Can I retire now?

Retirement: that far-off event that’ll change my whole life...

Let’s poke at that subtitle a little.

The change my whole life part is accurate – I mean, I’ll go from spending some 30 hours per week in a NICU to…not. No more NICU. Weird.

Still, it’s the far-off bit where I really need to adjust my thinking. Because honestly, I’m looking at three years before I can reasonably retire.

Three years!

I’ll only be 62, but I started my first retirement account theirty-four years ago, when I was twenty-five. I’ve literally been preparing myself for this most of my life.

Preparing for what, you might ask.

Well, it’s the “what” part that makes me nervous. I’ve always been a fairly goal-directed person. I mean, yeah it took me five years to earn an associates degree (lol!) but it was the ’80s. And I was in Honolulu. There were a lot (!) of distractions.

And I subsequently went on to earn a bachelors and then a masters, so things worked out okay.

Still, I’ve always sorta wondered what people do when they’re retired. I mean, shuffleboard’s not my bag, ya know? I guess I vaguely thought I’d travel some, and work in my garden, and just sorta go from one day to the next.

But golly that sounds pretty aimless. And kinda boring, if I’m honest.

On the other hand, after thirty-four years in the NICU, I’m ready for something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with babies and I take great pride in my work. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can start an IV in just about anyone, any time, anywhere, and for me n’ my superpowered grey hair to be able to calm down a fractious family situation just by showing up.

But.

But…

Last spring my employer merged with another hospital and my group of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners found ourselves responsible for covering another unit. (Which is an extreme simplification, but it gets to the gist.) I ended up working a lot. Like 120 hours in a two-week pay period kind of A LOT. Those hours went on all through the summer and into the fall, so the point where I started joking that I was going to need a whole month off to recover.

And also to bring down my vacation hours so I wouldn’t lose any because I was over the limit.

Apparently I made the Month Off joke often enough that our lead and our scheduler gave me the green light. I’ve been on vacation since 4/2/21 and I don’t work again until the first weekend in May. (Okay, I covered 8 hours last weekend for a no-show but that won’t be repeated.)

Once I saw the official schedule with me officially not on it, I started calling April my Dress Rehearsal for Retirement Month. If I can’t handle a whole month off, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my damn life?

(This is where the goal-directed piece comes in.)

I didn’t just walk out of the hospital on April 2nd without a plan. I committed to writing the first draft of the sequel to Soulmates, my m/m/m paranormal romance. My word count goal for the month is 80,000, and I’m at about 35k now with a couple thousand more in me today. Not exactly where I meant to be, but not bad, either.

I’ve also had time to sort through a particularly cluttered area of our basement and work in the garden and do yoga and walk the dogs and read for fun. It’s been pretty effing fantastic, to be honest. If this is what the rest of my life’s going to look like, sign me up.

I’ve reached this stage in life through a combination of luck, priviledge, talent, and hard work, and I don’t take one minute for granted. When it’s time for me to leave the NICU for good, I’ll do so with a lifetime of memories and a heart full of gratitude. Babies made me grow up and turned me into the person I am today.

Still, going forward, there’ll be books to write and veggies to grow and dogs to walk.

I’ll be okay.

The Juggling Act

When The Spellbound Scribes went on hiatus late last year, we all had our reasons. Mine was small, had huge eyes, and was vaguely human shaped.

No, I didn’t get abducted by aliens. I had a baby!

As a first time mom, trying to navigate the ins and outs of raising an infant has been a truly novel experience. As expected, it’s been incredibly challenging at times–sleepless nights, tears, diaper blow-outs, you name it. But it’s also been just plain incredible–the snuggles, the smiles, the milestone moments. Sometimes when I look at my daughter, it feels like my heart has grown three sizes and I’m full of more love than I ever could have imagined.

But now that she’s almost four months old, I’ve been setting about trying to get back into writing. Although I don’t have any books being published in the near future, or even any on deadline, I do have a completed novel my agent and I hope to send to editors soon, as well as two projects that stand at about 20k words, and about a hundred ideas that need fleshing out. The only thing standing in my way is…time.

