There is No Finish Line: Momentum for Writers

Welcome to Part 8 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

Experienced writers who have been on the roller coaster for a while know the big secret: you never really “make it.” Just because you’ve sold one book doesn’t mean you’ll sell the next one, and just because you didn’t sell the last one doesn’t mean the next one won’t hit big. Our panel offers tips and strategies for maintaining the will to keep creating.

The titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 consisted of panelists Joshua Bilmes (as moderator), D.H. Aire, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Edelman, and L. Marie Wood


Of all the panels I hit at Virtual Balticon, this is literally the one I’ve been wrestling with the most. Especially this month, but honestly, everytime I get rejected. I want to look at my work and see what I can do better.

When we talk about momentum for writers, we’re talking about when things are going well, versus productivity grinding to a halt. We’re talking the long term, not the day-to-day grind.

7 Struggles Of Getting Work or Finishing Work

  1. If there’s a deadline, that can be a way to know you’re done
  2. Sometimes you can think you’re done, but your editor sends it back to you
  3. Work often comes in feast or famine — either more than you can handle or crickets
  4. Never give up, never surrender. As long as it’s something you find worth the effort.
    • It took Scott Edelman 44 years to get a piece accepted by Asimov’s, but he kept trying (and getting many of those works published elsewhere).
    • Or, in Joshua Bilmes’s words, “if I saw you trying to get a car unstuck from the ice like that, I’d tell you get get a tow truck.” If you’re stuck on something, maybe it’s time to try something new or get some help.
  5. Decide how much you want to prioritize your writing
    • L. Marie Wood put off starting a family because her career was getting momentum
  6. Rule 1 – never give up your day job. Selling a short story for $25 isn’t gonna pay the bills, (even if you can always resell it when the rights revert.) You need benefits. (At least in the States)
  7. Don’t be a shark in the writing world — online or at conventions. Don’t see people as connections you can use to advance your career — people will always find out if you’re using them. Network — but to make friends. And be willing to help them as much as you ask for help from them.

8 Ways To Keep Your Momentum Up

  1. Allow the first draft to suck
    • Instead of noodling over the first 3 chapters for the rest of your life, accept that the majority of the words are going to be the word “the” anyway.
  2. Have a variety of projects in a variety of stages
    • If writing one story isn’t going well, try a different one — new characters, new settings, new worlds might help
    • If fiction writer brain needs a break, maybe editor brain is good. You can do line edits if you want simple tasks, or revising and re-conceptualizing the whole piece if brainstorming is more where you’re at.
  3. Feed your creativity
    • Read books (in and out of your genre)
    • Watch shows
    • Take a walk and drink in the world around you
  4. If you can’t write what you love, see if you have other stories in you
    • L. Marie Wood writes psychological horror, but it was too close to home when she had kids. Que writer’s block for 9 years. So, she wrote other things – mysteries and gardening and other articles.
  5. When life hits you, it’s okay to pivot
    • For DH Aire, in one year his lease suddenly ended and his father was dying, so he couldn’t write book 5. Instead, he started a novella, so he didn’t have to use as much brain. It ended up at 75k words…
  6. When deadlines won’t move, try to create an outline and get the words out the best you can. Then pray you have time to edit.
  7. Give yourself permission to not be god-like. Stop telling yourself “I’m supposed to write something meaningful. Change the world. Better than anything I’ve ever written before.”  — let it go. It’s a career. You’ll learn from that story how to write a better story. But you need to move on.
    • As Scott Edelman says, he couldn’t have written his favorite story without having written the twenty before it.
  8. The pandemic has been HARD. Be kind to yourself.
    • Joshua Bilmes couldn’t get edits done during March, so he did other stuff. When writing your own work, publishers will often extend a due date, if needed. Just don’t ask this if you don’t have to.

Making It Past Those Make-Or-Break Points

Writing is a tough field. Sharing your dreams and sweat and soul with strangers and hoping for a connection. But, we all have those make-or-break points — often dozens of times — where we have to decide if we’re gonna keep going, or if we’re gonna invest our time on something with maybe a more guaranteed return-on-investment.

For Scott Edelman – He’s still got a dayjob. After writing comics in the 70s, he wanted to write his own stuff and was tired of collaborating. He’ll quit jobs that get in the way of his writing.

For Keith – As a former editor, he saw what worked, what didn’t, and what was overdone. And it gave him connections. But knowing people, while helpful just for pitching, doesn’t mean you can get away with writing things that don’t suck. It can help you know the market and know opportunities coming.

For D.H. Aire, back in ’08/’09, he was unemployed and his marriage was ending. He wondered if he was writing stories good enough to get published. So, he entered one in a little writing.com contest. He won first place and got in an ezine. Then? One of his serialized stories from writing.com got picked up by a small press. Next, he got asked to contribute to an anthology. From writing.com, to the anthology, to the conventions he hits, he’s created his own creative network that encourages him, challenges him, and lets him know where new opportunities arise.

For L. Marie Wood – The convention world is her tribe, but she’s only been back for 2-3 years. During her 9 year drought, she wasn’t here. But? When people would compliment her local paper articles or her students would ask and she could answer everything… Not keeping it to herself helped. Hearing others say that she still had it gave her the confidence to go back to her writing. “You haven’t lost it all, it’s just sleeping”


Writing is one of those things that you can always come back to. Which is part of the attraction and part of the struggle. Only you can decide if the benefits outway the costs.

Making Write-Ins Work For You – Virtual or Live

Ah! April of 2020! With corona quarantines, for us writers (especially you Camp NaNoWrimers) the only type of write-in most of us are attending these days is virtual.

Now, I don’t know how your write-ins work, but these are the guidelines I follow, to get the most out of any write-in — virtual or not.

