Nancy: Boom and Bust

Several weeks ago, I found myself in a familiar place. I was coming off a big day-job project, which had included long hours every day for the last couple of weeks to complete it. I hadn’t been able to touch my writing during that time and for weeks before that, because even when I wasn’t working quite as many hours, I was expending all my mental energy on that other job. But now that I and my team had completed that project and submitted it to the customer, I was able to reclaim my life, including my writing time. “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” right?

Um, no.

When last I’d communed with my writing, I’d been on a hot streak (despite that pesky novella that I’ve struggled to revise). I was writing for long hours and wracking up word counts, knowing all the while it couldn’t last. I’d signed a consulting contract. A company was going to write me a monthly check; it stood to reason at some point they’d want me to do something to earn that money. Then I got a call saying a project that was supposed to start in October was actually starting six weeks early. I went cold turkey on my writing. Turns out, by the time I finally got back to it, it had gone cold turkey on me. I had one novella and one full-length novel in need of revision, and the first act of a second full-length novel all set in the same story world. I also had the first half of my women’s fiction story waiting for completion. But when I sat down at the computer, I couldn’t get back into any of those story worlds. I’m not going to lie – some panic set in. After all, it’s only a matter of time before I get the next call about the next day-job project, and then I’ll have to go cold turkey on writing again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I had become, without even trying, a boom and bust writer. Boom and bust is an economic term that describes repeated cycles of economic expansion followed by economic contraction. In my writing life, it describes my repeated cycle of creative frenzy followed by a long dry spell. Does it work? Well it must, I thought, because I don’t really have a choice. The intensity and long hours of my day job mean that when I’m on a deadline, my writing is forced into hibernation, into a creative bust period. The hope is always that when the project ends and my writing can move to the forefront, I’ll make up for lost days and weeks and word counts.

But just as hope is not a method of birth control, it’s also not a great method for birthing a book. So when I finally had the opportunity for a creative boom but just couldn’t get back into my story or get words on the page, it seemed like a great time to review the evidence of the past few years and evaluate how well this approach had really worked.

It wasn’t pretty.

Over the 5 or 6 years since I moved into a high level in my non-writing profession and picked up my boom and bust writing habits, I managed to start several stories, finish some of those, and get all the way through the revision process on a precious few. But I’m not writing and finishing enough. I’m not working at a publishing-worthy pace, and like some of the other Ladies, I have plans for 2018 to be a publishing year. My writing shortfalls are not all the fault of those busy times when I’m pulled completely away from my stories. I lose days, weeks, sometimes even months readjusting to daily life and catching up on the other things in the world, all the while waiting for my brain to get back in sync with my stories. So while in theory boom and bust writing seems like a good way to meet my unique writing time needs, in reality it’s doing more harm to my process than good.

After a couple of weeks of being convinced I’d never write another word of fiction again, I got my mojo back, with a little help (which I’ll discuss in more detail over the next few weeks). Just as importantly, I’ve made some plans to avoid future boom and bust writing cycles. Right now, I’m pacing myself, sticking to a comfortable (or some days, slightly uncomfortable) canter that keeps my word count growing and my story moving without overwhelming me or burning me out. When that day job comes a-callin’ again, as it’s bound to do, I plan to carve out a few afternoon hours (my prime writing time) most days to keep up with my writing. And when the day-job project reaches that critical point where it requires my undivided attention, my goal is to find quick ways to revisit the story – re-read a few pages, brainstorm about an upcoming scene, research something easy to find – for a half hour or so as often as possible. To keep my writing on track, I need to avoid the burn-outs of booms and the momentum-killing of busts, and not spend more than a few days at a time away from my story world.

Are you a boom and bust writer? Are your writing habits working for you, and if not, when’s the last time you examined your process to see if there’s something your creative brain wants to do differently?

 

Kay: Spending Your Time—The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Wreckage of the Black Prince (fragment) by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, 1854.

Becoming an author requires a lot of work, from the writing to publishing and marketing. It’s easy to get caught up in writing-related activities that don’t yield much, if anything, in results. In the lingo of economists, this phenomenon is called the sunk cost fallacy—really a high-fallutin way of pointing out how you’re wasting your time.

I just read an article about the sunk cost fallacy, and it resonated with me since I’ve so recently fallen victim to it. So, what is it and how does it work?

In economics, a “sunk cost” is a cost that you’ve already paid, says Robert Wood on Standout Books. For writers, this payment can be financial, but usually the resources that you spend are time, energy, and emotional commitment.

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Nancy: September Accountability Thread

jumping-hurdles

I’m not feeling very accountable lately. Last month I was a day late with this post. This month, I’ve stretched it to a week. I’m afraid it gets worse from there. I accomplished none of my  August writing goals. And a week into September, I’m not showing much improvement. But wait! The story does get happier, I promise!

First things first, though. Here’s a brief recap of my August goals, complete with admissions of defeat.

