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.

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WIP Wednesday

Writing Process

I know it’s not technically Wednesday but let’s just pretend like it is. Despite the tardiness, this week I’d actually vowed to integrate blogging back into my life again, especially since it’s not enough to just tell the world that I’m working on something huge, but now that I’m approaching the publication date of the first novel in my upcoming series, I think it’s time to start actually showing it. Because I am working. Non-stop. This series is literally my entire life right now and the closer I get to that fall deadline the harder it gets to breathe. Which, if you happen to also suffer from anxiety, you know I mean that quite literally. It’s a stressful time but it’s also terribly exciting, especially now that I’m back to making steady progress.

Unlike my last WIP check-in, things have actually changed this time around and I’ve actually made some huge dents in my to-do list. Book 4, the first book in my upcoming YA series, is still waiting for its final read-through before I send it off for a copy-edit. But, finger’s crossed, I will have the FINAL draft ready for spit-shine by next weekend.

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AND I’m only about 6 pages away from completing the 4th (really the 6th) draft of the sequel. This book I really struggled with. I mean, really truly, pulled my hair out struggled. And I’m still struggling, primarily with the ending. All I can hope for at this point is that everything save the last thirty or so pages is fantastic and maybe I’ll have an epiphany between now and the fall. Still it’s off to my FINAL beta reader this weekend and I can’t wait to get her feedback on how the series is evolving.

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Being that I was totally an editing machine this past month, I also made some huge progress with the third novel in the series and it is now off to my second alpha reader for review. This is hands down my favorite book in the entire series. The first two were all about discovering the story’s true identity, while this third one was just pure joy. I don’t know what made this one easier to write than all the others, surely it has a lot to do with the groundwork I laid all those months I spent writing and re-writing those first two novels from scratch. There was so much starting and stopping and so much self-doubt that by the time I got to the third novel in the series I was at least sure of the essential things, which made exploring not just a necessity anymore but something I actually looked forward to. I’m praying that plot-wise this novel is much more solid than the others but I also don’t want to let my love for it blind me from its imperfections. Luckily I’ve just sent the third draft off to one of my harshest/most insightful critique partners and I can always breathe easy knowing that her suggestions will always improve my work tenfold.

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I was supposed to resume working on the first draft of the fourth and final book in the series this past week but editing the previous two took wayyy longer than expected. I’m officially three weeks behind schedule, which sucks, but I’ve refused to go into panic mode just yet. The work I did on the previous two books was necessary and it couldn’t have gotten done any other way. Sometimes things just take longer to evolve and sometimes there are days when you’re only capable of doing so much. I worked my butt off this month but for the first time in a long time I didn’t let myself get burnt out. And for me that’s a victory. Not to mention it makes it painfully clear that some of my deadlines, okay most of my deadlines, were probably ridiculously unrealistic. But you live and you learn. So as of now the final book in the series is still sitting just shy of 50K but I plan to finish it within the next couple of weeks and then work on the first round of revisions throughout the month of August.

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Speaking of August I can’t believe that it’s really almost HERE. I’d very vaguely mentioned in the past that I was shooting for an August publication date for the first novel in the series and while, truthfully, that novel has been hanging around waiting to be tweaked one last time and published, I’m thinking of holding off for just one more month and moving the release date to September. I’d say the first and second books in the series are practically ready to go but being that I’ve found myself three weeks behind (which, like I said, really doesn’t count seeing as my deadlines were unrealistic in the first place) this final book is going to be cutting it terrifyingly close if I still want to release it this winter. Which IS still what I want. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing this series, now that I’m reaching the end, there are other places and other characters calling to me and I can’t wait to get to work on something new.

Unfortunately though, that probably won’t happen until…(let me check my calendar…) December. Well…that sucks.  At least I’ll have a nice break from this series when I get down to editing/re-writing my next NA contemporary romance, which is still in the totally unsalvageable first draft stage, so why bother putting up a fancy progress meter at all.

Last month’s WIP check-in was totally shameful. I didn’t make any substantial progress on a single thing. But this month was all about kicking it into high gear. If everything works out according to plan from this point on I will be publishing my first new novel in a YEAR. Yes, almost an entire year has gone by since I published Breathing Ghosts and it breaks my heart. And when my heart is broken I do crazy things like attempt to publish four novels in order to make up for the months of silence. Four. Like I already mentioned, I will try my hardest to get back to blogging, but if I end up dead or in a coma at least you’ll know why.

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 Indie Experiment-The Dream

Self Publishing, Writing Process

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
The Indie Experiment:The Decision
The Indie Experiment:The Teacher
The Indie Experiment: The Truth

The Indie Experiment: The Dream

It took me four years, a million drafts, two independent study courses, and time in another state to write and finally finish The Things They Didn’t Bury.The idea originated my senior year in high school and I nurtured it and explored it through my entire college experience and after each personal evolution, the story experienced a new evolution as well. I wrote every week and then every day, getting words down in a fury through my father’s illness and then picking them apart after every new creative writing course each semester. In the beginning there was no end goal, not even to finish, but as an end finally started to reveal itself I couldn’t type a word or take a step without doubting it. And this was when I realized that I did have a dream for this story and it was more than just to create or to finish, it was to write something good.

In the beginning this story was not good. It was muddled and shallow and all over the place but something inside me just wouldn’t give up on it. A lot of writers  have abandoned their first book, so many that some people even consider it a right of passage. I used to think that I’d managed to skip that step of my artist initiation but when I look back at the story I ended up with versus the story I started with, I realize that I didn’t skip a thing. The Things They Didn’t Bury is not the same story I began writing my senior year in high school. Everything from the location to the plot changed completely with the exception of just the characters names. By the time I actually finished the novel it had had several other identities, all scrapped, and all for good reason. But the point isn’t how many novels I abandoned in the process, the point is that I kept writing no matter what. When I realized that even after I finished this novel that I wouldn’t be able to stop writing I knew that it was time to come up with a plan.

