I had worked up the courage to finally talk to one of my favorite authors at the convention this past weekend. It was right before a panel was about to begin and I wasn’t sure there was enough time. Scanning the other seated attendees frantically, I was worried she might not be in the room. Perhaps she left the convention early?
Then I heard her voice directly behind me. I turned around and there was Mary Robinette Kowal, author of Shades of Milk and Honey and one of the voices on the Writing Excuses podcast. She said “You listen to my podcast, don’t you?” When I asked how she knew, she said because I had turned around when she started to talk and had recognized her voice. While she signed my notebook (because her books are on my kindle) with her own fountain pen, she told me a story about meeting one of her own favorite authors, asked about my writing, and talked about the crochet project in her lap. She is as lovely a person as you could ever hope to meet. In my notebook she wrote “Be kind to yourself”.
Another author I adore, Caroline Stevermer who co-wrote Sorcery and Cecelia (using the letter game!), wrote me a note saying it was lovely to meet me.
The panels were a gold mine for sure, but that was only half of what made 4th Street amazing. They’re just a bunch of lovely human beings who somehow manage to have a tight knit community that is still welcoming to newcomers.
4th Street Fantasy convention, to me, was like drinking from a fire hose while having an IV drip sustenance into my veins at the same time. There was so much to take in. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. But there was also something incredibly energizing about being immersed in the atmosphere of 200 or so other writers and readers. This was not CONvergence, which is my only other con experience, where thousands of people create a lot of noise and there is occasionally a panel on how to write. This was a little known gem filled with authors and editors who are dedicated to their craft. There was so much knowledge and experience in the room, that often the audience would take over the panel, offering comments and suggestions as well as asking questions. I’ll never forget when I saw one man interrupt the first panel I attended and the entire panel stopped to listen to him, and he had a lot of good things to say. I found out later he is a Senior Editor at Tor books.
I’ll probably occasionally rehash some of the panels here on the blog as I have time to decipher and type up my notes. No promises on accuracy, cohesion, or doing it in a timely manner. I have a lot to think about now and I’m excited to get back to writing.
And reading, of course. I came away with no less than 231 book recommendations that aren’t your ordinary recommendations where you put them on your list because you have a nebulous feeling that you ‘ought’ to read them. These recommendations each came with a reason, as they were mentioned in the panels as examples of authors who wrote a particular thing well. I know which books to turn to if I want to encounter well-written examples of moving the plot forward without the use of war or violence, realistic depictions of war and violence and the fallout from that, what books have good soft magic systems or hard magic systems, authors who have done well at restrictive writing and cutting things out. Even video games, plays, and podcast recommendations. There was talk about how to end a series, or kill off characters, the emerging genre tags Grimdark vs. Hopepunk and how they’re not mutually exclusive, and how cities are built in layers over time and how we communicate with people across time by what we leave behind.
There was even a lovely older gentleman whose hobby is finding toys and fixing them, who gave my ten month old daughter a Happy Apple that he had repaired. I also came away with a pair of dinosaur bone earrings made by Elise. Elise even had a piece of meteorite in a bottle sealed by wax from one of Neil Gaiman’s beehives, so it was pretty much straight out of the Stardust novel.
I cannot say enough good things about my experience and I hope that if you have any desire to further your craft of writing, or to discuss your favorite fantasy novels with high-minded thinkers, that you’ll take a good look at attending next year. (Especially if you want to meet Mary Robinette Kowal or Caroline Stevermer.)
Of course, since I’m all about reading, I’ll be posting the book recommendations soon, and hopefully with the reasons they were recommended. Stay tuned!
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Something I discovered about how I write is that I find it hard to trust myself.
That is, it’s hard to trust both my future self and my past self.
I think I outline so much because I am scared that my future self will be some kind of uncreative zombie and I have to give her all the tools I possibly can right now. There is always an immediacy to my writing. If I don’t write it down now, it will slip away and never get written, or worse yet, I will try to write it later and it will be something completely different than what I want it to be now. As a result, my outlines tend to be around 40,000 words. (Ten thousand more words and it would officially be novel length, people. I’m crazy.)
When I sit down to write from an outline later, I look back and think “who was the person who wrote this?” It feels contrived and false. Like I was trying to jam as much stuff in it as possible instead of letting it grow organically over time. I think I sense my former self’s distrust of my future ability and it dampens me.
I’ve gone back and forth with this ever since I started writing, until June 2015. We took a vacation out to Portland and Seattle. On the plane ride back, I was determined not to get motion sick like I usually do. So I had my notebook handy and tried very hard to only focus on writing. To just get stuff on the page and not pay attention to how the plane was moving. And it worked.
But it also worked for my writing.
I almost never write by hand anymore. It’s too slow and my hands are already hurting from working them so much that grasping a pen just seems like a silly idea. But I didn’t want to get out my laptop because I was in the middle seat and there was hardly any room. This also meant that I had no notes on the story I was about to outline. I was going to be starting Camp NaNoWriMo in a week and a half and still didn’t have an outline. This kind of freaked me out, so I was like “yeah, I better write this outline right here, right now, before we touch the ground.”
But I had to do it all from memory. The story in question is one I wrote many, many years ago, then stuffed it away because it was horrible. Still, it had some good stuff I can reuse (I hope), so I had planned to rewrite it during camp. I suddenly had to recall an entire, intricate novel’s worth of outline from over five years ago. This was the beauty of it: I was only allowed to write down the important things that moved the plot along, because I couldn’t remember all the other parts.
When I got home, I typed up the outline and was pretty proud of it. Then I looked back at the old version to see if there was anything I had forgotten or wanted to salvage. And I felt my inspiration faint on the fainting couch in a dramatic fashion: the previous version was not only pretty readable, there were some downright good parts I didn’t want to throw away. I told myself that my outline from the plane was rubbish and I was just going to have to keep the storyline the way it was from the old version, just make sure I updated the language and caught any inconsistencies.
I was tempted by the concept of an easy rewrite. I was also scared of my airplane outline because it was honest and I had to dig deep for it. It stripped out a lot of things I loved about the story, and I wasn’t willing to admit that it was better for it.
So camp started and I got about 15,000 words into my novel before I realized I was struggling. It was like pulling teeth to write even 400 words during a word war when normally I can beat out at least 1,000 in ten minutes.
Discouraged, I took an honest look at my airplane outline. I faced up to the fact that it scared me because it was so swift, lean, and clean. I was scared because with all the stuff I’d left out, it meant that my voice and good writing would have to carry the load, and that wasn’t the easy way to write a book. (But it is the best way.)
