Music Makes Me Write

We’ve all talked in the past about what kind of writing rituals we have, ones that we just enjoy to give ambiance to the experience and others that we have trained ourselves to use to make writing easier.

For me, I have my preference of when and where to write (mornings, in my office), but if I have to make adjustments to that (my office gets unbearably hot in the summer), I can adapt and write at different locations and times if I need to get my words in.

But my trained ritual is music. For every book, I take time to curate the start of a playlist–a soundtrack–for the book. I do try to get at least forty minutes of a playlist before I start so that it doesn’t start repeating on me too soon. But repeating is part of the magic of the right playlist too. Like the chanting refrain of a spell, hearing the same key songs again and again will help me get the story on the page.

If you get the music just right, it will conjure the characters and/or location of the book in you mind when you hear specific songs even outside of writing. Sometimes I even put one song on repeat for an hour because it has the magical words that are working when no others are.

I like to keep building on a list if a book is a series, so I can hear the different voices of the different characters in the cast. I also like to throw in some instrumental tracks to help when I’m building tension in different parts of the book.

I managed to get my Ash and Ruin Soundtrack up to two hours and forty-five minutes.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4TUKR4rCv8Av2k2rRqhxkd?si=Pj9bw5frSJmOi-s6WPE1aA

I can open that and am instantly transported back to my post-apocalyptic world teeming with black-cloaked monsters.

Surprisingly, my Wytchcraft playlist is shorter than my A&R soundtrack. I say surprising because that series is much longer, but that world is much smaller in a way as it’s not a journey story like A&R. And, while there is a cast of characters even bigger in this series, it really is mostly about my MC, Mattie, so the music is mostly for her and to be in her head.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3epr0YSBEjn7ccUvQgOfTA?si=CUIvy8fZQAq1BSUfNoX5hQ

I have shared that I also have a pen name, Leila Bryce Sin, and under that name I write completely different stories (coughcoughveryadultthemescoughcough). So I definitely make sure that music is different, but one theme you’ll find throughout my playlist is strong female voices. I love a good power ballad sung by a woman that I want to be for five minutes. It’s a special kind of storytelling and I fucking love it.

My Brimstone War Trilogy was set in Las Vegas so it needed music to evoke that special city for me and it featured a war between heaven and hell, so it needed a lot of angry music. It’s quite the hodgepodge, I know, but it worked for me through three intense books.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/142r4gSfvwqPwS0z7jeVGm?si=KxYY45UeSjWnloq64F2oRA

Now, I have two playlists that aren’t tied to any one book; they’re soundtracks I can go to no matter what book I’m writing and it’ll help unlock a door in my mind like no other playlist can. Sometimes you  just need intense emotions and music, pushing you forward as your characters run for their lives or fight to the death. Or the right creeping melody to help you curl your spine and sink into  the cushions, hoping to drag  your reader into the tense, scary darkness  you’re weaving.

Soundtracks: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5F26qJIXsZ87hIx2q62shz?si=ruUaORORRnKMJfjU6VwC2A

Instrumental: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/24uUYnObN6uUBZR4suO8Ig?si=EiL6GDS8Qmy6UX_RnrcoYA

You probably notice there are the same artists on the different lists, even some of the same songs, and that’s because those artists really speak to me. I do tend to write slightly damaged, a little bit angry women as my main characters, so a lot of the same songs work for all of them. Or for me. Whatever. The Pretty Reckless, Kaleo, Ellie Goulding, Halsey, and Florence and the Machine are some of my touchstones no matter what I’m writing. Finding those voices for yourself could really help you if you find yourself stuck in getting through tough scenes.

Personally I love to find new music. It’s something I’ve always loved since I started figuring out what music I like. I can spend whole days getting that playlist started before I put fingers to keys, creating the vibe and ambiance I want to portray in a story. Ritual really is the only word for it. So, I hope sharing some of these lists with you, helps you find new sounds and voices that help you with writing.

(P.S. I did have this all set up super cool where you could see the playlist in the post but for whatever reason, WordPress is being a complete butt. So if you can’t see the playlists, I’ve included links. Not nearly as cool, but what are you gonna do?)

What kind of reader are you?

It seems to me there are two kinds of readers. Those who MUST FINISH EVERY BOOK they start, and those who will drop a book like a hot tomato if they’re not impressed.

