First, let me say that I am proud of Liv and Lyra sharing their posts the last two weeks. As authors and public figures it’s difficult to know whether or not to speak up about politics, always afraid of hurting our livelihoods for offending people. But I think we all know that things are just different now and we need to speak up and not fear reprisal. If you didn’t get a chance to check them out last month, please go have a quick read.
I do want to get back to talking about writerly things, but we cannot ignore the fact that the current climate has really had a hard, hard impact on writers. The constant chaotic news loop we’re stuck in takes so much out of us. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, there is some new horror or frustration or just plain bullshit that has us throwing up our hands, randomly cursing, or slumping over with a deep sigh.
So how, how do you push through all that crap and be creative? How do you check out if even for a little while so you can get your words for the day? You don’t want to look away because that is a privilege and the guilt is overwhelming. But you lose your goddamn mind if you don’t take a break once in a while, right? Another chaotic loop.
Well, first of all, the best thing you can do is look the monster in the face. Take five minutes in the morning to call your three reps (both senators and your MOC) and tell the staffer or leave a short VM with your name and zip code and tell them why you’re calling, what you’re supporting or protesting. They’ll take a note, thank you, and be done with the call. Boom. One important contribution done. And yes, you should do this multiple times a week. If you have phone anxiety call after hours and leave a VM, those still count.
Secondly, participate, if you can, in protests. I can’t tell you how much faith and hope and resolve the Women’s March gave me last year. Even in my small city, the turn out was amazing. This past weekend my husband and I joined in on the Families Belong Together March. In the past my husband has had to work when the protests were scheduled in our area, but not this one, so he was able to go. He really didn’t think it would be much of a turn out, he wasn’t as excited as I was. At least, not until we got there. When the crowd filled in his whole demeanor changed. He joined in on the chants, he raised his fist, he took a spare flag from another protester to hold up (this was a very big deal because my hubs is a Marine Vet and in Nov 2016 he packed away all his USMC and veteran apparel and refused to wear any of it or talk about being in the service because he was so angry and disillusioned). Seeing so many people turn out in our small piece of America, seeing all the other veterans proudly wearing their hats and shirts, really changed something in him. If you need that, go to a march.
And finally, do what I’ve done. Give yourself a break. Not forever, not indefinitely, but take the time you need. We all need to recharge. When you’re ready, get back to work, but take as much time as you need to finish a project. You all know I’ve been talking about a new book, but I haven’t written one word yet. I did finally manage to flesh out the two main characters and that feels like something. In doing so I was able to think about the magic systems and a seedy, black market system that will work as a wonderful red herring to the mystery I’m still figuring out.
Another thing I did to help me this year was become a student again. Not back to uni or to a workshop, but I did look up Brandon Sanderson. Plenty of people know who I’m talking about, but if you don’t, he’s a best selling Epic Fantasy writer, who also happens to teach. And what’s even more amazing, his lectures are on YouTube. I watched an 8 series lecture and took copious notes. I started watching because I wanted to learn what he had to say on magic systems, but then realized it was a whole class and decided to start from the beginning.
Now, I’ve written quite a number of books, so I like to think I know what I’m doing, but it was still nice to take this as a refresher course. It gave me some food for thought about a lot of things and it felt good to be a student again. There are a lot of his lectures to be found, but I started with his BYU 318R Writing Class. Seriously, check it out. And if you’re a newbie writer and struggling with your first book and can’t afford/don’t have time for school, take advantage of this. It was an amazing course, probably better than a lot of the classes I took in uni because so many of those were focused on reading.
Hopefully something here helps you figure out a balance to being informed without being overwhelmed and getting back to work. We need a middle ground; don’t let them steal your fire.
If you’ve been following along, you know that I had grand plans to write a new, dark, witchy, Ireland inspired book. And you also know that a natural disaster kind of derailed those plans for a while. Well, we’re finally, finally getting back to normal around here. Schedules are familiar, husband’s clients are getting back on track, things still feel a little like Bambi learning to walk, but we’re getting there.
And I’ve had enough time away from writing to feel refreshed and like I should be ready to get back at it. My editor has Blackbird, which I’ll have back soon, but going over edits and writing something new can be done; I’ve done it. It’s nice to have two totally different projects like that to work on so you can take a break from one to the other and not overload yourself.
So naturally I got to work. Cleaning. First I dug out every towel and sheet and blanket that we had in our linen closet, refolded (because they definitely went into that closet folded but then obviously gremlins came along and had a party in there) and organized each category into new stacks and put it together like a perfect puzzle.
