since I’m still in the part where the heroine doesn’t know what’s going on while various forces are acting upon her, I need to figure out what the plans of the various forces are and what they’re doing. I want to give just enough of a hint that something’s not right without making the heroine look like an idiot for not noticing it.

This is a challenge.

But after yesterday’s crystal-clear blue skies and just barely warm temperatures, it’s gloomy and rainy today, which means it’s perfect for curling up to write a good book.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Children’s Fantasy

Earlier this year, I started a series of posts about the works that influenced me, that inspired me to write or to want that kind of story and that have probably shaped what I write now. There were fairy tales and musical theater, girl sleuths and Star Wars. And then I got sidetracked and forgot to continue the series. So, back on track!

In addition to Star Wars, my fourth-grade year also introduced me to a lot of children’s fantasy. My teacher used to read a chapter of a book to us every day after we came in from recess. It was a great way to get everyone settled down again. She’d turn off the lights, so we just had the sunlight coming in through a wall of windows, and we’d sit at our desks (with our heads down if we wanted) while she read. I think that was my first introduction to fantasy. I don’t remember all the books she read, but I do know she read us The Hobbit. It was around the time the animated TV version came out, and they sent the schools a lot of curriculum material to go with it.

She also read us the Roald Dahl books, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and the Great Glass Elevator, the sequel) and James and the Giant Peach. I believe she also read us some of the E.B. White books, including The Mouse and the Motorcycle and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Of course, I wasn’t at all satisfied with the chapter-a-day pace, so if I got into a book she’d started reading us, I’d check it out of the library and read the whole thing right away, then go find everything else by that author. That’s why it’s hard for me to remember exactly which books she read — the ones read in class blur with the ones I sought out on my own after hearing the beginning of a book in class.

It was around this time that I first started getting the itch to write my own stories. I’d always been making up stories in my head, and I sometimes even thought in narrative, but I started wanting to try to write them down, and the books I was reading made me want to tell stories like that. I remember my first attempt coming from an assignment in that class, when we were supposed to write a story about a picture the teacher showed us. I think all she really expected was a paragraph or two, a page at most, but mine spiraled out of control. I had backstory for all the people in the picture and a full plot. I was nowhere near done with it when it was time to hand it in, but after I showed my start to the teacher, she let me take as long as I needed to finish it. Nearly a week later, I handed in something that was probably close to novella length, and I could have gone on but I wrapped things up fairly abruptly because I figured I was pushing it to take that long to turn in a classroom assignment.

I’d always been drawn to fantasy-related things, and there had been a phase in which I’d check any book with “witch” in the title out of the library, since Bewitched syndicated reruns were the most popular TV show among the neighborhood girls, but this was when I started exploring other kinds of fantasy beyond witch stories and fairy tales.

writing life

Finding the Joy

Oops, I wrote this blog post yesterday, but it seems I never actually got around to posting it. So, time to update it for today.

I finished my draft Tuesday! I had kind of planned to take a break from writing and do other stuff, but two hours later, I was working on something else, a project that’s gnawing at my brain. It’s still not ready for prime time, but I enjoy doing development work on it.

And then that night, yet another fiction universe that’s been in my head for a while popped up to make itself known. The whole opening scene came to me.

While it’s a little irritating because of the distraction, it’s also rather reassuring. I’ve been slogging through the last couple of projects, but being inspired by something may mean it’s the projects, not me. Writing something different may remind me that I started doing this because it was fun. I actually started thinking about whether I maybe needed to look into actual jobs, if I was slogging through writing the way I used to slog through my old career. But then I realized that there’s not much out there that I’d care to do that I’m qualified for, and I love the life I have too much. So what I need to do is find projects that feel like playing and find the joy again.

I still have to finish one of these projects and do a final draft. The other may get backburnered for a while because I need to love it again, and right now, I don’t. I’m going to work on things that feel like fun and maybe see if I can get excited again.

writing life

Convention Etiquette

I did a bit of a Twitter rant on this topic a few days ago, but I thought I might expand it into a full post, so here’s a Newbie’s Guide to Convention Etiquette.

Are you an aspiring author or someone who’s made a first sale, and you’re heading to a writing conference or genre convention? Great! That’s a good way to meet people in your field, promote your work, and learn a lot. But it can all backfire if you behave badly. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind (that probably apply to just about any writer at any experience level):

1) Remember that there will be a lot of writers of varying degrees of experience there, from bestsellers to aspiring authors. Your credits may put you higher on the ladder than a lot of people, but there will still probably be people above you. It’s safest not to make any assumptions about where you stand compared to the person you’re talking to. It can be really embarrassing and won’t make a great impression if you think you know it all and start lecturing people you meet about everything you know about publishing — and it turns out that you’ve been talking to a bestselling grand master (I’ve seen it happen) or the convention’s guest of honor (it’s happened to me).

