Finding a Path

It’s hard being a writer who isn’t writing. That’s probably the most obvious statement in the world beyond water being wet, but it’s where I’ve been for months now, and when most of your social circle online is made up of writers, the guilt and fear and shame and anger and resentment and everything else pile up quickly.

About 95% of this is due to the day job, which has required extra hours/mandatory overtime for months on end, a situation that’s likely to continue at least through the end of the year. I’ve never had much success trying to write on the weekends, so the hour on weekday mornings that I spent writing was the majority of my writing time, and for week after week that’s been absorbed into work time. As easy as it sounds (especially to myself) to say, well, write in the evening instead, or some other time, it hasn’t been that simple. I can’t get up any earlier or go to bed any later (I’ve learned I can’t sacrifice sleep and still be a functional human being), so for a long time I’ve felt… stuck. Trapped.

It hasn’t all been process issues, though. There’s also the feeling of having a dozen different directions I could go in, project-wise, and yet not being sure what I really want to work on. And since I haven’t had time to go into anything deeply, when I have had twenty or thirty minutes to work on something, the time has mostly gone into trying to figure out what I should work on, or trying to brainstorm ideas for whatever anthology had the closest deadline, and then not feeling like I made any progress when I couldn’t come up with anything viable. (And there’s always that feeling hanging over me of “you’ve only completed one short story THIS WHOLE ENTIRE YEAR,” which then brings on that anxiety of, I need to get going, I need to finish something else NOW, I need to catch up on this blog and Three From Waynesboro isn’t getting updated nearly often enough, and probably everyone’s forgotten about it, and see, that’s yet another thing I’m behind on…” Et cetera. And then the brain stays in anxiety mode, which is lousy for making anything, especially when you only have fifteen or twenty minutes at a time.)

I know that, at least for right now, the way I think about my work needs to be different from how writers are usually told (directly or implicitly) to think about it. For one thing, I find myself wanting to think more like an artist, to approach creative work as an experiment, as play. As much as I might well need (or even want) one someday, right now my entire soul recoils at the words “business plan.” And yet I know what I want, as soon as possible, is another book, whether that’s a novel or novella or a short story collection. I want that feeling of completeness, of the finished thing with a cover, of hey, look, people (self), I have been doing something after all.

It’s just a long road to get there, especially when you feel like you’re not making any progress beyond pages of random notes or odd phrases that pop into your head.

I try to tell myself, though, that at least I’m remaining open. Those notes and phrases are still me being receptive, listening, gathering. It’s a difficult mindset, because it goes against that grain of “ONLY word count matters, ONLY the writing counts as real — research, listening, brainstorming, listening to podcasts, reading blogs about writing — none of that really counts” that writers hear so much of. I understand the advice — sure, you have to actually write sometime — but I’m reminding myself that I haven’t totally shut down. My writing isn’t all in some room gathering dust with the door closed and locked. I haven’t shut myself away from all aspects of it. In some ways, I’m thinking about it more than I ever have before, and that’s not a terrible thing.

(And I’ve signed on for the Notebook Project again, which was fun last year, and is a great alternative to NaNoWriMo, and which I hope will loosen things up even more, being as low-pressure and potentially playful a challenge as it is.)

All that said, it’s surprised me to realize that what bothers me about not writing isn’t so much the not-writing part; it’s the not-publishing (or at least sending things out) part. I’ve always felt that submitting and publishing work is that last part of the creative process — things don’t feel finished until they have a home somewhere, even if it’s just being shared here or on my website — and it’s bothered me more than I expected, to not have new things to put out there. But I print out guidelines of magazines that I’d like to submit to, sometime, when I have something again, and I put them in a folder, and they’re safe, and right now that has to be enough.

So. I’m still trying, and I’m trying to go easy on myself in the meantime. I’m reading blogs like The Fluent Self and Bane of Your Resistance and Tiny Buddha and Chris Oatley’s blog, and Austin Kleon’s newsletter, and Keri Smith’s blog. I’m reading Natalie Goldberg and Elizabeth Gilbert (and listening to Gilbert’s podcast Magic Lessons). And I’m seeking out new sources of input for art and poems and essays (like The Sun). I’ve kept having this feeling, for months, that if I can just explore enough creative work that’s different, unusual, thought-provoking — enough randomness, enough novelty — I can somehow find more depth and variety in what I create myself.

I’m trying to reframe this, instead of a dry spell, as something of a hibernation, if not the tiny hope of a metamorphosis. If conditions become favorable again to write the way I used to, I want to be ready; if they don’t, I want to adapt enough to be able to keep going.

And now… well, now it’s time to work. As usual. But at least I won’t have “update my blog” hanging over me for a while.🙂

Knowing What Doesn’t Work

Camp NaNoWriMo has come and gone for another year, and I made a halfhearted attempt at the July session, joining up with a cabin of middle grade writers in the hopes of completing my MG manuscript-that-is-mostly-just-many-pages-of-notes, Tinker’s Gap. I say “halfhearted” because Camp was very nonproductive for me this time — I never felt fully committed to it or really excited about it, so I never got an outline together, and what I quickly learned once writing time started was that this particular book doesn’t want to be written in an on-the-fly rush. What words I did wind up writing during July were mostly unrelated blog posts for Three From Waynesboro, a couple freewrites, and an opening scene for Tinker’s Gap that may or may not stay.

