Before embarking on the long adventure known as the serial story, I made sure to do my homework. I read everything I could from people who’d already done it. I scoured blogs and how-to ebooks and kboards (Amazon’s kindle boards, where you can find all kinds of awesome people living the dream…and ten times more trying to get there). I had my plan ready to go – I knew the size of each installment (15-20k), the frequency of release (every 2 weeks), and my intended pricing scheme. I knew I wanted to write it as I went, rather than writing it all up front, and was prepared to keep to the schedule. I created my pen name, had the basics of my brand, and launched my platform on my chosen social media outlets. My prep work was good.
I released the first book on a wave of self-accomplishment. I did it! I crowed to myself (and to my husband, though he wasn’t quite as excited). A new pen name, new world, new experiment, all begun and set to do great things. Best yet, I’d only spent $15 to do it. And I was flexing my very rusty Photoshop skills to create decent covers. (Admittedly, they’re not fantastic. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call them good; but for 15 bucks, I’m happy with them!) I swore to myself I wouldn’t tell anyone I was writing them until after Christmas (the first one went live just before Thanksgiving). Which became “nobody but my sister and my brother, who are now my beta readers.” And then I was so chuffed about my cover, I showed it off to the rest of the family over Christmas.
That was mistake #1. (Okay, noticeable mistake #1. I probably made plenty of others I don’t have enough experience to see yet.) There are gobs of professionals (and memes; so many memes!) who will tell you to keep your dreams to yourself. You know what? They’re totally right. Eventually, people will find out. But you really want something you can be proud of out in the world already before you invite the criticism of those you know (and love). My dad was bummed – “A pen name? Already?” he asked, clearly lamenting that I had cast off the family name. “What about my sci-fi?!” my cousin demanded. Even though I stood strong and didn’t really feel the need to defend my choice, there entered the seed of doubt. By the time I reached my “after Christmas” date, the damage was already done. I “went public” to everyone, and the pressure set in.
Pressure, apparently, makes writing a lot harder. Who knew? 😛
Mistake #2 came a few short weeks later when, instead of having a week all to myself when my husband and son were out of town, I came down with the flu. The horrible, awful, kill-me-now sort of flu. I was sick the entire week. One setback, though, wasn’t going to stop me. I have perseverance! I cried (inwardly, in a properly introverted fashion). Except then my yoga ball, which I used as my desk chair, exploded while I was sitting on it (thinking back still makes me giggle hysterically – if you can’t save your pride, you might as well laugh, right?), which also broke my desk. No matter how I tried to cobble together a better situation, I couldn’t get comfy enough to write. But no problem – I still had my laptop. Right? Wrong. My 8-year-old MacBook finally gave up the ghost the same week. I managed to save my covers, which weren’t in Dropbox, and called it a blessed bit of luck. (Mistake #2 was not writing long-hand and continuing the habit. I wouldn’t have written as quickly and I’d have used a ton of paper, but I’d have gotten it done sooner, and not lost momentum.)
So I had to wait. And wait. And wait…until our tax return came in. Because we’re broke. Like, beyond broke. So broke, in fact, that we moved in with my in-laws in May because we couldn’t support ourselves with the skyrocketing rental prices in Denver. Our pediatric office just broke up with us because we couldn’t pay our bills. I bought a new laptop, one of the new HP Streams that’s designed to function mostly online. So pretty! So perfect (and perfectly in my price range). I finished up the rough draft of Issue #5 and shifted gears to the publishing side of things. And that’s when I realized: I no longer have access to Photoshop. I had to actually pay for it. Which meant I couldn’t create a cover for a bundle of the first five issues like I had planned.
That was Mistake #3 – I let my disappointment (and, honestly, financially-rooted depression) get the better of me. I didn’t research Photoshop options or alternatives. I just sat and stewed. Which, given that we were down to the wire in deciding what to do with our lives by that point, I don’t really begrudge myself. I had more important things requiring my time. But if I had done a little idle research, I’d have discovered the 30-day free trial of Photoshop CC and gotten to de-stress playing with covers.
The fifth issue of Eternally Born was five months late. I’ve accepted my failures and determined to do better in future. Namely, I will focus on the habit instead of the output, have backups to my backups (not just files but also writing situations and implements), and maybe bring in a couple new cheerleaders to keep my spirits up when stuff falls apart. Because I don’t have a lot of experience in indie publishing yet, but what little I do has shown me how easily things do fall apart. To misquote Jurassic Park, “We have all the problems of a traditional publishing house and a moody creative professional, and the money’s not even coming in yet.”
Yes, a serial is quite difficult as an entry into self-publishing – it’s an insanely slow build, and there’s not really a good way to market it until you’re quite a ways in. (Despite being in KU with everything but #1, I’ve only ever had 3 borrows. I’ve given away several hundred copies of #1, but only had maybe the same number of sell-throughs.) With 4 issues on the market, I haven’t yet broken even on that initial $15. It’s a long, hard haul and something of a slog. Choosing to write one at a time means I have to be okay working on the same thing every month (month after month after month). That can be tough when my creativity wants to try something new, or doesn’t want to break from the other project I’m working on to come back to the serial. And I have a sneaking suspicion the majority of people who might be interesting in reading the serial are waiting for me to finish the whole thing before they read. Which is fair and completely understandable…but it’s not a big boost to the old ego, either. Nor is knowing ahead of time that I’m not going to sell any of the new issues when they’re released.