So I started over using the airplane outline, and things flowed so much better. I started to sympathize with the villain, care about the characters again. As to voice, well, I won’t know if I have that until I take another good, honest step back to look at it, when I have time to do that. But it sure felt good to drop all that baggage from the past and moved on with a trimmer, faster story.
Two take aways from this for me:
Writing an outline by hand with no notes is definitely something I will practice with my stories in the future. Even the language I used was different because I wanted to write as few words as possible. It made me say things differently, and made the outline come out so well. It also forced me to trust my future self a little more. Instead of spelling everything out, I had to just say one or two words to convey what was to be written next. Being that future person now, I appreciate the trust and the freedom to interpret it as I see fit.
Trusting my future self and my past self saves time and energy. And if for some reason I do turn into a noncreative zombie in the future, having a massive outline won’t help anyway. I need to consume some brains (aka, read other people’s good writing). A lack of an outline is not the problem, nor is it a very good bandaid for the problem. I need to look at other factors that affect creativity (health, diet, exercise, enough reading, enough rest, enough honesty, etc.)
In honor of my new discovery, this post is brought to you without an outline for once. Hope it wasn’t too bad. If you need me, I’ll be over in this corner going through outline withdrawal. Please only talk to me in bullet points.
Also, I mistyped “bullet points” enough that autocorrect wanted to change it to bull sh*t. Lol. Please don’t only talk to me in bull sh*t. That will not help.
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Me: “I’m probably a bad administrator for doing this, but I just don’t care right now that I’m letting the database automatically sync with our mailing list.”
Friend: “Um, that’s just you doing your job well. That’s what databases are supposed to do.”
Me: “Yeah, I’m just going to throw off these heavy heavy shackles of expectations that tell me I need to enter data by hand. I can’t handle that right now, even though I’m sure some judgy admin out there could.”
Friend: “Uh, no one expects that. That would actually be bad because you’re bound to make more mistakes entering by hand.”
Me: “I’m sure someone out there will say I’m a bad admin for answering so many emails today, but I just don’t care.”
Friend: “Uh-huh. That’s not— can we talk about a topic where you don’t feel compelled to chastise yourself for doing things well? It’s annoying.”
This is what it sounds like if I talked about my job like some moms talk about their parenthood.
Seriously moms. This topic came up FOUR TIMES in my news feed today.
When someone talks about their profession, they never say whether they are a good ditch digger or a bad one, a good dentist or a bad one, a good teacher or a bad one. They talk about it as if that is just what they are. They don’t invite others to pass judgment on them being good or bad at it by bringing the subject up.
I don’t care if you think you’re a good or bad mom for doing such and such. All I know is that you are a mom, and I don’t want to be invited to judge you. I will snooze you on facebook until your kids are grown up if I keep seeing this stuff.
(I promise I almost never rant and you won’t see that often on this blog. Just strongly felt this one needed to be called out. I love you, fellow moms, and you’re amazing. I hope this only encouraged you and didn’t discourage you.)
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Last week I talked about the letter game and how it started my story. This week, I’d like to give you an unedited preview of that first letter I sent, which sparked all the things that led me to create this unique world of cyberpunk weirdness.
Please note, there are mistakes in this letter. I’m choosing to leave them because this is the actual letter I sent to my pen pal.
A little background: we decided that my character would be an ambitious hacker nurse who has driven herself so hard that she hates her daily routine, and so has decided to enroll in a pen pal program just to have a social life. She thinks the pen pal program is probably fake, with letters generated by an AI, but goes along with it anyway. (Where the replies come from is actually much weirder, but that was my pen pal’s side of the story so I won’t go into it.) I decided to start my novel years later, after she has written to this pen pal program for quite some time, had adventures, and grown up a bit. So when you read the actual book, you’ll be encountering a much older Alexia.
Behold the first letter, in its unedited state.
Sunday, January 7, 2596
Salisbury, Smallbone:Realm 3, Earth
Dear unknown pen pal,
I am not a lonely person. Everything I’ve heard about your program seems to indicate that you are a tool for lonely people to help them feel some sort of companionship. Please do me the courtesy of believing that I am perfectly happy in my current fellowships. I’m not even sure why I feel like I need to explain this. It’s just, I’m afraid I’ll get some kind of letter back from you filled with psych-net links and subliminal hacks to my neural implant meant to make me feel more fulfilled.
I’m only writing to you because of an article that claims successful people give themselves something to look forward to at the end of the day, and the bitty-box-of-the-month club is too expensive. Also time consuming. I hear the usual edgezones and real-time deep reality plays will consume my soul to the point where I don’t want to do anything else. They sound amazing. But I don’t have that kind of time. You are just the diversion I need and will never be captivating enough to get in the way of my work. Sorry, but I think it’s important to be honest.
You’ll understand why my work is so important when I say that I’m the youngest stitcher at work they’ve ever had. Just in my hospital. Not in the world, obviously. But hopefully I won’t be a stitcher for long. They can’t keep patients coming in fast enough to keep me busy. I’ve only been working there for six months and already I’ve worked with more variety of cases than some of the stitchers who have been there for three years. Mostly it’s because none of the other nurses want to use the virus cleanser, so I get all the difficult cases. That’s ok with me. I need all the experience I can get.
So what about you? I mean, I know you’re probably some artificial intelligence, (or a person pretending to be an AI,) but that doesn’t mean you don’t have aspirations or passions. All AIs were created by humans so we can’t help but put ourselves into them. So you’re probably more sentient than some of my co-workers. Especially after a double shift.
What do you do when you’re not answering letters? Do you have family?
I live with my mother and it’s not what it sounds like. I’m not late to leave the nest or anything. She needs a lot of care, and my father is gone. If you’ve heard of the Neural Digression virus, you know what I mean. ND isn’t exactly deadly. Just debilitating. Her entire neural plant is almost gone now, so it’s impossible for her to keep up with such a slow interface. I used to think this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but trust me, it is. It’s amazing the things she doesn’t know, and I have to dumb down my language just so she can understand me. Being cut off from the marketplace of ideas and the great voices of our time really puts you out of touch. It’s terrible, and I feel so sorry for her. Even her eyes look like they are dull and unhappy because she is confused about her world. The other day I found her trying to login directly to a part of the net she’s never been to before, instead of being directed by one of the chaperone links. One of these days she’s going to get herself hurt.
Anyways, that’s about all I can think of to write before bed. Um, in case you are incapable of experiencing a good day, I will wish you a happy consciousness and good interfacing.
Well, that was a trip down memory lane and a little bit cringe-worthy. But despite the all-too-common feeling of looking back at old writing and thinking of all the ways it is so bad, Alexia’s story is still vibrant and alive in my head. I can’t wait to share it with the world. Hopefully soon. I’m still working on edits.
