Bypassing Writer’s Block

FullSizeRender-2I got it bad. And I’m not talking about that Usher song from 2001 (hello yes old). I’m talking about the dreaded writer’s block.

Every writer I’ve ever known has a different take on writer’s block. It’s actually something we Scribes have discussed a number of times on this very blog. Some suffer from it it; others don’t. Some claim it doesn’t even exist. (I claim they’re lying). Some say the only way to get over it is to work through it, which is pretty solid advice. Others recommend refilling the well by revisiting beloved books and movies. Some say you should give in to your instincts and just lie in front of the TV watching bad Christmas movies and crying into your wine until the literary gods finally take pity on you and send you a decent sentence or two. (What’s that you say? Oh, that’s just me?)

Honestly though, it sucks to feel like your “muse,” or whatever you want to call it, has deserted you. For better or for worse, it’s easy as a writer to let your sense of self-worth get all tangled up in your creativity, your productivity, and the pace at which you create art. And that’s kind of where I’m at. This fall has been tough for me. Between ongoing edits of my forthcoming novel, a big move accompanied by a lifestyle shift, and a death in the family, I haven’t had much time for new projects, and even when I have tried for new words, I’ve been deeply disappointed in the results. Which makes me even more anxious about writing, or not writing, aaaaand the cycle continues.

IMG_1969And then I picked up a book on a whim at my local indie. Riding on the recent trend of hygge–a Scandinavian-inspired cozy lifestyle–the book includes a number of fairly accessible craft ideas. Now, my adventures into crafting have historically followed this pattern: 1) I get really freaking excited about a craft, 2) I impulse-buy all the supplies for said craft, 3) I spend like one hour actually making the craft, 4) I realize that crafting is hard, and 5) I never touch said craft ever again. But this particular book included some information that I hadn’t realized before.

Apparently, scientific research is beginning to find that creative activities can lead to relaxation or a meditation-like response similar to that induced by yoga, while also raising neurotransmitters associated with elevated mood. This news wasn’t so surprising once I thought about it–my own anecdotal experiences with past art projects backed this up. So I bought a decent amount of supplies, figuring that if I wasn’t writing I would at least be creating pretty things to hang around the house during the holidays.

IMG_1970I’ll skip right to the end here, folks. This experiment has been a resounding success. I mean, I’m laughably bad at crocheting, I have paper-cuts from Danish origami, and my wreaths look like they were made by children, but I have ideas again. Something about having my hands and front-brain occupied seems to leave my creative brain free to float wherever it pleases. It does, in fact, feel very zen to just zone out and let my hands work until bam! An idea strikes and I’m running for the closest pen and paper.

That’s all I’ve got so far–scribbled notes and half-finished crafts. But even if that’s all this experiment nets me, it’s worth it just to have something new in the arsenal to banish that dreaded writer’s block.

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NaNoWriMo: Do blog posts count?

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NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Equal parts marathon and sprint, an artificial construct designed to help authors of all levels write a book.

Or most of a book.

Or something.

The basic idea is that by committing to write 50,000 words in a month, all those people out there who think they would write a book, if only….. won’t have an excuse to put it off. They’ll have to take an idea and throw down an average of 1700 words a day for 30 days, and in the end  they’ll have a solid start on that novel of their dreams.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. Let’s have a show of hands. Who’s doing NaNo this month?

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Awesome! Because even those of us who have already figured out how to get words on the page can use a little boost sometimes. Some authors figure “every month is NaNo for me”, but I know quite a few who are using this challenge to jump-start a flagging project, meet a tricky deadline, or otherwise get back on schedule.

This’ll be my first try at the November challenge. I’ve done the spring and summer “Camp NaNo” events, mainly because it’s fun to join a cabin – a group of people who cheer each other on – and it’s nice to get a boost to the word count. In past years, I’ve always had big editing projects going on in November, so didn’t have the bandwidth for the real deal.

Now, though, I’ve got the space in my schedule, I’ve got a premise, and I’ve even got a bit of an outline. I’ve also spent a month researching the time period and place (1920 Paris) – though as the start date got closer, I became increasingly worried that all I’d done was learn how much I don’t know.

Wait. That’s my inner critic talking.

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Shutting down that voice might actually might be the biggest benefit to NaNo, imho. By forcing myself to write 1700 words a day for 30 days, I won’t have time for second-guessing. The words will be on the page, safe in the knowledge I can edit them later. I’m curious to see what I come up with under those circumstances.

I also want to be able to say I did it.

