getting shit done

Dealing with Setbacks

Here’s a thing writers don’t like talking publicly about—for good reason, because it’s not the sort of thing you want publicity to focus on—but I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s important.

I experienced a writing career setback a couple months back. I’m not going into details here; they’re not relevant to this post. The point is it was a lot of investment in work that didn’t pan out when I had reason to hope it would.

This is the reality of publishing, and it’s also life. Sometimes you do your very best, you pour your heart and time into your work, and it just. doesn’t. matter.

At times like these, social media is sort of the worst. Social media is a highlight reel, and you know that, but that doesn’t change the fact that as a pro in this industry, when you experience a setback, half a dozen of your colleagues, many of them friends, are filling your feed with their successes. It doesn’t mean you’re not happy for them, and it doesn’t mean they didn’t experience setbacks, too, but it can still feel like a kick in the teeth.

It’s hard not to feel like a failure when you have failed, especially when everyone you see appears to be succeeding.

Pros often recommend keeping your “eyes on your own paper.” This is… good advice, but hard to practice when also trying to keep up with your industry. You either withdraw from social media, or you have to be able to deal with knowing your own career has had setbacks that aren’t your fault—and often aren’t anyone else’s either—while others thrived.

Or you stop. But despite my feelings about this setback, one thing I know is I’m not going to stop.

The setbacks certainly won’t. There’s not a writer in the world who doesn’t experience them, no matter how successful they appear.

So the question then becomes: how do you keep moving?

At Viable Paradise, we talked about our goals for ourselves as writers. Steve Gould broke them all down and explained the danger of tying personal and professional satisfaction to goals outside your control, because that is a surefire way to set yourself up for disappointment and worse.

A lot of traditional publishing is not within your control. It just isn’t. If you have an agent, editor, publisher, publicist, or mentor, it’s often not in their control, either. You can do a lot to maximize your chances—of getting specific career opportunities, of getting the word out about your book—but there’s still a lot of chance involved in publishing.

Ultimately, the only part of the process you control is your work.

Hitting the NYT Best Sellers list? Not in your control. Getting a movie deal, earning out your advance? Also not.

Writing a story you care about? Putting in the time? Doing good work? Those are yours.

I learned a lot from all my work, even if that particular project never goes where I hope. I’m a better writer for it, and that is mine.

I’ve stepped back a little to reassess my goals and my praxis, making sure how I’m spending my resources (time, energy, money) reflects what matters to me, the kind of writer—and person—I want to be and the kind of work I want to do.

And I am doing that work. Because the thing about setbacks is they’re not permanent unless you let them be. But I’m not going anywhere.

Except forward.

That means I’m taking more care to tend to myself, and what I need as a human being. That should be feeding my writing, not being replaced by it. My writing in some sense reflects and distills who I am, but there is more to me than writing, too.

And at the same time, it also means I’m starting a new project (not the serial) that I’m incredibly excited about and that is going to be more challenging than anything I’ve written before—and, I hope, a great deal of fun.

I’m looking forward to the next adventure. But I’m going to work on savoring the one I’m experiencing now, too.

The cats are relaxing hard.

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The Choice to Fly

I love flying. And this year, I went paragliding.

 

photo by Drew McNabb from Acroparagliding

Starting my annual birthday flying adventures is the best tradition I’ve established for myself. It’s a chance for me to step outside my day-to-day, to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and who I want to be and whether I’m on that path.

This year was hard, for a lot of reasons, and I have been pushing hard. On the writing front, I wrote another book’s worth of words in the course of revisions, and I have revised more–both in thoroughness and in quantity of time spent–this year than I’ve revised in my life. And amidst everything else, I wrote a new book (which you can read for free!), which was a new kind of challenge and adventure. But I’ve gotten so caught up in the minutiae of that daily work that I was desperately ready to fly.

For my birthday flying adventures, I’ve been skydiving, flown on trapezes, sped through the air on ziplines. There are spectacular views to be seen this way, but it’s ultimately not the external perspective I value. It’s the act of flying itself that I love, that I can never get enough of.

When I’m in the air, I don’t feel adrenaline rushes from fear or even thrill. It’s a quieter feeling, but it centers me: flying, I know who I am. I know what I can do, and what I will do.

Every time, I wonder if it will be hard to jump. This year, I wondered if I’d feel nervous running off the hill with so much air below me. I’m familiar with that feeling, standing at the edge of a cliff and making myself jump, and I was prepared to do it, to prove to myself that I could. But there was no doubt, no fear; just launching into the sky.

