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Reading (when everything is a) Challenge

Last week I tweeted about how excited I was to smash my 2017 50-book reading challenge on Goodreads, since I was ridiculously proud of my mere 30 in 2016 (recap, and, okay, a bit of justification: 2016 was not a smooth year for me). I WAS excited, I noted, until I’d decided to re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS this year (the latter being my absolute favourite book of all time).

Don’t get me wrong — I’m euphoric about reading these. It’s been several years, and while I try to watch the LOTR trilogy every Christmas, reading the books takes a bit more time. My books-read counter is going to crawl over the coming weeks. Not because I’m a massively slow reader, but because these words must be  s a v o   u   r    e      d.

As Pippin quoted Treebeard:

So I’ve started THE SILMARILLION, this time with a Tolkien dictionary and map beside me (for following all those Valar and Maiar and Quendi around). But it got me thinking.

Reading As Respite — and Motivation

Truth is, in times like these where concentration is hard to come by due to current issues, the best thing to do is dive into what inspires you, and remind yourself of what makes you feel hopeful, and strong, and creative, and motivated, and just plain good. And just as Tolkien described in his beautiful essay, On Fairy Stories, this isn’t about escapism in the negative sense:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he . . . thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

And as C.S. Lewis said in OF THIS AND OTHER WORLDS regarding the reader of fantasy: “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

So. Rather than buckling down and sticking to my usually-demanding daily word count (or, when editing, scene tally), I’m giving myself a bit more grace. If my struggle to focus is throwing up brick walls (or walls that look like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and news outlets…), I need to step back and not beat myself up for it. And in the evening, maybe start my reading a little bit earlier. Rather than staring at a screen and berating myself for sub-par productivity, I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay to just go to words I love, and sit there for awhile.

Granted, I’m not on a deadline other than any I give myself right now…

Why I Write

I love what Tolkien said about his Elves in the preface to THE SILMARILLION:

Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations . . .  And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation.

The Elves used their abilities to add beauty to the world, not control it nor become its master.  Tolkien wrote much about writers as sub-creators, made by a creator they’re naturally inclined to wish to imitate. “We make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made.”

But this is WHY I write — with the hope I can also create a world of a story and characters and events that might someday be someone else’s respite, inspiration, or encouragement.

We create to inspire, and we read for inspiration. While my productivity might be a bit lower currently, my well is being filled, and that’s no bad thing. It’s the very thing I need to prepare me for the next set of words, and the next set of days.

I hope you’re filling your well with words that inspire you. <3

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Whatever Happens, Stay Busy.

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Americans! Hope you’ve been enjoying your leftovers and have a lovely (and possibly lazy) weekend! I cooked the bird yesterday due to the Scotsman being away for work on Thursday, but it was lovely having friends over and even watching of bit of the Macy’s parade online.

I’m about to admit something I’m not proud of. This week, I did what I’ve done the past several years, and that’s listen to the little voice whispering in my ear that the holidays means people don’t really read emails or have the chance to consider them until into the New Year, and that somehow negatively affects me.

Why does this make me worry? Well, in my head, I feel like it’s time where I won’t hear answers, and therefore can’t make progress — but worse is the fear I’ll be forgotten and shuffled into a pile of dustbunnies in the corner, because HOLIDAYS, and therefore, any answers I might be waiting on will blink out of the realm of potential.

Falmouth sunrise
Falmouth sunrise

What a negative viewpoint, right? And how self-centered! I can hear you thinking it. Honestly, I should be focused on my family and making holiday memories rather than worrying about the career goal and dreams I’ve been working toward all these years … right? Or can’t I do both?

I realized after sharing my concerns with a friend how accustomed I am to finding yet more ways to worry about what I’m waiting for. It’s a timely blunder as I’m currently reading Wendy Pope’s inspiring and uplifting WAIT AND SEE.

Every day is a chance to keep up that progress I want to see on my end — and that’s all I can EVER do. So I can’t worry about things like this. It’s out of my control — it was never IN my control, no matter what time of year it is. I’m also reminded again of my favourite read of last year, BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert:

  • You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
  • The results of my work don’t have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself.
  • The ones who stand at the gates of our dreams are not automatons. They are just people. They are just like us. There is no neat template that can ever predict what will capture any one person’s imagination, OR WHEN (emphasis mine); you just have to reach them at the right moment. But since the moment is unknowable, you must maximize your chances. Play the odds. Put yourself forward in stubborn cheer, and then do it again and again and again.
  • Whatever else happens, stay busy.

