Night falls, the world goes still

I’m still here, and in spite of the lack of blogging, I’ve been busy.

First and foremost, I’m still working to finish the YA fantasy novel. I got to about the 70% mark and hit that point of doubt that so many other writers talk about. One of my favorites is this essay by Neil Gaiman. It is just so comforting to know that a master of the craft hits a point of “nobody will ever read or care about this and there’s nothing good about it” the way I do! It took a 2-hour rant to Sarah for me to figure out my issue.

Sometimes I just get stuck; I think all writers do that. For me, sometimes the stuck is mental/emotional fatigue and I just need to take a break from writing. Sometimes it is my own doubt throwing up a boulder in my way and I need to shove it aside so I can keep going. And sometimes that stuck is a sign that there is something wrong with my story and I have to stop to figure it out. I know other writers who just write and solve their problems as they go, but that’s rarely worked for me. I like an outline, a chapter-by-chapter sketch of my scenes and beats. And sometimes the outline I have isn’t the one I should be telling.

This time, it was very much that. And the only way I get loose is to sit down and talk it out. Out loud at Sarah, usually. She’s very patient. I begin at where I’ve stopped and work backwards, twisting and turning the story like a Rubik’s cube. I question my characters, their motivations, their plans. If I had been assuming X is a villain for Y reason, I extrapolate how the story changes if X isn’t a villain, or if their reason isn’t Y anymore. I leave nothing untouched, perfectly happy to rewrite everything not yet on screen and anything already in the text. And after 2 hours (and, for some reason, it is ALWAYS 2 hours), I find my way to the right twist that lines up all the blocks and the Rubik’s cube is complete — and so is my outline.

So, plus side, now I have a path to the end that I’m excited about, that does several things I really wanted to do and didn’t know how, that feels like the right conclusion for everyone while yet leaving plenty of threads open for sequels. Now I just have to write it all down.

Second, I’ve been querying. Sadly, nothing to report. But I’m not feeling discouraged. My list of agents to query is long and full of amazing people I would be thrilled and honored to work with on my journey. The rejections aren’t landing as painfully as they did on the last book I queried, and I think it’s because I’m in a better place for myself. Also, I have a better relationship with my writing vs with the business of publishing. I know this isn’t my only shot. I’ll keep writing books. There’s no deadline to finding my way here. The process does take up effort and spoons, but I’m okay expending them and I feel hopeful and excited still.

Third, work is a lot, but nobody comes here to read about that.

(Nobody comes here to read anyway, but I appreciate you if you find me someday!)

Fourth, we have been watching A LOT of hockey. With the Buffalo Sabres, the Minnesota Wild, and the Columbus Blue Jackets — and a subscription to ESPN+ — there is usually at least one game a night, and often two. They’re not all *good* mind; all three teams are struggling this year. But when they play well, even if they lose, they’re fun to watch. And with college football ramping down, having hockey is a constant source of excitement and fun.

Fifth, it’s holiday season, so there’s a lot to do. I hosted Thanksgiving for 9, watched the parade (of course!), and basked in the afternoon of good food and better company. Sarah and I even got our gift shopping done already! We have a million things to wrap and send, but at least we don’t have to figure out any more presents. Are we going to bake this year? Make cookies or something special for Christmas Day with friends? Who knows! Not me, anyway. It depends how we feel about it next week, probably. But maybe!

Lastly, it’s the part of the year where it gets dark early and stays dark long into the morning. Every part of my body thinks I should be hibernating right now, and naps are common. I also find that I’m more introspective and less outgoing as the darkness descends. I like this time of year, the cold, the quiet, the stillness. I like the night of the soul leading to the solstice and the celebration of Yule when the light returns. There’s a peace in the solitude of the late nights lit only by our electric fireplace and my laptop. It’s restful, and restorative, but not very productive.

If you want to find me being active these days, visit me on BlueSky. It has replaced the bird site for me, and while I’m not much more prolific there than I ever was on Twitter, I’m making some attempt to have a presence. Of course I’m still here, too, but I don’t really post memes here and such. I figure if you want the silly, it’s going to be on the spur-of-the-moment site. This is the long-form me, and I am inherently less amusing at length.

Anyway. I’m here, I’m writing, I’m doing okay. I’m busy, and my attention is going many directions at once, but I’m centered and grounded where it matters. And although we’re not quite to the point of looking ahead to 2024, the view from here has some light on the horizon.

As this is a season where there are almost no songs written for me and my spiritual affiliation (I do not do Christmas carols), I thought I would share this one instead. This is a wonderfully entertaining meditation on that space between traditional religious music.

I give you “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” by Steve Martin:

Stay safe, all!

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Writing thoughts in the wee hours

I was talking to my coach a few days ago about writing and where I’m struggling versus where I’m succeeding, and we started making kind of a list of things I either wish I had known earlier in my writing journey or that I need to remind myself about when times are rough. I figured I’d share them here, at least the ones I can remember at 2am.

