It’s a Book-shaped Thing

Writing Process

I started this manuscript on December 12th, 2017. I have been trying to coax out a story from this mess in my head for over a year. And today, at 7:35 PM I have finally reached 70,000 words. It is finally a book-shaped thing.

Finally.

I wasn’t sure I would ever reach the point when this story started to feel like an actual story instead of a bunch of manic vignettes about two complete strangers who refused to reveal themselves to me no matter how much I bargained or begged. I was so afraid they’d stay strangers forever. That I would never know them and therefore never get to tell their story.

But today, I had a breakthrough. In the same way I’ve been guilty of thinking too small and too narrow and too fearfully about my own life, I was thinking much too small in regards to this story. I thought it was a love story. It’s not just love story. I struggled to see past these characters’ brokenness. There was so much beauty buried underneath.

I’m finally in that creative sweet spot between knowing and surprise and it feels like that place at the mid-point of the fall when the parachute finally opens. It feels like freedom.

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Sundays are for Letting Go

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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In the same week I’ve written about the importance of diligence and dedication when it comes to your Soul Work, as well as the importance of taking time off. In my own mind, these two things feel extremely contradictory. Work as hard as you can but don’t work too hard.

But I’ve realized that working through these feelings is essential on my quest to becoming less controlling and therefore, less anxious, fearful, and destructive.

Are there some necessary steps one must take in order to make their intentions clear? Yes, absolutely, some of which I’ve discussed in this post. But there is one crucial step, one giant leap that we must take first. And it’s letting go.

If you spend every waking hour working, never resting or taking a break, it’s because you believe that you are the only factor that matters to your success. It’s because you believe you are in this alone. It’s because you believe the Universe does not have your back.

Distrusting the Universe, the source of universal intelligence that gave you these gifts and inclinations in the first place, is the quickest way to derail your dreams and ensure that those endless hours you’ve spent working towards them will amount to nothing.

There must be a balance between working and trusting, between holding on and letting go. We can prioritize our Soul Work without trying to control every aspect of our progress. And in fact, we must. We must allow ourselves to yield to something bigger and greater than ourselves. We must allow ourselves to be surprised.

This is why I’ve decided to dedicate my Sundays to rest because if I don’t it only reinforces all of the fears I have about being totally alone in this venture. But I’m not. I have to trust that I’m not and I have to demonstrate that trust by doing the exact opposite of whatever my control-freak tendencies want me to do.

Control-freak-me wants to spend the entire weekend in front of my laptop even if it only sends me spiraling into despair. That is some low frequency behavior, right there. So instead, I’m spending my Sundays envisioning the week ahead while also relishing in the enormous gift of doing nothing. Because it is a gift. To know that I don’t have to kill myself in order to manifest what I want is a gift. But one that will only appear if I’m open and willing to accept it.

Sundays are for Dreaming

Writing Process

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I’ve been trying to balance a day job with my writing for almost 10 years now. I’ve tried waking up early and staying up late. I’ve tried writing on the couch, at the kitchen table, in a coffee shop. I’ve sworn off seeing friends in order to reach my word count goals and used their company as a reward for a hard day’s work.

My writing routine has evolved with each new year and each new project. This time around, with just an 18-month window to accomplish more than I ever have at a higher level with even higher stakes, I’ve decided to stop allowing my WIPs to hold me hostage on the weekends.

I know what you’re thinking. If I’m not spending every second of my weekends working on my next book, how can I say that I’m kicking things into high gear? That I’m committed in a way I’ve never been before?

Here’s the thing. I’ve spent 10 years trying and failing to be productive on the weekends. Every Friday I look forward to getting to spend the next two days focused on my own work and every Saturday I wake up resenting the fact that I have to use my time off to write a book that, so far, has only ignited in me a feeling of intense disappointment and self-loathing.

Writing or making art of any kind is HARD. You have to jump through all of these psychological hoops and then bargain with your own emotions, pleading with them to let you get something, anything down on the page while they taunt you with insults and critiques and basically fill your head with the worst things imaginable, all of which you must wrestle and ultimately slay. If you have the tools and the time and the energy, that is.

Putting so much pressure on myself to use every second to write was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. The harder I tried, the more I failed, and the more I hated myself for it.

So I’ve decided to stop trying.