I’d hazard a guess that it’s impossible for one group to understand the other’s point a view. (lol)

I’m definitely in Camp Drop-it-if-it-sucks. Ouch. That sounds kinda harsh, but Camp Drop-it-if-it’s-not-working-for-you doesn’t have the same rhythm. And you know how I am about rhythm.

(Jump HERE if you want to read my post about rhythm in writing.)

This post was prompted by a chat I had recently. My friend Sheryl messaged me about a book she was reading, a contemporary romance where the author seriously misjudged how real life works. I don’t want to point fingers at any particular author, so let’s just say that most bands don’t make enough money for each member to have their own touring bus.

Even Mick & Keith have to share, y’all.

That’s the kind of error that would make me doubt every other word the author put on the page. It turns on my inner editor, and once she starts, there’s no way I’m going to be able to relax and enjoy the rest of the book.

Factual errors might be the biggest bump for me – like the book where the heroes went home to Canada in late November to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Um….Canadian Thanksgiving is in October.

Then there was the book where a character was supposed to be in a hospital on a ventilator and he had a conversation with another character. Can’t be done, but for some reason I kept reading that one and mostly enjoyed it.

I could come up with other examples, though to be honest, I’m guilty of a mistake or two myself. One of the reviews for my book Aqua Follies pointed out that Skip could not have worked at the Everett Boeing plant in 1955, because that site didn’t open until the late ’60s.

Oops.

My friend Sheryl says she’s going to finish the book that prompted our chat, because it’s one of a series and she wants to see it through. Others might say they want to finish out of respect for the author’s work, which I can’t really argue with.

Still, I pretty much adhere to Nancy Pearl’s Rule of Fifty. For those of you who haven’t heard of Nancy, she’s a librarian and best-selling author, and her book reviews on NPR have guided many readers for years. (Jump HERE to see all her books.)

Nancy’s Rule of Fifty goes something like this…

Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you’re really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you’re not, then put it down and look for another….And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you’re really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know.

The Globe & Mail, 2/4/11

Even better, she’s modified her rule for those of us over the age of 50. It’s a variation of “So many books, so little time” (Which is apparently a Frank Zappa quote. The things you learn on google!) If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100 and that’s the number of pages you get to read before deciding whether or not to put the book down.

By adhering to this rule, I mean no disrespect to authors. If you start one of my books and it’s not working for you, you have my permission to put it down and pick up something else. Scan the Amazon or Goodreads reviews for any book, and you’ll see a range of opinions. The same book might get 5-star reviews from some and 1-star reviews from others.

Reading should be fun and moving, and it should feed your soul. I mean, it motivated Sheryl to message me because she cared enough about the book to want to talk about it.

Life’s too short to read past page 42 if the book’s a clunker. One person’s clunker is another’s lifetime top ten.

Which type of reader are you?

Using current events in fiction.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Pandemic. Lockdown. Quarantine. Protest.
#BlackLivesMatter. #DefundThePolice. #WearAMask.

Think back to the Before Times – you know, like last February. Did any of these terms and hashtags resonate? #BlackLivesMatter is the only one I’d heard of, but now we have this whole new vocabulary.

And it’s….awkward.

I know many authors are struggling to get words on the page, and others who are no longer struggling, because they’ve given up. It’s just too hard to tap into their creativity when it feels like the world is falling in around them. I’ve also seen debates on social media about the appropriateness of writing quickie quarantine romances to try to capitalize on our new reality.

Kinda gives the “forced proximity” trope a whole different spin.

For discussion’s sake, let’s say you do have the spoons to write, but you’re wondering how much of our current quagmire should make it on the page. As a first step, it might be worth considering what people want to read. Maybe they do want that quickie quarantine romance. Or maybe they want Shauna’s fantastic dystopian Ash & Ruin series or any of the books on this Goodreads list of Current Events Fiction.

Or maybe they want something as far from reality as possible. (How ’bout hot&naughty elves? Kasia Bacon‘s Order series – starting with The Mutt – is a whole lot of fun.)

But, some of you might say, if I write about current events, my book might soon feel dated or people will forget what happened. Those are valid points, but I like this rebuttal by Brandi Reissenweber in an article from The Writer Magazine:

Keep them (current events) fresh and meaningful long after they’ve passed in the same way you keep any events in your fiction fresh and meaningful: Lash them with urgency to the experience of one or more characters.

For example, I found one of the best descriptions of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in Royal Street, the first book in Suzanne Johnson‘s Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. Not only did the author nail the details – she lived in NOLA during Katrina – but her characters had a life or death stake in the events, which made for a real page-turner.