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I once read a book by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede that was written as the result of the Letter Game (you can find the book here). Here’s how the letter game works:
Two people decide on a genre, a setting, and the character they will write in the voice of, and who will write the first letter.
After initial details are set, no more discussion is allowed. Communication about the story may only happen through letters.
Letters are written back and forth between the two people in the voices of their characters, progressing the plot as they see fit.
Of course, I was inspired to start letter games of my own with other writers and friends. A lot of them got off to a really good start but petered out quickly, as life gets busy sometimes. One of these games, I sort of went overboard with creating the world and plot from which my character was writing her letters. I had plans for a long game, and anticipated that after two years of writing letters and building up to it, I would produce this great denouement that would blow the mind of my fellow epistle-creator. Well, life got busy and the letter game remained a shiny jewel in my imagination until I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to turn it into a book.
That book is what I’ve been working on for the last several years, and which I hope to publish very soon. I am so excited to see this come to life, and will be posting a cover reveal soon. This thing that has only existed in my imagination now has a cover! I can’t believe it!
Until then, if you have an inclination to start a letter game, let me know! I’m always willing to start something new. It’s a super fun exercise, and can range in depth from a light-hearted few exchanges to a serious commitment on par with your monthly D&D group. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the letter game is the second best storytelling method I’ve come across to date (D&D being the first).
If you want to be notified via email about my book news, sign up to get my newsletter. I promise, I won’t flood your inbox and will keep it relevant to stuff happening with my writing projects. Thanks, friends!
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April was poetry month. I’m clearly late on this, but wanted to send some poetry your way. I know I don’t stop and appreciate poetry as often as I should. So below is a poem that I’ve been contemplating lately.
Also, did you know that the Poem a Day challenge is a thing? I totally meant to participate this year but April has already passed me by. But if you want to still get in on the action, you can check out Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog where he posted poetry prompts for every day in April.
I’ve had this poem hanging on my wall for a couple years now, ever since my co-worker shared it with me. It has faded into the background of my life as I got tired of looking at it, then completely forgot it was there. Until a couple weeks ago when we started painting sample colors on our walls and I moved it to make room. This wonderful reminder to slow down and let creativity mature has been there in front of me every day but have I done that? Nope. The mind is forgetful. I’m hoping this will pop up in my feed a year from now to remind me again, because I likely will have forgotten by then too.
A prayer of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability–
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually–let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
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I’ve learned a lot of new terms for things as I write my Cyberpunk novel, and have included a lot of them in my book. It’s a challenge to write them in such a way that my readers understand what they refer to without directly explaining it. Characters in the world would obviously know what they mean, so they wouldn’t stand there quoting the dictionary.
Just for fun, I made this quiz from some of the terms in my book. See if you can spot the fake definitions from the real ones!
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When I was growing up, the video game my brothers and I played constantly was Civilizations III. It was so much fun. We would compete with each other to see who could discover Railroad technology the earliest (I think my older brother holds that record for something like 600 BC but it was awhile ago and I could be wrong).
One of the first major exploration units you can build in that game is a Trireme. It’s cheap, and it’s the only boat you get until you discover more technology, and it’s really good for just scouting out your own continent. It can only go around the edges of the land and not out into deep sea. So the early game strategy was to build your first city next to an ocean square, then build a Trireme as soon as you could and launch it to explore around your continent. That way, you would know if you are on a small island or a continent and give you a sense of how much space you have to expand. It was also a good way to scout and see if there are rival civilizations in your space. And if you were really lucky, your Trireme would spot a piece of land one square away with no deep ocean in between the two, and it could jump over and explore a second body of land.
But more often than not, it didn’t discover additional land and that’s where you had to make a choice. Do you send your Trireme out exploring into the deep ocean, knowing it has a high chance of sinking after every turn? Or do you just keep it close by to defend your territory, even though it’s no good at defending (but it can alert you to incoming enemies)?
I always sent my Trireme out. They almost always sank. But once in awhile, they would strike land before they did and then I’d have an advantage on my opponents.
“Failure is the cover charge to live the human life. How many things have you not done because you were afraid to fail?” My pastor said in a sermon a couple Sundays ago and I’ve been thinking about those words ever since. And I asked myself what I was afraid to fail at. The answer came quickly: self-publish my book.
I’ve never had any intention of letting fear of failure hold me back. I’m too excited. But I still have fears. I realized that I could easily fall into the trap of tweaking things ad nauseam hoping to get them just right and never actually publish because things aren’t perfect.
But this book is a Trireme. I’ll never know what’s out there if I don’t send it out. I could keep it at home, just kind of sitting around, but that’s not what it’s made for. Maybe it will sink, but it’s not doing anything if I don’t send it out.
My plan is to self-publish sometime this year, but I am tentatively and optimistically hoping for end of May. If you want to know when it’s ready, sign up for my brand new newsletter here.
Thanks for reading! (And by that, I mean thanks for reading my blog, and just reading books in general because that is a wonderful thing.)
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My life is still crazy as can be with two kids. My son has turned 2, and is potty training and learning how to read already. My daughter is content to wiggle and giggle, but will be crawling soon. As busy as I am, everything is only going to get busier.
So for now, all I have for you is an update on what I’ve been reading.
My 6 favorite books read in 2017
Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this book earlier. I LOVED this book. It’s not only the best fairytale retelling I’ve ever read, it’s the best fantasy book I’ve read in a long time. I really liked Novik’s Temerraire series, and she managed to bring the same awesome writing to this book, but with a completely different feel. She’s a great writer, and I am in awe. She actually just released a limited illustrated edition of this book which had me drooling for hours. Too bad they only made 175 of them.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson – Such a good book! I am really disappointed there isn’t a sequel because I wanted to snatch it up right away after I finished. I found this to be the most compelling and interesting of Sanderson’s magic systems. Just goes to show that no matter how many magic systems are out there, you can create something new. I really hope he’s going to write a sequel someday. His comments on writing a sequel can be found here. As a writer, I totally understand why he hasn’t yet and what stands in his way. But if he ever does start to write it, I will be haunting his social media sites like crazy to find out everything about it I can.
