The People Who Build You Up

Guys, it is already May. Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and because of that I wanted to take this time to talk about the people who support us in what we do, whether they are friends or family or something else entirely. I’ve certainly been blessed with plenty of people who do just that for me.

Many people view writing as a solitary endeavor, but that is certainly not the case. While the act of writing our first draft is largely solitary, after this it is absolutely critical to involve other people in the process. In order to produce a good piece of work, we need to rely on beta readers, editors, copyeditors, and, in some cases, publishers, artists, and technical specialists.

Beyond the technical process of writing, we still need people. We can’t do this alone. Writing is hard and discouraging and not always as rewarding as we would like. For some of us, we rely on family or friends to support us in our endeavors, whether they are writers or not. For those of us with unsupportive family or friends, we may need to look outside our bubbles and enter into internet circles or local writing groups to find people who support us.

Whatever your situation, I hope you take the opportunity this week to thank the people who have helped you along the way. They truly are our muses, our solid foundations, our inspiration, and our warm fuzzy feelings.

To get things started, I’ll list the people who have been here for me.

For writing, my sister, Becca, has been one of my biggest supporters. She was always the first one to be excited about what I was working on, the first to be impressed with my new ideas or first drafts, the one who always told me to go for it no matter what anyone else said. She was confident that I could do what I wanted to do with my writing, and that’s meant the world. I’ve also been blessed with some really great friends who believe in me and my stories, and that’s kept me going when it’s been hard. They have been my beta readers, my sounding boards, and, most importantly, my best friends and unrelated family.

For life, school, and work, my parents have been my rocks. They keep me grounded and remind me that life will be okay. They keep me amused and safe and still provide for me in various ways emotionally and physically. I couldn’t ask for better.

And then there’s my brother, Josh, who always offers to bash some heads in when people are jerks. Gotta love it.

So there you have it. The people who keep me going.

What about you? Who can you thank this week for what you’ve been able to do? Share in the comments!

The Distracted Writer

A lot of writers on the internet are likely to tell you the same thing: in order to write, you must turn off the distractions and focus on your writing and your writing alone.

So okay, I know that’s pretty good advice. The best way to focus on what you’re doing is not to multitask. No TV on in the “background”, no Netflix, no Facebook or Instagram or Tumblr or email. Just you and the page set in front of you. And maybe a good instrumental (or otherwise) writing playlist.

And I’ll be the first to say that this is good advice for any writer to follow.

However, I’ll also be the first to say that I very rarely write without distractions.

Like many newer writers (and by newer I mean those who may or may not have published yet but have only recently begun to seriously write… oftentimes juggling writing with a day job and/or family), I work at my job full-time (and previously I was a full-time student). I deal with my problems, health, social life, and expenses on a regular basis. I try to develop healthy habits like exercise and practicing mindfulness and daily time to nourish my relationship with God. And I try to keep some semblance of a writing habit on top of this.

But I’m also a huge nerd with a huge pile of hobbies. I love going to the movies. I get sucked into reading multiple books at a time. I paint, draw, and play piano. I binge shows on TV and on Netflix. And these hobbies take up time.

Now, I am lucky enough to have a job with very set hours, a job where the work doesn’t really come home with me. And now I live less than half an hour away. So I get to leave at 4 in the afternoon (usually) and have until about 11 pm (my bedtime) to do whatever needs to be done. Sometimes all I have time for is meeting with a friend or a group and then using the last hour (or less) to equilibrate my introvert self before I go to sleep. Sometimes I have an entire evening to pile in as many hobbies as I want.

This often leaves me in the dilemma of choosing to read OR watch Netflix OR do something else that requires less divided attention. Oftentimes I will open up my current novel and turn on the TV in the background, leaving both on for the entire night. Would I get more done if I just focused on one for a set amount of time? Sure I would.

But I’ll let you in on a hint about me. It is very rare that I find myself able to focus solely on one thing. Even if I’m writing with nothing else, there’s still the cat. If I’m at my parents’ house, the different environment (and two lovable dogs) are distraction enough to keep me from even pulling out my computer. If I write with music, the music tends to carry me away anyway. And sure, I can focus when I need to. I’ve never had problems meeting deadlines. I know how to pace myself and how I work.

So the truth is, I am a perpetually distracted writer. And I know that. And you know what? That’s okay. Because I still get my work done, little by little, and I get a lot of it accomplished on weekends.

