Archive for writing life

writing life

When Life Affects Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

Nebulas 2018

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

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

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

What did I learn this week?

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

Almost Done!

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

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

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

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

writing life

Taxes and Writers

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

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

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

writing life

Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

Deadline Cleaning Urges

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

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

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

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

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

writing life

Origins and Influences: Girl Sleuths

I’m still discussing some of my origins and influences — the things that played a big role in me becoming the writer I am today.

My musical theater phase never really ended, though I did sort of eventually grow out of putting on dress-up clothes and acting out my own stories to soundtracks (now I just put together a playlist and write the book that goes with it). But then I got to the point I could read novels, and I devoured them. I don’t recall paying much attention to authors or genres. I didn’t really think about types of books. It was all about subject to me. For instance, there was the horse phase, during which I’d go down the shelves in the library, checking out any book with anything to do with a horse in the title or a horse on the cover.

Or there was the witches phase, which ended up leading me to Nancy Drew. The witch phase came in second and third grade and mostly had to do with the TV series Bewitched. I moved to a new neighborhood in the summer before second grade, and I noticed that although there were plenty of kids to play with in the neighborhood during the day, the streets got strangely empty after dinner, even though it was still light outside and we didn’t have to be home until the streetlights came on. Eventually, people would come outside again. I learned when I tried to make plans to play outside after dinner with one of my friends that this was when Bewitched came on (in syndicated reruns), in the slot between the local news and prime-time programming. Apparently, this was mandatory viewing for girls in my neighborhood. I got sucked into it, and soon was joining my friends in trying to wiggle my nose to make things happen. That made me want to read books about witches, so I went down the library shelves, reading anything with “witch” or “magic” in the title. I don’t remember a lot of these, and I got derailed somewhat when I got to the K section and found a book called The Witch Tree Symbol. It had a spooky picture on the cover with an eerie symbol carved into an old tree.

Except, it turned out that the book wasn’t about witches at all. It was a Nancy Drew mystery taking place in Amish country, and it utterly captivated me. Not necessarily the story itself, but I wanted to be Nancy. She drove around in her sporty blue car with her best friends and had adventures. I became obsessed with Nancy Drew, reading every book I could get my hands on, from both the post library and the school library. I quickly learned, however, that I didn’t want to buy these books because the good ones were the old ones the libraries had. The new ones were different, and I didn’t like them much. Even if they were the same books reprinted, they had different illustrations that were very 70s, not at all like the 40s and 50s books.

I was far more interested in Nancy’s personal life than in the actual cases. I liked seeing her hang out with her friends, and I was intrigued by her relationship with Ned, though I didn’t understand why he went to college and she didn’t, even though she clearly wasn’t still in high school. For a while, I kept trying to find the last book, to see how things worked out, except it seemed there was no last book.

From Nancy Drew, I discovered other girl sleuths, like Trixie Belden, who was younger, and Cherry Ames, a nurse. When people talk now about needing strong girl role models in books for kids, I wonder what library they visited because I had all these people who allowed me to imagine what being an adult, or at least an older kid, would be like.

Strangely, there were fewer mysteries in adulthood than these books led me to believe.

Anyway, although these books didn’t necessarily spur me to want to write that kind of thing, I do think that intrepid girl sleuth character forms the basis for most of the heroines I write. I did make up some stories about Nancy and the others in my head, though I didn’t know what fan fiction was at the time and never wrote any of them down. I think I also did some mental “Mary Sue” stories, in which I imagined that kind of adventure with me (or a version of me) as the heroine.

And I’m not sure I ever got around to the “witch” books that came after the Ks.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Musicals

Last week, I found myself going down some mental rabbit trails about what got me started in writing, probably spurred by some questions that came up in my online chat with a school book club. Since kids always ask me about that, I thought it might be of general interest, so here’s the start of a blog series about my writing origins and influences — the things I’ve encountered along the way that captured my imagination in a way that helped shape or inspire my writing.

Oddly enough, the first thing that I think led to me being a writer wasn’t books at all, but rather musical theater, along with the Disney musical movies. Long before my reading skills were at a level where I could read books with any kind of in-depth storytelling, I was already into the stories of musicals. We had a lot of Broadway cast albums, and I had all the albums of music from the Disney movies. I remember being mocked in preschool when we were supposed to bring our favorite record, and I brought the cast album for Man of La Mancha.

But back in those days, there was no home video. The only way to see a movie was if it came to the theater or came on television. We also didn’t live in the kind of city that got the big touring productions (I saw my first real professional musical — a touring production of Camelot, with Richard Harris as Arthur — when I was in college). As a result, I hadn’t actually seen most of these musicals. I wasn’t exactly sure what the stories were about. Even with the Disney fairy tale movies, while I might have known the basic fairy tale, I might not have been entirely sure which characters were singing which songs and how that fit into the fairy tale (though I did have a few of the “stories and the songs” albums, which helped).

