The Write Life: A Socially Distant March

Well, this month certainly has been a year, hasn’t it?

First, I hope wherever you are, you’re safe, have everything you need, and are scared enough to take every precaution but not so scared that you’re immobilized. Mostly, I hope you’re taking care of yourself in whatever fashion that needs to be. (Which could be taking a break from writing—we’ve all been through a trauma, so give yourself the space to deal with your own feelings before dealing with your characters’ feelings.)

For me, quarantine isn’t that different from my normal life. I already work from home and am used to socializing online. I can’t escape to write at my favorite restaurant or in the shadow of Hogwarts, and my in-person writing group has now become my other online writing group, but mostly life is the same.

I shower every day, put on a nerdy t-shirt, and write.

I spend a little more time re-watching old favorites and reading comic books and escapist fiction.

I have anxiety attacks and try to forget whatever doomsday numbers I saw in some article.

I read on the porch and take pictures of how pretty things are around me (or of the cheesecake I’m eating because that cheesecake is saving my life at the moment).

I take naps with my cat.

I try to focus enough to edit, write Patreon posts, or whatever else I’m supposed to be doing while counting how many days it’s been since my last possible virus exposure.

I have difficulty sleeping, but eventually drift off and wake from anxiety dreams.

I order tea online. (I probably have enough tea to see me through this.)

I revisit our virus protocols for quarantining or cleaning anything coming into the house and am grateful that my paranoia isn’t being treated as something negative.

I run additional sessions for my writing group because writing is the one constant in my life and right now it doesn’t have to be such a lonely profession. It shouldn’t be a lonely profession. Writing has always been one of the things connecting me to people, and now more than ever it’s the connection I need.

 

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The Write Life: Try Anything February

This past month I hit a landmark in my daily writing goal: 1,500 days of writing! I talked about how I started writing daily when I hit 1,000 days back in 2018, so if you want the origins of this obsessive goal, check out the post, 1,000.

While I’d like for this announcement to be filled with positivity and congratulations, that’s not entirely how I feel about it because aside from writing daily, I feel like I don’t have a lot to show for all this hard work.

Since 2016 I’ve finished a novel, revised a novel (thrice), wrote half a draft of two other books, and drafted many other short stories, though I haven’t published any original fiction. In other words, my writing life has been stagnated in the measurable areas “that count.”

Writing 1,000 days provided me with consistency and confidence. It helped shake off some of the doubt I had about my ability to start and keep writing. But writing another 500 days has brought with it different concerns and questions. Most specifically, how do I turn this productivity into published works?

That’s the question I’ve been grappling with this past month. I don’t believe there’s an easy answer—and there’s certainly not one answer—but I’ve been throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, and see what sort of drips down the wall because it’s kind of sticky but not fully cooked. (If you’re getting the idea that this has been a messy process, you would be right!)

I still don’t have any answers, but I have a list of things I’ve tried:

  • I set up a new email address and emailed myself like I was a writing coach.

    Sounds goofy, but I figured it was finally time to take advantage of my abilities to analyze other people’s work and my ability to disassociate when I’m speaking to or through a character. Essentially this became a more organized way of talking to myself out loud. (And it was a little more productive, because I’d already written all the ideas in the email!)

  • I wrote a revision plan.

    This is actually an old practice, but something I haven’t done in a while, for whatever reason. I read over a short story and instead of shuffling commas and agonizing over diction, I kept notes on what needed to change and what I needed to review. I translated that into a progress chart so I could work through each item and check it off.

  • I tricked my resistance to specific tasks by making goals of other tasks.

    I admit that I didn’t do this on purpose, but it wound up working, so it’s going on the list. When I was making my Writer’s Five goals for February, there were two projects I was considering focusing on for my write and release goals. The one I picked was a short story I felt some resistance to working on, but felt pretty comfortable about where it was. I avoided working on it by instead working on the project I felt more resistance to completing because it included revising an outline and sample chapters. But, uh, I finished the outline and am into the sample chapters. While avoiding the other task. So… yay?

Do you have any “tricks” you use to get yourself to finish writing things? Mind sharing? I need some help.

