Finding The Balance

I’ve just concluded my annual trip through The Artist’s Way for the year. Today’s question was on procrastination.

First of all, I certainly procrastinate with the best of them. I can absolutely spend a day when I should be writing up a creek somewhere. I’ve been known to decide today is a good day to bake pie. I have, at times, picked a spot next to a river to simply rest and think about absolutely nothing.

And it occurred to me that I actually did all of that recently, and far from being a problem, it was exactly what I needed.

I recently took my first vacation in twelve years, and the first vacation I’ve ever taken alone with the specific intention of resting. I was astounded the amount of time I spent simply lying on the couch, watching the sun make patterns with the leaves on the windows, or walking down the road to listen to the creek talking to itself, or watching the wind ripple still water on a morning river. I revised as well, but that was secondary to simply taking the time to relax.

I cooked some really nice meals for myself, something that I haven’t had time or inclination to do in a while. I sat down every morning outside on the deck and ate breakfast. I went to be when the sun went down most nights. I watched no television (there wasn’t one), my social media engagement was limited mostly to letting my friends know I hadn’t been eaten by a bear, and I journaled every day about what wonderful things I’d seen and what feelings I had about them.

All good things come to an end, but the moment I got back and headed back into my deadlines, obligations, and painful things (like saying goodbye to another one of my elderly animals), I found myself throwing myself back into revisions to escape.

Which made me think that there’s a little something out of balance with my creativity. I don’t necessarily need to procrastinate, but I need to make time for being done with work and ready to play. Whenever I get to the end of my revision time and start wondering if I could get in another two chapters by skipping dinner or foregoing family time, there’s a problem! I’m not exactly sure how to fix it, but I’m determined to spend more time planning my little vacation times when I can let go of the drive to write long enough to at least watch a sunset.

The words will still be there when I come back.

It’s A Long, Long Summer

I finished out May on a good note. I completed two first drafts, and am at least half-way through another that’s more a fun way to relax than a serious story, but we all know how that turns out in the end. I got notes back on two WIP for revisions, and headed into them last week. I’ve made good progress on some Beta reading and craft book studies. My daily to-do list takes up half a page in my journal, and half of that is writing related work. Yippee!

In other news, I’m tired.

Oh, not tired of creating. Not tired of writing, reading, or any of the work I have ready for me. But I’m also working hard at this—somewhere in the tune of between 8000 to 9000 words a day counting rewriting and continued drafting. And while I certainly won’t whine about being in the enviable position of actually being able to work on 8000 or 9000 words over three novels in a day, I will concede that at the end of the day, my brain is tired.

What’s important for me to remember is that it’s a long, long summer. My revisions have deadlines, but they aren’t impossible or even onerous for me to meet them. I can take my time with the first draft I’m still hammering out and go exploring whenever I want to. My revisions can be the same way. I can’t be afraid to leave the path and go off and find a new view or new trail to follow and just see where it leads. I can’t be afraid to play.

It’s summer after all.

And sometimes, even driven and productive writers need permission to go build a sand castle or two.

Million Word Madness Update

Finished May with 90,420 words

Total for the year so far is 412,599 words.

Still on track to hit my half-million by the end of June.

The Double-Headed Demon of Perfectionism

This week I’ve been busy with a few things. One, I’ve got an edit letter steaming on my desk, which means I’d better get busy on my revisions soon! Second, I’ve been on a writing retreat at home using The Artists’ Way, working my way through the chapters. Guess what last week’s chapter was about?


I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. I’ve let go of many things that I once would have obsessed over in my life. My house is no longer picture perfect. I quit trying to have the perfect gardens and plant only the things I’m interested in growing. I don’t get angry at myself if I don’t make a word quota or a self-imposed deadline anymore. I just adjust my expectations. I don’t try to edit while I draft. I let a draft sit for six to eight weeks before I mess with it, sometimes longer. I don’t expect perfection of myself. Good for me, right? I’m a perfectly adjusted perfectionist.

Have you ever noticed that the moment you start to get all proud of yourself, thinking you’ve got something mastered, something comes along to kick you in your rear end? Usually right into the nearest mud puddle?

There are two heads on the demon of perfectionism.

The other half of the monster decides that not fixing that porch because you wanted to work on other things is a statement about your belief system. The other half of that monster says that gardening without a sense of timing is just fine, and it’s okay to raise a plant you don’t intend to care for. The other half is the part that decides your drafts are always amazing and you know everything there is to know about craft. You don’t need to change anything because…ugh, your draft is, well…


See what I mean?

It doesn’t go away.