Mort(e) by Robert Rapino – Military-Animal-Sci-Fi/Fantasy-Dystopia-Adult-version of Homeward Bound. So basically, everyone should read this and witness the frightening journey of Mort(e), a cat who gained human intelligence and fought in the human-animal war, but fought on…well, I think he fought on both sides? Really, he had his own goals the whole time and the war just got in the way. I read this little by little on my iPhone in the dark while rocking my son to sleep every night. And since I was pregnant at the time with my daughter, rocking him to sleep on my stomach wasn’t exactly the most comfortable, and my ability to breath would slowly get cut off the more he relaxed and put his weight on me until finally I texted my husband to come in and hoist him into the crib for me. But I loved it because I got a little further in the adventure every night. And I discovered that this was one of those books you really do want to read in the dark. It added to the thrill.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan – It’s no Mr. Penumbra, so try to ignore the fact that it’s written by Sloan. It is still excellent, but not as enjoyable if you’re expecting more of the same. Though it did bring yet another fascinating aspect of San Fransisco to my hungry imagination. And Sloan’s writing is great. A woman programmer who is slowly loosing her soul at her job stumbles into making sourdough bread and it changes everything. She combines technology with baking and intrigue ensues. Ever since reading this, I have been searching for the perfect sourdough and spicy soup combination, trying to recreate the experience from the book. I had a lot of questions after reading it, so I emailed Sloan himself. And he responded quickly. Twice. He not only writes great stories, he is accessible to his readers and that made this read all the more fun.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman – Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book. This book is something between an “Ology” book and a graphic novel with its splash pages and unique layout. The story is funny, thrilling, scary, and–I mean there are space zombies and hackers, and one of the least annoying love stories I’ve ever read, so. You should go out and buy this book immediately. Buy the physical book. The beauty is in the printed pages and I think some of that is probably lost in an audio book or ebook.
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle – A must-read for any artist (and especially for Christian artists). This answered questions about art that I’ve been asking since I was 8 years old. Of course, no one would ever think to give such a book to an eight year old, but I sure could have used it! This book was very inspiring, especially during the days when I didn’t want to write.
All books that I read in 2017:
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford (2 stars)
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman (5 stars)
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle (5 stars)
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (4 stars)
Diastasis Recti by Katy Bowman (3 stars)
Sourdough by Robin Sloan (5 stars)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (5 stars – re-read)
Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan (4 stars)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (4 stars)
Derelict by LJ Cohen (4 stars)
Turquoiseblood by Cecelia Isaac (3 stars)
Grand Theft Octo by Neils Saunders (4 stars)
Mort(e) by Robert Repino (5 stars)
The Mage and the Magpie by Austin J Bailey (3 stars, almost 4 though)
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (5 stars)
Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick (1 stars – like, not even)
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (5 stars)
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (4 stars)
Flyte by Angie Sage (5 stars)
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (4 stars, almost 3)
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A month ago, a tiny little person was placed in my arms and now I can’t imagine my arms not being filled with her coos, wiggles, and snuggles constantly. We are all doing well and adjusting to our new normal.
Hopefully that new normal includes getting back into blogging. Sorry for the lack of posts, everyone! But you know, not really sorry. I mean, look at her! She’s so darn cute!
Hi all. Sorry for the absence of posts but I’ve been on vacation. And even though I thought I was going to get a ton written during vacation, including blog posts, I just didn’t. Turns out I needed the vacation to truly be a vacation and not be productive. As a working mom who’s also trying to publish a book, this was a hard conclusion to come to. All that time felt lost. But now that I’m back, I realize it wasn’t lost. It was needed. I have a renewed resource of creativity and perspective.
So while you wait for me to write gripping and dramatic blog posts about the lost art of reading, here’s a quick analysis of how I clean my living room.
Sit down on one side. Pick up everything around you and “sort” it by tossing it in various directions. Books get tossed towards the book stack. Toys towards the toy bins. And non-toy toys towards the kitchen. (You know, those things you let your toddler play with to buy you time but aren’t actually toys? Like spoons and wrappers and cardboard boxes.) You are sorting, but your toddler thinks you are playing with him. It’s a win-win. (Don’t wait to do this during nap time. Nap time is too valuable to waste on things that can be done while toddler is awake.)
When you are certain you have gotten everything you can reach, (remember the goal is to move as little as possible, especially if you’re pregnant like me), move to the other side of the living room. Repeat the process for each section. Except when you get to the toy bins, put the toys in the bins, etc.
Dig around the couch cushions and unearth all the books you hid after reading them for the 17th time. Unless you’re still tired of reading them. Then just leave them there.
By the time you get to the last section, you should have a pile of laundry, trash, and kitchen utensils each. This part is tricky. Quick distract your toddler with something, then scoop up one pile and take care of it. He still sees these things as toys, so make sure he doesn’t see you throwing away those wrappers or putting that spatula in the dishwasher.
When you return from taking care of the last pile, the toddler will have scattered a few more toys around the living room. You can either do one last quick sweep and put these away, especially if it’s nap time, or just accept that there will always be a few toys lying around. If you have extra energy, get out the vacuum and take care of all the cheerios. My toddler thinks the vacuum is a signal to start a dance party, and he happily runs circles around me while I do it. If I still have energy after that, I’ll turn on his favorite music and we’ll continue dancing. This helps keep him from dragging out more toys, too.
Above all, remember to never leave the living room with empty hands. If you are going somewhere else in the house, chances are high there’s an item in the living room that needs to be put away there, too. So just take it with you.
That’s how I do it, folks. Now that you know how, you can come over any time to practice if you want.
Reading is so important and I think largely undervalued. Even in my own life, even though I strive to always be reading something.
Here are a few ways to make it easier, both time-wise and budget-wise.
Time-saving Reading Hacks
Take the plunge into audiobooks. They make sitting in traffic so much more enjoyable, make working out something to look forward to, and cleaning the house fun. I have a hands-free connection to my car that connects with my phone automatically which makes things really easy. I also have a dedicated set of earbuds in the pocket of my cleaning apron so I don’t have to go looking for them when I want to just jump right into household chores. And once I’m no longer pregnant and get back into a workout routine, my goal is to have a dedicated set of earbuds stashed in my gym bag too. You could even take the Immerse or Die approach to working out (see Jefferson Smith’s blog here).
Get into the eBook scene. If you haven’t already, find a way to read eBooks on a device you carry with you always. It’s so lovely to have thousands of books at my fingertips where ever I go. And I can always fit in a couple of pages while waiting, especially at the Doctor’s office with all my check-ups and pregnancy appointments. eBooks are also a life-saver for me when I get overly addicted to Facebook. There have been so many times I’ll open my phone out of habit and start moving my thumb towards the Facebook app, only to sigh with discontentment at what I’m sure to find there. Then I remind myself that I could entertain myself by reading instead, and I open the kindle app. In seconds, I’m immersed in reading instead of scrolling through endless updates that may or may not interest me.
