Warm Days/Cold Days

Yesterday was one of the warmest days we’ve had all winter. Rain fell in the morning, but by noon, the air smelled like damp earth, green leaves, and spring.

This morning, the sky is a bright blue, frost coated the ground, and my breath froze in the air.

Writing can be like that, too. Some days, the words flow like warm honey. Other days, it’s that sticky molasses at the bottom of the jar.

Many factors play into how easy writing is for me from day to day. They aren’t always what I would expect either. Often, when I’m stressed, tired, and feeling frantic to escape, I have my best days writing. Days when I’m less worried, and more interested in engaging the world, tend to be days I’m distracted. Words are harder to come by. When the house is noisy, many things are going on, someone is playing a movie or listening to music and the phone is always ringing, often correlates to my highest productivity. When it’s quiet, no one wants to interrupt me, and the house needs cleaning, I’m more likely to procrastinate writing and dive into my watercolor art. Go figure that one out. I’m not normal.

But whatever the atmospheric conditions, I always try to write. Whether that’s 50 words or 5,000 words, it’s like we say around here. Don’t like the weather? Stick around. In a day it will change.

Million Word Madness Weekly Update  22,119 words

The Doldrums

It’s creeping toward the end of January, and I can feel their beginnings: the Februaries, otherwise known as the Doldrums.

I feel weighed down by the year’s work. I’ll never get it all done. I start distracting myself with what I ought to be doing vs. what I can do. I feel an obsessive need to clean all the closets. In a day.

It’s the pressure of needing to see immediate results, and it’s often something I have to combat all year, but for some reason, it’s always worse in the late winter.

So what will I do about it?

First, I’ll be sure I set some quantifiable goals. Maybe I can’t finish the last book in my trilogy by the end of the month. But I could write 25,000 words toward it. Maybe I won’t have 50,000 of the new ghost story. But I could do 15,000. I added a new, odd fantasy that I didn’t expect to be writing at all this year. Maybe 10,000 words on it? Tabling the need to finish things can take the expectation of visible progress out of the picture.

Secondly, I’ll increase my creative intake. I need to paint more, read more, get outside and think more. Those are all appropriate procrastinations for me—not trying to calculate if I can have one or more novels ready for the next contest. They’ll be ready when they are ready.

Lastly, I might clean out those closets. One of them. Maybe.

Million Word Madness Update: Week 2: 18,688

Contest And Chaos

Million Word Madness Update

Week 1: 22,932

Today I entered the draft of a new story in AuthorMentorMatch. I had a potential three manuscripts I could have entered, but chose this one for reasons:

  1. It’s a relatively new age group for me. I’ve written in this age group three times now, and this is the fourth MS for this group. But getting feedback for my targeted age group is tough.
  2. Thankfully, getting Beta readers for it after feedback isn’t as tough. I have a ready supply of victims—uh, I mean, readers. (My poor writing group—I don’t know how they put up with me.)
  3. It was at the level where developmental editing is needed.
  4. I’ve already scheduled it for my critique partners to look at, therefore, if chosen, the revision time is already blocked on the calendar for this story. If not chosen, I will be moving forward with other feedback.

When writing contests open, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. What happens if your story is chosen? What happens if it’s not? How do you revise to the feedback of a person you only know from a thin profile and occasional Twitter posts? How do you revise if you don’t get in the contest and have to go it alone?

Personally, I find that much of that chaos is alleviated with a plan for moving forward. Put it into action the day of submitting, if not before. It makes entering a contest that much more enjoyable when the stress of what happens next has already been dealt with.

And it makes moving forward the thing to do, not the thing to fear.

2021 Writing Goals

Last year was an amazing year for my writing. I want 2021 to be even more spectacular.

This year’s plan:

Draft 4 to 5 books

Revise 6 books

Write 52 short stories/flash fiction pieces

Continue with my 5000 to 7000 words/5 days a week, but take off time to get out in the woods where I belong

Do a better job keeping up with my blog

Start teaching myself the art of illustrating books, digital drawings, and layering paintings

Read 100 books.

That’s a lot.

It’s not that much more than what I did last year, though. The trick is planning it all. I have each month mapped out, what contests might be going on at the time, what works I can be doing at the same time, how much time I want to devote per week to writing, art, and reading.

Am I going to be upset if I don’t get it all done? No. Flexibility in working toward goals is important. Life happens. And sometimes it doesn’t happen. But I did find that having a plan for what can be done regardless of what could happen, has been extremely helpful for me when it comes to productivity and maintaining focus.

Plus, I get to positively wallow in the delight of four or five new stories, 6 old ones, and painting all my favorite characters. What’s not to love?