In no particular order:

1.) There is no being “as good as” or “better than” other authors. In the end, my voice, my style, my choices, my pacing, they’re as unique to me as a fingerprint. There are lessons to be learned from other authors, and when reading their works I may feel like mine is nothing more than a paper doll held up before a wedding dress in comparison. But it’s not the right way to think about it. What’s mine is mine and it has value even if I don’t feel its magic the same way. Just as I look at others in awe, others may look at me and feel those same things. Writing is not a race run against other people. It is only a race run against myself.

2.) The people who love me may not always be my readers, even if I want them to be. No matter how much I want to share my writing, it may not always be a fit for the people around me. And that is not a judgment on me or them. Don’t take it personally when others bow out. A story written to appeal to literally everyone appeals to no one. Let people self-select so they read the things that excite them and let the rest go. The people who love me still love me just the same whether or not they read my books.

3.) The only easy part of the writing process is the having of an idea. Inspiration is easy. Literally everything else is work and sweat and stress and discipline and happy accidents and frustrating effort and sleepless nights and deadlines. And that’s okay. It has been like that for every author in history. It has been like that for every single book I’ve completed. The fact that it gets hard is not reason to stop or give up. The work, in the end, will reflect the effort put into it. So put in the effort, and see what grows out of it.

4.) Writing and publishing are different. Writing is about expression, art, emotion. Writing comes from the soul and the imagination. Writing is like taking one photo of my mind and heart and crystalizing it in time. Publishing is a business. Publishing is about producing and selling a product, and it doesn’t really care how I feel about it. Sitting quietly in the dark and writing is my time with myself, to commune, to feel, to seek — but that will never be what nets a book deal. Publishing comes from marketing and querying and pitching. I am a writer. I am an author. Nothing can change or take that away from me. What happens on the publishing journey can and will be scary and stressful and sad sometimes, but it does not invalidate me or my art or my writing, no matter how it ends.

5.) When in doubt, make the bold choice. If I am at a crossroads in the middle of a work and hesitant to move forward, it is likely because one path feels “safe” and the other “risky.” One path aligns with my original ideas or my outline, while the other is a flash of inspiration that hit along the way. One path keeps the story chugging along on its neat little track; the other leaps the track and heads off into the field of flowers. And the risky choice is always the better one. It is always the more exciting one. It is always the one that elevates the story and everything in it. Don’t get bogged down in the rules of an outline or expectations from the start. Let the story breathe, and when it decides to sing instead, pick up an instrument and play along.

6.) Deadlines help — until they don’t. Having a goal and a deadline is a great driver for me, and it helps me stay focused and disciplined. But there comes a point with a looming deadline that it starts to stress me out and I find myself writing *less* because I’m afraid I’m going to miss it. At that point, I need to take a breath. For as long as I’m not under a contract with a deadline that impacts other people, it’s okay if I push mine out a week. For as long as it’s just me and my story, there is no harm to giving myself an extra week to breathe. My high standards are good at pushing me, but when they push too hard, I need to relax them. It’s not a failure to rest. It’s not a failure to take a break and get back to writing tomorrow. It may even be for the best if today’s writing would be blah but tomorrow’s will be zing.

7.) With all possible self-affirmation, STOP GETTING DISTRACTED. I know, I KNOW my brain will be in the middle of a dialogue and suddenly I’ll get a song in my head and just NEED to go watch the YouTube that I associate with it. I have interrupted my writing time with everything from blog posts (ha) to beefing up my already-robust collection of cool digital art to watching multiple full episodes of a show because my brain went down a rabbit hole and ooooooh look at that shiny other thing that’s not writing. Yes, my brain is a distractable little toddler sometimes. But I can do better, and my wife who would like me to be asleep now would appreciate if I saved my “I’ll just download one more picture” until daylight.

8.) Don’t try writing anything more complicated than a blog post with a migraine. And maybe not that, either. Yes, wordcount can be forced out through the pain, but it is like pushing a dried out wedge of garlic through a garlic press — and with about the same results. Writing through feelings is one thing, and often a positive one; even stress or grief improve with writing. But physical illness is not the same thing. I need to give my damn body a rest and write tomorrow when it doesn’t hurt to move. (No, this wouldn’t possibly be true today…or yesterday…right?)

9.) Mayyyybe start trying to write earlier than 1am. Just a thought. I know I write best when the work of the day is truly behind me and the thoughts of dishes or laundry can be put completely aside. I know I write best when I don’t feel like I’m missing out on time with Sarah or friends, when the visits have ended and Sarah no longer wants to watch the show or play the game with me. But there is a vast margin between when people go home and Sarah settles down with her own book and my 1am spot. Quit messing around online and just get to work. Yes, I can do absolutely excellent work at 1am, but even I annoy myself when I get tired before I want to be done. Even if it feels like “taking time away” from Sarah, it isn’t. She says so. Trust her and take the gift she’s giving of time to write at 10.

