Bouncing Back From Burnout

Burnout.

Rarely spoken of but universally experienced, burnout is probably the reason the statistics about writers look so bad. Hundreds start writing, dozens make it to submission, and only  a few end up getting published—and much of that elimination process is actually self-selection: the “strong” survive, while the “weak” gradually fade from the pool.

It’s that binary there that’s sticky, though. What makes one writer strong, while another writer is weak? General wisdom says that writers write, and a successful writer is one who never stops writing, not even for birthdays and national holidays. And if you get sick? Well, sit down, shut up, and write about it, because writers write, damn it, and that’s how you can tell who is serious about this work. If you’re not serious, well, you’d better go home, because you won’t make it if you don’t treat it like Serious Business.

There’s some truth in it. Publishing is serious business, and if you don’t recognize that, you probably won’t get very far. But the ‘never complain, never quit’ attitude might be hurting us as much as it helps us. In the last year, I’ve seen several writer friends disappear off the face of the internet. I’ve had friends leave publishing altogether. I’ve had others get seriously sick or seriously depressed, and I’m sure there are still more I don’t know about because they haven’t publicly admitted that they’re struggling.

I’ll say it here: I’ve struggled.

The last year has been incredibly difficult for me, career-wise. And it was no picnic in the six months before that. I stepped back from blogging, I went quiet on Twitter, and I started wondering if all this heartache and struggle was what I actually wanted.

It is, but it’s taken me awhile to realize that. And recovering from burnout is a process, not an event: I have yet to magically wake up one morning and say, “Ah-ha! I feel good about my creative life once again!”

But I’m reaching the point where I want to write again. I realized recently that I miss writing, and I found myself thinking about a new character’s life choices, wondering why she wants to make the choice that will instigate a whole new book. In short, I was tending tiny plants that will, one day very soon, become a towering tree of a project—and I’d planted the seeds, without knowing it, in the dark winter of my burnout.

So how did it happen? Well, I’m not an expert, and I’m certainly not fully recovered yet, but I have noticed a few things that have helped me start to recover.

1. Put a timeline on it. Tell yourself, “I’m on vacation from writing (or a particular project, or a friendship that’s troubling you, or WHATEVER) until X date. I won’t do it, think about it, or feel guilty about not doing it or thinking about it until that time.” And then hold yourself accountable. Whether that date is one day or one year from now, give yourself that time to actually recover. Don’t spend your free time worrying about how much you’re not getting done.

2. Cultivate another part of your identity. One trouble with recovering from writing burnout is that, as writers, BEING a writer is such a big part of our identity. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. And if we’re not writing, we’re not just failing as a writer, we’re Failing with an emphasis on that capital F. We’re neglecting a vital part of our selfhood, so that when we do take time off, we feel adrift. But the truth is, each of us is much more than a writer: we’re friends and lovers and painters and bikers and who knows what else. Take your time off to develop some aspect of yourself that makes you happy. Discover another side of yourself.

3. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing. And don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up about writing. The key here is to cherish yourself in your time off. Take time to do things you might not do when you’re not on vacation from writing: take a bubble bath when you get home from work. Do yoga in the morning when you’d normally be writing. Go to a movie on Saturday instead of staring at a blank white screen. Actually use the time you now have to recuperate and relax, and don’t just use the time to make yourself feel worse.

Those are the things that have helped me. Have you experienced burnout? And if so, how did you recover?

Posted in Creative Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Being Okay with Taking Time Off

GoneReading-at-the-Beach-Womens-T-shirtI’m sure I’ve written about this before, because God knows I’ve been struggling with it for a while, but I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t know how to not be writing. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but see, my brain is tired. I know this a few ways:

  1. I’ve been doing stupid stuff lately like forgetting my work badge at home and getting confused about what day it is (which can be problem at work when you’re supposed to send out an announcement on a certain day but not before, trust me)
  2. I’m so tired that I spend most of Saturday asleep (where did my energy go? I want it back!)
  3. My characters aren’t talking (there are about 20 books plots in there and all I hear is silence)
  4. I think my muse is in Tahiti (wish she would have taken me with her)
  5. I can’t settle on a new book topic (I have two historicals and three contemporaries that are strong contenders.)