All of that said, however, I don’t regret choosing to write one issue at a time. I don’t regret any of my actual publishing choices.This is the way this story needed to be told. It’s the way I needed to work on it. It reinforces the process, keeps me in the short-term (I have a real problem with that), and keeps me writing. Doing the covers myself keeps me excited, because even if nobody reads the words inside, they will see the cover. It keeps me learning, keeps me trying new things, and uses my brain in ways that novels don’t (especially because it’s non-linear, but that’s a different topic). By the time I’m done with this arc, I will have a lot of basic experience under my belt. I’ll have 10 issues on the market with 3 bundles. I’ve been keeping an eye on my category the whole time, and how sales and borrows affect my ranks. And, more than that, it’s set my expectations low. They already were – I didn’t start this up expecting to sell any – but once I’m done, I’ll know that I can stick with my choices no matter what happens; that I can finish what I start even when there is pretty much zero positive reinforcement or enticement to continue.
Essentially, this is the part where I stamp down the dirt until it’s hard-packed and capable of supporting bigger goals for the long-term. I may feel like a giant failure because all I have is dirt, but I will have the confidence to know failure won’t kill me. And that’s nothing to sneeze at!
(Click the link at the top of the page to read earlier segments!)
Right there, smack in center justification and black and white print was a picture of me. I was exiting S. O. Teric’s, glaring at the sidewalk, my hands in tight fists. Of course, I looked that way because I wanted to wring Ivy’s neck, but the casual observer wouldn’t know that.
“Eccentric’s Heir Brings Stormy Weather,” the headline read. According to the article, I was the worst thing to strike the pavement since the tornado of ’73. A herald of dispossession. A lone rider of the Apocalypse. In those exact words.
For a minute or two I stood there – really, it could have been half an hour, I lost all perception of time – trying to force the words to make sense. My name, my picture. A horsewoman of the Apocalypse? The absurdity made me laugh. I heard a note of hysteria in it and forced myself to calm down. The grief, the exhausting trip, the blustery way my first foray had gone, all swirled together in a maelstrom of barely controlled emotion. This addition didn’t help.
How in the world had someone snapped my picture without my noticing, anyway? What did this A. Archer possibly know about me? I gave no interview. The only thing I had said about the store was that I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Certainly nothing close to, “…intends to blow this bit of our beloved town into the wind like a child with a hapless dandelion.” The falsehood galled me, but the underlying condescension? That just pissed me off. The reporter intimated I was nothing more than a child who didn’t know any better. Without ever meeting me. Without as much as a hello between us. Who was this reporter to judge me on first sight?
Standing there in my aunt’s front yard, the grass tickling my bare ankles, I snarled. An odd sight for the woman jogging by on the sidewalk, surely, but I couldn’t help it. My only course of action was to march down to the newspaper office and A) set the record straight, B) demand a retraction, and then C) punch A. Archer square in the nose. Maybe a knee to the crotch. I’d have to wait and discover the demands of the situation before I decided, but that didn’t stop me from playing it out in my head over and over again.
Armed with the re-rolled newspaper, I stalked to my car, jumped in, and roared out of the driveway. Well, maybe not roared. Automatics don’t usually roar. But I know in its mechanical heart, the vehicle was right there with me.
I stopped by Goldilocks to ask for more directions. It being lunch time, the salon was empty except for the tall spindle of a woman. She chatted just as much as she had the day before, but I could tell she was more than a little afraid of me. Her eyes kept darting to something on the high, glossy counter that housed the register. It had to be a copy of the Goode County Gazette.
With her directions scorched into my brain, my sympathetic SUV and I tore out of town at ten over the speed limit. No doubt the drive between Meadowhaven and the nearby college town of Goodeward was lovely. There were likely towering pines, shuddering aspens, and various woodland creatures that could have caught my eye. I didn’t see any of it. In fact, I wasn’t really sure how long the drive took or whether I had followed the directions properly until I found myself beside a large sign welcoming visitors to Goodeward College. The real trick would be finding my way home, but that would wait until justice had been served.
The Goode County Gazette resided in a low building in red brick with black steeples for a roof. It looked entirely out of place providing a backdrop to college kids smoking on the street corner, their textbook-laden bags making them all slightly stoop-shouldered. A shirtless guy on a bike nearly ran me over as I got out of my car, throwing me a dirty look over his shoulder as he darted away. It only added tinder to the fire of my anger.
As much as I wanted to become the storm the article accused me of being, I’ve always had a spiteful streak. It comes with the family. I put it to underhanded use as a kid, and I didn’t shirk from the dubious duty now. Rather than rage up the cobbled walkway, I shook my hair out over my shoulders, made sure my dress fell straight and tight in all the right places, grabbed the offensive rag labeled a newspaper, and strode to the front door with a little extra sway.
Just as my fingers touched the polished black handle, the door swung out at me, nearly clocking me in the nose before I got out of the way. My quick backpedal landed my thin heel on a seam in the cement and I felt my ankle twist. Down I went, as ladylike as I possibly could. I managed to not flash anybody (at least, that was what I told myself), but my left hand landed in a muddy bit of grass while my right scraped hard on the walkway. I felt the bite of the concrete on my knuckles and then my elbow.
“Criminy! That was a spill for the record books. You okay?”
I hopped up to my feet with equally record speed, determined to keep my dignity intact. “Yeah,” I said, making sure my dress was where it was supposed to be. “Or I will be once I find a bathroom.”
The guy before me looked like a London Fog commercial in Toon Town – the trench coat on his skinny frame hung a little too loosely, the brightly colored bowtie looked ready to start spinning the second he cracked a joke, and the short-brimmed fedora perched atop his head was only missing a press pass tucked into the band. He reached out to help me, but I was on my feet too fast. A long, awkward moment passed between us before he chuckled at himself. “Hey, I’m really sorry. I keep trying to convince the bossman to change out the doors. Like wearing sunglasses on a cloudy night while wielding a glass riot shield.” He opened the door again, holding it wide for me. “The lady’s room is just…”
He trailed off, and it didn’t take one of Aunt Nora’s psychics to see what drew his attention. A crowd had appeared at the end of the street, picket signs raised as they marched along the pavement toward us.