The Write Life: A Contemplative January

I started this month as many other writers did: considering my goals for the year. The past few years I’ve been in flux as I establish my editorial business, build my Patreon campaign, and write, write, (revise), write with the goal of traditional publishing. Many of the goals I set at the start of previous years have morphed or been entirely discarded because I was too ambitious, didn’t see the steps I needed to take between the start and the end, or life had other plans. (Last year fell into that latter category.)

While I still have a few big picture goals for the year—such as a word count goal (200K) and some habit goals (write 250 words or for 1 hour every day)—I’ve decided to focus on more short-term goals this year. Which is why I now present to you: The Semi-Monthly Writer’s Five.

What is The Semi-Monthly Writer’s Five? It’s five things I should be able to do in about a month that will contribute to my long-term writing goals. I will be centering these goals around the verbs “read,” “write,” “research,” “release,” and “relax.” (Did I stretch to make these all R-sounds? Yes.)

What that means is each month I will make sure to:

  • Read a specific book.
  • Write a specific story.
  • Research a specific topic (which often will actually be reading a different book).
  • Release a piece of writing (whether that’s sending for queries, submissions, or feedback).
  • Relax. No, like, seriously, this is self-care time.

Absolutely none of these goals will be metric based because too often I phone in performance on metric-based goals. Can I write every day? Hell yeah. Can I write something productive every day? *innocent whistling and avoiding eye contact* I need goals that will force me to finish a thing, hence, the Writer’s Five.

When I finish all five things, I set five new goals and I get a cookie. (I mean, the cookie may sometimes be cheesecake or a brownie or a shiny sticker, but you get the idea.)

January/February Writer’s Five:

  1. Read: Read Murder, Magic, & What We Wore and Call Down the Hawk
    I started the month with two books in progress and aimed to finish both. One, because I started it last July and I should actually finish it, and the other because it’s due back to the library.
  2. Write: Revise the Bodyswap Grim Reaper story
    The first draft is done, but I need to go back through to make the story cohesive, deepen the POV, and clarify the motivations of the characters. (I also need to pick which ending I want.)
  3. Research: Read The Invention of Murder
    I’ve been working my way through this dense nonfiction book, but I doubt I’ll finish before it’s due back to the library. This may return to the Writer’s Five later this year. Current goal: read 250 pages.
  4. Release: Send the Bodyswap Grim Reaper story to critique partners
    This goal is obviously contingent on me successfully completing the Write goal, but I can start lining up readers.
  5. Relax: Take a walk
    Even though I now have other exercise equipment, an occasional walk feels like the thing to reconnect me to the surrounding world.

Want to join me in the Writer’s Five? Leave a comment below with the five things you’ll be doing this month-ish. Try to list something you’ll read, write, research, release, and do to relax.

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The Write Life: December 2019

I hesitate to say that in December I took a break. (I mean, my to-do lists are intense, and a lot of community planning happens in December, so it is by no means a light month.) But, no, yeah, I took a break.

In November, I wrote more of my nonfiction project than I had planned, never taking the time to do the other thing I meant to—devote some hours to actually finishing the in-progress short stories I have on the drafting table. And when I got to December I just… didn’t… want to? I also wasn’t feeling too terribly interested in adding more words to the nonfiction project, or planning the next novel, or… anything, so I decided to take the hint, do myself a favor, and cut myself some slack.

I still had 15,000 words to go in my year goal to hit 250K, so I did write things, but mostly I solicited prompts from friends, wrote some silly things that made me laugh, and made some headway on things like this post, Writer Resources, and a few other projects and assignments due in January. I was pretty careful to balance play with work and to emphasize play over work, to read more than write, to watch a bunch of movies (StarWars marathon, am I right?), and to rest. Like, just in general, to rest.

2019 has been a very long year. For me personally an uncle and an aunt passed away this year, I’ve been plagued by a series of minor inconveniences which are funnier when you’re not dealing with grief, my workload and therefore income has been uneven and unpredictable, and my anxiety has been spiking and helping trigger bouts of depression. And a lot of this came to a head in August and has been a railroading me into exhaustion day in and day out since then. August to November was a very long four months. I needed a nap. So I took one.

My December was not about creativity by any means. The month was about recharging. I read five books, watched at least nine movies (oh, Star Wars), and I even sometimes went out just to be somewhere else.

