Rebuilding

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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.

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Starting Over Feels Like…

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Staring over feels like wonder and worry and chaos and calm. Sometimes it feels like sitting at the edge of the waterline and sometimes it feels like gasping for air and fighting the waves.

And in the midst of all of that uncertainty I am trying to build a life raft board by board, rope floating off before I can tie it into knots.

But little by little something is coming together.

I’ve created a routine-500 words a day. That’s it. Most days I beat it and it feels good to be making progress even if it’s slow. It feels good to reach a little higher than I expected, to see the finish line in the distance, pulling towards me when I wasn’t sure that was possible.

Maybe tomorrow I will doubt and freeze and not produce a single word. But I’m not as afraid of failure as I used to be. Because even failure is a sign of progress. It means I finished something, that I put it out into the world. It means that I finished. That is all I can worry about right now—finishing. Because finishing the life raft is all that matters. There’s no surviving without it.

 

 

 

 

It is Possible

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I don’t know where to start. Maybe with the last several posts that are snapshots of those brief moments between anxiety spirals when I was trying to remind myself to hope. Or maybe with the insomnia and the fears that almost stole that from me. I don’t know who to show anymore. Do I show the working creative who has written eight novels and who should now be exempt from failure? Or do I show the doubt-filled procrastinator who hasn’t been able to write in almost a month?

Obviously, the last several months have been rough and the time stamps on those blog posts about learning and growing and the fact that the creative process has its own rewards show just how few and far between the good days actually were. While waiting to come out of this, I have written about learning to give up control and being patient and showing gratitude. I have written about finding strength and trusting in a higher being and in myself. Each has not only been a declaration but a set of detailed instructions on how to survive. Because I know I will find myself in the darkness again, no matter how many constellations I’ve left to guide my way back.

I cannot change the way I am wired. I can only change how I care for myself when those wires begin to short-circuit.

Sometimes that means doing something even scarier than staring at a blank page and trying to force out magic. Sometimes that means not allowing myself to write at all.

There was a time when I was selling almost 200 books a day. Now, I’m lucky if I sell 10 copies. This means that if I don’t write and publish something new that number could drop down to 0. It’s such a tangible manifestation of failure, one I’m faced with and consumed by every time I try to write. There is no room in my brain for story, for my character’s voices, for their dreams and fears. I’m too busy wrestling with my own. And every day that I don’t produce something, is one day closer to another gigantic life change that will only hurl me in the opposite direction of everything I’ve worked so hard for.

But if all of this anxiety was stemming from not producing a single word in weeks, what would happen if I didn’t even allow myself to try? What would happen if I forced myself straight into that fear and chose not to write? Would disaster strike? Would the world end? Would I not be a real writer anymore?

The answer is—nothing—not one of these things would happen and I would sleep. I would sleep for twelve hours every night and wake up late on the weekends and my body would reclaim the rest it so desperately needed. Because worry does not just exist in your mind. It lives in your skin and your bones and every part of you that is working to keep you alive. The more you worry, the harder they work until they just can’t do it anymore. And then you must rest. You MUST.

And then you wake up and you start over.

It’s not ideal and you aren’t any less scared of it than you were before. But it is possible.

This is the latest constellation I have left for myself. It is possible. The starting over, the writing, and all of the other work that comes along with creating. I create things from scratch all the time. I can rebuild my career the same way. I can write this new book. I can finish it too. And if no one buys it…I can write something else. I can always write something else.

My 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.

Taking Control

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Jon Tyson

For the past five years that I’ve ben self-publishing I have paid for zero marketing. I’ve paid for cover art and copy editing and that’s it. Everything amazing that’s happened to me and my books has been because of word of mouth. Sure, in the beginning of my career I spent hours planning a few blog tours for some of my earlier contemporary novels and the first book in my paranormal series. But at most I’d get about twenty reviews and never did those appearances translate into significant sales. For almost two years I’ve mostly just sat back in awe at how far my stories have travelled, watching silently while people talk about and share my books online.

But after two years of having to do absolutely nothing in order to generate sales (except write more books, of course) everything sort of fell off a cliff in January. According to other indies, the immediate drop-off in sales happened sooner–around November–when the world was in a state of panic, unable to concentrate on work, let alone reading for pleasure. There was too much to worry about. There still is. But at least the fear of falling into a “Handmaid’s Tale-like” dystopia has loosened its grip on the majority of us just enough for us to actually function. Not that it can’t happen, but even in the midst of resisting the rule of tyranny we also need to eat, and pay the mortgage, and do all of the other things necessary for survival, which means we need to make money, which means we need to work.

But how do you survive in a society on the precipice of total ruin when the product you sell is (for most people) not considered one of those essential elements of survival? Writers know the essential value of stories, but art, as well as the appreciation of art, is so incredibly subjective. This means that when the shit hits the fan no one is going to be concerned with reading more books. They’re just not.

But…we’re not totally there yet and there’s still hope that I can eke out a living a little while longer. But how? How, when people aren’t reading as voraciously as they used to? How, when people only have enough leftover energy to consume the news? How, when that news is so depressing that it makes “frivolous” activities like experiencing or creating art seem even more futile?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I can do is write more books–books about human beings who are learning how to cast out their demons and approach others with compassion–and take more control over how exactly my books find readers. Part of this means being willing to finally spend a little money on marketing, which I conceded to when applying for my first BookBub ad. I’m still monitoring the results, which I’ll be sharing on the blog in the coming days. But at the same time, there are still so many factors out of my control. And it’s scary. Not just as an artist but as a teacher and a daughter and a friend and a human being. But maybe I’ve been afraid of what’s next only because I’ve felt helpless to stop it. Maybe it’s time to stop being helpless.