I can’t wait to get started.

End of Year Thoughts

It’s been one heck of a year. Let’s see what I got done.

Paintings: I lost count. A ton. Looking back over my journal, I was painting between 4 and 6 pieces per month.

Reading: Probably between 40-60 books this year, not counting Beta reads. I averaged 4-6 books a month, and at least in the first half of the year, was working on anywhere from 1-3 Beta reads at the same time. Most weeks I was also reading 2-3 published books at the same time.

Drafted: 4 novels (200K, 150K, 100K, 75K), 3 short stories. Finished a trilogy. Wrote the text for an illustrated book I’m planning for next year.

Revised: 4 novels, 2 of them twice.

Study: Went through a course on Emotions in Fiction. Worth every penny. (CS Lakin—it’s a good course and makes The Emotional Craft of Fiction a lot more approachable and understandable)

Publishing: Had two short stories get honorable mention in a contest, two short stories accepted for publication.

Words: passed 1 million words written for NaNoWriMo this year, had multiple 100K months and one 150K month.

What I didn’t get done:

I really wanted to write more short stories and work on more craft exercises. I had trouble putting together a group that wanted to study and trade exercises, though. I have to learn that when it comes to craft study, I need to expect to be largely on my own and simply forge ahead without support.

I needed to query more. But this year was a strange year for querying.

I want to revise more books. While I did draft four books, including a hefty 200K epic fantasy sequel, I felt that it took me too long. My average drafting time was six to eight weeks for 100K, and I’d like to cut that in half next year.

I didn’t keep up with my blog! <Slinks away in shame>

Goals post next Monday!

NaNoWriMo 2020

It’s that time of year again—the unofficial start of a writer’s New Year. NaNo time! And this year, as with many years, I’ll draft at least one new thing, and possibly other things, too. I have set myself a goal of 120,000 words. Ambitious, but within my range of what I’ve done before.

You can find almost anything out there to help you plan for NaNoWriMo. Plotters offer plotting plans. Pantsers tell you to wing it and just charge forward, backward, sideways, and fix it all afterwards. No one way is right—what’s right is what works. I wanted to talk about the things I’ve found that that have made me successful at completing NaNoWriMo.

First: Define success. A successful NaNoWriMo is whatever you want it to be. It isn’t 50,000 words. It isn’t 150,000 words. It’s doing what you want to do with it. Whatever that may be, you’ll need these things.

  1. Organization
  2. Determination
  3. Flexibility

Organization

This isn’t the same as having a complete outline and all the beat sheets prepared and lined up on your Wall-O-Readiness. It could be. It won’t be for me. Give me an idea and get out of my way. That’s pretty much the extent of my writing plan.

But, everything else in my life? Organized on paper. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on building my word count, clearing out my drafting projects, my Beta reading, and my personal reading, preparing for what will be an intense writing period. I have my exercise schedule worked out. I am thinking through menu plans to give myself the most time to write. School for my kids will be streamlined to give them writing time for their projects as well. It’s kind of a big deal for us!

Organization helps you see what kind of goal you could achieve and gives you the space in which to achieve it.

Determination

Plotters and pantsers both know the dreaded panic that comes right around 10,000 words. You hit that first plot point and…then what? Gasp. Stuck.

The cure for stuck varies, but the solution is usually write the next sentence. And the next sentence. Stir that pot until something bubbles and the boil starts again.

It takes determination to break through that wall. Writing is hard! I don’t care if your NaNoWriMo goal is a short story every week (Go, you Rebel, you!) or 200,000 words (who are you, what are you drinking, and can I have some?) Being able to breathe, step back, write another scene, write out a plan, to write whatever is needed to get you through that point is key in having a successful NaNoWriMo.

Flexibility

I have yet to finish a NaNoWriMo without something BAD happening. I used to howl at the universe about it. All I wanted to do was write a novel! Why was the world against me? Turns out it was something much less personal. Life happened. A lot of life is happening this year, and a lot of it hasn’t been good, am I right?

So, to be successful, you need to be flexible. You wanted to write 50,000 words in a month but you got that job you’ve been needing. You were about to finish that revision and you got sick. Or maybe it’s just a constellation of bad things and you need to just get through it and the words are going to have to wait.

To have a successful NaNoWriMo, you have to be willing to let things go. Whatever you have done is good enough. Words will wait. Give yourself the grace to adjust your goals, reopen that organization, and schedule what needs to be done.

There you have it. My intangible things a writer needs to be successful at NaNoWriMo. Now go forth and word!

