Nancy: There Is No Light Without the Darkness

A few weeks ago, I went through a rough patch in my writing life. More accurately, I started going through the rough patch, because I haven’t yet climbed completely out of that hole of writerly despair. At least now I’m close enough to the surface to catch a glimpse of sunlight filtering down from above me.

There were reasons I fell into the hole, of course. I had too many deadlines on multiple projects converging at once. I was running a low-grade fever (precursor to a virus that towered a whole weekend and then some). I came to the realization that I couldn’t stay on course for meeting my publishing deadlines and at the same time attend an amazing writers’ conference being held in paradise this coming fall. I bailed on paradise because it was the right thing to do, but sometimes the right think sucks.

But there were deeper reasons, too. Poking a stick into a story idea that’s not baked enough yet. Coming to the point in one of my stories where I realized it’s all complete drivel (this happens at several points per story for me; YMMV). Falling into the pit of despair known as imposter syndrome. I knew talking to someone would help, but I wasn’t ready to share with other writers (which makes up about 90% of my circle of friends and acquaintances IRL) for fear of hearing well-meaning advice or platitudes, neither of which would have worked for me in that particular state. In fairness, my wonderful friends who also happen to be writers would have known not to do that, but I was stuck down in that hole, not seeing things all that clearly.

Which left me with the small number of non-writers in my life, and led to the realization that not only did I not want to discuss the trials and tribulations of the writing life with them in that moment, I didn’t want to discuss those harsh realities with them ever. I really had to ponder my own reaction. These are good eggs, kind people, of the loving and caring sort. Why did I recoil from sharing these truths with them? Maybe I was afraid – to paraphrase Col. Jessup from A Few Good Men – they couldn’t handle the truth, because most conversations with non-writers that touch on writing reveal a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to pursue the writing life.

We are the overlords of time, bending and stretching it to obey our will. This sounds great. Amazing, actually. Where do I sign up for this superpower? Because it did not arrive in my Acme Writer Starter Kit. Maybe I should demand a refund. Or, you know, deal with the truth, which is unless a writer has a really fast rocket ship and can disrupt the space-time continuum, she is bound by the same 24-hour days, 7-day weeks as everyone else on this big, round rock known as earth.

To clear up a few other misunderstandings about writers and time: no one gave me this time; I took it, fought for it, carved it out of the cold, hard edifice of life with my bare, bleeding hands. All my other time-consuming responsibilities did not evaporate; I prioritized writing above as many of those other things as I could, and still I have to juggle and re-shuffle constantly, because this life thing comes with serious demands. And there have been times when I could not prioritize writing, when it fell to the bottom of my list or got smothered at the bottom of my to-do pile. Because the limitations of 24/7 really do apply to writers, too.

We are living the dream, ergo there are unicorns and rainbows (but no unicorn poop and no downpours). Ah, the good life. I am not being facetious. For me, and I’m sure for many of you, writing – even on its worst days – is the dream. At least it’s my dream. It’s my passion, and to some extent, my obsession. There is nothing in the world that compares with finally untangling a plot problem, understanding a character’s deeper motive, finishing an exquisite passage, or making myself (and later, other readers) laugh and cry and emote with something that came from my fevered imagination and gnarled fingers.

Why shouldn’t writing also be hard? We’re baring our souls here, people. Bleeding on the page. Digging into the most painful parts of human experience to expose the emotional truths that lie at the heart of all good fiction.

I truly believe that everything that is worthwhile is hard, frustrating, sometimes even demoralizing. Raising children. Working on a long-term relationship. Caring for a sick loved one. Taking care of pets. Pursuing some other passionate calling like medicine or social work or politics. All of the wonderful things that make life worthwhile come with their own dark sides, tough days, and pits of despair. Wanting, needing, and loving something does not make it easy, it just makes the hard parts bearable.

We are carrying the hopes and dreams of all of humanity on our broad, strong, writerly shoulders. Okay, yes, I’m being dramatic. That’s something we writer types are wont to do. But when people not engaged in a creative outlet learn I’m a professional writer, they admit to being immensely impressed, slightly jealous, or – most often – both. As the New York Times reported, more than 80% of Americans ‘think they have a book in them’. That’s literally hundreds of millions of people in the US alone wanting to do the thing I get to do every day. What’s not to envy?

It’s hard to explain to someone who wants what you have that – like time – no one handed you this special gift. That you’ve had to fight for it, through it, even with it to get this writing life into some semblance of something livable. Who wants to hear that? Who asked you to rain on their parade full of unicorns? You need to smile, write that book, get it out into the world, and make it a success, damn it! Otherwise, those watching you, envying you, wanting what you have, might just lose hope in their own creative dreams.