Here’s something I didn’t anticipate–you can’t type while holding a baby. It’s just not possible. If they’re chilling out in a baby carrier on your person, you might be able to. But otherwise, the basic rule is: if the baby’s awake, you’re probably not writing. And if your baby is anything like mine, and loathes daytime naps with a fiery passion, that means you’re probably not writing most of the day. And when they finally do fall asleep, either for naps or bedtime, writing has to compete with a thousand other things you need to get done, like cooking and laundry and cleaning and playing with your dog and spending time with your spouse.

But funnily enough, in those random small moments when the laundry’s in the dryer and my dog is sleeping and my husband is working and it’s just me and my laptop, I’ve discovered that I’m actually really happy to write. For the first time in a long time, writing feels more like the refuge it did when I first started out. When I open up my Scrivener app and start typing, it doesn’t feel like work–it feels a little like an escape from the day, a quiet moment between my thoughts and I, a space to create. And as much as I love my new job of being a mom, it’s so nice to have something just for me. Even if I’m only able to write half a chapter, or a paragraph, or a sentence before the baby wakes up again, in those moments I’m a writer again.

When I was pregnant, I worried a lot about losing my identity to motherhood. But it turns out that you don’t lose any of your identities, you simply gain a new one. And yes–recently, that new identity has taken over my life. Mom has overshadowed baker of cakes and sweeper of floors and yes, even writer of books. But it won’t be that way forever.

Nora Roberts was once asked how she managed to be a mom and a writer and a businesswoman and a wife all at once. She replied that she liked to think of life as a juggling act. All her responsibilities–kids, book deadlines, interviews, anniversaries–were balls flying above her, and she was the juggler desperately trying to keep them in the air. Except, she said, some balls were plastic and some balls were made of glass. A plastic ball, if it got dropped, bounced. No harm done. But a glass ball shattered. As the juggler, she was eventually going to drop a few balls. She just tried to remember which balls were made of plastic and which were made of glass.

We’re all jugglers in our lives. I know I can’t do everything all at once. But I can do the important things one at a time, in stolen moments if I have to. Because life is short and long and messy and beautiful and full of many wonderful things. And for now, I’m happy to juggle as many of those things as I can, and hopefully I’ll only ever drop plastic balls.

On the pursuit of dreams…

I’ve been watching a ridiculous amount of tennis. Might be a strange opening line for a writing-related blog, but hang with me for a minute. It’s Australian Open season, which is a great tournament for someone who works night shift because ESPN and the Tennis Channel broadcast the matches live. Given the 17-ish hour time difference between Seattle and Melbourne, I’ve watched some fantastic tennis at three am.

In part, I consider it research, because some day I’m going to write a tennis romance. If for no other reason than because I find Stefano Tsitsipas (above) to be so very inspiring.

Following an entire tournament if fun, too, because of all the different storylines. Early on there are so many players and so many matches. I can root for favorites, see who’s playing well and who’s fighting injury and who’s mental game has gone to Mars. Over the two weeks of the Open, the numbers drop, the tennis gets better, and the matches more intense.

Are there any young players on the men’s tour who can beat one of the Big Three (Federer, Nadal, & Djokovic)? Will Serena win her 24th major? Four of the final 16 women in the Aussie Open are American. How did we end up with so many fantastic players?

And what about Aslan Karatsev, the 27-year-old Russian qualifier who’s the first man in the Open era to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament in his debut? Wouldn’t it be cool if he made the finals?!

The thing that fascinates me – and the element I find most intimidating when it comes to setting a story in the world of pro tennis – is the amount of focus and self-discipline it takes to reach that level. I can play tennis; well, I know which end of the racket to grab anyway, but I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated myself to anything so completely.

When I was a kid, I was on swim team, and I dreamt of making the US Olympic team. I worked my butt off in practice, but somewhere along the way (ahem, high school) I got distracted. Never made the Olympics, but I did do the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, which was a 2.8 mile race off Waikiki Beach. Finished in the top fifty women, too, so some of my discipline paid off.