I’m kinda laughing at myself, because when I initially considered what to put in this post, I thought I could discuss some of the resources I’m using. But… you know… word count. Gotta run.

If you’re participating in NaNo, happy words! And if you’re not, WHY NOT?! Everybody’s doing it…

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Included because it’s one of the coolest stories from last night’s World Series win. I’m a romance writer, so for me, this is what victory looks like. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Ten Years to Refill My Well

I got married in 2007 and, with a determination I wasn’t sure I had, in the year leading up to our wedding, I saved enough money to get us a two week honeymoon in Paris.

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It was magical and fun and beautiful and funny and exhausting, like most long trips tend to be. But any frustrating or disappointing moments in the trip have, over time, turned into the funny stories we tell at parties.

I promised myself that we would do something just as awesome and fun every five years for our anniversary because we both love to travel and see new places so much. And five years is a long enough time to save up for trips by doing it slowly.

Unfortunately in 2011 we both were laid off from our jobs within a week of each other. Any fun, overseas trip in the following year immediately vanished. Fortunately I had an idea the lay offs were coming and that’s why I started self-publishing in 2011–hoping to create a passive income that would help us. It took a long time for that plan to come to fruition, but eventually it did. But not in time for our five year anniversary, only in time to help carry us as my husband also built his business, which helps me run this one during the lean times.

So, you know, giving up a trip on our five-year-anniversary was worth it since we got to become our own bosses and work from home. But one does miss Paid Time Off and a boss telling you, “take your vacation days or we’re going to cancel them.”

But last year, just after our nine-year-anniversary we started talking about how long it had been since we’d taken more than a long weekend for ourselves. The more we talked about it the more desperate we were to make it happen. Our ten-year was one year away. I’d done it once before (of course then we both had corporate jobs with steady, reliable incomes and PTO), maybe I could do it again and get us somewhere for that big 1-0.

It took saving every dollar we got from Christmas gifts and birthdays (specifically telling family not to buy us “things” unless they were from our travel wish-list) and scraping every penny we could spare from income, giving up going out, shopping, and often saying “no, not this time/year” to friends many, many times. But as we saved up enough for plane tickets and accommodations and the lost income from taking time off, we knew it was worth the cabin fever.

And last month, we went to Ireland for two weeks.

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Now, this wasn’t just a vacation. I’ve been struggling for a while to think of a new story, to find new characters and new settings for a long while. I have my open series that I work on, but I want something new. Something witchy. Something darker. Something magical.

I know, Celtic influence and Ireland especially isn’t breaking any molds, but I wanted to go to the land of (some) of my ancestors and touch the ground they walked on, touch the stones they prayed on, breathe the air they once breathed. I wanted it to inspire me. To fill my well.

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We kept a travel journal along the way, taking time every evening to detail everything that happened each day. When I had access to WiFi, I posted updates with photos so I could recall everything that I loved so the exhaustion and jet lag (and sinus infection whomp-whomp) we would undoubtedly suffer wouldn’t muddle our memories or make me forget anything important.

I got to touch those magic stones and walk through the portals. I got to pick acorns from Druid trees and eat wild blackberries growing around stone circles. I got to climb hills to stand at the seat of kings. I withstood gale force winds to walk the ancient Celtic settlements. I braved the edge of the world as my fear of falling knotted the muscles in my back. I dipped my hands in holy wells, letting the water cling to my fingers.

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I won’t lie, some things did break my heart. Seeing the misappropriation of Celtic goddesses, them turned into Catholic nuns, hurt. Seeing their holy places over-run, twisted and diminished hurt. But who knows, maybe that will help me in my story.

I’m still not sure what the story is going to be. I am torn by the idea of creating a new world or sending a character into a strange world or what. But my mind is starting to race with possibilities and possibilities are exciting. I’m actually looking forward to brainstorming as I go back over the travel log and photos and see what speaks to me.

And I really hope it won’t be another ten years before we get to do something like this again.

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The Merits of Changing Things Up

I’ve found that one of the most crucial aspects of becoming and being a successful creative (successful in the sense that you actually create) is routine. That may seem incredibly counter-intuitive to some people, including myself when I first started out. “But Lyra,” you’re probably saying to yourself. “Didn’t P G Wodehouse famously say routine is the death of heroism? Didn’t you just look up a whole plethora of quotes by famous people to find that everyone agrees that routine is basically where creativity goes to die?” Yes, he did, and yes, I did. But bear with me for a second.

giphy1Every writer and artist I know has a routine. These vary from setting a timer for 30 minutes before going to their day jobs to rolling out of bed and working straight through to bedtime. The routine is almost like the scaffolding of a house being built–it holds things in place so the building doesn’t collapse before it’s even started. And everyone’s is different. Write for two hours in the morning, then fingerpaint for the rest of the day? Awesome. Dance naked under the moonlight at midnight then scribble until dawn? You do you. Find a routine that works best for you, and your creative process. But find a routine.