As I pondered these myths about writing, I also dealt with the reality of my own writing life. I started finding footholds to begin the climb out of my bad writing day/week/month hole (yes, I promise I’m almost done with this tired metaphor). I eventually reached out to a few writer friends, asking for nothing but a chance to vent and some supportive pity, which they graciously provided advice-free. I posted about my stalled progress in a private online group for creative types (not all writers), and included a simple plan to get back on the writing path.

And then I followed my simple plan, removing word, scene, and chapter count goals from my daily to-do list, and focusing instead on spending an hour – just one hour – on whatever project needed my attention the most that day. I also took comfort in some very timely articles about dealing with the dark times by writer Kim Bullock over at Writer Unboxed, and writing mentor extraordinaire Lisa Cron over at Writers Helping Writers. 

And through my brief journey to the dark side, an unexpected thing has happened. I’ve made peace with the fact that there are some things that non-writers just don’t get, that they’ll never get unless and until they really do write that book they’re sure they have inside themselves, if only they can learn to bend time and tame unicorns and grow broad shoulders.

But you and I will look back at all the deep, dark holes littering our writing path, and we will know the truth.

Nancy: Big Reveal: Novel 1 Cover Copy

 Many, many months ago, I shared my cover blurb (aka the 150-word pitch) of my Victorian Romance series kickoff novella and got some great feedback. Since then, I’ve worked on the cover blurb for novel 1 of the series.

This time, I spent even more time on Amazon reading blurb after blurb on historical romance books. I took note of which rhythms and devices appealed to me. At its heart, the cover copy is sales copy; its job is to sell the story, so I gauged my own response to determine which blurbs had me itching to hit the buy button. Then came the hard part: applying those lessons learned to my own book.

As expected, a few hours into the agonizing process, I was pretty sure I’d written the first book in the history of publishing that absolutely would not, could not be captured in a cover blurb. But deep down, I was also pretty sure that every author who’d ever worked on cover copy’d had that same thought. And so I persisted, and came up with this early draft of the cover copy. I’ll work on it with my editor  – who has helped write cover copy for decades – after she has edited the story. But for now, I’d love to get your feedback! Continue reading

Nancy: April Accountability Thread

Phew, we made it through March! At least the last week was more lamb-like in my little corner of the world, but it was not an easy month. It’s never been my favorite. In fact, it’s often 12 out of 12 for the year as far as I’m concerned, and in 2018 I found it particularly annoying. The silver lining to the dark cloud that was March was that my writing goals went so much better than many other parts of life, so it wasn’t all bad.

March Goals with Outcomes

1) Finish the damn website. DONE! As I reported a few weeks ago, NancyHunterbooks.com is up and running! I’m continuing to make tweaks to it, but until I get my book covers, the edited first chapter excerpts, and (eventually) ‘Buy’ links to add, I’m crossing this one off my list, it’s pretty well set. Words cannot express how happy I am to have this done, so imagine an interpretive dance of joy here ;-)! Continue reading

Nancy: Going Rogue*

One of the topics we sometimes cover here on the blog is that of writing rules. With the caveat that there are no ‘rules’, just loosely agreed-upon standards and conventions that can and will be broken at will on a regular basis. Still, those conventions give us lines to paint inside to make pretty pictures, and guardrails to keep us from driving our stories off the road and over a cliff.

BUT. But.

Sometimes the hot mess created by violating the lines is also a beautiful mess. Sometimes flying off the edge of a cliff is exhilarating. Thus flouting ‘the rules’ can be like catnip to the writer’s brain.

You’ve probably ascertained by now (because you are smart and observant!) that I’m planning some sort of leap over a guardrail. You are correct. The rule I shall break today is: start where the story begins, stop where the story ends. And in between that beginning and end, make sure every paragraph, every line, every word serves the story (and only the story!) you are writing. Continue reading

Nancy: The Big Reveal – Nancy Hunter, Author Website

Last week, I was lamenting my sad lack of progress on my website. This week, I’m singing a different tune.

That’s right. I did it. I completed my author website. You can see it by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post, after I’ve shared some details about creating the site and a few caveats to know before visiting it. Or you can skip straight to the link and come back here after that. (Go ahead, you know you want to do it! It’s definitely what I would do.)

The Look and Feel of the Site

To set up my website, I used a WordPress template built by a company call Author Cats. I’m giving it a try, and might decide at some future time that it’s not the right template for me, so I can’t tell other authors whether it would be right for them. I do think there are some interesting things, to consider. The look of the template is built on an underlying philosophy that is particularly geared to self-publishing writers, but is something to consider for traditionally-published writers as well.

If you’ve done any research on self-publishing, you know how important the author newsletter and the email mailing list used to distribute it is to a writer. It’s one of the few things an author really owns. You don’t own your Facebook or Twitter account. You don’t own your Amazon or Kobo or iBooks account. You can’t force good reviews on Goodreads or count on BookBub ads. But you can connect with readers who would want your books by collecting the email addresses of those who are interested, and then reaching out to them regularly. That’s why you’ll notice that there are two to three places to sign up for my newsletter on every page of my website. And the landing page (where the newsletter sign-up occurs) does not have a menu bar (visitors have to back click to leave the page).