Oh how I wish I’d taken a before picture so you could know what an amazing accomplishment this truly is.
We live in a little 1920’s cottage, so the storage options here are almost null. See this? This is a high cabinet that counts as a linen closet, but you can see it only has two shelves. But somehow being three feet deep makes up for the lack of shelves? I dunno. But look! I can see and reach everything!
Okay. So that was pretty therapeutic, but now it was time to get back to that new idea.
So I closed the cabinet door and and turned away from it and the former mess (after taking a photo to brag for posterity), and walked the three feet to the other cabinet.
One thing you don’t know about me, unless you follow along on the Twitter, is that I have this strange, almost hoarder obsession with boxes and bags. Oh, how I love a good box or gift bag. If something is delivered in a small to medium box, I will save said box. If someone gives me something in a gift bag, I keep that bag. And the smaller, more varying size of box, the better. Because in my mind, I might need it. Certainly come the holidays I will. And why throw it away if I might need it? Because then I’ll just have to buy a box or bag to wrap it in and that’s just wasteful. Maybe it’s the poor kid in me. I dunno.
But because of this, our other cabinet, which we use for miscellany storage, had become my gift box and bag storage, along with the other random things you need to keep but have no where to keep them. This cabinet had become insane. You couldn’t find anything in there. You couldn’t even use the gift bags because they were becoming bent and creased.
Obviously, this couldn’t wait. How could I focus on writing with this behemoth sitting so close to me, weighing on me, looming over me?
I couldn’t. So I attacked it too. I pulled every box and bag out and realized I’d kept boxes of things in case I needed to put them back in their original packaging for… I don’t know. To return them five years later? In case we moved and these things needed their own special boxes? I’d also discovered this had become the place for bad gifts, like, we couldn’t throw them out, but where else to put them? BAH!
Everything came out. My hallway was full. And by the time I separated the good, the keeps, from the bad our recycling trash can (which is bigger than our regular trash can) was full and it was empty when I started. I’d gone full scorched earth in my determination to throw it all out and only keep a very select few boxes and only the gift bags that weren’t creased. Now, I can see and reach everything in here. Again, you don’t get what a difference this is from where it started. That Jenga game? Totally forgot we had that because you couldn’t find it in there before.
Phew. Okay. Now I could write, surely.
Of course, how anyone could be expected to write when their office is a shambles, I have no idea! I mean, what even happened here?
Of course I know what happened. Christmas decorations haven’t made it out to the shed yet. Taxes had to be prepped. This is where the bills are paid. This is where accounting is done. This is where every damn piece of paper and receipt gets brought no matter what!
Eep. Sorry about that. Anyway. Obviously, I had to fix this before I could start working.
Ahhhhh… that’s better. I can breathe now. Can’t you? Doesn’t that feel amazing and freeing? Thank goodness.
But first I do have to go the tax lady. So I need to get dressed and head out. But where the hell are the boots I wanted to wear? Why can’t I find anything in this house! Bah! I need to organize my closet!
Sounds like a trip to the Container Store is in order! And of course we have to get rid of the clutter that we don’t want or need anymore, which means a trip to good will.
Okay, great. Now that’s done and I don’t have to kill myself digging around anymore and I don’t have to worry about this anymore. I can focus on other things.
And, now that taxes are done, I don’t have to think about those anymore either, right? Fantastic!
Okay, so it’s time to write. Time to sit down with this new world and figure out the point of the story and plot it out so I’ll have a map to follow and finally get this thing going because I am ready and there’s nothing stopping me now.
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…
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.
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.
One of my favorite thing about the holidays is so many authors release novels or novellas to celebrate the season. It’s a little ironic, because generally I don’t have as much time to read as I normally do, but I find myself adding to my TBR pile anyway. With that in mind, I thought I’d come up with a list of holiday reads…because this is the season for my favorite things, right?
(If you received my newsletter yesterday, you’ll have already seen most of these, but there are a few new ones. And if you’re not on my newsletter list, go HERE to fix that!)
I’m starting with Blessing & Light by my friend Kasia. She writes romantic high fantasy (think naughty elves!) and packs a whole lot of story in just a few pages. This one is FREE for the month of December!
It’s the Night of Winter Lights.
Heedless of the holiday, the Commander of the H’Aren fortress, Captain Torýn Torhdhar, seems to find his satisfaction in work.
