Sunday, January 19, 2020

Reading: To Enter a World



Some exciting news! Book three in the Forgotten Empires has a title!
THE ORCHID THRONE, THE FIERY CROWN (out May 26), will be followed by...

THE PROMISED QUEEN.


 I really love it, don't you? I recall as a kid being captivated by the title "THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING," the Arthurian retelling by T.H. White. It was one of the first times a title really piqued my interest. I feel like I'm evoking a tiny piece of that magic.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is our favorite quote about books and reading, and why.

For some odd reason, I can never think of my favorite quotes when asked the question directly. If I'm babbling on about other things, the quotes just fly into my head. But when I have to think of one out of the blue?

Nothing.

I blame my brain's filing system, frankly.

I know there's a quote on books and reading that I've loved for a very long time - and I was certain I could search for it and get the exact phrasing. I got out my Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I Googled. I looked in a few other books.

Nada.

I asked on Twitter and Facebook, and got lots of great suggestions that came close to the same sentiment, but the exact one nudging my memory?

Nope.

The one I'm thinking of I could swear I even had on a bookplate or bookmark, once upon a time. Maybe in the late 70s or early 80s. With flowers on it? It's an interesting thing about Googling stuff - certain things have made it onto the internet in thousands of instances, sometimes with near infinite variations. Other things from BI (Before Internet) molder away on hard copy, never to be found again.

What's also amusing - and what a few people offering suggestions also noted - is that many quotes that came close were by other writers, attributed to themselves. So, I decided, what the hell? I'm going to try to recreate this quote. And if anyone knows the one I'm trying to remember, please say so!

To open a book is to open a door into another world - a very real magic spell that allows us to live as someone other than ourselves. 

~ Jeffe Kennedy, author and reader


Saturday, January 18, 2020

My Writing Schedule or Lack Thereof

Schedule! DepositPhoto

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week involves our writing schedules – what’s our most productive time of day, when do we actually write, how much time each day, week, month, etc.

When I left the day job five years ago to be a fulltime author, one of my personal vows was to never set an alarm clock again unless I had to be at an airport or in an operating room that morning. No more scheduled meetings! No more scheduled reports! Freedom! All those years of rising way early in the day to commute to the office, with a week chockfull of meetings and tasks assigned to me by other people, OVER and done. WOOT!

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Now having said that, I do have a personal routine I follow. I actually am a super annoying morning person with or without a job outside the home and somewhat to my surprise I find I still tend to get up around 4:30AM. I like having the day ahead of me, I love the feeling of being one jump ahead because I’m awake and bustling around before most of the still-sleeping world (well, still sleeping in California anyway) rises…there’s also the not unimportant fact Jake the Cat was used to having his breakfast around 4:30AM. He was quite resistant to having his food-in-the-bowl time shifted to later, although now after five years he’s a bit more mellow.

Or possibly resigned to the fact…

After breakfast I start my ‘work day’ in much the same fashion I used to follow at the old day job. I check my e mail and then I go to the internet and read certain news sites, catch up on my social media (I did not do the social media loop at the old office let me hasten to add)…and then I dive into the work. I blog on various platforms and I also do my weekly New Releases report every Wednesday, so I have tasks not related to the current creative work in progress (WIP). Most days I take care of those items before going to the WIP because they hang over my head and distract me.

When I first transitioned to this career versus the old day job, I had a hard time getting myself to see that these other tasks weren’t the actual work. They had deadlines, I owed them to people (even if only in the sense of not letting down my fellow bloggers)…so they looked more like ‘work’ to me in some sense than writing my novels did. Some of this was the lifelong fact that writing my stories was done in between everything else or after work or after the children went to bed or on a lunch hour or in study hall. So I had to overcome this unconscious perception I was carrying that the writing had to be fitted in around the other tasks.

Jake the Cat
There were a lot of things to deal with when I transitioned to fulltime author that did surprise me besides the issue of the affronted cat with an empty food dish! (Hey, he always has dry food available…)

Sometimes I prompt myself to switch my focus by reminding myself the books pay the rent. None of the other activities I might find myself doing directly contribute to paying the bills or buying the cat food. That usually helps clarify for me what I ought to be working on!