Stop the spread!
Just say no to MVR!
For a moment, I thought there must be a new std I’d never heard of taking over the campus. Then I heard the chant accompanying the signs, and my interest climbed: “Pull out the stops, we won’t shop!”
I tried to shake the mud off my hand as I glanced at Daffy Duck, Ace Reporter. “Are they protesting shopping?”
“Sort of. It’s a Tolkien-esque tale, really.”
“Full of orcs and singing and second breakfasts?” I asked, gauging that my nerdiness would land well before I opened my mouth.
He chuckled again, this time giving me a shy sort of smile. “I meant that it’s long and full of small folk who will win the day.” A dreamy sort of look entered his eyes as the college crowd assembled on the green across from the news office. “A story worth the telling…”
My elbow and hand throbbed and stung. Worse, I couldn’t do anything about it with all the mud on my other hand. Five minutes before, I had wanted nothing so much as to yell at someone and Daffy Duck had given me plenty to shout over. Yet I heard myself say encouragingly, “So go tell it.”
The dreaminess vanished, replaced by a look like he’d run over my brand new puppy. “I should really help–”
I cut him off and hobbled through the door he still held. “I’m okay. You go, I can clean myself up just fine.”
“If you’re sure…”
“I am.” I gave him an assured smile, even if I didn’t feel it. “Go get your story, newsman.”
“Oh, it’s Cagney,” he said, extending his hand before he realized I wasn’t going to be able to shake back. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his trench and grimaced. “Cagney Keaton.”
“Annika,” I said, moving toward the lady’s room in the front hall.
He let the door fall closed, but a glance over my shoulder caught a look of surprised indecision on Cagney’s youthful open-book face.
I smiled to myself as I slipped into the bathroom. Apparently, I was a big enough story to warrant…well, a story. That thought brought back my whole purpose here in one big, fell swoop. I’d been so surprised by getting dumped on my ass that I had lost all my righteous wrath and momentum, leaving me cold and deflated.
My reflection, at least, still looked decent. That is, assuming a person ignored my scraped hand, the elbow it took five minutes and two wet, clammy paper towels to get to stop oozing, and the mud I couldn’t seem to get out from under my fingernails. The altercation with the door had at least given my blue eyes a wide, softly surprised look that I could use to my advantage. Well, assuming A. Archer had a taste for soft blondes with a damsel-in-distress vibe.
That was a lot of assuming, and nowhere near the sort of woman I wanted to be when I confronted my slanderer, besides.
“We live to battle another day,” I said to my reflection. We shared a beleaguered smile before I did a quick check of my dress again. Then, shoulders squared to pretend a length of dignity was still at my command, I stepped out of the bathroom.
Which, of course, was when I finally realized my ankle didn’t much care for being twisted. Add to that a slight lip between the bathroom tile and the wooden flooring of the hall, and I proved my capacity for self-destructive behavior by tripping, flailing, and falling.
This time, rather than land unceremoniously on the ground, a pair of strong male arms caught me. The smell of expensive cologne stole what little I had left of a brain and I blinked up into a face full of grinning charisma.
“I’ve been meaning to get that fixed,” he said, pausing just a little before setting me back on my feet. To my surprise, my heels put me about an inch taller than his frame, which was possessed of that handsome sort of stockiness that was a matter of build instead of weight.
“B-being in the right place at the right time?” I asked, a little breathless. From my near-fall, of course.
He crossed his arms over his chest, straining his suit jacket in that sexy way suits do when they’re properly tailored. That was when I noticed my beat-up fingers had been halfway petting the delicious, expensive fabric of that same suit. The bottom dropped out of my stomach as I snatched my hand back.
“What can I do for you, Miss Ambray?” the man asked, the steel of business underpinning his tone.
“I’m looking for…” I blinked. “You know who I am?”
“The goings-on around Meadowhaven are my business.” He extended a short-fingered, possibly manicured hand to me. “Thomas Goode, editor of the Gazette.”
My hand was already in his, appreciating the strength of his grip when my brain caught up. “Goode? As in Goode County?”
“And Goodeward, complete with university. My family founded the town.”
“Ah,” I said, full of intellect. That explained the money that seemed to roll off the man in waves.
After a few moments wherein I mentally kicked myself for being the biggest idiot around, he said, “Looks like you’ve been in a bit of a fracas.”
“What?” I was desperately trying to pull my brains back together, and failing miserably.
He lifted my hand, still in his, with its cement-scraped knuckles. The warmth in my face heated to incendiary proportions. I pulled my hand away and used it to smooth my dress in a fit of nerves.
“Oh, I, um, twisted my ankle on the way in. Nothing big.”
“On newspaper property? That’s unfortunate. Why don’t we go up to my office? We can discuss whatever it is you’re here to discuss, and you can get off that ankle.” He gestured further into the building, indicating I should go first.
I glanced from his hand to the hallway beyond, but couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye. “It’s really nothing,” I mumbled.
“What brought you here is, or the fall?”
“Neither. Both. Um…” I let out a laughing breath.
That grin never faltered. It was getting to be a little unnerving, a little too practiced. “Please, Miss Ambray. You came all the way out here. The least I can do is provide a chair while we discuss the particulars of why.”
