Jilly: Into Autumn

It’s September already. How did that happen?

Technically it’s another couple of weeks to the Autumnal Equinox, but the last public holiday has been celebrated, the kids are back at school, and it’s time to knuckle down. These days most of us don’t have to take in the harvest or stockpile supplies to keep our families alive over the winter months, but we still have that legacy of applying ourselves, of needing to put things to bed before the sun sets on the year.

When I had a desk job I used to dread this time of year. It was always a perfect storm of updating the current year’s budgets; preparing for the financial year end; writing, presenting and updating the business plan for the upcoming year and five years; carrying out staff appraisals; working through bonuses and incentive plans; and trying desperately to squeeze in a little ‘me’ time for my birthday. Three and a half months would pass in a blur and I’d red-line it so much that when Christmas finally arrived I’d hit the wall and get sick.

For the last six years I’ve been (mostly) in control of my own schedule. This autumn is somewhat bittersweet since for the first time in years I don’t have to worry about my mum’s health, and we have a choice over where to spend the holidays. It makes me even more determined to use my privilege wisely and well.

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Jeanne: The Ship to Tarshish

WhaleI intended to make today’s post a review of the 2018 RWA Conference in Denver that I attended last week. I have plenty to talk about–my first ever shot at giving away swag to promote a book, the great workshops I attended, my second experience as a Golden Heart finalist (though not, I’m sorry to say, as a winner this time).

But then I got to thinking about Jonah and the Whale, so we’re going to talk about that instead.

For those of you who weren’t frog-marched to Baptist Sunday school as impressionable children, God called on Jonah, a well-known prophet, to go to Nineveh and tell the Ninevites that they were screwing up, and to knock it off or he’d smite them.

Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites would be open to hearing this corrective feedback, so he hopped on a ship to Tarshish and high-tailed it in the opposite direction. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Nancy: Third Time’s the Charm…I Hope!

One of the things we talk about a lot here on the blog is how to balance a writing life with the rest of life. The rest of life includes family obligations, major life events, and – as is the case for several of us – the dreaded day job. I think I’ve mentioned a time or two (or a hundred) that my day job is very intense and deadline-driven. It’s also a high-stakes profession, with peoples’ jobs and livelihoods and companies’ multi-million (or even billion) dollar deals on the line. Gee, I wonder why I have insomnia?

Another truth about my day job, though, is that it’s not so dreaded. At least, it didn’t used to be. It was, in fact, my dream job when I started working in the field (business proposals for US government contractors) as a writer. After some years of experience and training, I moved into managing the proposals, and found the perfect fit for my skillset, work style (did I mention the word intensity?), and career goals. Continue reading

Nancy: A Different Kind of Writer’s Gift List

As we’ve been discussing a lot here on the blog, ’tis the season for many things. Among these are lists of gift recommendations for the writer in your life (or for we writers to forward to our loved ones). Our own Michille and Jilly shared ideas and links to lists on other parts of the interwebs here and here. They contain writing-oriented games, fun writing tools, and caffeine delivery systems. I should add that Bourbon (or adult beverage of choice), chocolate, and fiction books should be priorities on your ‘what to buy for my writer’ list. But writers don’t just need things. Our care and feeding is complex, nuanced, and – as my husband would like you to know – exhausting.

So today, instead of discussing what others can give  me during the holiday season, I’m focusing on gifts I can give myself for the entire year of 2018. It’s going to be a big year for several of us here at the blog, with book launches and marketing, more books to write and revise, and readers to cultivate. Now is a good time to take a deep breath, get a warm cup of something to hold in our hands, and think about the foundations we’ll need to pull off this stellar year. To help jump-start your own thought process, here’s my list.

Self-Confidence. Dorothy had to learn this in the Wizard of Oz. Many of our protagonists have to learn it as part of their journeys, or even as their ‘big life lesson’ in our stories. Writers know how important belief in oneself is. Without it, we won’t have the audacity to brain-dump words onto pages and chip and chisel and shape them for months or years with the belief that someday, someone else will want to read our stories. But that doesn’t stop us from second-guessing ourselves at every turn. Imposter syndrome. Writers block. Sophomore slump. These are catchy phrases that strike terror in writers’ hearts, but at the core of all of them is a lack of belief that we can really do this audacious thing. Continue reading

Nancy: “I Really Should Be Writing, But…”

Maybe you’ve said those words yourself. Or maybe you’ve substituted some other creative endeavor for writing, to the same effect. You have a project you want to do, you plan to do, you’re passionate about doing. You’ve carved out a block of time for it, negotiating and juggling other priorities, you’ve showed up at your desk, and…you’ve reached the end of your writing time and you haven’t written a word. Or maybe you’ve written a few words or sentences or paragraphs, but then wandered off to look at something shiny, like a fab cat video on YouTube or the latest hot thing on Netflix.

You must not be a real writer. Better people, other creatives, real writers don’t get distracted this way. They get their shit done, no ifs ands or buts about it. They show up for their writing blocks and they get it done! Or do they?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing some of my aha! moments that have come from my journey through Jen Louden’s Get Your Scary Shit Done course. One of the things Jen’s course teaches is that while we’re all special snowflakes, we’re not special when it comes to having fear, anxiety, or at the very least discomfort around our creative projects (or other ‘scary shit’ we want to do, like training for a triathlon or learning the ukulele). A nearly universal aspect of the human experience is that creativity requires growth and change, and those things rarely happen without pain and resistance.

Lisa Cron of Story Genius fame discusses this in reference to our characters. We’ve all heard we should chase our protagonists up trees and shoot at them. Why would we do such a terrible thing to our characters, whom we tend to love? Because at the heart of our stories, we’re exploring how our characters grow and change. But the force (of inertia) is strong! If we, and by extension our characters, can get by, survive, sometimes even thrive doing the same old same old, that’s what we’re going to do. Not because we’re bad people, lazy SOBs, or fake writers, but because evolution has hard-wired our brains to take the most comfortable, least resistant path to staying alive. Human evolution – the very survival of our species! – has depended upon not only the ability to adapt as quickly and efficiently as possible to change, but also the skill of recognizing a good thing when we have it and coasting on that as long as possible.

Phrased that way, goofing off on YouTube or binge-watching the first four hours of Stranger Things 2 on Netflix (not that anyone here has done that, right?) doesn’t sound so shameful, does it? “I know it looks like I was avoiding the next chapter of my WIP, but I was actually contributing to the survival of our species.”

That’s not to say you should embrace an everlasting state of inertia. Continue reading

Nancy: To Thine Own Process Be True

Write first thing in the morning.

Write last thing at night.

Carve out big chunks of time for writing.

Learn to write in 15-minute increments over lunch.

Learn to write 10,000 words a day.

Don’t end a writing session until you’ve written 1,000 words.

Write every day, every week, every weekend.

Set aside one weekend a month and write in a flaming frenzy.

If you’ve been writing for more than a hot second, you’ve heard some if not all of these words of wisdom. They are all true. Completely, utterly, 100 % true. They are also pure bullshit.

No, I haven’t been drinking. (Well, not enough to cause concern.) The reason all of those statements can exist at the same time without interrupting the space-time continuum is that they each come with a caveat: if it works for you. Continue reading