The Perks of Being a Writer

Ah yes, the glamorous life of an author. Isolation. Too much coffee. Waking up in the middle of the night with incoherent plot ideas and then not being able to fall asleep again. Google searches not fit to be seen by anyone, ever, including (or maybe especially?) the FBI. Pajamas all day, and not in a cute way. So why, you might ask, do any of us do it?

Excellent question, my friend. Since you didn’t ask, here are some (only mildly sarcastic) reasons why you too might consider joining the venerable ranks of writers everywhere.

It’s child’s play

200…In the most literal sense you can think of. Did you ever make up elaborate dramatic scenarios for your model horses? Play Barbies, except Barbie was an exiled warrior princess and Ken was her evil uncle? Act out ElfQuest scenes in the trees behind your house using butter-knives as swords?

If so, you’re in luck! Your inner child might be able to channel all that imagination into an adult occupation crafting something other people will want to read.

We’re all mad here

Worried your parents/significant other/coworkers will be a little concerned that you stayed up all night inventing place names for a world that doesn’t exist? Never fear, the writing community is here!

Whether it’s to whinge, swagger, brainstorm, or just commiserate about life, writing communities are ace. I’ve met so many amazing humans, both online and in person, who understand from experience what it is to have villains monologuing over coffee and imaginary romances interrupting dinner. Who dream in technicolor and then turn those dreams into something real.

You’ll get lost

2001We live in an era of GPS, of Siri and background location monitoring and having the news pushed directly to your phone. Our lives are on display on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. We always know where we are. Where the closest sushi restaurant is. Hell, we even know where our friends are in relation to where we are!

Don’t you ever want to get lost? Here’s a thought–open a book. Better yet, open your mind. Let go of the real world and get lost in a world you create. There is fragility here, but there is also infinite possibility. And the best part? You can always find your way home.

You’ll live forever

Mortality is relentless, unyielding, inexorable. Part of being alive is the unforgiving fact that we all must someday die. But writing–writing! Think of all the cramped, dusty bookstores you’ve wandered. Did you ever pick out an ancient paperback, flipping through the pages and finding some word or phrase that called to you? Did you buy that book, read it, without recognizing the author’s name or knowing anything about their life?

With your words, you rage against the dying of the light. With your words, you outlive yourself. With your words, you have the chance to live forever.

Just kidding, I was actually referring to Edward Cullen.

You’ll be rich!

2002Oh, did you think I meant real money? LOL I say. LOL all day.

But you will be wealthy. Reach out and touch the gold of sunlight along a river you just invented. The bright silver of treachery–an unexpected knife in the dim. Jewels of worlds wink at you from the void–they belong only to you unless you choose to share them. This is real currency: getting  so deep inside yourself you find something you did not know was there.

What are your reasons to write? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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Resolution: The Act of Resolving

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Happy New Year!

That gif is a pretty accurate expression of my feelings for 2017. Get thee gone, year from hell! Although to be honest, mostly I sat inside my comfortable home, in my comfortable blue state, and watched my friends and fellow-citizens dodge the fall-out of this current administration.

I don’t personally have much to complain about, but because of that, I feel it’s even more important to keep my senators on speed dial.

But it’s January 1st, 2018! That annual clean slate where we all vow to be our better selves, at least for today. Do you make resolutions? I usually try to, and I figure if I write them down in a blog post, I’ll be more likely to keep them.

You’ll hold me accountable, amirite?

I looked it up, and the root of “resolution” is the Latin is “resolutio”, from “resolvere”. And according to the Latin Dictionary, resolvere is a verb that means to loosen| release| disperse| melt; relax; pay; enervate| pay back; break up; fin. I find the contrast interesting; the word’s root has to do with letting go, but we now apply it to a set of goals we clutch with grim determination.

But maybe there’s a seed of wisdom there. Maybe instead of adding to the list of things I want to accomplish, I should think in terms of what I no longer need.

For example, last year one of my resolutions had to do with diet. Starting January 2nd, I adopted the 5/2 eating plan. (That’s 2000 calories a day for 5 days a week, then 500 calories a day for the other two.) I’ve managed to stick with it, and in addition to losing 45 pounds, I’ve dispersed a whole lot of baggage around my body and my weight.

My commitment may have added to my to-do list, but as a result, I’ve let go of a serious source of stress.

Another of last year’s resolutions had to do with the current political climate. When 45 took office, I promised myself I’d do something every day to #resist. From the Women’s March, to calling my electeds, to putting my money where my values are, I’ve done my best to live up to that vow.

