Book Update (and Back on the Chain Gang)

So. A lot has happened since I took my blog hiatus. Like a lot! 

First off... I signed with SparkPress to get my first book published!  

Yeah, I know! I can't believe it either! Part of the problem with being a writer is you have to build up a really thick skin to keep going. Otherwise you get buried under the heaps of opinions, and rejections, and empty vortexes where you send emails and then never ever hear back. The thick skin in itself is not necessarily bad - it helps you to keep working on your art. But sometimes it builds up so thick that when something good occurs there's a sense that it's not REALLY happening. Like it's all gonna fall through at any moment. At least, that's what I kept thinking.   

But IT IS happening! And omg, you guys, I can't even express... like... all the emotions. ALL THE EMOTIONS!

Second... I finished my second novel! It took a really long time (and felt longer during the pandemic for some reason) but I'm pleased with how it came out. Every time I write creatively it's a journey of self-discovery. Even when I think I know where I'm going and what I'm doing with a story, I learn something new and surprise myself. The writing process lets all the unconscious stuff percolate up. I still have beta feedback to collect and edits to do but this book is at the 98% point and that makes me very happy. More importantly, I feel like having two full length books written means I'm actually on the road to being a novelist. Like, with one book written, it could have just been a one-time fluke. But with two books, chances are I'm going to keep writing. I know it's silly. It's just validation that I'm actually going after my dreams. You know? 

The third thing happening is... we all have covid. Well, Chance tested positive for covid; I started showing symptoms a couple of days after but couldn't get a test in a timely fashion; and Keen is probably asymptomatic (because that is so something he would do). SO we're all sitting at home, waiting out quarantine. It's been super mild for us (thank you vax and boosters) and I'm very grateful. But I also figured that means it's the perfect time to blog again!  

I mainly took the blog hiatus so I could finish my second book. Then I took another break from any writing after the book was finished because my brain was done. But my brain is filling up again. Hope you'll join me as I blather on. :)

               - Mary  


Hiatus - How Short Is It?

I'm taking a brief hiatus... yeah, I'm switching from briefs to thongs. Ba da DUM!

(That was the drum and cymbal crash for that terrible joke. Because the only thing that makes a joke worse is by explaining it! Always go all out, I say.)

No, really. I've been meaning to write here all month and it hasn't happened, so I'm taking a brief hiatus while I finish up a project. Because I'm... almost... done! But a lack of distractions would help mitigate some of the free-floating, ever present production-guilt in my life (as all writers have) so I'm giving myself an out. At least for this site.

However, talking about distractions, I am still posting on IG and twitter so if anyone wants to visit me there, feel free. 

BFFs! Stay Sweet! Have a nice summer! XOXO

See ya on the flip side.           - wg

Plotting for a Pantser: The Great Experiment Part 1.2

I did not get very far on my plotting experiment. First, I had resistance, but I tried to push through. Then I crashed. So hard! But I am sticking to my whole Pavlovian alarm system for writing time, so I’m building awareness, or at the very least, guilt. (Hear alarm, don’t write, feel bad.) Then I got edits from my freelance editor and covid shots around the same time. It’s taken me a good month to go through everything. It’s like: review, get shot, recover, review, repeat.   

Anywho, long rambling intro short… I’m excited to get back to big project writing! I’m starting the next draft of my novel, but I think I’m in a really good place and this next round won’t take too long. You know how, when you’ve got a story in your head, you also have all the background story for the characters but you don’t always include that backstory in the actual story because you don’t have to? Except sometimes you leave out a part that is important for clarity and tension? That’s where I’m at! There are a couple of details that I kept in my head that just didn’t quite come through in the text. (I was too busy showing not telling, and it was too subtle!) I can see exactly what I need to do, what I need to add back in, and where I need to add it. I’m happy with that.

So what does this have to do with plotting vs. pantsing? (Hmm. I guess I got sidetracked again. I wonder if there is a correlation between people with ADHD and plotting vs pantsing?) I think I was ruminating on how often I feel resistance whenever I hear story arc structures. Inciting incident, rising action, etc. or goal, thwart, etc. I get all prickly and growly about it and I don’t know why! I keep trying to dig down to the heart of the resistance; be introspective about it, but I’m not getting far. I just have this knee jerk reluctance, and it’s dumb because it’s not like I don’t use the same structures in my own writing! My stories have goals and inciting incidences! I just don’t name or outline them. It feels a little bit like giving pet names to old traumas. “And you, abandonment issue from that camping trip, you I’ll call Boopsie! Come meet Priscilla, my fear of commitment. Sit next to Anton, the voice of self-doubt. Tea anyone?”

