The Importance of Self-Care for Writers

So this week’s post is coming to you a little late thanks to a mild injury delay.

Yesterday, as I was doing something as simple as brushing my hair up into a ponytail, I felt one of my upper rips slip out of place. 

I know, sounds super weird right? If it’s not something you’ve ever done it probably sounds bad. But it’s not as bad as it sounds and yet is still pretty painful. Our upper ribs are in a pretty shallow divot in our spines so it’s pretty easy for them to slip out. If you’ve ever felt the ache of a joint that needs to pop, it’s like that, only you can’t really pop it. Sure you could use a foam roller or twist this way and that to try to crack your back, but that’s not really the same thing as being out of alignment and fixing yourself. You really need a professional for that.

As writers–and office workers–we’re facing a keyboard, hands forward, shoulders rounding, for hours. Yes, we do try to be conscious of posture and we all know to get up from time to time and stretch and walk around, but not everyone is very good about that *cough*.

Even me. I’m married to a personal trainer, I know that back problems run in my family, so I am very conscious of my back and taking care of it and exercising regularly. But once, a couple of years ago, after marathon weeks of writing, I was bent over, pulling something heavy out of my oven and I felt a sharp pain in my upper back. When I stood up, I couldn’t take a full breath without feeling a white hot shot of pain near my shoulder blade. I’d slipped a rib.

It’s easy enough to get fixed, you just go to a professional chiropractor and get adjusted and everything realigned. It’s still gonna be sore for a day or two but you better hope they can see you quick if you ever do it. Sitting around with this isn’t comfy. It feels like someone is pushing on your back and every deep breath is painful so you have to hope you don’t sneeze or yawn. Yeah, you just yawned. When it happens, you want it fixed immediately, even if that’s unreasonable.

You know I participated in NaNo this year and if you’ve been following my posts you know I had taken a long break from writing before that so after NaNo I knew I needed to go in to be adjusted because I could just feel my back tensing, I had some knots I couldn’t work out, and it was just time. 

But I put it off.

And yesterday my rib slipped out doing something so routine and simple.

So I couldn’t sit at my desk to write a post. I couldn’t pour over my outline that I was determined to work on. I swore like a sailor every time I sneezed as I waited for my 3pm appointment. And my chiro tsked tsked me when she felt how knotted and tense my back was. I hadn’t been taking care of myself.

Yes, I get my workouts in. Yes, I watch my posture as I write. But there’s more we need to do. There’s probably more you need to do. We all need to remember that it is both okay and important to take care of ourselves while we’re getting work done and while we’re taking care of others. It’s not selfish (and really, it’s okay to be a little selfish from time to time), it’s vital. You can’t get other things done if even breathing causes you pain. 

So don’t be like me. If you need a break, take it. If you haven’t stretched, go stretch and try to do it every day. If you need a massage, damnit, get one. If you need to be adjusted, go. Just because we sit to work doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a toll on our bodies.

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Lights, Camera, Book Option!

An amazing thing happened the other day. I SOLD THE MOVIE/TV OPTION OF MADAME PRESIDENTESS! My name is actually in Deadline Hollywood!

So what does this mean, exactly? It means that the company I sold it to, Fortitude International, can now shop my book around Hollywood to directors, screenwriters, producers, actors, etc. There is no guarantee that it will ever be made into a TV show or film – far more books get optioned than get made – but give how relevant Victoria’s story is to what is going on in the news, I can’t imagine that it will be long before we hear something more.

Madame Presidentess is historical fiction, but it tells the story of the real-life first woman to run for president in the United States (in 1872), Victoria Woodhull. She was also the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to testify before Congress on woman’s suffrage, and one of the first to run a weekly newspaper. All this despite growing up dirt-poor, having very little formal education, and dealing with the interference of her low-class, huckster relatives. Victoria was no saint, but she was one fierce woman – she would still be controversial today! 

Me signing the contract

I bet you are wondering how this came about, especially for an indie author who has never been traditionally published and doesn’t have an agent. Well, I saw in Publisher’s Weekly a few months ago that a new company called TaleFlick had just opened and was promising to connect authors with production companies. One of the founders used to be with Apple and Netflix, so I knew it was legit. A few days later, one of their sales reps contacted me and I was able to ask questions. Then I uploaded my books. Everything else took place behind the scenes without my knowledge. Last Wednesday I got an email saying a company was interested. The next night I talked to a Taleflick rep and by Saturday I had the contract. I signed it on Monday and it was announced on Tuesday.  It really was a whirlwind!

