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Category: Writing Out Loud

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.

Christmas Eve Writing Update

Whew, a lot of good stuff has happened since I last gave you a writing update.

First of all, “End of the World” has done all right for it being the first piece of fiction I’ve published in several months. I had zero expectations, so I can’t be disappointed. I’m simply happy it was well-received by those who have read it, and continues to sell a bit.

Door Below the Comic Store - High Resolution - alternate fontBut my focus has been on what’s next. Edits for my next fantasy story, “The Door Below the Comic Store” came back, and I’ve already gone through those and produced the ebook. I need to finish the paperback, and then that should be available about January 10th (my target).

My newsletter finds out about everything first, so sign up if you want to be notified (and get a free review copy!) Here’s the cover for “The Door Below the Comic Store”.

Edits for “Wendigo” also came back. This is a paranormal/horror story, a bit of a departure from my usual stuff, but in a good way if you like dark and twisted stuff. It’s inspired by the Wendigo legend of the Navajo tribe, and is about twice the length of most of my short stories: 12,000 words, either a long short story or a short novella depending how you want to look at it.

Funny story: I totally botched the ending of “Wendigo” the first time through. I sat on it, knowing something was wrong, for a couple months before I finally gave up and sent it to my editor. I knew, for certain, that I screwed something up, but sometimes you need an objective opinion. Once I realized it was the ending that was the problem (thanks to my editor and the help of a writer friend), it only took a few hours of focused work to fix it. “Wendigo” also has a creepy cover that I’ve already picked out, and will share soon. That one is slated for release in February.

So now, as you can see, I’m ahead of the curve as far as scheduling goes. That’s never happened before, but damn it feels good. Things are going to be different in 2017.

And that’s not all!

I also wrote 3k words of a new science fiction story that I’m calling, “A Body of Work.” I doubt that will be the final title, as I almost always change titles several times before a story is done. This is a hard science fiction story set in the near future, after Earth has colonized Mars and built a dozen habitable space stations in near-Earth orbit. Also, aliens. Fun stuff!

And finally, I made a smidge of progress on Tales of the Republic. Par for the course there. Now that I’m ahead of schedule, I’m going to make a big effort to change that and get through it sooner. Won’t speak to launch dates yet (I’ve made that mistake before…sorry).

2017 is definitely going to be different.

Which story are you most excited about? Leave a comment to let me know.

Last day to enter 12 Days of Books giveaway

Oh yes! And today is the lat day to enter the 12 Days of Books Giveaways. Click that link and leave your email to enter 12 signed novels.

12 Days of Books Giveaway

Story Tracker

Novels

Tales of the Republic … Status: Revising … Second draft, 30% complete
(24,088 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

The Curmudgeon

Photo by Jan Erik Waider: https://unsplash.com/@northlandscapes

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a part of me that resists everything.

This is the part of me that scoffs, calls you a liar, hates being around people.

He thinks—no, not just thinks, this part of me actually believes that Valentine’s Day and Christmas have become nothing more than trumped up commercialized gimmicks designed to syphon money from his pockets and fill people with material greed.

He uses the holiday season not to give, but to decimate himself, cut the fat, reevaluate his life in the cold hard light of a chilly December morning.

And, of course, to demand you turn off that fucking christmas music. “If you play Holly Jolly Christmas one more goddamn time…!”

This part of me is a skeptic. He’s stubborn. He argues for the sake of argument, complains for the sake of complaining. He’s never satisfied. But he’s cunning, because he manages to eke an abnormal amount of satisfaction from his discontent regardless.

Let’s call him the Curmudgeon.

Curmudgeon (noun): a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person. See: grouch, crank, bear.

The Curmudgeon is never comfortable. He fidgets and fusses, and heaps piles of scorn upon himself and those around him.

He is toxic. Don’t even get me started on his distraught relationship with guilt.

And yet, the stubbornness at his core fortifies him, like a shot of strong bourbon in the biting cold of mid-winter.

He knows it is darkest before the dawn, and that’s how he manages to carry on.

He walks tall through danger because OF COURSE THE DARK TIMES CAME BACK, YOU FOOLS. What the fuck did you think was going to happen? How did that possibly catch you off guard?

The worst case scenario is inevitable. Don’t ask if, but when and how and most of all, how bad.

The Curmudgeon is bad tempered because he believes he can be better; he is disgusted with humanity because he recognizes how far we have to go to become good.

And how often that opportunity slips through our sweaty fuckin’ fingers.

People who believe we live during the golden age of civilization are cursed with a severe lack of imagination.

A goddamn travesty, he’d tell ya. A waste.

If you happen to pass the Curmudgeon in the street at this time of year, and he’s not lost in thought or mumbling under his breath like a lunatic, you will know him by his greeting.

“Hey ya. Fuck you. Merry Christmas.”

The Smell of Cut Grass

eli-francis.jpg

Interior book design is meditative in a way that’s hard to explain. Repetitive yet satisfying, like mowing the lawn. Ahh, the smell of cut grass! The way the afternoon sun reflects off the even rows behind me.