Such occurrence hardly surprises his Orderly, Sæbastyn Hyago, even though the young Lieutenant has spent a silent, aching decade wishing his superior officer would pursue pleasure elsewhere—specifically in his arms. But as the evening continues, nothing about it meets Sæbastyn’s expectations. Will the Lieutenant see his secret desires realised, or his heart shattered?
I read Yuletide Truce last week, and it gave me the best book hangover! If you like Victorian stories, definitely grab this one.
It’s December, Alan “Aigee” Garmond’s favorite time of the year, when the window display of the small bookshop where he works fills up with crimson Christmas books and sprays of holly. Everything could be perfect — if it weren’t for handsome Christopher Foreman, the brilliant writer for the fashionable magazine About Town, who has taken an inexplicable and public dislike to Aigee’s book reviews.
But why would a man such as Foreman choose to target reviews published in a small bookshop’s magazine? Aigee is determined to find out. And not, he tells himself, just because he finds Foreman so intriguing.
Aigee’s quest leads him from smoke-filled ale-houses into the dark, dingy alleys of one of London’s most notorious rookeries. And then, finally, to Foreman. Will Aigee be able to wrangle a Yuletide truce from his nemesis?
Glass Tidings by Amy Jo Cousins was my favorite holiday read last year, and 20% of the proceeds benefit The Trevor Project!
Eddie Rodrigues doesn’t stay in one place long enough to get attached. The only time he broke that rule, things went south fast. Now he’s on the road again, with barely enough cash in his pocket to hop a bus to Texas after his (sort-of-stolen) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Midwest, USA.
He’s fine. He’ll manage. Until he watches that girl get hit by a car and left to die.
Local shop owner Grayson Croft isn’t in the habit of doing people any favors. But even a recluse can’t avoid everyone in a town as small as Clear Lake. And when the cop who played Juliet to your Romeo in the high school play asks you to put up her key witness for the night, you say yes.
Now Gray’s got a grouchy glass artist stomping around his big, empty house, and it turns out that he . . . maybe . . . kind of . . . likes the company.
But Eddie Rodrigues never sticks around.
Unless a Christmas shop owner who hates the season can show an orphan what it means to have family for the holidays.
Merry & Bright is a new holiday collection from Joanna Chambers. I read all three of these stories when they were first released, and honestly Rest and Be Thankful is one of my all-time favorites. They’re all really good, and it’s so nice to have them all in one place!
Quin Flint is unimpressed when his gorgeous colleague, Rob Paget, asks for extra time off at Christmas. As far as Quin is concerned, Christmas is a giant waste of time. Quin’s on the fast track to partnership, and the season of goodwill is just getting in the way of his next big project. But when Quin’s boss, Marley, confiscates his phone and makes him take an unscheduled day off, Quin finds himself being forced to confront his regrets, past and present, and think about the sort of future he really wants…and who he wants it with.
Mr Perfect’s Christmas
Sam Warren’s new job hasn’t been going so well so the last thing he’s in the mood for is the obligatory office Christmas party, particularly since Nick Foster’s going to be there. Nick–the guy whose shoes Sam has been trying to fill–seems to take very opportunity to point out where Sam’s going wrong. But when Sam receives an unexpected Secret Santa gift at the party, he’s forced to question his assumptions about his rival. Could it be that he’s been misinterpreting Nick’s actions all along? And is it possible that his reluctant attraction to Nick is reciprocated?
Rest and Be Thankful
Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast. Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.
This is the book I’m reading now, and while I’m not finished, it’s getting rave reviews. The characters celebrate Hanukkah, too, which sets it a little bit apart from most holiday stories and 20% of the proceeds will benefit The Russian LGBT Network.
Last month, Alex Barrow’s whole life imploded—partner, home, job, all gone in forty-eight hours. But sometimes when everything falls apart, better things appear almost like magic. Now, he’s back in his Michigan hometown, finally opening the bakery he’s always dreamed of. But the pleasure of opening day is nothing compared to the lonely and beautiful man who bewitches Alex before he even orders.
Corbin Wale is a weirdo. At least, that’s what he’s heard his whole life. He knows he’s often in a fantasy world, but the things he feels are very real. And so is the reason why he can never, ever be with Alex Barrow. Even if Alex is everything he’s always fantasized about. Even if maybe, just maybe, Corbin is Alex’s fantasy too.
When Corbin begins working at the bakery, he and Alex can’t deny their connection any longer. As the holiday season works its magic, Alex yearns for the man who seems out of reach. But to be with Alex, Corbin will have to challenge every truth he’s ever known. If his holiday risk pays off, two men from different worlds will get the love they’ve always longed for.
