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!


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Spectating Instead of Creating

Sometimes I feel like I’m the Queen of Getting Stuck in a Rut, which, as far as royalty goes, isn’t very glamorous. (And when I say “rut” I don’t mean a routine, either, because one of my ancillary kingdoms is the Duchy of Procrastination, neighbored by the Earldom of Wasting Time). For me, when I’m focused on a project I develop a strange fixation with having all of my “active” work rhythms–journaling, reading, listening to music, plus of course writing–be in service of the project I’m working on. Which means that when it comes to leisure activities–when I know I should be refilling the well in an intentional way–I don’t have the mental capacity left for anything of substance and turn to fluff. Bad movies, Regency romance novels, Candy Crush Saga. Not that there’s anything wrong with fluff! But (wo)man cannot live on fluff alone.

And then the next day I feel guilty for failing to refill the creative well, and I buckle down even harder on what I’m allowed to read and write during active work time.

Rinse, repeat. Binge, purge.

Sigh. Like I said, Queen of Ruts.

giphy1

A few weeks ago, I bought a ticket to the pre-Broadway world premier of Moulin Rouge: the Musical. Now, even though I love musicals, I almost never see them live. First, there’s the price, which is always steep, especially if you don’t want to use binoculars to see the actors’ faces. Second, there are the crowds, which make me nervous on a good day and can induce panic on a bad one. And third, there’s the husband who hates musicals, which is usually an easy excuse to let myself talk myself out of going based on the first two reasons.

But this time was different. I kept staring at the glamorous poster and thinking about the extravagant movie and its bohemian ideals: Freedom, Beauty, Truth & Love. I knew I needed this. So–gnashing my teeth at the price–I booked a ticket before I could change my mind.

I’m SO GLAD I did!

moulin rouge

The venue–the historic Emerson Colonial Theater–was stunning, frescoed and gilded in true Fin de Siecle glory. And the show was magnificent! From the very first number I was completely swept away, transported to Paris and the Moulin Rouge. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and I clapped along to a seriously dizzying array of elaborate pop-culture inspired songs and dances. I think I barely blinked for three whole hours, enraptured in the sensation of being a spectator to someone else’s art. And when the curtain finally fell and I walked out into the night, I felt full. I felt inspired, with stories and songs and images dancing in the darkened set of my mind, just waiting for the spotlight to shine on them.

So maybe the choice isn’t between gruel and fluff; rigorous work and mindless fluff. Going forward, I’m going to try and challenge myself to participate in other forms of art that will challenge, excite, and inspire me. My own art can only grow in leaving it behind for an hour or two.

Author’s Note: The original title was changed after a dear friend pointed out a problematic element that I had failed to register. I offer sincere apologies to anyone who may have been offended and I will seek to be better in the future.

How to be Creative in the Chaos that is Now

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.

Bypassing Writer’s Block

FullSizeRender-2I got it bad. And I’m not talking about that Usher song from 2001 (hello yes old). I’m talking about the dreaded writer’s block.

Every writer I’ve ever known has a different take on writer’s block. It’s actually something we Scribes have discussed a number of times on this very blog. Some suffer from it it; others don’t. Some claim it doesn’t even exist. (I claim they’re lying). Some say the only way to get over it is to work through it, which is pretty solid advice. Others recommend refilling the well by revisiting beloved books and movies. Some say you should give in to your instincts and just lie in front of the TV watching bad Christmas movies and crying into your wine until the literary gods finally take pity on you and send you a decent sentence or two. (What’s that you say? Oh, that’s just me?)

Honestly though, it sucks to feel like your “muse,” or whatever you want to call it, has deserted you. For better or for worse, it’s easy as a writer to let your sense of self-worth get all tangled up in your creativity, your productivity, and the pace at which you create art. And that’s kind of where I’m at. This fall has been tough for me. Between ongoing edits of my forthcoming novel, a big move accompanied by a lifestyle shift, and a death in the family, I haven’t had much time for new projects, and even when I have tried for new words, I’ve been deeply disappointed in the results. Which makes me even more anxious about writing, or not writing, aaaaand the cycle continues.

