The Write Life: Shaking Loose

Unsurprisingly, I spent the majority of my writing time and thoughts in October looking ahead to National Novel Writing Month. As a municipal liaison (that’s one of the volunteers responsible for creating events at the local level), my focus tends to be on others, rather than on myself. I spend my time scrounging up volunteers, scheduling write-ins and other motivational content for the month, promoting our events and NaNoWriMo as a whole, and encouraging everyone to prep their novels so they can put their best foot forward on November 1st!

But that doesn’t leave a lot of time for my own preparations.

Those responsibilities are collectively one reason I tend to take the rebel route during NaNoWriMo and rarely work on a single project, and never work on a new project. All the projects I tackle during the month of November tend to be an already in-progress novel or a collection of smaller works.

This year I’ll be spending time drafting new scenes and revising old ones in Gay Airship Pirates, continuing to draft a course I’m teaching in February on punk subgenres (links for that as soon as they’re live!), and bouncing around between fanfic, blog posts, and whatever other topics happen to catch my heart strings.

I have been having a lot of difficulty clearing the mental clutter of late, so I’m also going to be working on a semi-daily project where I take a prompt and write for 15 minutes. The prompts I’ll be using will be gathered from a range of places, including some resources I’ve mentioned in Writer Resources posts on Patreon (and a few I will be sharing soon). I’m hoping that engaging creativity in a multitude of ways will keep the prompting fresh and shake loose any mental blocks I’m having around creativity so that when I hit my designated noveling time, I’ll be ready to get to work.

What do you do to get yourself ready to write? Do you have any tips you want to share for anyone tackling NaNoWriMo this year?

 

 

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The Write Life: Outline – Revise – Surprise!

This month my writing life was focused almost exclusively on outlining. (Also on Kate Bishop, since I wrote an article about the other Hawkeye for SlashFilm in anticipation of the Disney+ Hawkeye series debuting Nov 24.)

DragonCon kicked off my September with a workshop by Bethany Kesler called “This Is How We Time/Space Travel and Other Chronological Pitfalls.” Bethany’s session got me thinking about leaning into the alternate history of my Gay Airship Pirates novel, and I started noodling new options for the outline.

How would I emphasize the historical elements when I hadn’t framed the story around history? Does the history complement the story I actually want to tell? Am I putting too much pressure on myself by developing a historically based world?

I put all these questions aside while I worked on a new plot, shifting the antagonist’s focus and grand plan, and retooling the breadcrumbs that would allow the heroes to discover (and be threatened by) this new mystery. Some things didn’t work as neatly as they did in the previous outline, but I figured out a stronger motivation for the opening scene, there weren’t any huge gaps, and I added a longer denouement that more fully resolved one character’s emotional journey.

And then I was selected for a one-on-one with Hannah Kates during the virtual writing retreat Write Hive Lite. (Insert pitch to check out the Write Hive community and all their valuable programming.) Obviously, I needed Hannah to look at my new outline, right?

I submitted my outline for her review and then sat back to think… about those questions I asked myself and then ignored. 😬

Here’s a secret a lot of writers hate to know: when you’re struggling to make a decision, you have the answers, you just want someone else to tell you that you’re right. And that is exactly what my one-on-one with Hannah turned into. I knew what I wanted to do with the story and how I wanted to proceed, but I needed someone enthusiastic about the premise and who had distance from the years-long development process to tell me to trust my instincts.

Which is why I’m revising the outline. Again. To remove the historical elements. 😂

But here’s the awesome thing about doing all that work focused on bringing in more history: I now know that’s not what I want to do. Up until now, I’ve been second-guessing myself and allowing that doubt to hinder my progress. Also, looking at the story from a different angle let me find new solutions to old problems and I’ve got a better outline because I did the work!

The planning stages of writing can be frustrating and sometimes un-fun, but it’s important to put in the time thinking about a story and how everything comes together to ensure the story actually works once you get to drafting. Having an impartial person to talk to about that process was exactly what I needed to move forward.

This seems like a good time to mention that while I’m currently closed to new patrons for my editorial tiers, I’ll be opening new Patreon tiers later this month. The best way to get notified of when they’re available is to follow me on Patreon or Twitter.

