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Refilling the Well

Photo by Sterling Morris: https://unsplash.com/@sterlingrmorris

I didn’t write much this weekend—too busy taking care of myself and my health, refilling the well of my energy so that I can write better than ever when I return to it tomorrow.

This is important to remember. The work will be there when you’re ready to get back to it. But if you regularly sacrifice your health, mental or physical, in order to bust out some words or push through a wall, eventually you will pay for it.

I’ve seen writers mentally snap and quit writing altogether to go back to manual labor jobs.

I’ve seen writers gain twenty pounds in a month because they pushed on when they shouldn’t have.

I’ve seen writers get carpal tunnel syndrome, back problems (I deal with these myself), and heart problems.

But the truth is that your health is a PREREQUISITE to writing. You can’t work well or at all without your health, so your health must comes first, always.

I began my journey as a professional writer about six years ago, and have made either part or all of my living as a writer since then. And one pattern I’ve noticed over time is that the Well of Inspiration eventually runs dry. It can’t be avoided.

When you’re just starting out, though, it’s hard to tell when you run dry because it feels just like any other blocker.

First, you think you just need another cup of coffee.

Next, you think maybe it’s a story problem. You go back to the concept; or you read through again, searching for the thread.

Then you open Facebook or Twitter and scroll through the endless feed, hoping to distract yourself, and that the inspiration will come back to you. Eventually, after staring at the screen for so many hours, you have to give up for the day.

The true test, of course, is when you come back to it the next day.  Finally, you look at the blank page and feel that blankness echoed in your own mind.

Your well is empty. Time to take a couple days off and do the things that refresh and energize you.

For me, those things are to read for pleasure, go hiking in the woods with the dog, play Tak with friends, attend a sketch comedy show at a local theater, and visit to a winery in the Texas Hill Country.

It can be very difficult to take the time you need—especially if you’re on a tight deadline. I told Shelly yesterday that since I have trained myself for years now to write every single day, taking a whole day off makes me feel like a worthless slug.

I am reminded of a scene from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Roark, the brilliant young architect, is a sort of ubermensch character. He has an enormous capacity and energy for work, and of course he is an artist in his field. But what struck me most was the scene near the end of the book where the newspaper mogul Gail Wynand brings Roark on a months-long cruise on his expensive yacht. Wynand is testing Roark—hoping to see the young architect crack under the pressure of not being able to work. Hoping to see him break.

But Roark manages to lounge in the sun, to be a completely lazy slug, with the same commitment he gives his work. Howard Roark tells Wynand:

“I’m not running away from my work, if that’s what surprises you. I know when to stop—and I can’t stop, unless it’s completely. I know I’ve overdone it. I’ve been wasting too much paper lately and doing awful stuff.”

And on the yacht, Rand writes of her hero: “Roark did not speak of buildings, lay for hours stretched out on deck in the sun, and loafed like an expert.”

We should all aspire to that kind of commitment on our off days. Fill your well. Read, lounge in the sun, do laundry, or just be lazy.

Do nothing with the same dedication you give to your work.

Wendigo + February Writing Updates

Some updates for you.

First, if you didn’t get my email this morning, “Wendigo” is now available as an ebook and paperback! Here’s the blurb for this 12,000 word paranormal/horror story…

Wendigo

After years of digging, anthropology student Blake Meier is about to strike pay dirt.

If all goes well, an interview with the Navajo chief will complete his doctoral thesis. It may also lead to the discovery of a lifetime.

But his advisor, Dr. Samarjit Chambers, has his own agenda. And unbeknownst to either of them, hidden horrors lurk in the ancient petroglyph they both lust after.

To what lengths will Blake go to satisfy his own desires?

If you like dark paranormal or horror short stories inspired by myths and legends, download “Wendigo” today!

February Writing Update

Now, onwards to more fun stuff in the works.

In my last update, I shared that I sent Tales of the Republic off to the editor for a copyedit. I’ll get that book back in another week or two, so no news to share there yet except that I still expect to begin serializing the rest of the story in March. If you haven’t read part one or part two yet, hold off because those will get an update when part three, Perilous Journey, drops in March.