I am unlikely to finish my word count goal for Camp NaNo this year. I’m okay with that. My goal was more being able to get some kind of schedule back, because for a long time I had lost it entirely. I am getting my ability to write regularly back. And it’s regular writing, and not necessarily having a great, focused writing session day in and day out that leads to a completed work. Just always putting one word after another.

Sometimes that’s enough.

Starting with a Spark: Ember of Foxfire

It had been a while since I started a completely and wholly new story. Yes, there were a few starts, a couple short stories, a couple incomplete beginnings that have since been largely abandoned, but nothing I’d intended to be a real new world.

You see, I have been working on a series of fantasy novels since 2011. I finally completed my editing process in the month of March 2016 and sent it out to my first potential publisher. I had spent years upon years, countless hours and brain cells, thinking and living and breathing that world.

And then it was time to step back and wait, and I was left in a story vacuum.

After editing for so long, bouncing back from a huge dry spell, and needing something new purely for the joy of creation, I needed fresh inspiration. I thought about how things had started for the previous series. That was simple: I had been watching I Dream of Jeannie and really wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a genie. And it grew and morphed into a new, complex, colorful world filled with characters I loved. Stories I had to tell. Worlds I wanted to explore.

But what about now? All I had was my current fascination with urban fantasy. I was sucked into worlds of werewolves, floating on ocean waves with sirens, dreaming of creatures who prowled the night and fought evil right in our own world or in variations of our world.

And I love it.

But, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of vampires, I’m not feeling the urge to write beautiful mermaid tales, and the world is saturated with werewolf fiction. So where did that leave me?

I narrowed down that I wanted to write urban fantasy. But I was still without the “fantasy” element. I scoured online lists of mythological beings, writing out notes on selkies, swan maidens, and kitsune, just to name a few. And of everything I read, I kept coming back to the kitsune. I searched for other kitsune fiction, and while it was there, it was sparse and questionable. But I wanted to read about fox shifters. They didn’t have to be perfect kitsune. But they were different and powerful and had a hierarchy already built in to their growth and development. It was the first spark.

And then a character started forming in my mind. A half fox shifter, half human girl just entering her independence in the human world after years of learning from the other fox shifters. She was young, naive, and not exactly popular with her peers because of her parentage. But she was also brave and strong and wasn’t afraid to be both girly and tough.

But what would happen to her? I’m not a huge fan of romance, especially the love-at-first-sight kind that plagues a lot of urban fantasy, so I knew I wanted it to be romance light or romance free. I knew she would have a fully fox brother who was older and more experienced than her. And then I read more about the kitsune. I created a similar North American kitsune lore. I developed the basic plot of what would happen to my character. I knew where she was going and what she would be facing. I knew how she would have to grow. I saw her trials, her enemies, and her friends. I had finally met Ember.

And there it was. I was ready to start creating again.

Words Save Our Lives, Sometimes

-Neil Gaiman (title quote)

“Books have a funny way of finding you when you need them the most.”
-Jon Acuff (3 reasons to give someone a book this Christmas)

It never ceases to amaze me how, sometimes, you can find exactly the book you need at exactly the right time. Personally, I believe that has something to do with God speaking to me. But I have yet to meet a reader who hasn’t experienced this deep and astonishing connection to a pile of ink and paper.

One of my most recent encounters with this kind of situation was with Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl. I had heard so many things about that book, mostly good, and for a couple of months I wanted nothing more than to read it.

Well, I finally got it in August of 2014. And I read it. And I read it again within two weeks. And then I loaned it to a friend and obsessed over reading it again as soon as I got it back.

There was just something about Cath, about the story itself, that connected with me. Cath is like me in many ways. A writer. Somewhat lacking in self-confidence. Going through a time of great personal change and questioning. Learning how to be on her own. The story went through some major ups and downs, so much like my own life.

And in the end, Cath found her voice. She found what made her happy. She took a step out into the world as a new version of herself.

And I loved it so much that I am still obsessed with the book a year and a half later.

You see, Fangirl was exactly the story I needed at the time I read it. It pulled me in, heart and soul, it gave me anxiety, it made me cry, but, most importantly, it gave me hope about my own life, that things would be okay. It left me with that warm fuzzy feeling of well-being. So much so that merely holding the book was encouraging to me.

Now, isn’t that what every writer wants? To affect their readers in such dramatic ways that they can look and say, “Yes, that book saved my life. I read it right when I needed it most.”

I think that if we, as writers, focus on the things that matter to us, if we honestly use our experiences and voices to craft our stories, if we don’t run away and hide the demons lurking inside every human, then we can truly create those kinds of stories. Yes, it can be gut-wrenching and embarrassing to bare those parts of our souls. But without that, all we have is a flat piece of writing that someone will read and forget, if they even finish it. If they even pick it up in the first place.