Now we wait, visualize big things and pray!

P.S. – If you’re an author and are interested in TaleFlick, use this link and it will count as a referral from me: http://taleflick.refr.cc/nicolee. You’ll get $8 off your first submission.

More Holiday Reading Fun!

Last year I made a Ten Holiday Reading Recommendations post, and I thought it would be fun to do something similar today. The biggest difference – other than the numbers on the calendar – is that last year’s post appeared in mid-December, so I’d had a couple more weeks to get some holiday reading in.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve only read three holiday books, so I can’t really do a top-ten list. They’re all wonderful stories, though, so I figure I’ll start with them and see where we end up. I’m also taking part in the Rainbow Advent Calendar giveaway, so I’ll post a link to that near the end. (Because you know you want a free read every day in December, right?!)

Here’s the first of my holiday reads….Mr Frosty Pants by Leta Blake. Oh my goodness! This story! It’s so good! Though it’s not the kind of thing I’d generally think of for a holiday read. It’s a full-length novel, as opposed to a warm&fuzzy little novella, the kind I can knock off in an evening. The story digs deeper, too, demanding both characters fight through real issues to reach their happily ever after. 

Yeah, there’s angst, but the ending got me all choked up, in the best possible way! 

My next holiday read was Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas by Joanna Chambers. This one has a little backstory; a few years ago, blogger Susan Lee put together an anthology that is (sadly) no longer available. The anthology began with Introducing Mr. Winterbourne, and with all due respect to the other authors who contributed, that elegant little story was my favorite in the collection.

(And that’s saying something, because the second story was KJ Charles’ The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, the beginning of her amazing Society of Gentlemen series.)

Anyway, Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas picks up 18 months after the first story ended. I was a bit nervous about whether it would live up to my memories, but no worries there. It’s a wonderful, satisfying follow-up, and I recommend you read them both to get the full effect! 

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson is just about my ideal for a holiday romance. It’s not long, but the author does a lovely job of giving the characters space to develop. The atmosphere is appropriately Christmassy, and I loved the way the fantasy elements are woven into the story.  Technically this one came out last year, but it’s been sitting on my TBR since then and I’m so happy I finally read it!

There are a few more holiday books on my TBR pile, including The Probability of Mistletoe by EJ Russell, Unwrapping Mr. Roth by Holley Trent, The Winter Spirit by Indra Vaughn (which some friends of mine have really loved), and Crossroads by Garrett Leigh. That should pretty much carry me through till Christmas, and then it’ll be time for Kris Ripper‘s annual New Year’s book.

And if you haven’t read Ripper’s Scientific Method series, you’ve been missing out. Just know that while there are very few sure things in this life, xer New Year’s book is at the top of my list of auto-buys.

Final thoughts for today….December 1st is the start of the Rainbow Advent Calendar Giveaway. Here’s a link to the Facebook Group  – join up so you can get notices when new books are posted. There are a lot of fantastic authors involved, and it’s all FREE! Happy Holidays!

My Advent Calendar contribution will be The Christmas Prince. It’s a sequel to my Steampunk-lite novella The Clockwork Monk, and I had a ton of fun playing in that world again. Monk is still available for FREE – jump here for a copy – and you can keep an eye on my website for more information about The Christmas Prince. Or, you know, join the Advent Calendar Facebook Group. Merry Merry!

The Road So Far

This Tuesday marks just one week until my debut novel, AMBER & DUSK, hits shelves! I couldn’t be more terrified thrilled to share this book with the world, but with that release day on the horizon I’ve been thinking a lot about the road that got me here. When I first started on this crazy journey to traditional publication, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But if there’s anything I’ve learned along the way, it’s that nothing happens over night, and the only real secret to success is perseverance. So–just in case it’s useful to any of you out there pursuing your own traditional pub deal–here’s how I got from scribbling story ideas in the margins of my college notes to seeing a real live book on shelves.

I’ve written my whole life, but it never really occurred to me that I could be a writer until near the end of undergrad. I started fiddling around with half-baked story ideas, and even wrote about 20k words on a very bad novel, but wasn’t super serious about it. The year after college, when I was living outside of D.C. and bartending 50+ hours a week while sending my resume to every non-profit in town, I bonded with my roommate at the time (erstwhile Scribe Emmie Mears) who was writing pretty seriously and beginning to send their work out to literary agents. I didn’t even know what a literary agent was, but a spark ignited inside me. What if this was something I could do, like for real? As a job? As a career?