They say to view your writing as an experiment, in the sense that every experiment is valuable because it either ends in success or you learn something to help for next time. In this case, I learned that 1) above all else right now, I hate having to count how many words I’ve written in a day, and 2) the NaNo setup overall just isn’t my thing anymore. This time around, what struck me was that not only was I not anywhere close to meeting my word count goal, I didn’t even care that I wasn’t meeting it. (My only concern was that maybe I was making a lousy first impression on my cabinmates, although thankfully I wasn’t the only one to not make my goal for the month.)

I still have fond memories of my first NaNoWriMo and of my first Camp NaNoWriMo, but ever since then, any further attempts at either one have never been able to recapture that first sense of excitement and play and fun, and I wind up just forcing myself to try to get through it and regretting that I signed up.

So. Duly noted, universe, even if it did take a few tries to finally sink in.

I’ve also been trying to find some kind of emotional balance with social media — which, for me, mostly means Twitter these days. On the one hand, since I work from home, Twitter is kind of my water cooler, my hangout, and makes up a big portion of my online social interaction (and my social interaction in general, to be honest).

On the other hand, it can also be incredibly toxic for me. In this case I’m not talking about harassment or issues like that; instead, it’s the experience of having a feed made up of lots of writers (and a fair amount of them pro-level writers or pro-level indie writers), so there are days when I feel like I’m reading a constant feed made up of, hey I’m going to this con, or I’m GoH at this other con, or here I am at this workshop, or I’m nominated for this award, or here’s my latest blog tour or my tweets from this awesome book festival or the cover reveal for my next series book, yay!… and my comparison monster wakes up and stretches and gets to work, and the next thing I know I’m sitting there feeling sorry for myself because I don’t have tons of best writing pals talking up my stuff, or a bunch of fans to banter with, or a cutesy group-nickname for my newsletter subscribers*, and why doesn’t anybody ever ask me questions on Goodreads, and why don’t I have more reviews, and I’ve barely written anything this year and nobody reads my stuff anyway so why bother, and I hate my day job and I hate myself and oh also I hate the entire freaking world and everyone in it.

You can see where this might become something of an issue.

I know it seems simple to say, okay, just stay off Twitter then — but despite what I’ve said above, I really like a lot of things about Twitter. I like keeping up with and meeting and interacting with people there. I follow a lot of cool feeds of really interesting stuff that I’d miss out on otherwise. I do enjoy being there… except when I don’t.

So part of figuring out other stuff that doesn’t work for me lately has been trying to take more control of what I’m consuming. Right now that means muting various people on Twitter when I need to (and not feeling bad about it), and I switched to Tweetdeck so I can also have the ability to mute keywords and hashtags. I know full well that I’m never going to be able to avoid everything that can trigger envy, frustration, burnout, depression, or just general despair about the state of humanity (read: the 2016 presidential election), but I’m going to try to walk away and/or mute more often, to make those times shorter and easier for me to deal with, rather than getting stuck in that downward spiral of “I should be able to deal with this and I’m a terrible person because I can’t.”

By the same token, I’ve also been cleaning house in terms of unsubscribing from blogs and mailing lists that just get deleted from my inbox anyway, or give me one more thing I feel like I have to keep up with. I’m running everything past the test of is this really worth my time?, in the sense of (to use the words of Marie Kondo), does this spark joy? Does it feed my curiosity or give me information I really need at the place I’m at right now? I don’t need to read more articles with publishing or marketing advice when right now my biggest challenge is to bring joy back into the process of creating. (And yes, I’m taking breaks from Twitter and the Internet in general when the political scene or the cynicism or the general vitriol and idiocy just gets to be too much.)

Recent days, then, have been about admitting, and clearing out, what doesn’t work. Now I’m left trying to figure out what still does — but I’ll save that rambling for another post.


*suggestions welcome

Smashwords sale – 75% off my books in July!

Smashwords Summer_Winter SaleSmashwords is having their annual Summer/Winter sale promotion during the month of July, and I’ve added my ebooks to it, so for the month of July all my ebooks on Smashwords are 75% off. That makes Real Dragons Don’t Wear Sweaters and Wishing Season free, and it drops Huntress to just $1.25. (Six Impossible Things is, of course, always free.)

These prices are only good on Smashwords through July 31, using the coupon code SSW75.

You can see all my Smashwords stuff at my profile:

And you can view and search all the Smashwords books in the Summer/Winter sale (25% off, 50% off, 75% off, or free) here:

And as always, whether you get your copies from Smashwords, Amazon, or somewhere else, please consider leaving a review after you’ve read them. Reviews help other readers find the stuff they’ll like, so they’re pretty important for authors like me who are still building their audience.