I’m organized in my own fashion – NO spreadsheets here though. Shudder. If I had to track anything to do with my writing in the form of a spreadsheet I. Would. Not. Write. That level of detail is so not me. Kudos to Jeffe, the queen of spreadsheets – I’m always in awe of her methodology but I think the idea of too much structure or tracking mechanisms applied to my own writing sends the rebel in me up the wall.

I do keep a weekly To Do list, which helps me focus on the most important non-writing tasks for the week but never when it comes to the writing. The closest I ever come to letting the To Do list touch my writing is if I need to request a new cover from the wonderful Fiona Jayde for example and I keep forgetting to search the stock photo databases for inspiration. Then I might add that as a bullet point on the messy list.

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So, to circle back around to the topic at hand, the writing schedule, usually around 8:00AM I’m ready to dive into the current book. I might make a cup of tea to signal the change of pace to myself, I sit down here at the keyboard and I type.  I write until the Muse is tired, however long that may be in any given session. Sometimes it’s a few hundred words and other times it’s a few thousand. I use a timer to remind myself to take breaks because of the physical toll sitting here and typing for hours takes if I don’t.

Some days I only work on the book once. Other days I might go off and return two or three times. Some days I don’t get to the writing until the evening, if for instance I’ve gone to babysit my toddler grandson or if I had a day full of appointments or errands. Despite being a morning person to the core and winding down as the sun moves across the sky and sinks, taking my energy with it, I can do a burst of creative writing in the evening. I have to be firm with myself, come in here and sit, open the manuscript file and start typing on whatever scene comes next in the narrative, but I can do it.

The one rule I did make for myself was that I must do either one 25 minute timed session or 1000 words (which usually takes me about that much time). Last year at one point I found myself skipping days as a result of some family and health issues and I can’t afford to do that, hence the rule. Twenty five minutes slides by really fast if I’m caught up in writing and I usually end up doing more words but at least with a solid 1000 a day I’ll finish a first draft of a book in 5-7 weeks, depending on the length.

If I’m in the editing and revision phase, then obviously I don’t log too many new words, but I will enforce upon myself the 25 minute session rule to be sure I’ve made some progress for the day.

I only work on one book at a time. I may be thinking ahead a bit to the plot of the next one but I haven’t found it productive for me to try to divide my creative attention.

It’s my method, it works for me and I think it serves to illustrate that there’s no one rule for every author to follow! My output for last year was nine new novels, two re-releases and a box set, so I feel overall my system has proven itself for me.
6 of the 9 New Books I Released in 2019




Friday, January 17, 2020

Scheduling Issues

It occurs to me that I come here to the blog and say, "I don't want to be THAT person." and then I go right on ahead and make myself THAT person.

Gonna again. My Writing Schedule:
ANY DAMNED TIME I CAN

Look. I care for aging parents, cope with chronic pain issues-though I think we finally found something that might be working, praise the gods and pass the Depakote!-but when there's both the family I was born into and the family I made when I married that need managing, writing often gets slipped into the cracks. Some days there just aren't any more energy packets to be doled out. I've still discovered ways to get the Jaws of Life into those cracks and pry them open enough for me to breathe more easily.

For example, if I say, "Hey, I have an online meeting every morning at x o'clock. I'm going into my room, shutting, and locking (because one of the damned cats figured out how to open) the door." Nobody bugs me for that hour. I can concentrate. It's not actually a lie. I DO meet people online at x hour each morning. We get into a Zoom room and we all write. It's based on the personal trainer philosophy. If you know someone is waiting on you, you're more likely to get up out of bed and go work out.

The other thing that started working for me was to fling rotting word salad at 4thewords.com before I go to bed every night. I gave myself permission to just play around in the game, learn the system and pursue some of the simpler quests. The writing was total junk. Pure mind dump stream of consciousness stuff. Until about the middle of the second week when suddenly my hero walked into the middle of my mind dump and suddenly, I was mind dumping about the WIP, the plot, the characters and what I thought needed to happen. That went on for another few days. Then suddenly, the pair of them were talking to one another and to me. The words are still ugly. I mean it's all dialogue and there aren't even any tags. I hope to all the gods I can parse it when I try to edit the MS. But in that time after everyone else in the house has settled down and the time I tip over from exhaustion, I can get 1200 words if a scene is really going. Some days it's just more rotting word salad. But it's less often. And I feel like I know more about how this book wants to flow. So I'm counting a success.