Since my last update, I wrote a new 10k word short story about a basilisk for a monster anthology I was invited to with some friends. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. I’m calling it “The Boy and the Basilisk” for now, although that title might change.

With every story, there are always things that didn’t turn out how I envisioned, but overall I’m happy with this one, even more so because I was able to turn it around so quickly. I also took a lecture on Endings while I was writing it, and applied what I learned to the ending of this story. I’m always learning new stuff and trying to level up as a storyteller.

Another observation about my process: “The Boy and the Basilisk” took 13 days to concept and write. I wrote about 1,000-1,500 words a day. I ran into a few challenges that slowed me down but nothing I wasn’t able to overcome with a little mental effort. Each day I spent between 1 and 4 hours working on the story, with varying levels of focus. The challenge is to be fully engaged with the writing when it’s writing time. The trick is to be very clear about what I’m writing that day, and what my word count goal is. As long as I know those two things, and stay focused, I can almost always make it happen. The agony only begins when I get bogged down in the story, or get distracted and lose focus because of social media or health problems or other monkeys life happens to throw on my back.

So, anyways, that’s another story in the bag. I also received form rejections from two magazines to which I had submitted short stories. I took those two stories and sent them right back out on the same day I finish the basilisk story (yesterday). Man, that felt good to get them back out.

It’s a month into 2017 and so far I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, more or less on schedule, and added an unexpected anthology story besides.

So what’s next?

  1. Finish “Body of Work”, a science fiction short story. This will take a few days, maybe a week depending how long it gets.
  2. Plan Translocator 2 and 3. These two novels will complete my first trilogy, which began with The Auriga Project in 2015. Since I published that novel, I have been focused on wrapping up other loose ends and unfinished projects (Like Tales). So I am both nervous and very excited to finally return to this series. So the task here is to plan out both novels at once, to the best of my ability, before I start writing. That will take me a couple weeks to do.
  3. Start writing Translocator 2. Once the planning is done, I’ll start writing Translocator 2. If all goes well, the actual writing will begin sometime in February. I expect it will take a minimum of 60 days to write the first draft. I’ll give myself 90 days to be sure, because I am determined to get it right the first time and not do any major rewrites. If I don’t give myself the opportunity to rewrite anything, there is no choice but to get it right on the first draft. That means good planning and execution, and no excuses.
  4. Figure out how to make time for the nonfiction project. I also need to figure out how to make time to write Practical Fiction, the nonfiction nuts and bolts on writing book I wanted to blog on the site here. Between fiction writing and client writing I just haven’t been able to find the time or energy I need to devote to this one yet.

So much I want to do, so little time.

Story Tracker

Novels

Tales of the Republic … Status: Editing  … 84,671 words

Translocator 2 … Status: Planning

Short Stories

“A Body of Work” … Status: Writing … 2,694 words written / 6,000 estimated total words

“The Boy and the Basilisk” … Status: Out for edits … 10,100 words

“Search for the Vault of Fallsbard” … Status: Out for submission … 1,100 words

“Centurion” … Status: Out for submission … 3,800 words

“Earworm” … Status: Out for submission … 3,000 words

Nonfiction

Practical Fiction … Status: Planning … 500 words

Steady As You Go

Photo by Andrew Ridley: https://unsplash.com/@aridley88

I completed the second draft of Tales of the Republic on Sunday—a full week past the crazy insane Jan 15 deadline I set. So it took longer than expected, but I got it done. And I would have blogged about it sooner, but writing and freelance work and life (and trying not to mold my ass too firmly to this chair) has kept me busy.

What’s amazing about setting a crazy deadline is that I was forced to adjust my process to fit the deadline, rather than the other way around. Instead of asking, “how long will this take?” and picking a date at the end of that span of time, I picked the date I WANTED it to be done and then said, “now how the hell am I going to make this work?”

The task expands to fill the time allotted—or shrinks, depending on the point of view. I made it work—sort of.

My story tracker from Christmas Eve (one month ago) says I was at 30% complete—after 3+ months of editing! A month later, the draft is done. The difference? A deadline. Three months for 30% vs. 1 month for 70%. And I’d wager that I suffered more in the despairing 3 month crawl than I did in the 1 month sprint. None of it would have been possible without the crazy deadline.