Counting Pumpkins

Yesterday, my son toured the snake-infested part of the garden. (Note: We don’t exactly know the number of snakes in there. Just that there are snakes.) He came back unscathed, with a glowing report.

There are eight pie-pumpkins out there.

To which I grinned, and reminded him, “Don’t count your pumpkins before you pick them.”

Still, it’s a celebration. He’s been struggling to grow this variety for three years now. This spring, he almost despaired because the plants weren’t producing female flowers, only males. He has worked hard to cultivate those plants, and to see him happy about his success can only give me happiness too. All of them could fail. We both know that. It’s happened before. But for now, yes. There are eight pie-pumpkins out there.

I saw some writing scuttlebutt surrounding a tweet this weekend, and it made me think about celebrations, defeat, and generally how a writer should conduct themselves while querying. Is it appropriate to celebrate small victories, like a request, in public? Should that be kept to a private group? Should the writer not celebrate at all except by themselves in private with a few critique partners? And the converse of that? Should a writer post when they get a rejection? Is that seen as a form of whining? Should they hide their rejections and celebrations in case other people are watching?

As with a garden, a full request isn’t much more than saying something about the query and pages worked. In short, the seed came up. It germinated. Now there’s a pumpkin on the vine and it looks promising. That doesn’t mean you’ll harvest that pumpkin. So, can you brag about it? Sure. Absolutely. Can you say nothing except in private to your friends and CPs? Yeah! Do that. Can you tell no one and keep it all to yourself, hiding those pumpkins in the weeds? You bet.

You do you. There will be people who won’t like that. They’ll remind you to not count your pumpkins before you pick them. But don’t think they aren’t happy for you.

This writer is.

 

 

The Restorative Power of Fun (Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously)

So…it’s hot outside. So hot.

Summer finally showed up in his shorts and shades, and he brought the high pressure beach umbrella with him. This means that short of a hurricane, we will get no rain for the next three months.

I’m used to this. I usually deal with it by getting most of my hair cut off and hiding inside in dark, cool places and pretending it’s snowing outside. I suffer from reverse SAD every year. This is my way of coping.

But this year, we’ve got the garden. For whatever reason, I felt it necessary to plant roughly two dozen tomato plants, and as it’s not raining, I’m watering every day. And when you have a coon-skin cap on your head in 100F sauna, it’s not pleasant.

I’d held off cutting my own hair because it’s layered. I was scared. I’m not great working in front of a mirror. What if I do something horrible and I end up with a big bald spot on my head? I’ll look like a mangey dog! People will laugh at me! I’ll laugh at me!

Well, I did it this weekend.

Yep. I cut my own hair.

While I don’t have a bald spot, there’s a gorgeous patch in the back that I definitely cut too close. My bangs are really short. They are uneven. Some places my hair goes one way. Some places it goes another. It’s so me. It’s cool. It’s comfortable. Hats are stylish if I have to go out. Who the heck cares what I look like?

That got me thinking about how many things we don’t do because we are scared of what we might look like. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. It keeps us from doing things we’ll regret. But there are times when it’s just good to cut loose (or cut your hair) because life is too short not to laugh at yourself and go on.

Don’t take yourself so seriously that you never do something stupid once in a while. Sometimes, like a bad haircut, it’s the fun you didn’t know you needed.

 

My World is Watering

Another week. Another long spate of a quiet inbox. And I’ve never been busier in my writing life than I am right now.

It’s easy to get discouraged when things are slow on the query front. Maybe you are getting skipped in the inbox. Maybe the agent closed to queries to catch up in June, and you queried right before then, so you know it’s going to be August before you hear anything. Maybe your friends are getting requests, rep, or rejections and you start poking your inbox to make sure it isn’t broken. It feels like you’ve hit the doldrums and you’ll never get out.

Summer is like that in the garden, too. My life has become getting up earlier than usual because it’s already 80F at 8 AM, pulling on rubber boots (against ticks, mosquitoes, and bumblebees up my shorts), and heading out into the garden with the hose. It’s mind-numbing. Except when a bee goes up my shorts. Then it’s very exciting for a minute or two. But mostly it’s moving from one plant to the next, counting out how long the hose has to run to supply the two gallons a day that my tomato plants are demanding in this heat. But you know what all that watering is doing? It’s taking my mind off other concerns. It’s necessary work, and leaves me no time to fret about anything else.

That’s what being busy during query season does for me. I’m revising my next project and drafting two more. I’m not paying attention to where I am in someone else’s inbox. They’ll get to me when they get to me. I’ve got my own garden to take care of.