Later, once I found my feet as an adult, I decided I wanted to sing. I studied voice and sang in choirs and with bands, everything from the blues and rock to Mozart and Gregorian chant. When I brought my oldest kid to the pediatrician for the first time, I asked about bringing a baby to band practice. I did, too, both kids, protecting their ears with wax earplugs held in place by headbands. I’ve also known the unique pleasure of stepping onto the church altar to sing a little Renaissance Christmas ditty with a trio, only to see my then-three-year-old engage in some experimental dance between the altar and the first row of church pews.

I might never have made the finals of American Idol, but over the years I learned a lot about myself, and a lot about music.

And for my next trick...

I always knew I wanted to be an author, and about ten years ago I decided I better get my act together or it was never gonna happen. You might have heard this story already, so I won’t go into too much detail. I started writing, studying how to write, going to conferences, taking classes, and connecting with other authors. I published my first book just about nine years ago and my next release – a novella I co-wrote with Irene Preston – will be number eighteen.

I might not have the level of dedication required to play tennis on an international stage, but making the New York Times bestseller list isn’t completely out of reach. Honestly, though, I seem to have put together a pretty decent life without actually getting what I think I want.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere...


This is my first blog post since August, and I’m SO happy to be back with the Scribes!! I’ve had two recent releases and Irene and I have a new one coming in early March, so I thought I’d share the pretty covers. Well, two pretty covers and a teaser.

So much paranormal fun…

There’s nothing scarier than the truth…

Find HARROWED here!

Fusing copper, gold, and moonlight creates the strongest bond.

Find SOULMATES here!

Me n’ Irene are still keeping secrets. Join our readers group, After Hours with Liv & Irene, for more details!

Of Vision Boards and Writing Goals

It’s been years since I’ve had a vision board. I used to use them regularly, and then I took the one I had down because it didn’t go with my decor. I had actually forgotten about them until two things happened: 1) I was cleaning out my basement and found my last one, and 2) I saw this Lily Singh video on how and why to make one.

When I looked at my old one, I realized how many things on it had come true: travel, awards, opportunities, etc. (And this was from before I started taking my writing seriously.) I also realized that right now is the perfect time to begin a new one.  I mean, we can use all the hope and positivity we can get during quarantine, right?

Plus, now that I am working from home (until at least August 15 – I hope they make it permanent), I have an office and a place to put it where I will it every day and it won’t mess up the rest of my interior design style.

So here’s a little peek at what I think I’m going to include:

Pulitzer Prize – I am determined to win one for my biography of Virginia and Francis Minor. No one really knows what they look for in the winners and finalists, but I’ve read several of both and can see some common characteristics. I’m still hoping to get a traditional contact for it, but if I don’t, how cool would it be to become the first-ever self published author to win a Pulitzer?

#1 New York Times Bestseller List – Of course I want to hit this. I’m going to Photoshop an actual list with the title of the current historical fiction I’m working on in the top fiction spot and my biography in the top non-fiction spot.

Poster for film/TV version of two of my books – I don’t have time to do this today, but I’m going to Photoshop this. Given that one of my books was already optioned and another is doing well in a contest to get this very kind of deal, this might actually happen.

Winning the 2020 Launchpad Manuscript Contest As mentioned above, Daughter of Destiny is already in the Top 75 of this contest and I am manifesting a win for it, along with a major publishing deal and successfully produced movie or TV series.

$100,000 check – This amount is enough to pay off my debt and enable me to move (once COVID is over). I feel like it is enough without being greedy.

 

Book contract – Since I’m hoping to get a traditional contract, why not draw one up with the names of my dream agent and publisher? And fill in the advance amount I want?

 

Oxford – I really, really want to go back. This is the Old Parsonage Hotel, where I want to stay again. It is so nice and the food is fabulous. Plus, I want to research in the Bodleian Library.