One thing to consider, though, is that Royal Street was published in 2012, about seven years after Katrina. I’ve never asked, but I’d imagine it took Suzanne some time to organize her reactions to the disaster in a way that made sense. In a WaPo article that speculates on what post-pandemic fiction will look like, Chris Bohjalian makes a useful comparison with post-9/11 fiction. He points out that it was 2005 before the serious novels dealing with 9/11 began to be published.

….it took novelists a little more time to shape the nightmare into a story. After all, how do you make something up when the truth is so unspeakable? So wrenching?

Good questions.

The pandemic, with the horrific costs associated with it, is at least as profound an event as 9/11, with arguably greater consequences. The concurrent shifting social paradigms around race and racism are equally significant, though I’d caution all writers who want to explore those issues to make sure the story is theirs to tell. It’s going to take years for creatives to wrap their arms around this phase in our history, and there may be some who’ll never be able to revisit this time, even in fiction.

Is there territory between a quickie something-something that grabs the headlines and runs, and a deep and thoughtful examination of our lived experience? I’d argue that there is. One of the series I’m co-writing with Irene Preston features a character who used to be a cop but quit the force. In part because of that character, I’ve made an effort to read about the whole #DefundThePolice movement and those ideas are definitely influencing his backstory.

Times are hard, and I’ve got it better than most. The stress, the isolation, and the endless conflict have to color what we’re able to create, if not squash our creativity all together. Take care. Be gentle with yourself. Use the grist of these days in any way that makes sense to you.

And wash your hands.

(In his WaPo article, Chris Bohjalian mentions several books on 9/11 that he considered “important”. Here’s another link to the article in case you’re curious.)

Dreams Come True Even During a Pandemic!

In my last Spellbound Scribes post, I wrote about things that I am going to put on my vision board. Since then, I’ve done some Photoshopping, but I haven’t even printed the photos much less put the board up yet….and one thing has come true and another is getting really close!

Just to draw out the tension, the one that is close to happening is winning the Launchpad Manuscript Contest, which is a book-to-move contest. Daughter of Destiny is in the Top 25! They will announce the Top 10 June 30 and the three winners (and other prizes) July 16. Any good vibes you want to send are much appreciated.

Okay, on to the big news…. I HAVE AN AGENT!!

I signed with Amy Collins of Talcott Notch Literary last week! She is immediately representing the two books I’m working on now (the Minor biography and a historical fiction I’m not ready to talk about yet). Here’s the official announcement.

I’ve known Amy for a few years. We first met when she presented on marketing to the Saturday Writers chapter of the Missouri Writer’s Guild. We really hit it off during the presentation (I’m Hermionie Granger, so teachers and presenters usually love me because they know I am engaged) and through conversation at lunch afterwards. We stayed in touch online and I saw her present again maybe a year or two later at the St. Louis Publisher’s Association. Amy also hosted a lot of online workshops that I attended so were were in contact that way as well as on social media, and became friends.

I knew she was a huge fan and champion of my books, but what I didn’t know was that she was also an international rights agent. When she became a full U.S. agent earlier this month, she called me and asked if I was considering traditional publishing and if I would think about becoming her client. Why, yes, I was! We talked, I asked questions, and sent her what I have been working on. She loved it and needless to say, I said yes! (Never underestimate the power of networking…not that I could have ever predicted this.)

I really, really like Amy and she has a great reputation in the industry and in marketing, so I’m really looking forward to working with her. We’re a great personality fit and what she represents is right in my wheelhouse, so I am predicting a long and fruitful relationship with many, many book sales!

With Amy on my team, I’m officially on the come up! (I love that phrase and if you haven’t read the book by Angie Thomas of the same title, please do. It is amazing!)

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.

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.)

Writing outside my lane

Image from Unsplash.

So I did something sneaky. In this year’s New Years Resolution post, I only listed ONE action item:

I hereby resolve to use my planner.

When it comes to the planner, so far so good. The “sneaky” part comes from what I didn’t say, the one or two other ideas I didn’t share.

For instance, I vowed to take a writing class, something I’d have to commit to and that I’d learn from. I kept that resolution secret, a little something just between me and my laptop because I didn’t have a firm plan at New Years. In early January, however, I stumbled over something good.

I found Writing the Other: Deep Dive into Diverse Characters, which is a month-long class given by Nisi Shawl, Tempest Bradford, and Piper J. Drake.

