How to Stay Sane on Deadline

Here’s a fun fact most of you probably already know about me–I’m a champion procrastinator. I developed a knack for procrastination in high school, then majored in it in college, pulling papers and midterms and finals out of my you-know-what like it was my job. Sure, cramming sucks, but doing things ahead of time like a responsible human means you have to give up essential pastimes like reading, watching TV, spending hours on YouTube, going down Wikipedia research holes, and googling infinity Nic Cage gifs.

Procrastinators, you know what I’m talking about.

But here’s another fun fact: you can’t write and edit an entire book in one night. As a writer, I’ve had to learn to actually manage my time to some degree. But no matter how good I am with my time, it never seems like enough, and when deadlines come knocking, it always feels like a mad rush to get things done. As I fight through that latest push, here are my tips on surviving any deadline with sanity intact.

Don’t stop moving! It can be really tempting to plunk your butt in your chair and glue your face to the screen and stay that way until…whenever your thing is due. But try sticking to whatever your normal workout routine may be–exercise has been proven to raise endorphins, lower stress, and improve sleep (even if that doesn’t happen until 3 am). If a sweat sesh isn’t in the cards, taking a break for a five minute walk, a quick stretch, or a few jumping jacks will bring blood flow to your brain and improve concentration.

Put things in perspective. I have a pretty vivid imagination, which means when my anxiety gets out of control I start picturing really extreme worst-case-scenarios that are totally unrealistic. Sometimes, thinking through the real-world consequences can be calming. If I don’t turn in my manuscript on time, will I die? Nope. Will a surprise meteor destroy life on Earth? Doubtful. If you can’t talk yourself down from a cliff, try to figure out who will. My husband and my literary agent are both pretty practical people. Now, whenever I start to spiral I’ve learned to reach out to them for realistic advice and feet-on-the ground guidance.

Separately yourself from distractions…by force if necessary. So y’all know about my smartphone addiction. Add to that a seasoned procrastinator’s ability to turn anything into a distraction, including but not limited to Netflix, Hulu, Wikipedia, Buzzfeed, E! News, etc. I’ve now downloaded apps to my phone, my laptop, and my desktop computer that separate me from my addictions. Figure out what your fix is, and nix it.

Stay fueled, but be smart about it. Snacks and beverages and regular meals are a must. But as someone who has done their fair share of bingeing on coffee and Trader Joe’s Key Lime Tea Cookies while on deadline, I cannot recommend it. Sugary drinks, treats, and caffeine might feel like boosts in the moment, but once the roller coaster goes the other way you’ll inevitably start to feel worse. Healthier fuel, like fruit, popcorn, sparkling water, and the occasional square of dark chocolate will serve you better in the end!

Take breaks. This one is really hard for me. When I’m on deadline I tend to feel a lot of guilt for “neglecting” my work. But I’ve learned that taking genuine breaks (not #3 breaks) does wonders for my productivity. Just make sure it’s relaxing, reviving, or reinvigorating. My favorites are a brisk walk with the dog, a bubble bath, or a few chapters of a book outside my genre (I’m partial to Regency romance!)

Give yourself a break. You’re doing something impressive and amazing and hard! Don’t forget everything you’ve accomplished, are accomplishing, and will accomplish. Be kind to yourself–you deserve it.

You can do this! I promise.

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Adventures in Research

Yes, that title is a takeoff of the 1987 movie Adventures in Babysitting. I have totally just dated myself, but high five to anyone who has seen it.

Ahem. I’m currently working on several non-fiction book proposals (two books on women’s suffrage in the U.S. and a biography) and so I’ve been doing a lot of research. Today I thought I’d share some of the cooler experiences this has brought about.

One thing you need to know first is that one of my all-time favorite books is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. It takes place in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the main character, Diana, is an academic researcher.

From the TV version of A Discovery of Witches, which premieres today in the U.S. This is Diana in the Bodleian (yes, it really looks like that). Note the clear plastic book cradle and the white cord-like weights on each side of her.

Over the holidays I had my first experience with archival research at Washington University in St. Louis and at the Missouri Historical Society library (also in St. Louis). At Wash U, I worked with a book cradle (which is just a foam thing that holds the book while you are reading) for the first time and weighted cords that keep the book open (I didn’t end up needing those). I felt like a real researcher, even though what I read wasn’t centuries old; it was just a dissertation from 1965.