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Routine

I’ve been struggling to figure out what to write about for this post. For this month, my writing life has been mostly routine. Words are being produced, progress is being made, but there’s not really anything for me to talk about. (Correction: actually, there is a project I would love to gush about, but it’s not ready for any announcements yet. Soon. Hopefully.)

When life is settled in the status quo, it’s harder to find something new for an update.

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

Update: Things are progressing as they should be.

Update: I revised an outline.

Update: I was distracted by something else, but that’s not unusual.

Update: I wrote in my armchair today. Again. As I have been for the last several months.

When my writing life is chugging along as normal, without anything outstanding pulling me forward and nothing terrible weighing me down, I find it harder to talk about my writing. And while it can be pleasant for my writing life to be consistent and unremarkable, the unglamorous, non-newsworthy bits of writing are also frustrating because it’s easy to feel stagnant when every day requires the same input and results in the same output.

So, with this largely non-update, let me include a few things I can talk about that are up-and-coming.

NaNoWriMo 101 Workshop
Oct 19, 7–8pm

NaNoWriMo 2021 is around the corner, and as part of my duties as a Municipal Liaison, I’ll be teaching a NaNoWriMo 101 Workshop on Facebook and YouTube to bring NaNo newbies up to speed and let people know what to expect from the Orlando region this November.

Write a Novel in a Month Conference
Oct 23-24, 1–5pm both days

I’ve also once again organized a writers’ conference for NaNoWriMo prep in conjunction with the Orange County Library. Join us for 2 days of writing workshops focused on writing a novel in a month. The line-up includes fantastic instructors like Karen Osborne, Premee Mohamed, Michael Mammay, Jennie Jarvis, Elle E. Ire, José Pablo Iriarte, Leslie Salas, and Arielle Haughee, along with my writing partner-in-crime KL!, who will be co-teaching a workshop with me called “Transforming an Idea into a Story.”

For both events, listing an Orange County Library card is optional, so if either sounds like something you’d like to attend, feel free to click the link and register! (A full schedule for the conference is available at the link.)

 

You can also catch me in a few upcoming episodes of The 42cast talking about fan conventions, Black Widow, and Loki.

And then hopefully next month (or before) I’ll be able to talk about the thing that actually had my attention most of this month.

 

 

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The Write Life: Getting Scheduled

July began with a desperate plea for help reprioritizing my life. Thankfully, my friend Jennie Jarvis stepped in to provide some structure to my internal flailing and give me a very simple method to prioritize my time and projects: does it make money or not?

I have a generous, but ultimately unhealthy habit of volunteering my time and energy in many unpaid ways. I love helping other writers—and some volunteer opportunities just sound like so much fun—so I’m not surprised I volunteer over and over and over. But when I’ve done that too often, or overlapped projects too much, I end up stretched thin, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Even though I’ve been working to say “yes” less and to only volunteer when I honestly have extra time and energy, I’m still spending more time on unpaid activities than on paid activities and badly bungling my time.

Which, uh, is a problem.

So, Jennie’s earth-shattering reprioritization system is as simple as categorizing projects as to whether or not I’m getting paid for my work, and then making sure I schedule my day to spend more time on paid projects than unpaid projects. Her strategy also allows for projects that are not currently making money but should in the future, such as developing websites, podcasts, workshops, and writer tools.

Writing time on personal projects (which would be projects unrelated to paid work) is kind of a third category, since all short stories, novels, and anything else we write for traditional publication is kind of a question mark as to whether or not (or when) it will sell. I’ve been regularly dedicating an hour and a half daily to writing, so I kept that time set aside (and still sneak in five-minute chunks here and there as time and ideas allow).

Honestly, this whole process is so easy to figure out I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. (I mean, I do. It’s something about missing the forest for the trees.)

I’ve been using this new system to restructure my time and reprioritize my projects for the last month, and while I had some difficulty adjusting (and had to make some tweaks for real-world application), I’d say overall I feel more confident in my ability to keep up with my workload and more balanced in the choices I’m making. For someone who struggles so much with mental health, getting my schedule under control has been a HUGE help. So, thanks, Jennie!

If you are struggling with your projects, responsibilities, and how to prioritize your time, I recommend taking a look at your list to see if anything I’ve described here might help get your life under control.

