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.
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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?

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5 Tips For Fighting Burn-Out: Learning Limits And Finding Gratitude

For those of you in America or from America, I’d like to wish you a very merry Thanksgiving. For the rest of you, I hope you have a great day.

I knew, going into November, that NaNoWriMo might not happen. The first couple days I was going to be a writing convention, I have a massive work deadline coming up in early December, plus, there’s that whole family and holiday thing you might have noticed is happening. But still, I had hope and plans.

However, I’ve had to take a step back and reassess. Here are my:

5 Steps For Avoiding Burn Out

Step 1 – Recognize Your Limits

As my work deadline approaches, my day-job hours have kept growing, eating into my writing time. When Tuesday turned into a 14-hour workday, I just couldn’t handle it. I tossed about 200 words on the page and crashed out hard.

I was too plain exhausted to pull out more words. I now know that 10-12 hours is about all the productivity I have in me during a given day. If work uses it up, then I have to recognize that it’s okay for me to let the writing slip a little.

Step 2 – Reassess Your Goals

This past Monday, I decided to stop worrying about stretching a middle-grade novel to 50,000 words and toss my blog post word count into my NaNoWriMo total. (I’m a rebel!) 

I felt disappointed in myself, in my progress, in the fact that I couldn’t stretch myself to make it work. However, looking back on my past NaNoWriMo wins, they happen when life and day job aren’t getting in the way and I admitted at the start of this month that they might.

As the month wears on, I’m contemplating aiming for 1,000 words a day (on average) instead of that NaNo dream of 1,666 words per day. I hate to concede, but at some point, you have to recognize when you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re gonna get burnt out.

Step 3 – Recognize Your Needs

I have a chocolate stash, easy microwave dinners, and a comfy bed. Despite my writer-self telling me it is, getting my word count in is honestly a want, not a need. In order to get words in, I need 3 things:

  • Energy – I need to not have used all my energy at work. I need to be reasonably rested. I need to be able to focus on things without my vision blurring over.
  • Cope  – I need energy and a minimal of top-priority things fighting for my attention. Being able to prioritize and feel like I’m at least treading water, not actively sinking helps a lot.
  • Downtime – I used to have a commute to contemplate story ideas. These days? I’ve got a 9-minute commute which is amazing and I love. But doesn’t give me quiet time to think. Maybe I need to start using that elliptical I picked up second hand and spend that time on story contemplation. Or keep watching the new Duck Tales, because my brain needs a break. I cannot keep going from 12 hours at my day job staring at code directly home to write. It’s breaking me.

Step 4 – Give Yourself Credit

You might be disappointed in your output – your word count, your plotting, your writing itself. Your story might be a hot mess. But those experts say that it takes 10,000 hours of something to become an expert. You’re working on writing under pressure, practicing deadlines, and even if you’re missing them?

  • A – They give a great breeze when they race by
  • B – You’re still closer to the end of your novel than you were before you started. Be it 50 words or 50 pages, you’re making progress.
  • C – You likely have a better idea of what you want your novel to look like. Be it “I know how to fix this” or even just “now I know that won’t work”
  • D – You likely have a better feel for your characters and their voices. Maybe you’ll have to start over from scratch… but I bet when you look at it again, you might find sections you can use wholesale.

Step 5 – Practice Gratitude

I don’t know what things in your life make you smile, but hopefully, there are many things. And if not? Maybe it’s time to make changes that will get you there.

For me? I’m grateful for many things:

  • My friends and family who love and care for me – and have me lined up to attend 3 Thanksgiving celebrations on 3 consecutive days.
  • How supportive my friends, family, and writing community are.
  • My quiet, comfortable home where I write.
  • My day job that stretches my skills, teaches me more, and is full of welcoming and enthusiastic people.
  • My creativity and writing skills
  • That I learned how to touch type.
  • Electricity and the internet. Because my life kinda revolves around them.
  • My health (and health insurance).
  • Um… I feel like this is when I should say something “and viewers like you”

If you’re starting to feel strung out, look at why. Is it because you’re not used to writing so much and it’s taking an adjustment period? Or is it because your non-writing obligations and life are taking their own toll on you. Only you can decide if you can cut things out of your life, or if your writing needs to be trimmed back a bit.


Have you had to deal with burn out? Did you just take a break or were there other things that helped? Let me know!

Wishing you all a happy and drama-free Thanksgiving.

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

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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

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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

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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.

6 Tips to Recharge Your Creative Energies

There are times in every writer’s life when they need to step back and refill their creative juices.

Most of us can only write and create, filling all our possible writing time with words, for so long. It doesn’t matter if the words flowed freely from brain to paper, or if each word written was hard won, recharging is a thing that everyone can use from time to time.

And don’t get me started on the doldrums of editing when you’ve done three rounds and you feel like you’ll never finish…

But recharging can look different for different people. So, I thought long and hard–or you know, at least 15 seconds–about how I spend my downtime and asked a few of my writing friends exactly what they do to recharge. Here are six of our answers:
  1. Ben L says: “I write poetry, because it exercises my writing but in such a different way that it recharges me. Especially form poetry with lots of rhyming and rules, because then I can feel the freedom when I go back to prose. (This can just be limericks if you don’t feel confident in sonnets or villanelles, but haiku doesn’t help much, at least for me.)
  2. According to Patrick H., what he needs is something completely different. “I get entirely away from my creative process, usually via computer games. That’s when my characters tell me they’re tired and they need to stop working through drama.” But he adds a caveat to that advice, to be careful what sort of games you’re playing. “I had to stop playing Civ 3 because it was getting in the way of writing, though for a different reason. (Apparently, six-hour gaming sessions on high difficulty levels are tiring?)
  3. Kimberly B shares, “I find strolling through a bookstore or library helps invigorate me. It’s also really helpful to have other creative outlets that I have no pressure to be good at. Dancing used to be that for me, before we started performing.
  4. Marti P? She says, “I like to search around on Pinterest, read good books in my genre & watch good movies.”
  5. Anup M likes to “treadmill or take a nap or simply keep it away for a day or two.
  6. And me? Well, I like to binge watch Netflicks, read a few books in my massive to-read pile, and try to remember what the gym looks like.

How do you recharge?

P.S. If one eye looks off, I’m recovering from pink eye right now. But! I did manage to rough draft that new opening scene. Waiting on feedback now!