As an American with a Pagan dad and a Southern Baptist mom, I celebrate both Solstice and Christmas. As a person with friends who love hosting over-the-top parties, every year I spend a couple days helping prep for a massive New Years Eve party.
I know I’m fortunate to be at a company that shuts down for a week at the end of December. My previous company didn’t but it’s a great way to help cut down some of the holiday stress. Or give me more time to fill with family and friends…
And believe me, my schedule has been jam-packed. Full of people I love, but definitely busy.
There was one thing though, that I missed. Despite my moderately-distracted efforts.
I missed the taste of wonder, of peace, of heart-filling joy that I usually can find this time of year.
For me? Usually, it’s after sunset. Either outside, in the still and the quiet of the night, with the chill nipping at my nose and the moon shining down. Or inside, with all the lights turned down low, just sitting and basking in the light of my tree.
Well, I found a quiet moment outside with the moon shining down — took a picture, and ran off to the Solstice celebration a friend was hosting.
I found a few evenings with my lights turned low and my tree all aglow. But, I didn’t get my sense of basking.
I don’t know if I was distracted or tired or if I just wasn’t in the proper frame of mind, but I missed it.
Now, this isn’t to say I’ve had a bad holiday! Not by any stretch of the imagination. Minimal drama, seeing almost all of those I love, lovely and thoughtful gifts, delicious food. All the things that make the season bright. But I missed the magic.
As for my writing?
I’ve done nothing this month. But, that’s not unusual for me with my post-NaNo hangover, chore backup, and seasonal plans.
Some reading? Yes.
Some incorporation of beta-reader feedback? Only read the summary.
Some blogging? Of course.
Now? I sit and contemplate what I want to do next. I’ve debated incorporating the feedback and hopping back on the query road, revising a rough draft, or finding a new project.
Because? There’s the never-ceasing sensation that a deadline is looming. Only one problem with that. This writing thing? The only deadlines for are the ones I give myself. I have no agent, no editor, no contracts. True, I’d like to have that sense of ‘done’, that feeling of accomplishment. But there is no one, other than myself, staring at the calendar and waiting for me to finish. To find a publisher or publish it myself.
I think need to take a break from the writing until I’m ready. Until I’m excited once more to see how much better I can make my story. Until I’m ready to dive back into the query trenches or the editing doldrums. Until I can find the magic again.
Meanwhile? I’ll think about my worlds, I’ll take notes when inspired, and I’ll keep blogging–sharing advice I’ve received from people who DO have deadlines and have already found their audience.
And? I’ll read.
Did you celebrate the holidays? Did you find your joy?
If you’re writing for yourself, do you have trouble letting yourself take a break?
(I haven’t put any of my fiction up here, so this is a first. Just a short vignette I wrote this week.)
She’d had to cram a year of work into a few short months. That’s when her stasis ended. The magic that took the year and compressed it for her gave her just long enough to do her work.Four months out from delivery wasnow when they could calculate what might be wanted andwhat would be needed. It was part of the deal she’d made.
For much of the year, the little onesexperimented and worked on pet projects, lived their lives, grew their families. But once she awoke, it was time for all-hands on deck, around-the-clock work. They had deals through many of the large manufacturers: two percent of the merchandise would be delivered there for her purposes. It was easy to get these deals when you got in early…
You know me, I rarely repost other people’s stuff, but…
One of the bloggers I follow has decided to donate £1 to The Dogs Trust for every blog or author’s book link that is commented on his post! And he’ll share your blog link on his website for the next year.
A way to promote your blog AND help puppies? Who could resist.
I know it’s been a while, but now that I made it through November, I’m back to sharing my panel notes. For World Fantasy Con, some of the panels turned more into suggested reading lists, but for now, I’m going to go through the other panels, in the order I experienced them.
I attended “Writing As Sanctuary” at World Fantasy Con. I went into this panel expecting to hear stories of authors using their writing as either escapism or as a tool to process stressors in their lives. Escapism either as a distraction from real-world issues, OR as a way to create a new world, with those issues fixed.
The actual discussion was a lot more nuanced, but less focused.
The panelists were Jacob Baugher, JD Blackrose, JL Gribble, and K. Ceres Knight, moderated by Anna La Voie.
The discussion started off exploring the motivations behind people’s writing and the reoccurring themes they explored, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Most wrote for themselves — but with the intent of publication — seeking that external validation. Only a few used their writing to explore alternative choices — either personally or historically.
Themes They Found In Their Writing
Some writers write themes explicitly into their work. Others only recognize it when they begin editing. And sometimes? You only recognize your themes when the same issues keep coming up, novel after novel. Here were some of the themes the panelists found in their writing – intentionally or not.
Cyberpunk — in order to have control over their world
Which is better: To Be Writing or To Have Written?
