Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Rocket Fuel for a Writing Life

I'm still enjoying the prompts from the DIYMFA book club. They've got a very active group over on Facebook, too. If you're interested in exploring these themes about your own writing, I highly recommend giving them a look!

Today's question is: What feeds YOUR creativity?

Knowing what fuels your creativity is SO IMPORTANT if you're going to make a go of your creative endeavor of choice. All of us have certain supports that have to be in place or it's a no-go.

I considered just saying "caffeine" because tea and coffee definitely have a starring role in my writing life, but I decide to explore the topic a little more deeply than that.

For me, it comes down to two basic things:

Taking care of myself AND seeking interesting input.

Taking care of myself may seem pretty basic, but it's something I have to consciously remind myself to do at times. I can't think well if I am exhausted, hungry, or headachy and thinking is kind of necessary to the writing process.

I do my writing at night most of the time, after a full teaching day and seeing my family through meals, homework, and whatever else life throws at us. It's easy to accidentally stay up very late that way. But nobody likes underslept Samantha! She's a Crankasaurus Rex.

Taking care of myself sometimes means keeping myself on a time leash and protecting me from me. Even if I'm in the groove, I have hard stop times each night.

Since I also write everyday, come hell or high water, it evens out. And it can be a great feeling to sit back down the next day raring to go because I had to stop before I really wanted to the night before.  (YMMV: After years of teaching and mom-ing, I'm used to working while being constantly interrupted; I'm good at putting a pin in it and leaving good notes that help me find my place again quickly).

It also means saying no to things, which I am not good at, but see the necessity of. I have to protect my writing time by NOT attending every reading, books club, and workshop in the Triangle. And there are *a lot* of great writing related events in my corner of North Carolina, so that can be hard to balance.

The other side of that balance is the "interesting input" part of things. I need exposure to new things. Novelty keeps me interested.  Learning excites me.

So, sometimes, I say YES, too.  I go to the piano recital or middle school production. I watch the movie everyone is talking about. I read the book. I take the class; I try the new hobby.

I go out and talk to people (good conversation with interesting people is rocket fuel for my writing).

It's not just that it's a break (though it is that, too). But having disparate ideas bounce around in my noggin causes connections and inspirations that wouldn't happen otherwise. Some of my favorite ideas starting with a simple daydreaming, "What if?"

So, there's my secret formula for writing fuel: self care and interesting input.

The nice thing is that it doesn't have to be expensive. Just people watching at the park can be enough to get my storytelling brain spinning (I LOVE writing backstories for strangers). The key is keeping tabs on myself and noticing burnout or loss of interest and actively seeking the spark that keeps imagination ignited and curiosity's head on a swivel.

How about you? What fuels your creativity?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I'm not Gloria Gaynor, but I will survive

Today, in the DIYMFA book club, we're talking about our storytelling superpowers. There's a fun little quiz to get you started. I'm a sucker for these online quizzes that claim to analyze something about me based on what pictures I select and that sort of thing. They're fun for me, in the same that horoscopes are fun. I take them with a giant grain of salt, but love it when the results seem accurate, and sometimes even when they don't.

This one is designed to tell me what kind of characters I tend to write, and there's a bit of truth in the results.

My critique group friends phrase it differently, saying that I've got "a thing for stubborn women," but really it's the same thing, isn't it? We call it determination if we like what you're being stubborn about, don't we? 

My published works definitely feature a lot of survivors. The Menopausal Superhero series has been described as half women's fiction and half bam-pow action, and that seems accurate to me. The genesis of the series lies in considering what might happen if the people who gain super-heroic powers were not unattached teenagers, but women with careers, families, and established lives. All of those heroines are survivors of something (cancer, bad marriage, the corporate ladder, parenting, etc.), and show their persistence and strength in fighting through the new obstacles life has thrown at them in dealing with the disruption to their lives caused by these changes. 

I see the same characteristic pluck in some of the characters in my not-yet-ready for publication works, too. Lena and Freda, the sisters in my unfinished historical fiction trilogy, starting with Cold Spring; Rat Jones, the angry young woman in my middle grades novel awaiting a final pass (Rat Jones and the Lacrosse Zombies); and Sherry, the protagonist of my first-ever novel, fighting a battle against her own mind (His Other Mother).  

My current WIP, Thursday's Children, is dystopian-young adult-romance, and Kye'luh Wade is another survivor, determined to keep her cousins out of the hands of the Ethical Behavior Committee by force of sheer will. 