But formatting books is better than mowing the lawn because I don’t have to contend with gasoline and hot metal, and there’s no grass to itch where my shoes rub against my ankles.

The design process clears my mind. I pop my headphones in and get lost putting things to rights. Resize a photo there. Match the fonts here. Even up those margins! METADATA IS THE BEST!!

*achem*

It’s especially freeing when the words don’t belong to me. When they’re someone else’s words, no dampened anxieties lurk behind the curtains of my mind. I’m still on the lookout for typos, errors, inconsistencies—as natural as breathing, you see—but have no need to worry about a massive hidden plot hole that might be lurking in that whiskey-fueled chapter I wrote at two o clock in the morning before a deadline.

Yet I still get to help make something I can hold in my hands. Maybe that’s why I like formatting books so much better than mowing the lawn, though they have traits in common—books are a craft, not a chore. After it’s done, a book goes out into the world. It takes on a life of its own. The grass in your front lawn carries on with its minor existence, too. Except, in that case, as every homeowner the whole world over knows even if they refuse to admit it, the grass looks and smells nice, but its only true purpose is to grow tall enough to force you back out there to cut it again.

I’m not saying my addiction to writing is any less potent. If anything, my draw to books is stronger, especially in me. But I’ll stick with books for now.

At least until the spring.

What It Means to Be Human

Photo by Patrick Tomasso: https://unsplash.com/@impatrickt

I believe people read to explore what it means to be human.

Who doesn’t love to pick up a new book, and get whisked away on an unexpected adventure? To fall in love with journey, the people? They are beautiful and they are flawed. Just like you.

It’s only natural to begin to empathize with their romance and their pain. Their loss becomes your loss. Their friendships folds itself close to your heart.

Life is to fiction as watered-down wine is to clear moonshine. Fiction is not life, it is life distilled.

Even a comedy has something to teach us between the punch lines.

Do you know anyone as well as you know the heroes and villains in your favorite books? Do you even know yourself that well?

And what other operation, apart from brain surgery, can take you so deep into the human mind?

This can be frightening, to be caught in such dark waters. But it also tends to open eyes.

Reading other people’s stories has something to do with what it means to be human.

Maybe the exploration is the meaning itself.

You can win 12 signed novels if you enter here between now and midnight on December 24, 2016! Award-winning novels, science fiction novels, fantasy novels. Do it!

12 Days of Books Giveaway

Also, check out my new short story about a garden and a robot named Michelangelo.

In Search of a Better Reading Experience

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

I took some time this week to redo mgherron.com. What do you think? A lot cleaner, right?

In search of a better reading experience, I switched themes on the site. This one (Make, if you’re wondering) loads much faster, has fewer bugs, and the style of the blog is more flexible. But above all, it’s clean and easy to read.

Ease of use is also a factor. Less work for me means I can spend more time spent writing for you.

Homepage of mgherron.com as of Dec 2016
Homepage of mgherron.com 12/10/16. Click to embiggen.

I also took the opportunity to gut some needless pages, and generally reorganize things. The blog is now over on the blog page instead of the homepage. There’s a new short stories page, and the stories not available on the website link straight to Amazon where you can buy them. Best of all, the new homepage features the books and stories instead of these random ass blog posts 😀

The blog posts are fun, but it makes perfect sense to feature the books and stories first. Welcome to MGHerron.com, here’s some entertaining fiction. That’s what this is about.

I also wrote a new bio. I wrote it in third person initially…Writing about myself in first person still feels awkward, but I changed it person at the suggestion of a writer friend. These Writing Out Loud blog posts have always been transparent and honest, I remembered, so it makes sense to extend that vulnerability to the rest of the site and what I’m trying to do here.

Bonus points

Speaking of which…Bonus points if you can find the new short story. I’m not doing anything to hide it. In fact, the cover is lovely and brings great joy to my heart. But I’m holding back on announcing it until the paperback version is ready. It’s taking longer than I expected for CreateSpace to sync with Amazon for this title. The ebook, however, is available.

If you have any comments on the new site, leave it in the comments or drop me a line at matt@mgherron.com


Photo by Samuel Zeller

Nothing + Time = Something

Photo by Maxime Le Conte des Floris: https://unsplash.com/@mlcdf

Blogging is exciting when I have news to share. It’s harder on all the other days, when I have so much I want to tell you but none of it seems like big news, none of it worthy of marking as time passes. So instead of making a new blog I shrug and let it slip by.

Not today!

November was a lot of nothing in that way. I worked. I showed up for my responsibilities. Time passed. It felt like nothing until I looked up and it was December, the end of another year, and, why, would you take a look at that, it all added up to a little something in the end.

During October and November I spent my writing time working on Tales. Of course. It seems like that project is going to drag on forever, but I’m about 25% of the way through the second draft now. At the end of this draft the book goes to a copyeditor, then to beta readers, then to the world.

So, very close. It’s been a long time coming. It feels like nothing, but there it is: 25% complete the second draft. 20,000 words out of about 80k total.

