Indie Life 07-09-14

Self Publishing, Writing Process

It’s time for another edition of Indie Life, hosted by The Indelibles. You can sign up by clicking the graphic! IndieLife7

It’s my return to Indie Life! While I wish I could say I’ve been slacking on these posts because they no longer apply to me and I’ve just signed a million dollar contract with some fancy New York agent, the truth is being indie is the very reason I’ve hardly had time to keep up with blogging at all. Because being indie means financing all of my own projects and since I’m not selling thousands of copies of my books a day, that means I have to work. A lot. I took on a second job in the Spring, bringing my total hours to just shy of 60. And that brings me to today’s indie gripe–the unpredictability of life.

I know this is a law of the universe that effects all of us but one of the most tedious and important parts of being an independent artist is being organized. There are a lot of spontaneous artists out there who rely on divine inspiration rather than deadlines and who create only when they feel like it, abandoning it as soon as it starts to feel like work. But the success and the fulfillment doesn’t come to those who quit. Those things are reserved for finishers and if you’ve been doing the indie thing for any length of time, you’ve probably got finishing down pat.

See, I have a formula for finishing and it goes a little something like this: writing every day+reading every day=books. Pretty simple, right? When I’m living my life within the parameters of this routine a magical kind of momentum is created and it’s the secret to how I’m planning on finishing four novels this year. FOUR WHOLE BOOKS that will be the hard-earned result of extreme dedication and a devoted work ethic. But despite my diligence and despite my deadlines, there is always the chance that something will go awry and sometimes that something isn’t small. Sometimes that something is big and important and needs your immediate attention. Sometimes you will have to set your art aside and find a second job shelving library books just so you can pay your bills.

It’s a sad truth but a truth nonetheless. Because unfortunately for us indies, there is no amount of want or need or hard work or deservedness that can make pursuing our dreams a totally seamless endeavor. Even when we put the work in every single day, without a huge publisher behind us or a huge readership, there will always be the chance that things will go wrong, or other responsibilities will stand in our way. That’s just a part of being indie. We are in a constant state of choosing, swapping out needs and responsibilities based on what we can physically and mentally accomplish that day. Sometimes after a long day of working our regular 9 to 5 job, we only have enough energy to do laundry and our manuscript gets pushed to the side. On other days we might have to make the hard decision to miss coffee with friends just so we can meet a self-imposed deadline. But regardless of how stringent we are when it comes to doing what we love, let’s be honest, until we’re paying the mortgage with our writing, that time will always be up for debate. Not because we don’t believe it’s important but because we’re only human and there is only so much we can do.

So maybe this week’s indie gripe isn’t really about being indie at all. Maybe it’s really about the modern day juggling act we’re all trying to master, the balance between surviving in this world and thriving in it getting harder and harder to achieve. Today was one of those hard days. But even though I have several looming deadlines and the thought of not making any progress on my WIP today ties me in a knot, I will forgive myself. Because I’m indie. Because I’m human.

WIP Wednesday

Writing Process

I feel like I just wrote one of these posts and after visiting my blog for the first time in weeks I realize that it’s because I just did. I haven’t been blogging much and it’s partly because I haven’t had very much time but it’s also partly because I’m afraid of documenting my snail-pace progress for all the world to see and also of reading about all of the amazing things other people are accomplishing that I’m not. I guess you could say I’m in an intense state of hibernation these days working on this series but the strange thing is that the more I work on it, the more work there is to do. Every time I peel back a layer of disfunction there are two more hidden underneath and when I make a significant change to the plot I don’t just have to make sure it works within that particular novel, but I have to go back and weave it through three other books. I’m not sure what I expected. I knew writing a series wouldn’t be easy but I also didn’t anticipate that almost an entire year would go by before I published something post Breathing Ghosts. I know that writing them back to back was the right decision for me, especially since this is my first series, but eight months without putting anything new out into the world has definitely made me more gun-shy when it comes to this next project. Hence the hiding in shame.

But seeing as this monthly check-in is supposed to hold me accountable, I’ll be honest and share the fact that nothing much has changed since my last WIP Wednesday. Book 4 was supposed to FINALLY be complete this month but after several delays and going out of town last week that’s just not going to happen. Luckily it’s just awaiting some minor changes to the ending and one last copy edit before I can set it aside for good.