10.) My stories deserve to be told. Keep that negative self-talk out and focus on this one. My imagination deserves to be given voice. Whatever the doubts of the day, whatever the fears, don’t back down. My words don’t have to be revolutionary to have worth. They don’t have to change the world to have a place in it. Maybe only 100 people will read them, but maybe just one of those people will be better for them. And that is worth everything. One life made better by reading my story is worth every minute of writing. And somewhere there is that one person. My stories deserve to be told for that one person. No fear or doubt can ever be as important as that.

You know, the more I become aware of and exercise control over my negative self-talk, the happier I am as a person. The less I stress about my writing, about publishing, about all of it. So much of that fear and hurt was coming from me. And I have miles and miles to go as I get better with instituting the positive self-talk in its place, but it’s an improvement and a powerful one.

The me of five years ago couldn’t have found peace with so much of this list. But here I am. And if all that work I’ve put in has gotten me this far, I can only imagine what the me of five years from now will be able to say about herself.

Good job, past me. Keep going, current me. And hi, future me — I hope it’s nice there!

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Clouds roll over the hills

There’s a weird sense of added responsibility working through this YA project of mine. I’ve been writing for ages, and much of that writing has been shared. But never before have I had this sense of “what story do I need to tell for the people who need it most?” like this.

I think it’s because I’m so cognizant of how much I was impacted, changed, inspired by the books I read when I started delving into the YA shelves. To be fair, the biggest changes in me probably came in the MG category, especially anything and everything written by Bruce Coville. But YA stories have a way of building out a blueprint for how a person finds their place in the world. It’s an explicit part of the genre for a reason — those who are on the cusp of stepping out from what is known (childhood home, middle/high school) look ahead to a new world (maybe college, a job, living independently).

For me, Middle Grade was formative in the sense of “who” — who will I become? What choices will I make that are true to myself? Who do I want to live with inside my head? And YA was more about “how” — how do I take who and what I am and walk into the world with them? How do I balance all the fears ahead of me against the inevitability of facing them?

So actually sitting with a YA project and trying to bring it to life, I keep thinking about me when I was reading YA and what I needed. I know a good portion of YA is also read by adults, and if anything, that makes it even more important that I get those core themes right. If I have one chance to demonstrate a path, it needs to be one that is full of courage and integrity. If I ever get the chance for my book to land in the hands of a teenager, I want that person to gain something of themself that they can carry forward.

A theme that keeps coming out in this one is that we become the hero we wanted to save us once. And I am, have always been, the writer telling the stories I needed once before, too.

It doesn’t really change the meat of what I’m writing — the characters are the same, the plot continues on — but it makes me quite self-conscious about those meta pieces while I’m figuring out how to structure a scene. It’s an added layer of complexity. And it’s a good challenge, but also a slightly intimidating one.

But, I guess, if I let writing intimidate me, I’d never have gotten this far in the first place.

A friend send this song to me. It’s Bastille’s “Pompeii” but reimagined by composer Hans Zimmer. I liked the original song just fine, but this really changed it for me. Somehow, it brings tears to my eyes. There’s something that hits differently with those lines about the city we love and how it feels that nothing has changed — even though it has. The song was always nostalgic for me, and now it triggers thoughts of different days in different places and the life I lived then in a new way.

Also, it being Hans Zimmer, the whole thing sounds like it belongs at the emotional climax of a movie, so there’s that.

As I work on my YA chapters tonight, I’m going to carry this feeling. This deep memory of the books I read and how they changed me. This cognizance of the guideline my story might be to someone someday. This story told for the me that once was, and the me that hasn’t changed very much after all.

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Me and my weird stats

So, for as long as I’ve put serious effort into writing, I’ve been tracking everything I begin and everything I finish. I mostly only celebrate what I finish, but today is going to be different. However, to do that, you have to understand when and how a story becomes — or doesn’t become — complete.

Since I started this tracking all the way back in 2004, I’ve developed basically a 3-stage writing process.

Stage 1 is the idea dump. I have a running document of ideas that I just gush out when they arrive, no censoring or editing. They’re numbered, and as time passes I either develop them into stories or decide the idea wasn’t worth saving and move it off the page. At present, that document is 27 pages long with 47 entries on it. (I probably need to thin it out again, honestly.) Stage 1 is where ideas get recorded so they’re not forgotten, and far more make it to reality than get discarded overall.

Stage 2 is the baby steps. I open a blank doc and start the story in some way. Maybe I only write a couple of lines of actual story and spend the rest of the page elaborating on my original idea with notes and outline info. Maybe I write the scene that came to me in full color and sound and try to work out what story goes around it. Either way, Stage 2 is my middle ground. Some stories, especially shorter works or stories that don’t need much in-depth outlining, get finished in Stage 2. I go from a doc of notes and bits to a whole completed work all in the same file.

But more and more frequently, as I get more serious, more focused, and as my outlining (and plotting) gets more complex, I advance to Stage 3. That’s where The Spreadsheet comes in.