The foundation for this course is the book Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl. (I’ve linked to Amazon but it’s available from B&N and the publisher as well.) The course teaches character development through a framework that strives to avoid stereotypes and offensive characterizations when working with characters of different gender, race, &/or orientation.

Here’s a bit from the course description:

Representation is fundamental to writing great fiction. Creating characters that reflect of the diversity of the world we all live in is important for all writers and creators of fictional narratives. But writers often find it difficult to represent people whose gender, sexual orientation, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity is very different from their own. This can lead to fear of getting it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and, in the face of that, some think it’s better to not even try.

But representation is too important to ignore. And it is possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. This four week course will provide authors  with a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.

I’m sharing all of this both because I’ve learned a lot so far and because growing my skill at writing outside my own experience is a crucial part of my development. I’ve published nine novels/novellas with gay or queer protagonists, so I’m working outside my lane all the damned time. I need to make sure I’m not stepping on people’s toes – or damaging their sense of self – when I do.

We’re only halfway through the class, and so far I have a couple of take-homes. First, I think some – possibly younger – people are a lot more comfortable with labels than I am. In the course introduction, we were asked to share how we fit the dominant paradigm and where we differed from it.

All my intro said was “I am the dominant paradigm.”

I’m a cis-het white woman with no chronic health or emotional issues. I’m neurotypical and I’ve never I experimented with alternative lifestyles or genders. Compared with most of the other intros, mine was SHORT.

Having the language to identify yourself as queer or neurodivergent and the comfort level to share ongoing mental health challenges is a truly beautiful change in our culture. I grew up with a much more limited vocabulary:

You were straight or (whispers) gay, a boy or a girl, and if you felt bad you went to a therapist but you damned well didn’t talk about it.

My theory – based on observation alone – is that it’s a generational thing, but I could be wrong. Either way, I count it as progress.

The other take-home from the course has to do with the how of it. How does an author avoid creating hurtful characters?

Do your homework.
Ask yourself honestly if you’re the best person to write this story.
Diversity is important, but I’d be very careful of writing a PoC character where the story was about their experience as a PoC. You’re not here to save anyone.
Get to know people who belong to the group you’re drawing from.
Read and research, looking specifically for works created by group members, not by others writing “authoritatively” about them.

Hire a sensitivity reader.
Although it’s not one person’s job to speak for the many, a good sensitivity reader can help you avoid the most obvious pitfalls.

Respond to feedback with an apology and a promise to change.
Because you’ll make mistakes. I sure as hell have. In one of her comments, Tempest said their goal is harm reduction, and that’s about all I can hope for.

Taking this course has slowed down my word-count, but it’s time well spent. I choose to write outside my lane for a complex mix of reasons, but since I’ve made this choice, I want to do the very best job I can.

I don’t want people hurt by the stories that come from my heart.

Here’s another link to the Writing the Other website. In addition to the Deep Dive course, they have a number of different offerings that I encourage you to check out.

Silence Hurts

As a rule, I stay out of the comments. You know, the chunks of opinion that follow most on-line articles, left by concerned and thoughtful citizens.

Or by trolls.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

Over the last month, I’ve generalized that “no comments” standard to the active forums on the RWA website. (RWA = Romance Writers of America, one of the largest writer’s organizations in the country.)

See, exactly one month ago today, on 12/23/19, RWA censured & suspended author Courtney Milan, charging her with ethics violations and suspending her membership for a year. They also banned her from ever again holding a leadership position in the organization.

Now, some backstory…

Courtney has a long history with RWA. She’s a past board member, and at the time the ethics complaints against her were filed, she was the head of the ethics committee. She also received an award at last year’s national conference for the work she’d done promoting diversity in the organization.

She also has a huge social media following, and if the RWA board thought they could drop their little bombshell and sneak away for the holidays without anyone noticing, they were…um…wrong.

To say the shit hit the fan might be one of the biggest understatements of all time.

The board said that Courtney had violated RWAs standards by calling out a 20 year old book as a “fucking racist mess”. They said her critique caused the other author to lose a book contract, which simplifies things a great deal and is also simply wrong.

For a hit-by-hit look at how this last month has gone down, Claire Ryan has put together a timeline that is absolutely worth the read. For a nuanced look at why this has all happened, Kelly Faircloth’s article at Jezebel is a good source.