Again, so I remember it: I wouldn’t have finished the book this month without that deadline.

So the lesson here is to set a crazy deadline, stay the course, and go after it. Steady as you go. Even a week late is progress worth celebrating.

After submitting the manuscript on Sunday afternoon, I went to North Austin to have beer and cigars with friends. Then on Monday morning I nailed down the concept for my next story. It’s for a “monster” anthology, and the idea is a ton of fun. I’m 2k words into that now, and I’m aiming to finish it before the week is up. Easy! Can you believe that a short story feels like a vacation after that book? Fun! Energizing! Not to mention new.

I have one other scifi story to finish before Tales comes back from the editor mid-February. And once those edits are cleared out, I’ll be digging into Translocator 2, my next scifi novel. It’s going to be a blast. I’ve been working on Translocator in the background for a while so I’ve got a ton of ideas. There will probably be another crazy deadline involved, but the crazy this time will be trying to double my daily word count since I’ll be writing new drafts. I’m sure I’ll talk more about that project when I get there.

Stay tuned here if you want more fiction. Wendigo is coming out next month. In the meantime check out the fantasy short story I published last month, which you can find below the story tracker.

Story Tracker

Novels

Tales of the Republic … Status: 2nd draft complete–out for edits … 84,671 words

Short Stories

“A Body of Work” … Status: Writing … 2,694 words written / 6,000 estimated total words

“The Boy and the Basilisk” … Status: Writing … 2,286 words written / 7,000 estimated total words

“Wendigo” … Status: Queued for post-production … 12,000 words

“Centurion” … Status: Out for submission … 3,000 words

“Earworm” … Status: Out for submission … 3,000 words

Nonfiction

Practical Fiction … Status: Planning … 500 words

Just Published

Bogged Down with Perspective

Photo by Jamie Hagan: https://unsplash.com/@dearjamie

It’s Jan. 17th, so time to fess up.

I’m at 87% complete on Tales of the Republic, which means I missed the Jan.15 deadline I set for myself. It’s two days past now and I still have about 11k words left to finish the book.

Now, considering where I was a month ago, and how impossible that deadline seemed, that’s still incredible progress. Leaps and bounds beyond what I was doing before. It’s important to keep that perspective in mind.

However, I readily admit that it bothers the hell out of me to miss deadlines, so I want to spend a second exploring why that happened.

I promised these blogs would be raw and uncut. I find it really difficult to talk about this, but I want to explore it because that directive means I owe you the bad along with the good. I also don’t want anyone reading these to get the completely mistaken impression that writing is all puppies and rainbows. I do a decent job celebrating the wins, but it’s just not like that all the time. Sometimes writing is messy and hard and full of little failures. The important thing is to not let them hold you back, to examine them and keep working at it and keep making progress.

So what happened?

There are 7 episodes in Tales, and I got bogged down in the middle of Episode 6. In hindsight, I should have known this would happen. Episode 6 and 7 were in rough shape compared to the first five episodes of the book. I rushed to the end when I wrote the draft, and didn’t cycle back to clean it up too much. These last two episodes simply needed more work, and I should have given them more time.

Add that to the complication of the climax, and it’s no wonder I bogged down.

Next time I will try to remember that.

I didn’t stop working. That’s also important to note. I kept pressing on. I banged my head against the keyboard and spent the same number of hours at my desk working.

I made progress, just slower progress. Moving the meter 14% in a week (about 12,000 words if you’re following along at home) counts for something, right?

So by that math, even at a slower pace,I should only need about another week to get to the end. My goal is to do one better and aim for the weekend, so another 4-5 days of work.

I’m glad I wrote this, actually, because when the book is done, I will be able to look back and see how what felt like a complete FAILURE at the time was transformed into a success.

A kind of alchemy.

Time to get back to it. See you on the other side.

Story Tracker

In among the novel editing, I also managed to write a new short story of 1,000 words called “The Vault of Fallsbard.” I’m sending that one out to magazines right now.