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As for the sequel, I’m slowly working my way through those revisions now. Tragedy struck for one of my beta readers and all of her notes were deleted and although (thankfully) she was willing to re-read the entire thing again, it set me back about two weeks and after going out of town I just haven’t had a chance to gain the momentum I really need to get through these changes.

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I was supposed to be editing the third book this week, but due to the aforementioned setback I won’t be getting to those revisions until next week.

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The almost good news is that I’ve still been making somewhat steady progress on the last novel in the series and just hit 41,000 words, which is just about halfway. The bad news is that my deadline is just two weeks away and there’s no way I’m going to meet it.

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But the real good news this month? On the drive back from my trip I had an epiphany about my NA Contemporary novel and when I re-write the entire thing from scratch this fall it might actually be interesting.

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I was tempted to delete this post instead of publish it but that wouldn’t exactly be fair. Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery and I definitely have a problem focusing right now. But for the sake of my own sanity I can’t keep dwelling on all of the things I didn’t do this past month. In fact, let’s all just pretend like the month of May didn’t even happen. Let’s also pretend like it’s not my 23rd birthday this month and that, just like everyone else on the planet, I’m not immune to getting older.

Everything Else is Extra

Mental Health

This month I officially started working 60 hours a week and do you know what’s more motivating than having a job you hate? Having two jobs you hate. I’m being a little over-dramatic. The truth is I don’t hate my jobs. I’m grateful that I’m finally making enough money to not just survive but…oh I don’t know, maybe see a movie or buy an ice cream or something. The truth is that the stress of working so many hours is much more endurable than the stress of not being able to pay my bills. So I don’t hate working, I just hate not writing.

It’s only been a week into my new schedule and already I’m fighting off that negative self-talk and all of the terrifying “what ifs” that seem to plague me every time I’m not living up to my full potential as an artist. I’ve let feelings like this cripple me in the past, the doubt so intense that I just stopped writing altogether.  But I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let that happen this time. Because I’m not going to feel guilty about working or about wanting peace of mind. And more importantly I’m not going to buy into the falsehood that only writing in my free time means that I’m not a “real” writer.

I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t make enough money from book sales to write full time and I’m not ashamed of the fact that the jobs that do pay my bills are ones that don’t fulfill me in any way other than financially. What I do is not who I am, and that doesn’t just go for my day job but it applies to my writing as well. I write. I am a writer. But at my core, in my essence, I’m not defined by any of these things. What does define me? The effort I put in to my work, especially when I don’t feel like doing my best or when no one’s watching. The way I treat people and the way I treat myself. Things that measure something even more important than success but that measure my ability to be human. I want to be good at that because everything else is extra. The money and the success and the recognition, none of that is guaranteed, and yet I always overwhelm myself with this pressure to achieve it and end up feeling like a failure even though I’m anything but.

Writing is what I love and it is absolutely what I want to do but how much I write, how well I write, and any success that may come of it is not what will define me. I will define me, in ways big and small, tangible and intangible, not based on what I received in this life but on how much I was willing to give.

The Importance of Daily Declarations

Writing Process

When it comes to writing, and more importantly finishing, momentum is everything. Like they always say, an object in motion tends to stay in motion while in object at rest tends to stay at rest. It’s pure science, ya’ll. Another universally known scientific fact? Procrastination is a disease. The good news? It’s not incurable.

Without my routine I’m like a buoy in the breeze, my direction and motivation constantly changing according to my emotions, my circumstances, and whatever interesting website I happen to stumble upon on the internet. It’s a dangerous environment and while “freedom” is, in so many people’s minds, synonymous with creativity and inspiration, the truth is the muse must be harnessed like every other beast of burden. The muse should work when we say it’s going to work and not the other way around but the only way to accomplish this is to stop making excuses and start cracking the whip. This means that setting crystal clear and achievable expectations is a must. But not just for each story or each draft but for every minute of every day.