So instead of finding new ways to worry that actually only eat away at the very progress I’m concerned about, I’m spending this weekend doing the things that refuel my tank for the writing that happens throughout the week, and focusing my mind on what I can control. And wishing everyone a hopeful holiday season this year as we look for ways to help others in the days, weeks, and months to come. Roll on, 2017. <3

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Twitter & Missing Out

This year has been a difficult one in a lot of ways, but a busy (in a mostly good way) one, too. Which means I haven’t spent endless hours scrolling through Twitter like I used to.

Gratuitous autumnal Allegany State Park shot of a beaver swimming toward me.
Gratuitous autumnal Allegany State Park shot of a swimming beaver.

This is definitely not an anti-Twitter post – I am so grateful for what it’s made possible! I’ve met so many amazing writer friends and critique partners through Twitter, through contests and writing groups. In fact, I think I’ve met all of my CPs, past and present, through Twitter one way or another.

And the supportive writing community is immense. How encouraging is it to know, as a writer, you can peruse Twitter at any hour of the day or night and find others around the world also writing, editing, struggling with a draft, and celebrating over a finished scene? Even if you’re not interacting personally, hashtags like #amwriting or #amediting or any of the thousands of writing groups out there are such an unbelievable source of encouragement we’re privileged to have access to right now.

However.

Because this has been a really crazy year for me, and because I’ve committed to accomplishing more this year than in years past, I’ve not spent time on TweetDeck and kept up with the fifteen columns I have on there like before. I check in maybe once a day, sometimes once a week, and have a look at my top three lists for a minute, and that’s it. Occasionally I spend more than a minute – just now I scrolled around for about five, and instead of feeling enlightened about whatever topics are being discussed or who ate what for lunch, I felt like I was missing out.

This post is basically me having a stern talk with myself.

It’s not just that I’ve not had time therefore I’m missing all the info-sharing and friendly banter . . .  that’s been a constant for the past year for me. I also felt I was missing out because everyone on Twitter is telling me the good stuff – their book deals, their agent signings, their book tours, their awards, their cover reveals.

I want to keep up with it all, and I want to celebrate with them, but if I don’t religiously check in, I’m sure to miss tons of this news, and by the time I see it, I feel like a jerk for not having commented sooner. And yes, I do feel the temptation to compare where I’m at with their fabulous news. But I just can’t. Life is too short. Life’s too short to spend all of it on social media – but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it. When I do check in, I love seeing what’s making people laugh and what people are excited about. It’s the greatest way to be involved and encouraging and encouraged without even leaving the house, and sometimes, you just can’t.

This is everyone on Twitter celebrating all the good stuff.
This is everyone on Twitter celebrating all the good stuff.

 

This is me.
This is me.

But everyone’s day is different, everyone has different priorities, and if it’s a choice between spending 6 hours editing my current manuscript, getting to the gym, and having dinner with my husband and maybe meeting up with a friend, or being online throughout the day but not meeting my work goals, I have to choose the former.

I wish I had an extra hour a day to spend solely on the long-distance, never-ending conversation. Especially as one who has emigrated from her home country to a new one. The vast majority of my friends are still in the U.S., and I have to be online to be in touch with them. But that’s the struggle (if it’s a struggle – I think it’s also a blessing that we’re *able* to keep in touch across such distance in such an immediate way) that comes with moving around in the world.

All this to say, if you’re anything like me and maybe you’ve been choosing to spend more time on your own work, and on your immediate circumstances, it’s okay to do that, and to not feel guilty. I envy people who seem to be able to do it ALL: get the agent, the book deal, write and edit all day, go to workout classes, spend time with their families and friends, AND get online and have a massive community around them to engage with – daily.

Until I figure out how to fit all that plus sleep and me-time into 24 hours, I have to accept that there are choices to make, and most days – until I get the book deal and need to be promoting, that is (*heh*) – I need to mostly focus on the immediate work in front of me.

Second gratuitous autumnal Allegany State Park shot.
Second gratuitous autumnal Allegany State Park shot.

I know I need to make more time for the online relationships I’ve been grateful to be part of. I certainly don’t want to lose them! But I think social media stress is A THING, and finding that balance between nurturing relationships vs. living solely online and slashing productivity is a real challenge.

If you have any suggestions or tips on how to balance this stuff, feel free to share! 🙂 Until next time x

 

 

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Pitching Helped Me Focus

A bit dusty around here, right?

I was away for 5 weeks in late March-April-early May, and it made this year start to fly, but also kept me off the internet. I missed a ton of #WIPMarathon posts, and generally feel like everything in the world happened on Twitter, and now it’s too late for me to catch up. But if I have to choose, I’d rather be living life then reading about it, and in April I was able to attend RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas with my sister (also a writer) 🙂  So it’s all good!