In 2011, I moved to London where my fiancé was finishing grad school. My visa meant I wasn’t going to be able to work for at least 6 months, so I made a challenge to myself–treat writing like a job, and see if I could really do this. And so, 7 years and change from today, I started writing seriously. Buoyed by delusions of grandeur, I gleefully penned my first few short stories, and then I wrote my first novel, a deeply derivative YA fantasy set in a mythical Ireland. But it was my first novel! I had arrived! Visions of sugarplums (or more accurately, six-figure book deals) danced in my head. I sent out a deluge of query letters full of vague stakes and rhetorical questions (for a primer in how not to write a query letter, see below). I got back a corresponding torrent of form rejection letters. 

I am seeking representation for my young adult fantasy, DARKLING, complete at 88,000 words. DARKLING is Lloyd Alexander meets Holly Black, rooted at the crossroads between the contemporary world and ancient Celtic mythology.
Kyla didn’t ask for uncontrollable dark power for her 16th birthday. She got it anyway.
Orphan Kyla Quinn has built a happy, ordinary life–her biggest worry is whether the track star will ask her to prom. But when she ignores a headache in favor of a night of dancing, Kyla unwittingly awakens her hidden powers and blasts her carefully constructed normalcy to pieces. Guilt-ridden and haunted by memories of that night, Kyla spirals into a self-destructive depression.
In a last-ditch effort to save Kyla’s sanity and soul, her guardian moves them both to an Irish country retreat. In the land of her ancestors Kyla discovers that her destructive power is mysteriously linked to a fallen race of long-forgotten immortals known as the sidhe. Her very life hangs in the balance as she seeks the truth of her identity hidden deep within the myths. Will fickle warrior-prince Tam help her find the answers she needs? Or will he betray her to the shadowy figures stalking ever closer?

I had such unwarranted high expectations, and received only rejection in return. Little did I know, that would be the name of the game for the foreseeable future. I sometimes wonder–if I had known how hard the road to traditional publication would be, would I have stuck with it as I did? I like to think so, but sometimes I don’t know.

I’m still not sure what made me jump back in the saddle. But I did. I participated in my first #NaNoWriMo, and wrote the precursor for what would be my second novel, BLOOD KING, a YA urban fantasy set in London. I queried it through 2013 and early 2014, with no better results. After nearly two years of querying two different books, I hadn’t gotten so much as a partial manuscript request from an agent.

I then wrote my third novel, REVERIE, a YA genre-bender set in a futuristic world where dreams were banned. After several months of unsuccessful querying, I was fortunate enough to be accepted as an alternate in #PitchWars 2014 (the following year, they nixed alternates, so this still seems incredibly lucky to me). My pitch received positive attention, and I received my first partial and full manuscript requests. After an R&R (otherwise known as a Revise and Resubmit) that took me nearly 6 months, I finally got an offer of representation from an agent. In May 2015, I signed with my amazing agent Ginger Clark. 

It felt like such a big step forward. And it was. But despite all the times I’d told myself, “If I can just get an agent I’ll be happy,” it turned out signing with an agent was just the beginning of a new road, and not its end. After more revisions, we went on submission with REVERIE. While the feedback was positive, no one wanted to take a chance on it. We went on a second round of submission early 2016, with similar results. 

Autumn 2016, we went on submission with my fourth full length polished manuscript, AMBER & DUSK. No dice. I’ll be honest–this was the first (and hopefully last) time I seriously considered quitting writing for good. After 5+ years, four novels, countless short stories, and about a million bad words, I just didn’t think I could handle the soul-bruising stream of rejection anymore. I felt like I was pouring my heart into these books, and industry professionals either couldn’t tell or didn’t care. It was starting to hurt,and I didn’t think I could take it.

In early 2017, we got the news that Scholastic Press wanted to acquire AMBER & DUSK. I remember missing a call from my agent, then seeing a text from her that read, “GO CHECK YOUR EMAIL.” I broke out in full body shakes and had to sit on the floor for a while. But it was finally happening–my book baby was going to be on shelves! I was over the moon.

And I still am. But just like signing with an agent, publishing a book wasn’t the end of the road. In fact, I’m quickly beginning to realize it’s the very beginning of a whole different road, one that will hopefully be much longer than 7 years (albeit with a little less rejection along the way). 