But. (C’mon, you knew there would be a but.)

Routine can definitely get the better of you. My husband and I recently moved, and in order to combat the insane upheaval of lifestyle that inevitably causes, I’ve been clinging to other routines like nobody’s business. I try to write at designated times. I practice my instrument. I read books in my genre as work and I read frothy lighthearted books outside of it for pleasure. After dinner I watch a few episodes from a rotating selection of TV shows, or maybe a silly romcom.

giphyBut for some reason I’ve been blocked. It doesn’t help that most of my writing work recently has been copyedits, which is frankly a pretty banal slog. But for whatever reason, I’ve hit a wall. A few foundering short stories, a half-baked outline for a really ambitious space opera, and…that’s it. But the other night as I queued up yet another episode of Reign (don’t you judge me) I got a text from my sister. She was rewatching an old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie we used to love when we were kids, and was loving the costumes and snappy dialogue.

Now I used to watch a ton of old movies, either rented from the library or later–when my parents got cable–on TCM. But for the past few years, the combination of black and white film, square aspect, and casual sexism has made the genre feel a little inaccessible and undesirable to me. But I took a chance, jumped on Amazon, and rented it digitally. And a delightful hour and a half later–my head now full of gamine showgirls, mistaken identities, and a love-hate flirtation for the ages–I had a new idea for a book. Something wildly different from what I usually write, but something I’m excited about nonetheless. Nanowrimo–here I come!

giphy2So I’m just here to say this: don’t nail yourself to your desk. Read a book you think you’ll hate, watch a movie someone told you was boring, taste a dish you loathed when you were a kid. Because you never know where that shiny new idea might be hiding.

Five Additional Ways to Make Money as An Author

 

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I’ve had money on my mind a lot lately…mainly because I need more of it.

Despite what the general public thinks, most authors are not rolling in money. In fact, I’ve heard that up to 90% of authors have a day job to support their writing.

But even if you’re lucky enough to write full-time, chances are good you wouldn’t mind a little extra dough. The good news is there are relatively easy (and legal!) ways to make additional cash as a writer, even if you already have another job. And doing so can benefit your writing career because each of these things gets your name out there, establishes credibility and  introduces you to potential new readers.

  1. Teach – Even you don’t have a master’s or PhD, think about community college or other methods of continuing education. And don’t forget online courses. No matter what type of writing you do, there is something you can teach others about. It might be something in the craft of writing (world-building, dialogue, creating outstanding characters, editing, etc.) or maybe marketing (how to write ad copy, how to get media attention, etc.) or not even related to writing at all (public speaking tips, painting, knitting, who knows!) Some people even do things like how tarot can help with writing or how to do energy healing to rev up your writing life. Chances are good if you know how to do it, someone else wants to learn. If you’re doing online classes, look into Udemy, Teachable, Thinkific and others. This Forbes article does a great job comparing them. One plus: unless your course needs updating, it’s passive income once you’ve developed it.
  2. Freelance – Many authors offer editorial, proofreading, or query/synopsis writing services. Just make sure you’re really an expert in whatever services you’re selling and that you have the time to take on clients; the last thing you want to do is hurt your reputation by providing shoddy work. Also consider writing articles for paying publications. Many professional organizations (such as RWA or Novelists Inc.) pay their members for newsletter articles. You might also look into local publications and blogs to see if they hire freelance writers.
  3. Speak – If you aren’t afraid of getting up in front of people, this can be a profitable side gig. As with teaching, everyone has specialties, and you can often speak about your books. Superstar authors can demand five and six figure fees, but when you are starting out, start small. Speak for free to develop both your skills and your resume. Local libraries and writing groups are always looking for guests that don’t charge much. (Many will “pay” you by taking you out to eat after. I’m all about free food.) Then maybe graduate to local, regional and genre conferences – this is usually when you begin to get paid. After that, you can think about possibly joining a speaker’s bureau where you can start to make some serious cash.
  4. Ghostwrite – This one doesn’t get your name out there, but it can be lucrative and gives you great writing experience, plus contacts in the publishing industry. I haven’t done this myself with fiction (I don’t think I could swallow my pride and see someone else take credit for my work) but I know a few people who have. If you’re interested in getting started, Roz Morris, who was a ghostwriter for many years, has a great article on what to do and what to expect. And here’s an online course you can take from Roz.
  5. Merchandise your books – I have a friend named Leanna Hieber who makes and sells Victorian jewelry that ties into her gothic gaslamp fiction. If you’re crafty, you could sell just about anything related to your time period, genre, characters, or the subject or setting of your books. Think cookbooks, trading cards, clothing, household decorations…the possibilities are really endless. Then, like Leanna, you could also sell those things alongside your books when you go to conventions – a win-win for you.