Most of my monsters don’t. They hang out in the closet, waiting to jump out at me and ruin my life. While I may have the first monster’s head pretty well bagged, the second one is always there to eat me.

But it’s the same root monster.

Here’s the quote that convicted me:

“Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop—an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”

                                                                                    Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Well, look at that.

The refusal to move ahead.

That can be refusing to move on to the next page because the first one isn’t right. It can also be refusing to consider mistakes or correct them because that means you have to move on to the next page.

These next few weeks are going to be huge. Not only do I get to decide what I have done well, I have to face everything I haven’t done well, say, “Oh, boy, is that a mess!” and dive right in with the same enthusiasm with which I initially wrote the book. Not aiming for perfection. Not pretending the problems don’t exist. I won’t let either head of the perfectionism demon get me.

How To Help The Panster in Your Life (Or in You)

I’ve been studying craft books this week. Part of it is for Write Mentor—I had homework. The other part is for me….so I can understand my homework.

See, I’m an organic writer, commonly known as a pantser. I didn’t arrive at this conclusion the logical way. No.

Convinced by various craft books and a number of other writers, I tried my best to cram my writing self into a round, well-shaped hole, only to find out that I was as angular as they come. Then I tried to chip my edges off. As you might imagine, that didn’t go so well.

Nevertheless, I continue to study plotting by plotters for plotters. If I get a recommendation to read a book, I will not only read it, I’ll do every exercise in it. If someone says, try this reverse outline? Yeah, I’ll give it a whirl. If they say, try this amazing beat sheet, yep, I’ll try it! I draw the line at anything involving index cards and spreadsheets (eww!) but I try to be very open minded in this regard, despite knowing that deep down, everything I read from a plotter’s viewpoint will have to be completely reversed, rewritten, and retrofitted if I’m going to get ANYTHING out of it. Y’all, this is what I do for fun.

However, I can say that most pantsers don’t find this fun. Even I don’t always find it fun, especially when the vast majority of writing craft books widely recommended usually start out with some version of “If you are a pantser, go to hell. And stay there until you have learned to be good.”

Is it any wonder that many writers are terrified to admit they don’t get help from craft books that are recommended to them? Is it any wonder that they are afraid to say the word “pantser” in public? Is it any wonder that when a plotter recommends something to them, they’ve learned to put their heads down and NOT say they don’t understand this recommendation and haven’t got the faintest clue what you expected them to get out of it? Nobody wants to look stupid, do they? And yet, this is exactly how many pantsers, including me, have been made to feel over the years. (For what it’s worth—say you don’t get it. It’s the best way to admit to yourself that you need what works for you and stop trying to cram yourself into that aforementioned round hole that won’t fit your angles.)

So, I thought I’d write something while my thoughts were fresh on this difference between storytelling styles about how to care for the pantser in your life, should you ever come across one. Remember, we hide. So look carefully.

  1. When a writer asks for craft book recommendations, along with asking them what they are looking for, ask them their writing style. Plotter or pantser? In between? What side of the spectrum? A LOT of closet pantsers are plansters, or plotsters. It keeps us from getting beaten up in writers’ meetings. Give a plotter plotter craft books. Give a pantser/planster pantser-friendly craft books. I’d probably give the plotster a pantser-friendly craft book as well. (I will have some recommendations later this month as I dig through as many resources as I can. Note: a pantser-friendly craft book will not say, “if you don’t write just like this method, you will waste time/wind up unpublished/be miserable/ develop boils on your butt/die if you don’t take heed before it’s too late.”
  2. When a writer says they didn’t like or didn’t understand a recommended craft book, ask them why. Then listen. Just listen.
  3. When a writer details their method for writing and it’s different than yours, please don’t say, “You can’t be productive that way. MY way is so much better/faster/logical/right, it’s the only way to write well.” I promise you, it’s not.
  4. When a writer is upset by your recommendations, it’s not because they are being sensitive. They are upset because they came to you for surgery, and you handed them a knife, or worse, you stabbed it in their gut. Listen. If you recommend an outline prior to writing or after writing, and they find that overwhelming and creatively destructive, consider that you might have a different kind of writer on your hands. You are going to have to think outside your box. It’s not so bad. That pantser has likely been doing it all of their lives to get along in a world where they aren’t supposed to exist.
  5. Normalize prefacing every piece of advice with the words “This works for me but it may not work for you”.
  6. Realize that while certain elements of craft are universal, the way of getting to them is not. The way of understanding them is even more fluid. A reverse outline may tell a pantser nothing at all about their story. Why? They already know that story. Writing it all out again as an outline will not tell them anything they don’t already know. It will bore them to tears and they will lose their enthusiasm for the story. However, if you show them how you use the reverse outline (or whatever on-paper thing you do to plot your story), they can arrive at a way to do the exact same thing in a format that works for them in the same way (perhaps a plot treatment or a long synopsis). Now both plotter and pantser have learned something from each other.
  7. Validate, validate, validate. When a pantser has feelings, they are often feelings that are the direct result of using advice that wasn’t right for them. They may actually be in the process of converting it to something they can use. Hear them out, let them vent, and don’t be surprised if they start brainstorming a way around the poorly delivered advice they got and making it work for them. When they get it, tell them so!