I know a few authors who published the first novel they ever wrote. I even know a few who got there with their second. But nearly every other author I know with a traditional pub deal has a story very similar to mine–3, 5, 7 or even 10 trunked manuscripts and years’ and years’ worth of rejection. And on the flip side of that, the only writers I know who didn’t someday fulfill that dream are the ones who gave up. 

So carry on, my wayward sons and daughters.

Preorder your copy now!
Amazon
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Questions? Comments? Condolences for my wasted youth? The comment section is always open!

Mushy Middle: The Mid-Month NaNo Slump

I know you’ve probably read hundreds of NaNo blog posts, so, here’s another one! YAY!

So right now we’ve hit the middle of the month on this little experiment and you’ve been killing it. Hitting par every day, you’re watching those word counts go up and up. You’re feeling like a gotdamn writer. Right? And then BAM! You hit the middle wall.

The beginning of a book is exciting and fun, it’s something new with new characters and new worlds and new, made up words only you know the definitions to. It’s so pretty and shinning and new! And you totally know the end of the book, you know if the good guy or the bad guy wins. You know if the world ends or if your rag-tag bunch of misfits saves the world at the last minute. You know it so perfectly well that you can see it like the epic climax of a movie scene. It is seared into your brain. You just gotta get to that part of the book.

And what is between you and the exciting end? The middle. 

I promise you, whether this is your first book or your fiftieth, the middle is The Worst for everyone. The action seems to slow, you’re starting to wonder if it’s any good, and if you can’t get through the writing of the middle, who in the world is going to be able to read it.

I can make you another promise: it’s not as bad as you think. The middle always feels terrible when you’re in it and writing it but when you go back and read it later, you’ll wonder why you hated it so much. Oh, it’s gonna need some work, it’s gonna need some rewrites and some editing, there’s no doubt, but you’ll find that you wrote what needed to be written. You’ll find some exciting bits that make the action rise and fall naturally–after all, it can’t all be rise. You just gotta get through it.

If you find yourself slugging through you can do a few things to make it easier. You can outline if you haven’t. A lot of people new to NaNo tend to pants their writing but when you get to the middle you realize you’re not sure where to go. Take sometime to plot out the next few pages, or even a full chapter so you have something to guide you for the next couple of days. If you’re really stuck, just skip to the end and write scenes out of order. The only thing you need to do to win NaNo is submit a full 50,000 words–the website doesn’t know if those words are in order, just get the words down and in December you can go back and fill in the middle.

That second option is a little scary, I know. When I get to a scene I don’t feel like writing I’ll just change the font and do this: AWESOME LOVE/FIGHT/ESCAPE SCENE HERE and then, when I come to it in review I can just add the scene in. 

Just don’t give up. Remember, you’re not alone when you’re doing NaNo and you’re not the only one who totally believes the middle part of their book straight up sucks. It doesn’t, or at least, it won’t. Just put the words on the page and come back to it later.

Also, BACK UP YOUR WORK. I email myself at the end of every day so I don’t lose my work. Yesterday, I emailed myself twice because I had 2 large writing sessions. BACK UP YOUR WORK. I have lost work when my computer went into critical failure. I lost tens of thousands of words because it had been a couple of weeks since I emailed myself. NEVER AGAIN.

In the Mood for a Holiday Read? Try a Christmas Anthology!

So, a Christmas anthology that I’m  part of, Tangled Lights and Silent Nights, was just published this past Sunday. I’m really excited because I’ve wanted to be part of an anthology since I was a teenager and read Return to Avalon, an Arthurian anthology. It always felt like it would be such an honor to be asked to write alongside others in your field, and it is! I don’t normally write short, but I challenged myself and managed it – hopefully well. You can be the judge.

There are several cool aspects to this anthology:

  1. All of the stories tie into previously published books by the authors. So, for example, mine is about Victoria Woodhull and crew, who are featured in Madame Presidentess.
  2. It is multi-genre, so there should be something in there for everyone. We have women’s fiction, crime thriller, fantasy (epic, urban and contemporary), historical, romance (contemporary and dark), mystery (cozy and general), humor and LGBT stories.
  3. All proceeds benefit Life After, a charity dedicated to educating about and helping those who suffer from suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

My Story: A Vanderbilt Christmas
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.