Novels

Tales of the Republic … Status: Revising … Second draft, 87.8% complete
(74,636 words revised / 85,000 estimated total words)

Short Stories

“Wendigo” … 12,000 words … Status: Queued for post-production

“A Body of Work” … 2,694 words written (6,000 estimated total words) … Status: Writing

“Centurion” … 3,000 words … Status: Out for submission

“Earworm” … 3,000 words … Status: Out for submission

Nonfiction

Work-in-progress for writers … 500 words … Status: Planning

 

The Last Quarter

Photo by Christophe Ferron: https://unsplash.com/@christopheferron

I come to you 8 days from my deadline on Tales. I’m at 73.5% complete as of my last reckoning, which means I’m nearly in the final quarter.

And things are getting hard.The pressure is on. The anxiety is building.

The last 2 parts are the least polished out of the whole book, and missing the most content, which means I not only have to edit and polish the words, but create new content to fill in the gaps—missing scenes, mostly, and a few changes that I can’t seem to avoid making.

I’m still trying NOT to rewrite what’s there, especially if the content mostly does its job. My focus is on patching what needs to be fixed. But with the gaps I need to fill, and how I seem to have made some serious story errors as I wandered around trying to find the end of the book, there is an inevitable bit of rewriting that must happen this week.

It makes sense that the last two parts of the book would be the least polished. I spent the least amount of time on them. I went over everything that came before 2, 3, 4, even 5 times. The last two parts were written basically in one go. And then they got broken out into two parts, with lots of holes, after the first edit, when I realized what needed to happen to give the structure some balance and symmetry.

So I have anxiety because I have about 12 scenes to write and polish in 8 days, and some are brand new scenes, and it is arguably the most difficult task yet because it’s also the end of the book, where everything needs to come together like I had planned it from the start.

Ha ha. Right.

All the pieces are in place, though. It’s mostly a matter of mastering my anxiety long enough to sit down and get to work.

So I just wanted to report here to let you know that I’m on track, approaching the final quarter, but that my work is not yet done. I could use a little encouragement now—and also someone with a switch to stand next to my desk and smack the back of my hand each time I type “Facebook.com” into the browser.

Also, to remind myself not to be afraid of the deadline—the deadline is the main reason I have made such stunning progress in the last month. Even if I miss it by a few days (which I DON’T plan on doing), it still counts as a win in the grand scheme of things.

Okay, that’s probably enough kvetching. Time to get to work.

New Story: The Door Below the Comic Store

The Door Below the Comic Store is my first new short story of 2017, an adventurous urban fantasy story about a normal boy named Colton and the unusual way he escapes his miserable family life.

The Door Below the Comic Store

How would you react if you found hidden doors in your city that led to other worlds? Worlds of mystery and magic?

While trying to escape the incessant bickering between his mom and his jerk of a stepfather, Colton goes out to meet a friend—and instead, stumbles on a doorway that leads him somewhere unexpected.

Door Below the Comic Store - High Resolution - alternate font

Buy on Kindle  Buy Paperback

Jan. 3 Writing Update

Photo by André Sanano: https://unsplash.com/@andresananoJudging by the state of my inbox, this is the day when everyone returns to work. Since that means my life will soon become very full again, and I’ll be even shorter on writing time, I wanted to take this opportunity to mark it: I made massive strides on Tales of the Republic over the holidays.

I’m at about 60% complete on this round of edits now, even having adjusted my target for the manuscript upwards by 5k words, to 85k words total. For me this kind of progress is huge.

The word count adjustment is due to the fact that I keep adding words as I go. There are several missing scenes to write yet in the finale, but the extra 5k should cover them.

But I’m not dwelling on it, just barreling ahead. I’m enjoying myself too. I usually hate edits, so to feel joy in editing is a relief, to be honest. Part of that is a change in my process, but a bigger factor is a shift in my mindset. I’ll be writing more about that soon in future posts.

After I get to 100% on the edits, the book will go to a copyeditor, then back to me a few weeks alter for proofing and post-production. After that, it will be out the door. I’ll tell you more about the launch as we approach. Finally seems like I’m in the homestretch on this one.