So those are my seven tips for helping the pantser in your life and not making them feel like a second-class writer. They are just another writer, like you, struggling in the world, and learning as they go. Different styles do not mean wrong or right, and contrary to a lot of craft books out there, there is more than one way to write a book!

April Got Wild

It always does. Three contests, a pitch event, Camp NaNoWriMo, a fun Beta read, revisions on one novel, looking forward to revisions on two more, four WIP going at once and…

An orphaned one-day-old kitten.

So this month just got a whole lot busier and more rewarding.

I see a lot of really short blog posts in my future, and I’d write more, but I’ve got 3000 words to draft, work to plan, a kitten to burp, and I think I need to schedule a nap somewhere between feedings every two hours!

Million Word Madness : 30,786

Yeah…don’t see me hitting that total this week!

Should I Play or Should I Go

It’s April. After dreading it from the moment I wrote it down on my writing calendar year, it has arrived! The month of contests.

One of my goals this year was to participate in as many of the contests as I could this year with as many different WIP as possible. While I won’t have new drafts ready in time (and these contests are rarely for first drafts anyway!) I do have a number of things ready to go this month.

Cue the overwhelm.

There is a lot involved in getting ready for contests. Not only that, April tends to be a busy month in terms of drafting. It’s Camp NaNoWriMo, in which I’ve participated for almost four years now? Yeah, I think it’s four years. I can’t miss that! There’s a new pitch contest this month, too, one I’m particularly interested in supporting and participating. Put three contests on top of that and I think I can be excused for being a little terrified of missing a deadline, forgetting a date, or simply deciding not to play because there’s just too much fear/angst/pressure attached to it.

What’s hard for me to remember sometimes is that contests are meant to be fun. It’s hard to think about that when contestants are frantically revising pages and queries in anticipation. It’s hard when previous contestants are coming onto the Twitter feed to give tips for preparation and talking about how it won them their agent because they were able to win a spot in the contest. It’s hard when mentors and editors remind everyone that their manuscript needs to be almost perfect to enter, and then proceed to remind contestants that their work will likely be pulled apart and dissected in preparation for a total rewrite. (By the way, that’s not anywhere nearly as terrifying as it sounds, and rewrites and redrafts are completely enjoyable things and NOT about opening a cadaver and tearing it up. It’s a lot more like open-heart surgery and breathing new life into a work that has been overworked from critique and trying too hard.) But all the same, it’s frightening to feel that these contests are the end-all to whether your story gets out in the world or is condemned to the shelf. It’s also disheartening to wonder, once again, if you are simply not the kind of writer that a mentor or editor believes should “make it”.

But, in order to have fun, which is again the point of writing contests, it’s necessary to put aside the feelings of fear and pressure, and just play the game. What’s the worst that could happen? I lose, right? And if there was never any pressure to win or lose, if it was only for fun, it’s no worse than losing a lottery. The important thing to remember is that my whole future as a writer and the health and wellbeing of my story doesn’t depend on winning a contest, just like I would never put any expectations of my physical health and wellbeing on winning a thousand bucks on a scratch-off. It’s just for fun.

So, I’ll be playing this year. Best of luck for anyone else playing, and remember that the odds are never in your favor. But your future doesn’t depend it.

Million Word Madness:  2,535

Total words for March 55,406

Total for the year so far: 230,195

Ghosts, Loss, and Love

This has been a rough week. On Saturday, I lost my cat of sixteen years. I’d had him since he was a tiny, sick kitten, all hair, tail, and misery. He’d come in a box with several other kittens to be euthanized. I took all three of them home. Two of them didn’t make it, but Cluny did. He almost lost his eye to a viral ulcer. I found him a home after he was well, and another potential illness arose than turfed him right back to my house. The second time, he never left.

Until this weekend.

I’ll miss him.