The underlying issue is racism, something RWA has been wrestling with for the last several years. (In April of 2018 I blogged about the #ritasowhite kerfufle involving the RITA Awards, RWA’s version of the Oscars. At the time, no black authors had ever won a RITA.) The RWA Board that took over in September ’19 was the most diverse in the organization’s history, which a lot of us took as a good sign. Progress made. Go us.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Which brings me back to the forums. They’re a mechanism for discussion, a private place where RWA members can exchange views. Things can get pretty heated, and whether intentional or not, a number of my RWA colleagues have let their racist flags fly.

It’s a testament to my own privilege that I was able to say, “nope, not looking” when I started to hear how awful some of the comments were.

It’s also a testament to my privilege that I can say “yeah, don’t need ’em” and plan to let my membership lapse.

I’ve spent the last two years as treasurer for the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA, an on-line chapter that supports writers of diverse romance in learning their craft and in having a place to network. Our membership is predominately white, and while the board wanted to give queer authors of color a safe place, I’m not sure how close we came to accomplishing that goal.

Wrestling with my own internalized racism is difficult, whether in the context of a wider organization or in my daily life. I could have followed those forum conversations and added my voice to the chorus of people who were willing to take a stand and call out those who were being shitty.

Instead, I’m writing a blog post. Again. Encouraging you all to look for books by diverse authors to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. To speak out.

I’m listening.

(Here’s a link to the WOC Romance website book list to get you started.)

Writing with Anxiety

It has taken me over twenty five hours to finally write this post. The beginning of 2020 has been quite stressful for my household, especially after we thought this month, this new year, was going to be the start of a better year. We were confident that we were going to start this year feeling good, more secure, like the ground under our feet was going to stop shifting. Turns out, we were wrong. I think everything is going to be okay, but this past week has been particularly hard for us. Lots of surprises we weren’t prepared for and we had to make some difficult adjustments to make things work. Plans had to change. Things aren’t starting off how we wanted.

So yesterday, when I sat down to write this post, things hadn’t yet resolved themselves and I was actually shaking with anxiety. My body felt like I was vibrating. I was sitting through my own personal earthquake and the ground wouldn’t settle.

Monday I’d started the day off feeling pretty secure. Those surprises hadn’t hit yet. So I was feeling pretty good about getting back to the novel I’d started during NaNo. I’d taken the holidays off and given myself time to think about the book and where it was going. I’d written to the end of the outline I’d had done and knew I couldn’t move forward until I finished the outline or, at least, gotten a few more chapters outlined. I finished reading the first 50k words and felt a lot better about how the book was shaping up, realizing it wasn’t as meandering and stretched out as I thought. Tuesdays morning I outlined two chapters.

I know two chapters doesn’t sound like a lot, but I outline in long form, by hand.

See? That takes a toll on my hands nowadays. I don’t know how I used to outline five chapters in a day without my hand killing me. But anyway. I was really happy with my new progress. I thought, hell, if I can outline two chapters a day, in five days I’ll have ten chapters ready to write!

Then new surprises exploded in our email and what we thought was going to be a calm month turned into panic and uncertainty. My stomach knotted up and I couldn’t focus on work anymore. I’d have to be okay with those two chapters while I tried to deal with new issues. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t really focus on anything. I couldn’t calm down. I looked calm. Oh, I can look calm like the best of them. But inside? My heart is palpating. My breath isn’t smooth. My arms feel like they’re shaking. It’s like I’m really fucking cold and can’t stop shivering. But you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I can go through the motions like a champ.

I knew things wouldn’t be settled until late morning Wednesday. And, until that happened, my anxiety brain would not calm down. Anxiety is like having nervous cat living inside you. You can try to calm it, give it warmth, sustenance, a place to curl up and relax, but any small movement, any unfamiliar noise, and you set it off and its claws are in the curtains and it is spitting and hissing without warning.

I had work to do though, work I couldn’t ignore. I had a client in the morning and I needed to get this post written. Having someone face-to-face was helpful because I had to deal with them and couldn’t dwell, waiting for news that the ground wasn’t moving anymore. But as soon as they were gone, I was left in the quiet and that cat was shaking and growling low.

Write my post. That’ll help. But no. I sat at my desk and stared, my arms still trembling and feeling like I was sitting in a freezer. Just waiting for a phone call that would tell me if things were gonna be semi okay and not just all out terrible. We were hoping the month was going to be good and now I was praying for semi okay.