This year, though, something else struck me. Throughout the trip–doing the paperwork, riding the van up the mountain, strapping in amidst endless jokes to test whether I was going to panic (they, clearly, had not met me)–people kept asking, with some confusion, some disbelief, “you’re here alone?”

Like it was so rare not to need people to come along for moral support, or to witness me. Like I really was there just to fly.

And when I responded affirmatively, they just said, “Good for you.”

Good for me, for taking steps to pursue my own path. Good for me, for knowing when I am enough, for being enough, by myself.

But even though I came alone, I came to a community. People who joked, knew each other’s hopes and struggles, looked out for each other, expected the best. A community of people who have learned to carve a regular space for adventure into their everyday lives, as though flying above mountains is a normal part of everyday lives.

Because it can be.

And the other consistent refrain throughout the trip was when people asked me what I did, and I said I was a writer, and they all marveled.

At first I thought they were impressed by my ability to make ends meet as a writer, but after a couple interactions I realized they hadn’t considered that the challenging part. It was the fact that I write, and I write novels, and multiple, and fantasy, facts I always take as a matter of course, that was what wowed them.

Writing has become such an integral part of my everyday that I sometimes forget what an adventure it is, to pour my time and energy and thoughts and passion into creating stories with words, to throw myself off the cliff over and over and trust that I will fly.

When I fly, I remember I’m an adventurer.

photo by Jenny Scott

House!

House! Oof, where to even begin.

I guess I begin with the fact that I’ve been promising to post pictures for months, but the prospect of MORE HOUSE related work made me shy away. So, here we are like half a year later… >_> But!

House! Pictures! Very Excite!

To be brief: I moved! Into my first house! IT WAS SO MUCH WORK. Partially because I cared, and partially because I wanted to be done all at once so I wouldn’t have to keep worrying about house setup tasks continually down the road. And let me tell you, now that I’m months down the road, that plan has actually been great SINCE finishing. But it made the moving process a little all-consuming.

See, while visual art is mostly beyond my abilities, I have Opinions about interior design. Because Opinions, I spent A LOT OF TIME choosing (finding, acquiring, assembling…) everything from tile to furniture to serving platters to trash cans (seriously you need a lot more trash cans when you move from a teeny studio apartment to a house). AND NOW I AM DONE. The backyard may remain tanbark forever, but INSIDE, where I have Opinions, I’m done.

I’m really happy with how the house came out. I’m going to post pictures of just some of my favorite parts here, because the alternative is I end up writing a blow-by-blow of how I did everything complete with the names of types of quartz and itemized budget lists. Unless someone asks specifically I’m erring on the side of no one besides me (and my mother) cares quite that much.

So! Welcome to the Wexlair.

Paws Here

Enter at risk of cats and puns.

 

We begin by passing through the entryway, a warning to all who enter.

Hallway Swords

SPOILER ALERT FANTASY BOOK NERDS LIVE HERE

 

The main section of the ground floor includes the living room, kitchen, and dining room.

Ground FloorLiving RoomKitchenDining Table

 

 

Downstairs is the library/game room. My significant other built 18 Billy bookcases in the span of like a week because he is a monster. If you need Ikea furniture assembled in record time, I know a guy.

Books!

Books!

Board Games!

Board Games!

 

Downstairs is ALSO the evil overlord suite. It comes equipped with a death star lamp, swords, D&D manuals and miniatures for plotting evil campaigns, evil overlording cloaks, and other surprises only guesting evil overlords will get to discover.

Evil Overlord Lair

Evil Overlord Lair

 

The master bedroom is upstairs, and while it’s not the most exciting of the rooms set up, it does include the world’s most comfortable bizarre lounge chairs. As an added bonus, they also make an excellent cat cave.

Master Bedroom

Pictured pre-curtains: as you can see, the view from the bedroom does not suck.

 

We put the prettiest surfaces in the house in the master bathroom. The counter has these blue flecks that in the light glint like buried sapphires, and the shower floor makes it feel like I’m standing in a river.

 

Last but not least among our worth-posting-photos-of-our-work spaces, we have our offices. I wanted a magical forest feel, so this is some of what I did.


 

And that’s the house, more or less! Now I never have to shop again, right? =D?

We’ll See Where We Land

Friends have been asking where I’m at with writing and editing at the moment, and it occurs to me that I’ve let my blog languish. An unexpected side effect of living with people again is that when I feel ranty or something noteworthy happens I just, you know, argue with a living human instead of blurting it out on the internet. Alas for the regularity of my posting here.

So an update on my current projects for anyone curious:

Recently I’ve been writing a new YA fantasy novel I’m calling Sealed, and I just finished the first draft last week! It’s a story with female friendship at its center, along with quests, underground monasteries, demon invasions, political machinations, undignified and vicious floof friends, and magic.

I’m tentatively (I am rarely sure of anything when I first finish a draft) pleased with how this one came out. It took me a while to get into it — I tried a lot of new things and was coming off a looooong stint of editing and not drafting, so that’s not shocking but was still frustrating — but I think it’s come out approximately book-shaped.

Normally I’d do a quick clean-up and send it straight to readers for feedback, but this time I need to do a more thorough edit pass first. I have a document full of notes I jotted down while drafting of things I already know I need to fix, so I’m going to address those first. My manuscript needs to be in the best shape I can get it in before I ask anyone to put their time into helping me make it better.

I’m taking a brief (possibly too brief?) break to do some beta reading myself before diving back in, letting my mental gears adjust a bit from the mode of CHURN OUT ALL THE WORDS (I was writing 6-8k/day towards the end there — I did eventually get into it) to a place with enough distance where I don’t get caught up and can edit more effectively.

On the beta reading note, I think I’m going to have to officially close to beta reads for a while. I just counted, and I have four full beta reads and three partials already this year. I love beta reading, and I always want to be available for writers who’ve beta read for me in the past, but at least through July I’m booked on that front.

Next on the agenda is finishing up the final round of edits for Afterstorms, the adult fantasy novel. I’m actually excited to edit it, so I know taking a break to write something new was the right choice for me. And I’m really excited to get it on submission — honestly while I’m invested in being published I’m not usually so enthusiastic about the prospect of querying — and the submission packet is almost in its final form. This book is ready to soar into the wild, and I can’t wait to see how it flies.

So, to recap, this is where I’m at.

recently: wrote a new book
now: beta reading
May: first round of edits on the YA fantasy
May and maybe June: last round of edits on the adult fantasy
by June: submitting the adult fantasy

Why the rush? In part because I’m anxious for these books to go on to their next steps. But also because I’m going to have travel commitments coming up at the end of June and early July — con, wedding, etc. — and I don’t want to be interrupted after getting into the flow.

And after those I won’t be able to just pick back up, because in June and July, construction disaster notwithstanding, I will be moving at long last. I will be moving into a new house and furnishing the whole thing, and I am reasonably sure that getting settled to my satisfaction is going to take all my creative energy for a few weeks at the minimum.

SO. It’s been a busy spring, and it’s shaping up to be a busy summer! After that, we’ll see where we land.

Third Annual Flying Birthday Report

It’s now been two years since I took a leap (well, more of a roll out of the plane) and really committed to putting myself and my writing first. Continuing the flying tradition, for my 27th birthday I decided to try out a wind tunnel, which I highly recommend.

wind tunnel 1

Throughout various adventuring, I have learned that it behooves me to warn guides about two things in advance:

a) My skull, while unusually hard, is tinier than they really think it is.

Here I am wearing an actually child-sized helmet.

Here I am wearing an actually child-sized helmet.

 

b) My back is unreasonably bendy.

ziplining

When I ran out of momentum while ziplining and had to pull myself the rest of the way, I ended up alarming my poor guides.

 

In the wind tunnel, it didn’t matter how well I held position or how straight I kept my legs; because I was essentially doing an upside down backbend, I was constantly drifting backwards.

upside down bridge

Good times, good times.

And thus I finished out my second year of putting my writing first in my life.

I haven’t been good about blogging this year, so I thought I’d recap how this has been going.

The first year after quitting my fulltime job was largely about figuring out how to best arrange my life to support my writing, as opposed to finding a job that allowed me to write on the side. That’s a subtle distinction, but for me it’s been an important one.

I will probably always be adjusting. I changed part-time jobs again for various reasons, and the one I currently have — working at a root beer store and doing way more than is technically in my job description — is so far working the best of anything I’ve tried, so I am hopeful.

Last year was a learning year, and I knew it would be. I went into year two with such grand plans for implementing all the things I’d learned, but of course life, right?

First, I attended four weddings (plus related events) that included five out-of-town trips.

we1 we2 we3 we4 we5 we6 we7 we8

I am delighted for all of my newly married friends, but there were So. Many. Weddings.

I only went to three cons this year, but with Christmas that brings my total of out-of-town trips to nine. Each trip required varying degrees of work, from researching and writing presentations to herding bridesmaids and coordinating travel plans. Not only did this create some logistical and financial stress, it also cut into writing time. The problem wasn’t just the trips themselves, but the fact that a lot of them happened back-to-back (for instance, June included back-to-back trips to Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Minneapolis). Catching up on all the things I had to push while I wasn’t physically present to deal with them impacted my schedule more than I’d anticipated.

Second, I moved. And not only did I move, I plan to move again. There has been a lot of time spent physically moving things, picking out design items (be it duvet covers for the bed I have now or countertops for the place I will have), and all of the usual hassle.

In my defense, I basically knew about these events in advance and blocked out three months in my writing schedule on the assumption that life would happen. In practice, it’s ended up encroaching a little more than that, but I’m basically on track.

By “on track,” I mean that my current goal is to complete two novels every year.

For me, completing a novel now includes the initial drafting of the manuscript, time for at least two full rounds of beta readers to have a crack at it, thorough rounds of edits after I collect all the feedback, assembling the submission packet, and getting the final draft out the proverbial door.

I can draft a novel in about two months once I get going. Each round of edits takes me about a month. Even leaving some time for when life causes my schedule to go awry, that puts me at a pretty good noveling pace.

In theory, while I wait for beta readers’ feedback, I work on writing or editing a different novel. In practice this year instead I was usually at weddings while waiting for feedback, which skewed my schedule and left me with a lot of months of back-to-back editing.

But I’ve just about gotten myself on the schedule I want to be on: I’ve just finished the first post-beta round of edits on one novel; I’ll draft a new novel next; then I’ll do the second round of edits on the previous novel; then the first round of edits on the new novel; then I draft another new novel. And so on.

Of course, if I do get a publishing contract that will probably blow the Master Plan out of the water, but that is still to be hoped for and I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

At the moment I have a YA space opera novel (teenagers piloting mechas in space battles) out on submission that has been getting positive responses from industry professionals so far. And if that novel doesn’t get me an agent, well, I’ll have another novel ready to go in a few more months.

I’m really excited about the latest novel (which is unusual given that I just finished editing the thing, which normally leaves me feeling =/): it’s a secondary world urban fantasy starring a woman who is a professional mage and adventurer and also the single mother of a teenage daughter.

Overall, my writing grows increasingly tight with every novel, I’m better organized all around, be it in terms of story structure or work schedule, and I’ve gotten hugely better at editing. I’ve learned how to better set schedules for myself — they have to be mildly unreasonable to give me something to reach for, but not too unreasonable or the whole thing collapses. So far I haven’t blown a single editing deadline, though, so my current methods of organization and motivation are working as they should be.

Basically, everything is going well! There have obviously been bumps, but I have this writing/paying-work/spending-time-with-other-humans/recharging-in-cave-time stuff reasonably well-balanced at the moment.

And now I get to start working on a new novel =D. Onward to further adventures!

Taking Editing Ranks

Oof, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? *waves hello*

My last few months have basically consisted of a combination of friends’ wedding events and editing. Much, much time in the editing trenches. Oh, and my YA space opera manuscript is DONE. =D

While I regret my silence around these parts, the good news is that I think I’ve leveled up in editing. I’ve found a process that works for me in terms of getting edits done in a timely fashion, figuring out what edits need to be made in the first place, and going about making them in a way that actually improves the manuscript.

It surprised me to learn that editing is emotionally harder for me than writing. While writing for sure has a hefty share of madness associated, the challenges are not the same.

The key difference is that when I’m writing a first draft, I know it doesn’t have to be perfect, because I can fix it later. But once I’m editing, the pressure is on: now I have to make it right. I have to figure out how, and I have to be able to do it, and if either of those were easy I’d have done it right the first time.

Now, the wonderful thing about beta readers is that they give me feedback on how a story is being perceived by people outside of my own head, so I can tell which parts are working and which aren’t. The problem is that not only do beta readers disagree with each other, they can be wrong — which has nothing at all to do with their reading or analysis and everything to do with the story I’m trying to tell. What different readers look for and react to in stories varies; the story they would tell with the same premise is different than the story I would tell, not just as a matter of content but also of style. I have had AMAZING beta readers, but in the end the story is mine to fix, not theirs.

Even with beta readers I trust, I can never take all of their feedback. From a relatively small reader sample, I have to weigh concerns. When beta readers disagree, it makes me especially aware that any change I make can improve the story for some readers and derail it for others. Obviously, I have to choose whichever changes are best for the story, but — well, if I could tell what changes the story needed that easily, I wouldn’t need beta readers.

Essentially: without outside feedback I can’t tell how the story is working, but the feedback doesn’t always clarify matters; sometimes it just gives me more to worry about. So not only do I feel pressured to get it right, when I’m editing it’s often hard to tell if I’m actually making the story better.

The final problem for me is with tracking progress. Part of how I motivate myself to write is with deadlines and word count quotas. The tracking is key, though, because I never feel like I’m doing enough; numbers and spreadsheets are how I prove to myself that I’m being productive, which in turn makes me feel productive, which then causes me to have an easier time producing.

I can still give myself deadlines for editing, and I absolutely do. But for me, tracking editing word count is nonsensical. I’m not necessarily striving to add or take away words. I could try and edit a certain number of words each day, but depending on the type of editing I’m doing (line edits, rewrites, structural overhauls…) some chapters can fly by, and some take hours or days. I could edit four chapters one day and half of one the next. Unlike writing, I don’t edit in chronological order. Some changes have to be made throughout the text, and sometimes I don’t know to fix something earlier until I’ve made a change later.

I’ve found a solution that works for me in terms of tracking progress — I won’t detail it here, but the main thing is that there is a list of daily tasks that I can cross off once accomplished or, like with word count goals, that roll over into the next day. They don’t go away if I don’t do them, but once I have, I have evidence that I have been useful. That makes the whole process easier, and anything that makes it easier matters. Then I can marathon the work and if I’m lucky collapse in a heap of books for a week or so afterwards, as one does.

Even after the book is drafted, the work doesn’t get easier. If I’m doing my job right, the story gets better, but editing is every bit as much of a skill as writing. All I can do is put my fingers to the keyboard and work on leveling my skills and my story up.

Draft! New Draft Complete, New Draft Beginning

I finished the first draft of a new novel! It’s a secondary world urban fantasy, clocking in at about 75k. So I promise I’ve been silent around these parts for a good cause. I’ll have to refine my pitch once I’m closer to querying, but this is the basic idea:

To protect her daughter and friends, a mage and professional adventurer has to stop the sorcerous storms tearing a city apart. But to save their lives she’ll have to sacrifice a piece of herself and become what she’s always feared — and even if she survives, she can never go back.

I’m really excited about this one, and I’m teeming with side novella and short story ideas for these characters. I mean, I’m always excited about my stories, but usually when I finish a draft I’m overcome with the feeling of OH GOD EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE I’VE DONE ALL THE THINGS WRONG PEOPLE WILL HATE ME. This time, I’m worried because I still feel good about where it is at the moment. I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.

Fortunately, this is exactly what alpha readers are for. And I’m especially fortunate, because a lot of very smart, skilled writers volunteered to help me out with this. I’m honestly blown away by how supportive this community can be and has been for me.

Lest I fret myself silly over the likelihood of one of them coming back and saying, “Nope, everything’s wrong, you’d better burn the whole thing” (no one has ever done this, but there’s a part of my brain that is always ready), I’ll be pressing right along into other projects.

Beyond the general catching up on life tasks that I’ve been pushing for the last couple months in my haste to get this underway, first on the agenda is to put together proposals for  Sirens programming. If you want to collaborate on something, let me know!

I’m also going to get moving on edits to the last novel I drafted, the YA space opera, since reader feedback has been waiting for me for longer than I’d meant it to. Unfortunately, although I’d meant to be done with the draft of Afterstorms by March, I lost most of February to moving. It ended up taking about two and a half months to draft, which in the scheme of things is not too shabby: I was averaging about 1000 words per day.

I am pleased to report that for the first time, I have successfully drafted a novel continuously — by which I mean, no break at the 20-30k point where I go, “HMM, quite a predicament you’ve got there, characters! I wonder how you’ll get out of it? …hmm.” And then I work on another project for a few months while I ponder, fail to magically arrive at a solution, and come back and outline my way out of the wall.

Anyway, I think the YA space opera will need another round of beta readers, so I’m hoping to have that ready to go out by the beginning of June, before I spend basically the entire month traveling. After that, I’ll be back to editing Afterstorms, possibly neck-deep in a novel collaboration, and probably figuring out what my next novel project will be. The fun never ends!