If my ankle had been its usual self, I might have run. After two falls, scraped and bruised and feeling like an idiot, the last thing I wanted to do was have a conversation with a man who probably spent the equivalent of my inheritance every year. One whose great-great-however-many-grandparents founded a whole town. And whose suspenders so nicely defined his chest beneath the kind of suit I wanted to…
I shook my head to clear it, tucked a lock my hair behind my ear, and stuttered, “A-all right.”
“We’ll take the elevator,” he said. “It’s an antique, but it gets the job done.”
I simply smiled and stared at the floor, because the thought in my head was not one I wanted to come out of my mouth.
When the brass grate closed in front of us, I closed my eyes and wished for the elevator to collapse beneath us and put me out of my misery. Except that made it all worse, because it brought one image to the forefront of my mind’s eye – tomorrow’s headline in big, bold letters:
Doomsaying Irrelevant – Eccentric’s Heir Too Mindless To Matter
My second day in town, and I was already in over my head.
The other night as I was tucking my preschooler into bed, he told me about the kids in his room. Now, he’s linguistically delayed so it wasn’t the most coherent conversation, but what I got from it was this: He expected there to be kids (and a baby) playing in his room while he was sleeping. They weren’t there while I was tucking him in, but they would be later. One of them, he told me, climbed way up high to the top of something and fell and hurt himself.
Creepy enough on its own, but maybe he was just telling me a story. Relating something he read or saw or heard in a new way. Kids do that.
But I just remembered. A few months after we moved into our current apartment, he started refusing to play in his room. Even now, he won’t do it unless someone is with him. We had a long, sleep-deprived summer because he woke up scared so often. I blamed it on the move, new surroundings, new sounds – all things that came make little lives scarier. And then one night, I sat with him while he fell asleep. Except he wasn’t falling asleep. Nope. He was staring at the corner of his room, shaking. After a full minute, he finally shouted, “No!” then rolled over, pulled the covers up close to his chin, and gripped my hand lest he lose me. Then he fell asleep.
When I was his age, I remember waking up one night from a nightmare. The house was eerily quiet, but my parents always left the hall light on for easy mid-night bathroom runs. Their room was directly across from mine. After weighing the risk of staying in my scary, quiet room against the risk of possibly being grabbed by whatever lurked between my bed and my door, I made my choice. I leapt out of my bed, threw my door open, and dashed the loooooong way to my parents’ bed. I flung myself in between them, snuggled under the covers, then looked up back at the door. A man’s dark silhouette lurked in the doorway between me and the hall light. I remember thinking my dad must have gotten up for a drink of water, and was coming back to bed. Except when I looked next to me, there he was, sound asleep. I pulled the covers up over my head and snuggled against his back before falling asleep. (We really don’t give kids enough credit for their bravery in the face of fear!)
These kinds of stories have fascinated me since I was young. My family is rife with “sensitives,” people who know or experience special things, so I grew up hearing about all kinds of paranormal weirdness. I suppose it isn’t surprising that I’m writing paranormal young adult stories!
So, to honor the spooky in our real lives, I’m giving my readers the chance to win the entire first arc of The Eternals Serial, Eternally Born! Yep. The whole thing! And what better time to do it than when we have two Friday the 13ths in back-to-back months?
All you have to do is share your scariest, weirdest, spookiest, or most other-worldly true story on this thread (anywhere else will be considered unofficial – sorry!). Ghosts, angels, haunted or just downright creepy places; dreams that came true, astral travel, knowing things you shouldn’t know; auras, reincarnation, near-death experiences; if it fits under the “paranormal” vibe, I want to hear it!
Short or long, you decide. Just make sure it’s a true story that happened to YOU.
You have between today, Friday, February 13th and Friday, March 13th to reply here.
On March 14th, I’ll pick two winners – one at random from all entrants, and one with the best true story! Then, as soon as I’ve finished writing the last few issues, I’ll bundle them all together as a full set of Eternally Born and send the winners their free copy before the bundle goes on sale. (And maaaaybe even before the last couple of issues are available to the general public!)
Go ahead: Give me the willies. I dare ya!
I’m such a slacker when it comes to blogging. A large portion of this is due to the fact that I have two wordpress accounts – one personal, one professional. I do all my reading and commenting with the personal one, so I leave it signed in. And it takes so much, you know, effort to sign out and sign back in. And then I have to remember two names and two passwords (which, given how many tries it took this time before I figured out I was using the wrong name, is…you know…apparently too much for my brain). Seriously, it’s a pain.
Which probably means that I will shift and spin and cavort and come up with a new structure that allows me to be everywhere I want to be with the smallest drain on my sheer laziness. Like, I dunno…writing my info on a sticky note. Or something.
But! I’ve had some good stuff percolating in my brain. All the predictions for the state of indie publishing in 2015 point to an increased focus on craft and quality, and it just so happens I have experience in that! I may be pretty new to the indie game, but I played in the traditional league for eight years. Not that I ever hit a home run or won the World Series or whatever baseball metaphor you want to use for selling a novel, but the skills are still there! So if I can get my daily life organized into some general semblance of, well, organization, I will maybe possibly perhaps start some kind of weekly series on story craft. (Which reminds me – I should do a post on my origin story, shouldn’t I? Hrm.)
I also need to do a post or two on my recent project, my plan for 2015, and all kinds of things I’ve been composing in my head but never while in front of the computer. At the least. To, you know, establish some kind of centralized internet presence like my author plan clearly stated two years ago (I’m on top of things, obviously).