As someone who is trying to launch a writing career, part of me feels like I can’t afford to waste any time. That’s why I haven’t stopped writing in the last three or four years. I’ve just gone from one book to the next – for six books (with a full-time job). Well, I think the end of that extended energy spurt is over.

On top of wanting to write another book, I’m also the kind of person who can’t ever stop learning. I’ve even created my own DIY MFA program. And I want to get started on that, but every time I think about it, my brain says “uh-uh.”

All of this boils down to the fact that I don’t have a choice but to take a break. It’s actually good timing in that I’ve got two books out in the publishing world trying to find agents/editors that are right for them. Plus, it’s getting to be summer, which means nice weather and pool time. So I’ve made a deal with myself: I’ll take a break until June 1. That’s only about three weeks, but it should be long enough for me to know if I need a longer rest or if I can get back into the writing game again.

And I will. Right now sometimes it feels like I don’t have another novel in me. But that’s just the burnout talking. We all know I have at least 20 in me. Watch out when I come back because they may all burst out one after the other!

Have you ever had to give yourself permission to slow down or stop doing something at least for a while? If so, let me know. Hearing your stories will help me feel less guilty!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Where am I? Who am I? What now?

There’s always this strange feeling that comes with finishing a book. Whether it’s just after finishing the rough draft and tumbling down the mountain of the denouement, or you’ve finally conquered the many-headed monster of line edits and plot holes, or finally, finally typed those two little words: The End. But the feeling comes and it’s one of bewilderment.

You’ve been working so hard, from idea conception, to finally hitting the last period, or – if it’s a series – you got to finally write The End, when you’re done, you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself. There’s no word goal that needs to be met. No deadline looming. No emails from your editor, with an attachment that now has more Track Changes than original work. No acknowledgements to write. Nothing but trying to enjoy the idea that you get to take a break. But it’s strangely hard to take that break. I, for one, tend to feel guilty.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I take a break and I damn well enjoy it. I catch up on some reading, be it novels or beautifully drawn comics. I enjoy the slow sipping of my coffee, rather than the bleary-eyed chug only to find I’ve let the stuff get cold. I watch some guilty pleasure T.V. I stay in my pajamas by choice. Or maybe I don’t and I take a shower and do my hair and feel like a person again. I go out to dinner with my hubs to celebrate.

But after a day or two, I feel guilty. Which is so strange.

I mean, when you work for someone you’re supposed to get a vacation, right? And we’re not talking a day or two. You get some time to decompress and go do something you don’t normally do because, damnit, you’ve been working hard (maybe).

So I just published the last in a trilogy. I will say that, of all my work, I am most proud of this body of work. The Ash and Ruin Trilogy, I think, is my best work so far. But I will tell you this, it is a dark, mean story with a scorched earth and blood. There are dead-eyed monsters with rattling, plague-spreading breath and monsters that look just like you and I. And each installment took little pieces of me with them, every day writing, every day editing, they took pieces of me.

And when I came to the end of the third book, that last day, I could see the horizon – it was about ten thousands words in the distance and I knew I didn’t want to quit until I reached it. So, over the course of the day I wrote some 12,505 words and the last two were “The End.” I nearly collapsed. I almost had to crawl to get out of my office at the end. I don’t even remember the rest of the night, but I felt like I’d been in battle with my characters and I’d somehow dragged my body, beaten and bloody, out of those pages and found my way home.

And now it’s published. I finished revising the rough draft of another book just the other day, so I told myself I could take a little time to enjoy this week and this last publication. So, I read some beautiful comics, I finished a book I’d been reading, I got a fricken massage today, I gave myself a pedicure. But you know what?

I feel guilty.

But some characters are already starting to talk to me, so the tiny break was a good thing. So, take your breaks, kick that guilt monkey off your back, sip your coffee, because more words are coming. More goals. More deadlines. More edits. If you’re a writer, you’re gonna write. But you deserve that break, just like I did.

