Michaeline: New Year Visions for 2020

Girl reading a newspaper with glasses sliding down her nose, and a skeptical, intense look on her face

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Twenty twenty. I’m not sure about other countries (I know its different in Japan), but in America, perfect vision is 20/20. There’s also a famous news program of the same name that was a vehicle for the famous interviewer, Barbara Walters. The show used to be about investigative reporting and in-depth features – a role taken over by the new breed of comedian newspeople.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have perfect vision for the year 2020? According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics website, though, only 35 percent of people have 20/20 vision without corrective measures. Figuratively speaking, how many people have metaphorically good vision? I would guess it’s a lot less than 30 percent, especially among writers.

I think we’ll stumble and fall in the dark and in our own ignorance quite a bit in 2020. But I also think we can find things to help us see better – we can light a candle, or find something that sharpens our focus.

And I think having less than perfect vision can help us sharpen our other senses – let us be more in the moment, checking the direction of the wind in our faces, and the smell of the surroundings.

It feels very naïve to be optimistic about 2020, but I can’t help it at New Year’s time. There’s such a fresh slate when the calendar turns. Why is that? It’s not a naturally occurring distinction. It’s completely arbitrary, and decided by us. Some of us will feel the same refreshing feeling of newness on January 25th, or during the moment of the Spring Equinox, or September 18th. Maybe the new year is a set of rose colored glasses that blurs reality – or maybe it’s a good tool to sharpen our vision for the future. I guess we’ll know by the next new year how it all turns out.

In the meantime, I wish all of you a very happy 2020.

Jeanne: Hidden Factories

industrial buildingsRecently, we had a conversation on one of my author loops on applying Six Sigma/Lean Manufacturing techniques to writing. Apparently some guru will soon be teaching a class on using Kanban boards to increase author efficiency.

One of the Six Sigma terms I remember from my training back when I worked in the manufacturing sector was “hidden factories”—process steps that take time and resources but don’t add value as defined by the customer. For example, let’s say you have a coffee shop that puts a little paper doily on each saucer before placing the baked good on the plate. If the customer (not the waiter, not the baker, not the store owner) doesn’t perceive that doily as adding value to his bearclaw, that step is a hidden factory.

So how would the concept of hidden factories apply to writing? I’m just riffing but here are some things that authors put a lot of time into that don’t necessarily improve the quality of the book from the readers’ perspective:

  1. In depth research into careers/jobs held by characters.

This is definitely one of the reasons why it takes me so long to write a book. In The Demon’s in the Details, the protagonist was a painter. Since I’m not even a tiny bit artistic, or even crafty, I had no clue how artists view the world. She was, specifically, a muralist, and I didn’t know how artists go about painting murals. Continue reading

Jilly: Wonderful Wintersnight

I haven’t forgotten about the Annual Christmas Week Short Story Challenge. My holiday offering needs another 48 hours to marinade followed by a few days in the slow cooker. It should be ready by next Sunday. Hopefully it will be worth the wait 🙂 .

Today, instead, I’d like to celebrate my favorite day of the whole year.

I’m a grinch about Christmas and I find it difficult to stay awake long enough to welcome the New Year, but the winter solstice is important to me. Today, 22ndDecember, is the shortest day and longest night of the year, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

I don’t suffer ill health in the winter months as some people do, but I’m sensitive to changes in daylight, and at some subliminal level I respond to trends and momentum. Once my subconscious notices that every day is a little lighter and longer than the one before, I start to feel energized and empowered and creative. Almost superhuman. It doesn’t matter that we’re still in winter, that the weather may be grim and the nights will be longer than the days for another three months.

I’ve learned over the years that this is my best time. I typically get ever more inspired and enthusiastic until May or June, sometimes right up to the summer solstice. Then I’m done. My Girls take a vacay for the summer and spend the fall on housekeeping and closing out projects.

Which means if I want to get the next Elan Intrigues book done, there’s no time to waste. I need a discovery draft done by the end of spring. Tomorrow I’m planning to warm up with the Short Story Challenge and then I’ll use that momentum to roll on into 2020 and Daire’s story.

Of course I’ll take the time to celebrate Christmas and the New Year, but as far as I’m concerned the best day of the year is today. Right here, right now.

Happy Wintersnight, everyone! Nothing but good times ahead 🙂 .

Are you a seasonal creature? Do you have a favorite day or time of the year?

Jilly: $0.99 pre-order for The Seeds of Power

The Seeds of Power is live on Amazon! Whoo!

I was beginning to think I’d never get there. It was a super-exciting moment to get the email, and even better that I was Skyping with fellow 8 Lady Jeanne at the time.

The ebook will go on sale next Saturday for $3.99 but I wanted to give regular readers of 8LW the chance to pick it up for $0.99, so I decided to do a stealth pre-order for the next week. If you’d like to try the book, pre-order before Saturday and you’ll get the lower price.

(The dollar pricing is for Amazon.com. If your local Amazon is different, then the pre-order is set at the minimum price for your territory, again until next Saturday).

As a reminder, the book is fantasy romance in a historical setting. Expect a strong-minded heroine, chivalrous hero, forced marriage, natural magic, and life-or-death stakes.

Here’s the blurb:

Her unique skills keep her safe. Until her greatest strength becomes her fatal weakness.

Princess Christal of Larrochar learned long ago that to marry was to risk her life. At twenty-eight she’s resolutely unwed, trusted assistant to the King’s Cultivator and an expert in rare plants.

Then, to her horror, she receives a marriage proposal she can’t refuse. All Prince Daire of Caldermor cares about is elan—the mysterious golden beans that bring his family untold wealth and power. If Daire wants Christal, elan must be at the root of his interest.