Book Fair at RT
Book Fair at RT

I wanted to review the convention but given it’s been a few months now, it feels outdated. I will say that for a first big American convention (since I’m in the UK and it’s not as easy to attend), I had an overall fantastic experience. I got to hang with one of my CPs (the fabulous Jessica Gunn, whose debut, GYRE, is out now), meet and pitch to agents, listen to some great teaching at the pre-con bootcamp as well as a handful of inspiring and motivating panels and workshops.

Look closely & you'll see my husband & sister on the zip wire at the Rio. I did not take part in this event.
Look closely & you’ll see my husband & sister on the zip wire at the Rio. I did not take part in this event.

One of the most memorable was a workshop on prose by Kate Brauning and Nicole Baart, about the sound of language, Latinate versus Germanic words (which I’m ashamed to admit I never considered before — if you want to see how Jane Austen used language to reveal character, check this out), synaesthesia (sense given to something abstract), transferred epithet, and much more.

Pocket Picard checking out Yosemite
Pocket Picard checking out Yosemite
“When you’re tired, you take a nap-a, you don’t MOVE to Napa.” – Carrie Bradshaw

It was a great opportunity to meet other writers at various points in their journeys, published authors, agents, and editors, and I am so grateful I was able to attend. Highly recommended! I appreciated that many of the writing workshops were not genre-specific, and there were a good handful aimed at SFF writers or targeted areas of the craft such as fight scenes.

Maybe the most useful outcome has been honing pitches. I pitched to agents in person for the first time, and I was ridiculously nervous. But after a few workshops and some advice from the supportive writing community around me, when I sat down to work, in about 20 minutes I put together a 3-minute pitch, managing what I hadn’t been able to do ever before: communicate the hook and meat of one of my manuscripts in under 3 minutes, comps included.

I can’t lie. I often struggle to be concise. My first drafts are about 30% longer than the final draft. But this exercise forced me to stamp down on the feeling that I HAVE to mention XYZ about my plot, oh, and this character’s arc, oh, and this bit of world-building, and this theme, and … and … Something just clicked in my head, and I’m confident that if I focus on what I can say in 3 minutes or less, I’ll have boiled down the concept and the hook and can stop right there. For me, it was about what I would say verbally to another person. I always stumbled over elevator pitches to friends and acquaintances who asked what my books were about, but this forced me to see it as a useful strategy for finding the focus of the story and sticking to it, throughout the writing, editing, and pitching process.

After RT, the Scotsman met me in Vegas for a California road trip through Death Valley (beautiful, especially seeing the highest and lowest points within the continental U.S. without moving my feet!), through Napa and down Highway 1, which I never drove all the time I lived in California. Despite the fun travels, this spring was a very difficult time for personal and family reasons, making 2016 the most stressful and challenging year I’ve ever had. It all made me more thankful for my friends than ever — I was able to meet up with seven old friends in California and Vegas, many of whom I haven’t seen in 10 years or more, as well as spend a weekend with both my sisters together. By the time this year is done, I’ll have seen every one of my dearest friends in the same year, which has *never* happened before. I’m reminded how amazing each one is, and that while distance sucks, it doesn’t stop us from picking up where we left off 🙂

I’ve been learning so much, not just about writing and publishing but about myself, where I want to be, and how and who I want to be. It’s a daily struggle, but I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve been able to learn and hopeful that I can implement them to make the rest of 2016 a more joyful and positive time. I think the theme for this year has been cutting away the unnecessary to get to what really matters. Practicing pitching has, in a strange way, helped me focus on what’s actually important in life as well as in my stories <3

Yosemite
Yosemite
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WIP Marathon February Check-In

A few days late. Fashionable, right?

IMG_1418
These Falmouth clouds mean business.
Last Report WC For WIP:

59,988 on my WIP, SAPPHIRA RISING.

Current Report WC For WIP:

About 75k for SAPPHIRA RISING, 1,297 for New Story A I just started, and 2,384 for New Story B. I have never written simultaneous novel first drafts before. This should tell you something. (See below).

Writing Issues This Month:

I deleted and I wrote, and I wrestled. I had some amazing (for me) word count days: 4,234 one day, 6,043 another, 5,000 another. I’m really proud of the fact that despite how I’ve struggled with this manuscript like no other, the words came out like water from a faucet. It’s just… they weren’t grabbing me. I loved some of the character ideas and worldbuilding and backstory, but I didn’t feel this pulsing NEED to be in my chair writing it, like I did with my first three manuscripts.