 

 

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The Write Life: Writing Retreat

During May when I was busily seizing opportunities, I decided it was finally time to take advantage of my alumni status and join the UCF MFA writers at the annual writing retreat at the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

I had been to the ACA previously for another event, so I was already familiar with the facility, the general layout, and how the local Florida wildlife wraps each studio, building, and walking path. I knew the ACA was the sort of place I would enjoy visiting for an extended period and that it had the sort of things I find valuable and necessary for my creativity: seats and desks, quiet and solitude, sunlight.

Also, wi-fi, if I’m being entirely honest.

The UCF MFA’s retreat is entirely self-driven, so after I confirmed I could bring my writing partner, we packed up for the weekend with a plan to work on our latest brainchild.

We split our time between our room and two of the communal spaces we were given access to, the writing studio and the library. Both facilities have a long table that seats 6–10 people and a lofted reading nook with some additional seating. The writing studio has desks along the wall as well as a printer and mini kitchen so you can easily store some snacks and drinks and hang out for a long while. Every space has enormous windows letting in beautiful Florida sunshine and displaying all the wonderful greenery that surrounds and winds through the grounds. You like palm trees and lizards? There are so many. (Also a tortoise, who I found lurking by the stairs that clearly lead to an adventure… and also spiders, which is why I didn’t descend any further.)

Sunday afternoon, the sky turned stormy, and clouds obscured the sunlight, creating a murky half-light that is my preferred lighting for creation. Florida rains tend to hang around and drip for hours, so we were able to wait out the rainiest bit and get back to our room and umbrellas without getting too damp along the way.

All in all, we made great progress organizing, planning, and filling out some of the backend content of our new project, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone. I want to wait until we’re a little deeper into production to announce it, but assuming things stay on track, I’ll be launching something exciting in the Fall. Many thanks to the UCF MFA writers retreat and the Atlantic Center for the Arts for giving us the time and space to work on our project without distractions.

(I mean, there were distractions, but those distractions were entirely on us and our need to walk through the woods and tell ghost stories about sharks. Because that is the scariest place to tell stories about sharks. You never know where that shark could be.)

 

 

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The Write Life: A Full Plate

This month has been built on seizing opportunities. Which is not a mode I’ve been operating in for some time. My recent modus operandi has been:

  • See opportunity.
  • Want opportunity.
  • Assume I am fit for opportunity.
  • Question all of my qualifications and abilities to fulfill opportunity.
  • Assume someone else wants or needs opportunity more than me or will do better with opportunity.
  • Oops, the time in which I should have replied for opportunity has probably passed, guess I shouldn’t bother.

Some of that downward spiral is about protecting myself—not just from rejection but protecting my time. I am spread fairly thin between all the hats I wear as a writer, editor, and volunteer (and all the things I write, edit, and volunteer for), so passing on opportunities can be a form of self-care and self-preservation.

Photo by Casey James on Unsplash

But passing on those opportunities also means I haven’t been putting myself out there to take on responsibilities I really want. Those responsibilities that, if I had them, I would figure out how to rearrange my plate or scrape away the least tasty responsibilities to make room for the new delicious serving. (I started visualizing mashed potatoes in the middle of writing that and now I’m just hungry.)

But I’ve been feeling a lot better this last month—a lot more positive and a lot more in control of my anxiety and other mental health issues—so I skipped the last three spiraling bullet points and, after I assumed I was fit for an opportunity, I actually went for it!

That means if you’re interested in learning how to write steampunk, cyberpunk, solarpunk, or another punk genre, I’ll be teaching a workshop about it in February 2022. I’ll post more details when registration is available, but it will be a four-week course covering eight punk subgenres to hit topics of worldbuilding, tropes, themes, and conflicts. I’ve been thinking about teaching this workshop for years, so I’m very excited to finally be doing it.

 

 

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The Write Life: The Mountain Is So Tall

When you’re starting out in a writing career, it’s easy to look and see what’s at the top of the mountain. Publication! That goal is easy to see, and the path to that goal is easy to figure out: write a book, get an agent, get published. So, you start walking that path by working on a book.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Writing a book isn’t easy, and you knew it wasn’t easy, and that’s okay. This is the first step to the long-term goal and even this is a long-term goal because it can take a long time to write a book. Or rewrite a book. Or rewrite a book again. (And again.) But that’s okay, it’s all okay, because you knew what you were getting into.

