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

Retreat! Retreat!

This writing week has felt more intense than usual. I’ve been working through multiple Beta reads this week (yes, I took on too many, but it’s like kittens—I can’t adopt just one), keeping up with two WIP, reading three different published books (again, kittens), and gearing up to tackle at least one major revision, and possibly two. I have submissions that I should send out, only it’s raining, and that means my internet is iffy at best. Those will hang over my head until I get a break in the weather. I have garden work to do. Seeds to plant. A house that really needs to be cleaned with the windows open. Schoolwork to grade. Rejections coming in at a rate that lets me know I am putting myself out there as I should be.

It’s fun. It’s wild. It’s a bit chaotic—the way I like it.

It’s also exhausting.

The other day I was chatting with writing friends and I said I felt in need of a tonic. I’m not suffering from burnout. I am loving both my WIP and still sad that I finished one last week. I’m excited about moving forward on revisions with another project. I don’t feel like I want to quit. I don’t feel like I want to slow down. But dang it, I need a tonic to keep up!

However, finding ways to relax and recharge has been difficult. Weather means my usual tonic—going out to the river or the woods—isn’t a great option. Going out to eat, going to the library, going out for a hike on a popular trail, going to a writing conference isn’t something I can do. But I seized on the idea of a writer retreat as a potential tonic for helping me to relax, to slow down, and take some time to recharge.

My plan right now is to take a week in April (quite possibly Camp NaNoWriMo) to enjoy quiet time writing. I don’t need a break. What I need is a retreat to make me think deeply about writing, about improving my writing, and even working on some of the more delicate parts of editing and revision, like emotionally charged prose, evocative telling, and microtension. I want to set up a week where most of the cooking is advance planned, and I can count on a few really nice things to eat. I also want to schedule ample time to simply sit outside and think, to take a few long walks, to lie down and read, and to work intensively on my craft with some of my WIP currently in revision. I want to watch a few videos and take notes, but I plan to spend a lot more time with my craft books, working through exercises on my own, preparing before and after sections for later review when I feel I’m stagnating. Hopefully, it will do the job of helping me recharge for the months to come.

Million Word Madness Update 25,408

Total words for February 81,112

Total 174,789/1,000,000

Snow Day

Like many folks this past week, I’ve been up to my knees in snow and over my head in freezing weather. We were lucky. We only got ten inches of snow and not a foot. We only lost power for about twelve hours, and not on the coldest day. We have wood heat and are so used to losing power, we had our contingency plans in place the day before the snow hit, including ones for moving our chickens into the house for the week. Normally, with their heat lamp and winterproofed house, they do fairly well, but these are elderly birds, and this weather was particularly cold. So, for the past week, I’ve been getting up at night to feed the fire, take care of the diabetic dog, and waking up each morning to the rooster crowing…in my house. Let me tell you, sun and warm weather are most welcome today, by me and the critters.

But one thing I noticed with all the snow and the work load: I got a ton of writing done. Not being able to justify hunting for agents, staying further away from the hot mess that is publishing, and generally not thinking beyond “I have two hours to write and then I have to take the dog out, check the chickens, mop up the snowmelt on the floor, and think about what I can cook that won’t require using more than one appliance” was a good thing for me.

For the first time this February, I got my quota. I finished drafting the last book of a trilogy. I am now on track to hit 50,000 words in two new stories by the end of the month. And I just might make my Million Words in a Year monthly quota after all, in the shortest month of the year. I kept up with Beta reading, managed to squeeze in some critique work, and am about to finish reading one of my stories that is slated for revision later this spring. About the only thing that didn’t get done to my satisfaction was art, but I’m now prepared to dive into my year-long art project starting March because I sat down in the cold house with a pen and paper and planned what I wanted to do and where I wanted to start.

So, what can I take going forward from a highly productive and incredibly stressful (not to mention messy) week?