I’m still in love with the initial idea, but the words all felt flat. Usually first drafts are the hardest for me, but I felt like I might as well just take a box of letters and toss them into the air and type out whatever landed and I’d have as deep an emotional connection to it.

Bill Bear, moral support on writing trips.
Bill Bear, moral support on writing trips.

So, I did some soul searching, some crying (and moaning to my lovely CPs) and more crying, and yes, I prayed about this hot mess. Lo and behold, the day after I basically surrendered the story, and writing in general — not given up, mind you, just *surrendered* … as in, if this is not what I should be doing, I’m all ears — the next day, I sat down with a notebook and a pen and told my husband to not let me leave my office until I’d written 5 full pages of brainstorming notes.

He didn’t hold me to that, but he didn’t need to. I wrote three pages, and that was enough to ignite me again. I had a shiny new idea — for New Story A. And I’m super excited about it. But I *also* managed to tease out what I didn’t like about SAPPHIRA, what wasn’t working, and I rewrote the entire prologue and backstory. And now I feel like a new person.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me. Out of that 75k, there are lots of ideas and snippets of dialogue that are salvageable, but I have to face the facts that it was all an exercise in finding the story.

You can't go wrong with the hot chocolate at Gylly Cafe.
You can’t go wrong with the hot chocolate at Gylly Cafe.

I’m a hybrid plotter/pantser through and through. Diana Gabaldon says she doesn’t write in a straight line. She writes what she sees happening, scenes and dialogue that come to her, and figures out where to slot them in as she goes. She does a truckload of research, of course, and this probably feeds into those somewhere-scenes, but I admire her for that. She’s not tied down to must create this in the order it is told on the page.

And why should we be? Maybe some people can ONLY work that way and that’s absolutely fine! But it’s so freeing to see, in practical terms, that this might be how I work best, too. Films are made that way, so why not books? Whatever scene can be practically shot next, whatever makes sense for the production crew and makeup and costume and locations and weather and everything else. So of COURSE books can be written the same way. It seems so simple, now that I’ve experienced it, and it gives me a kind of freedom I hadn’t expected.

All that to say, this is my first experience of writing so many words that I’m not keeping. I’ll open two Scrivener windows and as I go, see what bits I can save, but this isn’t about editing those 75k. It’s a fresh start. That’s really hard for an impatient person like me who feels like she’s been waiting a hundred years to find her agent and publisher and see a book of hers on a shelf. But that emotional connection is so critical. And I’m grateful to have found it!

Things I Learned About Writing This Month:

1) I can write more than one story at a time. In fact, switching gears actually seems to boost my creativity.

2) I can write short stories! At least, one! I took a Lit Reactor class with Richard Thomas and he managed to coax out of me my first ever completed short story! I used it as an exercise to flesh out backstory of a side plot in A SIGHT OF NEVERSEA, so it wasn’t completely new ideas, but it’s just over 4k and I’m stunned I managed to do it.

3) I learned that I can edit like a BOSS. While I was doing all this writing this month, I also managed to cut … wait for it … 5,000 words from one manuscript, and close to 4,000 from another. And that wasn’t cutting “unnecessary side plots” because I don’t think I have any of those left. That was cutting redundant phrases and adverbs. And wow. Does it make a difference.

4) Check out this post Chuck Wendig put up, if you haven’t already. He talks about simplicity in writing. It’s really perfect. But here are the highlights that spoke to me:

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 7.21.51 pm Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 7.22.00 pm

What distracted me this month when writing:

The fun stuff: I got a new tattoo! My first in about 11 years. And my first not with my friend’s husband who’s an amazing artist in Nashville, TN.

The unfun stuff: not knowing if I should carry on. Doubting my ability and my voice, which is the worst thing to doubt because I’ve been writing for the best part of ten years, seriously, and to doubt the way my voice has grown through that time is really painful. My voice will never be for everyone. I just hope and pray that it might be for some. Also unfun was considering trashing SAPPHIRA and moving on, until I reread bits of Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC, like this one which was incredibly apt:

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 7.27.18 pm


Goals For Next Month
:

I’d like to say finish the first draft of SAPPHIRA RISING but due to stuff happening at the end of the month, that’ll be very hard. I would be happy with 10k a week on SAPPHIRA and 5k a week on New Story A. And go from there.

I hope my fellow #WIPMarathon-ers had a successful February! Onwards and upwards!

Facing toward Swanpool in Falmouth.
Facing toward Swanpool in Falmouth.
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