So, I had to make up my own stories to go with the songs. I wish I could remember some of the things I came up with. I’d either play out my own stories using my dolls or act them out myself, using my trove of dress-up clothes. Sometimes I’d mash them up and use songs from multiple musicals together. I didn’t think of it as writing as the time, since I wasn’t writing anything down, but I was creating characters and telling stories.

One of the few musicals I had actually seen was My Fair Lady, since they used to show that on TV every year, usually around Thanksgiving. When I was four or five, that was my absolute favorite movie, and it only occurred to me in the past week or so when I was thinking about all this that it’s essentially a Cinderella story — we’ve got an impoverished young woman who’s transformed to go to a ball, only it’s a professor of elocution rather than a fairy godmother who transforms her, and the outcome isn’t so romantic.

I’m not sure what influence musicals have on my current writing, other than that I do sometimes use music as inspiration for characters or plot points, and one of my brainstorming techniques is to put iTunes on shuffle and then try to think of how the song that comes up might relate to my story. But music did seem to spark my creativity and make me want to tell stories, and that seems to have had a lot to do with setting me on my current path.

Oddly, even though I’ve dreamed of doing musical theater since I was about three, I haven’t really done it. I was in one locally produced original musical when I was right out of college (the music was good, but the play was absolutely terrible), and I sang offstage backup for the church youth production of Mary Poppins a few years ago, but I’ve never been in any of those musicals I used to act out my own version of when I was a child.

writing life

The Whims of Success

While I’ve been working on ideas for promoting my books, I’ve found myself pondering the nature of fame and success. Quality, fame, and material success, and the trappings of all these, don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

For instance, I know of authors who are making millions with their independently published books, and yet they don’t seem to be at all famous. Their names seldom come up in discussions of those kinds of books. On the other hand, I’ve mentioned how surprised I was to learn that some of the people whose names always come up and who are treated as Big Names in the genre community don’t seem to be making as much money as I am, when I’m mostly unknown in that community.

There are people who started publishing much later than I did who are now big bestsellers and celebrities in the industry, while I’m still mostly unknown, and there are people I read when I was starting out who had really good books that won awards but who have fallen completely by the wayside and seem to have given up writing. I’m sure we can all point to mega bestselling books that really weren’t well written. Some of those mega bestsellers manage to sustain a career, while others don’t seem able to write more than that one story.

But I think this applies to other fields, as well. I was thinking of television series I enjoyed a decade or more ago. When there was an ensemble cast of more or less equally good-looking people, there were some who seemed rather talented and who had a lot of charisma, and I would have thought that those people would have been the ones to go on and become famous elsewhere, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, the least talented person is the one who keeps getting lead roles in TV series and becomes a star while the more talented person with stronger acting credentials ends up relegated to the occasional guest role. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to who succeeds and who doesn’t.

The rather annoying thing about it all — and it is annoying because it’s not something you can plan on, create, or control for — is the role luck plays in all of it. It’s all about having the right thing in the right place at the right time. The only thing you can do is produce enough work of sufficient quality that the odds are better that you will have the right thing in the right place at the right time. You also have to have the goods to back up the luck. Getting that one big book deal because you had what they were looking for at the time they were looking for it won’t help much if you can’t write the next book or if you can’t adapt when the market changes.

Strangely, thinking this way makes me feel a bit better. Doing my part can improve my odds, but it’s not necessarily anything I’ve done wrong that’s kept me from going further. It may just be timing — Enchanted, Inc. came at the end of the chick lit wave but before the urban fantasy wave really got going. A couple of years earlier or later and I might have had a very different career.

writing life

Meeting with Readers

Yesterday, I did my very first video chat! It’s like living in the future. I was the guest for a junior high book club meeting to discuss Rebel Mechanics, and since they’re in another part of the state, I visited remotely. It was nice because although I did put on a nice top and did my hair and makeup, I was wearing yoga pants and house slippers and sitting comfortably on my sofa. The sad part was that I couldn’t join the students afterward for tea and scones because they haven’t found a way to instantly transmit matter like that. I did join them in spirit with a cup of tea.

It’s fun meeting with readers like that because writing can be very isolating. Mind you, that’s also one of the things I like about it. I love spending my days at home alone, writing. But it’s also good to be reminded that there are people out there reading these stories, falling in love with these characters. There are often so many layers between writers and readers, and you write to please yourself first, then you may need to get an agent to believe in you, and then you need to find an editor who wants to publish the book. You get feedback from a lot of people who are critiquing the book to try to make it better.

With all that going on, it’s easy to forget that the real point of doing this is for the people who read the book, who aren’t looking at it as a means to make money, who aren’t creating a spreadsheet about what money it may or may not make, who aren’t looking for flaws. They’re reading to enter another world, to experience things through a character, to spend time with imaginary people. It’s nice to be reminded of that because the business can be so overwhelming at times.

It’s especially fun with kids because their enthusiasm is maybe less filtered than you get with adults. They’re not experienced at being fans, like you see at conventions. Meeting a real author is still a really big deal for them, and I get to feel like a celebrity.

But now it’s back to work.