Stage 3 is where I create a spreadsheet with a minimum of 3 tabs on it. Tab 1 is where I track my daily writing. Any day I work on the project, I record how many words it has at the end and compare to where it started. And I do nerdy things like check my average wordcounts, my min and max, etc. Tab 2 is my chapters tab where I put my outline, but broken up by chapter. I note all the beats and scenes I know are coming and update as I go with the ones I didn’t find until I got there. And I track how many words are in each chapter, what the chapter title is, etc.

From there, The Spreadsheet expands as fits the need of the project. For my Urban Fantasy, for example, I had a tab of all my characters and their info, a tab of “big notes” which was 2/3rds worldbuilding reminders for myself and 1/3rd links to useful resources, a tab showing the parallel plots with crossovers called out, and a tab tracking feedback from my beta readers. (I also have a whooooole spreadsheet for the query process, but that’s a different thing altogether.)

The Spreadsheet is my way of organizing my thoughts but also keeping myself accountable. If I’m not averaging at least 1,000 words every time I sit down to write, it helps me work harder. If I’m sensing a problem in the pacing, playing with my chapters in an outline list helps me spot where I need to adjust. And, frankly, most things I write are heavily dependent on information from elsewhere — maps, bits of history or science, reference pictures — and it’s easier for me to have it all in one place.

Stage 3 is where I have clearly declared that I’m taking a story seriously. I can’t say I’ve never gotten all the way to that level of planning and abandoned a work, but it’s rare. Stage 1 is a paper airplane, just a dream taking flight. Stage 2 is a hanglider — you can get around that way, but you can’t go far and you can’t weather a storm. Stage 3 is a proper airplane that will carry you across an ocean or above a hurricane.

Anyway. I told you all that so I could tell you this.

Since 2004, this process has worked wonders for me. I’ve spent close to 20 years tracking all my works from the shortest of short stories to the longest of novels. I’ve tracked when I’ve done character backgrounds or worldbuilding in TTRPGs as well as creative writing that will never see the light of day even on the internet. And I’ve also tracked when I advanced every project out of Stage 1. Maybe it’s 90% notes and only 10% story, or maybe it got to Stage 3 and has a spreadsheet before I put it aside for good, but I’ve tracked them all.

Last night, as I was organizing my spreadsheet for my YA that is fully in Stage 3, I got curious about those abandoned works.

Guess what I found?

Here is my writing tracker as it stands right now. This is completed works only, original, fic, TTRPG. But these are stories that are done only, no notes or outlines included:

A spreadsheet showing my writing totals by length of work (novel, novella, short story, etc). The overall count is 190 works totalling 3.6 million words.

Then I added up the wordcount for everything that has ever been started but discarded. I wasn’t careful with recording those — if the doc is 90% notes and 10% story, I still took the full wordcount of the doc rather than figuring out which bits were me talking to myself and which were narrative. Which means this figure is inflated.

Do you want to know the wordcount of stories I’ve begun in any way since 2004 but never finished?

52 individual works for a total of 329,901 words

Which means, in essence, of the 3,890,763 total words I’ve written since 2004, only a maximum of 8.5% has gone unfinished.

(And a lot of it doesn’t count. There’s fully 40,000 words of those discarded works which were folded into the Urban Fantasy story nearly wholesale. A lot of notes are counted in that 329,901, too, which I would never count in my finished works. So it’s inflated no matter how you look at it.)

Put another way…apparently once I advance a story from Stage 1 to Stage 2, I finish it 91.5% of the time if you go by wordcount. Going by count of works instead, it’s still a success rate of 78.5%. Either way, the vast majority of the time, if I begin, I finish.

Maybe it’s because I’m selective with my projects, with what I even consider putting any effort into. Maybe it’s because my process helps me stay focused and disciplined. Maybe it’s just because I’m damn stubborn about my writing.

But still. It’s a badass stat and I’m proud of it as a writer. I’m proud that I have come so far and can complete so much. I’m proud that every single work I have ever written is better than what came before it, even now. I’m proud of getting this far and I’m excited to get farther.

Sometimes when I’m struggling to be creative, it helps me to do a little analytical magic on my own accomplishments. It gives me a little scorecard, and that gives me a boost. And while I may still be learning, I think I’m a pretty good student getting pretty good grades here.

Time to go make progress on that YA that I’ve begun and get it to the finish line too. I’ve got a pattern to uphold here!

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“Oh so that’s what worries me…”

So, why haven’t I been posting lately?

Few reasons. Work has been a lot. It’s generally good, and I really do like my position, but it’s a lot. Many nights I’m on until 7 or later (though I get to make up for that by sleeping in), and it just…takes up room in my brain. Like devoting a spare bedroom to a friend who is here to stay for an undetermined amount of time.

Also, we’re gearing up for CONvergence and there’s too many things to do to list without actually downloading the proper task list and calendar. Again, mainly positive, but many mental resources go towards emails and logistics and supplies rather than blogging.