August Goals

1) Get through All the Things for my daughter’s wedding, which HAPPENED on September 3. I should really stop there. This one I completed like a champ. I took on even more than I’d planned, Continue reading

Michaeline: In Case of Emergency

Well, what a week. Hurricane Harvey is in the news as clean-up efforts continue, while Hurricane Irma is heading to Mar-a-Lago (Fortune.com) and Rush Limbaugh’s home studio (Miami Herald). An earthquake and tsunami in Mexico (The Guardian, UK), plastic in our water (Teach the Earth website, hosted by carleton.edu), and solar flares (space.com). Everyone, I hope you are staying safe, and are in a position to help the less fortune.

The solar flares may cause disruptions in electronics, and I’ve noticed that the internet hasn’t been playing very nice the last few days — I assumed it was just because my location wasn’t very good, but I’m having the same problems at home.

So, just in case I’m late, I’m scheduling this post to go out on time. I’m not sure what to recommend. I’m going to wrap my electronics and my head in aluminum foil, and give the old pen and notebook route a try.

You’ve just got to laugh, haven’t you? Well, wish me luck on my more-serious, on-topic post, and in the meantime, please enjoy the fabulous Weird Al Yankovic with his rendition of Lorde’s “Royals” — titled “Foil” of course. So weird and wonderful!

And hey, if you manage to see a great sunset or (gasp!) the aurora (swpc.noaa.gov), drop us a line in the comments, or post a link to your pictures!

With no further ado, I link you to Mr. Yankovic! (P.S. “Word Crimes” is also terribly funny if you haven’t seen it.)

Michaeline: Back to School

School really was a lot of fun, and work can be too! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Hurrah! I went back to school for my dayjob Friday – for us in Japan, it’s the new start of second semester after a three-week long period of no classes. But the excitement in the air is very similar to the back-to-school period of my youth in America. It’s fun to have a few new clothes, some new stories to tell friends and of course, get back into a routine.

Routines are tricky things for me. I need them desperately, but if I’m too scheduled, I get tired and cranky. This August period gives me a chance to shake up my routine and figure out new strategies before we settle into the rhythms of autumn in September.

I fell away from an exercise routine this summer. My feet and ankles have been very bad, so I’ve been trying a variety of new exercises and rest periods. During summer vacation itself, I was busy walking around new cities, and then trying to chill my feet to recuperate. My feet still hurt, but overall, I’ve come out stronger because of the random exercises. I think I’m ready to take up a more regular routine of stationary biking and trips to the swimming pool.

Fourth paragraph in, and there’s no direct link to writing! Well, more and more I’m beginning to think that physical exercise is the key to dispelling brain fog. A good dose of exercise (not too much, not too little) helps me get a good night’s sleep, and I’m sure the increased blood flow is reaching my brain. If I can get rid of brain fog, story ideas should come more easily and be expressed on the page or in the computer more efficiently. Right? Right?

Or maybe I’m just waving a magic exercise wand and hoping for the best.

There are other routines I want to shake up this August. Things like re-reading and editing in the afternoon, and waking up a little earlier to get a 20-minute writing session in each morning. I’ll have a little more than ten days to assess whether the new routines are working, or if I need to shake things up in time for an October start.

And an October start is better than no start at all, but right now, I have personal history on my side. August is the time for a fresh start, full of books and learning and new school supplies, and I’d be wise to take advantage of the season.

Let’s shake it up a little these last 12 days!

Michille: My Spirit Animal and Creativity

Great_Blue_Heron_LandingMy creativity has been ramping up lately. And it hit me while at RWA why that is. My Spirit Animal has been crossing my path almost daily. I’ve been walking/jogging in a park with nice walking trails near my house and I see a Great Blue Heron nearly every time I’m there. I live on a farm with several water sources nearby so we have herons in our neck of the woods as well. And while at RWA in Orlando, I jogged every morning and saw two every morning. Some of you are probably thinking, “Well, Michille has gone off the rails.” And if someone had seriously uttered the words My Spirit Animal to me before I took a Jungian psychology course for my master’s degree, I would have said the same about them. But that was before . . . Continue reading

Michaeline: Exercise Your Whimsy Muscles

I just got back from a trip to Tokyo, and one of the highlights was an Arcimboldo exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art . Arcimboldo was a 16th century artist famous for making portraits of Hapsburgs out of vegetables, animals and various household items. If you want to talk about whimsy, this guy made a career out of whimsy!

Rudolph II portrait made up of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Very green and fresh.

Hapsburg emperor Rudolph II as Vertumnus, the Roman god of the seasons. Click on the photo in order to see the amazing detailed work. Check out the ear of corn! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

 

But at the same time, he was very serious about his humor. You can see that his fruits and veggies and animals are all very anatomically correct, almost like botanical illustrations. And putting them together to make recognizable faces took a special eye for composition as well as a lot of hard work, I should imagine. Continue reading