 

 

Chicago – I want to move there (post-COVID). It’s been my dream for more than a decade now. Time to make it happen! (I had a photo for this one, but it wouldn’t align correctly, so out it went!)

Celebrities I really want to meet/work with: Lin Manual Miranda, Angelina Jolie and whoever else I think of. Angelina has been on my vision boards since my very first one. I really admire her humanitarian work and acting. And Lin Manuel is just a genius!

Beyond this, I’m not really sure. I’m considering a few broader things like healing for the earth and something to do with an end to COVID, but those aren’t really in my control, so I don’t know if they count. I may end up adding more over time as it comes to me.

What would you include on your vision board? Have you ever made one?

What’s In A Name?

Oh, naming. You fickle beast. I want to cuddle you close yet curse you to the ends of time. For you have caused me many a sleepless night.

Naming people, places, and things in my writing is an interesting element of my work, in that it’s really important to me. Now, I happen to know this isn’t the case for all authors. Some writers name their main character Emma, name the love interest Jack, have them go to Ridgeview High, and get on with it. (There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of these names–they’re solid, straightforward names and I respect and envy them.) I know other authors who don’t bother naming their characters or places anything at all in their first drafts, simply using X, Y and Z and filling everything in later. (This is some chaotic evil energy, if you ask me, which no one did.)

Neither of these methods work for me. In my writing, a character’s name is integral to who they are–how they grew up, how they see themselves, how others see them, where they’re from, what they believe in, et cetera. To name them something offhand would be to deprive me of insight into their character, and to name them nothing at all would be chaotic evil. (I’m a true neutral, okay?) And although not quite as important as character names, naming places and things is also really important to me. As a fantasy author, I believe place names should evoke the story’s aesthetic, world-building, and possibly even give hints about the history and purpose of a place. Objects should be named in a similar vein. (For example, Excalibur has a real ring to it. That Sword Over There really doesn’t.)

The problem is, I’m kind of terrible at naming, well, anything. With character names, I usually have a sense of what kind of sound or feeling I’m trying to evoke–for a healer, I’d want something soft and lyrical, while for a warrior, I’d go for something stronger and sharper. But that’s usually all I have to go on. And not just any name will do–I need the right name. A name I’ll only know is right when I hear it. A name I need to know before I can even start writing.

Place and object names are even worse. For some reason, my creative brain leaves me totally in the lurch when it comes to these, and I go wayyyy too literal. If there’s a place where people gather, you know I want to call it the Gathering Place. A sword with a destiny? Sword of Destiny it is.

So, I’ve developed a process. Since character names are most important to me, I usually start with online baby name lists. (Nameberry is my go to, although it’s only one of many.) You can usually sort these lists by gender, style, popularity, and sometimes geography. This helps me narrow down what I’m looking for, and what I’m definitely not looking for. Sometimes I even find a few unicorn names here!

Then, I move on to random name generators. I quite like this Character Name Generator, which allows you to sort by Language, Gods, Archetype, et cetera. As a fantasy author, this really starts to get my gears turning, and even if I don’t find the exact name I’m looking for, it often inspires me.

But my favorite all-time naming tool is Fantasy Name Generators. Seriously, this site has everything! No matter what you’re trying to name–Dwarf, Motel, Motorcycle Gang–this site probably has a generator for that category. My only caveat for using this site, is that sometimes the names generated are quite silly! I’ve had more than a few good laughs while playing around here (no, I’m not going to name my fantasy character’s horse Malibu.) But that said, I’ve found it’s the absolute best at getting my own naming gears turning in the right direction. Even if I don’t use the precise suggestions from the generator, variations and similar names have definitely wound up in both my published and unpublished works!

In my opinion, that which we call a rose by any other name would not smell so sweet. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here naming the leaders of my Barbarian Horde Ulskath and Hirtmaurbes. Or, y’know, something along those lines.

Do you have trouble naming character, places, or things? What tools do you use for inspo? Share your thoughts below!

The garden in spring…

This week totally got away from me. Like, today is not Thursday. Did you know that?

Sigh.