I have goals to expand writing time and to expand daily word count to at least 2k again. But for right now, I'm writing daily. Even if it's just 500 words. Something flows. And for me, it breaks the surface tension and keeps my well from stagnating. Man. I don't even want to count the mixed metaphors.

Moral of the story: Who cares what your schedule is so long as it does the job you need it to do. So long as you're happy and reasonably healthy. Some people write a book like lightening striking. It's not wrong. And then some people, like me, write a book like they're extracting the most delicate of artifacts from the depths of the earth. One itty bitty brush stroke at a time. I just start plying that brush at 8AM every morning before the cats start bouncing off the walls wanting to play.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A schedule for writing?

Sunrise in Custer St Park
photo courtesy of @wyomingflygirl

Way back before I was a starry-eyed writer I thought…well, I thought writing a book was impossible, but I also thought that authors wrote and wrote until the book was done. Oh, what sweet innocence. 

Once I decided to attempt the impossible and write a novel I quickly found out that the book didn’t just pour out in one long chunk. There was a ton of research needed and an even more exorbitant amount of staring off into space required. But the best piece of advice I garnered was Jeffe’s advice to track your writing time

And so….spreadsheets! 

If you’re a new writer, or you have writing-time flexibility but struggle to get words down when you do sit down, I suggest trying out the Jeffe-writing-spreadsheet-method. When I did my first writing-time tracking I was still working full time and alone time with my computer was sporadic, which actually came in handy because I was able to compare all times of the day and night. 

My results: 
Creative brain power peaks between 7-11 AM. 
Editing capabilities are sustainable throughout the afternoon.
Writing after 5 PM…forget about it.  

Who out there is struggling to finish that book while holding down the 9-5? The problem with knowing that I was a morning writer was that I still had the day job M-F. To those authors working full time, I salute you and will send you all the good vibes! It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. Keep going and when you do have opportunities to shut yourself away during your peak writing-times, do it and don’t think twice! There’ll be guilt about taking the time and you’ll miss out on events and family/friends, but it’s part of the sacrifice to the end goal. 


Fast-forward a few years and now I’m blessed to have a spouse that can support our family while I’m a stay-at-home author. He’s incredible and the only reason I’m able to write during my peak hours. And it’s made a huge difference in my daily word counts and consistencies, which veers into writing routine territory. For those who have a flexible writing-schedule, once you know when your brain works best then you can move towards a writing routine. And that, that’s a whole other writing post.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Schedules aren’t for everyone

There’s really only one cardinal rule in professional writing: make decisions that are kind to you. That’s it. I mean, it’s great if you can write 2,000 words a day or keep to an intricately washi-taped planner. It’s also great if you can write seven books per year. And also it is similarly great if you can’t do either of those things.

Expert-type folks have told me that prime time for a creative brain begins at roughly 11 in the morning. Others swear by pre-dawn writing, and still others claim that the only way they can get a book done is to lock themselves in a hotel room and write for four days straight. In other words, advice for optimal scheduling of writing time is all over the place.

Which, considering that we are all different individual humans, is kind of how it should be, eh?

Me, I’m a study in chaos. If I have a deadline, I will make it happen. If I don’t... well, let’s just say that I’m easily distractible by things like taking care of my family, feeding my dogs, bathing on the regular. I know: so self-indulgent. Guess what else? My lack of discipline for Writing Every Day At The Appropriate Time bothers me not at all.

I guess someday if I am able to make a career out of this writing gig, I will attempt to create office hours and do the thing at a specific time of day. But right now, no. It isn’t feasible, and beating myself up about it changes nothing.

Writing does not rule me. I tell it when it needs to happen, and by cracky, it will obey!

Narrator: It did not, in fact, obey...

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Writing Schedule: When, How Often, How Many Lives Ended for Interrupting...

Oh, okay, maybe not that last one.