(And we all know I’m not exceptionally fond of the blogging. Of course it’s expected as a writer, but…anyway. Different rant.)

(Oh! Also! Sarah and I wrote a new song for CONvergence! It’s really good!)

Anyway.

I think the biggest reason I haven’t been posting is because I just don’t want to ramble about the query process.

Yes, I’m querying the Urban Fantasy novel I finished last year. It’s been beat to hell and back by my awesome readers, and I’m about as happy with it as I can be. I love my characters. I’m happy with the tone and voice. I think my plot works well and I like how the stories interweave along the way. It even has a title!

But the query process…pleh. It’s like school all over again. I enjoyed reading books in school; not so much writing book reports. I know why the process is what it is. I see the value in it. It’s just difficult.

And every writer who has ever queried has probably blogged or Tweeted or TikToked on that point at length. About how hard it is to get the query letter juuuuuust right. About how frustrating writing the perfect synopsis is (haven’t managed that one yet). About the time spent searching for and learning about agents to find someone I would genuinely love to partner with on my writing career. About the heartbreak of rejection.

Honestly? It’s taking up a lot of space in my head, but it doesn’t need more than that on the blog. There’s enough negativity about the process out there. And inside me.

But I’m okay. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. And I don’t have to adore these parts of the process to still find it well worth the effort to try my best.

I do wonder what will become of this chaotic blog, though. I’ve had it a long time, and there’s some legitimately weird moments of life (and my cycling brain) captured here. Is having a blog nobody reads an asset? Is having a strange-as-hell blog a problem?

You know what? That’s a problem for Future Me. Future Me and Future Me’s agent (oh that construction hurts my brain) will figure it out.

Current me should get back to the tug-of-war I’m having with my synopsis. Either that or take a break from it and go back to writing chapters on the new novel.

This new one is fun and I’m kind of digging the YA vibe, honestly. Not sure I’d commit fully to never writing anything else, but it’s an interesting switch to be sure.

Here, have a song translated through Google too many times and now it makes no sense. But the “Pants!” bit makes me laugh every time and that’s worth something!

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Getting back to it

There’s always been a rhythm to my writing. And it doesn’t always make sense.

First I hit upon an idea, something worth writing about. Maybe a character, a theme, a question to answer, a situation to examine, even a combination worth seeing in action. This idea comes with a warm feeling in my heart of potential, a sense of “ah, this is where I’d like to live and rest for a bit.”

(“Rest” in the sense of this is where I’d like to make my home, stretch out, and see what I find. It’s a working rest, emphasis on the work.)

Then comes the development phase. Depending on the project, this might come to me all at once, a full-blown novel put together inside me with very little input from me. Those stories seem like they were always there waiting to be written and I’m just the first to hear them calling. But those are rare. More often, it’s me versus the outline. I tend to outline loosely for everything and tightly for complex projects. For a short fanfic in a universe I know really well, I might just list out the big emotional beats and get started. For anything novel-length, I tend to list out my chapters as an outline themselves. Chapter 1 is the intro and setting up the problem, chapter 2 complicates the problem, etc etc etc. Only after I get those down do I contemplate actually writing the thing down.

For really long projects or anything truly intricate, then I get into multiple pages that form one cohesive design document for the story. For the MCU fic, first I have a timeline starting in Dec 2012 and going through as far as I intended to write. It notes every movie in the MCU’s placement (including where movies happened over a period of time and various events need to be tracked), every event of my stories, even points where characters became aware of a thing or failed to become aware of a thing. It’s thin on the content but high on the order of events. Then I have a tab that started as a proper outline and became my chapter list. Every chapter appears with its title (and soundtrack song) and there are notes for every scene that happens in the chapter. The notes tend to be brief “Tony and Peter hang out” or “BIG FIGHT” but they tell me exactly where I am emotionally in the story and what needs to be moving. Then there is a notes tab I kept all along with all my loose threads, from the Winter Soldier and Steve to various hints for my nefarious plans. These I deleted as I went so that I knew for sure I’d covered them.

(Sometimes I had places in that tab or in the chapter tab where I would just write “Pleh.” Pleh means that either my beta spurred an idea that deviated from what I had already planned, or I had a later realization that I might need to adjust. Correcting for pleh is one of my least favorite things to do because it usually means I have to track every possible implication and ripple from the change and catch them all.)

Then there are lists and lists of other things. Names, relationshp trees, quotes, songs. Also wordcounts with daily tracking to see how I’m doing against the goals I set myself.

Spoiler alert: I have not tried to hold myself to any goals but one since Covid. I did make that one, though!

The upside of my process is that I am able to brain-dump everything from my character arcs and my worldbuilding to some specific gems of lines into one place in the beginning. Often my stories will surprise me, but rarely do they go wildly off the rails from my initial planning phase. (Except for particularly big plehs.)