I don’t have a happy, satisfied wrap-up to this because I still have so much to do and I’m still overworked, exhausted, and anxious, but I can feel a difference between how I started this month and how I ended it. My problems are still there, but a breather has helped me feel (sort of) more equipped to deal with them.

 

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The Write Life: November 2019

November means National Novel Writing Month. Instead of talking about word counts or impressive sprints and slogs to writing 50,000 words, I want to share a little about the various activities I participated in during the month because even though I was sick and homebound for a week, it was still a lot.

Weekly Write-Ins
My writing group once again opened its doors to welcome NaNOrlando writers to join us for our weekly write-in. The Central Florida Inklings is currently at capacity, but we figure for one month out of the year we can uncomfortably cram a few extra laptops at a table or spread out to fully take over our usual Starbucks. Every year a few extra writers join us, and we love having them for the month—it’s good to meet new people.

Hogsmeade Write-In
Early in the month, I lead a write-in at one of my favorite places to write: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Five other writers joined me behind The Three Broomsticks to write some truly magical words and reap some butterbeer-flavored rewards. It was a completely gorgeous (and mercifully cooler) day in which we each wrote about 2,000 words. One family incredulously asked us, “You pay to come into the parks to stare at your computers?” Sometimes the benefits of an annual pass (or Universal employment) are difficult to explain to others.

Write Around Disney World
Right in the center of the month was the pièce de résistance concerning the NaNOrlando events. On November 16, I and the other Orlando region MLs lead 40+ writers around Disney property on boats, buses, and monorails to resort lobbies and cafeterias to write as many words as we could on this traveling write-in. 

This event is my favorite every year because it’s so unusual, so fun, and so big.

Descending on and taking over the lobbies at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian makes me happy. I love threading between tourists and seeing so many writers on their laptops, focus firmly attached to their novels. It’s also a great opportunity to say hello to writers I only hang out with once a year and also to meet new friendly faces. This year we even had someone come down from Atlanta just for the event!

Brad Shreffler and I have been working together to build the NaNOrlando region for the last four years, and while Write Around Disney World is a tradition on its own, Brad and I have another tradition that we partook in this year: our annual picture writing at the kids table. When NaNoWriMo tells you that you can write anywhere, they mean it.

Even though I was sick for a week, out of town for a few days, and had relatives visiting, I still managed to get to ten write-ins. Which is more than I would have thought given that crammed schedule. But my commitment to attending write-ins during November is a testament to how much I believe writing with people increases my productivity and fulfills an important need in my writing life. Writing is all too often a solitary endeavor, and I believe it’s important to connect to a community and remember that through all the private, quiet struggles I might be having with my word count, revisions, or confidence, I’m not alone.

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The Write Life: October 2019

October is NaNo-prep for many people. The last few years I’ve been working on the same novel, so prep usually consisted of me spending the month re-reading what I’d already written, taking notes on what was missing, and tweaking the outline. But this year that novel gets a break and I’m using NaNoWriMo for a major rebellion.

The main project I’m working on is drafting three to four sample chapters of a nonfiction book on writing communities. The outline was mostly complete before October, but I spent a little time cleaning up and refining the outline and confirming exactly which chapters I wanted to write during November. (I’m actually really excited about five chapters, so I might draft all five just to get them out of my head.)

A handful of chapters won’t get me to the NaNoWriMo 50K (also I’m in a challenge to write at least 100 words of SFF every day this year), so I needed to figure out what else I could write during the month to hit that final word count.

I’ve been playing with short stories on and off this year, and decided at least one thing I could do was put ends to some of the beginnings I have. I went through my collection of WIPs and picked which ones I wanted to work on during the month. I jotted some thoughts about where these stories were going and how many words it would take to get me there. In the end, I picked seven short stories, which should net me around 20,000 words.

(I also picked a handful of prompts from The Short Story Starter so if I feel inspired to start something new, I have a place to start from.)