This post’s purpose is mostly for me – to give myself a stern talking to and perhaps remind my subconscious to save space for blog posts when it’s scheduling my day. And also to publicly (such as it is, without visitors 😀 ) state my intention to blog more in 2015. I used to be a blog addict. Now, I’m lucky if I manage two a month across…oh, scads of blogs and journals and notes and blah blah blah (this social media thing really spreads a person thin!). So that’s my goal – to actually start building my home base, regardless of whatever else is going on.
Right now, I’m trying to make sense of a daily life involving being a work-at-home mother of a preschooler with special needs, a contract dialogue writer with no set schedule except to expect a fast turn-around demand when the work finally comes in, working up to being a full-time writer, and dealing with the daily grind of being a functional adult with a family and a tower of boxes that need sorting where the dining room should be. It’s very…boring. And yet somehow, it’s also exhausting. (Oh, and there’s that whole “get healthy, get fit” thing that I’m supposed to be doing, too.) Somewhere in there, I should be able to carve out 30 minutes to write a weekly blog post. Just gotta find the right precision blade…
One of the defining characteristics of a solid indie author is the ability to produce words. Words that gather together to create books. Books that get released relatively frequently. From what I’ve been reading on Kboards, it sounds like “relatively frequently” equals about two months, and every month is even better.
Amusingly (to me, anyway), this is the schedule I originally laid out for the Chronicles of the 13 Colonies. 13 novellas interspersing novels at regular intervals. Always producing something new, if somewhat short in nature. Real life chucked that out the window, and it’s now been over nine months since I published One For All.
That’s not what I would call “relatively” frequently, let alone how it’s defined by the indie market.
What seems to be the defining mode of producing indie words? Discipline. (It’s also, by the by, an important part of success in most endeavors. Especially if one wants to repeat that success. There are other routes, certainly, but this is the most common.)
Discipline is the ability to sit down and write, day in and day out. It’s the thing that got my friend out to run a mile every day for a year. It’s what that whole “wax on, wax off” business was about.
Personally, I define discipline simply: It’s the ability to show up and consistently do what you don’t want to do.
Showing up when you want to be there? Easy. Lots of motivation there, whether it’s the enjoyment of the thing or the company or whatever makes it a desirable condition. My favorite two jobs, while both menial labor and often very physically demanding, never made me not want to show up. I was excited to go to work. Even on bad or off days, the worst I could say was that it took a little longer to get there. They required no effort on my part to show up, and I never dreamed of taking a sick day just to stay home.
Same was true of the two novels I finished. I loved them. They were easy-peasy. I showed up to the keys excited to be there (minus the awful middle/one-third point that always kills me). It took no effort to write them. Routine, yes. But discipline? Nah.
Discipline is the thing that gets you to work when you really don’t want to be there. Or to college classes you hate. It’s the thing that achieves consistency in your day that builds to months and then years of effort and achievement.
I have no discipline. I blame it on a lot of things – getting mentally bored (which I do comparatively quickly); never being taught; being lazy; having more important things to do; having too many demands on too little time; and more. While all of those factors are true and real, leaning on them doesn’t get me any closer to developing discipline.
I’m having a difficult time with this problem right now. I got a day job that I LOVE – it’s fun, exciting, and uses my creative skills perfectly – and yet I still balk when I sit down to work. It’s work-from-home, which means all the usual distractions are there with none of the required discipline involved in having a job. I WANT to do the work for all the reasons I loved those other two jobs…and yet I can’t seem to make myself sit and work.
People who have discipline don’t understand people who don’t. Especially if they were born with it or were taught at a young age so it’s been a natural part of their lives for a long, long time. None of them can teach it (just like I can’t teach scenery description or character creation; they’re just things I do), which means the only viable way of learning is to teach myself.
This is proving difficult, largely because there are multiple types of discipline. The kind that’s attached to making responsible decisions? I’ve got that leaking out my pores. The kind that lends itself to self-comportment, manners, and behavior? That was drilled into me by my grandmother at a young age. I’ve even got some of those leadership types (though I don’t use them often). The only thing I have a problem with is showing up to do something that seems trivial, boring, or too much investment for not enough return. Many articles and self-help programs treat them all the same. Like it’s a matter of willpower. And it’s not. At all. At least not for me.
So, on my own, I’ve been tracking my habits. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. I work best when I’m interested.
2. I work best at night, roughly about the time I should be going to bed.
3. Little beginning rituals help – setting the scene (pulling back the shades to let in the sunlight, establishing a clean workspace, etc.) or “going to work” (getting dressed, doing hair, etc. – these are especially important if one does not actually *go* to work).
4. I will distract myself if I don’t want to do something, and do it with consummate grace and legitimacy (“trading” work for work-related activities, like reading industry blogs, for example).
5. Not allowing myself to do something until I hit a goal doesn’t work. EVER. (Which is the difference between willpower and discipline, and the different areas of discipline – I have ridiculous amounts of discipline to be able to go without whatever I want.)
6. Rewards don’t work for me (they have to be pretty spectacular and $$$ to matter to me, but they have to fit in my $/3 budget…which they can’t, by definition).
7. Taking breaks are good for my body, but not for my brain.
8. An awake and excited creative brain does not (necessarily) equal a productive session.
9. Competition is a surefire way to make me quit.
10. Cooperative sessions (“word wars,” brainstorming collectives, sharing work, etc.) make me excited to be there.
11. Food (and worrying about it) alters my productivity.
12. A happy, healthy body makes me more likely to work.
13. A bored, sad, or pained body is my #1 reason not to work.
14. Lack of certainty is #2 (this is both a lack of confidence in my ability to do what needs doing, and a lack of info/plot/etc.).
15.I will not work, at all, if I’m worried about money or anything attached to it.