All of this hit me while I was redrafting some material for my ghost story, Flipping. In those opening chapters, there’s a funeral, and the MC deals with his feelings about death, love, and what it is to face losing something he loves very much. I’m not sure I’ve gone a day this last week without crying over that story in some way. It’s a story with a lot of humor and heart, but as one of the character’s says, “there are some aches that transcend death”. There are some aches that won’t stay rooted in one part of my mind. They spill out into my creative work and plant themselves there. I hope they grow into something beautiful when they flower. Right now, though, they prick like thorns.

Million Word Madness  2,535

College or Summer Camp

This weekend I had a hard choice to make. I think it’s an enviable choice if not a simple one: I have a number of stories in various stages of development, and among that group I had a contender for two contests.

It’s rare that happens. Most of the time, I have a clear idea of which story I want to enter in a mentorship contest based on the mentors and wish-lists. This time, I really wasn’t sure!

It’s my weird little fairy mob story, one I’m fond of calling my chaos kid. By the time both contests open for submissions, my story will have been revised twice, and have been through one round of Beta’s, which for me is usually contest time territory. It’s ready for some additional developmental editing, some refining, deepening, and hopefully shaping it into something that might go out for querying at some point later in the year.

The question became—who did I want to work on this story with me?

The options:

RevPit—a contest with developmental editors, many of whom I know, and they happen to be extremely interested in acquiring MG work this year. Because this contest ends with an agent showcase, it’s an intensive, short program, requiring a lot of work in a compressed period of time.

Write Mentor—a summer program for revision, uses other writers and authors as mentors. This contest has a long work period, and the agent round is optional, program touts itself as being more about the mentorship and learning that acquiring an agent. Because it’s only for children’s literature, it’s got a number of categories, not just for MG, but for everything around and in between.

So, the question became: what did my little chaos kid need?

Does he need to get out on the query circuit soon? Does he need deconstruction by editors with a focus on what the market wants, with only six to eight weeks to shape up and go forth? Or does he need the chance to mature as a story, exploring all of who he is and can be, with no pressure to conform to market standards until he is ready to do so? Does he need college or camp?

I had never looked at a contest this way before—in terms not of what I need, but what I want for the story. Most of the time, I look at the mentors and their wish-lists, not at me, my work, and what I want for it first and foremost. I’m so used to considering what I can get out of the experience instead of what I want to get out of the experience for my work and for me. Once I did that, I knew exactly what contest was the best on for my sweet fairy moth-boy, the bug he cares for, and all his wild antics involving birds, bees, and costume changes.

Sometimes summer camp is exactly where a kid needs to be.

Million Word Madness: 18,602

Chasing Poems

Last week, I finally got the weather I needed to go to the lake and the river. Sunday, I woke up with a poem drifting around my head like a bat around a lamp. Coincidence? Hardly.

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but the dearth of it in the last few months has seemed a dangerous sign to me, like not seeing bees in spring, or a suspicious lack of lichens on the trees. Poems are a good sign of creative energy levels returning.

It wasn’t a wonderful kind of poem. Kind of macabre in fact, and horrible. But not everything that flutters out of the dark night of a soul is a beautiful creature. For now, it’s enough that I caught one!

Million Word Madness  15,089

Getting Ready for…

It’s March. Suddenly April looks a lot closer than it did a few weeks and an eternity ago. April is an intense month for me, and always has been. This year is no different. There are a few contests I want to do, Camp NaNoWriMo, and then there’s the spring garden planting once the frost-free date passes. In fact, next week, I have to start tomatoes and peppers in the oven. Don’t ask. Let’s just say it makes a good heat box and I just don’t cook much in April. Big old sign on the door that says, “Don’t pre-heat the oven!” to keep me from forgetting I’ve got young plants in there. And it’s possible I might forget. There’s so much going on.

It’s fun. It’s wild. It’s also easy to be overwhelmed by all that I feel “must” be done.

One of my tools I use to keep myself focused and on track is my daily journal. I found it necessary to jot down most of the things I needed to accomplish in each WIP, and it provides a sense of fulfilment when I get to mark things as accomplished. But one of the things it also does is provide me with a good sense of what I can get done in a day vs. what I expect to get done in a day.

Left to my own devices, and given an unlimited page, I’d fill it with things to do in a day. And then I’d feel bad when I didn’t get them done, and add them to the next page. But my journal limits me to a half-page for my to-do list. If it won’t fit on that top half page, I am not going to get to it that day. Then I can decide if it belongs on tomorrow’s list, or if perhaps it wasn’t as important as I thought it was. That little half page is like my sign on the oven door.

I don’t want burned plants.

I don’t need burned-out writer.

Million Word Madness Update : 14,364