Personally, I’m working on adding online classes to my website, writing articles for paying publications (actually, the one I was originally going to write here will now be submitted to one), and moving into the paying speaking realm.

And then there is the ultimate advice for any writer: WRITE MORE BOOKS!! 🙂

I know there are other opportunities to increase your income that I’m not thinking of. Please let me know if you have any other ideas!

Which one is harder? Series or Stand-Alone

The other day an author friend of mine – Jennifer Martin Windrow – posted something on Facebook about her newest writing project, the second book in her Alexis Black series. (Think kick-ass vampire with a bit of a potty mouth.) This was her first attempt at a sequel, and she said she learned that writing a book in a series was much easier than writing a stand-alone.

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And I gave that claim a bit of a side-eye.

See, my writing partner Irene Preston and I just finished the second book in our Hours of the Night series. In all honesty, I did not find the experience particularly easy, and I was intrigued by Jennifer’s claim. I asked her why she liked it, – and pretty quickly decided to use our discussion as a starting point for this post.

I also decided to pose the question on twitter, because there’s no better way to come up with an honest, unbiased look at the truth.

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Here’s some of what Jennifer had to say…

JM: For me, I think (series are easier) because I already know the characters, have lived in their world, and don’t have to research a ton. When I write the stand alone, it always takes me a few chapters to really learn who I am writing, then I have to go back and rewrite to make it all come together.

LR:  Did you have trouble with continuity? That’s what killed me. (And don’t tell me you started a series bible up front because I might hate you…lol…)

JMW: Yes … Yesterday I had to go through book one and all my old notes and make that stupid bible that I should have made at the start of this book… I’ve learned a lesson to do that at the start now, so I don’t have to wait. Hopefully my publisher will catch any continuity issues too!!

I started this story so long ago, and have been away from the world for so long that I really had to do my research. That’ll teach me to take a break to work on other things. 

So she learned some things and she still liked writing a sequel. Hmm…I’m just very glad I have Irene around to keep me on track, because me n’ continuity are only distantly acquainted.

Using my authoritative, unbiased twitter poll, I found some alternate opinions. I got this comment from Jenn Burke. She and her friend Kelly Jensen co-authored the popular Chaos Station series, and here’s what she had to say…

Writing a standalone is easier, because you’re not also trying to keep in mind what happened in the last book.

One of the things I find most challenging about writing a series is bringing the reader up to speed on the world/worldbuilding without info-dumping or being too obvious about it. This is a real skill I didn’t know I needed to master before we started the Chaos Station series! You have to kind of weave in the events from the last book into the current book in a way that’s not repetitive but also allows readers to get caught up on the important stuff from the previous book(s). SO. HARD.

This is especially tough when you’ve got the same characters and ongoing story from book to book. Series that are set in the same world but feature different characters are a little easier, especially if the events of the books aren’t strongly tied together. You still have to keep them in mind as the writer, but possibly not as much recap needs to be on page for the reader. When you’re writing a standalone, you have to provide similar non-info-dumpy worldbuilding, but you don’t also have to include “last time, on Chaos Station” sort of summaries.

So it’s a challenge, but in a different way. So BASICALLY…series = hard. Stand-alones are a little easier. 🙂

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So much this! Figuring out how much of Vespers we needed to include in Nocturne – in a way that didn’t make readers snooze – was such a challenge.

On the other hand, Shannyn Schroeder, a multi-published author of contemporary romance – and three different series – agrees with Jennifer.  “Series are easier – at least after the first one because you already have the world built and it’s fun to revisit. The first is like a stand alone.”

Another vote comes from Karen Stivali. She’s also multi-published with quite a few contemporary m/m and m/f series. “Series are easier. Usually. Except for the constant fear people won’t like THIS ONE as much as the previous ones. But that fear’s always there.”