Sometimes we steal dreams and sometimes we stumble across them but when a desire that big takes hold of you there’s really nothing you can do except follow it. By the time I finished my first novel I’d already declared my major and had already made the decision to pursue writing professionally. What I hadn’t decided on was how. I’d taken journalism courses, news writing courses, short story writing, poetry workshops, fiction and non-fiction writing, writing for feature films, and script writing courses, and while each method and medium spoke to me I couldn’t deny the connection I felt to the challenge of fiction writing. There was something so romantic about it and the process itself allowed for the kind of spiritual exploration I was desperately craving. I knew that I wanted to write novels and after sharing one of the earlier versions of The Things They Didn’t Bury with one of my professors he gave me some advice on querying–something I had no idea I even needed to do.

I put it off, letting the story experience a few more evolutions before I finally started to do some research. I looked into agents, trying to find a good fit, something that proved ridiculously difficult as I’d written my entire novel without a definite genre in mind. In a lot of ways, letting the novel grow as it needed to without trying to fit it into some kind of box left me with something really unique. But on the other hand it made it really difficult to pitch. I went into querying totally blind, seeking out agents who had even a smidgen of interest in multi-cultural fiction that wasn’t easily categorized. I don’t really remember how many emails I originally sent out but I do know how many personal responses I got. Zero. Every response I received was automated and could be summed up in two words: “No thanks.”

I was deflated but not necessarily devastated. The entire process was pretty exhausting but I also considered it more of an experiment rather than a genuine attempt. Part of me had always thought that the story wasn’t ready but that was mostly because I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t grown enough as a writer yet but luckily since I was only nineteen, I still had plenty of time for that. Other writers might have chosen to abandon the story at that point or at least to start something new and try to move on but I just couldn’t see myself letting it go for good. I worked on it sporadically, picking at it mostly, but not ready to do another round of re-writes. In the meantime I shifted my focus to short stories and after randomly deciding to enter a contest hosted by a small press, something pretty crazy happened. I actually won. And so began my first and only experience as an almost “traditionally” published author.

After I won the short story contest and collected my prize money, which wasn’t even enough to cover the cost of one of my textbooks, the acquisitions director asked me if I had any other short stories that I might be willing to let them include in one of their upcoming anthologies. I was totally naive and so over the moon about someone actually thinking that I was good that I sent them over two more stories to include in their collection. After they read the other stories they asked me if there was anything else I was working on and I told them about my novel in progress, the one I was still nursing a sore heart over having been rejected by all of my dream agents. Obviously I was in a somewhat vulnerable place so when they offered me a contract I was elated. Long story short, after taking the contract to my professor for his opinion, I realized that this small press was one step above a vanity press and that they were basically trying to rob me blind.

I decided to stop querying at that point or even entertaining the idea of being published until I was finished with school and had a little bit more experience. But even in the midst of attempting to take a break I still couldn’t move on from the story completely. Not yet. So I decided to give it another go, one more round of extensive re-writes to try to turn the story into what I’d always hoped it would be. After graduation I moved to Florida for about a year and a half and during that first year all I did was work on this story. It was the perfect timing and without things like school or friends or money I could focus completely on my work. I also found my very first critique partners online, whose help was so invaluable, especially since no one had read any incarnation of the story except for my professor. Working with other writers and setting deadlines for myself to query again by the Spring made me feel not just like a writer but like a grown-up. I learned so much about the importance of being self-disciplined and holding myself accountable for making my dreams come true. Because this was my dream. Somehow it had evolved from just being a passion to being a commitment, something I woke up every day with the intention of working towards. I had expectations and I had goals, and not just word counts or meeting deadlines. I wanted to be published. I wanted to write full time. All of these things were what pushed me to not only re-write the story, basically from scratch, for the hundredth time but they also pushed me to query again even after failing the first time.

When I queried the second time I was confident. I knew the story was good and that I’d reached a new level creatively. I knew that it had potential, that I had potential, and I knew that if someone would just give me a chance I could prove to them that I was in this for the long haul and that I was capable of building something even greater than just this novel, but an entire career. Unfortunately no one gave me that opportunity. Again I’d put my heart and soul on the line and again all I’d gotten in return was a bunch of automated messages from agents who didn’t see the same potential in this story that I did. And this time it actually hurt. Not a lot but a little bit. I felt the sting of rejection but even worse than that was coming to terms with the fact that this story I’d spent the past four years of my life working on may never be read.

That was the hardest part of all of it, the fact that this piece of me, this thing that had dragged me out of so much darkness, wasn’t considered worthy enough to be shared with the world. But I knew it was worthy. I knew it was important. I’ve written about some authors referring to special projects as “the book of your heart” or about having to shelve novels that mean more to them than anything they’ve ever written. Some artists might be capable of that, of abandoning things for no other reason than the fact that someone else doesn’t think any money can  be made from it. But I just don’t work that way. I think when something speaks to you or through you in a way that changes your entire life, that thing is no accident. Me writing this novel was no accident and if the experience of writing it was so revelatory, how much greater are the odds that reading it will be just as powerful? So I couldn’t abandon this story. In fact I downright refused. And even though some people might think that I made a mistake by striking out on my own or that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and/or talking about, I have come away from the entire experience having learned a very important lesson about defiance. That sometimes defiance is good. That sometimes it is brave and right and true. Sometimes a little defiance makes all the difference.