But I still see the value in plotting and outlining and knowing what you’re doing ahead of time. That just makes sense on a system and efficiency level. So, after I finish this draft, I’m going to give plotting another go this summer for my next book. I wonder… if I go back and outline my finished book… would that help me outline the one I’m about to write? Can I keep practicing at it until I it will feel natural? To be continued.       - wg

P.S. Can you tell that I don’t plan these posts either? I just start writing.

Inevitably the Fingers Itch

I got my covid vaccine last week! Yay! Shot number 1. I had more of a reaction than I expected. I developed chills about four hours after the shot and felt a little "off". Then the next day I felt great! Then the day after that, I had chills, fatigue, and a massive headache that lasted a couple of days. So worth it though. I have no regrets. Hopefully, that reaction is only with the first shot, but just in case, I’ll keep my schedule free the week of shot number 2. Because even though this reaction only lasted 2-3 days, I admit, I shlumped into the slug life for the rest of the week.  

It’s so easy to slide into slugville. What’s not to like about lying around on the couch, binge watching TV, reading, and taking long, leisurely naps? I mean, besides the sense of impending crushing boredom, vague guilt, and tender couch booty (not quite bedsores, but not nothing either). But oh! So relaxed! So nourishing! While I’m in it, I think, “I’ll stay here. I’ll leave all ambition behind me. I’ll stop reaching for the stars. I’ll keep active enough to avoid a heart attack and keep the house clean. I’ll spend time with my family and friends and read books. Who needs the frustration anyway, right? This is so much easier.”  It’s so easy to slide into relaxed mode, part of me starts to wonder if maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Stop fooling around with writing and art! Spend your energy on the simple things... live your life!

And yet…

Eventually, my fingers will itch. They’ll want to pick up a pen or type just to hear the clicks. Eventually, images will play out in my head. Lines will follow, then a scene, then story ideas. If not words, then it will be colors, and I’ll fiddle with this art project or another. I’m a dabbler, but I’m a consistent dabbler. Eventually, I will write something or make something or recreate a DIY project with my own twist, adorned with color and words. If I don’t my fingers will itch, no matter how good the couch feels. No matter how much I enjoy spending time with family and friends. It’s kind of been happening my whole life. Is it dabbling if it’s been going on for decades?

Maybe it means I’m not dabbling at all. It’s just a different kind of life.



New Methods to Shake Up Old Writing Habits

Remember about a month and a half ago when I finished my last book and I was trying to channel all my productive momentum into the next project? Well, I failed. I stumbled around, flailing my arms, jumping from project to project, trying to stave off “the crash” but, inevitably, the crash came. I was mentally and creatively exhausted. I would start projects and then stare blankly into space, my mind refusing to budge beyond the vaguest of plans. I could do research fine but implementing creativity wasn’t working. But I kept fighting it! I thought, if I just keep plugging away it will all click eventually. But it didn’t. Finally, I had a long hard talk with myself and… took a break.

Whew! I feel so much better.

Now I’m ready to get back into the game. However, I realize I may need to shake things up a bit. This pandemic year has instilled some good habits and some bad habits. (Thank you James Clear!) At this point in my writing journey, I’m good about sitting down to write at least once a day, every day. However, I’m great at playing stupid crap on my phone ten times a day! This seems like it should be flipped, no?

So, I’m trying something a little new. (Besides the whole plotting thing. I’m still working on that.) First, I set a timer on my phone for 20 minutes. I’ve realized I can get a lot done in 20 minutes chunks. I can do a laundry. I can paint a little. I can write 200-300 words. AND I feel satisfied by what I did in those 20 minutes, too! Therefore, 20 minutes of game play on my phone should be plenty. I’m also resolving to not play anything on my phone until the evening.

Second, I set up four alarms on my phone. Four times a day a special alarm rings and I sit down to write. It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I’m writing. Four times I show up at my computer. Four times a day that should work with all my zoom schedules. For instance, I generally have meetings at 11:00, 4:00, or 6:00(ish). I set up alarms for 10:00, 12:00, 3:00, and 7:00.  I’m writing this during my 12:00 slot right now. 7:00 has traditionally been my go-to writing time. 10:00 will make me take a shower sooner (damn you, pandemic schedule)! (I mean, that didn’t work out today, I’m still in my pajamas, but in theory it should.) 3:00 is to work through the afternoon slump.  

Yes, I realize this will take discipline, and I might not make all four writing slots every day, but 2-3 times is still more than once, right? What I’m really hoping for is that I’ll hear the alarm and it will build the desire to write/be creative over picking up my phone. I know, I know, cold turkey doesn’t generally work, but I’m both highly motivated AND I’m at the point where I sick to death of every game on my phone except one, so I figure the opportunity is there. Fingers crossed.

What kind of changes do you make when you really need to shake things up?