So what about you? What books have truly impacted you in such a way? How do you use your own experiences in your writing to make an impact on the reader?

Publishing in Installments? What?

So, I recently came across a really interesting book by an author I hadn’t read before. And I loved the book. It was original. It was beautiful. It was unique. It played to parts of me that don’t get nearly enough attention (my music). I loved it.

Except for one thing.

It seems that this author is dividing his books into parts (like, not just multiple books in a series, but stopping partway through as a “Part One”) with no indication of when the next part will be released.

This bothers me.

This bothers me because now I started a story I love and I don’t know when, or if, I will be able to finish it.

It bothers me because, instead of writing the story he wants to because he loves it, he is writing a whole slew of stories in installments and waiting for readers to tell him what they like and don’t like… presumably so he knows which stories to kill and which to continue.

It bothers me because now I may never know where the story is going because I don’t know when he’ll get around to continuing this one again, in the middle of his at least 5 other “Part One”s.

It bothers me because it feels unfair. Because it feels like the author is not being true to himself and his stories. Because it feels like I’m being cheated by someone more concerned with pleasing a crowd of unknowns than pleasing his own inner storyteller.

Why is this a problem? Because if you can’t love your story simply because it is the story you have to tell, and not because other people love it, than how can you expect to be seen as a confident writer? How can you expect people to fall in love with stories when you are so unsure about them yourself that you won’t finish them before getting input?

I mean, beta readers are one thing. But literally these books are being sold on Amazon as Part One of a story (I got them because I bought them on a day they were free… I don’t think I’d pay for an incomplete story, even if it was only 99 cents).

Am I completely crazy for thinking this? Have you ever encountered such a publishing method before, outside of serials?

Time for Camp! Camp NaNoWriMo, that is.

Over the past year or so, I’ve fallen into the trap of a writing slump. Granted, in that time I was able to complete a short story contest (in which I got to the final round of judging!), my masters thesis, and slowly finish revisions of my completed manuscript to start querying publishers. However, my writing has been slow, and the schedule I once had fell by the wayside due to personal life circumstances.

But I want it back.

And that’s why, starting April 1st, I am starting (or continuing, since I got over-excited and wrote a page) an all new writing project, using April’s Camp NaNoWriMo as a springboard.

I’m not sure how it will go, but my goal here is to get back into the swing of writing. To rescue some semblance of a writing schedule. To write a new draft for the pure joy of writing and creating something new and interesting (at least to me).

And oh man, am I excited for this project.

While I’ve written fantasy set in the contemporary world before, that fantasy largely took place in another world that exists at the same time. So, I wouldn’t necessarily brand it the same way. This time, I want to try my hand at urban fantasy. You can check out my Pinterest inspiration board for the project here. There are going to be fox spirits (my own version of kitsune for the North American east coast), werewolves, selkies, swan men and maidens, and the occasional mer person, maybe others (we’ll see what happens). And of course I’m going to set it in southeastern Pennsylvania. I love Pennsylvania. Born and raised in the mountains on the central eastern side of the state.

That’s all I’m willing to give away for now. There is nothing like that feeling of a new project simmering on your brain stove. It’s going to be fun!

Waiting Games

There is no feeling like the feeling of completing a draft. It is exhilarating, it is fulfilling, it is accomplishment. It is a milestone that few writers reach. And when you get there, you deserve to celebrate.

The thing is, it doesn’t end there.

After you finish the draft and celebrate, maybe go out and party with some friends (or maybe just stay home, dance, and read a book you’ve been dying to read), you still have a few critical milestones standing between you and the reader. I passed the next one: rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting…

After having the draft of This Cursed Flame (my fantasy novel set mostly in my own version of a djinn Realm, following one very shy and quiet genie who just might be the key to saving all the Realms) completed for a couple of years and editing and revising in the meantime, I finally worked up the nerve to submit my very first query to a publisher that accepts queries from unagented authors. This was the critical part, since I decided to move forward without an agent for the time being.

I did my research, I met with my writer friend Dara Lyons (who you can learn more about here), I composed my query letter, and I sent it off into cyber space.

That was a few weeks ago. And still not a word.

I don’t expect to have my work picked up right away. But waiting can be torture.

So what about you? Have any of you gone through the direct-to-publisher querying process? How long did you wait before moving on, and how did it go for you?