I love Cat Sebastian’s books and was *so* excited to see this one land on my kindle!!
Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre
After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.
Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity
Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.
In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.
Kris Ripper’s annual New Years book has become one of my favorite things about the holidays. There are a bunch of books in this series, so some of the character relationships will be richer if you’ve read at least some of the others. Also, the Scientific Method series is AMAZING, so you should read them just for that.
It’s the holidays. Basically: everything is awful. As usual.
It’s been three years since Davey saw their ex-boyfriend Will. The thing is…Will’s sort of the one who got away. And he’s also the one Davey calls when they’re super depressed, and it’s the holidays, and they just want a hug.
What they get is an invitation to Will’s boyfriends’ beach house for New Year’s. Yeah. Boyfriends. Plural.
In ten days Davey finds a kitten, wears a mermaid dress, and crushes on a beautiful man. Welcome to New Year’s at the beach house.
You’re probably going to laugh at me, but I’m rounding out the list with three of my own holiday reads. Two are short stories, and one’s a novella from the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene Preston…
Silent night, holy hell.
Thaddeus and Sarasija are spending the holidays on the bayou, and while the vampire’s idea of Christmas cheer doesn’t quite match his assistant’s, they’re working on a compromise. Before they can get the tree trimmed, they’re interrupted by the appearance of the feu follet. The ghostly lights appear in the swamp at random and lead even the locals astray.
When the townsfolk link the phenomenon to the return of their most reclusive neighbor, suspicion falls on Thaddeus. These lights aren’t bringing glad tidings, and if Thad and Sara can’t find their source, the feu follet might herald a holiday tragedy for the whole town.
I was frustrated with yesterday’s newsletter, because the link to this short story was broken, so I had to give it a shout-out here…
Things aren’t always what they seem, and this shopping mall Santa has a secret that only true love can reveal.
Mackenzie’s an out-of-work actress who takes a job as a shopping mall Santa to pay the rent. She fools everyone with her Santa drag, until the day Joe McBride walks into the mall. Joseph Timothy McBride – the real-life, got a soap opera gig and you saw him in Scream II actor. The only guy she ever really loved. Can Mack stay in character, or is it time to strip off the red coat and peel off the beard for good?
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.
Every 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.
But 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!
So 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.
There is so much going on in the world these days that it’s hard not to find it overwhelming. Every time I turn on the TV or radio or Twitter I feel like I’m being bombarded with hateful rhetoric from all sides, and terrible–sometimes heartbreaking–images from the horrific acts that seem to be happening more and more often. As an artist, I have to confess that this takes a heavy toll on my creativity. It’s hard to see beauty and wonder and joy when it sometimes seems like the world is falling apart.
That’s when I turn to beautiful things. There are a million places to find beautiful things, if you know where to look. Nature, of course. Your local art gallery. Between the dusty shelves of that used bookstore down the street. But as with all things, the most concentrated trove of beauty is on that most horrible and glorious of things: The Internet. Here are a few of the sites I turn to when my creative well has been emptied by reality!
From fairy-tale inspired photography to how Matryoshka dolls are made to modern dance, this site always has something lovely and a little strange to offer. My favorite ever find: this stunning ballet short film that actually inspired a scene in one of my books!
This site takes you to a totally random website! You can curate the types of sites it will take you to based on your interests–art, gardening, photography, you name it. It can be a little bit of a mixed bag, and sometimes you have to click through a few random sites to find anything worthwhile, but I’ve found some incredible things through this site. (It’s also a great tool for procrastination…)
This website does pretty much what it promises to do–showcases an artist a day! They also curate lists of top tens that can be great if you’re working on something with a specific theme and need inspiration. One of my recent favorite finds–this stunning work by Kim Keever. I encourage you to read about her fascinating process!
This site basically shares links, but they’re usually very cool. Everything from weird historical facts to geological oddities to maps of curious museums across the world, you never really know what you might, um, what’s another word for stumble upon?
Of course, these are just a drop in the vast ocean of gorgeous and inspiring sites on the internet. But they’re some of the ones I find myself turning to, again and again, when I just need to tune out the world.
Do you find inspiration in beauty? What are some of your favorite places to find beauty, wonder, and joy? Share in the comment section below!
Here at Spellbound Scribes, most of us are old pros when it comes to writing. Whether we’ve published several books and stories or have just been at the grind for years, the mechanics and spirit of writing have been ingrained upon our lives, etched in black ink for all to see. Which can make it easy to forget that not all writers have gotten so far in the process. Some writers are still at the very beginning, grappling with questions of how to write, and perhaps even more importantly, why.