But then you’ve got a book, and it’s good, so you start querying agents. And there’s not a problem with the book, there’s a problem with the timing, specifically in that the market isn’t ripe to support your book. Which means you’ll need to write a different book to get an agent. But you can still do something with this current book because self-publishing is an option.

Now the path up the mountain includes writing a new novel to get an agent and self-publishing a book. You’ll need to write (and rewrite) the next book. You’ll need to learn more about self-publishing, including the technical aspects of putting the files together and marketing a book. But it’s okay, you can do this. You already had an idea for another book and have some resources to tap about self-publishing. You knew the path up the mountain wasn’t necessarily straight and there would be deviations along the way, that’s fine. It’s fine.

But now that you’ve started up the mountain, it’s harder to see the top because you’re on the mountain. The easiest things to see are the path ahead of you and that it’s much farther to the top than it looked from the bottom. The mountain is so tall, and it’s going to take longer to reach the top than you thought it would.

 

This is the analogy I used recently to describe how I was feeling to my therapist. The mountain is just so tall, and right now I’m feeling overwhelmed and tired. Those are hard feelings to manage in a creative career because there is so much pressure to keep creating. I feel like I don’t have time to be overwhelmed or tired, and I have to keep going. If I crawl, I’m still making progress, right?

Ha. I’m fairly certain my therapist doesn’t think that’s the healthiest mind set. She frequently reminds me that I have to make room for self-care, which, for a writer, that includes refueling the creative well and leaving time for my brain to rest and cogitate on new ideas. It might mean not writing for a while, or not writing the thing I’m “supposed” to write. Even though I know this, and even though I repeat these reminders to myself, it’s hard to remember because the mountain is just so tall.

 

 

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The Write Life: Self-Care March

My mental health plummeted over the month, so I’ve been concentrating on self-care, including what I can do to diminish the impact of the stressful, productivity-focused, anxiety- and rejection-filled life of being a writer.

Here are a few ways I’ve changed behaviors to be a little kinder to myself:

 

1. Pass, Not Rejection

Whether you’re querying agents, submitting to magazines, or just posting stories and not getting sales or hits, the writer’s life has many opportunities for people to tell you no or to not even look your way.

One thing I’ve done is change all the language in my submission tracking from “rejection” to “pass.” While being kinder to myself mentally—the story wasn’t rejected, they just passed on it—this is also more accurate in a general sense. Often there are reasons beyond the quality of the execution why an agent or editor might pass on a submission (or why a reader doesn’t click “buy”). And often times a pass means “not this time,” not “never,” so changing the language I use to reflect this from “rejected” to “pass” is one simple way to shift my thinking about submissions and come back to myself with a little more kindness about the process.

 

2. Change What Productive Means

If you’ve looked through my goals and blog posts for ten minutes, you’ve probably noticed I’m focused on metrics and productivity. I write every day. I count the number of hours I write. I count the number of words I write daily, monthly, and yearly. It’s hard for me to watch my daily word counts diminish from regularly surpassing 750 words per day to barely scraping 250 words. But does that mean I wasn’t productive?

When my word count is suffering as much as it is now, I turn to other metrics in which to find success. How many hours did I spend this week on writing tasks? If I wasn’t able to put words on the page, was I able to untangle a plot point in an outline? Did I finally name the character in that novel I haven’t finished outlining? What things was I able to achieve because I wasn’t spending all my time putting words on the page or revising those words?

Shifting the focus of what productivity means isn’t always easy, but one way I do it is with a daily goal called “Write something you like.” Maybe I couldn’t write 500 words, and maybe I’m 5,000 words behind my goal for the month, but was I able to write something that made me happy? All right, that’s a win.

 

3. Write Outside

While I’m used to taking writing excursions to coffee shops and bookstores, I forgot how invigorating it is to write outside. Late in the month, I started taking my iPad outside to write on the porch. Using a different tool to write and getting some fresh air helped release me from some of the burdens I felt being trapped indoors and surrounded by my usual work environment. (It doesn’t hurt that writing on the screen porch usually means Boogie will join me, offering either a grounding purr or the diversion of rescuing a lizard from the jaws of cat-death.)

I’ve been finding more focus writing outside, and getting a little sun in my face and wind in my hair certainly doesn’t hurt my mood either.