The special collections room at the Olin Library at Washington University in St. Louis
The dissertation I was reading on its cradle.

But even cooler was my experience at the Missouri Historical Society Museum. There, I totally felt like Diana Bishop. I had to surrender all my personal belongings into a locker and I could only either type my notes or write in pencil. They wouldn’t let me take pictures of the documents, but I was able to get a few of the room:

One part of the reading room of the Missouri Historical Society Library.

There, I got to:

  • Hold in my hand record books from the Civil War, hand-written by the husband of the woman I’m writing about. It was so crazy to trace his actual handwriting with my fingers. He was a claims agent so the books listed every pension/pay claim by a solider’s widow or orphan that he processed. I only looked at one book out of seven (that was all I needed for my purposes), but I bet each book listed at least 1,000 names. It was also sobering to think of the scale of the loss. Being able to touch history like that really brings it to life.
This isn’t the document, but it is similar.
  • Read the letter he wrote to the Historical Society bequeathing the books to them (Not a copy; the actual letter. It was tucked in the back of one of the books.)
  • Trace him and his wife as they moved around St. Louis over a 40-year period using old city directories (I guess they preceded phone books). I really felt like I was stalking them the old fashioned way, you know, before Google. It was also cool to see the city grow in size just by watching the directories get thicker each year.
  • BONUS: I also found the address for Victoria Woodhull’s second husband right around the time the two met. No records for Victoria, but that isn’t surprising since she was doing business under an assumed name anyway.

I’ll be going back to Wash U soon to finish the section of the dissertation I didn’t get to. Then in June I’ll be visiting the University of Virginia archives in Charlottesville to try to get a hold of their family papers for this couple. Who know what adventures that will bring?!!

I wish I could find the words for how cool it is to experience history in a whole new way with this type of original documentation. Awe and speechlessness are the only ones coming to mind. But it is more than that; there is an emotional component, a connection to the past that you feel in your heart. It’s totally different than seeing a picture/photocopy/scan or reading a book where the author describes the document. This may sound odd, but there is an element of humanity that lingers in those original documents, one you can feel.

If you ever get the chance to visit your local historical society, do it. Mine had really cool stuff like a whole series of books listing soldiers during the Civil War and others just on marriages in Virginia or New York (or another state. I think they had those for most states). I would imagine you could really slay genealogical research at a place like that. And they had two types of card catalogs, the one like we had when I was little and then a bigger one that didn’t list books, but rather was almost like researcher’s notes; snippets of information. Kind of like hyperlinks on the web, but physical.

In case you forgot what a card catalog looks like. Source: Adobe Stock.

I love having the ability to view documents online (like census records and old newspapers) because that is great when you can’t view them in person. But when you can it’s an experience like no other. I think if more people were given the opportunity to touch a piece of history (especially as kids), they would have more appreciation for it and for those who lived before us.

Date Last Modified

November 30th you logged into the NaNoWriMo website and verified your 50k words to win the damn thing. And it felt good, right? To see that massive word count concurred in just a few weeks. That was a great feeling, both of accomplishment and relief.

Until.

It hits you.

The book isn’t finished.

Now, if you went into NaNo with a couple tens of thousands of words, winning NaNo might’ve meant finishing your book. Or if you were writing a Middle Grade book, that sucker is probably done. But if you didn’t and if you weren’t, rest assured, that book ain’t done.

50k does not make most books, I’m sorry to say. You’d see far less writers ripping out their hair, staring dead-eyed at Twitter, and drowning in coffee if it did.

The one bad set up of NaNo is the holidays come right after. December is often a whirlwind for most folks, trying to get things done, seeing family more than ever, friends and food and stress and cold and all the things. And maybe you told yourself it was okay to take a short break after such a big accomplishment. And you told yourself that’s okay because look! You wrote so much and have far less to finish, so you can get back to it totes easy. No worries.

Then New Years comes along and you realize the date last modified on your manuscript is 11/30/18. And all those warm fuzzy feelings of accomplishment and relief are but a memory.

Trust me, kid, we’ve all been there.