Now, if you like monsters, and heartbreak, and bloody adventures, and scorched earth apocalypses, please, help me pay bills and feed my dogs by clicking on your favorite retailer’s link and maybe buy a copy.

 

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Posted in Craft, Creative Life, Paranormal, Post Apocalyptic, Publishing, supernatural creatures, Writing | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Genre Crossover

I would like to do an informal poll this week. It’s regarding genre crossing. I’ve come across a few authors who can write both paranormal/urban fantasy and contemporary quite well. But recently, I found an author who can not only write both well, she’s managed to fully develop two series, one a contemporary and one an urban fantasy, in the same world. The characters from both series intermingle, are even related to each other in some cases. This, to me, is quite impressive.

At first I chose not to read the new series, the urban fantasy, because I was so unsure of how it would work. Now, I’m glad I did and can’t wait to read more. It takes talent to be able to meld both fantasy and contemporary into the same world and make it believable for the reader. As an author who loves to write both, I think seeing this in reality is a major win.

So my informal poll…what are your thoughts on crossing genres in the same world? Would you read the books or would you shy away from one or the other?

By the way…if you want to check out the series I’m talking about…the author is Candace Blevins. I will tell you, her contemporary series is very heavy in BDSM and the books are intense. The paranormal series isn’t quite as intense, but still very hot!

Posted in Paranormal, Publishing, Reading, Romance | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Wai-ai-ting (for Query Responses) is the Hardest Part

Hello again friends and fellow writerly type people!

Last time around, I wrote about what I thought makes a great query letter. Well now you have that great query and you’re sending it out to all the those lucky agents who are just dying to rep you and fantastically fantastic manuscript.

GO YOU *waves pom-poms*

But in the meantime, you have to wait.

And wait.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand waaaaaaaaaaait

What do you while you wait for a response? Well, I have some suggestions, my dear readers. And no, one of those suggestions is not to obsessively stalk QueryTracker to see where agents are in their slush pile and how many requests for fulls they’ve sent out and hey I sent my query out before this guy who already got a response and OMG ITS BEEN A MONTH NOW I HAVENT HEARD ANYTHING

watson_computer_stare

Ahem.

No, I don’t suggest you do that. *peeks at two tabs over*

Nope.

Here’s what you may want to do instead!

Write Another Book!

Colbert Pizza TypingI know you love book you’re querying, you wouldn’t have spent all those countless hours writing it and rewriting it and rewriting it again and again if you didn’t. But let’s be honest here, there’s always the chance this one manuscript won’t actually be The One. And if it’s not you’re going to need to try again.

You’re going to try again. You have another book in you. Don’t argue with me.

Plus, when you actually do land that oh so coveted agent, you’re going that have to write another book anyway! Might as well get cracking on it now! lt’s probably not the best idea to write the sequel to the book you’re querying right away, though. Obviously, if it doesn’t get picked up by an agent, and ultimately a publisher, you’re going to have wasted however many months on a book nobody might ever read.

So start a new story! I had this dilemma when I finished my first manuscript and I’m so happy a started a whole new one. It was a fresh start and allowed me to write a story in a different way with new characters, which I think ultimately ended up much stronger than the first.

Read More of Other People’s Books!

Cat Reading gif*Stares at bookshelves filled with beautifully unread books*

If you’re like me, you have To Read pile that stretches from here to the furthest reaches of the universe and wraps around through hole in time and space and back around again.

Try to bring that pile back down to Earth while you wait! Part of writing better is, of course, reading more. Seeing and learning from the work of those who’ve come before you is important, you might find stylistic cues you’ll want try or even stuff you’d want to avoid doing with your next work. There’s a good chance you might find inspiration for your next book while reading too. It only takes one spark to ignite the wildfire of ideas.

