Rebuilding

laura-kapfer-429073-unsplash

For about a month I could not write a single thing. Before that I’d spent several more months trying to force out words across two different WIPs hoping that something would spark and I’d be able to get back to my pre-P&X-publication numbers, which were about 2,000-3,000 words a day. For me that is a lot of words. A lot of words I was only able to produce because I’d been working on that version of the novel for about a year. By that point I knew the world and the characters so well. The effort of problem-solving was no longer slowing me down as much as it had in the beginning.

This is the part I always forget—the beginning. And I don’t mean the first couple of days or even the first couple of weeks when you’re so high on the potential of this shiny new idea that you’re writing like crazy, just trying to get it all out. I’m talking about the point in that first draft when you hit a wall and don’t know where the characters should be going or why. Or maybe you do know but you don’t know how to get them there. The initial excitement has worn off and you are now forced to slow down, to think, to figure it out.

I am in that place with my current WIP but instead of panicking that the words aren’t coming fast enough or that the ones I am able to produce are total crap, I am trying to focus on that fact that even one more word is still progress. I’ve been using pacemaker.press (which I absolutely love even though the website is always wonky and takes forever to load) and setting a daily goal for that WIP of just 500 words. That’s a little less than a full page, which means it’s just enough for me to see that this idea is growing into a book but not so much that I feel defeated before I even begin.

During this very fragile rebuilding period in which I am trying to find my confidence again as a writer while also protecting my mental health, these small victories are crucial. As a teacher, I know how impossible it is for a student to take risks, to learn and grow when they feel like the task ahead of them is impossible. I know that setting students up for failure (i.e. an assignment that is too difficult or does not honor their learning style, cultural background, etc.) has damaging psychological effects and can prevent them from engaging in that task/topic in the future. As a creative person with severe anxiety I must also be careful not to set myself up for failure. For me, that means not putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on one WIP. That means finding other sources of income so sliding book sales don’t completely derail my mental health. It means setting goals I can actually reach and still giving myself grace when I don’t.

So, what does that look like? Well, in order to avoid putting all of my eggs in one basket I’m working on a new Fantasy series alongside my current WIP. It’s an idea that’s been ruminating for several years and because of that I was able to outline the first book in the series in just a couple of days. Now, if I’m having a bad day with the contemporary YA novel I can switch gears and still feel like I’m making progress towards the much greater goal of querying at some point in the next couple of years. I know some people discourage writers from following the “shiny new idea” because if you do that every time you have one you’ll never finish anything. But I’ve finished eight novels so finishing is not a problem for me. Doubt is. And that doubt is much less severe when I’m making progress on something, anything.

As for finding another source of income, I’m really lucky that I have the summers off to earn extra money. This year I’ll be teaching both sessions of summer school and a review session for the English end of course exam students must pass in order to graduate. It’s enough to supplement my income until December-ish, which is when I hope to put out the contemporary novel I’m working on. Then I’ll set the companion novel, Pen & Xander, to perma-free and hope that drives traffic to the new book. If that book doesn’t sell then I can always try to teach summer school again next year. It won’t be easy making ends meet without my royalty income but it’s not impossible.

Making sure my daily word count goals are just as possible is another key to the rebuilding process. Right now, my word count goal for my contemporary novel is 500 and my word count goal for the Fantasy series is 350. In total I’m holding myself to about 850 words a day and often I’m able to produce much more. Part of this is because psychologically I’ve tricked myself into thinking the 500 words for one WIP and 350 for another is no big deal. I can sprint that before school starts or during my lunch break. And if I don’t, I’ve written in excess of these goals on so many occasions that I now have a nice cushion for myself on days when I’m too distracted to get something down.

Right now, this is a system that is working for me but it’s taken a long time to find that balance. And who knows? Once I finish the contemporary novel I may not be able to continue writing two novels at a time or I may not be able to keep up my current pace. I may find my current pace too easy. Lots of things can change and part of giving myself grace is allowing myself the time and space to change with them. To be flexible and forgiving. To focus on my health before my art. To remind myself that one cannot exist without the other.

Advertisements

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Written

*To celebrate my two-year blogging anniversary, I’ll be re-blogging some of my favorite posts from 2014 throughout the month of December*

laekanzeakemp

Lately it feels like that’s what this current WIP is turning out to be. I wrote the other day about how I had my first good writing day in a while but something I didn’t quite clarify was that “good” wasn’t necessarily referring to the actual writing itself. Yes, I gained clarity and yes, the words were flowing but that didn’t mean they weren’t garbage. They were and they are and the more I write the more I dread revisions because this puppy is going to need a lot of work. But what I’ve come to realize in my quest to write a first draft without obsessing over every word is that it’s not the words that matter. What matters is the story. And not whether or not it’s good but whether or not it’s there.

Through five books I’ve been the type of writer who would rather sit and…

View original post 298 more words

Pursuing The Reader’s Standard

Earlier this month I completed the final line edit for my fourth novel and this week I’m working my way through the final line edit for my fifth. It’s slow-going and I find myself mulling over the same paragraph for almost an hour or tweaking sentences until they don’t even read like English anymore. The fact is, my brain is exhausted but I still have two hundred pages left to go before it will truly, finally, once and for all be finished. Editing and revisions are always difficult but there is something about that FINAL line edit that is so painstakingly sluggish, I practically feel like I’m moving backwards. Probably, because in many ways, I am.

The library I work at hosted an author event this past Saturday and I got the chance to catch part of the Q&A session. Someone in the audience asked the author when she knows a book is truly finished and after responding the way that most authors do and admitting that she could work on a WIP until the end of time, she said something else that surprised me. This particular author did not have a degree in Creative Writing, nor did she study it in school, but by being a voracious reader first she came to realize something about writing and the way books are consumed by the general public.

When it comes to good writing, she spoke of it as if it were a wide canal and as if the outer banks represented the threshold or standard by which readers judge that writing. The more narrow the canal, the more limited the audience, and the wider the canal, the more versatile the book’s appeal. The author explained that readers will always have a personal standard when it comes to books but that pursuing that reader standard is not the same as pursuing perfection. In fact, the author might still be tweaking her upcoming release if she hadn’t abandoned the pursuit of perfection and instead simply focused on doing her best. That’s all readers really want. At one point she even told the audience point-blank that if she had spent a hundred more hours perfecting her latest novel, the reader wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. Why? Because readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for a good story. They’re looking for a strong voice. A unique and authentic voice. And all of those things can be accomplished simply by doing our best.

I needed to hear those words now more than ever. I have a lot of anxiety built up over the potential success or failure of my next release and its a ball and chain so literal that I can barely make any progress on this manuscript. My production has slowed down on every WIP in my queue and even as I’m nearing the end of certain projects I’m still second guessing every single decision.

Even though it’s pointless.

I know that I’ve done my best. In fact, it’s the only thing I do know for sure, and maybe it’s the only thing I need to know in order to declare that I’m finished. Truly finished. I’ve done my best and that’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can ever do. But the good news, or more accurately, the GREAT news is that our best is good enough. We are good enough. For the people who matter most, readers, our best is good enough.

Indie Life 07-09-14

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

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.

WIP-OOP-070313

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.

WIP-BG-070313

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.

WP-BG-050113

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.

WIP-BG-02-05-13

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.

WIP-BG-030613

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.