But that doesn’t mean anything. It really doesn’t. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it doesn’t mean the book won’t ever get done, it doesn’t mean anything. It just means it’s time to pick back up where you left off and finish the damn thing. The good news (or maybe bad news?) is, there’s no countdown clock watching your progress now and you don’t have to do the next 50k or so words by January 30th. Of course, you now know you could, if you wanted.

So, cue up your playlist, fix yourself a nice cuppa, and put those fingers to the keys and hit your daily goal.

Now, for the rest of you. You know who you are: the ones who won your first NaNo, didn’t give up in December and finished your first draft and are so freaking ready to start querying this month.

Stop it.

Don’t.

Close that email and back away.

A first draft is never, ever ready for the slush. Do not burn bridges with agents by sending out queries premature. And if you’re going the self-publishing route, back away from KDP and BN Press and abort that upload. A first draft is not ready for that either.

When I finish a first draft I give myself a week at minimum and up to a month away from the book. I don’t look at it, I don’t print it, I don’t actively think about it (sometimes those thoughts sneak in though and usually for a good reason). Then I go back and read the whole thing from start to finish, making notes as I go, picking up on dropped plot threads, plot holes, inconsistencies, etc.

Then I make the changes I’ve noted. Or, worst case scenario, the total rewrite or massive edits.

Then I read it again. Yup, I get three drafts done before my editor or beta readers get it. And once they’re done, that means five drafts before I’ll call it finished. Sometimes more.

Your book isn’t ready. But it will be. You just can’t rush it. Rush that first draft, get that shit on the page, get it done. But now comes the work. Now comes the real book. Now comes the gold. Your work is worth the work. Do it.

Now comes the shameless self-promotion. If you’re a newbie writer and don’t have a circle of writer buddies you can go to for beta reading or content editing, I do offer both services and I do have some openings, so feel free to go to my website, have a browse, and hit me up. If you mention this post, I’ll give you 10% off!

Starting Fresh

I know, I know, fellow Scribe Liv just wrote a post about New Year’s resolutions. But it’s that time of year when we all look back on the old year and welcome in the new, and I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflection on the things that have served me that I want to welcome along with me, and how to say goodbye to the things that didn’t.

2018 was a big year for me! Most notably, it was my publishing debut year. That came with a lot of incredible firsts for me. My first glimpse of the cover artwork for my book, which coincided with another big landmark–my 30th birthday! I signed nearly twenty thousand copies of the book for a total of six (!!!) different book subscription boxes, and then had to keep that fact a secret for nearly six months. I got my first trade reviews, including my first run in with the dreaded Kirkus monster. I got my first glowing peer reviews, and then I got my first scathing peer review. I corresponded with my first “fans.” I tried to ignore being tagged on social media for one-star reviews.

I laughed. I cried. I tasted each sugary high and bitter low and tried to savor them both, because they were all part of this crazy dream coming true at last. But now–just over one month after release–I’m looking into 2019 with a few new intentions, while also trying to bid farewell to a few old habits that are no longer serving me.

Overcoming the sophomore novel slump. Oh, friends. Let me tell you, the sophomore jinx is real. I’m not allowed to give any details about the book I’m writing yet, but I will say that it is breaking me. I was warned about this by friends, fellow writers, even my agent, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t believe them. “But I’ve written five-full length novels before!” I said, carefree and cocksure. “How could this be any different?”

Well, it feels super different. But I plan to keep reminding myself that this book begins with a first line, and ends with a last. I’m the same person who wrote my debut and all those other books before it, and that means that I’ve only gotten better than before. I have to keep trusting myself and my writerly instincts, and putting in the work until the thing is done.

Breaking up with my phone. Hi, I’m Lyra, and I’m an addict. It’s gotten pretty bad, people. I feel like I’m constantly reaching for my phone in every spare moment, scrolling mindlessly through my social media feeds or swiping dully at Candy Crush or some other dumb games. I really really want to cut down on phone time, so if anyone has any genius tips or apps (ironic, I know) to help cut the proverbial cord, let me know!

Inviting more ambient creativity into my life. Somehow, along the journey of turning my writing into a profession, I forgot how to create for fun. I used to draw, and sing, and write bad poetry, and read for pleasure. Now it seems like I’m either grimly plugging away at a book or story I’m trying to sell, or dicking around on my phone (see above) while watching Netflix. I want to pick up a pencil and doodle. I want to journal again. I want to try my hand at a Bob Ross tutorial. I want to join a choir. I want to write something no one else will ever see, in long-hand.