  1. It’s not a bad idea for me to unplug. I’ve been inundated with emotional pain and unpleasant memories due to the most recent agent scandals, as well as continuing to work through lists of people I might have queried who have done things to previous clients that while not entirely unethical, are things I would find very difficult to deal with in an agent/author relationship. Getting away from that, even for twelve hours, kept me from dwelling on how difficult it is to not only find a good agent, but find one that’s good for me and my work.
  • Mess isn’t likely to kill me or my creativity. Okay, I kind of knew this one. I work best with everything spread out in front of me. I prefer a certain amount of uncertainty in my writing. I find it relaxing and practical to work on about five things, dividing them up throughout the day. But it was nice to know I could do that while also mopping up muddy water and cleaning up aspen shavings from the floor of my laundry room.
  • My thirty-minute writing sessions are more productive when I know I have something to do in that fifteen-minute break between them that isn’t checking Twitter or Email. It was helpful to know that I had to write as much as I could, and then I would get up to do something like fix the fire, feed the wild birds, make sure the laundry got transferred and done on time because I didn’t want to run a dryer and the oven at the same time because of how intense the need for power was. Having that kind of organization in my non-writing day helped keep me on schedule.
  • Reading was a treat. Often, reading becomes something of a chore for me. There’s a lot to read, obviously. When I’m Beta reading, I’m trying to both enjoy and find ways to improve the story in terms of enjoyment, not necessarily in terms of craft, although that factors in at times. But not having anything to watch or listen to, it was nice to kick back after a long day of writing and chores, and just read a book. I am close to meeting my February book reading quota now, and looking forward to March and new reads.

While I certainly don’t want any more snow (please, please, please, please—I am ready for spring!) I was glad that I did have the opportunity to pull back a bit, reflect, and think about what a snow-day or week might do for my writing, particularly in the hot days of August, when I’ll be thinking about snow with wistful longing.

But not about chickens in the house again. Nope.

Million Word Madness Update 28,736 words

The Books that Last

About halfway through February, and my reading has been slow. I’ve been doing a lot of Beta reading and reading two of my own MS in preparation for revisions later this spring. But I really need to step it up to hit the number of books I read in January.

I’ve recently taken to rating books I read. I don’t review them, or post my thoughts, but as I looked over my reading for January (mostly to make sure I hit the same number of books in February), I started thinking about what makes me love a book vs. like it, and conversely, what makes me hate a book vs. no feelings at all.

I read for a few reasons. I read to study. As a writer, I feel that’s important. I read to keep up with trends in genre, some of which I like, others I don’t like. It is what it is. Got to know to either imitate the trend or know that I can’t. Some things in my current genre really bother me, and there are things I can’t force myself to do, even for the sake of potential publication. I read to recommend books to other writers. I may see something that dovetails with a story that one of my friends is working on. Potential comp! But my main reason for reading is to be entertained.

When I purchase a book, I’m purchasing it mostly based of the premise. I expect that story to entertain me. Some books I want to re-read because I enjoyed them so much. Others are entertaining for the time in which I read them. Beyond that, I have no interest in revisiting them. Others I walk out on because they are boring. Some I finish because I feel I must (hello, I paid for that book!) but am glad I’ll never need to read them again.

When it comes to evaluating a book, I tend to be completely subjective in my opinion. I have reasons for my opinion, and some writer-terms will sneak into my review that I keep for myself. Again, some books that I hate, I will keep for study. I can glean a lot from books I hate. But when it comes right down to it, I’m looking to be entertained, particularly when I read genre fiction. I give literary fiction a bit more latitude in that regard. I’m reading it for different reasons that I read genre fiction on the whole.

So, with all that in mind, here are my criteria for “Have I not been entertained”.

  1. Has a main character that I attach to inside of the first ten pages, and it’s better if I love them on page one.
  2. That character has a strong, clear voice that permeates the prose.
  3. The character communicates the details of their world and how they see it in a clear, evocative way.
  4. There is actual exposition regarding the world. Not an infodump, but I’m not expected to learn everything about the world through the character’s experiences only. Clear, solid, worldbuilding.
  5. The plot doesn’t plod, but neither does it race and just get thicker and thicker until I get to the end and wonder why the butt doesn’t match the face anymore. (Yes, I love stakes that escalate, but not if they escalate for reasons that don’t directly involve the protagonist in a visible way.)
  6. There’s a twist in the plot. I don’t want to be able to predict the ending, or predict where the plot points will fall. I want to be surprised. I want to get to the end and experience that delicious sensation of wondering “How the heck did I not see that coming!” I want to actually be afraid that the character might not make it through. I want to worry that the love interest really won’t come back. I want to feel the crushing weight of a dilemma that will change the character’s life forever. I want to see the villain defeated and be more than a little sad about it. I want to see those subplots that were so well woven into the story impact the main plot in dramatic, exciting ways.