My writing schedule is "whenever my mind can settle," which is first-ish thing in the morning and again in the late afternoon/evening. There's a ritual involving dog care and coffee that has to happen before writing or I end up with 60lbs of wriggling fur all up in my personal space. I don't do late night writing sprints because my brain is pudding by then. If real-world stuff has to happen, then it has to happen before noon so I can hit the mental pocket in the second window of productivity.

I like to get my analytical stuff done in the morning (that includes editing, reviewing marketing, budgeting, etc). I do my best creative stuff in the evening (drafting, ad development, social media, etc.). I take a break every two hours at the dog's insistence (plus, it's good for that whole "don't be too sedentary lest pulmonary embolisms" thing). I do this 7-days a week, 10 months a year. Twice a year, I schedule 30-day no-writing vacations (except for this blog, obvi.).

I am a hardcore creature of habit, so anything that interrupts THE PLAN OF THE DAY will have me shifting from Smeagol to Gollum in a nanosecond.
My motto: Spontinantiy is fine, as long as it's planned.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

How I Became a Morning Writer


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week involves our writing schedules – what’s our most productive time of day, when do we actually write, how much time each day, week, month, etc.

I chose this photo I took of the moon at sunrise, because seeing amazing sights like this has become one of the great benefits of being an early riser. Who knew that catching the moon at dawn could be so very beautiful? I certainly didn't, because I was never naturally an early bird.

See, I was one of those who *loved* to sleep in. In the early days - and years - of our relationship, the hubs and I would sleep until 10 or 11am on the weekends. I'm groggy in the mornings, slow to come alert, and not particularly talkative. People ask me questions and I blink at them in incomprehension. Conversation, not so much.

BUT... I can write.

I discovered that mornings are my most productive time of day when that was the ONLY time of day I could consistently write. Those first few years after I committed to being a writer, I struggled - as many newbies do - to actually produce work. I had a busy life - a full-time career in science, two young stepchildren, debt we were determined to pay off (and did!), classes in the evenings (both taking and teaching) - and not a lot of "free" time. Waiting for that time to write to fall into my lap definitely wasn't working. Sandwiching in a bit of writing before I went to bed - delaying sleep when I was already exhausted - meant I got nothing done, very little done, or what I wrote was utter drivel.

I finally too the advice to write every day at the same time. I resisted that for years, but ultimately I knew I had to do SOMETHING different. So, I tried that, and it worked for me.

That meant, however, rising very early in the morning, because those dawn hours were the only ones when I had nothing else booked. I could write for an hour or two in the pre-dawn darkness, before anything else kicked in. That meant rising at 4 or 5am for a few years there. Some of the stuff I wrote then is pretty wild, but I built the writing habit, and it's stuck.

Now that I have the luxury of writing full time, I don't set an alarm. I get up when I wake up - usually after lying there for a while gazing dreamily out the window - and that's done wonders for me being actually alert when I'm on my feet. (I think when I made myself get up at a particular time, I wasn't always fully awake - thus my inability to process much in the way of conscious thought. I was upright, but I wasn't AWAKE.) I wake up between 5 and 7am, and mornings are devoted to writing, for the most part.

I find that if I can get my 3K words/day done by early afternoon, that's ideal. Generally I work in 1-hour sessions, with about a 30-minute break between. I'm not always good about keeping the breaks short, which I'd like to get better about in the new year. Most days I write 4-6 hours, with 3 hours of that actual fingers tapping on keyboard.

I'd really like to consistently get that down to 4 hours total, saving the time-sinks of chatting, social media, email, etc., for after the words are down. That's one of my goals for this year, so we'll see how I do!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

There Was An Actual Well

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Our topic this week: "Refilling the well – what do you do to nourish your creative self, long term and in an emergency?"

The best part of my childhood was when we lived in an old house way out in upstate New York, in what was then dairy country. We had an actual well at the side of house. I remember my father telling me once it was 32’ deep, which seemed very impressive, and it was fed by a spring. Now our well never went dry but in the hot, dry summers we did have to exercise caution not to do too many loads of laundry in one day or wash the car or anything else too major that required water because it was a very real possibility the well would run dry. In fact, one of our neighbors had that happen and it was a near catastrophe, requiring a new well to be dug on their farm as I recall.