Put stacks of books throughout the house where you are likely to crash. Keep each stack to 2 or 3 books, small enough to not seem overwhelming. These tend to crop up on their own around my own place, but it might help to be purposeful about it. Bedside table, next to the couch or your favorite tv watching chair, etc. Not only will you have a book beside you when you are most likely to have time to read, if your significant other wants to watch something on tv that you don’t, there’s no need to argue. You get to read and they get to watch what they want.
Don’t waste time on books that don’t interest you. This is a hard one for me. I have this thing about finishing every book I start, and reading things out of obligation rather than genuine interest. But really, your reading time is too valuable for that. Don’t be afraid to put a book down if it fails to hook you in the first couple chapters. I mean, give every book a decent chance, of course. And recognize when you’re so distracted by life that even Harry Potter wouldn’t hold your interest. But if a book isn’t worth investing in, move on. It is important for the cultivation of your reading habits that you don’t start to think reading is boring.
Get on goodreads.com. It’s Facebook, but for books, and is a wonderful way to organize your reading and even motivate you to get into the rhythm of it. You can make shelves of books you want to read next and record what you’ve already read. Goodreads is fun and a neat way to discover new reads, but what I really love about it is the organization of my reading world. I don’t have to spend time wondering what it was I was wanting to read next because it’s already on my “want to read” shelf.
Participate in a reading event/marathon! Call your reading friends together, grab a bunch of books, snacks, and tea, and just sit around all day reading. Sometimes it’s just easiest to plan a special event for it than it is to find time here and there. Because when something is an event, it sounds a lot better of an excuse than “I’m just going to go home and read.”
Money-saving Reading Hacks
Libraries! Obviously. Try to get into a nice rhythm of checking out a new book and returning the last one every week or two to prevent late fines. Also, if you make friends with your librarians, they can help you find things of interest to you. Librarians are important!
Take a look at BookBub.com. I was skeptical at first, but then I checked it out and suddenly I had 20 new free books to read that somehow accumulated on my kindle over the course of two weeks. If you’re not picky about only reading bestsellers, or if you want to discover new indie authors, BookBub will fill your inbox with notifications of when books in your favorite genres or by your favorite authors go on sale. Most are 99 cents or free.
Goodreads.com again. Authors or publishers will frequently host giveaways of books. If a book that’s being offered as a giveaway is on your to-read shelf, Goodreads will send you an email to let you know. You can also browse their list of currently active giveaways, and sign up for emails to notify you if books on your to-read shelf go on sale on amazon.
Audible Daily Deals. If you want audiobooks, but don’t want to pay the $15 subscription every month, get on the Audible Daily Deals email list. They’ll send you an email a day letting you know which audio book is available for 2.99 or less. Not every day will be something you want. But most days I did find something I wanted to read. If you want to save money, I suggest you pay for one or two months of audible, then buy the discounted books from their daily deals until you have enough to keep you busy for the next several months, then suspend your account. I ended up with a couple hundred hours of audio books this way, which I’m still making my way through, for much less than if I had paid $15 per month to get a book a month.
Discount Book Stores. I personally like Half-Price Books, but they may not be in your area. They usually have some kind of sale around every holiday.
Kindle Unlimited is also a thing, though I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I’ll admit to downloading dozens of books just to support their authors, but then never getting around to reading them. But Kindle Unlimited pays authors by how many pages are actually read, since that’s a thing that can be tracked now. (So, if you’re looking to support authors, make sure you read as much of the book as interests you.) If you pay for amazon prime already, you’ll have access to free books through Kindle Unlimited. If not, look at how much you are reading and spending on books and decide if a KU membership would be worth it ($9.99/month).
Any suggestions to add to these? Let me know! Hope this helps you cultivate more reading in your life.
There’s this concept of breathing in, as in a season of life when one just needs a little time to lean on others, to receive, to be quiet and not do a ton of things. Likewise there are seasons of breathing out when one needs to give, support others, be more proactive and take on a bunch of projects.
The season of breathing in, for me, is the scariest. When I’m in it, it seems like it will never end and I start to worry if I will ever get the chance to breath out again: to create works of art for others not just myself, to make meals for those in need even when they don’t ask for them, to go the extra mile when I have a bright idea on how I could uniquely brighten someone’s day. But instead I find myself having all these great ideas on things I could be doing, and the gentle voice of the Lord is saying “Stop. That’s not what I have for you right now.” It’s scary to me because it feels like being thrown back into adolescence, to a time when I couldn’t do things for myself. It’s scary because it requires vulnerability and reliance on others. It’s scary because it feels like weakness.
Being pregnant is a huge long period of breathing in. So it’s no surprise that I find myself antsy and wishing I could breath out. There is a dam of creativity that has been building up this whole time, which makes it oh so tempting to jump into projects the moment they pop into my head. I’m trying so hard not to do things like start a massive garden, launch an Etsy store, or get a puppy. And that is the beauty of being a writer.
It’s portable. I can write anywhere. Even if its on my phone or a post-it note. It can be picked up and set down again. I can set my own deadlines, and if they aren’t met, the consequences aren’t catastrophic. Plus so much of writing has to do with thinking things out ahead of time, which I can do in the car or waiting in line or when I feel like a beached whale and my pregnant belly makes it hard to get up to do something.
But all these micro-writing sessions squeezed into the in-between spaces of my life only barely stave off the imminent creative crisis. Soon the dam will burst, and I’m hoping I can time it right. I’m hoping that something big will be able to happen in October, a specific something. I will have had over nine months of building up to it, so keep a look out. It may just happen. If not October, sometime soon after.
I want to leave this post with a quote from Madeleine L’Engle that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with rhythms and breathing out or in. It just seems appropriate somehow.
“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.”
Sounds like good advice to me.
I read a quote somewhere a few years ago, (I searched but can’t remember where…maybe a Librarian can help me find it someday), that said something along the lines of “We need libraries less than ever before, but we need librarians more than we ever did before.”
As I’m delving into the crazy world of publishing, I’m getting a glimpse of just why that is.
A librarian’s job used to be providing scarce information to those who depended on it. Now, a librarian’s job is to help users navigate an overabundance of information of varying quality. We have so much information at our fingertips that we no longer need to go to a special place to get it. I rarely visit a library anymore. Usually it’s checking out an electronic book from the library on my kindle. And so many of us are trying to be our own librarians. It’s frustrating. How many times have you tried to search for something on google, only to spend an hour sifting through information to find what you need?
Don’t get me wrong, I love being my own librarian. It lets me discover new things I didn’t know I wanted to know. But when it really counts, and I really need to keep my internet distraction time to a minimum, it sure would be handy to have someone to talk to about what I need who could point to it on a shelf and say “this section here, and you don’t know it, but you really should also check out this section because it relates”.