It's interesting that such a diverse cast of imaginary friends as populate my works have a commonality. Perhaps my grandmother was right when she said that I "another stubborn woman in a long line of them." 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Being Reasonable with Myself

It's not too late to join the fun at the DIYMFA book club. I'm enjoying the community so far, and the prompts are fun to explore. Today's prompt asks about a time when I had to honor my reality. 

Generally, I'm more of an Adam Savage frame of mind when it comes to reality: 

I want everything: to be a great mother and wife, teach brilliant lessons, cook magnificent meals, exercise enough, write all the words, travel to all the places, see all the shows, volunteer all the places, and still find time to read, eat, and maybe watch some movies.

You should see it when I'm sick. It's terrible. I'm the worst patient. I get so angry about being slowed down for recovery!

But sometimes, I have to admit that it's not actually possible to do it all. I do, after all, still require sleep, despite the amount of caffeine I consume.

My husband is my best reality-checker in this regard. He spots it when I've really overbooked myself and am going to drive myself crazy, and expresses his concern somewhere between "gently" and a "come to Jesus talk" depending on the severity of the situation. We have some very direct talks about choosing priorities and letting some things go, but not the ones that will really give me regrets.

When I committed to writing every day and really giving this whole "writing thing" my best effort, he helped me plot out the parameters for what that could mean in our family, without bankrupting us or alienating all my loved ones. He's really got my back in the best possible way in all this. It's hard for me to say no to an opportunity that appeals to me, even when it's not practical to participate.

An example of this is the Son of a Pitch contest. It's a pitch contest organized by a writing friend. I've been a hosting blogger and second round feedback provider and judge for a couple of years. It's a great contest, with a really positive and supportive vibe and I LOVE being a part of it. But it's held in September and February.

Did I mention that I'm a middle school teacher by day?

So, yeah. September and February are the starts of semesters. Not the best timing to take on something so all-absorbing for an entire week. Especially since I also insist on working on my own WIP daily at the same time--that one is a deal-breaker for me, the one promise I've made to myself that I DO NOT break.

In September, when I last did Son of a Pitch, I really struggled to find the hours needed to do it right. So, to honor my reality this year, when I was invited to judge again, I said that February is really not good for me.

When you're still building a writing career, it's hard to give up an opportunity, hard to trust that there will be others. But it's all about balance and a girl can't live on literary fumes alone.

I'm still learning to be reasonable with what I expect from myself, setting the bar high enough to push me without breaking me. I suspect it'll be a lesson I learn and relearn all the days of my life.

Monday, January 8, 2018

How Did You Become a Writer?

As I continue to find and refine my writer's path, I've decided to try out the DIY MFA Book Club, seeking out new inspiration and new friends and colleagues. The first prompt asks: How did you become a writer?

Or, as I prefer to think of it, whose fault is this? 

It might be my mother's fault. After all, she was the one who introduced me to books and stories, who took me to the library once a week and read me my favorite books over and over again, until I knew them by heart. Her love of reading was contagious. 

Then again it might be Mrs. Alsdorf's fault. She was my first grade teacher. As a handwriting exercise, she had all us six year olds copy out classic poems by Wordsworth, Frost, Dickinson, Shakespeare, etc. I loved the words, fell dreamily into the sounds and images and illustrated the margins with elaborate drawings. Kneeling down to admire my work (it wasn't far for her: she was only five foot tall), she whispered into my ear, "You know, if you want to, you could write your own poems." 

Then again, it might be Emily Dickinson's fault. She wrote such wonderful quirky poems that seemed to speak my very heart back to me, and made me write to write my own to answer her. 

Or it could have been Jo March, or her creator Louisa May Alcott, portraying writing as something a smart bookish girl could do for adventure.

But really? 

Writing was something in the heart of me from the very beginning. I was lucky in that I figured out what scratched that itch early on. When I need to write, it's very much like an itch. It's a discomfort, a restlessness, a twitch that leaves my brain aflame until I can quench the fire with the balm of story. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

IWSG: Scheduling Creativity

It's the first Wednesday! Which means IWSG Day. Today's question: What steps have you taken to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

After you see what I have to say, be sure to check out other posts and our lovely and generous co-hosts:  Tyrean Martinson, The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan,Rachna Chhabria, and Jennifer Lane.

I used to write whenever inspiration struck. That meant I'd write a lot…sometimes. 

But then it might be months before I'd write again. I'd fall in love with a project, but lose interest before I ever finished anything. I'd lose the flow because I didn't get back to a project soon enough. 

It was that way most of my life. Until (trumpet flourish please): 

Four years ago, I committed to a daily writing habit.