Plotting for a Pantser: The Great Experiment

As a writer, I’m primarily a pantser*. I get a line or an image or a snippet of conversation in my head, I sit down to write and just see where it goes, letting events unfold before me. I also, often, will get a portion of a story in my head. These sections are larger than the snippets but they are far from complete. For example, the last book I wrote I had the beginning chapter and the final battle in my head before I began, but not a whole lot in between. The story before that, I had all the villains and most of the main conflicts ready to go but I struggled with my main character. Sometimes an overarching theme comes to me first, sometimes I think up a plot situation, sometimes I wake up from a nap and discover almost a whole story in my head, and sometimes I see a single color silhouetted against a sky.

Long story short, I usually work out a lot of the details as I write. This method allows me to play; to write lyrically, to take detours, to discover. I strongly believe that our unconscious is doing a lot of work without us realizing, and I’m happy to see what it tells me.

However, my average time for writing a novel is clocking at two years. TWO YEARS! That’s just to get the story down beginning to end. Add on to that editing, beta readers, re-editing, pitch materials, querying, etc. and the process really stretches out. Now granted, I tend to edit as I write (something that happens because I’m pantsing, i.e. not all those detours and discoveries work) so I will say my complete draft is usually pretty clean. But still, two years feels like too damn long. Especially if I truly want a career writing novels.

SO! I decided to move outside my comfort zone. Take Off Your Pants is a book about plotting. Written for pantsers (or anyone) by a self-proclaimed reformed pantser herself, Libbie Hawker says she also took two years to write a novel before starting her outlining method. Yay! I’m not alone! I dove into the book.

Then I took a deep breath… and now I’m trying to apply her methods to my next novel.

This is a bit of a struggle, because pantsers want to pants. On the one hand, I love that her method puts certain aspects of story-telling front and center; aspects I feel are critical to a great story. Such as, she recommends starting with your characters’ story arc(s), their flaw(s), the external goal, and overarching theme (not in that order), and leaving plot alone for later. I totally get this approach. I also develop these early in my own stories. But these elements can take a lot of deep thought and I am used to letting them unfold over a longer period of time, possibly 2-3 months. I also tend to let major symbolic points and lyric elements reveal themselves as I go. Her method is making me put the deep thought portion of my work on the front end, before I start writing. It’s also helping me really think about and flesh out all of my characters before I write. So that part I love love love.   

On the other hand, I feel simultaneously as if my brain hurts from thinking too hard AND that I’m not doing anything when I could be writing. That is totally all on me! Hawker claims that she can outline her whole book, front to end, in about a day. Which… GRRRL… mad props! I’ve been working on mine for about a week.    

Which brings us to the next step… start filling out, very loosely, some of those plot points. Hawker says to make the plot points super broad with plenty of room for creative freedom, mainly around the character’s drive for a goal and what’s thwarting them.

Oh my god, people! It’s like my brain just slammed the brakes on me! I don’t know what the problem is… maybe I’m still tired from the last book, maybe I need to switch to poetry or just read for awhile, maybe my pantsing just wants to pants, but whatever the reason, my brain does not want to work on this part of Hawker’s process. At least at the moment. I wouldn’t say I usually have a problem with plot either, because what’s more fun to a writer than dreaming “Hey! What happens next?”  

Now I’m in a death grapple with my own resistance. (Both of us are being incredibly stubborn.) I am committed to giving plotting a chance, because ultimately, I would love to write a novel in six months. Hawker successfully uses her method to write novels in incredibly short timeframes. My experiment is in process. Hopefully soon, I will have a developed outline ready to go for this next novel. How the writing portion turns out after that is anyone’s guess.

But it sure will be fun to see it unfold.  

(Ha! See, the pantser always wants to come out!)

*A pantser someone who writes by the seat of their pants, unplanned. As compared to a plotter, who usually has the plot outlined/planned before writing. I actually thought, before I read this book, that I was a main dish pantser with a hefty side of plotter. But after trying to apply this method I realize how singularly pantser I’ve been all my life. Like Atkins level.

Second Book Finished! Now Reset

Okay, so. I finished my second full-length novel two days ago. That means the story, beginning to end, all the words, is complete. No parts of "oh I should fix that" or "let me get back to that section" or "what should I do here". Complete. And pretty clean. That doesn't mean I won't have edits... I sent it off to my freelance editor; I've got a beta review lined up and others to schedule. But the story itself... IS... FINISHED!

I don't know how to explain the feeling of having the story that's been in my head for so long be out fully on the page. Excited, nervous, satisfied, anxious, exhausted, jubilant maybe? Plus, a bit of floundering. I've been in the final crunch for so long (months where I thought I was "at the end". Turns out I completely underestimate my own word count,) that I have to figure out both what to do with myself and how to keep this momentum going. (Like, I've been really productive for the last couple of months. It's been super cool. I don't want to lose the habits I'm in right now.) This feeling has happened every time I've written something (2 full length novels, 1 kids chapter book, assorted short stories) so I imagine it'll happen with everything else I write, too. Except poetry, which is always oddly satisfying, even when it's bad.  