No matter your level of experience, if you go into a convention with an attitude of wanting to learn as much as you teach, you’ll probably do better. Learn something about the person you’re talking to. Have a conversation in which you ask questions and exchange information rather than being so hung up on the fact that you’re published and you might learn something. That person lecturing the grand master-level author on the basis of his one small-press sale missed the opportunity to have a real conversation with a major author because he was so hung up on how important he was.

You should also read the room before you approach anyone for a lecture or conversation. Are the people you’re approaching already having a conversation? Does it look like they’re just chatting casually because they happen to be near each other and possibly open to others joining in, or is it a two-person conversation? Even if it’s open to someone joining in, you should listen for a little while before diving in with your two cents. In the lecturing the grand master case I mentioned, she and I were talking, and the know-it-all interrupted our conversation to teach us about writing.

By the way, this isn’t entirely mansplaining. While it does seem to be men doing it most often, I have seen female authors do it, too, where they come to their first conference soon after their first sale and assume everyone will be impressed with them, so they go on bragging about how important they are because they’ve sold a book without realizing that they’re being condescending to a bestselling author.

2) At the same time, don’t be so hung up on looking for people of perceived higher status that you ignore anyone you consider beneath you. This is a funny business, and longevity doesn’t necessarily translate into higher status in the long term. There are people I met as fans when I first started going to conventions who have gone on to become a much bigger deal than I am. If I’d snubbed them at those early conventions because I was too busy trying to network with more famous people, I might have missed some valuable contacts and friendships.

3) Authors, editors and agents are people, too, and they have other interests in their lives than just their work. They enjoy talking about those things in social settings. Not every conversation has to be about business. If you find yourself sitting next to an editor at lunch, you might make a better professional contact by discussing what you’re reading, that movie that just came out, or that editor’s hobbies than by trying to pitch your book over lunch. Have a conversation, and if the editor is interested in learning what you write, she’ll ask about that.

4) Develop a 30-second pitch for your book. Only use it if asked about it (“what do you write?”). Don’t elaborate on that pitch unless asked for more detail. It’s incredibly painful to be cornered in the con suite by someone going into excruciating detail about his epic 300,000-word fantasy novel, and not doing a very good job of it because he has to keep backtracking to pick up details he forgot. Use the old show biz adage of “Leave ’em wanting more.” Better to have your audience asking questions than their eyes glazing over as they look for a way to escape.

5) If you didn’t get put on a panel, don’t try to panel from the audience. You can ask questions, but making comments to the extent that you’re talking more than the panelists is a bad look. If you have specific expertise on the topic of the panel, the moderator might ask for your input. But showing up to the panels you wish you were on and then pretending you’re on them from the front row of the audience isn’t going to endear you to people. If your question is so specific that the answer would only apply to you and/or your book, ask one of the panelists privately after the panel if the opportunity arises. Don’t use the Q&A portion of the session as a thinly veiled opportunity to promote your book. Your 30-second book pitch should not be part of the wind-up to your question. This is especially true in panels with editors that are not designated pitch sessions. There are some cases in which the panel is about the editors or agents taking and critiquing pitches from the audience, but if they aren’t asking for pitches, then starting your question with something like “In my book, a 100,000-word contemporary fantasy novel about elves living among us …” is tacky.

6) Don’t hijack another author’s fans. Many cons have group autographings, or the autograph session will involve several authors sitting in a row. It’s okay to talk to fans who came to see other authors near you and even hand them promo material, but don’t interrupt their conversations with the authors they came to see, and especially don’t put down those authors. True story: I once had another author interrupt a fan’s conversation with me to hand over a bookmark for her books and say, “If you like her books, you’ll love mine.” (Actually, that happened more than once with the same author, and I learned to avoid her at signings, which was a challenge because she seemed to have identified me as someone whose fans she could poach, so she made a point of trying to be near me. Don’t do this.)

7) Relax and have fun. A single convention probably won’t make your career. Yeah, there are stories about people making that one contact that changed everything, but if you’re busy trying to make that happen, it probably won’t. Those sorts of things usually happen as a byproduct of someone relaxing and having fun. Even if you screw up a bit, it probably won’t break your career entirely. Not everyone who makes the big decisions will know if you put your foot in your mouth or do something tacky. Just don’t do something illegal or that goes against the convention’s code of conduct (getting kicked out of a convention for harassment might break your career).

writing life

Hiding in the Cave

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

Meanwhile, I’m counting the days to autumn.

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

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

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

writing life

Done! And Moving On …

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

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

Brain Blinders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

writing life


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

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

When Life Affects Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

Nebulas 2018

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

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

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

What did I learn this week?

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

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

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

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

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