Interview! + something for your Kindle

I love being interviewed – I mean, media-type interviews, not job stuff. (I don’t know who really likes job interviews in and of themselves, but I’m sure there’s somebody out there. If so, awesome. You do you.)

Anyway, this is the cool talk-about-your-writing kind of interview. It’s a Member Spotlight from the Furry Writers’ Guild, and it was still fun to answer the set of questions even though I was the one who wrote them back when I started the Member Spotlight feature almost two years ago. A bit like hiding your own Easter eggs, but it’s still a good set of questions, I think:

I also wanted to note that if you haven’t picked up a copy of my mini short story collection Six Impossible Things, it’s finally being price-matched again at Amazon, so you can get it free for your Kindle right here. (And it’s always free at Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, if you’d rather.)

sixcoversmallThe ebook features six of my odd little fantasy stories, and let’s face it, where else are you going to find stories with casts made up of humans, imaginary friends, a talking raccoon named after junk food, a cartoon tiger, a werewolf, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? For free?

(Nowhere. I’ve looked. That’s why I had to write these things myself.)

On the writing front, last night I sent out my first non-reprint short story submission of the year, which makes me feel more like a “real” writer again and less like somebody who just sort of used to be one. Obviously the first half of the year has been a little sparse for me, but I’m starting to get myself back on track now, so I’m hoping the second half of 2016 will be a lot more productive. I’m also going to be doing a big overhaul/redesign of my website soon, which I’m actually kinda looking forward to, even though I know it’s going to be a lot of work. (And I haven’t forgotten about Three From Waynesboro, either; look for a new post there later this week.) As always, sign up for my mailing list so you won’t miss anything important!


Leave and Courage

From L. M. Montgomery’s Emily’s Quest, and the title character’s journal:

This has been a lyric spring day — and a miracle has happened. It happened at dawn — when I was leaning out of my window, listening to a little, whispering, tricksy wind o’ morning blowing out of Lofty John’s bush. Suddenly — the flash came — again — after these long months of absence — my old, inexpressible glimpse of eternity. And all at once I knew I could write. I rushed to my desk and seized my pen. All the hours of early morning I wrote; and when I heard Cousin Jimmy going downstairs I flung down my pen and bowed my head over my desk in utter thankfulness that I could work again.

“Get leave to work–
In this world ’tis the best you get at all,
For God in cursing gives us better gifts
Than men in benediction.”

So wrote Elizabeth Barret Browning — and truly. It is hard to understand why work should be called a curse — until one remembers what bitterness force or uncongenial labour is. But the work for which we are fitted — which we feel we are sent into the world to do — what a blessing it is and what fulness of joy it holds. I felt this to-day as the old fever burned in my finger-tips and my pen once more seemed a friend. . .

Oh, God, as long as I live give me “leave to work.” Thus pray I. Leave and courage.

It was not the wind this morning, it was the rain and the mist in the woods and the music in my headphones. It was only a few paragraphs, and I have no idea where they fit in the larger work, yet. But characters were speaking to me again, and it was time, at last, at my desk, writing, and the hope of more in the days to come — and after months of almost nothing, I understood exactly what Emily feels above.


Poetry feature on [adjective][species]

Over on the furry fandom blog [adjective][species], they did their first poetry post last year for National Poetry Month, featuring poems by several poets (including me), all animal- or furry-related.

This year, I’ve been asked to be the guest editor for their second poetry collection (see the call for submissions here), and as part of [a][s]’s poetry posts for April, they’ve featured seven of my animal-themed poems:

“Panthera tigris,” “Grizzly,” and “Lord Tiger’s Answer”

“Comanche” and “February 1: Groundhog Goes to the FoodMart”

“The Unicorn at the Zoo” and “Pulse”

If you enjoy those, there are more poems at my website’s poetry page, and I’ll also be sharing some here in the coming days, in honor of National Poetry Month. Watch this space.🙂

My other blog…

ttacelcropNow that it finally has some more content available on it, I wanted to take a moment here to mention my new blog Three From Waynesboro. It’s meant to be something of a digital memoir/scrapbook of what happened back in eighth grade when two friends and I sold a story to Steven Spielberg that became the Tiny Toon Adventures episode “Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian.” (The 25th anniversary of that episode’s airing is coming up this November, so I figured the timing was never going to be better.)

Of course, not everyone who’s following what I’m doing now is going to be interested in what I was doing when I was 13 (and vice versa), so I won’t be crossposting here. If you want to keep up with new posts to 3FW, you can follow by email (using the Follow button in the site’s right sidebar), follow the Twitter notification account, or there’s also an RSS feed if you’re into that.

I’ve been a bit slow at getting posts up there because of being busy with other things, but I’m planning on 2-3 posts a month for April and May, and then about 3-5 a month beginning in June, when my official duties to the Furry Writers’ Guild will be discharged and I’ll have a little more time for personal projects like this.🙂