Publishing has had what I consider a sordid past with gatekeeping. I really don’t like the concept of gatekeeping at all, because it implies that someone is censoring what stories I get to read and don’t get to read. But gatekeepers are not the same as librarians. Gatekeeping is censorship. But librarians are guides. They don’t exclude or bar any information from being available. They simply provide a helping hand in me finding what I am looking for.
So how do we find good librarians? Specifically, how do we find the books that we want to read without knowing we want to read them? I tend to gravitate towards book review blogs, whose voices I have come to trust. And of course there’s always word of mouth and recommendations from friends. Every once in awhile I take a chance on a book I’ve heard nothing about just for the fun of discovery. But for the most part, I find my favorite books through a plethora of librarians, even if that ‘librarian’ is a genre category on amazon.
As someone trying to self-publish, this is a little inconvenient. How do I get my book into the hands of readers if I don’t know the librarians who are guiding them towards it, or if there are many librarians? I’m still working on this one. Obviously, I could form friendships with book review sites then ask them to review my book when it comes out. And I probably will. But it seems like there’s more than that.
If Chris Baty, founder of nanowrimo.org, is correct that “the world needs our stories”, and I think he is, then there’s got to be a way to connect that need with those of us who are telling stories. I suspect the key is librarians in many forms.
Oh the things I could say about this. I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading and researching and asking for advice about traditional publishing and self-publishing.
To me, traditional publishing has always been a bit of a pain. It is slow to publish and slow to pay authors. It plays gatekeeper between readers and writers, often preventing the good as well as the bad from being published. The author looses a lot of creative control when it comes to things like title of the book, how the cover looks, and sometimes traditional publishing even requires writers to take out or put in text they don’t want to. The author has no control over price of their book, and they only receive a few cents on the dollar for every book sold.
Plus, the hoops one has to jump through to get the attention of a publisher are agonizing. Once you have a contract with one, it doesn’t even offer the things self-publishing can.
Let me stop here for a moment and say that I have an intense respect for literary agents, despite my opinion that self-publishing is the way to go. Agents are awesome amazing people who work very hard to make writers’ dreams come true. I hope that in the future of publishing, their role expands instead of diminishes.
So, for me, there have always been barriers to self-publishing that in recent years, as the market has stabilized somewhat, have just disappeared.
1. The stigma attached to self-published writers and their works.
People used to think that if you self-published, it meant your work wasn’t good enough to be traditionally published. It may have even counted against an author if they decided to pursue a traditional path later on. That is no longer the case. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s the opposite. If someone manages to self-publish and sell a decent amount of books, they are seen as an entrepreneurial guru. They have proven that they have what it takes. In fact, traditional publishers are offering self-published authors contracts after they have already published with more and more frequency. I didn’t see self-publishing as an option for me before because I was told that’s for failed writers. How different things are now!
Self-publishing was only good for eBooks. Five years ago, it didn’t seem like anyone I knew was reading ebooks so that didn’t seem like the format I wanted to publish in. Brick and mortar stores didn’t carry self-published books. It also was extremely important for an author to have their book in a brick and mortar store because that was how the majority of readers found authors they love.
Three things have changed. First, my own personal desire to see my book in a Barnes and Noble has greatly diminished. I hardly do any of my book shopping there anymore, so I’m less attached to it. I get most of my books online. Second, more people are reading ebooks and I think the majority of readers, even if they buy a print version, encounter books first online before they see them in a store. Third, if an author did wanted their book sold at a brick and mortar store, that is now possible. Not only is it more possible for a self-published author to get their books in stores, it is less important. It’s like a pincher movement meant to make this barrier for me dissolve into the aether.
3. My own view of myself
I used to abhor the idea of being a sales person or a marketer, especially when trying to sell something I created. But over the last two years, that has changed entirely. Now I can easily see myself doing all the things required to handle the business side of writing, including marketing and sales and taxes and all that.
It kind of came down to the realization that I really just wanted someone to hold my hand and believe in my projects enough to get them published, because I didn’t believe in them. Which is silly. If I don’t believe in them, how can I ask readers to do so? What I really needed was to write things I believed in.
I also fell in love with the business side of writing to the extent that the parts I wasn’t too crazy about I’m now willing to do. Remember how I said I really love literary agents? I’m convinced I would enjoy being an agent much more than I would being a writer. Well, with self-publishing, I get to do both things: write and manage the business side of writing.
I have a loooooooong journey ahead of me before I publish any of my writing. I am not like other writers who can write, edit, and polish a book in six weeks and have it on the market two weeks after that. I am a mother and I work full-time, and at some point this year I’m going to have another baby.
Make no mistake, self-publishing requires a lot of time from the author. Most success stories of self-published authors include something along the lines of writing for ten hours every day.
But at least now I know what path is right for me and my work, and I can make progress day by day.
If you want to talk more about publishing, I’d love to chat. Just leave a comment. Any advice for someone just starting on this journey? I’m all ears.
I don’t know how you can be a writer and not read. And read a lot. Yet that’s something I didn’t learn about being a writer until much later than I should have. I grew up thinking a writer just wrote stuff from their brain and never thought about putting material back into it to nurture creativity.
If you are not a writer, reading is still very, very important. It builds empathy. It gives you creative powers. It’s fun. It opens your mind. It’s relaxing. I don’t know how you can enjoy sitting in the sun with a cup of tea unless you have a book in your hands (or ears).
Reading is important.
So without further stuff to get in the way, here are my most ardent book recommendations:
Fantasy: Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones.
She wrote Howl’s Moving Castle, but in my opinion, Dark Lord of Derkholm is her best work. It’s super funny and very intelligent too. Probably a quicker read than most fantasy stories.
Sci-Fi: The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi. Also funny. But my oh my is it a fun adventure that massages the brain and ignites its creativity centers. The world-building is so delicately done that you don’t even realize all the things you know about the world in the first two chapters. The beginning chapter is probably one of my most favorite examples of how to begin a book. It’s just hilarious and breaks a lot of writing rules and still works.
Non-Fiction: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle.
Yes, she wrote A Wrinkle in Time, but these are her thoughts on Christianity and Art. Mostly about art and I’ve found that it really helps me rediscover the artist inside myself when I am feeling uncreative. It’s like a creativity booster. I recommend reading it one chapter at a time and doling it out over a longer period, since you will need to dwell on the concepts she presents. Also, I find that after I read a chapter, I immediately want to go write, so I only get through about a chapter at a time. This book fed my identity as an artist in a way I desperately needed.
