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Writing and the Day Job

Many years ago I did something that I thought wouldn’t work, but has turned into something kinda great, and I wanted to tell this story so others might be able to use it. I was into writing as a serious hobby and was always thinking about it. One year, at my annual review at work I asked it I could start a staff newsletter. They said sure. Now it was only a couple extra hours a month, but it was regular paid writing and it felt wonderful.

Sometimes I really have a hard time coming up with new, interesting things to write about, and I’ll try to talk to management to see if there are topics they want me to cover, but generally I’m left alone to do what I want with it. I interview new employees to get to know them better. Run little surveys and make games out of the answers people send me. Try to throw in current news of the industry. And in the last couple years I’ve asked for book and TV show recommendations from the staff and include one a month of each.

Since I don’t get much feedback about what’s working and what isn’t, other than everyone telling me it’s great (I work with the sweetest bunch of folks!) I have lately just decided to keep myself entertained, and if I’m getting bored, then it’s time to change things.

So two months ago I decided to add a little fiction into the mix for fun. We have a hospital cat, and since we’ve been closed to the public and only doing curbside appointments she has been allowed to wander and have the run of the front office. I thought a fictionalized story of her imaginary adventure would be fun to write. This has been a huge hit with the rest of the staff. Last month, to encourage feedback, I decided to make it a choose your own adventure story and gave two options about what she would do next. I thought one choice was the obvious, fun choice so I already mentally planned out how that would roll into the next installment for this month and was kinda excited about it. Obviously, you know that means that the survey came back with 100% of responses choosing the other option. That’ll teach me to plan ahead.

The hospital owner enjoying what I’ve done has also led to me doing more writing. I did a press release when we moved into a new location and I’ve done some blog posts for the website and have been asked to do more. My biggest challenge now is myself. I get to do this writing work at home and I’m not as organized with my time as I need to be. I’ve set myself a time schedule and so far so good. I don’t always hit my goals but I’m doing much better than when I didn’t make any goals at all and would stay up into the wee hours to finish a newsletter before the end of the month. That wasn’t healthy for me and it didn’t produce my best work. This is an ever evolving place for me and if I come up with any wonderful productivity or time management tips, I will be sure to share.

I mainly wanted the throw this idea out there to other writers. I’ve learned that most other people hate to write. It’s a weird idea to me, but it’s true. If you love it, and offer to do it, people just might take you up on it.

Now to figure out how to continue that cat story. . .

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Trunking the Novel

I’ve been ‘revising’ my novel for an embarrassingly long time. In reality, I was ignoring it.

Oh, I’d think about it. Ponder what changes I needed to make, but I rarely to never sat down with it and really worked on it. I even bought a book on revisions and worked through the steps. I was a little excited back then, that I would really do this thing and make a decent book out of it. But I still didn’t like it. And I stopped work.

I told myself I didn’t have the time to work on it. That’s somewhat true, my time is tough to come by on many days, but the longer things dragged on the more I knew I was fooling myself. I could do something if I wanted to. I could make at least a little time. I was choosing not to.

A few days ago I remembered some writing advice I once heard, I’m sorry I don’t remember where exactly. It said that when you’re stuck or ‘blocked’ on a piece it’s usually because of a story problem. Something is wrong in the story that needs to be fixed to let you move forward again. So I shifted my thinking. Instead of trying to make the story I already had there work better, I wondered, what exactly didn’t I like about it. What wasn’t working in the story for me.

It didn’t take long to figure out from that small change in the way I looked at it. The problem is pretty substantial. I’m not sure I can fix it with revisions. Maybe I could start over from scratch and keep the elements I liked and take out the problems, but I would have a fundamentally different story than the one I have now. And that’s the problem. The thing I don’t like about it can’t really be removed.

When I was planning the book, I thought about what other characters I could add that would bring extra conflict for my main characters. I maybe made them too big a conflict. They took over the plot. Because I planned them there from the beginning, I didn’t see that they were derailing things so badly. They were just supposed to add a little extra tension and a subplot, but because their only purpose was to be in the way of the main characters, they were much to good at it. Too much of the story was dealing with them, and even the climax scene was a showdown with these annoying people and the actual thing I wanted the story to be about was a afterthought by the end.

Maybe someday I’ll know how to fix this and come back to it. More likely, I’ll take the pieces I loved about this book and work them into something new. While I’m in mourning of all the time I put into this story that I will never share, I’m trying to also remind myself that this is how I learn. This will make later books better. Right?