My story is a tie-in to my biographical historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess. Victoria Woodhull may seem like an odd choice for a Christmas story, and I agree. Actually, she wasn’t my first choice. I had two drafts of stories involving Guinevere from my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Arthurian legend novels. But given our strict word limit, I was having problems explaining the Celtic winter solstice rituals and telling my story in the allotted space. Anything winter solstice or even early Christian Christmas is so different from what we know today that I didn’t want to risk not doing the stories justice. (For example, in fifth century Christianity, there was no Advent season yet and the Christmas celebration actually included three different Masses, each with their own symbolism and meaning.)

Then I remembered that one of the scenes I deleted from Madame Presidentess took place at Christmas. (It involved Cornelius Vanderbilt asking Victoria’s sister, Tennie, to marry him, which really did happen. She had to say no because she was already married to a gambler who abandoned her. Seriously, history is stranger than fiction.) This was a much better choice because the Victorian period is when some of our most beloved Christmas traditions became popular: Queen Victoria made Christmas trees a widespread thing, Christmas cards began being sent in the mail, and Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.

As it turned out, the story I submitted was totally different from the scene I started with, but it got me on the right track. And I had a lot of fun researching what was served at Victorian Christmas dinners, what people wore and what the decor would have looked like. If you want a sneak peek into my brain, check out my Pinterest board on the story. (That hideous plaid dress is what Victoria’s mom wore to the party.)

I ended up placing the story right when Victoria and Tennie were starting to become comfortable in their life working with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Victoria is ambitious as always and she sees her coveted invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at Mr. Vanderbilt’s mansion as a way for her to get a foot in the door with the New York elite, whom she longs to be a part of. But as happened so many times during her life, Victoria’s low-class family comes along and nearly ruins it by inviting themselves to the dinner. You’ll have to read the story to find out how, but it involves a brawl, a fire and some stolen Christmas gifts…

As usual, when Victoria’s family is around, trouble is sure to follow.

Order your copy today! But hurry, the paperback price goes up next week! Remember, all proceeds go to charity.

How to Fight Through Distractions

I joke that I have the attention span of a gerbil. I rarely finish one thought before another one jumps in. No, I take that back. I rarely finish one thought before I grab my cell phone for another game of Solitaire.

Huh. Actually, the little dude in the gif above might have the right idea.

HIDE MY CELL PHONE!!

I’m surrounded by blank white pages. I finished my Creepy Doll story – or at least have it well enough along for beta readers to have a crack at it – and I’m supposed to have a holiday story ready to go for an Advent Calendar promotion in just over a month.

Not to mention this here blog post…

Not getting much written, but my Solitaire winning percentage is awesome.

Now, the title of this post suggests I’m actually going to present well-reasoned strategies for coping with the danger presented by the cell phone and other electronic distractions. Hello, Facebook!

In fact, I…do not.

I mean, I did a search for, literally, “how to fight through distractions”, and picked up hits like “Ten Ways to Cut Internet Distractions So You Can Focus On What Really Matters“*.  Which had such helpful suggestions as figure out what you need to accomplish, along with several variations on turn off your damned cell phone.

Actually, I’m exaggerating. The authors do suggest turning off the email notifications on your cell phone, so those little pings don’t pull your attention away from what you’re working on. They also advise putting your more troublesome apps in a separate folder, to make them harder to get to.

I’m not sure that’d slow me down all that much, tbh, though I do kinda love their term “timebox”, as in limit your distracting activities to specific periods of time.

Yeah, that’ll work.

Some people find it useful to install one of the “internet blocker” apps, so they can’t kill a spare minute (or, you know, hours) by taking a “quick peek” at Twitter. There are also time-management apps, calendar apps, and focus apps with cute little “gamified” timers that add a layer of structure for those of us who are gerbils at heart.

There’s no telling how much time I could waste trying all these gizmos out!

The only thing that’s ever worked for me is the sprint timer on the MSWL webpage. The sprints are short – 10 – 20 minutes – which gives me time to check back in on Facebook in-between. I used it last year when I won NaNo. (Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Here’s a link to some resources that might help!)

When it comes down to it, what I really need to do is get over myself and get the words on the page. It’s possible I’m working through a teeny case of writer’s block – which I’ve always maintained isn’t a *thing* but here I am faffing about spinning my wheels and not actually writing.

On the other hand, an hour or so ago – and some dozen games of Solitaire – I didn’t have a blog post written, either, yet here we are. I’ve had some fifty-ish years to practice time-management skills, and from my advanced perspective, I can say that the best way to get something done is to do it.

And if that means hiding my cell phone in a box of cereal, so be it.

*I’m teasing about this article. It’s a useful piece, both thoughtful and well-written.