16. Setting productivity goals depresses me.
17. Setting time goals makes it difficult to focus.
18. Setting self-imposed deadlines doesn’t work.
19. Externally imposed deadlines do, but only if there’s a real, scary consequence for failing to meet them.
20. Being in the moment (setting aside worry, planning, all external-to-right-here-right-now concerns) is extremely important to achieving productivity.
With this list, I intend to put together a Disciplinary Program for myself. I may post it. I may post the challenge I set for myself. I may pretend it doesn’t exist at all, and let my subconscious work on it. But I will definitely update with the end result!
Do you have discipline tricks? Advice to the all-over-the-place writers?
This summer has been a pain, both literally and figuratively. After spending the first three-ish weeks in June sick, I sprained my right ankle. Just as I recovered from that, I sprained my left ankle. Clearly, my body is trying to tell me something. 😛
In contrast, I spent the first week of July (in between sprains) writing a tv pilot. I doubt it will ever, ever, ever get produced, but someday I may turn it into a book series. In fact, that was my original intention – books first, show later. It just randomly happened that I needed exactly that sort of script (military sci-fi) to apply to my dream day job. So I churned it out in a week.
I haven’t had that much fun writing in…goodness, I don’t even remember! Scripts are so very different from prose. Harder in a lot of ways, simpler in others. Extra hard on the ego, if one is used to writing prose. (I would spend 8 hours a day on it and net a total of about 2000 words. Oh, the agony!) But I discovered that casting my characters made them instantly more alive when they landed on the page. This has been true in the past, too – in my first completed manuscript, I based the villain on Jason Isaac’s portrayal of Lucius Malfoy. I loved writing the character and never lost touch with his appearance or his voice. The voice, really, is what makes it easy. And in a script, the characters ONLY talk. If they’re not saying it or showing it, it doesn’t get written. That was the beautifully challenging part. It made me pick up scenes and flip them around in my head to figure out how best to convey important information.
Fun, fun, fun!
That fun – and the habit of writing almost every night until 4am – brought energy back to my creative brain. It REALLY needed a boost! This was an awesome way to get it. 😀
I think I’ve finally decided on a direction. I’m not going to tell you what that direction is quite yet, but it feels good to have my head on straight. Backwards was really giving my neck a crick. 😉
Look for updates soon, and follow me on Twitter for more in-the-moment tidbits.
My old friend, Kathryn St. John-Shin, recently posted about plotting. She added a great infographic flowchart for good plotting that’s totally worth the look.
Anyway, her post got me thinking. I mentioned last time that I’ve been having major writer’s block. At first I thought it was a plotting problem, so I super-plotted the story I was working on (“The Shot Heard ‘Round the Planet” from the 13 Colonies series). It turned out pretty well, and I was happy with it. So I sat down to write it, and…nothin’. Finally, I decided it must be a problem of confidence because the story was too big for me right now. I decided to set Shot aside for a while and started a new story. So much stress had seeped into my writing, I wanted to do something fun. What started out as a 99.99% unplotted YA/NA romantic paranormal serial story became a study in non-linear structure. Cool stuff, but not exactly without pressure. 30,000 words in, I hit a wall.
I’ve pursued every route I know of to get back to
Pooh Corner creative space. I’ve journaled. I’ve jotted. I’ve brainstormed. I’ve come up with new stories, looked up new words, read over old work. Read a book. Learned new approaches. Immersed myself in writing/publishing blogs and listened to podcasts. Nothing worked!
I’ve been wallowing in self-doubt and angst for the last week or so, until I finally hit the Black Moment. That point at which an artist looks at their work, picks up the towel, and prepares to throw it in because they ‘obviously’ don’t have what it takes to succeed. I thought back over all my stories and thought, “What’s the point? I’ll never be able to do this for a living. I need money, like, yesterday, and I have to choose between writing and a day job, and what if I get a job and can’t find a way to work in writing? What if I slip backward and become a wannabe writer again, unwilling to work hard to make it happen? What if it stops mattering??”
And then I read Katie’s post today and I smacked myself in the forehead (literally, facepalm!). I’ve been such an idiot.
With every book – long or short, old or new – I hit a point where I hate everything I write. I loathe every word I type, every character I’ve ever written. Nothing will EVER be good enough! The WOE! The ANGST! I curse the heavens, berate my inner muse for being too lazy and too sassy to be of any help, and cry over the keyboard. It’s pretty pathetic, and it happens with every. book.
You see, my Black Moment is part of my writing process. It’s been so long since I’ve had heavy writing time that I’d forgotten. But somewhere between the one-quarter mark and the one-third mark, I lose all hope. My momentum hits a wall. My creativity dries up. I question every choice I have made and was planning to make, and most of them come up wanting. And then, after enough time has passed, that Black Moment of self-doubt metamorphoses into something beautiful. I make the decision to keep fighting, to keep writing, to keep trying. Suddenly, I become possessed with a wealth of determination, perseverance, and fortitude. I know my story’s strengths and weaknesses; I know where I’m going and what I want to accomplish. And I write. And I write. And I write.
Without that End of the World, Write No More, Black Moment, I wouldn’t have the energy and commitment to finish the book. If I don’t face those feelings and work through them, I end up with Story ADD, unable to get into a story let alone finish anything.
If you’re serious about having a writing career (as opposed to writing a book, which is its own legitimate goal), you need to know your process. To do that, you have to write. A lot. And then write a lot more. Just as importantly, you have to FINISH things.