Sometimes I feel like by becoming a writer, I opened a front door of creativity but then closed all the windows. I want to open those windows again, to let some of that light back in.

What are your intentions or resolutions for the New Year? Let me know!


Ready for a new one! (#NewYearsResolutions)

Remember 2016? We all thought it was the worst year ever because Prince and Bowie both died, and oh yeah, the election. LOL, remember?

(As an interesting aside, I now know there’s such a thing as Prince Rogers Nelson fanfic. That’s….wild.)

Then came 2017. From Inauguration Day on, that year made a beeline to the top of the Worst Year Ever category. (For some of us, anyway.) So obviously 2018 decided to blow up that category and remake it in its own awful image. I didn’t start last January with a whole lot of hope, but wow, I can barely stand to read the headlines anymore.

I’d say we were living through positive proof that you can’t run the country – or the world – like a reality TV show.

Yet….and yet…here I sit, on the cusp of 2019. While I’m not exactly optimistic, I’m ready to make plans, and blogging a list of resolutions makes them that much more real.

You’ll hold me to them, won’t you?

Some of my resolutions have to do with writing, others with life. About the only thing I can promise is that they’ll be concrete and measurable and not dependent on others. For example, it does me no good to put “end government shut-down” on my list of resolutions, because that’s not something I can do on my own. However, I can call my senators and ask them to end it. See the difference?

So here, in no discernible order, is my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2019. ..

  1. I will write another book for my agent to send out on submission. She currently has L’Ami Mysterieux (m/m romance set in 1920 Paris) out with a few editors and we’re hopeful it’ll get an offer. If it does, that’ll re-jigger my list of goals, but that’s a good thing.
  2. I will continue to write about 20 postcards a week for #postcardstovoters. I started writing postcards a little over a year ago, and had written more than 1000 by the midterm elections. Then I went to a protest and met someone who’d written over 4000….wow…
  3. I will spend 10-15 minutes a day working on my French with Babbel. I started this last January, working with DuoLingo, but I sorta ran out of steam in about October. If I start working on a sequel to L’Ami Mysterieux, it’ll be helpful to have better French skills.
  4. I will write another installment in The Clockwork Monk & Other Stories. Monk has been a free download for a couple years now, and this fall I wrote a holiday novella sequel. Readers like the world and I like the characters, so it’s time for a full-length story – or at least something longer than 20k words.
  5. I will re-write the Creepy Doll story. Creepy Doll is a solo Halloween story set in the Hours of the Night world I write with my friend Irene Preston. We’ve been on something of a hiatus, so in the interest of only setting goals that fall within my control, I’m not making any promises about our other works-in-progress. I’m optimistic the wheels are starting to turn, though, and if/when we get back to work, this whole list gets blown up.
  6. I will keep Senators Murray & Cantwell on speed-dial, and contact them at least monthly. Even if we were to all wake up tomorrow and find our government back on track, with single-payer healthcare and sane immigration policies, I’d still want to be a bee in their bonnets. If there’s anything I’ve learned since November, 2016, it’s not to take our democracy for granted.
  7. I will climb back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon, because chocolate-drizzled popcorn for breakfast shouldn’t be a thing. Promising to lose weight is the biggest New Years Resolution cliche of them all, so all I’m promising is that I’ll show up at a meeting. Making healthier choices is a life-long process, and sometimes it’s good to have a little help.

Seven seems like a pretty good number to start the year off. I like that they’re all manageable, and that they build off things I’ve already accomplished. I don’t do well with uncertainty, so having this list – even though it may change radically over the next few months – makes me feel better. So, yeah. Happy New Year to me!

Do you make New Years Resolutions? What’s on your list?

The Importance of Self-Care for Writers

So this week’s post is coming to you a little late thanks to a mild injury delay.

Yesterday, as I was doing something as simple as brushing my hair up into a ponytail, I felt one of my upper rips slip out of place. 