That’s what the site will hopefully do for me, the author. What I hope it will do for visitors is provide a clean, easy-to-navigate place to learn a little bit about me, try a sample of of my work, and effortlessly contact or follow me if that’s their thing.

Placeholder Information

As with many things in life, including me, my website is a work in process. Where appropriate, I’ve made it clear that the Harrow’s Finest Five series will be available in the fall of 2018, the freebie meet cute stories that subscribers get for signing up for my newsletter won’t be sent until May 2018, and the excerpts for kickoff novella and novel 1 will also be unavailable until May. There really is a good reason for this: I want to present the best-possible versions of my books and the excerpts that represent them, which precipitates a good, thorough editing process with an amazing editor. This is happening as we speak, but I want have ‘final’ drafts for another month or so.

I have included placeholder book descriptions on the excerpt pages, in the interest of having something to share about the upcoming books with site visitors. But this, too, will change after I’ve worked with my editor on the book descriptions.

Room to Grow

Some of the self-publishing-specific functionality of the template I’m using is the ability to quickly and easily embed buy links to outside sites that are connected directly to images and text on my website. Changing and updating these links, for instance if I start in Kindle Select and go wide later, is also easy peasy. Easy is important to me. You know how long it took me to get this site set up. When I need to make updates and add more fancy, book-centric bells and whistles, a Nancy-proof way to do so is essential. Otherwise, I’ll never do it.

Over the next several months to a year, I plan to launch websites for my other writing alter egos: Nancy J. Yeager for Women’s Fiction/Mainstream, and NJ Christensen for Mystery/Nordic Noir. (We can discuss the brilliance or idiocy of this plan in a future post.) I had hoped this template would provide an easy way to have multiple home pages that I could manage out of the same site, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case.

Max makes an appearance on my new website, but I hope you won’t see him! He’s on the 404 page.

There are no doubt good technical reasons for this, but sadly, it means I’ll probably have to build separate websites. But it does look like I’ll be able to manage the sites from one dashboard and easily embed links between them. Here’s hoping.

The Reveal

So now, here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for (or, at least, the moment I’ve been waiting for over the past several months). To visit my new website, click on this link to go to nancyhunterbooks.com! And if you’re so inclined, sign up for my newsletter while you’re there. I’ll talk more about that when we closer to the first issue in a few months.

Love the website? Hate it? Have deep thoughts to share? Let me know in the comments.

Nancy: Self Care for the Creative Soul

Self-care: the gift that keeps on giving.

Today, I have a good-news/bad-news story to share with you. First the bad news: I almost had a surprise for you, but couldn’t quite pull it off. You see, I’ve actually been working on my long-neglected, hella-frustrating, partially-broken website this past week, and I came sooooo close to being able to do a big reveal of the fully functional site today. Then it turned out I could only get so far without tech support doing something blah blah staging site blah blah DNS I dunno. Anyway, the support people I need don’t work on the weekend, so I’m in a holding pattern until later today (if you’re reading this on Monday).

The good news, in case you didn’t realize it, was actually buried in the description of the bad news: I have been working on my website. And it’s close, really, really close to being functional. Close enough for me to say I might actually be able to finish it without hiring outside help! I should know more by the time I do my next post, so stay tuned.

While I’ve been working on my website, I’ve also been finishing one book, starting the discovery/first draft of a new story, waiting for editor feedback on my novella and novel 1 of the romance series…you get the idea. There aren’t enough hours in the day and there’s always more I could be doing. The risk of burnout and stress meltdowns is high. But I don’t have time for that! So I’ve been trying some things Continue reading

Nancy: March Accountability Thread

So, the beginning of March happened. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, it definitely came in like a lion. We’re on day three without electricity, so I’m working off generator-powered Internet service while sitting near the kerosene heater that keeps at least part of the house above 50° F. We’re hoping the powers that be will get the felled tree across a major road (closing off one of our routes of egress) removed, power lines back up, and electricity restored by midweek. I’m ready for that ‘goes out like a lamb’ part of March. Of course there’s plenty of work to be done before then. More on that in a minute.

For now, let’s cast our memory back to those golden days of February when here at Chez Hunter there was electricity. Oh, and grandiose plans for accomplishing All. The. Things.

February Goals With Outcomes

1) Finish the damn website. Um, yeah. I’ve successfully spent another month ignoring the website, or at least, the technical aspects of it. I have rewritten copy for it, thought about what I want to present on the Books page, and kicked around different ideas for a bonus content page. You know, all the non-technical stuff. Not so much the technical stuff, which is the real problem.

2) Finish the (second/third/fourth) revision of book 1 of the Victorian Romance series. Done! Yesssss!!!!! Happy Dance! Onward and upward! Continue reading