The fear! Yes, I absolutely relate to the fear!

C. Jane Elliot, author of the contemporary m/m Wild & Precious series,  says that series are harder. “My NA university series has overlapping timelines so I resorted to a whiteboard to map it out. Need to keep track of names too!”

OMG, the details…the details just killed me. (Um, thanks Irene…)

Then there were a few people who sorta split the different, like author Tessa Floreano. “Twice now, I’ve started a standalone, and both led to writing a series. With a series, I don’t have to cram so much about the MC into one.”

I can relate to that, because while my only series credit is the Hours of the Night, most of my current “stand-alones” have at least a thumbnail sketch for their sequels.

Aneta Cruz has her MFA in creative writing and has published several books. Her take was short and sweet.

“Writing. Period.”

I followed up with a question about whether she preferred one to the other. “Not really. I think it’s the characters who choose how and when they’re done with the writer.”

Well if that’s the case, we’re going to be writing Hours of the Night books for a while, because Thaddeus Dupont has a lot to say!

I think my most interesting take-away from this exercise is that both sides cite the same issues as either pro or con. Some authors find the continuity makes things easier, while that very thing drives others of us crazy. With that conclusion in mind, I’m going to give Irene the last word. When I asked whether she liked writing series or stand-alones better, she said,

Neither…lol…I mean they both have challenges and advantages, but either way you have to write the book.”

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Edited to add…Irene and I just started a new Facebook group to share the fun parts of our Hours of the Night series. If you’re the Facebook-group-joining type, check us out!!

Jump HERE to find the group!

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On Persistence

Those of you who know me or follow me on social media have probably heard my good news by now. (Okay, you’re probably already tired of hearing about my good news.) For those of you who don’t, I’m incredibly pleased to say that my YA fantasy Amber & Dusk was acquired by Scholastic for publication! *cue happy dance forever*

But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I don’t want to talk about what the book is about or what inspired it or what it means to me. Today I kind of want to talk about something else, something that I’m not sure is discussed enough in this glorious complicated frustrating industry. I want to talk about an important–if not crucial–lesson that I learned very slowly, and with much difficulty, over the course of a number of sometimes soul-bruising years. The name of that lesson is persistence.

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I didn’t start writing seriously until six years ago, almost exactly. I’d written all my life–from incredibly detailed diaries to elaborate illustrated short stories to painstakingly-typed royal histories–but it had never really occurred to me that I could be a writer. But when the opportunity to really take a stab at writing presented itself, I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t realize was that I was jumping into a black roiling sea of rejection with no floaties and oh yeah, there were sharks.

No lie, I thought I was going to write a glorious first novel, make a million dollars, and I don’t know like move to a castle and surround myself with adoring fans. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. Looking back on my first query letters is seriously cringe-worthy–they’re full of awkward self-deprecating jokes, vague stakes, and rhetorical questions. SO MANY rhetorical questions. I was so naive, and so inexperienced. And when most of my query letters were summarily rejected with form letters–or, worse, not responded to at all–I was crushed.

I’m not sure whether it was pride or shame or competitiveness or some internal strength that made me soldier on. But I wrote a second book. And then rewrote that book in a different setting with a different main character. And then I queried that book. And when that one received four rounds of rejections, I wrote another. And after querying that one I finally got into PitchWars, an amazing pitch contest hosted by Brenda Drake. And I got an agent! I finally made it!

HAHAHA gotcha. No way. No siree. Try another three rounds of revisions, and going on submission with editors only to hear another mountain of pure unadulterated NOPE. And then writing another book and a half. And then going on sub again.

True story: three weeks before finally getting an offer on A&D, I literally broke down and finally quit. I remember sitting with my sisters on the floor of my niece’s playroom and sobbing into my wine. I was done, I was finished with hearing no. Writing isn’t just a job; it’s pouring something of my soul out into the world, and having industry professionals read that art, recognize that as art, and then still tell me it wasn’t good enough had started to break my heart.

All’s well that ends well.

Don’t get me wrong–I have no illusions. I’m still learning this lesson: persistence isn’t the end game–it’s the name of the game. And listen–my goals aren’t and shouldn’t be everyone’s goals. But having my book published traditionally has been my dream, and despite the above paragraph, I’m usually not a quitter. So while it feels amazing to have taken a step forward in this crazy journey, I still have a thousand miles to walk. But I’m not going to worry too much about that now.

I’ll just try to remember to be persistent.