Adulting as a Writer, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Chaos

Most people I know, particularly most writers I know, don’t enjoy adulting. I hated adulting so much I told myself I was happy with part-time service industry jobs for 10 years before I finally went to college. At the time, I thought I was going back to college so that I could get on with conforming to adulthood. By the time I graduated last summer at the age of 32, I’d realized, thanks to friends and most of all professors, that being a responsible adult does not mean a soul-crushing 9-5 job, and that my skills as a person are, actually, valuable in the “real world,” no matter what anyone outside my fields of expertise might tell me to the contrary. It has been an inspiring and revealing year for me as a young-30’s writer.

I got a degree in anthropology because I wanted to do archaeology. I got a job with a local archaeology firm before I graduated. I still work for that firm, and people still tell me there are no jobs in archaeology. When people ask if it’s full time and I say, “Not at the moment,” they often look smug, and I look smug right back, because here’s the thing: I never wanted to devote all my time and energy to one thing. The best way for me to go from loving something to being soul-crushingly bored by it is to do it all the time. Granted, archaeology has enough variety in itself that 40 hour weeks would definitely not be a problem. But I get to work in my chosen field with people I get along with, getting exercise and spending time in nature frequently as part of my job. My favorite pastime as a child was playing in dirt and finding stuff to put in my “museum” (i.e. playhouse).

The rest of my work week consists of researching and writing articles for the history website Clio, and doing freelance editing for other writers. Which makes for a nice triad of activities to keep me (1) paid and (2) interested in everything I’m doing. Physical work and research/writing for reports at Corn Island Archaeology, historic research and article writing for the Clio, and reading fiction and working through edits for my own business…it’s a good mix for me. It keeps me a little busier than I’d ever intended to be, and I work more than 40 hours a week, but I enjoy it all and I make a living! I get paid to do things I grew up doing for fun! What better way to adult??? Funny thing is, I still didn’t think of myself as a successful adult until my mother pointed this perspective out to me. (This is one of many reasons I am lucky my mom is also a writer and is awesome.)

Perhaps because I’ve learned to live in chaos and a perpetual state of having something I should be working on, I’ve rePerBastet_tallcatcently added to my agenda the role of Marketing Director for Per Bastet Publications, the house through which my own novel, The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn, is now published. Strangely, taking on more in this case has made me feel more driven to work on my own fiction, something I’ve let slide far too much this year. The more I think of what the press offers (so far, a number of excellent speculative fiction novels and collections of short stories!) the more I find myself wanting to write more stuff, wanting to actively work to share more of the ideas that bounce around in my head all the time with readers.

So, you might be wondering, what am I writing these days? I’ve got two projects in the fire at the moment, both of which I’m actively working on (most days), as my schedule allows. 1. A sequel to Erica Flynn, which I have around 20,000 words on and no title for yet. 2. A series of interconnected steampunk/cyberpunk short stories featuring Penelope and Puddingfoot in post-apocalyptic (no zombies) adventures across America (the first of which was published in the Circuits & Steam anthology). I’m working on the second story now, with a four-story plot arc lined up.

Save

Save

Advertisements

Week 3 of NaNoWriMo

I spent the first part of this week running just under National Novel Writing Month goals (1,667 words a day = 50,000 words during the month of November). As the week has gone on, I’ve fallen further and further below goal. Running under goal doesn’t sound like a good thing, but I couldn’t be happier. When I find myself feeling frustrated and thinking things like, “Crap. I’ve only written 1,000 words today?” I stop and smile to myself, because any other month of the year, I’d be thinking, “WOW!! I wrote 1,000 words today!!!” There’s also the fact that on days my word count is low, or I end up taking the day off of writing, it’s consistently resulted in me rethinking something that could be better, could move the story forward or in a new direction, or brings out something important that I might’ve missed if I’d shoved on through my word count just to get it out. Here’s my NaNo trajectory thus far (not including the few additions from Day 21)…it isn’t a perfect diagonal line, but check out those jumps up after my last couple days off!

week 3 stats

Day 15: 1,356 words added, but I worked through some sticky parts I wasn’t sure what to do with…which is awesome.

Day 16: 1,840 words, and a huge breakthrough – all because I decided to say screw the plot structure I had in mind and just write a funny confrontation scene between a set of characters. Completely changed my mind about what happens when in the book. Also had great difficulty going to sleep due to all the ideas that kept popping into my head after I’d already shut down the laptop for the night.

Day 17: 1,515 words, and another breakthrough about the logistics of the characters within the book.

youstabbedhimDay 18: Focused a good chunk of my writing time on moving things around based on my new ideas, to see if they worked. They did, except I need to go back and fill in a chapter later. Moving forward with the story, added 1,473 words.

Day 19: 440 words into the day, I felt like saying, “Screw NaNoWriMo! I’m writing, I’m moving forward, that’s good enough. Who cares if I get to 50,000 words by the end of the month?” So I went out and did stuff in the actual world for a while.

Day 20: Pretty sure I am not going to catch up and finish by the end of November. 3,400 words short and got nothing written today.

Day 21: About 250 words written.