Now that I’ve mentally and emotionally processed this decision, I’m ready to start moving on. A fun idea for a short story came to me this afternoon, and I’m ready to start something new at long last.

books

Novel Revisions

I’ve gotten back into regularly working on my novel. Not every day as I would like, but still, I am making progress for the first time in a long time. Starting back on it was tough at first since I didn’t have it all still in my mind and I’m having to do a read through and make notes so I know what needs to be done. The positive side of that is that I like the story again. When I set it aside, I had come to hate it. I was still resolved to revise and edit, because I was getting into a bad place of finishing a first draft, hating it, and starting something else. I realized I would never learn to revise if I didn’t start revising. But the time away seems to have cleared my head and let me see the work differently, and I think I can make it something good. Something fun. That’s a nice feeling.

In addition to the novel, I also came across a novella I wrote a few years ago that I hated when I finished it, and thought it was too much of a mess to fix. rereading it now though, I don’t think it’s so bad. I plan to also revise that one. It’s looking like I’m one of those people that needs to set a story aside when I’m done and take a little time away from it before starting the revision process. I didn’t see this about myself before because I don’t feel that way at all about my short stories. Time rarely changes my opinion on them. Weird.

So one of my 2020 goals will be to revise both the novel and novella and get both to my critique group, then depending on the feedback I get, continuing the revising or editing and publishing.

I have some other writing goals, but I will cover those in another post. This will be a good year of revising for me. Something I haven’t done much of because I tend to give up instead. This is my year of sticking with – and finishing.

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NaNoWriMo Time Again

This is where I would usually post a widget from the NaNoWriMo website that would show my daily word count or a color coded calendar or something like that. But the website is new and I’m not having any luck finding widgets over there right now. If I track one down I’ll post it later.

Today was a rough day at work, so I’ve gotten about 250 words written today and I’m nodding off, and I need to be up early again tomorrow for work. So I’m off to an amazing start! (At least I’m started).

Happy writing folks!

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When Am I Not a Beginner Anymore?

There are no answers in this post, just questions and thoughts that have been circling around in my head.

I’ve been writing for many many years. I’ve even sold some stories for real money and done paid blogging, and yet I usually think of myself as a beginning writer. I guess this attitude stems from not yet having finished a fully revised and polished novel (I have written several first-draft only novels). Also, while I’ve been writing for a long time, I don’t write all that much, or all that often. Nowhere near as often as I’d like anyway. For awhile I was trying to keep track of my word count so I knew when I hit my million words, but I didn’t keep up with that, so I don’t know if that landmark has been hit or not. Probably not quite yet, but maybe?

I’ve been noticing lately, when something pops up in my news feed with a title like, “Advice for beginning writers”, I find that I already know most of what’s there. I’ve heard it before anyway. Occasionally, I’ll even disagree with some piece of advice given, and I’ll have reasons for my dissent. So I imagine that I could maybe be moving past the beginner phase. Yet, that’s still how I think of myself and it’s a hard mental image to change. How many phases are there? Am I intermediate? Certainly not advanced. Does it even matter?

I think where it does matter is in finding lessons to continue my growth as a writer. Like I said, articles for beginners are feeling less relevant to me all the time, but I believe all writers can grow and improve, and the greats never stop learning. Finding craft books or advice from authors I admire is how I find myself moving forward more lately.

I’ve also been jogging now for about 8 months. I did the Couch to 5K week 1 day 1 jog the same day as my recheck exam with my surgeon and he gave me the green light to start exercising again. After I finished that training program I have been looking for advice on how to proceed, and I’m finding all kinds of often contradictory advice. I’m realizing that much of my confusion is from not always understanding who an article is aimed at. So many jogging articles seem to assume everyone is running races and trying to finish faster. I started to get a little better, more helpful results when I added ‘for women over 40’ to my jogging related searches. Yet, I got a lot of the same advice over and over again.

Does the repetition mean I’m not a beginner jogger anymore? I don’t think so. I didn’t jog this morning for example because I’m fairly sure I’ve developed mild shin splints and all advice says the solution is rest (or biking – yea for the Peloton.) I also bet most running coaches would classify someone with less than a year of running under them, especially someone like me that was extremely limited physically before that, a beginning runner. That’s fine. I don’t care what I’m called, but I do want to know where to turn for good advice on how to continue without hurting myself (re:this shin splint issue) but also without not pushing myself enough. I don’t know where that line is. Most of the advice I’m finding is aimed at someone just starting a C25K or similar program, or someone who has run a bunch or races and knows their ‘race pace’. I’m feeling a bit lost in between.