Historical Fiction: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This book didn’t get as good reviews as I think it should have. It sounds like it’s a short, little romp into adventure with a lead female character. But really it’s an incredibly intense emotional roller coaster that is anything but short and little, because it will stick in your mind long after you finish reading it. It’s really good writing, too. And it made me feel like I could actually picture what things were like in WWII. I’m always a sucker for WWII settings, though. Something about the danger calls to me.
Young Adult: Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
At first I didn’t like this book, but then it grew on me, and then I realized how essential it is for knowing the current market of YA books. This is where books are headed: away from teenage vampires and wizards and towards adultier versions that are less silly. Even if you don’t relish the thought of reading YA, I believe this is an important read to keep your finger on the pulse of today’s publishing. I feel like this is the bridge from what we used to see in YA to what is next. I would recommend Sarah J Maas’ more recently published series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, but I haven’t read that one yet myself.
What am I currently reading? Too many books. You can check out my Goodreads shelf on the right (or below) or at www.goodreads.com/RJRugroden.
A few years ago I kept asking myself the question if I should go for an MFA in creative writing. Every time someone would mention it or I’d see an ad, I’d think rosy thoughts about a writing utopia of classmates and teachers who would encourage me and me encourage them in turn and I would suddenly become the writer I’ve always wanted to be. Plus I’d make useful connections I could hopefully turn into a publishing career someday.
But then I’d look at the money and the time and the requirements and realize it wasn’t for me.
I stumbled upon this post the other day about a 1000 Day MFA that you do yourself. It reminded me of why I ultimately decided I shouldn’t do an MFA: the biggest benefit I would get from it is self-discipline. (There are others, of course: the mentoring, the connections, etc.) I realized what I really wanted was someone to stand over my shoulder and make me write. Make me read. Make me be disciplined. And I realized that if I really want to be a writer that badly, that person standing over my shoulder should be me.
So a DIY MFA sounds really appealing. I’m not so certain of the specific schedule laid out in that post, but I could certainly tailor my own program to fit my needs. (For instance, the schedule says read at least one novel a month. I can’t do that. I would be desperate for more like four books a month.)
Even if I don’t construct some version of my own 1000 day program, I think it’s important to think about daily habits and how serious this business of writing needs to be. If I am dedicated to my craft and want to accomplish the things I have dreamed about since I was a kid, shouldn’t I make myself into the kind of person who can manage such daily habits on her own without paying $20,000 a year?
(Just so you know, I greatly admire anyone who has gone through an MFA program. There are lots of benefits and reasons to do so. I’m just not in a place where it would benefit me. Perhaps when I’m a more mature writer.)
I have a co-worker who is an incredibly gentle, soft-spoken woman, but who says things that make you realize she has a powerhouse of wisdom behind her and that she could yell truth at you through a single whisper that would change your life forever.
I try to spend as much time around her as I can, just listening to her talk. She’s amazing.
At a meeting last year, she presented us with this TED talk on introversion. In it, Susan Cain talks about how she used to bring loads of books with her to camp, but felt afraid to open up her suit case and take them out to read because all of a sudden the world wasn’t about sitting quietly to read, it was about being outgoing and energetic.
The other day, this co-worker of mine walked in the door, said a quick hi, dumped two bags on the floor, then disappeared again after propping open the door. She came back with three more heavy bags, put them in the same spot, then picked one up. The entryways at my work all have stairs right after them. There is no way you can get anywhere without going up or down stairs. And she is an older woman. Though she is strong, I’m sure, I worry about her sometimes so I offered to carry her bags up for her.
She thanked me and proceeded to her office. I picked up two of the bags (if I wasn’t pregnant I would have tried to take them all), and they were heavier than I expected. I brought them up the two sets of stairs and put them next to her desk. Knowing her well-refined habit of reading, I asked her if they were full of books. She said they were, and went on to say that just having them with her motivates her to get work done. Because if she is able to get all the things done she came in to do, she might have some time leftover to read a book.
When I was just about to go off to college, I packed my backpack with a lot of books and journals and even some drawing pencils “just in case” I had some time to delve into them. They were company. They were friends. They always brought me joy. But my older brother looked at that and said “Oh, Reesha. You’ll learn pretty quickly that you only bring with you what you need in college.”
He was kind of right. I was carrying around way too much weight in my backpack for it to be healthy that first semester, and was saddened to realize that I had to stop carrying EVERY book I was currently reading for fun, on top of my course books and notebooks, and EVERY journal I was either writing or drawing in.
But after college, I always kind of felt like it was wrong to bring unnecessary books with me for some reason. The idea of practicality stopped me from overloading myself with the fun things just in case I might have time to get into them.
And I think my life was less rich for it.
When I got a smart phone, I felt I was in heaven for the first two months. I could read books anywhere and they didn’t cost me an ounce of lifting. I could even write, if I was determined enough. But I soon found myself abandoning those activities on my phone because they just weren’t as romantic as the real thing. Sure, I could capture a thought if I needed to. Or I could take in a paragraph here and there that I needed for information. But reading or writing for pleasure wasn’t really a part of it.
After carrying my co-worker’s books up those steps and realizing that even at her age, she insists on bringing books with “just in case”, it warmed something inside me that had long been ignored.
I felt like I had been given permission to bring things along that I don’t strictly need, no matter how much they weigh. Books are companions. And reading them on a phone is like trying to connect with a loved one through face-time: sure, you can hear and see them, but it just isn’t the same as having them over for a long weekend visit.
I’m very glad I have the ability to read books anywhere at anytime. The thought that I can carry over 3,000 books in my pocket makes me giddy sometimes. God bless technology.
But sometimes you just need the real thing.
So, first I felt like it was suddenly ok to bring books and journals with me again. Even to places where I wasn’t certain I would have time to get into them. But then, I decided to hold onto that forbidden feeling.
The books I read with a flashlight under the covers were always so much more fun than the ones I read during the day on the weekend sitting on the couch. (Actually I rarely read with a flashlight because there was a very powerful street light right outside my window that never turned off. How was I supposed to resist night reading when there was such a perfect set-up? But you get the idea.)
My point is, don’t be afraid to bring your books with you. Even if you don’t get the chance to read them. Susan encouraged her viewers to open up your suitcases and bring out the books you brought. I would encourage you to fill your suitcases with books in the first place.
My husband has been after me about making my bag lighter as it is. He’s started to brainstorm ways I can whittle down the amount of stuff I bring to take care of my toddler. Which is great to have him help innovate my carrying techniques. But I think I’m going to insist on at least one book, and one journal. At least until after I’m done being pregnant. Then I can bring more.