The Nonfiction Work-in-Progress

I didn’t make progress on any other fiction since my last update, but I did solidify and then expand the outline for the nonfiction project. I’ve also got an ebook cover for it…and that means I have a working title: Practical Fiction. It’s going to be a nuts-and-bolts type of book focusing on the writing process.

Basically it will cover all the “tools” (mindsets, habits, ideas, and exercises) that I’ve relied on to transform myself into a writer—tools that I found lacking in the many many books on writing that I have read. Tools that I picked from many places and gathered together into my own practical system.

Writing seems simple on the surface. Sit down and type words, one after the other. But as most new writers know, it’s more complex than it seems. This will be the type of book I wish I had found ten years ago, when I was just getting started.

Not rocket science, and most of it not even new information. It’s out there. The challenge is finding it and making it into a system. So the book is my attempt to put it all together for you and for me. To describe my system and try to show someone else how to use it. And as it always goes, I’m sure I’ll learn some new things myself while I’m writing it 😀

New Urban Fantasy Story

Last update for today: this month’s story, “The Door Below the Comic Store” is being published now (if you’re reading this at the time of posting). To get notified when it’s out and receive a free ARC (Advanced Review Copy), be sure you’re on my newsletter! I send free books and deals to readers there as well.

I’ll post again when it’s ready. Have a good one!

Story Tracker

Novels

Tales of the Republic … Status: Revising … Second draft, 60% complete
(50,731 words revised / 85,000 estimated total words)

Short Stories

“The Door Below the Comic Store” … 6,000 words … Status: Publishing

“Wendigo” … 12,000 words … Status: Queued for post-production

“A Body of Work” … 2,694 words written (6,000 estimated total words) … Status: Writing

“Centurion” … 3,000 words … Status: Out for submission

“Earworm” … 3,000 words … Status: Out for submission

Nonfiction

Work-in-progress for writers … 500 words … Status: Planning

It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day

Photo by Mich Elizalde: https://unsplash.com/@mich

Since the big quitting, I find I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

In the morning, I sit down to write, as usual. That habit has been trained over three years and it’s the most familiar thing in the world.

After a couple pages of editing Tales, I take the dog for a walk. So far, so good. It always feels good to do something active in the morning. If I don’t do any other exercise for the rest of the day, at least I did that.

And when I get back home, my body tenses, ready now for the flood of communications that normally come roaring in. I’m ready, I brace myself, I open my email…and this morning it didn’t come.

Of course this is still the holiday break for many people. I’d forgotten that! And most of my clients and coworkers are on vacation, so it’s kind of quiet on that front.

But for the past several years that has been my routine. Writing and walking in the morning, and spending the rest of the day at the day job and reacting to all the other projects I had going on in 2016.

Since the big quitting, there’s this hole in my day. And I have to figure out the best way to fill it with productive writing.

But I find myself doing these other things instead, and they’re worth listing out so that I can pin and then exorcise them like demons:

  1. Check Facebook. And Twitter.
  2. Check WordPress.com stats. Sigh.
  3. Check book sales. No.
  4. Check email.
  5. Refresh.
  6. Refresh.
  7. Refresh.

God damnit. The worst part is that now I have all this time to write, but my body and mind aren’t trained to do the work yet.

My body and mind are trained to check email, prepare for the next meeting, respond to messages from the night before.

And the absolute worst part is that on days like this, when there are so few emails and notifications, I actually feel bored.

BORED!

How can I be bored when I have 62% of a novel remaining to edit by mid-January?

How can I be bored when I have Translocator 2 and 3 to plan and write?

How can I be bored when I have a short story to finish and dozens more to write?

How indeed. And yet…

Now that I’ve made the time, I’ve got to learn to fill it productively. I’ve got to learn to associate the hits of adrenaline with productive work instead of spending the remainder of my day reacting or checking my phone.

Time to rewire my brain to get the same high and satisfaction out of writing that I usually get out of reacting to emails.

So how do I do this? The same way I kickstart any habit.

  1. Make a detailed calendar with deadlines
  2. Create an accountability system
  3. Reward myself when I hit my goals
  4. Forgive myself when I don’t

• • •

Focusing on the things I can control—words complete—I mapped out the percentage to complete I need to hit to get Tales of the Republic in to the copyeditor by January 15th. That’s about 10% progress every 3 days, or roughly 2-3 scenes per day.