I suppose the solution in both cases, is to not care. To just keep going. Doing my best. Reading and learning, and making progress wherever I can, and not caring about labels. The value of the labels should be that it helps with the tracking down of useful resources, but I’m not sure that’s always the case. I guess, reading an article or listening to a podcast that just tells me stuff I already knew isn’t the end of the world. Sometimes we need to hear things more than once for it to stick after all.

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FogCon 2019

I’ve wanted to attend FogCon since I first learned about it, maybe 4 or 5 years ago. I have trouble spending money on myself, and on the years I wasn’t in the hospital, it always fell on a weekend I had to work. If I was uncomfortable spending the relatively small membership fee for something just for me, I was doubly so about taking time off work to do it. Maybe I was just afraid to go alone to a place where I would know no one. That was probably a bigger part than I’d like to admit to myself.

Lucky for me, I have the most supportive husband in the planet. When I sighed, alas, FogCon was again on a weekend I worked, he just looked at me, and said, “Then take time off.” He encouraged me to buy my membership early and ask for the time off. So I did.

I only took Saturday off though, because I didn’t realize how much happened on Fridays. Still I attended the panel on “Life in a Closed System” on Friday night. It was great. Saturday there were some tough choices, but I ended up going to “Decolonizing Space” about colonialism in our world and in fiction, “Science to the Rescue!” about how science and scientists are portrayed in fiction, “Sense of Place” about worldbuilding, “Creating with a Day Job” about what it says – this was super encouraging and so what I needed to hear at times even if I didn’t get anything specific to use that I’m not already doing.

By that time I was pretty exhausted and there was a dinner break for 2 hours, and I decided I wouldn’t come back since I had a big day of family events on Sunday. I did sneak in one last panel Sunday morning, and I was proudly on time for it even with the time change. It was “It’s Never too Late to be a Writer” and again, nothing really actionable to take away, but lots of encouragement and inspiration, and I always need that.

I regret not making it to any readings, but there was just so many panels I wanted to attend.

The idea of going to a multi-day event like this alone was daunting, but since I was primarily sitting in an audience, listening and taking notes it was manageable for me. Everyone I spoke to – usually to ask a question since I was new and didn’t know how things worked or where things were – was very friendly. If I can schedule things to go again next year, maybe I’ll work my way up to being more social – attending the lunch banquet or visiting the Con Suite or something like that. Maybe not though. Not if I would miss an interesting talk.

I’m so happy I got to go.

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Creating a Writing Habit

While I enjoy writing, it had always fallen into the category of ‘fun thing to do when I have the time’. Even when I’m trying to be more serious about my writing, and create a daily habit, it seems to be the thing on the schedule most likely to be pushed off until later when things are busy. And let’s face it, things are ALWAYS busy.

A month ago or so, I finished the audiobook for The Power of Habit: Why We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It gave me some insight as to why, when trying to establish several new habits, I had done so well with doing my exercising every day, and so poorly with trying to write every day. I learned that an important step in the habit loop, or in the creation of a habit is the trigger, or cue. The thing that tells us it’s time to do the thing.

For exercising, my husband had declared that we would go to the gym together on Tuesdays and Thursdays as soon as he was home from work and Sundays first thing in the morning. Those are weight lifting days, so I decided I would jog first thing in the morning before I could be distracted by other activities on other days, or on work days when I can’t get up early enough, I would ride our exercise bike or take a walk after dinner. So even though the cue varied from day to day, I had several cues ready, and even a back up cue – if I had an appointment or something else that kept me from jogging in the morning, I had a plan to bike or walk after dinner. Having a back up plan is also mentioned as a key to success in the book. Without knowing the steps to habit formation, we had set ourselves up for success with exercise, and we have been more regular in our workouts for the past six months than we’d been in years.

For writing, my plan was – do it in the evenings, when there’s time. Obviously, that isn’t as good a plan. Now that I understand more about how habits work, I am completely unsurprising that this master plan has mostly failed. Also, before reading The Power of Habit, I tried making a more detailed plan for myself. I would blog on this night, I’d work on fiction these other two nights, I’d work on the staff newsletter for work on another night, and the work blog the other night. Not only could I never remember what I was supposed to be doing on what night, this also failed because I still only had a vague – do it sometime in the evening when there is spare time – cue and that just didn’t work for me. There is always something I need to do. So the writing got pushed aside. Again.

