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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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.