Anywhoodle, I haven’t posted about my garden in a while, and since it’s feeding my soul in a very real way, I thought I’d share some of what’s blooming. Keep in mind I’m a better writer than I am a photographer…

The view from my front door, about a month ago.
Looking at my front door, last week, with a guest appearance by Ed-the-dog. My tulip game has been strong this spring.
Tequila Sunrise Rhodedendron, 10 days ago, just starting to bloom.
My new favorite tulip, Antoinette, about 2 weeks ago.
Antoinette turns pinker as she goes
Tulipa Antoinette today, along with a pretty perennial geranium (blue flower).
Veggie bed – peas and lettuce and herbs…
Chives just starting to bloom.
Burnsie “helping” with the apple tree.
The front bed, a week or so ago.

The back yard hasn’t seen as much love as the front, but I do love my back porch, and the little Enkianthus Red Bells is so pretty when it’s in bloom. Those are perennial geraniums blooming under the Japanese maple. They’re hardy as hell and so lovely when they bloom…

Earlier this spring, the husband and I consulted with a garden designer, who made some fantastic recommendations for how we could better utilize our outdoor spaces. We loved her ideas, but figure we’ll have to take it on the five (eight? ten?) year plan. I’m looking forward to what we come up with, though.

I hope you’re all hanging in there and washing your hands and staying safe. Oh, and if you like my garden pix, follow me on Instagram, because that’s where they hit first. Thanks….

Here’s a close-up of the daffodils that bloomed along the front walkway. They look like a bunch of ladies in their Sunday best, chatting after church.

And Now For Something Completely Different

In the spirit of my fellow Scribes eschewing too much discussion of the Virus-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I thought today I’d talk a little about my work in progress! You can maybe guess from the title of this blog post that what I’m working on is wayyyy out of my wheelhouse, which has been challenging, but also, fun!

At the beginning of the year I was working on some spec pages for a dark, gritty, and seriously fantastical project involving witches and old gods and necromancy. I sent those pages off to my agent just a few short weeks before things started getting kind of dark and gritty in the real world. And then I sat around twiddling my thumbs for longer than I care to admit, not sure what to work on. I had a few new projects I was outlining, but most of them were very much in line with what I usually like to write–angst-ridden atmospheric fantasies with scary high stakes. And for whatever reason, none of them felt like the right story in the time of corona.

So I decided to take a chance on a whim of an idea I hadn’t given much thought to. It actually started as a joke–one lazy Sunday afternoon a few months ago, I was complaining to my husband about bad reviews. We started making up the worst reviews we could think of, and I jokingly said that one of these days–as a form of authorly catharsis–I was going to write a main character who loved writing bad reviews. You know the kind of reviewer I mean–one who just loves to hate on things.

I genuinely meant it in jest–I had no story, no plot, no world prepared for my mean-spirited reviewer! But like so many book ideas, that kernel of a notion had already wormed its way into the little corner of my brain that raises plot bunnies for a living. And one by one, those lacking elements started falling into place. It would be set in the present-ish day, in our world (my reviewer would need technology to spread her scathing gospel). It would be YA, and set at a posh prep school (any other Gossip Girl addicts out there?). And finally, it would OF COURSE be a hate-to-love romance, because character growth (and I love a good trope). Basically, I wanted wish-fulfillment

But then I got cold feet. I’ve written six full length novels and countless partials, and none of them–not a single one–could be considered even loosely contemporary. Okay, so one of them took place in our present, but only for the first two chapters until the main character discovered magic and got swept away into a fantasy adventure. And another thing–no book I’d ever written lacked magic. None of them. Was I even capable of writing a book without spells or illusions or monsters or powers?

And then I decided I didn’t care. I could either keep staring at outlines of books I wasn’t in the mood to write, or I could jump head-first into a totally different project that was demanding to be written. And honestly, it’s been fun. It hasn’t been easy–I won’t go that far–but getting out of my comfort zone and writing something a little light, a little fluffy, a little snarky, and a little romantic has been just what I needed to get me out of my slump.