The downside is that somewhere in doing all that mental preparation, I often lose steam on the enthusiasm part of the project. By the time I’ve documented all the twists and turns, figured out the exact right notes to play in the emotional scenes, adjusted my tempo and timing of chapters — that starburst of excitement has faded. The original idea is still there, carefully written out, but no longer feels so warm and all-encompassing. It feels more like a duty now, a homework assignment.

And that is why I often get stuck at the beginning of projects. Or at the end — when there are no more surprises for me and it’s just typing out the inevitable conclusion of all that’s come before.

There’s no real correlation I can find between the amount of pre-work I do and the chances of running out of steam. The MCU I did probably as much outlining and prep as I’ve done for any 3 projects and I still finished the first novel of it in something like 7 weeks. Other times my whole outline will be 8 lines of “this, then that, then the other thing, then splat, the end” and I can’t get past chapter 4. Sometimes the story comes out and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the outlines and planning are vast and sometimes they’re not.

But one thing they do have in common is a moment of doubt.

Between the original idea and the first attempt at a draft, there’s always a question. “Is this really worth doing? Is it any good?”

I’m learning not to let that question stop me, but it does sometimes. Especially if what I’m having trouble with is the beginning. Often I know more clearly where I’m going than where to begin, and so there are fits and starts before I find the right scene, the right line, the right moment to start the tale. And if I stumble, if I false start that moment…sometimes the doubt gets louder.

“Isn’t this boring? Isn’t this just a flash of an idea but no substance worth the time? Isn’t this something someone else could do better? Shouldn’t I just stop?”

You can see from my writing totals over the years how often I’ve put those questions aside, but you can’t see how often I haven’t been able to. I don’t count works unless they’re finished. My file of begun-but-left-idle stories is BIG.

And yet.

And yet and yet and yet…

Here we are again. Even as my beta group finishes reading the UF draft (and they like it!!!) and I prepare to make the final major edits before the query process (ugh save me I hate it sooooo), another idea came to me. The idea started with a villain’s motivation. And grew like a star forming from dust, drawing in disparate pieces until I had a fantasy world with thousands of years of history and culture slowly evolving to the detante in which my story is set. I have characters, a naming convention (I’m really pleased by this; I hate coming up with fantasy names), a central conflict which is only a single melody in the wider world’s ongoing symphony…

And I stopped.

Well, no. I wrote half of a chapter, but I hate all of it and need to start over. It doesn’t begin where it should and the beginning doesn’t move what needs to move.

But here I am again. Picking up the prism and turning it sideways. When I get it right, the light will strike and I’ll see a rainbow.

Every act of writing is an act of courage against doubt, of determination against doubt, of discipline against frustration. And of feeling. Of loving characters, of searching for the way to be heard, of hoping to reach someone else through the pages and screens.

This is my act of creation. And it scares me every time, even after a score of novels and a literal hundred shorter works. The risk is always the same. The doubt is always present.

But stories need to be told and people need to be able to find them. And I need to tell this one even without fully knowing why yet. My outline doesn’t tell me what I’ll get from the experience, after all.

Guess I better get back to it and find out.

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Twitter poetry 8

As an author —

My characters think my thoughts, feel my feelings with me.

They go where I’ve been & dream my dreams.

So when I feel something new, something without words yet,

I must either gift it to them or create someone new to carry it.

How else can I ever understand myself?

–==OOO==–

It has many names: writer’s block, ennui, loss of interest.

A gray cloud poured over the soul so nothing can grow, the soil turned to ash. All those seeds stagnant in the cold ground.

It can ache, it can cut, it can weep. In every form, it hurts.

But it can also be an illusion.

Not all flowers thrive under the sun, after all.

The cloud may not be a lack or a loss, but a sign.

“You’re going the wrong way.”

Choose flowers yearning for shade and plant them instead.

Perhaps not the garden intended, but the one ready to grow.

And it will still be beautiful.

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2021 in Writing, 2022’s Slow Start

Most years I’ve posted the wordcount for writing in the previous year right after the writing year ends. Which is November. October 31st is my last writing day of the year, typically. November got complicated and December was worse. January has been chaotic, but at least it’s a little less emotionally fraught. Work is demanding in a new and stressful way, which takes some of the energy that normally would go do daily writing or being creative or just…anything besides sitting on the couch under a blanket and watching reruns of Murder, She Wrote.

Hey, don’t hate. MSW is fucking amazing.

Anyway. It’s been cold, and Sarah and I are back in our form of quarantine because of omicron, and the world is dark all over again in new and painful ways. And everything is exhausting. Work is exhausting. CVG is exhausting. Choir is exhausting. Writing is exhausting. Trying to deal with people is exhausting. Trying to deal with people who have feelings about me is exhausting. I don’t think I’ve written a word in a week, and I don’t feel rested, either.

But I’m here. And I am trying to make good choices when I can. I’m exercising most days at least for a while. I’m drinking water when I remember. I choose to watch things with Sarah (when she’s up to it) that make me feel good. I read stories before bed that lift me up instead of feeding my insecurities. I’m looking ahead at the next job I want inside my company and working on how to get there. I’m not hating on myself when I fall down.