My process looks something like this:
1. Get blinded by an awesome story idea.
2. Percolate idea, let the characters settle into the casting office with a cup of tea.
3. Assemble, in my head, a variety of scenes and necessary turning points (almost always character-based).
4. Begin writing.
5. Remember how hard it is to shut off the internal editor, but try hard anyway.
6. Fall in love with my characters. Make myself laugh.
7. Shove it at the husband for a little external validation (and so I can see if I’m accomplishing what I want).
8. Cheer as I pass 20k.
9. Black Moment of Doooooom.
10. Days, weeks, months down the road, have an epiphany/surge of determination and get back to it.
11. Get lost. A lot. Write a bunch of really boring stuff until the middle is over and the story has transitioned into exciting territory again.
12. Write. Write. Write.
13. Cease being able to think about anything but all the threads coming together, all day long.
14. Ignore everything else possible in life to get to the end faster.
15. Suddenly discover 80% of my plot in two scenes during the climax.
16. Breathlessly write the last few chapters.
17. Discover more info than expected in the denouement (and possibly find the plot of book 2 buried inside).
18. The End (eventually…my denouements tend to go on and on and on…).
19. Sleep, laugh, and socialize – a lot – to make up for the near-total isolation and extreme concentration of the last few weeks.
20. Start thinking about edits.
Knowing your process means you can accommodate it. For instance, #9 is where I’m most likely to give up. #11, I’m going to need calculated spurts of limited distractions followed by lots of distractions to stay somewhat focused. Starting at #14, my husband knows not to expect me to do anything but work. I also know when that rollercoaster starts down the mega hill at #15, everything’s going to be okay; I won’t freak out about how to make all these ideas and threads and subplots work because I know from experience they’re already in the story; all I have to do is remind myself I can fix it in edits, and then put my hands in the air and yell “woooooo!” as it all rushes in.
Not remembering my process has brought me perilously close to giving up. It’s going to be a little different, now I’m a mom and now I have a professional side to think about. My blogs are going to be really long and rambly, and I don’t beat myself up (much) over it. I could write them more professionally, edit them better, but I know I won’t and cut myself some slack (this post has been written over the course of making and eating lunch and watching Tinkerbell: The Pirate Fairy, interspersed with potty training breaks and fights over how much he has to eat in order to keep watching). It’s going to be somewhat discombobulated, and I’m okay with that – at least the post got written. I’m going to read over it once while rubbing my son’s back and trying to convince him that naps are fun. Then I’m going to hit Publish and never think about it again. And all of that is okay. Not ideal parenting and not ideal writing, but workable.
Know your process. Embrace it. Work with it. It’ll make your life a whole lot easier.
What’s the worst part of your process? The best?
I just looked at the calendar and discovered it’s been almost 5 months. 5 MONTHS since I last published an installment of The Celluloid Files.
You have my deepest apologies, dear readers.
My original goal was to write enough and publish it weekly so that we could have a whole story before us by the middle of July. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.
I’ve been struggling with a pretty phenomenal case of writer’s block. This particular block involves a lot of stress and worry over finances (the sort that ends with crossing all major body parts under the covers at night and whispering into the darkness, “Please let us be able to pay rent this month,” over and over again). Part of this comes with the territory, of course – we chose, early in our marriage, to follow my writing dream instead of financial security (how I feel about that choice now, nearly a decade later, is a post of its own). We’ve never expected to have a surplus of greenbacks rolling around in even the smallest of backyard money bins. We’ve made sacrifices we didn’t think about having to make, and survived…and we’re okay with that. But there eventually comes a point where we sit back, take a look at our bigger picture, and, well, totally freak out.
From a writer’s perspective, that means I’m forced to take a hard look at my projects, my goals, my intentions, and my trajectory. What was supposed to be three novellas released a year ago was actually one novella published six months ago. By now, I aimed to have a successful Kickstarter under my belt and be two weeks away from the release of my first novel. Instead, I discovered the book – nay, the entire series concept – needed a return to the drawing board. My writing time slowly eroded beneath the sharp winds of job hunting and other serious life concerns.
So where does that leave Celluloid Files?
I’m sad to say that as much as I love the idea, it’s not close to the top of my priority list. It’s fun, absolutely. I love sharing it. I want to be able to share more. But right now, there isn’t any more. I have to write it, which takes brainstorming, plotting, and, well, a lot of time. Because of our financial situation, I need to use that time on something that has earning potential…even just a smidgen. Since I’m committed to never charging for Celluloid Files, I can’t logistically support its creation (short of taking donations, which is…possible, I suppose, but feels…weird).
It’s not off the table completely – in fact, it’s hanging out with the salt and pepper and sugar packets as a staple of possibilities. But it is on hold until I get a paying story finished.
Sorry, guys. 😦
I’ve been promising updates, exciting information, and reasons to check back…and none of it’s happened. Many humble, tummy-to-floor prostrations for my silence! Life got stressful, as it’s wont to do. We had to decide if it was worth it to move (it’s not) and then figure out how we’re going to pay for our rather ridiculously expensive apartment. Which means I’ve been searching for a day job. I found one that is *perfect* for me, so fingers crossed and happy thoughts for me that I get an interview. Because otherwise, I’m about two breaths away from applying at Chick-fil-a. (Not to knock them; they are a FINE, TASTY emporium of savory chicken…we eat there way too often. But I’d really like to make more than minimum wage…ah, to dream!)
