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: 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: 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: Have You Forgotten Someone?

‘Tis the season of giving and caring, at least for most people in the States. We’ve just passed the annual milestone of stuffing ourselves silly on Thanksgiving Day, and have entered the mad dash toward the holiday finish line of gift-giving and merry-making. Along the way, there will be holiday parties, too many drinks and more rich food, and (sometimes too much) time with extended family.

At its best, this is a time of reflection, of being thankful, and for thinking about and hopefully doing something to help those less fortunate. At its worst, this is a time of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and even depressed. With so much to do and finish and remember, it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves.

Unfortunately, lack of self-care and self-compassion isn’t limited to the holiday season. For creative types, it’s easy to fall into harsh self-criticism traps year-round, which can shut down creativity in no time. Continue reading

Nancy: On Gratitude

In the US, it’s that time of year again: the beginning of the holiday season. First up, American Thanksgiving. From an historical context, this holiday and the ‘facts’ we Americans know about it have their problems. In the modern era, the day has become associated with overeating, dealing with disagreeable relatives, and watching a lot of football. But at its core, both historically and currently, there is something truly lovely that Thanksgiving reminds Americans to do – be grateful.

Speaking for myself, fellow Americans I know, and the general aura we project as a nation, we are not great at gratitude. So, an annual holiday that reminds us to give thanks – whether we do it in a spiritual or secular context – isn’t a bad thing.

Earlier this year, I began a (sporadic) practice of meditation to help focus my energy and calm my nerves in these…er…troubling (to say the least) times. One of the most interesting guided meditations I’ve done is to be used before a meal. It leads the listener through a series of gratitude exercises, thinking about each person who ‘touched’ the food – from planting to harvesting, to packaging and shipping, to stocking shelves and checking out food at the store – and being grateful for the way each of them contributed to getting that food in front of you. Even for the most basic salad, it takes a village to make a meal.

As I’ve gotten back on track with my writing and have been following the Jen Louden’s GSSD (Get Scary Shit Done) program, I’ve been reminded by her lessons and my own reflection to be grateful for all the things that allow my writing time to happen, from the weird way my brain works to create story, to the amazing technology that allows me to get it all out onto the page. Even during a crappy day of writing, I can find reasons for gratitude. I’m grateful when I have the strength and energy to show up, the support of other writers when the going gets really tough, other stories to read for inspiration and solace when my own story is stuck (like my WIP is today). And it turns out, I’m reaping a whole host of positive things from simply finding and reflecting upon a reason to be grateful every day. 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

Jilly: Hands Off

How do you handle enforced inactivity? Do you have any tips for making the most of it?

I’m more than happy to spend a few days on the sofa with my TBR pile, or working on a puzzle, or soaking in a tub of bubbles, as long as the downtime is my choice. It might be a long-scheduled holiday or a spontaneous mini-break because I’m feeling shattered—either is fine, so long as the break isn’t forced on me. When that happens, I’m not good at making the best of it.

I had a fabulous time in Orlando with Jeanne, Kay, Elizabeth, Michille and Kat. I loved brainstorming, especially playing the Damon Suede game of choosing a verb to describe each of our main characters (see Elizabeth’s post for more about this invaluable trick). I attended a few excellent workshops, heard a brilliant keynote speech from Susan Wiggs, posed for an author photo, made new friends, had a great discussion about Alexis with Jeanne’s editor, listened to a hilarious Q&A from Ilona Andrews, Gordon Andrews and Jeanine Frost, and returned to the UK tired but inspired.

After a couple of good nights’ sleep I was feeling refreshed and raring to get to work—and I couldn’t, because I’ve somehow tweaked my shoulder and it hurts like hell when I write or type. It’s my own stupid fault. Continue reading