I decided I would write 250 words every day come hell or high water. And at first it was ridiculously difficult. Despite great support from my family giving me time and space of an evening, it would sometimes take me two or three hours to hit that minimum. But I made myself. Even when it wasn't easy, even when I had a headache or really just wanted to go to bed. I wasn't going to let it go this time. 

And it got better over time. I got faster. It got easier. 

Now I've written daily for more than four years in a row. Some days it's only 250 words, but that's not because I struggle to *write* the words, more that some of my days demand so much of me that I can only get a half hour or so and I accept a minimal writing day to save my sanity. My school night goal these days is 800 words. On a day off, I shoot for 2000 words. But it still counts as a writing day so long as I hit at least 250. 

I want to be faster yet. I have so many stories in my brain that want telling. 

Once I got my flow going, I've been trying to get one book out a year. That pace might be a little too relentless for this phase of life, which my mother calls The Busy Years, so I slowed down a bit in 2017. Here at year end, I don't have a book ready yet for 2018, but I still might before the new year is out :-)

In 2018, I'm planning to up the ante. I have to write 250 words of fiction for it to count. I'll still keep up my blog posts and articles and such, but the day doesn't count as a writing day unless it includes at least 250 words of fiction.

I know how my brain works and I have to keep a bit of pressure on to get results. Comfort is complacency all too easily.

This isn't the right strategy for everyone, but it really works for me. Looking forward to hearing what works for you. I *love* stealing good ideas to hack my writing life. 

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Another Year Over . . .and What Have I Done?

A writing life is a lot like a teaching life and a mom-ing life, in that there isn't really an end to the work.

Sure, you finish things, but there are more things. It's never really done. I'm bad at stopping to celebrate my successes sometimes, just swinging to the next trapeze and holding on for dear life instead.

So, here's a look back at 2017 with an eye to what went well in my writing life. I gotta say, looking back on it feels pretty dang good.

First some statistics:

  • I wrote 324,751 new words as of December 27. I'm hoping for a few thousand more before the calendar flips. 
  • I revised 434, 532 words. I'm pretty sure some of these words were revised multiple times :-)
  • On December 31st, my daily writing chain will be 1,556 days long.
  • I read 58 books. 
  • I attended 6 conventions as an author guest.
  • I judged 5 writing contests
  • I taught 1 new college course
  • I had 3 new releases: a novel, a collection of short stories, and a short story in a multi-author collection
I spent most of this year finding my joy in the words again, after three years straight of nose to the grindstone had left me blistered and grumpy. And I can definitely say I am loving my life of words again, so that's the most important win of 2017 right there. 

Here are some month by month highlights from my writing life in 2017:

January: Illogicon! This is my backyard convention, held only a half hour away from my doorstep in Cary, NC. I love being a guest author at this welcoming and friendly convention. I'll be back again this year. It's always a good sign when you get invited back :-)

February: I finished first round edits on Face the Change, the third of the Menopausal Superhero series, keeping on track for my scheduled release date. This was especially important as I'd had to do a revise and resubmit after sending in a rushed draft that wasn't ready for prime time. 

I also go to Mysticon as a guest for the first time. It's exciting to get new opportunities to meet with
readers and get my geek on in a new venue. (I can look forward to returning to Mysticon in 2018, too). I took my sister with me and found out she's a wonderful companion for convention fun. 

I hosted and provided feedback for the Son of a Pitch contest, which is always great fun and lets me help other writers along their journey the way I was helped and continue to receive help. It's a lovely little circle of the writing life thing. 
March: Yay for finishing edits! Face the Change made it through second round edits and I didn't hurt anyone in the process. (Even a non-traumatic editing process is still kind of painful, though necessary and helpful). 

April: I got a convention for my birthday! Ravencon invited me to be a guest author and I had a wonderful time. It was on my birthday weekend, too, so I took my husband with me and we had a geektastic romantic weekend together. (And I'll be back for more spring geekery in 2018).

I also got to try out a new event: a science fiction and fantasy festival at a library. 

May: I began writing something completely new, at the prompting of a writing friend who was putting together a book bundle of post-apocalyptic, young adult, romance novellas--for the record I'd never written any of those things, let alone the three combined, and I *adore* trying new things in my writing.

I didn't finish it in time to be included in that project (hoping to finish by the end of January, and it'll be a full-length novel), but starting it was a joy, and a first step on my road to recovering my joy of writing. With luck Thursday's Children, will be available for you to read in 2018.

I also got to sell my books at Atomic Empire during Free Comic Book Day and judge the Lune Spark contest for young writers. 