Not completely and not in regards to the overall vision I’m currently in pursuit of. But as I am becoming more mindful of my own thoughts and how those thoughts become actions, which then become habits, I’m starting to realize that this cycle I’ve been stuck in of: planning to write, not writing, then getting angry and upset about not writing, is just me being a crazy control freak.

Control freaks are the antithesis of who I want to become. Because who I want to become is a person of faith. A person who knows she cannot control every aspect of her life and therefore shouldn’t bother trying because whatever the Universe has cooked up will be ten times better anyway. A person who is not constantly living in the future. A person who does not spend most of her waking hours worrying.

Control freaks spend so much time trying to control every facet of their lives that they don’t actually live it. I want to be a person who lives. Who really lives.

That means Saturdays are for dog walks and grocery runs. For DIY projects and binging shows on Netflix.

That means Sundays are for daydreaming, for planning, for resting. Sundays are for trusting. Sundays are for patience.

Should We Just Be Grateful To Be Here?

Self Publishing

The Guardian recently published a piece on the fact that “publishers are paying writers a pittance.” This is true. Traditional publishers made billions of dollars last year while the writers whose books they published worked second/third jobs, pinched pennies, and lived paycheck to paycheck. Traditional publishing has always been exploitative and it’s because of the allure, the exclusivity, the inability for authors to organize against the monopoly, and the expectation that POC writers must show their gratitude for being allowed in that space by being as amenable as possible.

I am not stating this to be critical of other authors. I’m simply acknowledging that in order to be allowed in that majority-white space we have had certain expectations placed upon us. Expectations that include being grateful for a contract, any contract, even if it values the machine dispensing the art more than the human creating it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this last point as I consider what I want to do with my Fantasy WIP. I’d love to query it but doing so will just subject me to the same exploitation. Unless things change. Unless writers start being honest about how they are being taken advantage of and call out their publishers to make it right. Unless writers stop seeing traditional publishers as gods who can subject them to any kind of mistreatment if its in exchange for a book on the shelf of a Barnes and Noble.

This is going to be the hardest part of the cycle to break–our own toxic beliefs that we are not good enough to ask for more. That we are not worthy of a bigger slice of the pie. That we should just be grateful to be acknowledged at all.

Back in 2012 I decided to self-publish because I didn’t believe there was a place for me in traditional publishing. Characters who were not white or Christian were not easy to find and it was clear they were not valued. Which meant that I would not be valued. My stories would not be valued. So I published my stories on my own.

Six years and over $125,000 later, what was once an act of defiance against the inherent bias and racism in publishing, has led me to an even bigger revelation about how it is not just a spot on a shelf that determines a book’s value but it’s how much an author was paid for the rights to that book. The paltry percentage publishers are currently paying their authors is yet another way of saying, “We are in control. You are no one without us.”

It is another way of saying, “Don’t bother trying to get into this profession unless you already possess the wealth and privilege to make it a career.” Which is simply another way of keeping marginalized people…exactly where they are. In other words, the belief that they are lifting up our voices is simply an illusion until the optics match the money in our bank accounts.

So do not be fooled by the celebrations of diversity or even the number of diverse books being published in recent years. Racism has not been eradicated from traditional publishing. It may no longer show up in the lack of marginalized authors on book shelves but it still shows up in the monetary value that is placed on those authors. Which means there is still a lot of work to do and it starts with us not being so damn amenable. It starts with us acknowledging our own worth and then demanding that others do the same.

My Writing Process

Writing Process

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Yesterday’s post got me thinking about the value of indie authors being transparent about the diversity of their experiences and how seeing that every writer life is different can help us alleviate so much stress, envy, and anxiety from the creative process.

I don’t post about my personal experience as a writer because I think it should be the blueprint for all other indies. I try to be transparent about the ups and downs of my own writer life in order to show that I’m still just trying to figure things out and that I can still be “trying to figure things out” while also making good money from writing, which is proof that there is no perfect formula for self-publishing success.

This is good news. This means that despite what advice is floating around online, despite what other indies are doing (including me) there is no right way to do this writing thing. There is only your way, and as long as your way honors your beliefs and values and safeguards your health and well being, then your way is the best way. Keep doing it.

I think after reading about my own writing process, you’ll also begin to see that sometimes the best way actually means no way and that’s still okay too.

My writing process looks different during the school year than it does in the summer and for the purpose of full transparency, last year while I was teaching there were many months when it was pretty much nonexistent (hence why I’m still working on a novel that was supposed to come out in April).