IMG_1969And then I picked up a book on a whim at my local indie. Riding on the recent trend of hygge–a Scandinavian-inspired cozy lifestyle–the book includes a number of fairly accessible craft ideas. Now, my adventures into crafting have historically followed this pattern: 1) I get really freaking excited about a craft, 2) I impulse-buy all the supplies for said craft, 3) I spend like one hour actually making the craft, 4) I realize that crafting is hard, and 5) I never touch said craft ever again. But this particular book included some information that I hadn’t realized before.

Apparently, scientific research is beginning to find that creative activities can lead to relaxation or a meditation-like response similar to that induced by yoga, while also raising neurotransmitters associated with elevated mood. This news wasn’t so surprising once I thought about it–my own anecdotal experiences with past art projects backed this up. So I bought a decent amount of supplies, figuring that if I wasn’t writing I would at least be creating pretty things to hang around the house during the holidays.

IMG_1970I’ll skip right to the end here, folks. This experiment has been a resounding success. I mean, I’m laughably bad at crocheting, I have paper-cuts from Danish origami, and my wreaths look like they were made by children, but I have ideas again. Something about having my hands and front-brain occupied seems to leave my creative brain free to float wherever it pleases. It does, in fact, feel very zen to just zone out and let my hands work until bam! An idea strikes and I’m running for the closest pen and paper.

That’s all I’ve got so far–scribbled notes and half-finished crafts. But even if that’s all this experiment nets me, it’s worth it just to have something new in the arsenal to banish that dreaded writer’s block.

Creativity as Therapy

The last month has kicked my butt. If I’m honest, this year has kicked my butt: it’s been a roller coaster of good and bad, with few breaks between the ups and the downs and the deeper-downs. But May has been the worst, and my husband and I have been mourning the loss of a beloved pet.

Grief is a bear. With it come sadness and depression, and depression comes hand-in-hand with a whole host of fun little friends like fatigue, social disconnection, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in hobbies and other day-to-day pursuits. For creative types like myself and a lot of you reading this blog post, this can translate to a loss of creative passion. When you’re exhausted and can’t concentrate and don’t want to see anyone or do anything and simply getting through the day is a struggle, writing (or sewing or painting or whatever it is that you do regularly) becomes an impossibility. In short, depression dries up the well.

May is, coincidentally, Mental Health Awareness Month, and a lot of smart people have been writing about this year’s theme, “Life With a Mental Illness.” I’ve lived with depression and anxiety, and I’ve written about that struggle elsewhere. This year, I want to focus on creative acts as a treatment for the loss of creativity.

I was discussing my sadness and the complete creative drought that has accompanied it with my very wise friend Emmie Mears recently, and she suggested that I experiment with new-to-me creative endeavors as a method of exploring and releasing my grief. I could paint or draw, even abstractly, as a way to capture my emotions and memories, and then, later, I would have a visual record of how I felt during this time. The result would be a tribute to my pet and, just as importantly, a tribute to my own feelings.

I thought this was a brilliant plan, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great way to work through depression and anxiety, as well as grief*. One of the most important methods of self-care is acknowledging how we feel when we feel it: many people try to dismiss or ignore feelings of depression or anxiety, and that denial does nothing but compound our feelings of inadequacy or, worse, “craziness.” Self-stigmatizing only makes it easier for society as a whole to dismiss mental illness as self-indulgent or non-existent.

Exploring a new artistic pursuit, particularly in an improvisational or freeform way, may allow us to shut off the thinking/judging parts of our brain and simply allow free expression of emotion. When we don’t have standards of quality or accomplishment we feel we need to meet, we’re able to create without judgment. And for writers, in particular, when we stop trying to use our words and instead simply create, we’re forced to acknowledge our feelings for what they are, rather than trying to explain them away.