The other thing I accomplished, and this is more recent, just this week in fact, is that I got a new short story edited and produced. This is a story called “The End of the World Is Better with Friends” that I wrote during the short story workshop I took in August/September. I ran it by a new copyeditor, who seems great, and produced the ebook and print book myself just today.

I’ve listed those two projects in the new Story Tracker section included below along with all the other stories I have in various stages of completion. I’ll include these Story Trackers on non-topic-based blogs like this so you can see what I’ve been working on, if you’re interested.

The Tracker helps keep me honest, and, as I’ve said, helps me see that my effort adds up to something over time.

The next time you hear from me, I should have a new short story for you!

• • •

Story Tracker

Novels

Tales of the Republic, second draft … 25% complete
20,000 words revised / 80,000 estimated total words

Short Stories

“Centurion” … 3k words … Status: Out for submission (trade pub)

“Earworm” … 3k words … Status: Out for submission (trade pub)

“The End of the World Is Better with Friends” … 6k words … Status: Post-Production (indie)

“The Door Below the Comic Store” … 6k words … Status: Out for edits (indie)

“Wendigo” … 10k words … Status: Rough draft complete (tbd)

_
Photo by Maxime Le Conte des Floris

Good Distractions

Seattle trip near Pike Place Market

I haven’t written much fiction since my last update. Tinkered on short story revisions and procrastinated like a champion on novel edits. But my time was not wasted.

I spent most of my creative energy at the day job getting money to pay the bills. The rest of my time went into hunting for a new house in Austin, exercising and stretching to keep the back pain away, and–today–hosting an Indie Author Society meetup and setting up a future workshop on author branding. More on that soon. I’m really excited as this is the first workshop I’ve organized and I think it could help a lot of authors.

All that extra work last week was necessary because we leave for Seattle on Tuesday for a family getaway.

And, if I’m being honest, I think I could use a little vacation.

I will be working part time on the trip (of course), and doing a little writing too, but also trying to enjoy the downtime and soak in the atmosphere. We’ll be spending a lot of time in Capitol Hill, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle, so that part will be easy.

I’ll leave you now with one more photo, which I took last time we visited Seattle.

Seattle Gum Wall

I’ll try to post some new photos while we’re there later this week.

Until then I’ll be carving slices of time out of the day to write. Don’t need much, just need it to be focused. That’s the real trick to being productive.

A Tour of My Bookshelf

MG Herron's bookshelf

I’m experimenting with short book videos on my Facebook page.

The first installment is a tour of my bookshelf!

I’m posting them straight to my M. G. Herron Facebook page, but I’ve embedded the first video below for you to check out here.

Next, I’m going to do some short book reviews, starting with The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a wonderful short book and I know a bunch of interesting stuff about it, so it’s an easy one for me to do.

Like my page on Facebook if you want to see more videos like this. Doing videos is very much outside of my comfort zone, but I had fun with this one and decided to do more. It helps that they’re short, so they don’t take a lot of time to put together. Just need enough courage to smile into the camera lens and something to talk about.

Are there any books you’d like to see me review? Leave a comment on the blog and let me know if you do!

Writing updates

Here’s what’s new in my fiction.

I’m polishing those 5 short stories I wrote in the workshop. One has been submitted to a magazine. Another is awaiting some more feedback from beta readers. The other three need a little more work before I’m ready to mail them out.

Now that I have the titles more or less fixed, I’m going to list them here in the order I finished writing them:

  1. “Centurion”
  2. “Earworm”
  3. “The City of Many Worlds”
  4. “The Alien Apocalypse is Better with Friends”
  5. “Wendigo”

With any luck, I’ll be able to sell a few of these. I haven’t decided how long I’m going to keep them in the mail. Some of the more stubborn writers would keep them in the mail forever, until they sold. I don’t know if I have that kind of patience, but I want to give it at least six months to a year. These things take time, but the payoff is worth it for me. Selling a fiction story to a pro market has been a personal goal of mine for a long time.

In other book news, I also got all of the edits for Tales of the Republic back, and had a great call with my editor last Thursday. I’m currently doing a full read through of the manuscript and making detailed notes before I start the revisions.

To summarize the editorial feedback, the plot of the book is solid, but there is some work to be done on character depth, emotion, pacing, and some of the mystery that I unintentionally left off the page.

C’est la vie. I feel like this is pretty standard feedback for a first draft of mine, short or long. I’m glad that all the work I put into the plot paid off—not having to rewrite a significant portion of the manuscript is a relief (I rewrote huge chunks of The Auriga Project because of plot problems).

So I think I’m getting better at this writing novels thing. But I still have a lot to learn. Of course!

I expect the revisions will take me another month or two, so Tales probably won’t be ready until near the end of the year.

That’s okay. My first priority is always to write the best book I can.

It’s worth the extra effort to make readers happy, and to know in my bones that I wrote the best book I could at the time.

I plan to be writing for a long time, so patience at this stage is crucial. I’ve been on this journey for almost three years now and this is still just the beginning.