And that’s…about as much as I can really ask of myself right now.

Here is the writing summary for 2021. I did only write really 3 works if you count part 4 of the TMOI series as a single novel. It can also be read as 12 oneshots for 14 total works. Either way, I don’t think it matters. I managed 300k words in the second year of the world coming to an end, and that is worth celebrating.

I’ve been working on an MCU fairy tale, but then after that I want to go write another original novel. I have…40% of it figured out. Which is to say, I have my main characters, my world, and my narrative style. I’m just…lacking in plot. I’m working on it. I decided I didn’t want to go back to the urban fantasy I started previously because I just can’t get my head around parts of it. So I’m starting over.

It’s a tough time to be stretching for creativity, but I need that stretch, I think.

The one good thing I can say about *waves at everything* is that…I’m not any more scared of most things than I was before. I’m better than ever at getting shots and having blood drawn without passing out, though that may just be repetition with all the damn tests I have to get on a frequent basis for my illness. I don’t know that I have much improved my self esteem when it comes to my writing or even singing, but I don’t think it’s much worse, either. Events that rocked me to my core didn’t tip me over. I’ve questioned if I can keep on doing all the things I do, but less so whether or not I’m worthy to do them.

In a world where so many people, lives, hearts, minds, spirits are broken, where so much tragedy and fear has overwhelmed every day of the last nearly two years, I didn’t lose those things. I lost other things, lots of them. But I didn’t lose myself.

I’m having trouble getting the MCU fairy tale out of my brain, but I think that’s partially because of aforementioned exhaustion (especially the work-related stuff), and partially because I’m not sure what I need from it. Usually my writing is about saying something I believe and simultaneously feeling something I feel as deep as I can. And with this one, I don’t think I’ve figured out how to really do either.

Which, maybe I should just pause and write the original thing and feel my stuff, and then see how the MCU fits upon return. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened, even if it’s annoying. I like being able to start and end a project all at once!

Don’t mind me. I’m just fussy about myself. I hold to standards I would never so much as suggest to anyone else because I always want to push myself. I can do better. I can be better. I can work harder. I can be smarter. And if I can be, then I want to be. Even when I might be better served taking a break.

There’s a balance in here somewhere. I have no idea what it should be. I’ll keep working on it.

But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Keep working on it. Keep trying. Try harder. Keep stepping forward. Keep failing. Fail harder. Get up. Make more art. Art harder.

There’s a universe inside me. A million stars around which orbit a billion stories. And I’m going to tell them all for as long as there is breath in me.

If we’re all only as much as what we create to leave behind, then I’m going to leave a library.

I know nobody reads this thing except maybe…3 or 4 of you? So I’m ending here to see if I can churn out a few more words tonight. But I leave you with this song. I’ve spent the last several years building up playlists of music for writing, but the vast, vast majority of it has been vocal. Somehow, now I’ve turned around and I really want non-vocal music for writing. I have a playlist of 122 songs, some brand new to me, some I’ve loved for literal decades.

But one of my oldest is this. It’s the 2nd track on the first piano CD I ever owned, bought in middle school. The first track is one intimately tied to spiritual practice. But this one has always just helped me quiet down and think.

So if you need a moment of peace, here’s “Nightfall.”

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A New Normal

So, what I’ve learned about my illness in the last two months is that it exists in a symbiotic relationship with me. Which follows, since the problem is inextricably linked to my immune system. Anything that impacts me could either cause or prevent a flare-up.

And since flare-ups are BAD, figuring out how to prevent them is kind of a priority right now.

The simple answer is that stress is the enemy. But what kind of stress is the more interesting question. Because I worked the convention at full speed, starting at 10am and ending around 2am, on my feet, running around, handling some really difficult stuff, and didn’t have so much as an instant of pain afterwards. So, even though I was physically very drained and exhausted, clearly that level of engagement wasn’t a trigger.

But then something happened at work right in the start of September, and while it was just a work thing, it took an emotional toll on me. I didn’t sleep well for several nights in a row and my anxiety was a constant churn in my gut. It all worked out okay in the end, and it helped me recognize some things I had been letting go that I should have dealt with more directly. But within a few days of the start of it, I got symptoms. And for the next two weeks, there I was in a flare-up.

It’s not like it used to be. Before, my hands would cramp up and I could barely hold a cup, let alone a fork or my phone. And everything would hurt. Not just moving — putting my hand in my lap instead of on a pillow would cause a shooting pain, too. But even when the pain went away, I still had other symptoms, including mono-like exhaustion. I needed naps every day, and couldn’t even sit up straight for more than an hour at a time.

So the first answer in the search for how to enhance my self-care for my current weird situation is to manage that stress. And I think it starts with sleep. If I sleep well most nights, I think I keep myself from a cycle of making my body work harder while my emotions are flooding it with stress.