If you are feeling the strain of listening to the inbox crickets, and you aren’t working on another project, may I suggest some “watering”? Writer In Motion is coming up. Try some flash fiction. Not got another novel in development? What about some craft book exercises or writing prompts? Too stressed to write? What about offering up some positivity passes for other writers? How about a Beta read for a friend? Find something to do in your writing garden and see if it helps.

It’s The Great Pumpkin! Uh, Story

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. I’ve written a few things for it, but with the world on fire, they didn’t seem particularly important at the time. But today I want to talk about querying and giant pumpkins.

My son is really into pumpkins. He’s been into them since he was a kid and saw his first pumpkin patch. When he found out he could actually grow them, he was ecstatic. I should have realized we were going to have a giant at some point when cucumber beetles, vine borers, squash bugs, inadequate rainfall, and the backbreaking labor of dealing with clay soil did not deter him.

Last year, he grew his first Atlantic Giant. Now, we’re not completely insane yet. We haven’t yet mortgaged the house for a single seed of a champion pumpkin. But after pouring over every library resource, watching videos from very old farmers in Mississippi who know what they are talking about when they talk vine borers, he charged into this year with great enthusiasm and dedication.

And what do you know? We’ve got a giant out there in the garden. Oh, it’s only about fifty pounds right now. But you can actually watch this thing grow from day to day. It gets fed ritual offerings of fertilizer. We’ve been out in masks, hunting the stores for the specific micronutrient mix it needs for optimal growth.  He cut up his own baby blanket (yes, I let him!) to make covers to protect his pumpkins from the sun so they would continue to grow. I fully expect him to sing them to sleep soon.

Every day is a new chance for disaster. He came in terrified one morning. One of the fruits had a side split. We almost panicked. We made a mad rush to the literature to see if we could save it. A week and a half of sterile bandage changes later, it looks like it’s going to make it. It set back it’s growth, and it will never hit the size it should have. Its chance is gone. But he learned a lot.

Oh, and as of last night, he’s officially having pumpkin nightmares.

So, what do giant pumpkins have to do with querying? Aside from the nightmares.

Well, growing a giant pumpkin is stressful. Anyone who has grown squash in the southern US knows pumpkins are hard. Our summer daylight hours aren’t good for producing big pumpkins. The pests are out of this world, and we often have two generations of them to battle. Late frosts mean starting early can come back to haunt you. It rains all spring. It roasts all summer. It’s almost the worst place in the world to grow winter squash. No one expects anything to come out of it, and there are a lot of naysayers to remind you every day that nothing will come of it.

It’s so much work. The learning curve is steep. There’s a lot of luck involved in success, sure. But what’s really important? Knowing what the soil needs. Knowing what the vine needs. Burying that vine for protection. Cutting off female flowers that don’t have the right stem orientation. Training the vines. Pruning the vines. Fertilizing. Watering, watering, more watering.

That takes dedication. The pumpkin takes up my son’s whole day. He’s out there first thing in the morning to inspect. He’s out there in the middle of the day to water if needed. He’s out there every afternoon with a jar of soapy water, catching bugs. He’s out there every evening, inspecting leaves, checking blossom ends, checking stems, carefully moving the pumpkin a little every day so it won’t grow over its own vine.

It takes courage. EVERYTHING could go wrong with one split. It almost did. We saved that fruit. But it is no longer on track to achieve its potential. That’s it. No fair for it this year. That means we have one more chance to make it big with the largest of the crop, and I don’t know if the backup variety is going to make in time. We’ve got extras, but it takes that one fruit to really grow to make a year worthwhile.

That sounds a lot like querying a manuscript to me. Many writers start out from a position of writing for fun. Then, they get it in their heads that they could actually publish something. They grow a good story, but not a great one. But they keep learning. They don’t let their background get in the way of what they want in life. They go for it, knowing the odds aren’t good.

But they learn. They study the craft. Better than that, they study the shelves. They read what’s being published. They work on perfecting their vision—not writing what’s already on the shelves, but writing to the shelf. What they want to read. What they want to bring to the reader. They pay attention to markets, not because they are afraid, but because they want to succeed in that climate.

They do something writerly every day. That’s not always writing. They may be reading. They may be studying craft. They may be providing critiques or Beta reads as they cultivate good feedback partners for their work.

Even when things seem hopeless, they send queries. They feel bad when they have to shelve a project. They patch up a story, but like with that stunted pumpkin, they can accept that not every story is going to be a champion. They love it anyway. It taught them so much. And whatever happens, they keep going. They know the best story they have to offer may not be enough.

But that’s okay.

The querying writer and the giant pumpkin grower both know—there’s always next year.