My most recent activity has been writing postcards to support Democratic candidates in contested states. I joined PostcardsToVoters.org, and now whenever I see a headline that makes me angry, I request another batch of addresses. It’s a small task, but it’s a way of paying back, of dispensing with helplessness and replacing it with hope.

Last year’s resolutions have become a way of life, but other than recommitting to them, I haven’t come up with anything new for this year. Well, other than that my basement could appear on an episode of Horders, and I pretty regularly beat myself up about that…

Bingo.

I hereby resolve to reduce or eliminate the self-flagellation that comes from having a basement I’m ashamed for strangers to see.

Now it’s your turn….

If you’ve got a resolution, either a commitment or a letting go, leave it in the comments! Either way, I hope 2018 brings you hope and peace and joy.

 

 

Best Laid Plans

I’m supposed to be starting a new book. Well, the outline at the very least. I told myself that when I finished NaNo, and ultimately the first draft I was working on, I would give myself two weeks off to decompress and then start working on the outline of a brand new book in a brand new world with brand new characters.

I wanted to write something witchy and dark and fun and maybe a little bit epic? I haven’t written anything nearing the 100k mark in years. Partly from honing my pacing, and partly from the genres I’ve been working on. But I love a good, meaty book with lots of world building and a strong magic system.

But, you know, best laid plans of mice and men.

NaNo wrapped on November 30th and I “won” by the skin of my teeth, and then I hit the end of the first draft on December 2nd with a cool 78k words. It was a difficult book to write because it was a spin-off to my Ash and Ruin Trilogy, but set earlier, where the world is just starting to fall apart. Honestly, when I wrote A&R it was haaard. But still exciting and a little bit escapism like The Walking Dead or The Road is to watch. But that was before. This year? It’s not fun. It’s not escapism. It’s hard. So that 78k words took waaaay loner than they should have. And I’m not too excited to get into the revision process. I want something new.

Then December 4th hit and my world caught fire. Literally. I don’t know if my little beach town has ever made the national news, but thanks to the Thomas Fire, we did that week. And that fire, while no longer burning Ventura, is still raging around us at only 60% contained. We wake up to ash drifting in the sunbeams and the smell of wet campfire every morning.

But that night was terrifying. I’ve never actually been afraid of a natural disaster before. I was afraid then. I watched the mountains in the not so far away catch fire and I watched the flames spill down toward the houses. It felt very, very close. It played tricks with our minds. The power went out when the power company shut the whole county off to protect the transformers. We packed our bags. We gathered our important papers. I disconnected my computer. We got the dogs sorted. We had our vehicle packed so if the firemen said go, we were ready to just put the dogs in the vehicle so we could go. We cat-napped on the couch, fully clothed, just in case. Only when the power came on and the winds calmed down enough for the helicopters to safely fly again, sometime around 3am, did I finally get any sleep.

The rest of the week was a total bust. My husband couldn’t work. The city was shrouded in ash and smoke so thick it was more dangerous than Stage 3 Smog alerts from the 70s. We had to tape plastic over all the windows and fireplace. The smoke stacks were making their own weather they were so huge. The daily highs were in the 80s. It was bizarre and nothing like the holidays. People were out with N95 masks over their faces instead of scarves and beanies.

The next week–last week–was better. The air would clear and the skies would be bright blue occasionally. The smell of smoke dissipated. But getting back to normal wasn’t exactly easy.

So my two weeks off have been mostly stress related as we scramble to get things back to normal with work, which means I haven’t been in the right head space to think about a new project.

Online, things always seem great. We see everyone’s highlight reel. The great dinner they had at that fancy restaurant. How adorable and well-behaved their furbabies are. The cute shoes they bought. The four thousand word-count day they had. The best-seller rank they hit. The world is shiny and perfect online! Right?

But it’s not. And that’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay, but it’s normal and we’re all dealing with it even if we’re not showing everyone on Facebook or Instagram.

I should be working on something shiny and new right now, but I’m not. I’m not winging through a revision that’s going amazingly well. I’m not churning out 3-5k words a day. I’m just trying to get back to normal. I’m trying to give my mind and my muse a break. And that’s okay.

So my new book will start in the new year. It feels weird giving myself permission to wait, but I want to enjoy working on this new book. I want it to make me excited about writing. I want it to break my heart and pick me up and be the story I want to write. And I have to let that happen the way it’s going to happen.

Let’s just hope, if there are any other delays, it’s not because the world is on fire.

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.

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.