Lastly, I have a blog project I’ve been wanting to draft in one fell swoop, which should be somewhere around 10,000 words. If I’m short on the 50K word count, or if I stall out on one of these projects, I’ll start writing character sketches and scenes to help me understand the world and characters of the next novel I’m planning to write. Will this material make it to a novel? No way! Except in the iceberg sense of novel writing, wherein I know 90% more than what I’m showing the reader, but it’s work I need to do in order to understand the characters and how they interact in their world. (Also it’s words for NaNoWriMo!)

So that’s my NaNo Plan-o. A little more complicated than in previous years, but extremely flexible in terms of what I’ll be working on day to day and how I’m actually breaking down my 50K words.

Are you writing for NaNoWriMo? What are you writing?

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The Write Life: September 2019

You might think The Write Life is up a little later this month because of the absolute insanity that was my life in September (revisions, editing projects, falls, and escaped cats, oh my!), but it was really so I could wait and post about the NaNOrlando Writers Conference.

In 2017, I hoofed it to the Orlando Public Library each week for a weekly NaNoWriMo prep session. The sessions were great, the participants beautiful, but the turnout was relatively low and the time and stress on me was intense. And then I thought, there must be a better way.

Last year I reimagined our weekly workshop series into a half-day writing conference. This year we grew that conference to include twelve local authors, editors, and professors to prepare writers for National Novel Writing Month. Our panels included strategies for finishing a first draft, developing characters and their arcs, basic plot structures, worldbuilding and more. We offered nine workshops in total, spread across three meeting rooms, and afterwards offered one-on-one sessions for about twenty writers.

Aside from making sure everything ran smoothly, I was responsible for speaking at NaNoWriMo 101 as one of the region’s three Municipal Liaisons, and moderating the panel Rebels: Not Writing a Novel, for anyone, y’know, not writing a novel for NaNo. (Which this year I am not writing a novel—ask me about my other projects!)

We had sixty-three NaNOrlando writers come out to participate, asking great questions and confidently sharing their story ideas and problems. NaNaWriMo is a huge undertaking, and even the Orlando region is pretty large, so I love getting to connect more personally to local authors, help them through a problem, and generally support them in completing their novel. Having such a great turnout for this event makes me feel particularly good about the time I spend investing in my writing community. ❤️

I want to take a moment to publicly thank all the instructors and OCLS staff who helped make the NaNOrlando Writing Conference happen—

Sarah Fisk from OCLS
Racquel Henry, L.E. Perez, and Arielle Haughee from Writer’s Atelier
Elle E. Ire & José Iriarte
Ella Martin
Jenny Broom
Catherine Carson
Jennie Jarvis
And of course my co-MLs, Brad Shreffler and Nicole Dennis

Many thanks to Aly for letting me use one of her photos after I completely forgot to take any.

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The Write Life: August 2019

Yep, you guessed it: it’s the annual post about DragonCon.

As always, DragonCon is a magical place in which time doesn’t flow correctly. It is both so long and way too short, wherein on Friday you’re thinking about how much time you have to do everything and on Monday you’re begging for one more day of con. (Even when I’m ready to go home on Monday, I’m still half-slumped in my chair, ready to go to the next panel.) On the way home I was basically two hours out of synch and was very confused when the sun set at what felt like 6pm.

This confusion of time fits perfectly with the fact that my theme this year was clearly time travel since I was on three different panels dealing with time travel.

Let’s move on to some highlights:

  • I was on two separate panels in which time travel was the main topic. With the Alternate & Historical Fiction Track we discussed time travel in general, hitting favorite time travel stories in TV, movies, and books (and not-so favorite stories as well). Since this was an open-ended discussion, it meant I still got to talk about Stargate: SG-1 which is always a plus.
  • Over on the Military Sci-Fi Media track, in the panel “How Do YOU Time Travel?” we focused more on the mechanics and science of time travel since I was on a panel with two PhD astrophysicists!

    Let’s pause on that for a moment. Here was the panelist line up for that panel:

    PhD astrophysicist
    PhD astrophysicist
    me, MFA Fiction

    Both astrophysicists were fantastic about explaining complicated real and theoretical physics in succinct and understandable ways, which kept the conversation from getting bogged down. I was able to interject on story-related motivations for time travel and got to explain why I prefer the Many Worlds theory of the multiverse as it relates to story consequences and angst.