I couldn’t write my post. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I actually wanted to post about NaNo and what to do now, but I couldn’t think of what I wanted to say. I looked at my outline and wanted to get the next chapter done. I couldn’t. The characters couldn’t be heard over the growling cat. I was stuck in an anxiety trap. My mind wasn’t racing like it will when I try to go to sleep. I wasn’t thinking of all the disastrous things that could and might happen—though any time something showed up in my email I assumed the worst. I wasn’t crying or balled into a corner. I was just sitting here, right where I am now, and trembling. Waiting.

Anxiety is a monster that can do many things. It can steal your energy. It can steal your happiness. It can make you angry or sad or panicked. Anxiety demands attention like a bank robber with a gun. And even if your rational brain is telling you things are going to be okay and you work things out in your head, anxiety can hold on, claws sunk so deep there’s no pulling them out until the cat is ready to retract.

But now, here I am, nearly 1000 words into this post, and no longer shaking. Things are different than what I hoped and expected in the beginning of the month, but we’re semi okay and I can suddenly move my fingers on the keys and think about this post. And my outline is waiting for me and my characters are still there, ready when I am.

I used to be a write every day kind of person, only taking one or two days off on the weekends. I was terrified of losing momentum once I started writing a book. If I took too much time off, I was scared I’d struggle to start again. And you know what? I was right. It is very, very hard to start back up. And shit like this week happens that totally derails me and I think, if only I’d been working I’d be further along than where I am and wouldn’t feel so shitty about being derailed. But it’s okay. The words will always be there when you’re ready and able to come back. It took me a long, long time to reconcile that in my head. The write like you’re afraid you’ll die before you finish served me really well these last few years, but now, things have changed and so have I. My anxiety is actually a lot worse than it used to be and I’m having to always learn how to listen to it, deal with it, and adjust for it.

If you need the break because you don’t have a choice because that cat’s claws are sunk so deep you’ll just shred yourself trying to remove them, just wait. Let the cat calm down and retract the claws. Your characters, your words, your abilities will still be there when you come back. Not everyone can work in chaos and despair, not everyone’s art flourishes in the dark, and that’s okay. Wait for the sun.

And, if you suffer from anxiety, and reading this post triggered you, let me leave with you a picture of adorable sleeping pups, using the same pillow to try to calm you back down. I highly recommend a cuddly pet if you have anxiety, btw.

It’s that time of year… #NewYearsResolution

So, I’ve got a funny story for you. You know last December, when my Scribes post listed all the things I meant to accomplish in 2019? I can proudly report that…

I might not have done so well.

Or at least I’ve been telling myself I didn’t accomplish much. Getting ready for this post, though, I looked over the list from last year – you can find it here if you’re curious – and I didn’t entirely suck.

  1. I didn’t write another book for my agent to send out on submission, but I did self-publish Lost & Found (previously known as L’Ami Mysteriuex), so I get partial credit for this one.
  2. Last January I’d written ~ 1120 #PostcardsToVoters, and today I’m at ~ 1850, which means I’ve averaged ~ 15 postcards per week. My goal was 20. Close enough.
  3. I said I’d spend 15 minutes a day teaching myself French.
    HAHAHAHA.
  4. I meant to write another Trevor story. He’s the hero in The Clockwork Monk & The Christmas Prince (which is still a free download for the next week or so), and while he’ll get another story, it didn’t happen this year.
  5. Next was rewriting the Creepy Doll story. Funny thing, that. I started a rewrite, changing the time period from 1940 to 1900. Then I cut the vampire. Then I moved the location from New Orleans to Seattle. Then…uh…I cut the doll. And then I had to admit I was writing an entirely different book, but it was my NaNo project and I’m about 10k words shy of finishing the first draft.
  6. I promised to keep my senators on speed dial, and I have.
  7. I didn’t get back into Weight Watchers, but I’ve been going to a weekly spin class and taking yoga a couple times of week, so I’m going to count this as a win, too.

Looking back, there were only two resolutions I really did no work towards (and yes, Babbel, I’m looking at you). Here I thought I was going to write a 500-word mea culpa, but in reality, I did pretty good.

Go me!

Now I guess I should figure out what to do to capitalize on this success. A clever person might make another list of resolutions and since I’m nothing if not clever, here goes…

  1. I hereby resolve to use my planner.

Guess you could say I’m aiming to quit while I’m ahead. I do have a mental list of what I want to accomplish, and tbh, using a planner is a pretty big step that will allow me to translate my mental list to action. I’ll let you know how it goes!

I hope your holidays were happy, however you chose to celebrate. Thank you so much for reading along!!