What are you working on in these challenging times? Let me know in the comment section!

What the book is really about.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so, so tired of a certain virus that is apparently hell-bent on ending civilization as we know it. In the spirit of Shauna’s last post, I want to focus on writing, because I have a helluva lot more control of my imaginary worlds than I do over the real one.

This is aspirational. My real-life looks nothing like this.

I’m an avid (overly enthusiastic?) fan of author KJ Charles. Her books are funny and sexy and scary and they make you think. Her plots are a master class in how-to-do-it-right. And this week, in the run-up to her newest release Slippery Creatures (Will Darling #1), I noticed something else.

She’s got a knack for describing her books in a way that makes them sound like they’re the most fun ever.

I’m not talking about her book’s blurbs, the back-jacket copy that supposedly sells the book, although her blurbs are very well done – check out the Goodreads link for Slippery Creatures to see what I mean. The thing that really grabs me, though, are the one- or two-line descriptions she uses on social media that summarize what the stories are about.

For example, on her Facebook fan page (KJ Charles Chat) she posted a sign-up for Slippery Creatures ARCs, giving readers the chance to review her book prior to it’s May 13th release, and I promise you, that sign-up post is golden.

She compares her Will Darling series to Golden Age adventure stories with spies and secrets and country houses and social change. (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to give too much away.) I don’t even need to see the book’s blurb; she had me at nightclubs and shady conspiracies.

The blurb is awesome, but the one-line description on the ARC sign-up bumped the book to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Having made this observation – that KJ makes her books sound fun! – I wondered if I could do the same with my own books. I turned to my current WIP, the book I started last November for NaNoWriMo, but couldn’t come up with anything coherent. (More about that later.)

Instead, I shifted gears and went digging through my back list. Here are a few examples:

Vespers mixes a 100-year-old vampire monk with a 22 year old college grad and a bunch of demons (both physical and psychological) and gives Liv the chance to work out her ideas about religion.

Here’s another example:

Change of Heart throws a country girl who talks like Dorothy Gale into the Big Easy and gives Liv a chance to explore how trans people might have survived in the days before hormones and surgery and also gives Vespers fans an Easter egg.

Or:

Lost and Found takes a very sad story (the life of the Russian dancer Najinksy) and finds him a happy ending (because romance) and also gives Liv a chance to brush up on her high school French.

Hmm…I’m sensing a theme. In these one-liners, I focus on my intention when writing the books, rather than picking out elements that make the story sound fun!

And that, my friends, might explain why I had trouble coming up with a one-liner for my current WIP. I mean, I know what it’s about – in the days when the city of Seattle was struggling to establish itself as the top dog in the Northwest, a necromancer tried to run all other magic workers out of town but he is challenged by a ne’er do well night patrolman, a pretty piano player, and their friends – but I haven’t yet figured out the why.

Why am I writing this story? What overarching theme grabbed me and made me spend however many hours it took to hit the 85k word mark? (I’m just about there, with a couple scenes left to draft.) I’m pretty sure my motivation went deeper than “well hell, I managed to write 50k words in November, let’s see where this bad boy goes”.

I mean, I’m pretty sure I have a deeper motivation. I hope.

I’d argue that while KJ’s one-liner for Slippery Things hits on a number of elements that focus on fun! (Spies! Nightclubs! Shady conspiracies!) she slips in a note about social change, hinting that she’s worked in a deeper theme or two. That grounds the story, making it even more compelling.

So if you need me, I’ll be pondering the theme(s) for my current WIP, which I’m hoping will be more obvious after I finish the draft and give the story some time to breath. I’ll also be working on a one-liner that includes the kind of fun! elements that make KJs books sound so good.

Because it’s smart to learn from the best.

Creating Outside of Writing

We maintain this blog to talk about the art and craft and work of writing. You, presumably, come here to read about that. But today I’m going to talk to you about when you’re not writing.