Sometimes I dabble in answering questions at the community-sourced Q&A site Quora. I recently stumbled upon a question from a young writer who reveled in the simple pleasures of putting language to paper, but wondered whether that was enough. Should one have a literary voice that came through on paper? And did it count as writing if there was no deep meaning or profound content? The questions shook me, and I realized it’s been so long since I thought about the simple but deep-seated questions at the very heart of being a writer.
Here are my thoughts:
Writing for writing’s sake, whether poetry or prose, is enough. I strongly advise any young/new/inexperienced writers to unburden themselves of any expectations or assumptions about what writing is, what it looks and feels like, or what it’s supposed to accomplish. Words have power—feel them thunder through your veins, hungry for freedom. Then let them tumble forth, unbridled. Enjoying yourself while putting words to paper is wonderful, and not something everyone is lucky enough to experience.
In fact, after years and more manuscripts—finished and unfinished—than I care to mention, this purity of feeling arising from the act of creation has changed in many complex, indefinable ways. My relationship to setting words to paper has altered irrevocably, and I linger with occasional envy on the memory of what it was like to write before I was a writer. Never for long—after all, that impulse is what brought me to this point. Still, no one should ever apologize for writing for the joy of writing.
Personality comes from practice. In writing, having personality bleed through into your writing is called voice. Some writers have very strong internal voices that inform their writing (think Chuck Palahniuk, Ernest Hemingway, or Maya Angelou) and leap off the page, as recognizable as faces or names. Developing your voice as a writer is a process that can take years, and the Spellbound Scribes have discussed it at length in various blog posts throughout the years. Here’s the TL;DR on the basics:
Read widely. Non-fiction, fiction, magazines, novels, blogs—read everything you can get your hands on. Exposing yourself to a broad variety of voices will allow you to begin to grasp what appeals to you, or clenches your jaw, or echoes in your bones with a feeling you can’t name.
Be sure you grasp the basics of grammar, syntax, diction, and punctuation. Some of the most well-known authors bend these rules in pursuit of voice, but intention is key. You have to understand a rule before you can effectively break it.
Let your real voice shine through into your literary voice. Do you swear a lot in real life? Swear in your writing. Do you use slang? Figures of speech? Are you brusque and to the point, or do you prefer poetic turns of phrase and flowery descriptions? Identifying your real-world voice can help you define your literary voice.
Be true to yourself, but also don’t be afraid to experiment. As Steven King says in On Writing (a book I highly recommend for any writer, new or experienced):
“You may find yourself adopting a style you find particularly exciting, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When I read Ray Bradbury as a kid, I wrote like Ray Bradbury—everything green and wondrous and seen through a lens smeared with the grease of nostalgia. When I read James M. Cain, everything I wrote came out clipped and stripped and hard-boiled. When I read Lovecraft, my prose became luxurious and Byzantine. I wrote stories in my teenage years where all these styles merged, creating a kind of hilarious stew.”
There is no Platonic ideal of “meaning” in writing, nor should there be. Meaning arises from two areas in the practice of writing: what an author means or intends in their writing, and how any given reader interprets that meaning upon reading what the author has written. A writer are responsible for only one of those areas—the first.
Nietzsche wrote: “Thus the man who is responsive to artistic stimuli reacts to the reality of dreams as does the philosopher to the reality of existence; he observes closely, and he enjoys his observation: for it is out of these images that he interprets life, out of these processes that he trains himself for life.”
Watch, listen, read, write, repeat. Live a life rich with adventure, and emotion, and intention. Fill the well of creativity with beautiful, strange, incomprehensible things. Be present in your life, fly on magic carpets to faraway lands, cavort through dreams and night-time fancies. Everything else will grow naturally on its own. In the meantime, enjoy the wild ride!
“I have to be rent and pulled apart and live according to the demons and the imagination in me. I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”
The last two posts have been about being stuck while working on a writing project. I’ve seen a lot of this lately; so many creatives are struggling to work in the climate we’re all facing.
When I was young, a teenager, I reveled in my dark, black moods to create my best work. I even did better writing term papers when I was unhappy. And some people stay that way their whole lives — they need that dark place to tap into their creative muse to get words or other art done.
But as I’ve grown older, as I’ve turned this into a job, I’ve found it much harder to work when I’m in a dark place or when life is being difficult. I don’t want to create magic and monsters and adventure. I want to curl up and be alone with my dogs and husband and shut out the world. Even if I’m working on something dark or difficult and it brings me down while I’m working, so much so, that when I leave my office I have to physically shake it off, I don’t need to first be in that place to write those words.