Go beyond your normal reading habits too! My current project is a YA Supervillain high school drama. I’ve got the supervillain part down pretty well – I’ve read about 9,795,436 comics throughout my life, but the YA part not so much. I’ve read a few YA fantasy books over the last year to better understand different tropes, development of character arcs, and most importantly how to build a good romantic triangle to thrust my MC into.

And support your fellow writer friends! If they’ve been published, buy their book! Write a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or scrawl it across the overhang of a freeway! Get the word out there! Helping them helps you. We all rise to the top together or not at all.

Do Some Non-Book Other Stuff!

Pooh Exercise Gif

I think it’s important to have other interests to turn too in case the grind of submission and rejections is taking its toll on you. Not that that’s happening with me or anything… *chitters, looks around nervously*

There’s some incredible television happening right now – Daredevil, Game of Thrones and Orphan Black to name a few. Not only excellent sources of entertainment and distraction, but also they can be beacons of inspiration too. I’ve definitely gotten ideas for book characters from TV shows and movies. And maybe it’s just me, but I always loving finding an actor who matches up to how I’ve envisioned a character or vice versa.

I’ve taken up running in the last year, which is always a good time to clear your head – I throw on some headphones and spend most of my time out on the road brainstorming story ideas (when I’m not focused gasping desperately for breath). Started working out with a heavy bag recently too (much thanks to Shauna & her hubs on how to not wreck my hands). Wanna take out some of your frustrations with the publishing process? Unload on that bag for a half hour and you’ll feel a lot better (at least I do – there’s something uniquely cathartic about it for me)

I’ve also been replaying some old-school Zelda games alongside Kristin’s husband when I have a few free moments. As an aside, Zelda 2 has to be not only one of the most frustrating games of all time, but one of the truly baffling missteps in gaming history. I can’t even imagine the conversation at Nintendo HQ that hatched this rotten egg of gaming horribleness.

BOSS: “Okay team, you know that Zelda game we made and how innovative and genre busting it was?”

TEAM: “Of course we do, amazing game! Good job by us!”

BOSS: “Well for the sequel were going to make another brutally difficult platformer like the 564,457,812 other games already available on out platform!”

TEAM:Zelda head shake gif

Anywhoooooooo

Of course, if you’ve got a day job, that a chew up big chunks of time. Probably eleven hours of my day is spent doing stuff related to my day job or traveling to and from it. It’s good because it keeps me busy, but still kinda sucks because it leaves me with only a finite amount of time for anything else, including writing my next manuscript.

Or you could just spend a bunch of hours on Twitter. Not judging. I’m looking at TweetDeck over the edge of Chrome right now.

So what do you folk do while you’re waiting for queries, edits, submission, whatever to come back?

*Peeks over at QT tab*

Posted in Publishing, Writing | 3 Comments

Character Appearances: To Specify, or Not To Specify?

I’m a extremely visual reader and writer, which means that I picture very vividly the characters that I’m either reading or writing about. Ask me to share my vision of a specific character, and, even if I didn’t invent her, I will be able to describe her physical features in great detail, as I imagine them. If I were a better artist, I’m sure I could even draw them from my head.

Unfortunately, my idea of what a character looks like doesn’t always line up with what the author intended. Last week, I read a YA novel where the male love interest was described very early on as “tall and olive skinned, with dark hair.” Not super specific, but clear enough. However, the author doesn’t refer to his specific features at all throughout the rest of the book, describing the character only as “beautiful,” or occasionally, “gorgeous.” This lack of specificity gave my forgetful brain the leeway to imagine him quite differently than the original description. I pictured him with golden tan skin and waving chestnut hair.

I imagined him like this. SO SUE ME.

Which is fine. It’s my brain. But when I picked up the sequel and the author reiterated how the character actually looked, I was in for a shock. “He looks like what?” I said, while combing furiously through the first book for the original description.

Describing characters is something every writer does differently. Some authors go into great detail, enumerating freckles and glints of green in hazel eyes and lopsided smiles and crooked noses. Other authors choose to describe their characters very broadly, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Each method has its merits, but also its drawbacks.

Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, sketched her protagonist Bella’s appearance, but didn’t get into specifics. In an interview, she explained that she “left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes.” By leaving a character’s appearance open to interpretation, she hoped to make her more relatable to readers.

But this method can have a darker side. Many of you will remember the disturbing furor that arose when a young black actress was cast as Rue in the movie version of The Hunger Games. The author, Suzanne Collins, describes the fragile 12-year-old in the books as having “dark brown skin and eyes.” While this may seem explicit to some, the broadness of the description resulted in many readers whitewashing an ethnically diverse character. Similarly, while Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame has been universally portrayed as a young white woman, Rowling only ever described Hermione as having bushy brown hair, brown eyes, and prominent front teeth. There is nothing to say Hermione isn’t a woman of color, yet everyone assumes she must be white.

Personally, I prefer specific descriptions. When reading, every nugget of information about a character’s appearance helps me flesh out the imaginary person in my head. And when writing, I want my readers to be able to clearly see the characters I’ve invented.

To a certain extent, everyone’s vision of fictional characters will always be different than the person who authored them. But deciding to describe every feature of a character or electing instead to broadly sketch a general appearance can have ramifications on how your readers ultimately interact with your fictional world.

Do you prefer specificity in your reading/writing? Or do you prefer to imagine the characters without relying on the author’s description? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Posted in characters, Craft, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Word Volcano

CC attribution: Wolfgangbeyer

CC attribution: Wolfgangbeyer

I’m prolific.

My obsessive and hyper-focused nature tends to converge in my writing, and I end up having months where I’ll write over 100,000 words between blogging and fiction, and if there’s anything that’s earned me as many wide-eyed stares as waltzing out of the loo with my skirt tucked into my panties, it’s that.

Everyone has their own creative style. Some people are like the Colorado River, and every day the Grand Canyon gets just a little deeper. They create with a steady trickle that sculpts their work over time.

Some people are like lightning, with inspiration striking out of the clear skies and hitting them with electricity.

And then there’s me.

I wrote maybe a couple thousand words of fiction in February and March this year. I had a lot going on, to be sure, but in reality, I was dormant.

In January I wrote over 70,000 words on my epic fantasy to finish it. Most of that was within a couple weeks, and 45,000 of those words happened in a weekend. April’s going to be another one of those months. But between them? Nada.

I’ve decided that I’m a volcano.

I used to think there was something that was wrong with me, because I couldn’t be a river or lightning. So much of the conventional wisdom out there says that you should be writing every day, even if it’s a little bit. It took a really long time for me to realize that there wasn’t anything that made my way bad. It made me feel crazy when I’d write like a fiend for weeks on end and then nothing for a couple months.

But here’s the thing: I was getting stuff done.

That’s ultimately what made me give the finger to conventional wisdom — I was finishing books. Words were happening, and whole books were coming out of it, so I wasn’t failing at writering. I was just doing it differently.

In my dormant periods, I’m always absorbing. I’m melting rock into magma, compacting ideas and pressurizing them. I read a lot. I pay a lot more attention to the world around me, to people on the metro and what they look like, how they move and what they say. Everything becomes fuel. A dormant volcano is hungry, hungry, hungry.

And then it erupts.

When that happens, I will write for 20 hours a day. Obsessively wording from the moment I wake up until the moment I glue myself to the bed to make myself sleep. I’ll get up and do it again. I’ll have 5,000 word days on a low day and 20,000 word days on the high end. It’s not fun. It’s frenetic. It’s lava spewing everywhere, and smoke and pumice and obsidian forming in the aftermath.

Instead of immediately falling dormant afterward, I have aftershocks. I can’t be not busy when the first eruption ends. I’ll scribble, move quick in every direction, find something else to obsess over until a couple weeks later I can breathe, sleep, and return to quiet for a while.

It’s not particularly pleasant to work this way, but it works for me. As I said, I am obsessive and hyper-focused. When I can tune in to one thing like this and get it done, I feel better about the world.

What type of creative are you? Are you a river or a lightning bolt or a volcano like me?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments