The long road

I’ve been blessed in life to have wound up living in Southwest Virginia, an emerald land with lots of mountains and hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail goes right by my city, continuing north and south, connecting acres of national and state forests one to the other. Thru-hikers pass through every spring and summer, going from Georgia to Vermont with nothing but the packs on their backs and the power of their legs. And my fiance and I often hope on stretches of this trail, spending one or two nights sleeping in the open, climbing mountain after mountain.

Even a short overnight of 10 to 15 miles can be intimidating if you are not used to that level of exertion. This weekend, we climbed Dragon’s Tooth, a 2.5 mile peak notorious for its difficulty. Part of the last mile must be climbed using both hands and feet, over tumbled rocks. But the view from the top is wonderful, a wide green valley, and if you’re agile and brave you can climb the Tooth itself, a jagged jut of stone perhaps a hundred feet high. It was windy, so we stayed off the Tooth this time, contenting ourselves with snacks and the view from beneath its leaning bulk. We were exhausted, muscles burning in the chilly air of a late cold snap. We consumed our snacks ravenously, climbed a small boulder nearby and soaked up some sun.

Then it was time to come back down. We made excellent time, jumping off the rocks we had labored so carefully to climb over. There were no options to stop, just spare moments of rest snatched to keep us moving. The trail goes on as long as it does. You can’t cash in before the ending.

But a trail at least ends. There is a peak, or perhaps a waterfall, or a valley. There is a parking lot. Life also ends, but only when you’re dead. It is full of interlocking tasks, steps up the mountain, and there is no pausing. You only have what you carry with you. You can’t cash in before the end.

Writing, as a career, is a lifelong obsession. And like climbing a mountain, it is long, slow work. Unlike climbing a mountain, there is no recognizable peak to tell you that you’re done. You don’t always know if you have made it. I was reminded of this today when reading Kameron Hurley’s blogpost “Dancing for Dinner”, when she said this:

“If you are going to play this game, remember that there is a long road ahead. Remember that it’s not always a straight path. Remember that those with the aura of fame probably still have day jobs. Remember that they are still people. Remember that they are dancing for their dinner, just like the rest of us. Remember the slog.”

I know the slog. I know the place you have to be to make it up the mountain, and then down, and then back up the next one. It’s not a place that hurries. Hurrying frustrates, and frustration is exhausting. You’ll never keep going that way. To live through a hike, you have to enjoy it. You have to breathe deeply of the air and stop to look at cool leaves, strange flowers, ponies, cows, raccoons, even people. You have to take care of yourself, pace yourself, be careful not to get blisters or ticks or scrapes that will slow you down later. You have to rest when the sun goes down and rise with it in the morning. And take pictures – that’s always nice.

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Aren’t these woods gorgeous?

All of this introspection is just to say, in the words of Liz C. Long: “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” We are all working forward one step at a time. Work at your own pace. Do what you can. Don’t compare yourself to other people on the trail, and don’t worry too much about how much further you have to go. You’re never going to be finished, but that’s okay. The beauty is in the journey. You’re writing because you love to write, aren’t you?

The Writing Iceberg

I follow a group on Facebook called The Writer’s Circle. Recently they posted this lovely graphic.

writing iceberg

It’s a good start at what it is to be a writer, but it’s not all-encompassing.

This week, my primary contributions to my writing career have included: blogging, networking, reviewing a contract, offering critique on a voice file, and reaching out to my cover designer with a couple of new projects. Writing did occur, of course – without that, the rest of the stuff becomes moot, after all – but most of my energy, proportionally, was on all of the things needed to make a finished story more accessible to readers. In other words, the stuff that makes money.

My experience as a writer is different from the experience of a traditionally published author, but not by much. The things a traditionally published author doesn’t have to worry about include: commissioning audiobooks, commissioning cover art, and other similar outsourcing. The things a traditionally published author does have to worry about includes all of those iceberg items, as well as marketing, working with a publisher’s demands, reviewing contracts, critiquing products such as covers (depending on how much creative license they are allowed by their contracts), querying….you get the picture. There is a lot going on behind the scenes of a book, and it isn’t just the hours and hours of writing the thing, or the hours and hours of editing it. It’s formatting, primping, marketing, and all of the other things that go into creating a salable product.

Unfortunately, this kind of work takes away from writing time, and a writer doesn’t really get paid for it. What I mean by that is, writers don’t get paid by the hour. They get paid by what they can produce and how quickly they can manage that production. The other stuff that it takes to get that produced work on the table of someone else is dead time between creating more works. But it’s necessary dead time – you cannot sell a book without a cover, that’s for sure.

Greater authors than I have written on this subject, but it’s something that I think gets talked about too little. No matter which path you choose, self-publishing or traditional publishing, you are going to be spending time on the housekeeping side of writing. Even if you have an amazing agent and amazing editor managing some of the moving parts, a lot of the work still falls on you. There are definitely trade-offs between pathways in terms of the amounts of work and kinds of work you undertake, but you’re still going to have to work on things that aren’t writing.

If you’re not writing full-time, but instead juggling a day job on top of your writing career, this slows new releases considerably – something that can be really detrimental to your writing career in the long-term. I’ve always been jealous of those folks who have the income or ability to leave their dayjob and write full-time. My productivity in writing a first draft with a dayjob versus without is seriously limited. It takes me a third of the time to write a new book when not juggling other obligations that it does to write a new book with those obligations.

In closing, writing is an iceberg, and an unpredictable one. The next time you are reading a book, please spare a kind thought for all of the unseen work of the writer.

Books as rocket fuel

I’m going to indulge in what might be a terrible metaphor. It’s about books. Not the ones I write, but the ones I read. And I read a lot of books.

I read for a lot of reasons. First of all, I enjoy it. My favorite books to read for fun involve plucky young heroines performing seemingly impossible tasks, usually with humor thrown in, and maybe a little romance. Of course, I also need heavier fare. Most of my favorite books overall tend to deal with deep themes and richly imagined worlds, not always an overlap.

Stress relief is also something I get from books. In the purest form, books are an escape. The best ones are more, but even in cases where that doesn’t happen if you can keep my attention long enough I will read your book and forget about my life for a little while. Generally this helps my brain a lot. I become a happier human less likely to cry on someone or get irrationally angry at them for something. We all have personality quirks, and mine is that I stew on things and berate myself over them unless I can be effectively distracted. Books help with that.

The other thing books do for me is inspire. Getting us back to that metaphor.

Books are my rocket fuel. When I read a good book, and often when I read a bad one, I itch with the need to write. Words are consumed, and they become more words. I create. Honestly, this is the best feeling in the world. The feeling of words moving through me to become other words is an incredibly transcendent and intimate thing. I am celestial in those moments. I have made it to the stars.

 

Spring into summer: a recap

The end of April has passed me by, leaving us solidly in May, the last month of spring. Life has been amazingly busy.

First, I submitted several short stories to different magazines throughout April. I’m very excited to hear back from them, as I know they are some of my best work in that category to date. Responses should start rolling in over the next few weeks, and I promise to blog about any positive news.

I got engaged in April, that’s a big deal. That was towards the end of April, and I really can’t remember if I’ve blogged about it here or not! The ring is gorgeous, the man is a gentle, lovely human who also happens to be my best friend, and the proposal was adorable and involved origami. What more can you want? A lot of my spare time over the past few weeks has gone into trying to get my ducks in a row to start wedding planning. House hunting has therefore been put on hold. There are a lot of political aspects to wedding planning that have involved me trying to reach out specially to different parts of the family to express that I really can’t keep up with drama right now. That has…had mixed results. The day job has also had some recent ups and downs.

Towards the end of April, I accepted a contract to have Mother of Creation produced as an audiobook. This is a wonderful thing, to me, as it makes my story more accessible. I’m excited for the potential new readers in the Creation Saga, though I will say this whole audiobook learning curve is pretty steep. For those who have self-published or still retain their audio rights, the service I am using is ACX, and Amazon subsidiary that produces books which will be available on Audible and ITunes. I have to say, the first time I heard someone reading my words out loud in a recording, I almost cried with joy. I definitely spun around in circles until I was dizzy, proving that I am still a five-year-old at least 20% of the day. I’ll probably do a more extensive blog on this process once I have gotten through it to inform you of some of the unexpected hurtles.

All in all it has been a crazy busy season, and promises to continue to be. But the flowers sure are pretty.

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My writing process: novels vs short stories

A lot of people have different ways they tackle writing, and I suppose there are a lot of places where best practices kind of deviate. Given that, I wanted to take a minute today to talk about my writing process.

I am not a pantser. For those unfamiliar, a pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants. I will not go into a story without and ending in mind – mostly because I can guarantee if I do so that I will not have an ending to my story. It won’t ever get finished. This doesn’t mean that I don’t improvise, because I do, and it doesn’t mean that I know everything that’s going to happen before it does, because I don’t. My characters can still surprise me, and do. It just means I need a target to be aiming for.

What this often means in novels is that I know the ending to the book, but I may not know the middle. Most of my rewrites in novels, which can be extensive, revolve around the meat of the story. While there are exceptions, for books I focus on adding scenes and otherwise filling in gaps that affect the world-building and character development going on around the main plot points in my re-writes.