Day 22: Woke up with ideas! Have only begun to implement them, but am glad I backed off and got some perspective, because I’m really excited about where the next section of the book is headed.stats1

So when I look at my stats page on the NaNo website, I haven’t been sweating it too much when my numbers aren’t up to par. After all, writing isn’t work. Just because you work at something does not make it work. In the end, NaNoWriMo is a writing exercise, something to challenge you and give you an excuse to prioritize your writing for a month (to help you remember how to do it the rest of the year!) It’s a kick in the pants, a spring-board, a launching point – not the grindstone. And for all you other Wrimers out there, I hope you’re having fun along the journey, whether you’re on par or not!

Week 2 of NaNoWriMo

After my fabulously victorious first week of National Novel Writing Month, during which I went from 10,000 words to 18,000 words, week 2 has been a struggle. There’s nothing unusual about week 2 being tough, especially since Real Life Happened and caused a hiccup in my new rhythm. But that’s okay, because – after only ONE WEEK, one little tiny week! – I’ve seen a big change in my mindset about writing. As in, I feel weird on they days I don’t write anything. As in, I think about my story in the shower, in the car, while I’m eating lunch, before I fall asleep, as soon as I wake up. As in, I’m getting my writer groove back. And that’s my prime directive this month, so hooray!!

Here’s the day-by-day low-down for week 2:

Day 7: After I posted about how I was starting to lose steam last week, I took a break from the manuscript. During my break, I realized what I wanted to do next, and wrote another 475 words.

Day 8: I took the day off intentionally to try and gain some perspective. Hung out with my brilliant partner-in-crime, cover artist, and may-as-well-be-husband (Zakary Kendall) and had fun discussing weird metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the manuscript. Very inspiring!

Erica Flynn cover by Zakary Kendall

Cover art for The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn. Oil on canvas, Zakary Kendall

Day 9: Real Life Happened. Only wrote about 200 words, but that’s something!

Day 10: 1,500 words, and had fun doing it.

Days 11 & 12: Real Life Ctd. No writing happened.

Day 13: Now officially behind on NaNo word count for the month. However, it was a productive day. I cleaned up my desk area (gasp!), hauled out multicolorful things (i.e., crayons, sharpies, etc.) and paper and arranged them neatly in the middle of the living room floor, and wrote out questions I want/need to explore in my manuscript – about the protagonists, antagonist, plot, world, conflicts, and turning points – as well as some helpful exercises from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is an awesome book and every writer should own it and Donald Maass isn’t paying me to say that, I promise. Now I have a bunch of questions and prompts in multicolored sharpie taped up above my desk, and a crap-ton of art supplies and paper ranging from index cards to welcome-mat-sized conveniently located in the middle of the living room floor. Because shiny colors make me happy, and help me write, okay?!?!!!

hellonekoDay 14: 3,000 words. Whenever I felt stuck, I doodled for a while, answered one of my note card questions, or researched something and jotted down notes about it. At around 2,000 words, I took a couple hours’ break – dinner, 1960s Dark Shadows episodes, and chinchilla playtime. And then came back and wrote another 1,000…which brings me almost back up to the overall official word count goal for NaNo – and more importantly, moved my book forward!

 

Day 15: Geared up and ready to rock! …As soon as I finish this coffee.

Things I’ve remembered this week: 1. It’s not that hard to find enough time to write 250-500 words in a day. 2. Taking a break is sometimes more productive than working. 3. One type of creativity usually boosts another, which makes a nice little positive feedback loop. 4. You do not have to write everything in order. If you’re trying to get the story to move on to the next point, but you’re not sure how to do it, and you’re not that interested in the part you’re trying to write, chances are the reader won’t be either. You’re not experiencing writer’s block – you’re experiencing writer’s instinct! Run with it! Run with it to the next bit you think is going to be so cool you can’t wait to get there. 5. First drafts are for fun. Rewrites are for making everything tie together coherently.

Week 1 of NaNoWriMo

The National Novel Writing Month challenge: Write 1,667 words per day, every day in November – and at the end of the month, you’ll have a 50,000 word draft. This year, I’m spring-boarding off NaNoWriMo’s challenge to get a rough draft of my sequel to The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn written by the end of 2015.

Here’s how it’s going so far:

  • Nov. 1: I cheated! I already had about 10,000 words written. I posted on my blog instead of working on my book. But I did think about my book a lot! And any writer who claims that thinking time doesn’t count as writing time is not to be trusted. Yes, sometimes writing looks a lot like I’m playing a video game and eating popcorn. That does NOT mean I’m not writing!
  • Nov. 2: Wrote about 3,000 words, although admittedly roughly 1,000 of those were copied and pasted from my “parts” file – things I wrote and cut out of the first dozen times I tried to start the book, before I really knew how it started.
  • Nov. 3: Wrote about 1,200 words, which is under the daily word count, but was GOOD STUFF and really kicked things in the right direction with some momentum behind it on one of my two major story lines (my new character, Seth).boyscape quote
  • Nov. 4: About 1,000 words on the Erica story line, all of which I’ll probably cut, because it’s extraneous and I wrote myself into a corner. Still, knowing I’ve got to move forward tomorrow means I backed up and got the perspective to realize what needs to be done.
  • Nov. 5: About 1,200 words in what feels like the right direction for Erica.
  • Nov. 6: Was out of town on a 10-hour there-and-back research trip for my day job. Came home tired and had trouble concentrating. 291 words on the Erica story line, which is better than nothing, no matter how far below goal it is.
  • Nov. 7: At this moment, I’d rather punch myself in the face rather than write. I’m stuck on the Erica story line, and I’m not sure why. Obviously, I’m trying to do something that isn’t working, but I don’t know why it isn’t working. <sarcasm> My favorite! </sarcasm> So I’ve written around 300 words again (so far) today, and I’m going to take a chinchilla break to clear my head. My plan is to tackle this block when my frustration subsides, whether by sitting down and working on it some more directly or by freewriting or playing around with visual art to get my creative ass in gear. I’ll update about NaNo in another week to let you know how it works out!

 

Why I Decided to NaNo This Year

It’s November – National Novel Writing Month! This is the second (not consecutive) year I’ve participated. Given my experience the first year (2011) I wrote a NaNoWriMo draft, (I “won”, but the manuscript was a mess I haven’t been able to face cleaning up), I wasn’t sure how I felt about doing it again. And for four years, I was busy going back to college for a belated bachelor’s degree, so November was a lot less “novel” and a lot more “OMG, how am I going to write four papers and study for four tests in the next two weeks?!?!?!”

Why did I decide to try NaNo again?

1. I already had a book in my head – the sequel to The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn – and I’d already started working on it…including a skeletal idea of the plot and structure.

2. I’d promised myself after I graduated in May that I’d throw myself into my writing projects and finish a rough draft of this book by the end of the year. Well, here it is November, and I wasn’t anywhere close to being done with a first draft.

3. Four years for undergrad is the longest I’ve gone without writing on a semi-regular or constant basis. Ever. In my life. It was never just a habit with me – it was a good chunk of what defined my life, my time, and my sense of myself. While it’s been nice to find out that I’m good at being things other than a writer, it’s also been hard to face a blank page again. Or even a half-written page. Since NaNoWriMo sets a goal (50,000 words written by the end of the month) and breaks it down into a daily, bite-size chunk for me (1,667 words per day), it seems like a good way to bring the habit back, especially since you HAVE to break through the second-guessing stage and just get on a roll to churn out that kind of word count every day.

I made this clock about 5 years ago. Acrylics, playing cards, and clock kitYes, it’ll be nice to “win” NaNo. But the important thing for me is to get back to being a writer – by actively writing, by consciously thinking about my story, and by being in the mindset of writing in my head all the time, even when I’m driving or doing the dishes or listening to people talk while I’m waiting in line. And although I’ll be thrilled to have 50,000 words toward a working draft down by the end of the month, I know the work doesn’t stop there. For one thing, I’ll probably need closer to 60,000 words to finish this story up – but I can do that by the end of December, if I keep up the good habits I pick back up from NaNo. For another, a first draft is the easy part, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Knowing me, I’ll be another year on the rewrites, because I need time between drafts to get perspective before I look at my stories again. That’s my process, and it works for me.

Now, back to writing this draft……

Back to the Blog

Hello, blog. I remember you from before my school-induced hiatus! Now that I’ve finished my degree, it’s time to dive back into the writing world with gusto. While I often felt uncomfortable with going for so long without writing fiction, I have to say that, now that classes are over (until/whenever grad school happens) I find myself with more story ideas than I’ve had at one time in years. My sneaky writer-brain has never, it seems, stopped working, even though I’ve mostly only been aware of my student-brain over the last four years. While student-brain was constructing research papers and analyses, writer-brain was hiding in the basement with a chemistry set and a maniacal laugh, getting weirder and weirder the longer it stayed down there in isolation with its experiments. At least, that’s how I explain to myself why I had a dream last week that I was a blue, antennaed, inter-dimensional spy working as a bus-boy at an airport in Russia, with some weird little girl singing a haunting tune following me around everywhere.

So what am I doing with myself now that I’ve graduated? Answer: (a) working as an archaeology field technician, (b) freelance editing, (c) starting to pick up the threads of a couple of writing projects (including a sequel to Erica Flynn), and (d) staring happily in to space, daydreaming, and listening to music, because I didn’t have time to do that for most of the last year.

Best News Ever!

Yesterday, I signed a publishing contract for The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn!  I’m happy to say that I’ll be published through Hydra Publications.  I feel this is sufficient incentive for me to start keeping up better with updates to this blog.  🙂  Now that I’m in school full-time and doing work-study at the archaeology lab, I have far less time to write than I used to, let alone blog about writing – but it’s time to make time, I think.

And I do, actually, have some good ideas for a sequel to Erica Flynn, as well as another novel – or maybe it’s the same novel, and I just haven’t figured that out yet.  I hope it is, because it would make for quite the ride if I can work all the elements together!

All I can say in addition to this is, there’s nothing better than finally getting to say the sentence, “My book is getting published!”