Some write-ins are just people sitting there, online or not, typing away. But, most of the ones I’ve hit (maybe because this ambivert is a social creature) tend to be a mixture of social and writing.

5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of A Write-In

  1. Pick a modest goal

    You’re here to write. And socialize. Sure, you can ignore the other people, but if so, why are you even there? (Okay, it’s probably peer pressure, to keep on track. No shame there).

    Most of the write-ins I’ve attended, I’ve ended up spending about half the allotted time writing, and half the time socializing (or being weirded out at how super quiet it was, then falling down the rabbit-hole of research or cleaning up my google drive folders).

    Long story short — expect to get as much writing done during 2 hours of a write-in as you would during 1 hour by yourself.
  2. Break your goal into discrete tasks

    My most productive time at write-ins tend to be during writing sprints. Someone will set a timer and then we’ll write for 10-20 minutes. After, we’ll chat, get snacks, then refocus and go again.

    How I make sprints work for me is I pick a discrete task:
    – create a list of names for characters
    – edit the rest of this chapter
    – find out how long it takes to travel from Loxley to Sherwood
    – decide what the next scene will be about
    – write that scene
    – write the dialogue

    You get the point. Something zoomed in and focused. Maybe it’s 50 words, maybe it’s 500. Set a goal that’s within your reach.
  3. Be competitive

    Make that peer pressure work for you.

    If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than you did last time (or at least not dropping below your average), race yourself.

    If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than other people, try to best the rest of the group (or at least beat the person you were closest to last time.)
  4. Embrace the breaks

    You’re at a write-in to write — but also to socialize, to network, to make friends (and potential critique partners). You’re there to hang out with people who understand why getting the story of some imaginary people RIGHT matters so much to you.

    Accept that the time won’t be 100% on writing, and welcome the friends you can make.
  5. Make Sure Your Equipment Is Ready

    If you’re in person, make sure you’ve brought everything you need — be it pen and pad, or laptop, power cord, extension cord, and mouse.

    If it’s a virtual write-in, test your microphone — and if needed, your video camera — ahead of time. Adjust the lighting, the equipment, your setup location for comfort — and productivity. Make sure you know how to use the app and that you’ve got the time right, or you’ll lose time you don’t want to tech support.

    In both places, you may want a drink and a snack. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Even if write-ins weren’t your thing, if you’re feeling isolated, you may want to try them again.

If you’ve never attended a write-in, or had a bad experience, try it again. With the write right group, it could be exactly what you need.


Do like write-ins? Do you hate them?
Tell me about your write-in experiences!

Writing As Sanctuary

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.

  • Non-dystopian post-apocalypse
  • The Holocaust
  • Mother-daughter relationships
  • 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.
Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

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
  • Or!
  • 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?

A Lot.

and

Do you write as a sanctuary for your readers?

YES.

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?

Writer’s Block – Intimidated By The Blank Page

I never thought it would happen to me.

I was arrogant and short-sighted.

I thought writer’s block was censoring out bad writing (you know, like rough drafts), an inability to apply butt-to-seat, or thinking you’re going in the wrong direction but not knowing the right one.

I didn’t think the blank page could scare me until I decided it was time for me to try something new.

Now? I understand.

Searching for a story

For the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize it’s time for me to start something new.

But what? A new story in my old world? A new world? A story in the real world?

And whose story should I tell?

I’ve been rolling settings and motivations around in the back of my brain. Letting ideas flow through my head without conscious attention, enjoying the feel of the endless possibilities.

And tiptoeing around my fears.

The thoughts that intimidate me?

Hand holding a magnifying glass

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Basically all the good reporter questions:

  • Who are my characters?
  • What do they want? What’s their goal? What stands in their way?
  • When and where is this set? [Either in the real world or on a technological advancement scale.]
  • Why? Why is this my story? Why do the characters want their goal?

Behind these questions, though, is where my real fears lurk.

Maybe what I’ve already written is better than any new world. Maybe the manuscript I’m querying was just a fluke. I know that story better than this vague inkling of an idea, how could I possibly do this new story justice?

Except, of course:

Signpost

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Only Way Out Is Through

I’d contemplated and thought about my first world for years before I wrote it.

This new story? These new characters? This new world? They’re all so durn new to me, they’re basically transparent. I don’t know them yet, how can I even imagine I could tell their tale?

But then I remember, it took me three attempts to figure out my first world, to actually get past that 20,000-word mark and get the full story out of me. Three tries before I committed and followed the story till it was long enough.

You know what happened AFTER I finished writing 131,000 words in my then-brand-new manuscript?

After I finished and looked around is when I began to realize the theme of my story–what it had been working toward the whole time. And every draft, it becomes clearer and stronger and better plotted.

The only way for me to know for sure what story is trying to come out of me is for me to write it.

So now what?

A path through a garden

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

My (Writing) Path Forward

They say every writer works differently, and that sometimes a writer’s method will even change from story-to-story.

My plan right now is to try what worked for me the last couple times.

Writing Plan

  1. Pick a setting
  2. Pick a character
  3. Do a stupidly high-level outline. Something like:
    • ch 1 – inciting incident
    • ch 2 – complain to a friend
    • … ch 19- final battle!
    • ch 20 – denoument
  4. Start at a beginning (likely 2 chapters early while I explore the world and main character) and write until I get stuck
  5. Look at the outline. Either:
    • it helps
    • or
    • I need to rewrite the outline cause I’m going a different direction

When you’re starting a new project, what’s your process?

Do you just wait for a new idea to intrigue you and start writing while it’s fresh?

Or do you decide when you want to write something new and seek out that new idea?

As always, thanks for watching and feel free to subscribe (<<<<) I’ll be back again next Thursday with more writing tips and writerly musings. If there’s something you’d like me to talk about, feel free to email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com. See you next week.