They even had a water dowser come out to tell them where to dig, which of course was my favorite part of the whole sequence of events.

At any rate, I learned at an early age to tend the well and avoid drawing on it so much that the resource becomes exhausted. Our spring faithfully refilled the well if we waited long enough but there was always the dreaded possibility of the whole thing drying up. There was also the possibility of falling in and drowning of course, which utterly terrified me as a child, although there’s no way I ever could have shifted the enormous stone cap covering the shaft.  Nor was I ever tempted!

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My ‘well’ of creativity and energy and whatever else pretty much refills itself overnight, much as the spring used to replenish our water supply every day. I wake up in the mornings ready to go and if I was feeling too tired or at a standstill on my writing or anything else the night before, matters are always better looking to me in the morning. Yes, I’m a morning person through and through. Lark here, who runs out of all kinds of energy as the day goes on.

I will say I’m fortunate enough to be a fulltime author now, with an empty nest aside from Jake the Cat, so many of the pressures I used to deal with as a single mother with a high pressure job at NASA/JPL have gone away.

If there is a reason during the day for me to need to disengage, stop thinking, de-stress, whatever, I:

Work on what I call a ‘mindless task’ away from the computer, by which I mean something well defined, fairly rote in nature like washing the dishes or doing the laundry, which allows my mind to disengage from whatever had it running like a hamster on a wheel and relax…

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Meditate for ten or fifteen minutes. I visualize the cabin my grandparents owned at the local lake where we lived during that golden age of my childhood (as I remember it to be LOL). I can still recall with great clarity my favorite paths through the woods, as well as the lake itself, where I used to be allowed to take the rowboat my grandfather built and go roam, to read or fish or whatever I wanted to do. So if I meditate, I place myself back in that scene and ‘walk’ one of the paths, or ‘take the boat out’…the effort at detailed visualization and the happiness I associate with that time spent at the lake do wonders to reduce my tension, lower my heart rate and clear the air for me to move forward. I probably ought to do it every day as a regular thing but I don’t. I save it for when I really need it!

Go for a drive on the freeway and blast my music. Golden oldies work best for me…I like to sing along…when I did have the day job, I had quite a commute from home to work and that was my time for working out plot ideas and issues with stories and characters…

Go outside and garden a bit…

Take a walk…

Pet the cat (but this requires Jake the Cat to be in the mood to function as a furry tranquilizer and to not be asleep at the top of his cat treehouse).

Go play with my toddler grandson…

Later, after I’ve relaxed or de-stressed, I might read a favorite book or watch a movie or binge on a TV show but I have to have that peaceful activity first, that enables me to break my connection to whatever was bothering me or getting me wrapped around the axle. I don’t go back to whatever activity triggered me in the first place, but wait confidently for the next day, after the overnight cleaning and refilling process my mind faithfully executes.

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I’m not sure we’re really addressing longer term creativity here this week but as for me, I read voraciously, all the time, on a huge variety of topics, as well as fiction of all kinds (but primarily the romance genres). I was that kid who would read the cereal box at breakfast if there wasn’t anything else at hand. I have to have things to read. I think my subconscious (or my Muse, which is the way I like to think of it) sifts through all the  input, takes a snip there and a fragment here and stitches together intriguing story or plot ideas and lets them float up into my consciousness. I always have many more plot ideas than I could ever write. Like many authors, I gravitate to the newer, shinier ones!

I watch a lot of movies and documentaries, as well as binge watching certain shows and series…

I try to sit with my eyes closed and listen to music on my iPod for the last hour of the day because I find that frees my mind up to work on plot tangles or story ideas in a natural flow, without my consciously focusing on the issues and stressing. I have this huge playlist with a mix of golden oldies, show tunes, country music, bagpipes, etc.

I do a lot of research into ancient Egypt particularly, just for the sheer pleasure of it – I’m so fascinated by the Ancient World – and come across any number of interesting facts that give rise to plots or plot twists…

If we’re not tired of the well analogy yet, all of the above activity is like the winter snow or the Spring rain, which would replenish the spring and contribute to filling that 32’ foot well in the side yard when I was a kid…

Author's own photo - the house in the country with the well