  • American Sci-Fi & Fantasy Media invited me to a fan panel about The Umbrella Academy, in which, yeah, I also got to talk about time travel. I wound up being the only panelist who was introduced to the comic before the series and provided a lot of insight about the source material. (Many thanks to those in the audience who assisted with remembering single panels that contained relevant details!) The discussion was one of the best fan panels I attended all weekend, and I appreciate how much enthusiasm everyone brought to talk about this family of misfits.

  • I spent Saturday night camped out in the Alternate & Historical Fiction Track learning about the history of séances and phony psychics, pirates, and women in history. I have a long list of books to add to the TBR pile and a renewed itch to work on Gay Airship Pirates. Nothing is more inspirational than listening to how other authors worked through the same problems that are plaguing me.
  • On a personal note, I had completely forgotten that David Blue (Eli Wallace from Stargate Universe) was from FL and attended the University of Central Florida. This resulted in both of us dredging our memories to try to figure out how he recognized my face. No definitive conclusions, but our selfie game is A+.

Many thanks to Lisa for being a photographer while I was on panels.

 

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The Write Life: July 2019

This month was all about workshops—workshops I attended and workshops I presented.

My first stop was the Orange County Library to learn about world building from Arielle Haughee. Her approach to world building starts with creating maps, ranging from the broad to the more specific aspects of the world. I tend to make maps late in my drafting process—you know, after I’ve written the location of the main character’s house and then written something else that completely contradicts that. With Arielle’s process, I could have those details knocked out in advance and have some potential ideas for conflicts and obstacles presented by the distribution of resources in the world and difficulty of the terrain and transportation. Basically, her presentation knocked my planning socks off, and has encouraged me to go play with the mapmaking app I found a few months ago.

The next stop in my writerly education was the Central Florida Inklings where I hosted Saritza Hernandez, Senior Literary Agent at Corvisiero Literary Agency. Saritza talked to my writing group about preparing your manuscript for submission to a literary agent or publisher and shared tips for writing a query letter and synopsis. Saritza broke down the need for a literary agent (even for self-published authors) and clearly described what will encourage an agent to keep reading your submission. She also talked about ways to research the market, giving me a few additional ideas to work into my process.

My last workshop of the month was back at the Orange County Library, but this time I was presenting. I shared my love of steampunk, breaking down the essential elements of the genre and helping other writers figure out what makes a story steampunk. (Hint: it’s more than just cogs and corsets, gears and goggles.) I covered 19th century aesthetics, technology, and social issues, as well as character and story tropes specific to steampunk. This and other presentations will be available by the end of the year on Patreon for patrons pledging $7 or more.

In news of other presentations, I’m working on finalizing my schedule for DragonCon where I’ll be on four or five panels across two or three tracks. Right now I’m confirming there are no conflicts across the track schedules, but you can guarantee I’ll be talking about time travel that weekend—maybe more than once!

 

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The Write Life: June 2019

Summer is convention season, which means that just a couple weeks after the OCLS Book Festival, I was driving over to Maitland for a weekend at OASIS, the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society’s annual convention. They were celebrating OASIS 30, but this was my first time in attendance. It’s kind of amazing what can be growing under your nose if you just haven’t looked around to find it.

While OASIS isn’t strictly a writer convention, its focus is on sci-fi and fantasy books, so there were a lot of authors to talk to and plenty of panel discussions geared toward writing. (And some that were geared more toward science, which were fantastic for inspiration and research.)

One of my favorite panels of the weekend was Brainstorming the Science in Your Science Fiction. A panel of experts in several scientific fields—everything from biologists to rocket scientists—were available to answer writers’ questions about their fictional science. I’ve been struggling with some details about what a character is doing outside of her spaceship when disaster strikes, and they had some fantastic suggestions for various things she could be fixing (and what would put the ship in the most peril).

I also had several great one-on-one conversations with authors about how they run their Patreon campaigns, experiences they’ve had in both traditional and self-publishing, and I received an actionable suggestion for how I might condense my ideas for short fiction and actually write a short story! Overall, it was a very useful convention and I’m so glad that I finally stumbled across their group.

(And thanks to the gentleman who asked before putting bunny ears on KL. Classic joke performed with class.)

 

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