June: Another first time convention for me: ConCarolinas! This is one of the bigger cons in my geographic area, and I was super excited to be included. It was in a lovely venue and let me meet in person some writers I only knew online, fellow members of Pen and Cape Society

I also served as a judge for the Women's Fiction Writers Association Rising Star Contest and taught a course on the speculative fiction short story for Central Carolina Community College (I'm teaching a novel writing course there this spring). 

If that weren't enough, Curiosity Quills also released Friend or Foe and Other Stories, a collection of side stories from the Menopausal Superhero series. 

July: Hurray! Book release month! Face the Change came out just in
time for Con-Gregate, for which I was a return guest. I got to bring my sister again, and we celebrated my new book release with a great group of friends and fans.

I was invited to be on a panel about Love stories at my library.

I finished out the month with a three day writing retreat with my critique group in the mountains. A few days freedom from my other responsibilities where I get to be "just a writer" and leave my other hats on the rack is a luxury I wish I could offer to all the writers in my life. I'm so fortunate to have my husband and family who are willing to give me that space and time to pursue my other passions. 

I finished my short story for our group anthology and made some serious inroads into Thursday's Children

August: I began this month at the beach, thanks to my generous parents who rented a condo for a week and invited us to come share it with them. It was a productive month despite being the one in which school starts and balance of where the hours of my day shifted back to teaching over writing. My third release of the year came out: The Love Unlimited anthology included a short story for Jessica "Flygirl" Roark, "Flygirl's Second Chance." This one is still free on Amazon for a few more days if you'd like to check it out. 

September: Another round of Son of a Pitch during a month with huge family and professional (teaching) obligations reminded me that I needed to keep control of my time and balance or I was going to crash and burn. I made it through and lived to tell the tale and that's something to be proud of. 

October: Halloween is my family's favorite holiday and I was thrilled to be invited to tell my real life ghost story at the Burwell School, a local historical site. If you want to hear about my spooky sleepover, you can watch the video here:

November: I finished out my year's conventions with a trip back to Atomacon. Atomacon was the first convention to accept me as an author guest, so they have a special place in my heart and I was happy to be back (and not just because it's a quick jump to the beach from there, though that is a perk). 

I tried out a brand new event: a book fair in Charlotte. Given the chance, I'd do it again. I judged another writing contest, this one for Legendary Women

I tried NaNoWriMo, but 50K just wasn't in the cards. I can't complain too much about that, though, given all the blessings of friends and family that filled my month. My parents visited for Thanksgiving and our annual Extra Life fundraiser/gaming party was a success. 

December: I finished out the year with a sale on all my Menopausal Superhero books, which has already netted me a few new readers and newsletter subscribers. Just today, I had a planning meeting with another writing friend about a nonfiction book we're going to craft together. 

With just a few more days left in 2017, I'm hoping to finish the chapter I'm on in Thursday's Children, and maybe one more. I'm looking forward to another busy and productive year in 2018 doing what I love. Here's hoping it's the same for each of you. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sending my Baby to College

My eldest daughter is a senior in high school. Almost eighteen. Almost a college student.

She's nearly as freaked out about that as I am. It's exciting and scary all at once.

We've got one more semester with her at home and then shoom! off she goes.

We've been smart about this "leaving the nest" thing in some ways: we visited colleges last year, she's had a checking account for a couple of years now, we met the application deadlines, she has a good amount of driving experience, she's holding down a job and still making good grades, she can cook something besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We must have done okay, because she got accepted where she wants to go and we're already seeing some scholarship love.

In other ways, it feels like I'm running out of time to make sure she's ready. I've never made enough money to have significant savings, and I'm out of time now to put aside dollars for her schooling. We're just going to have to figure out how to make it work with what we have. She's never really done her own laundry. Will she go to bed at all if I'm not there to tell her that she has to stop and get some rest?

The oddest feeling, after planning for her to go to college her whole life, is wishing she just wouldn't go. Maybe that's the part people mean when they talk about "empty nest." My nest will hardly be empty. I have a younger daughter, a husband, and a very needy rescue dog, plus 150 or students each semester. Plenty of folks to take care of.

But still, I won't be taking of her, at least not in that day to day basis kind of way.

And it's like:

I know she'll love college. I remember how much I did. It's a wonderful opportunity, having four years to focus on what you love and learn how to make that into a way of making a living. Four years of having your mind and world expanded daily. She'll be awesome. She was made for this. 

Yeah. She's ready. 

I'm just not sure I am.