For short stories I can say that it is a little different. My short stories often spring full-formed from the page. The edits that are made are usually semantic edits – changing the wording of descriptions and actions so that they come through more clearly. Very occasionally, I will adjust a paragraph to add some missing information that will help the reader connect to the character in question. In fact, my short stories either come through with almost no edits, or don’t come through at all and must be completely rewritten, with only a couple of elements surviving – maybe the setting, or a character, or even only a paragraph that I particularly liked. It’s a very different process from my novels.

I think this comes from the fact that, for short stories, it is a lot easier to hold the whole thing in my head. A novel has too many moving parts, and so I will use outlines and charts to try to keep things straight. A curve ball can destroy this architecture, requiring weeks of reworking outlines before I can start moving forward again. By the end of the novel, I’ve changed the plot points and reorganized them several times, and so the rewriting involves dragging my characters to where they need to be for it all to make sense. But for a short story, the whole of it pops into my head pretty early and stays there. Reworking the plot isn’t necessary, and so the character takes her time revealing herself, and I’m free to focus on the craft of the sentences, the tone of her voice, on perfecting the language itself.

Either task is daunting and fun and rewarding. I am so excited to share more stories with you.

Rejection, the looming beast

Some people, when they are afraid of something, fall back on their religion, or some popular saying from their parents. I fall back on Dune.

I watched Dune first. I watched everything to do with it – all of the various movies that wandered into the house, and the Syfy (or whatever it was then) mini-series of Children of Dune. As a kid, I really enjoyed it, but I had never read the book until this past summer. I’m glad I waited, because it was such a dense book – lyrical, hefty prose curled around themes of theology and culture clash and evolution – that I don’t think I would have appreciated it as a younger person. Not because teenagers can’t appreciate deep thoughts and beautiful words, as they most certainly can. Instead, I feel like my earlier self wouldn’t have had the tools to critically analyse it. But I digress.

The thing that has always stuck to me, has always echoed in me every time I heard it is the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. “I will not fear. Fear is the mindkiller. I will face my fear, and I will let it pass through me. When it has gone, only I will remain.”

Now I know the above is paraphrasing from the book. I can’t remember if that is how the movie adaptation quoted it or not, since it’s been years, but that is how I have always remembered it so that is the version you are getting. In any case, the point of this grave exposition is that submitting to any market is downright scary. You want so badly to succeed. If you are at an early stage in your career, you don’t go into a round of submissions with the possibility of rejection. That shit is coming. That shit is coming at you, and you will be lucky if they even tell you why. Your chances of not being rejected, of being accepted in even one market, are vanishingly low.

It can be a little hard to press forward with submitting, once you really understand that. It’s a bit like beating your fist against a concrete wall over and over. You know it’s going to hurt. You better have a real good reason for doing it.

But the thing about rejection is, it doesn’t really hurt. No one is beating you with a cane, or telling you what a terrible human you are. They are simply saying that your work is not for them. The only thing getting hurt is your ego. Without fear, you only die once. The only way to fail at submitting is to not do it. The worst thing they can say is no. Rejection does not determine your value as a human being.

So, with that said, good luck.

 

 

Oh, We’re Halfway There!

It’s that time again, folks. Time to sing the Bon Jovi song!

halfway there

This is a tradition. I will probably get tired of this song at some point, but for now, it’s what I blast when I’m celebrating my success in getting to the halfway point of a novel. It’s all downhill from here! I’m tentatively shooting for January for a publication date, but there are still a lot of moving parts so it will depend on if I can keep it together over the next three months.

I officially hit 50,000 words sometime Thursday. In celebration, I gave myself three days off of work and writing. The idea was that I would get some to-do’s struck off the list but I just ended up going to parties and baking things. Which is also fun. Look at this gorgeous blood orange tart that I made! I only ate a bite of it because by the time it came out of the oven I was too full of goat cheese and potato galette and magical pasta and salad to really dive into this, but I can testify that it was delicious. The crust is transferable to any fruit and it’s not the worst crust I’ve ever worked with, at least, so I may be making more of these as the fruit comes in over the summer. Peaches would be especially lovely, with cinnamon…yeah, I’ll definitely be making more.


I also went to a Greek gods and goddesses party as Demeter Friday night, which was tons of fun. I wish I had pictures from that event but I don’t. You’ll just have to imagine my awesome wheat braids and green toga, until I get someone to send me photos.

Oh, and Saturday was the Roanoke Author Invasion! That was a very inspiring event, it taught me a lot about the potential for marketing my books and gave me a lot of things to think about. And I found some great new books to enjoy! Generally a fun time, and again something I should have probably taken pictures at but such is life. You’ll have to imagine the amazing banners and such – or better yet come out to the next one!

That’s the news from my end. I hope you have all had a great weekend. Oh, and if you’re interested, I’ve created a Facebook group for readers of the Creation Saga which you can find here.