I know, sounds super weird right? If it’s not something you’ve ever done it probably sounds bad. But it’s not as bad as it sounds and yet is still pretty painful. Our upper ribs are in a pretty shallow divot in our spines so it’s pretty easy for them to slip out. If you’ve ever felt the ache of a joint that needs to pop, it’s like that, only you can’t really pop it. Sure you could use a foam roller or twist this way and that to try to crack your back, but that’s not really the same thing as being out of alignment and fixing yourself. You really need a professional for that.

As writers–and office workers–we’re facing a keyboard, hands forward, shoulders rounding, for hours. Yes, we do try to be conscious of posture and we all know to get up from time to time and stretch and walk around, but not everyone is very good about that *cough*.

Even me. I’m married to a personal trainer, I know that back problems run in my family, so I am very conscious of my back and taking care of it and exercising regularly. But once, a couple of years ago, after marathon weeks of writing, I was bent over, pulling something heavy out of my oven and I felt a sharp pain in my upper back. When I stood up, I couldn’t take a full breath without feeling a white hot shot of pain near my shoulder blade. I’d slipped a rib.

It’s easy enough to get fixed, you just go to a professional chiropractor and get adjusted and everything realigned. It’s still gonna be sore for a day or two but you better hope they can see you quick if you ever do it. Sitting around with this isn’t comfy. It feels like someone is pushing on your back and every deep breath is painful so you have to hope you don’t sneeze or yawn. Yeah, you just yawned. When it happens, you want it fixed immediately, even if that’s unreasonable.

You know I participated in NaNo this year and if you’ve been following my posts you know I had taken a long break from writing before that so after NaNo I knew I needed to go in to be adjusted because I could just feel my back tensing, I had some knots I couldn’t work out, and it was just time. 

But I put it off.

And yesterday my rib slipped out doing something so routine and simple.

So I couldn’t sit at my desk to write a post. I couldn’t pour over my outline that I was determined to work on. I swore like a sailor every time I sneezed as I waited for my 3pm appointment. And my chiro tsked tsked me when she felt how knotted and tense my back was. I hadn’t been taking care of myself.

Yes, I get my workouts in. Yes, I watch my posture as I write. But there’s more we need to do. There’s probably more you need to do. We all need to remember that it is both okay and important to take care of ourselves while we’re getting work done and while we’re taking care of others. It’s not selfish (and really, it’s okay to be a little selfish from time to time), it’s vital. You can’t get other things done if even breathing causes you pain. 

So don’t be like me. If you need a break, take it. If you haven’t stretched, go stretch and try to do it every day. If you need a massage, damnit, get one. If you need to be adjusted, go. Just because we sit to work doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a toll on our bodies.

Lights, Camera, Book Option!

An amazing thing happened the other day. I SOLD THE MOVIE/TV OPTION OF MADAME PRESIDENTESS! My name is actually in Deadline Hollywood!

So what does this mean, exactly? It means that the company I sold it to, Fortitude International, can now shop my book around Hollywood to directors, screenwriters, producers, actors, etc. There is no guarantee that it will ever be made into a TV show or film – far more books get optioned than get made – but give how relevant Victoria’s story is to what is going on in the news, I can’t imagine that it will be long before we hear something more.

Madame Presidentess is historical fiction, but it tells the story of the real-life first woman to run for president in the United States (in 1872), Victoria Woodhull. She was also the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to testify before Congress on woman’s suffrage, and one of the first to run a weekly newspaper. All this despite growing up dirt-poor, having very little formal education, and dealing with the interference of her low-class, huckster relatives. Victoria was no saint, but she was one fierce woman – she would still be controversial today! 

Me signing the contract

I bet you are wondering how this came about, especially for an indie author who has never been traditionally published and doesn’t have an agent. Well, I saw in Publisher’s Weekly a few months ago that a new company called TaleFlick had just opened and was promising to connect authors with production companies. One of the founders used to be with Apple and Netflix, so I knew it was legit. A few days later, one of their sales reps contacted me and I was able to ask questions. Then I uploaded my books. Everything else took place behind the scenes without my knowledge. Last Wednesday I got an email saying a company was interested. The next night I talked to a Taleflick rep and by Saturday I had the contract. I signed it on Monday and it was announced on Tuesday.  It really was a whirlwind!

Now we wait, visualize big things and pray!

P.S. – If you’re an author and are interested in TaleFlick, use this link and it will count as a referral from me: http://taleflick.refr.cc/nicolee. You’ll get $8 off your first submission.