Now, I’m the sort of person who gets a thought in my head and spirals with it. Had a bad interaction with a friend? I might spend a week thinking about it over and over after I settle into bed. Thinking about a difficult work project? I start to solve the problems when I should be counting sheep. I have a gift for finding ways to keep myself awake and fretting for hours and hours on a nightly basis.

I can’t do that anymore. Not and stay healthy.

I needed a way to chill out before bed. And sometimes reading helps, particularly when sleep is elusive by no fault of my overactive, hypercritical brain. I’ve always been at least a bit of an insomniac, and I’m a night owl as well. Sometimes my circadian rhythm just decides taht bedtime is 4am. But it’s different to be reading a delightful story because my body thinks it’s still party time than lying awake worrying and stressing about something when I’m tired and able to sleep.

So I have settled into a habit of writing late in the evening. 9pm or 10pm I get started (if I didn’t have the time and inclination to begin earlier) and I try to write 1,000 or 2,000 words. It forces me to put aside everything else — my day, my job, social stuff, the convention or choir — and just be in the moment with a story. It has the mindfulness of meditation, but it’s also feeding me something positive instead of just breathing everything quiet and hoping it stays that way.

And it’s working.

Once I got through the last flare-up, I’ve been sleeping particularly well. Writing every night means I fall into bed (maybe read a little) and think about the next scene to write, or the project when I finish the MCU AU. It means I climb into bed feeling accomplished and proud of myself, with more to look forward to tomorrow. And if there are work things, they’re much easier to put aside because I have something much better in the forefront of my brain.

As an added bonus, I’m putting down a ton of words every day at a time of day that isn’t usually useful for things like laundry or dishes. I’m not taking away from watching stuff with Sarah or others who hang out sometimes. I’m not cutting into my own downtime. I’m just making better use of the late evening when normally we’d be watching TV neither of us cares about or just playing on our phones.

It’s possible I might have trouble sustaining it long-term. Writing does sometimes come in an ebb and tide. But now I know something that works, so if writing stops working, it just means I have to find an alternative.

It’s been more than a year and dealing with this illness on and off has felt pretty icky. There’s a helplessness that happens when your body turns on you. If I can take back just a little control, just enough, that would be good. Baby steps.

So, onto more writing for the evening. And, probably soon, a rant about the MCU and how many words it took to set it to rights!

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A triumphant return?

I mean, maybe not really. I never really forgot about having the blog, but it took literal months for the world to calm down enough for me to think about it. I also slowed down writing in general precipitously at the same time, only just getting myself back to it right before the runup to CONvergence.

But now the recovery after CVG is nearly complete (it was amazing, difficult, exhausting, exhilarating, painful, wonderful, and everything else at any extreme — no middle ground here) and I’m starting to full emerge back into the world. I’ve got a writing goal to make by the end of October, and I’m committed to succeeding.

I’m also starting to rethink the fate of Dragonroe. I queried 55ish agents in 2019 and early 2020 and got only one R&R which went nowhere, so I feel I gave it a real shot in the traditional publishing world. But I was looking over it again recently and I’m starting to think maybe Dragonroe deserves a shot at the world even without a publisher. I had always been adamantly uninterested in self-publishing, and I still kind of am? But the story is good, and maybe there’s someone out there who needs it. So I’m considering.

Sarah had an amazing idea about putting it out as an ebook in places other than Amazon (because Amazon) and then creating a Patreon account to sell it directly as well. I was telling her about all the other stories I have in my head in the Dragonroe world — the history of the twins, what happens afterwards, Mercy’s backstory, etc — and she thought I could write those and dump them on Patreon in case anyone became invested in the series.

I’m never expecting to make money off this. I may never make any money from writing any more than I do from music. But I never sang at HarmCon to make money. I never wrote to make money. I sing because the music is inside me and I want to share it. I write because the stories won’t leave me alone and demand to be born into the world. I know I could put the whole of Dragonroe here on my website for free if I wanted, but the reality is that there’s only about 7 of you who read this, and probably fewer now that I went dormant for so long, so that’s not a way for it to be found. But if I put it on sites for ebooks, maybe somebody somewhere who needs my twins, or Rowan, or Caci, will find them.

I kind of want to do it, but I’m also very nervous about the how. This…is not my area. Formatting, maybe. Marketing, not a chance in hell. Self-marketing, even worse. Using social media to gain followers? Ugh, forget it. I’m not really a person suited to the work of being a self-published author. I just tell stories. So that’s a thing to consider before I make a final decision.

But, regardless, I’m moving forward again. I’m writing again. I have an eye to the future of other books I want to write and try to publish (or put online somehow). I’m even finally in remission enough to think about exercising again.

So I’m going to try to post on Fridays. Monday are just too hard. But Friday mornings seem okay. I’m not going to try to force myself to post every week, but I’ll try to build back the habit. Because maybe someday there will be more than 7 of you who want to hang out with my thoughts on the internet.

That would be pretty neat, actually.

Thanks for waiting for me. It’s good to be back.

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