Summer 2017:

7:00 AM–> Wake up *hey, I’m sleeping in a little*
*check KDP & Draft2Digital to calculate revenue for the past 24 hours and make sure nothing catastrophic has happened that will drastically change my projections for that month
*I’ve also been checking Tapas, which so far has not turned out to be as lucrative as I thought it would be *make a note to revisit Wattpad presence*
*Check email
*I should also be honest and say that I’m also simultaneously scrolling through Twitter while doing most of these other things

8:30 AM–> Writing time OR working out (it depends what time my Pure Barre class is that day *yes, I’ve joined the cult*)
*Right now, writing for me is writing this blog post but sometimes it means re-reading what I wrote the day before, making a few notes, and then getting back to work

12:00 PM –> Lunch, which is usually guacamole
*I’m lucky if I can hold my creative focus for this long. Sometimes I’ll write straight through, which usually leaves me with a HUGE writer hangover the next day, which I must recover from with the help of even more guacamole and a bunch of mindless shit on Bravo. But usually the three and a half hours between the beginning of my writing time and lunch are a combination of writing sprints and more Twitter checking

1:00 PM –> Writing Time Part II
*I try to grind out as many words as I can before my boyfriend gets home so I’m not glued to the computer screen while he’s trying to tell me about his day (sometimes this works but sometimes I’m nearing the end of a project–like now–and it’s more difficult to wrap things up, especially if I’ve finally found a bit of momentum)
*If my brain starts getting tired I’ll switch to blogging or reading (either my library books or blog posts/articles online). I’ve also started listening to podcasts a lot more lately

3:00 PM –> Try to relax *emphasis on TRY*

*Evenings* –> These are constantly changing…
*If my boyfriend wants to spend a couple of hours working on music before dinner I’ll try to get some more writing done
*If he’s doing live sound that night I’ll definitely make myself get some more writing done (I’ve felt guilty this summer taking writing breaks while he’s at work all day)
*If he’s exhausted from work I let myself be too and we watch TV until it’s time to go to bed, which for me is embarrassingly early *usually, 9 PM*

The next day…
*Sometimes I can get up and do it all again
*Sometimes I can’t
*When I was really in the meat of my novel this summer I found myself only able to write new material every other day and the days in between my brain only had enough energy for revisions. Sometimes I needed a break from both but anxiety over my looming deadline would force me to at least have the laptop open and my MS pulled up while I picked at it like a zombie

School Year 16/17:

August-October–> I was waking up every morning at 5:30 AM to spend a few hours working on The Daughter of the Night. It was miserable and I probably won’t ever do it again

November-December–> I hardly wrote at all and took a much needed break after all those early mornings and then people didn’t even like it and it really sucked and made me sad…

January-March–> Tried to write on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes that meant writing on Saturdays and revising on Sundays. Sometimes that meant writing on one of those days and sleeping on the other

April-May–> Pushed back my deadline to June; continued my weekend routine

June–> Pushed back my deadline to July; continued my weekend routine until school let out. Gave myself a week to recharge and then began my summer routine

July–> Even with my new summer routine of writing almost every day I still had to push my deadline back ONCE AGAIN to August

13 days in…and I’m praying I won’t have to push it back to September.

As you can see, I sort of need structure but I also need the flexibility to be kind to myself. What isn’t as visible from my descriptions above is how often I’ve actually been letting myself take breaks. Sometimes that means taking a 2-hour lunch in front of the TV before getting back to writing and sometimes that means doing no writing at all. It just depends on what my brain and body are telling me, which I think I’ve gotten much better at interpreting through the course of writing this novel.

What’s wrong with this way of doing things? Well, the novel still isn’t finished yet and it’s the only one I plan on putting out this year, mostly because I can’t produce anything at a faster rate. But because I know that about myself it’s not a huge disappointment. This means that instead of beating myself up every time I need to take a break I can just take a freaking break. After almost 8 novels I’m no longer trying to prove to myself that I can finish. I’m no longer trying to prove anything to anyone at all, except maybe to you. That YOU can come up with a routine that works for YOU and still achieve success. And the best part? It doesn’t have to be grueling. It can be kind. You can be kind to yourself and still reach the finish line, possibly more refreshed and more in love with writing than when you started.