A lot of time, no matter how far you may be into your writing career, we often feel guilty when we take time off of writing. And no matter how often we tell each other that taking time off is not only okay, it’s necessary, we struggle to take that to heart when it applies to us. I can tell my writing friends they deserve time off, that we all need to decompress, go get yourself a little water for that well, but when I’m taking time off I have to keep saying, “It’s okay. You deserve this.”

But I don’t always feel like that’s true.

It is true. It’s as true for me as it is for you. But my guilt doesn’t care about true and fairness.

So, if you struggle with that as much as I do, when you do take time off from writing, make it worth it. Have it fill your well. Your well is that source of creativity inside of you–your well of inspiration. Think of it as a literal well from which you drink, but it doesn’t have a natural source refilling it–you have to refill it from time to time.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have been struggling to work on my new project and I finally accepted the fact that I needed to step away from it and reconsider what I’m going to do. But I needed to do something creative to fill the space not writing has left.

So, over the last 3-4 weeks, I’ve been working with my hands. My husband and I have been doing a major (for us) landscaping project. We have limited outdoor space and we’ve been trying over the years to make it into something that we can really enjoy but, because of the odd placement, the way the sun hits it, a bunch of other factors, everything we’ve tried has eventually failed. It’s succumbed to poor planning, weeds, the drought, etc.

We decided this time we were going to do it right. I knew the reason we hadn’t done it “right” before was because it was going to be so hard. Like, physically hard. Hard, back breaking work. And I was right; it has been painfully hard.

We’ve torn down the termite damaged wooden structure. Shoveled at least a dozen wheel-barrels full of dirt. Dug out massive, hidden chunks of cement. Built garden boxes. Dug a 3.5 foot post hole and cemented a new post in. Spent long hours into last Saturday night laying out 35 sixty pound pavers. And we’re still not done. The good news is, we’re done with the heavy labor. The stuff that made my back and hands ache for days, it’s all done. We’re down to small things, like making it pretty, and building a bench to finish it. Not easy, necessarily, but not 35 sixty pound pavers either.

I made it a point to pull equal weight to my husband–not leaving all the hard, heavy things for him to do. Yes, he definitely lifted more pavers than I did, but I made sure I shoveled more dirt than he did. I wanted this to be an even division of labor. When I sit out there with a cup of coffee and my outline, I want to feel the same amount of accomplishment as he will.

And, Sunday morning, when we woke up and walked outside to get a good look at what we’d finished the night before in the light of day, I finally felt relief. We’d done something and we could actually see the progress finally. It was the same feeling I get when I get hit the 3/4 mark in a manuscript. It’s not quite done, but damn, I have made it through the difficult parts and the end is in sight. And, if I focus, I know I can finish the last couple of chapters fast and furiously.

We did hit a roadblock and an idea we had to make it pretty completely crashed and burned. And I was really upset about it. It wasn’t an expensive letdown but it was something we’d put a lot of time into and it just didn’t workout and all I could think about was all that time and energy wasted. But that’s something we face in writing all the time. Sometimes you write a whole book only to realize at the end, that book isn’t going to be published. It wasn’t right or good or something. But we have to put it in a drawer and let it go and start something new. So I let that frustration go, tossed the ruined materials and marched back down to the hardware store today and got new supplies. And you know what? This is going to be 100% better than that scrapped idea and now I know that. In all actuality, I couldn’t have known our first idea wasn’t going to work until we tried it. Which, again, is a lot like figuring out a book. All you can do is try and fail and try again until you figure it out and get it right.

I don’t know for sure, but something in my gut is telling me, when this project is done, I might be able to get back to the book. I’ve been thinking about it more and more and with less dread and disappointment. Maybe doing something creative and difficult that wasn’t writing was just the thing I needed to unblock my water source. Maybe my well is filling back up. Or maybe I needed to be reminded that I can create things from scratch so I can do it again.

So if you’re stuck, maybe do something else with your creativity. Create something else, watch it form from your hands, and remember you’re an amazing artist who deserves time away from the pages and keys and voices. Quell that guilt.