Don't get me wrong, I have a pile of other projects, and marketing materials to write, and research to do. There's just a period of resetting my brain

But also, keep working. No pressure.  *slight hysterical giggle ensues*

BTW, my second book is called Walk the Web Lightly. It's a 73,000 word YA contemporary fantasy. Here's the rough pitch/story: 

Fourteen-year-old Naya’s artistic family can see the lines of time, but she doesn't want to go into the family business. To win her dream of becoming a doctor, she has to finish Grandmother's contest before the deadline. But someone is rigging events around her, and if her secret gets out she’ll not only lose the freedom to choose her life, it will jeopardize her entire family.

Now on to the next!            


The Slug Life

I feel, simultaneously, like I'm getting a lot of long-neglected things done AND I am the laziest person alive.  Motivation has slowed down as much as our economy has in this shelter in place era.  Which on the one hand, I would never ever wish these circumstances or anxiety on anyone, and on the other, I am very well rested.  I've read some good books, watched good shows, and played a game I'm enjoying very much on my phone (you can do it Lily, you can save your garden!).   It's amazing what the step back has put into perspective.  It's hard to get upset over much of anything that isn't life threatening right now.  Traffic? Meh.  Social media snipe? Who cares?  Politicians? I just turn off the TV.

However, this also means there is no sense of urgency.  I'm working on my second book now.  At the beginning of each month I tell myself, "This month I'm going to write a 1000 words a day! Woohoo me!"  But it actually turns out like this...

"Redecorated" front room (i.e. packed up Easter stuff (a couple of weeks late)). Words written: 70 words a day 

Cleaned up yard/garden garbage, which has been accumulating 2-5 years. Words written: 50 words a day

Ordered new window shades, which I've had on the back burner for three years. Words written: 0

You can see the alarming pattern right?  Now in my defense, my house and garden are looking pretty darn cute, but I've got to make a change. 

Today I ordered curtains for the bathroom...

and... I blogged!

OH MY GOD, SHE'S ON FIRE!!            - wg takes a bow


P.S. Why isn't "slown" a word? I.e. things have slown down. Or maybe just "slowed/slowing down" had a baby and its name is "slown"? My motivation has slown. Life's been crazy so I'm gonna slown. I'd chip in for the cake but my income is slown.  That makes sense, right?

P.P.S. Aw shit, I just looked up slown and apparently it means slut clown.  Now I'm just offended as a feminist.  

I Don't Want to Jinx Myself...

It is the end of the school year!  Usually by this time, there have been so many events and and extracurriculars and end of year of projects (besides getting up at the ungodly hour of 7:00 o'clock every morning for months!) that we're all a little bedraggled and ready for a good summer rest.  Summer plans are made but the day to day is vague and heavily reliant on "nothing".  But I don't know, this time it feels different.  There is energy in the air.  It feels like something is about to HAPPEN.  I don't know what exactly, but it feels like purpose is stirring. 

*shiver* Ooh! It's all vague and oracular and delicious feeling.  (I should totally write horoscopes. But not, you know, ones tied to astrology because I don't know anything about that.  Except my ADHD and talking shit is so Gemini.)

Maybe I'm just not as tired, maybe I'm ramping up with the sun.  I feel like writing a lot.  I think about writing all the time.  So perhaps, this summer, will be... extra productive?  (Don't jinx, don't jinx, don't jinx.)

Fingers crossed please.

Writing Slowly but Surely

I seem to be in a good writing groove at the moment (knock on wood, fingers crossed, step on a cat... wait, no). I've hit a pocket of ideas for the second book that I'm exploring and it's turning into some interesting copy.  I have a rough outline and an idea of the big story arc, but I'm still definitely in the experimenting phase.  I actually really enjoy this part.  All the small details start to come out but it's still very open and organic. I begin recognizing layers of themes; ones I intended but also surprises that develops as I write.  It's always fun to see what your unconscious comes up with when you're not paying attention.  (Sneaky, sneaky unconscious.)  I get to play while I'm writing and that's always more fun than "hurry up and finish and/or fix".

I'm still not the fastest writer but I'm happy if I'm steady. I find I waffle between being furiously jealous of "fast writers" and slightly disappointed in the results of said fast writing.  I mean, a lot of the time when I read someone who says they're a fast writer it's still really good (then, oh the jealousy).  But sometimes, sometimes I'll read something and it feels... well... rushed. 

But I'll be honest, the envy still wins out.  If I could get to twice my current word count and still feel like I'm playing... I'd be very, very happy.  ♥