That’s my primary focus right now, but if I get bored, then I can switch to the current short story, or the nonfiction project I’ve been noodling with.

If I’m not feeling the fiction, I can also use the blog as a warmup, like I did with this post today.

And at the end of the day I can read in my genre. I’ve got several short stories queued up on my Kindle.

• • •

I wrote the above blog post as a warmup this morning and came back tonight to fill out my progress. After my slow morning, I got things moving and started making progress.

I edited 4,000 words fiction (adding 937 to manuscript of Tales)
I wrote 1,350 words nonfiction —this blog and the outline/intro of the new nonfiction book for writers.

A good day. And I’ve made HUGE progress on Tales since the last update. I jumped up 13% since the last update 5 days ago! Best progress I’ve made in months.

No changes in short stories since the last update, however. That’s okay with me 🙂

Story Tracker

Novels

Tales of the Republic … Status: Revising … Second draft, 43% complete
(34,368 words revised / 80,000 estimated total words)

Short Stories

“The Door Below the Comic Store” … 6,000 words … Status: Post-production

“Wendigo” … 12,000 words … Status: Queued for post-production

“A Body of Work” … Status: Writing (2,694 words written / 6,000 estimated total words)

“Centurion” … 3,000 words … Status: Out for submission

“Earworm” … 3,000 words … Status: Out for submission

Nonfiction

Work-in-progress for writers … 500 words

On Quitting

Photo by Samuel Zeller: https://unsplash.com/@samuelzeller

This December I quit a load of things to make more room for writing fiction.

I finally came to accept that I was spreading myself too thin. I’ve known it for some time, and worked hard through 2016 trying to juggle all my jobs.

At times, I pulled it off, and it seemed amazing that I could do so much. In other cases, I failed and let people down.

And sometimes—more often than I want to admit—my stories fell through the cracks. That made me saddest of all.

My commitments were competing with each other in a way that kept me from meeting my writing goals. For instance, I was spending time organizing events for authors, and not writing. I was recording a podcast, and not writing. I was taking on too many for-hire writing projects and, you guessed it, not writing.

And there are things I am not willing to give up that go into this balancing act, too—time with my girlfriend, for one. My health (directly correlates to productivity).

But there is always room for change and growth. And so, this December, I made a business plan, defined my writing goals, and then set out to find the right balance.

This meant making some hard decisions.

I’ve quit things before—jobs, countries, people, bad habits. But I seem to go through a major quitting streak every three or four years.

  • At 18, I left the United States to attend college in Canada
  • At 21, I left Canada and went to Europe to travel
  • At 24, I returned to the US, to Austin, to become a freelance writer

Now I’m 28, and I find myself at another one of these impasses. A quitting streak is upon me. Right on time, wouldn’t you say?

I can’t quit my day job yet. I still have to pay the bills, and copywriting/content strategy is a good job that I enjoy. The clients I have are smart, passionate people who care about the work they’re doing. But I need more time if this writing fiction thing is going to pan out for me, so I did my best to find the right balance.

As of today, I can officially say that the worst is behind me. I quit a podcast that I was enjoying, the membership side of the Indie Author Society, and also turned down a couple freelance projects (so hard!). And other things I won’t go into detail about because it’s all in the past now.

It was the most difficult quitting streak I’ve ever done because I had to quit things that I genuinely enjoyed doing, but which were holding me back from hitting my word counts.

Usually a quitting streak feels like shedding an old skin, or putting on a new pair of clothes that fit just right.

This quitting streak felt like open heart surgery.

I am decimated now, and while I believe the writing will fill that hole eventually, I am tired and sad and seem to know what the french poets mean by ennui.

That, in itself, is a sign that I’m still not out of the weeds.

But I know it is a natural reaction, and that things will get better again soon (sidenote: revising this 24 hours after it was written, I already feel less anxiety about it). I’ve been through many quitting streaks before. This one is still processing. I’ll pick up speed in a week or so.

This December was hard, but I’ve cleaned the slate and now I’m ready for the next phase.

Here’s to lots of new stories in 2017.