Christal’s father would sacrifice her to discover elan’s secrets. The Calderrans would kill to keep them secure. To save herself Christal will need every kernel of knowledge she’s ever gleaned. And the support of Kiran Randsen, elite soldier turned Calderran bodyguard, who may be something even rarer than elan—a man she’d trust with her life.

***

I hope you try it. And I really, really hope you like it!

Pre-order link for Amazon.com here

Pre-order link for Amazon.co.uk here

Thank you for sharing the journey to publication with me 😀

As our professor Jenny Crusie used to say in class, Nothing But Good Times Ahead!

Justine: Being Judicious When Reviewing Editor Comments

At the beginning of November, I received comments back from my developmental editor. This was the first time in six years of writing that I’d gotten far enough to 1) finish a book, and 2) submit it to an editor. When I got her comments–which included a letter with general recommendations as well as detailed line edits throughout the MS, plus a 1.5 hour Skype call–I sat back and processed everything she threw at me before making changes, and I’m glad I did.

But once I was done digesting, how did I figure out what to use and what to keep? I listened to my gut.

Just because an editor (or anyone) makes a suggestion, doesn’t mean you make the change. It doesn’t mean you ignore them, either. The rule of thumb I follow is this:

  • If one person makes a suggested change, I think about it, weigh the merits, and listen to my gut.
  • If one person + my gut makes a suggestion, I usually change it.
  • If 2+ people make the same suggestion, my gut is usually quick to follow suit, and I usually change it.

I say “usually” because sometimes (really…rarely) there’s a compelling reason for me not to. If that’s the case, I’ll brainstorm with my critique partners to see if there’s a way to make a different change that remedies the problem or issue they pointed out. In general, though, if more than one person (or my gut and someone else) suggest something or point out a problem, I try to fix it. Continue reading

Jilly–The 10,000-hour rule

Have you heard of the 10,000-hour rule?

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best-selling non-fiction book, he examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. One idea that recurs throughout the book is the 10,000-hour rule.

In essence, he argues that the key to achieving a world-class expertise in any skill is mostly a matter of practicing in the correct way for a total of at least 10,000 hours.

Personally I think that to become world-class the person doing the practicing must also have a certain level of talent, and getting the right kind of expert help makes a huge difference, but I’m willing to believe that with consistent application the average person can reach a high skill level in many areas.

Told you that to tell you this: I just received my final formatted files for The Seeds of Power, and I’m expecting the paperback covers some time in the next day or two. Which means that after almost eight years of toil, sweat and tears in the writing trenches I should be in the position to publish my debut book before the end of the year, and I’m proud of the way it’s turned out. I honestly don’t think I could have done any better.

More on that next week, and no doubt the week after as well, but as I was contemplating just how long it’s taken me to get here–so much longer than I ever expected–it occurred to me to do a rough guesstimate of how many hours I’ve spent learning my craft. I plucked some numbers out of the air, and guess what? Six hours a day, for five days per week, for forty weeks per year, for eight years, makes 9,600 hours. Huh.

I’m not saying that means the book is good or that I’m a world-class writer, but I’m choosing to take it as a sign that I’ve earned my chops. That the time is right.

How about you? Have you learned a musical instrument, become a pastry chef, a calligrapher, or a dog whisperer? Or do you know somebody who mastered a skill? I know Elizabeth makes quilts, Michaeline plays the ukulele, and one of our commenters, Penny, is an artist. How long did it take you (or them) to become proficient?

Do you believe the 10,000-hour test is a good rule of thumb?

 

 

Kay: A Room of One’s Own

Photo by Hannah Olinger

A long time ago, I entered an ugly period in which I had four weeks to finish my master’s thesis or be thrown out of the graduate program. I’d taken too much time; the administration was done with me. And if I’d been thrown out—and if I still wanted the degree—I’d have had to start over, take the coursework over, choose a new thesis topic, start a new thesis.

This ultimatum hit me especially hard because I was ready to move across the country. I’d given up my house. I literally had nowhere to go, no place to set up my typewriter.

Until a friend said to me, Come to our place. We have a spare room. I’ll bring you tea and sandwiches. You don’t ever have to go out. Just come and stay and write your thesis. You can do it.

And because she gave me a room of my own, I did finish the thesis in record time and defended it before I left town.

This year is the 90th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a critique of a literary tradition dominated by men and an exploration of female exclusion from independence, income, and education (“Woman have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves,” she writes at one point.).

Essentially Woolf says that for women to write, they need the physical and emotional space to do it, and the monetary means to sustain themselves. This aspect of Woolf’s analysis no doubt points to her middle- to upper-class upbringing, and Alice Walker wrote expanding on Woolf’s theme, pointing to the women of color who have found careers as authors without either room or means. Still, Woolf isn’t wrong. As journalist Suzanne Moore says about the anniversary of A Room of One’s Own:

When we ask, “What are the conditions necessary for women to write in?” we are really asking, “What are the conditions necessary for women to think in?” It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated. We are asking if what we think may ever be taken seriously or even valued.

What are the conditions women need to write and think? Maybe you don’t have a room of your own. You share, you have a family, or roommates, or whatever. Maybe you have a desk, a corner of the dining room table, a sofa after 10pm. I see people writing in cafes and other noisy, public spaces. I could never do this, but I’d never say it’s a bad idea for everyone.

You can’t reinvent the conditions you’re in, but these conditions are your fuel—anger, frustration, despair, revenge, love, silliness, need—whatever. Writing is your way to clarity, to understanding what’s important. That is its power. It’s about listening and thinking through all the information that’s thrown at us, finding a voice in the cacophony. So go for it.

What about you? Do you have a room of your own? Or have you read Woolf’s essay?