In the end, we’re left with a record of our feelings that we can and must acknowledge as something outside of ourselves.

There are lots of free, gently-guided ways to experiment with new forms of creativity. I’ve rounded up a few here that you can check out, and Google is awash in other classes, challenges, and how-to’s. Maybe one will speak to you!

Index-Card-a-Day Challenge: I’m intrigued by this one. The goal is to create a 3×5 piece of art every day for 61 days. You can draw, paint, doodle, make a collage, sew, whatever strikes your fancy, and you end up with a physical record of everything you did or tried to do. This might be a good way to try to work through a specific problem.

Year of Rock: If you’re a musical type, you can sign up for free classes to learn guitar. While this is less free-form, you might be able to explore a side of yourself you haven’t yet been able to express. Plus, for some, the chance to turn off anxiety and simply listen and learn might have added benefits.

Art Journaling: There are approximately one bajillion links on Google about art journaling, but this art is about as freeform as you can get. That Pinterest link to “How to Start Art Journaling” ought to give you a few thousand ideas.

Free Craftsy Classes: Craftsy offers a HUGE range of courses and subjects, and the free classes might allow you to explore new crafts in a commitment-free way. Unleash your inner cake decorator! 

Private Pinterest Boards: Since I mentioned Pinterest, I can personally vouch for the creation of private Pinterest boards as a method of portable collaging. Pin places and things that make you feel peaceful; pin images that inspire you; pin images of memories or dreams. Use your private boards as a mini-getaway.

How do creative endeavors help you to work through difficult times? Have you ever experimented with a new art as a way to work through a difficult time in your life?

*Yes, art therapy is a thing that already exists! However, therapy can be pricey and inaccessible for many individuals.

Better late than never: A few writing/writer tips

So, as you can see, I’m posting a bit late today. Every once in a while the Spellbound Scribe of the week will forget their turn to post and we scramble to catch up. This week was my turn to post and to forget. So here I am, desperate to get this up today!

Last night, when I was falling asleep, I realized I’d forgotten to write up my post for today. I laid there and tried to think of something to write that wasn’t just self-promotion, because those can get a little boring (don’t worry, there’s some self-promotion at the end, don’t want to disappoint!). And I came up with a great idea! I even thought of the opening paragraph! Huzzah! I’ll wake up in the morning and write it straight away! I thought.

But, of course, because I didn’t write the idea down, I forgot it.

So that leads me to a new idea for today’s post. Tips for writing/writers.

1. Write your shit down. This seems like an obvious one, I know, but we all need reminding. We all think “eh, I’ll remember.” Or, “No, this is such a good idea there is no way I’m going to forget it.” You know what? Maybe. But what if you don’t? What if you don’t remember that perfect fix for that plot hole? What if you don’t remember that awesome name for a character and you end up with calling him Bob? What if you’re already late with a blog post and, because you thought of an idea as you were falling asleep, you’ll forget it? My phone charges on my nightstand, I could have easily opened the note app and jotted down my idea. I have a notepad there too. But I didn’t. Don’t assume you’ll remember. Write your shit down.

2. Back up your work in multiple places, continuously, as you write. Tuesday I went to open a manuscript doc that I finished back in September to finally start editing the rough draft, but when I did, only half the doc would open. The MS is just over 75k words, but for some reason only 39k would load. Half. Half the book wouldn’t load. I closed and reopened, closed and reopened. But still, just 39k words. Then I checked the properties and saw, yes, the file was just 39k words. Half my book was gone.

Luckily, when I’m writing a book, I will email myself every day the latest version. Sometimes I’ll only email myself every new 5k words, or 10k, but more often than not, I’ll email myself every day even if it was just a new 1k words. So I was able to go into my email and find “Completed First Draft of XXXX”. Crisis averted. I do also have an external flash drive where I save all of my completed drafts, but usually just the finals, not the roughs. I like email for multiple copies because of the unlimited space. Don’t depend on your computer or Dropbox (I’ve known friends who’ve depended solely on Dropbox to find that the only version saved in there was a corrupted one. Not cool.). And, with email, if your computer crashes, or your external hard drive does, you can log on to any computer, open your email, and bam! You’re back in business.