Holidays always have a tendency to derail my focus and sometimes it takes me weeks to find my motivation again. But just because something’s been displaced doesn’t mean it’s been lost. In my opinion, finding your focus is all about the preparation. Every day I sit down at my desk and I know everything I’m going to accomplish that day and in what order. Lists and plans don’t wok for everyone but having a clear direction is crucial. But not only do I know what I’m going to accomplish and when, I also know how long I’m going to spend on each task. In the mornings I give myself an hour and a half to write 1k-2k on my contemporary romance and then after lunch I give myself four hours to write 3k-4k on my YA series. If I don’t reach my goal in time, I leave it be. But what I’ve realized after setting these benchmarks for myself, is that after a while I tend to rise to my own expectations. When I’m out of practice it would take me up to six hours to write three thousand words but after getting used to my routine and my self-imposed obligations, I’m cranking it out in half the time.

But maintaining a routine isn’t just about showing up every day and doing the work, it’s also about finding balance. Some days the internet swallows me like a black hole and when I finally find my way back out, the laundry’s turned sour in the washer and my lunch has calcified. It’s a dangerous place, and as temperamental Creatives who are constantly looking for an excuse not to do the one thing we love most in the world (Can you believe how messed up we are?) it’s imperative that we learn how to navigate every distraction in a healthy way.

When we find ourselves getting easily distracted, or seeking out any excuse to avoid writing, it usually means one thing–that we’re lacking balance. Everyone’s heard the expression “work hard, play hard” but in the context of creative work, these lines can sometimes get blurred. When I’ve hit my writing stride, I can hibernate for days with a story, typing until my fingertips are raw and forgetting to engage in even the most basic necessities such as eating and sleeping. And I think a lot of us find ourselves working in this same pattern of extremes. When the writing really gets going we gorge ourselves on words and the second we hit a roadblock, we starve ourselves to death. But no one can survive like this. It’s not natural and if you keep telling yourself that this is “just the way I am” or this is “just how my muse works” I’ve got news for you. You’re wrong. So wrong.

When it comes to your life and your creativity, you make the rules. And whatever rules you set, the muse will adhere to as long as you’re stringent about the consequences if you falter. So set deadlines. Schedule every hour of every day, and not just your writing time, but also the amount of time you’ll spend reading or watching TV or surfing the internet. For every forty-five minutes I work, I spend fifteen reading weird news stories on the Huffington post–just enough time to give my brain a break, but not enough to break my stride. I know it may sound counter-intuitive but when it comes to creativity rules are crucial and boundaries are everything. So don’t be afraid to set out every day with a plan, to make a schedule, to create boundaries, and to set expectations. Because who knows? After making them a part of your daily declaration and creating a solid plan of attack, you just might actually reach them.

Minutes

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

All it takes is one. One minute and then another and then another. All it takes is one minute of writing, of scribbling one word, one sentence in front of the other. Writing stories is hard and writing good ones is even harder, and sometimes as artists that’s all we can see. Not the finish line and sometimes not even the starting line. But we see the hurdles and the trenches and all of those miniature failures that go along with making art. It’s hard to feel motivated when we’re already anticipating that first roadblock but what we don’t realize is that anticipation itself IS the roadblock. The first one because it always comes just before we start. Because we’re thinking about the future instead of living in the moment.

But writing is all about the moment. Yes, we have a vision and maybe even a plan, but the actual construction of a novel doesn’t happen in the anticipation of it. It happens in the physical act of creating, of typing one word at a time. Even if it’s a terrible word or a stupid word or one that totally doesn’t make any sense. Progress is forward and progress is constantly in motion. Like your hands across the keys, like your pen across the blank page. All we have to do to conquer our fears is move. That’s it. No worrying, no sabotaging, no procrastinating. No daydreaming about all of the terrible things that could happen if you get this first word wrong. No giving up.

And most importantly no measuring your success by things that don’t exist or by things that always will. We will always be afraid. We will always fail. But the future is foreign and invisible and right now it does no exist. What does exist is this moment and what you can do in this moment shouldn’t be judged or measured outside of that. So just write. One minute, one moment at a time. That’s how you create. Not all at once but in pieces. Small pieces that can be terrible and weak and scary and amazing and brilliant and bold all at the same time. Because so are we. And being capable of both creating and being such a thing is proof that beginnings are not what we should fear, nor is failure. It’s us. Because we are powerful and we are brave and when we make the choice to be stronger and wiser than our fears, we can do absolutely anything.