What I’m trying now: I downloaded a habit tracking app that lets you set a reminder alert. You could just use whatever alarm timer you already have on your phone I suppose. I first tried setting it for 5:30, thinking it would just remind me to write sometime tonight when I found the time. Just keep the idea if writing more forward in my mind. That didn’t fly. I’m usually just leaving work, or planning dinner, or in the middle of something at that time. I glance at the reminder, but quickly move on. So I thought about when I’m most likely to be able to stop what I’m doing and actually write. I reset the timer for 8:30. I might be finishing up on the exercise bike, or grading school work, or doing laundry, but I’m just as likely to be playing a game. I decided that the timer would now mean – finish up what your doing in the next few minutes and start writing. I also decided that I would only expect 30 minutes of writing. That way if I really did have important things to get back to, 30 min wouldn’t hurt that, and if I didn’t know what to write, I could flail for 30 min without too much stress.

Has it worked? Not perfectly, but much, much better. I was writing maybe a night or two a week before, despite feeling like I’d like to do more. Now I’m hitting 4 to 5 nights easily, and usually once I’ve sat down and started, I go way past 30 minutes. I’m definitely on a better track. It’s been about two weeks with this new system, and it seems to be getting easier over time. I’m looking forward to my writing time instead of stressing about it – like how I actually look forward to my jog. Who would have thought that could happen? So we’ll check in in another month or so and see how the habit has come along.

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Online Classes: Lynda.com

A friend recommended Lynda.com to me for my daughter who was interested in digital art and possibly design classes. It looked interesting, but I didn’t want to spend the money at the time. Then I learned that we have access to the Lynda.com classes through our local library. We just use our library card number to log in.

She has taken some Adobe Illustrator classes, and is interested in some about Photoshop. I was looking around and found some about website design. I’ve been wanting to create an author website for my work, something in addition to just his blog, so I’m taking some classes as well. If I learn enough, look forward to my website hopefully in the not terribly distant future.

I’m also interested in classes there for creating a email list, and other marketing ideas. This is all brand new stuff for me. I’ve been writing, for myself anyway, for as long as I can remember. But branding, and marketing, and all the other stuff that goes into actually selling what I write – that’s all outside the scope of my previous experience. I know some would advise to hire out the stuff you aren’t personally experienced at, and there is wisdom in that advice. When you are just beginning though, and have a budget of zero, and are willing to take the time to learn some basics then that’s what you do instead. At least, I hope you do, meaning, I hope I can. It’s very possible, I’ll take these classes, and still not have the skills to create my own website. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. On the silver lining side, I don’t think any new knowledge is wasted. Learning new things is always good. If I learn that I need help to make my website, I’ll have at least learned enough to better understand what I am looking for in that help.

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Meeting Authors at SF Comic Con 2018

Books from SF ComicCon. Photo by Kara Hartz

I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have any novel writing focused writing talks on the schedule this year. There were a few on screenwriting and comic writing though. The last couple years they had several, but I noticed the author who did those talks was not there this year.
There was also only 1 novel table in the vendor hall that I found, that had books from several authors. I bought a book from each (1 was an ebook because her paper copies didn’t show up apparently) and got them signed.

I had hoped for more, obviously, since I am a book lover more than anything, and am considering writing to the con to say how much I missed the writing talks and hope to see more of them in future years.

Still, I have fun new things to read, and that’s always a win.

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Writing, revising, publishing

My novel revisions have been going a little slower than I’d hoped. However, that’s probably I wanted a little guidance in revising and rewriting such a big project. So I’ve been reading:

and

both have been helpful, but reading is not editing, and that has added time. In the long run, not flailing about on my own, however will hopefully save time, and the ultimate goal is obviously to end up with a better book. So I think I’m getting there. Now that I’ve finished reading, and going the exercises and have a great list of specific things to tackle, the actual revisions are going well. The book is getting better. Should have it ready for my beta readers soon-ish. Heck, if you’d like to offer feedback or a critique, let me know and I’ll send you a copy when it’s ready for that phase.

I am also working on the paperback version of 

I will probably also eventually work on a paperback version of 
but it’s so short I think that’s why I didn’t make a print version in the first place. But I’ll go look at it again and see what can be done. As a reader, I like options. I’d like my work available to people however they best like to read.

I’m excited, and nervous about the whole process, and that’s what makes it fun. Well, the writing and the creations is what makes it fun, the publishing makes it stressful, but that’s life.