Books are worth it. More importantly, our brains are worth it. Do you even know all the things reading does to our brains? I think that’s another post for a later time.
“I’m giving myself permission to post whatever the hell I want, so I can just get past the internal gatekeeper slash critic who prevents me from using the one space on the Internet that is entirely mine.” – Will Wheaton
From his blog which you can find here.
I have started many blogs and they have fallen by the wayside because I either tried to follow what seemed like good advice about being a niche voice, or I was trying too hard to come up with brilliant posts.
And I forgot that this place on the internet is entirely mine.
Rather, I hope that it is entirely ours.
Back in July of 2016, I got a new job at a place that highly values community and I was like “Ok, sure. Community is good. But I’m here to do a job.” I very quickly learned just how important community is and the difference it could make. It’s not just a good thing for a blog or an author or readers. It’s THE thing. It is exactly what I want for this blog.
So please join me here in this space, and know that you are welcome to feel at home here. I hope to foster a little pocket of community where we can explore and get excited about many things, have fun, educate one another, etc.
I’ll admit I don’t really know how to do that yet, but I’m going to be thinking about it a lot in the next few weeks. If you have any suggestions on ways to make this space more welcoming and more community oriented, I would love to hear from you.
Excited to build this space together.
I keep flip flopping between these two thoughts:
“I definitely want to go the traditional publishing route. Working with an agent and a publisher would be so much fun!”
“I am definitely going to self-publish because it’s such a viable option now and I could have control over every part of the process. It would be exciting to do it all myself.”
Right now I’m on the second part of the flip flop. What changed my mind?
I was making a writing schedule for the next two years to plan out when my book(s) would be finished and when I could reasonably expect them to be ready for publication if I put myself on deadlines. This is something I’m always doing and redoing. It’s a way to procrastinate from writing, actually. Even though it usually ends up getting me to think “Oh wow. I better get to it, then.”
When I got to the part where I submit my finished and polished and edited novel to an agent, I started writing up all kinds of schedules for when to start writing my next book and when I would do each round of submissions. And then I hit a problem. I couldn’t determine with any certainty when, or if ever, I would land an agent and a publishing deal. And it made me stop to think about all the rejection letters I’ve gotten on my previous project, and what that whole thing felt like.
I was never very disappointed with any particular rejection letter that I can recall. I expected to get at least some rejections. That wasn’t what made me stop and cringe at the idea of going through the process again. It was the idea that I would put lots and lots of work into seeking out a traditional publishing route, and not be guaranteed any results. For my last project, I spent hundreds of hours writing and tweaking queries, personalizing them after researching each agent I was submitting to. I felt really good about having done everything I could to put my best foot forward, including writing a really good novel. But it just never worked out.
Now I am a mom of a toddler, with another one on the way, and I can see my writing time slipping away as I make writing schedules and have to completely block off two months because of giving birth and recovering. So the thought of putting the precious hours I manage to carve out for writing towards marketing and the fact that they may not even pay off makes me kind of sick to my stomach. And not because of the pregnancy either.
Part of the reason I wanted an agent so badly is because I am obsessed with the business side of writing. I think I would actually enjoy being an agent much more than being a writer. (But there’s no way for me to get an internship with an agency while living in Minnesota. Grrrr.) So I really wanted to work closely with one, see them in action, be fascinated by all the wonderful strings they pull and things they do to make writer’s dreams come true.
Well, if I can’t become a literary agent, what better way to satisfy my desire to get in on the nitty gritty of publishing than to self-publish? Plus, in the end, I am guaranteed a result of being published. No promises on how well the book will sell or how many road blocks I will come up against that I will have to solve on my own. But even with traditional publishing, there are no promises.
So that’s where I’m headed, as of today. There may be something along the line in the next few months that makes me want to go back to traditional publishing. Maybe I spot a new agent who is directly looking for what I am writing. Or I start to doubt myself and my abilities to get my own work out there. Or the thought of writing a query letter and sending it off to lots of agents suddenly sounds appealing again.
I know I said I don’t have much time to write. Who does with kids? And that may prove to be the deciding factor since self-publishing takes a lot more time on the author’s part than traditional publishing (or so I’ve been told). But…I still think I can do it. I would rather put in three times the amount of hours than it takes to go the traditional publishing route and know I’ll have something to show for it than put in less time and have nothing.
If anyone has any ideas on how someone from Minnesota could become a literary agent, I’m all ears. Why are there no agencies in Minnesota and why are they all still in New York (and other major cities not near me) when we have such a thing as telecommuting?
(The obvious answer is that one can become a literary agent simply by saying “I am a literary agent” and putting together a website and then waiting for clients. But the thought of doing that scares me because…I would be in charge of people’s dreams and I know what it’s like to be the writer with a dream, hoping they put their trust in the right person. I’m pretty sure I would need an internship or some equivalent to be able to do it right.)
By Franz Schrotzberg (Own work, Robertsan1, 2009-11-24) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Last night I had a dream that I was fumbling around in college, not remembering where my classes were or getting homework done. And I felt panic because there was this big, wide world full of possibilities that was going to pass me by if I didn’t get my life together. I rushed to my dorm (because apparently my dream forgot that I never lived in a dorm during college), grabbed a pen and some sticky notes, and wrote down three lines of something to organize my life. As soon as I did that, the dream-me had a sense of peace, purpose, and excitement. Then I woke up.
Maybe it’s the dream or maybe it was the nice relaxing weekend I had. But today seems filled with a sense of purpose. On my drive into work today, all I could think about was how much stuff I was going to get done, and how it was going to be the right stuff. I figured it couldn’t hurt to do what I did in the dream, so I wrote down three lines of whatever came to my head:
Today I am feeling a sense of purpose.
Today I am supposed to be working on my to do list.
Today I am going to write.
I’ve felt a sense of something negative dogging my thoughts anytime I sit down to write lately. Whether it’s a sense of guilt, or of missing the mark, or of trying to be fake I don’t know. At CONvergence, one writer confessed that he has nightmares every now and then that his publishing company will call him up and say “We’ve discovered you’re not a real writer and we would like all our money back please.” (This is someone who’s published over 20 novels.)
I’m aware that writer’s tend to be hard on themselves. That there are often voices of doubt and weary where there shouldn’t be. To be honest, it kind of amuses me because that is something you don’t often see in the world. Writers are very sweet and at their core, humble. Because we’re all afraid that we’re just faking it, so we’re afraid to be pompous.
Anyways, I just want to say to any writers out there who might feel that cloud of writerly woe hanging over them: tell that cloud “not today”. Today, you are a writer, and today, you get to do what you do best.
May a sense of hearty purpose and peaceful perspective follow you throughout today.