It’s a reality for many of us writers — the process itself can be agony. I found it inspiring to hear how much of a struggle even published writers still find it. And how many also resort to procrasti-cleaning!
Some, like Baugher, were shocked to learn people could enjoy writing. He forces words out and is working on trying to change his own mindset.
Sometimes, real-world tragedies strike too close to home and you can’t write. Blackrose spoke of knowing when to push through, and when to step back. Then, when it’s time to return to the keyboard, she aims for just 500 words to regain her momentum.
Writing a novel is intimidating and that can make it hard to start. But 30,000 sounds a lot more doable. You can approach writing like Blackrose. She just wrote 30,000 words four times, and she had a novel.
Gribble uses gamification to get her words in. She wrote her 3rd novel, just using 5-minute sprints. Her best writing day was also the day she washed all of the windows.
Many of us, like Knight, love writing — when inspired. But most of her writing is deadline based.
Do you find sanctuary in a private journal?
Some writers swear by them. I know many writers who collect journals by the trunkful. But, advice doesn’t always sync up with reality so I was curious how these writers would answer. How useful are they in practice?
Some, like Gribble, find them a waste of words. Why journal when you could be writing paying work?
Some use it for free writing when the words just won’t flow. Baugher uses this process about once a week as a sort of 10-minute warm-up for his novel writing — his is mostly profanity.
Blackrose doesn’t journal per se, but she blogs…
Major life events can make journaling helpful. Knight only found herself journaling when she going through her divorce.
Some use it to manage stress. La Voie only journals sporadically but she finds it helps with her anxiety.
Knight and I agree: no writing is ever a waste. You’re always learning, always practicing.
What works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for you. Journal only if you’re actually getting something out of it.
Do you have your own writing sanctuary?
Now, me? I have a desk in a library alcove off my family room. But ever since I got a laptop, I find myself on my couch for most of my writing, with the occasional restaurant-based write-in. Not that I haven’t snuck words in at work or on my smartphone. There’s a reason I use GoogleDocs — it can auto-sync, you can use it offline, and it’s available for free on all my devices. I might not be the Google fangirl I was before they dropped 8 of the products I’d adopted… but some habits die hard.
But, I always find it fascinating to learn where other writers work.
Some, like Knight, can write anywhere that’s relatively quiet.
Some, like Gribble have home offices. But?
She NEVER uses it to write in.
She spends most of her time in Starbucks, on her couch, or the counter in her kitchen.
Gribble WILL, however, edit her writing in that perfect home office.
Some, like Blackrose, will write anywhere — even at her day job when things are slow.
Some libraries, like Blackrose’s, have writing centers you can use
On Sundays, she has permission to use the Writer-In-Resident’s office — it makes her feel like a ‘real’ writer!
And some have home offices they actually write in!
Baugher came home from a convention and found his wife had turned their 2nd bedroom into an office for him.
Do you use writing as an escape from life?
This question could have gone in so many directions, but somehow we got back to procrasti-cleaning again. As a procrasti-cleaner myself, I was happy to be in such good company.
You can use laundry to avoid writing like Blackrose
You can use writing sprints as breaks from chores like Gribble
You can leave the house to go write, so you can avoid laundry altogether, like Knight.
How much do you reread before you restart your writing?
Personally, I only skip back a paragraph or two and then push on from there. I keep waiting for there to be a right answer to this. But of course, with all things writing related, it’s a matter of preference.
Some read just the start of the current scene, like Gribble.
Some, like Baugher, like to leave notes or hints for what’s going to happen in the next scene.
Some reread it all.
Some, like Blackrose, use the first 7,000 to 15,000 words as a sort of giant outline, and then fill in.
Some write in layers. First getting the action out and the plot, then coming back and filling in the descriptive narrative, like Knight.
Critiques That Made You Regret Sharing Your Writing
Even if writing isn’t your sanctuary, it can be scary to share your words and thoughts with the world. And sometimes, critics can be harsher than they know.
For Baugher’s first writing workshop, for his first critique ever, another writer told him, “Stop writing now — this sucks!”
One writer’s mother doesn’t do fantasy, and after they opened up and shared their novel, the response was, “how do you think of these things?”… and not in an awed sort of tone.
Gribble once had a critic complain about the orgy. One problem? Her novel contains ZERO orgies…
Knight once watched a teacher lay into a fellow classmate for half-assing the assignment. Which, not only was discouraging for the student in question, but also, I’d imagine, inhibiting the other students from trying new things.
Blackrose once wrote a Seders in Space humor piece, pulling from her own experiences. A non-Jewish friend hated it and felt it mocked the Jewish stereotypes. Her Jewish friends and family loved it.
And the two final questions from the panel? The answers were in unison.