 

I hope you’re being kind to yourself when you need to. What do you do in your writing life to take care of your mental health?

 

 

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The Write Life: Sci-Fi February

Near the end of the month, I attended a virtual workshop with the Orange County Library called Putting the Sci in Sci-Fi, led by author and scientist Premee Mohamed. The workshop was an in-depth exploration of moving from sci-fi inspiration to story, but one of the things that stuck with me was something Premee said about what makes a science fiction story:

If the science fiction element can be removed without changing the story, the story isn’t science fiction.

Premee gave a story example to explain what she meant: the story premise is a couple splitting up. In the scene, the woman drinks from her cyber cup. If the only mention of the cyber cup is that it holds her coffee, there’s nothing science fiction about the story. You can remove the cup and the story is just about a couple splitting up. But if the woman is leaving because her cyber cup recorded the details of her partner’s affair, suddenly the cyber cup is integral to the premise and plot—now it’s science fiction.

That’s probably obvious to most readers of science fiction, but I think it’s an important element to interrogate whenever we’re writing. What makes your story science fiction? What makes your story fantasy? What makes it steampunk? What makes it romance? Is your story matching the expectations of the genre?

In one of my MFA workshops, a fellow student asked of my steampunk story if I was being limited by the constraints of the genre. Six years later and I’m still a little stymied by that question because I feel like it’s missing the point of genre conventions.

Two shelves of books divided by science fiction and steampunkGenres exist primarily as organizational and marketing tools and are one way for readers to find stories they’ll like and for stories to find an audience. (If you like this story about a robot, here’s where to find more stories about robots.) If the main task of a sci-fi story is to ensure the sci-fi element is integral to the plot, I wouldn’t call that a constraint, but it is a necessary element of the story.

All stories tend to share universal elements—plot, character, setting, theme—and they’re written using words, sentences, and punctuation. But once stories are separated by genre, unique elements are introduced, such as magic, robots, time travel, romance as the driving plot, monsters, a mystery—and those elements are what define the genre. Meeting those genre expectations means a story can be classified and marketed, and more easily find readers, which means that identifying the genre elements and making sure they’re integral to the story is essential to the writing process.

For many writers, you probably don’t need to make this genre check, but if something feels off in your fiction, it might be a good place to start your search.

 

 

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The Write Life: A Focused January

January was certainly a difficult month for finding focus, but somehow, I chipped through the distractions a little at a time to get myself organized for the next few months. Much of that organization came in the form of setting up a Click-Up workspace so I could lay all my various projects and schedules side-by-side to have a closer look at the overlap and impact of saying “yes” so many times.

It’s been a lot of work to get organized—and I still have many projects that haven’t been fully mapped—but getting the majority of the next couple months captured in the same space is helping me feel more in control of my goals and obligations.

In general, I’ve been doing a lot more planning than I have in the past, including planning my writing projects. I talked last month about how I began breaking a steampunk novel into a three-part novella, which has required a lot of different stages of outlining and using multiple tools for organizing. I continued that planning work in January, applying some of the same organizational tools to smaller projects, which made setting up an outline for a short story a breeze—it also alerted me early on that the number of subplots I had dreamed up would put a heavier load on the story and I should either expect a longer word count or pull out the scissors.

(Some of those organizational tools I’ll be talking about in upcoming Writer Resources posts on Patreon, so if you’re planning a novel-length or series project and are cultivating ideas for tackling it, consider joining my Patreon at the $2 level to gain access to those posts and downloads of the tools I created for this process.)

The month hasn’t been all organization, though, because in addition to outlining and looking at project scopes, I also took the first steps toward the goal of writing 250,000 words this year. That word count is almost 20,000 words north of what I wrote last year, but when I listed all my projects and the probable word counts, it actually seems doable. Setting year-long writing goals can be a struggle in a normal year, but after the chaos of 2020, I think I’m ready to set a few:

  1. Write 250,000 words over the year.
  2. At least once a week write 1,000+ words in one day.
  3. Complete whatever monthly projects I set. (A little vague here since projects will change month to month, but I want to emphasis completing projects this year rather than just making progress on them.)
  4. And of course, write at least 250 words every day.

What writing goals are you setting for 2021?

 

 

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