(And yes, I have been taking progress pictures, I just haven’t posted them. I want the whole thing done before I post anything so you really get the full effect of the transformation.)

Doing What You Love

There’s a saying I hear a lot as a writer that I’ve come to really hate. It goes: make a career of something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

*incorrect buzzer sound* Wrong answer! In fact, whenever confronted with this annoying adage I usually argue the opposite is true. Because I have pursued my passion as a career, it actually means more to me than the average day job. Which is not to denigrate day jobs, of which I’ve had many. But I’ve invested not only time and effort into becoming an author, but also a bit of my own soul made manifest in paper and ink and many, many words.

Writing is work. Hard work. But what I think that saying is driving at is this: when you make a career out of something you love, you should be able to find some measure of joy in it every day. And sometimes I wonder whether I’ve lost the joy that brought me to writing in the process of trying to monetize my passion.

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. My mom recently found a handwritten story I wrote when I was six or seven–illustrated and bound with yarn–about a clever farmer’s wife who tied chickens to pigs in order to trick her useless husband into doing chores. By the time I was nine, I was filling notebooks full of rambling tales about a warrior princess named Jade and her faithful unicorn steed. By twelve or so, I somehow acquired an old typewriter and spent long hours clickety-clacking away on its half stuck keys (I’m sure my parents were sooo proud). In high school, I wrote such excellent essays that my Lang/Lit teacher frequently asked me to read them aloud to the class (why yes I was the teacher’s pet, why do you ask?).

Writing was a hobby, a passion, a joy, a solace–something I did in my spare time because I wanted to. Because I loved it. Hardly anyone read anything I wrote, and it didn’t occur to me to want it any other way. Because I wasn’t doing it for anyone but myself.

And then I took a fateful elective Creative Writing class my junior year of college. And when we workshopped my first short story, all the other students loved it. They compared my writing to F. Scott Fitzgerald, my favorite author at the time. Words like “provacative” and “professional” were thrown around. And when the professor returned his feedback he stapled a list of literary journals to the front with the suggestion that I submit to them when I was ready.

And so a monster was born. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to write for just me anymore. I kept writing–private diary entries and short stories no one read and the seeds of some of the books I would later write in earnest–but it wasn’t quite the same. A voice in the back of my head kept whispering: what if you could do this as a job? And suddenly, the reason for writing shifted, minutely at first and then irrevocably, until I wasn’t doing it for myself at all but all the faceless people who might one day read my words.

I’ve written about my journey to publication in other posts, so I won’t reiterate here. It was a long trek, and a lot of hard work, and I’m proud of everything I learned and everything I accomplished. I’m not complaining. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to pursue my passion, and reached some measure of success with it.

But success is a funny word to define. I remember when I first started seriously writing, I used to tell myself: if I can just finish a novel, I’ll be happy. That seemed enough. Later, when I was neck deep in the query trenches trying to get my first few novels published, the mantra became: if I can just sign with an agent, I’ll be happy. Eventually, that too came to pass. Then it was: if only I can sell a book, if only I can sell its sequel, if only if only if only if only…

When does it end? When will it all finally be enough to “make me happy?” If my books hit the NYT Bestseller’s list, will that be enough? If my books are translated into every human language, will that be enough? If my books are ejected into space as a symbol of the sum of human arts and culture for visiting extraterrestrials, will that be enough?

Enough is enough. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s time to get back to basics. I have to find a way to make writing about the writing again. It’s going to be hard–the fact of the matter is, I am a published author now. Other people do read my writing and will continue to do so (at least I hope they will). I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to forget that my words don’t belong just to me anymore. But I want to try to have them start out that way, at least.

Why did little Lyra write stories about clever farmer’s wives and spunky princesses and talking unicorns? I don’t know. But she didn’t do it because anyone was going to read it. She didn’t do it because the plot was marketable or the characters were trendy. She didn’t do it because she was on deadline and just had to write something. She did it because she loved it.

I want to learn to love what I do again. I don’t know yet what I’m going to write, but when I do write it…I think it might have to be just for me.