The awesome thing about not moving means that we’ve turned our now-vacant third bedroom into an office for me to write in. It’s doing double-awesome duty because I now have room to work AND my son has room to play Hundred Lego Pick-Up at the same time. Except I’ve discovered my office chair is absolutely HORRID, and largely responsible for A) my shoulder issues and B) my neck problems (and possibly C) my lower extremity circulation troubles). I’d love an ergonomic chair (heck, so long as I’m dreaming, what I REALLY want is one of these spectacular Zero Gravity Workstations…), but they’re pricey. I should probably get a new desk, too. As it is, I’m making do with my old, crumbling desk, my cheap new monitor raised on a pair of old bed blocks, and my exercise ball. I just read that sitting on a ball for too long can put undo strain on your lower back (more than simply sitting in a chair, even), but I guess we’ll deal with that when we come to it. Right now, the only problem I’m worried about is how to type comfortably and remain in the same place. Typing comfortably means holding the keyboard on my lap, but then I come close to dropping the keyboard all the time and falling off the ball. Remaining stationary means leaving the keyboard on the tray but makes my back and shoulder ache before too long. Ah, the woes of a modern writer!
I’ve still got some big news coming, but I decided to hold off until I knew more about it and was ready to do a full reveal. Or at least close to. The change of venue plus futzing with my setup plus all the stress of finding a job means I’m having a killer case of writer’s block. It doesn’t matter what I try to work on – and I’ve tried lots of options. I can’t get ANYWHERE with ANY of it. Practical, day-side me says I should stop worrying about it and focus on getting a job, paying the bills, figuring out daycare, blah blah blah. Creative-side me says, “Don’t you dare! You can’t just publish a book and give up!” Unfortunately, they’re both right. I have yet to determine how to reconcile this conundrum.
Rest assured I’m TRYING. I really am doing my best. I’ve sworn off Facebook and computer games for all of June in the hopes it helps me concentrate. I’ve resolved to blog at least once a week. And I’m going to try REALLY HARD to balance my fitness needs with my writing needs (there’s never enough brain power in the day, it seems). Come hell or high water (or extreme heat, as is looking might be the case right now), I will have a story to talk about come July!
Here’s a jumble of possibilities, just to give you a glimpse at my plate:
The Shot Heard ‘Round the Planet: A tale of Colony 1 (13 Colonies, sci-fi) – I’ve been working (and subsequently stuck) on this for what feels like FOREVER.
Secret, Unnamed Project (Paranormal YA/NA) – This is the one I started a month or two ago to give me some fun outlet while stuck on Shot. Except I’m now stuck on this one, too.
Gryphon’s Overture Rewrite (Steampunk Romantic Fantasy) – This is my Kickstarter project…the one I realized needed a complete rewrite from beginning to end before I can ever consider running the Kickstarter. (That was a very sad day.)
Unnamed Traditional Project (Urban Fantasy) – I started this one two years ago, and I LOVE it. But it also doesn’t contribute to my indie career, soooo… (Plus, my long-time friend, Kathryn St. John-Shin, is working on a Greek-mythology-based traditional novel right now, and I don’t want to cross wires. It kills me that she won’t let me read it. Argh! But I suppose that’s best…for now…at least until I come up with some mastermind scheme to snatch it from her clutches…) I still get caught up in the protag’s succubus call from time to time, though.
And of course, there’s Celluloid Files. I should really do a post regarding its status, shouldn’t I? Slacker, Girly, slacker!
So that’s where I stand right now. A little dazed, a lot confused, and just plain stuck. But looking forward to (hopefully) getting a lot done in the bright, sunshiney months ahead!
If you have any questions, please do leave a comment and ask them – I’m gonna need content for future posts. 🙂
Remember that Twitter challenge from my last post? I forgot about the Twitter part. Ha…
To be fair, I’ve been posting to Twitter almost every day I write. That hasn’t been every day, but it’s been a lot more than I was worried it would be!
As of today, my new story contains about 23,000 words. Woohoo! Not as many as I hoped, but who cares?? It’s 23,000 new words!
(Personal aside: This is me, on a challenge. Some people set rigid goals; I only look like I do. I told myself I wanted a whole novel done, but will I say, “Gosh, what an awful writer I am – I only wrote half a novel in six weeks!” ? Of course not. My goals are simply motivational tools so I shoot high and land higher than I would have without them. In fact, I purposely set goals I know are pretty much impossible. Maybe it’s the “gifted slacker” mentality I grew up with. Whatever it is, I’m not actually a goal-oriented person. I don’t need to beat records or show up other people or their expectations. It’s nice to engage in word sprints with other people and be named the winner, but…enh. I’m in it more for the camaraderie. I get my warm fuzzies from the journey, not the destination. So just remember that: I will never “win” a challenge I set for myself, but I only “lose” if I forget about it or give up. I find this is much more motivational for me than things like NaNoWriMo, which emphasize the finish line. That’s just me and the way I work; YMMV.)
It occurred to me as I sat down for today’s session that 23k is almost a novella. In fact, that’s about how much I have left to write on the next 13 Colonies story. And how cool would it be if I released “The Shot Heard ‘Round the Planet” on the same day as the actual shot heard ’round the world was fired? Pretty darn, at least for the history buff I am. 🙂
Granted, it’d be close. I’d have to upload it April 17th or 18th to ensure it went on sale the right day. I have exactly 6 weeks to finish the sandpaper draft, revise to rough, edit to beta, wait for beta response, edit to gamma, polish, format, and upload. As well as contract art to be finished in 2-3 weeks. That’s a pretty darn tight time frame.
But then, wasn’t that the whole point of the novella series to begin with, at least in part? To be able to release something new within my zany home schedule that won’t take an eon to create?
I say, let’s do this thing!
Now I just need to find my notes, import into Scrivener, and get a better handle on the plot so I can figure out what was wrong with the last scene that made me stop writing it. (I think it had something to do with the central character of the scene being a Person of Color and my getting bogged down in what message I wanted to convey with him. But that’s just a guess.)
Wish me luck!