3. When editing, read your MS in different formats. Often, writers are staring at the same computer screen for months, writing their books. So, you’re used to seeing your MS this way. It is an easy way to miss things because your mind sees it the way it’s supposed to be. Open your doc on a tablet or ereader, read it the way you imagine thousands of people one day will, use the highlight and note functions to keep track of mistakes or edits. Print out your doc and go old school with a red pen – I do this. If you can’t do these thing, enable the speech option in Word and have your computer read the story to you. Yes, it’s a bit robotic, but you’ll hear mistakes. Change it up so you can be the best self-editor you can be.

4. Don’t only self-edit. It is so terrifying when you’re a new writer (yeah, okay, not just when you’re new) to ask people to read your work and give you feedback, but it is vital to becoming a better writer. You don’t have to take the notes you get, but hearing reactions from outsiders really helps. An honest beta reader/critique partner will help you make your work stronger. And they might even catch some mistakes you missed. Multiple sets of eyes are good. And you can build your own critique group, which helps with morale and getting through the tough times of writing. If you don’t have anyone who can or will do this for you, there are resources out there, look for them. I, for example, offer professional critique services. *cough*

5. Give yourself a break. Notice earlier I said I was just starting to edit the rough draft of a book I finished in September? It’s now March. When you finish a project, whether it’s the rough draft or the final, take time off. We have to replenish our wells of creativity, collect the spoons we’ve given out, we need time for ourselves. Go read someone else’s book for fun. Take a day trip somewhere. Sleep in. Binge watch something on Netflix. Go to a museum and see some beautiful art that isn’t the written word. You can’t be creative day in and day out without taking a break. This, I think, is what leads to writer’s block. Not a lack of ability or that your story is bad, but that your mind needs a break and replenishment. Don’t finish a rough draft one day and then two days later think you’ve had enough time to come back to it and start editing (no I did not take five months off from writing, but I did leave that particular book alone because I knew I needed a lot of time away from it. I worked on other projects in the meantime). Yes, sometimes, you can finish one book and are still able and ready to write something new. Go for it, if you think you can, but remember, it’s okay to take time to play.

(Now for that shameless self-promo. Just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve revamped my Patreon account and am actively working on it. I hope, if you’re a reader/fan of mine, you might check it out. For $3 or more a month, you’ll get access to exclusive posts of fiction and rewards depending on your level. I’m hoping to make it worth everyone’s while, so please have a look.)

When did you start writing?

A simple question. One that many of us have been asked before. A question I think about all the time because it’s a reminder of what I’ve always wanted to do. Write.

This past week I got to meet some amazing people at Authors After Dark. One reader was sixteen and an aspiring author. She was asking everyone about when they first started writing.

There is one key moment in my life that I remember wanting to be an author. It was in elementary school. Fourth or fifth grade. We had a local author come to school and tell us about her career. How she started. Why she wrote realistic fiction. I was hooked. I wanted to be her. There was a contest we could all enter. All we had to do was write a short story and submit it in the contest. So I took the leap. And I got to go to the mini-conference they had for everyone who entered. For one whole day I got to talk to authors, I got to learn how to write a book.

Now, I don’t remember all the details of the day. But I remember the amazing feeling of knowing I could write. Knowing I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I wanted to go to a school and inspire kids the way she had inspired me. Of course back then I thought I would write realistic fiction.

Things change. Our perspectives change. I’m not the ten year old with a dream anymore. Now, I write. One day I will make this my career and I won’t have to worry about the day job. Until then, I’m so happy to have the chance to publish what I can. To edit for authors who I fan girl over.

My dreams are coming true each and every day. I hope the young lady I met at Authors After Dark will get the same opportunity. I hope she will follow her dream. I have a question for you…when did you start writing?