I participated in Camp NaNo in April. I set myself a goal of 40k words. In the beginning, it went like any NaNo usually does. I had my outline and was ready to get started and felt good about my daily word counts. But, as the month went on, and things in my life weren’t perfect and outside things started to drain away my energy, I found each word that much harder to type. When I finally hit my 40k word goal, I was relieved. I had one day to spare, but I did it. Obviously, that’s not the whole book. But with everything else going on outside of writing, my hubs and I agreed we needed a week to decompress. So I promised myself if I hit my NaNo goal, I was going to take a week off from writing to get my head right again.
That was last week. This week, these are the first words I’ve written. We planned our “take a break” week from everything but the bare minimum at just the right moment. We run a business together and we had an emergency happen last week that, had I been writing, would have taken any energy away from my daily goals. We’ve weathered the emergency and I think the ship is righted and we’re going to be okay, but I am so glad I gave myself permission to take a break from my book.
This book is from my favorite series and if I had continued to write while dealing with so much, I think it would have suffered and when the editing came around, it would have been a snarl of a headache to fix.
I used to say you had to write every day when you’re working on a project. Yeah, take the weekend off, or a day here or there if you like working on the weekend, but don’t abandon the project because you’ll lose momentum and the narration and it’ll be so much harder to pick back up. But I needed that break. It’s okay to take a break. The book will be there when you get back and if you’re serious about writing, you’ll go back to it.
I’m 40k words in, the beginning is always a huge hurdle and I’m almost half-way done, so there’s no reason for me to be scared that I can’t pick it back up.
We have to give ourselves permission to take a break when we need it. Burn outs and break downs are real and horrible and if you can see one coming before it hits, you should do whatever you have to to avoid it. We all need self-care and sometimes that means dealing with life while your imaginary friends take a seat and wait for you to come back.
Well. This isn’t quite where I thought this post was going to go, but there you have it. I’m nearly 20 books into the business, so I think I can safely say that each book is different, each book will ask different things of you and you just have to trust your gut with each one. Some will come hard and fast and you’ll never take a break because you’re just trying to keep up with the words yourself, and others will take their time and give you the space you need, you just have to let yourself take it.
It’s okay. You’re still a writer. Every book has its own process.
A couple weeks ago, Facebook offered to show me a video they’d made of my highlights for the last year. I was all, “Why would I want to revisit the shitshow that was 2016?”
No thank you.
Looking back over the last 12 months, it’s easier to find the lowlights than anything else. I mean, what can you say about the year Prince died? He started hitting big when I was a sophomore in college, and honestly, he was my 20s. Of all the celebrity deaths this year, he’s the only one who got me ugly crying.
Another reason for tears was the death of my good friend and critique partner, Amanda. She was only 35, she was in the middle of writing at least a couple books, and damn it, I know in my bones she wasn’t done yet.
I still catch myself composing emails to her.
And then there’s the national and international political scene. It’s hard not to absolutely panic when I think about it. This presidential election has brought a me number of firsts. Until this November, I’d never called a senator. I’ve never felt compelled to speak up about what I believe in or to get involved with the political process.
I’ve never prayed so hard for my country as I have in the last month.
Yeah. 2016. Good times.
Even though I have to dig a little deeper to find the bright spots, 2016 wasn’t all bad. Irene and I self-published Vespers and the holiday novella/sequel Bonfire, and readers have been very supportive, which is awesome. The husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary, and both our kids are becoming amazing young adults. After almost 20 years, my day job as a nurse practitioner is still satisfying.
Honestly, I have little to complain about.
And you know, there are a few things I’m looking forward to in 2017. Irene and I are already working on the next installment of our Hours of the Night series, and we’re hoping for a release date in late June or early July. The husband is planning another big and very cool home improvement project, which I’m excited about. And with a little perseverance, our oldest will graduate from high school this spring.
So yeah, there’s reason to hope that 2017 won’t be as bad as this year. New year, new beginning, blank slate, right? I’ve got family and good friends who support me, and an outlet for my creativity that continues to challenge me and force me to grow as a person and as a writer.
Just as important, as a cis/het, middle-class, white woman, I’m protected from most immediate threats brought on by the change in our government. However, if things go crazy politically, I’ve got the means, the resources, and hell, the responsibility to help others fight back.
Every so often, I just need to remind myself how very, very lucky I am.