How does marketing interfere with the sanctuary of writing?
Do you write as a sanctuary for your readers?
So, a bit more of an exploration of their lives as writers, but altogether a panel I enjoyed.
Do you use writing as a sanctuary?
Do you use books as a sanctuary? What are some of your favorites?
After last week’s post on avoiding burn out, I thought I’d give myself a break. But, I’ve got a few confessions to make…
On Accepting Limits
Writer Confession #1: I am, indeed, quite bad at taking my own advice.
Once I’ve accomplished a thing two or three times, I have trouble letting myself stop. See: this blog. See also: my NaNo word count. Even when it might not be the healthiest choice for me.
Instead of accepting the inevitable, I’ve buckled down and written past my bedtime every night since we last spoke. I wrote while on a date, I wrote at one of the three Thanksgiving’s I attended, I wrote through an evening visiting my mother. As a coder-by-day, I’ve taken my work laptop home to meet deadlines and wrote during the 3 minute breaks while my new code was compiling.
As expected, everything non-essential in my life is being sorely neglected and I’m eagerly burning the candle at both ends, praying for December.
On being a Plantser
Writer Confession #2: My story looks nothing like I intended. (or at least, expected)
Instead of kids saving parents from a brain-washing book, my story is ninety percent about a school play. Then again, as I sort of had the 90’s TV show “Wishbone” in my head as my mental concept of what sort of story to aim at a Middle Grade audience, I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising.
There are several meal scenes that likely serve no purpose — although, of course, I can probably fix that in edits. Although, I probably shouldn’t repeat a breakfast scene unless I make it part of my character’s preferences? Why have I decided that my characters love bacon and breakfast foods? Well, I mean, who (whose diet includes pork) doesn’t?
Warning — if you write a story that centers around books and a play, that means you’re gonna have to sort of plot ALL of these things. Separately!
My play currently has roles such as “Sworsdswoman”, “Storyteller”, and “Sidekick”. I made up half a song from another non-existent kids’ musical about “The Flannel Bear” (my world’s Velveteen Rabbit, which my sister was in during OUR middle-school years). [If enough people ask, I might post a video singing it for you. Although, be warned, I can follow a tune, but I can’t carry one.]
With the changes in my story, I’m not really sure what a satisfying ending will look like, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to end at the cast party, so that’s what I’m writing towards now.
On Novel Prep Work
Writer Confession #3: My prep work wasn’t actually a waste of time.
Despite my story looking nothing like I intended, my first 9 chapters almost aligned, and then it kinda went sideways because of the new direction.
But! Working out the main characters, their personalities and families was helpful. Charting out that the two main characters would alternate chapters and would be friends but NOT romantically invested has been a cornerstone of my novel.
And? My massive list of random names definitely came in handy to help me keep up my pace while writing. Although, next time, I should note who they got assigned to. Especially when they only get mentioned once or twice.
On Writing Sprints
Writer Confession #4: My novel would NOT exist without these.
Three years ago, I started using Twitter to ‘clock in’, as sort of a type of accountability. Usually something like, “It’s 9pm and I’m clocking in”. Last year, NaNoWriMo.org created sprint timers integrated in their website where you could invite people to your sprints and race each other for the most words. Or, at least, have a focused 15 minutes where you could usually convince yourself to ignore social media and just write.
The timer breaks this massive “must write all the words” into an achievable chunk. 50,000 words sounds intimidating. 1,666 words a day seem to drag on forever. But 10 minutes? 15 minutes? I can sprint that long.
This year? My NaNo region has a Discord channel. It’s a chat application (often used by online gamer and, it can do audio), that has a sprint feature built in. You type in “_sprint” and anyone can join in. When the timer goes off, you enter how many words you’ve written and it tallies the ‘winner’.
Knowing you’re not writing alone, seeing everyone else’s progress, and comparing your own words-per-minute against your results last sprint can be very encouraging. Or shame you into focusing better next sprint. I’ll even sprint against myself, if no one else is on. But, there are early writers, day writers, and evening writers. You can usually find someone on the channel
On Rewarding Myself
Writer Confession #5: It’s all about TV and chocolate.
I got a large box of dark chocolate and orange truffles as my NaNo writing treat. They’ve lasted a lot better than I’d feared. I’m not sure if I’ve slowed down my consumption as I’ve gotten used to them, or if I greatly overestimated how fast I was going through them. Because the store sell them in bags of 15, and I got a box of a 150.
My daily reward for getting my words in? Getting to go to bed.
And if I have a spare hour, I’ve been catching up on the new Doctor Who. But really? I’m looking at the December 5th arrival of season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as my reward for making it through NaNoWriMo.
Confess to me! Does your writing look like you expected it to? What about your writing process?
If you’re not a writer, how do you handle deadlines and staying focused?