In many ways, the last element of my subjective analysis of entertainment is the most important for me. Few authors and few books can do this in a compelling way. Books that manage to impress me with their twists often make my re-read shelf, not just because I’m delighted with the author’s craft, but because I’m emotionally invested in the characters, their journeys, and their lives. These are the books that live on in my imagination forever. These are the books that last.

Million Word Madness Update: 12,551 words this week

(Yeah, yeah—I know I’m slacking.)

Nothing To Report…

It’s that time of year. Pitch contests are happening. Several other contests have finished up and the authors and stories are about to hit the market, and there are other contests and pitch events on the horizon. Spring is coming!

But in the meantime, the garden is fallow, everything is dead. On the writing front, queries drift out into the air, only to come back with form rejections or faint praise. And that’s like spring, too.

It’s easy to get excited when the daffodils come up, I find. It feels like the beginning of the end of winter. A lot like getting a like in a pitch contest or a morsel of feedback in a rejection. At the same time, it’s so disheartening to see freezing rain or snow in the forecast, to watch friends with full requests get that dreaded rejection. I know I feel like the winter of discontent is never going to end.

What keeps me motivated?

Much the same things that keep me motivated when it comes to actual spring.

When I’m feeling low from the winter doldrums, I break out my sketchbook and draw up garden plans (yes, even ones that could never work in a fantasy world), I get out my seed catalogs, I look at gardening books, I paint tulips and trees, and I break out the calendar and plan the first spring hiking trips, kayaking adventures, and drives into the mountains.

When the rejection doldrums hit, I plan what I want to pitch in the next six months to a year, look at submission guidelines, research agents and publishers to look at, and write query letters for new projects. And I read. Not only published books. I like to step up my Beta reading and critique work in the winter. It’s nice to help other author’s working through their own doldrums. Soon we’ll all have spring fever together!

Million Word Madness Update: 14,417 words

(Taking care of my diabetic dog has hit my word count. But she’s doing better, and I’m getting a little more sleep now!)

The Night Shift

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far, away, I knew how to work the night shift.

Oh, it wasn’t much. Just a few nights, sitting up with a fellow student, doing treatments, checking patients, and helping with emergencies. It was kind of fun. Boring most of the time, with moments of excitement, but in general, it was often a good time to catch up on thinking.

There was seldom enough time to read or write anything, and of course, sleeping wasn’t happening, but there was a lot of time to grab a few moments and think about the story I’d started late in my third year, a story that went on to be Ironsfork. So much thinking.

About a week ago, one of my puppers started having symptoms that necessitated me getting up multiple times a night with her. After struggling with this for about three days, I made the decision that for the time being, until she’s well, I had just better stay up all night. When nine rolls around, I give her the insulin she needs, and my shift starts. At nine the next morning, she gets her second shot, and I go to bed with the sun and the birds.

Some things I’ve discovered:

  1. I’m not the night owl I once was.
  2. The wee small hours of the night are still a great time to think.

In the last week, I wrote 25,000 words, most of them between 3-5. I’ve curled up on the couch with my cats between checking on my pup, and read two books. It gets very, very quiet in the house. The only sound is sleeping animals and the occasional bubble of the tea kettle about to boil. And I can hear myself think.

Maybe they aren’t great thoughts. But when the mind is tired, the body too, sometimes the most interesting connections between stories, characters, and plot events seem to collide in new and impossible ways.

I’m looking forward to sleeping at night again, hopefully in a few weeks once things have stabilized with the pup. I’m very tired, very sleepy, and my temper is always set to flammable these days. But it’s nice to see that some things haven’t suffered as much. My imagination, at least, seems to like the night shift.

Million Word Madness: 25,325

Update for January: 93,677 words

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