Tag Archives: discipline

Musings on muse

gonecrazy_backsoon

I had coffee with a new writer friend on Monday, and am having lunch with an old writer friend today (hey, it’s my birthday week!). We are all on this journey together, although I’m a little farther along than they are, having self-published my four novels, with a non-fiction coming any day, and several more books on the schedule for 2013. I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, good and bad, about indie publishing. To be honest, I don’t find any bad, although there are frustrations, such as marketing and inexplicable surges and dips in sales. It’s great to see so many people taking control of their product and, in effect, becoming small businesses.

Because of a number of events out of my control, I haven’t been very productive for the last month in my own small business. I have a book that is in desperate need of editing, another in desperate need of writing, and a third that’s partly done. All of these are behind my self-imposed schedule. It’s frustrating, and the temptation is to a) pull my hair out, b) hit something, c) anchor myself in this desk chair UNTIL IT’S DONE, and d) all of the above. Repeatedly.

I am not a huge believer in “the muse.” I have found that I write when I prepare to write. On days I don’t want to write, I write anyway, knowing I can edit it later if necessary. (It’s interesting… when I go back and read my manuscript for the first time, I can’t ever tell when those days were!) I don’t write when the muse strikes, wait for the muse, or even look for her. What do I do instead?

Well, when I’m looking for an idea, I always start with locations. To that end, I read all kinds of things. National Geographic. World History For Dummies. Weird news stories that cross my screen on strange discoveries. I take notes or send myself an email when I find some weird fact, even if I’m not actively story-hunting at the moment. When something strikes me as particularly interesting, I start researching it. Sometimes that original idea becomes the story, like with the tunnels under Paris in IXEOS, and sometimes it doesn’t. I wrote a screenplay, Laid Waste, when I first found out about those tunnels in Paris, but the story ended up having absolutely nothing to do with them. It was still the springboard.

Once I have a location or two, I start to noodle a plot. This involves a lot of staring into space and quiet drives. Sometimes a muse shows up here, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s just a matter of something that makes sense that connects the locations I have in mind. After that, it’s onto the main characters. Again, it’s usually figuring out what kind of person would do what I want done and go where I send them. For Solomon’s Throne, I had 2 concurrent stories and 7 unusual locations, so the tie-in was a little difficult. I finally settled on a Portuguese Jesuit priest for the older story line, since my locations happened to follow the Portuguese Spice Route (I love happy accidents!). For the modern story line, I didn’t want the usual action adventure stand-bys of military/paramilitary organizations or another governmental body, so I ended up with an international art leasing company.

Perhaps there was a muse involved, but not in this way: “I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.” Ray Bradbury

I think the hard work is enjoyable, but it’s work, all the same! This quote suits my style better, I guess: “Writing is total grunt work. A lot of people think it’s all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don’t buy that. It’s a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don’t. Every day I sit down and write.”  Jodi Picoult

What about you? Is the muse doing the work, or are you?

 

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The curse of the to-do list

First, confession. I am not an organized person. I am a creative, cluttered person who writes to-do lists and loses them, who has brilliant ideas and forgets them, and who has sterling intentions and gets distracted. Ask anyone in my family (especially my husband!) and they will confirm it.

The wonderful Calvin & Hobbes by Sam Watterson

The wonderful Calvin & Hobbes by Sam Watterson

So, with three books out now, a fourth scheduled for release in early 2013, a fifth being written, and a long 2013 goals list, I’m starting to panic. (Oh, let me add that I decided to clean up The Hoard of the Doges a bit — there are some typos and missing words, and that drives me NUTS after all the proofreading I did!) I haven’t had a “full time job” since I worked full time in our own business, about 17 years ago, other than a few months here and there to fill in or fix a crisis, so now that this writing endeavor is becoming full time and then some… Yeah, sometimes I have a bit of a freak out.

And here’s the thing about project people like me. I can set up a day planner or a calendar system or a to-do list (I can even set up the Teux Deux app on my phone) better than just about anybody. It’s perfect. It’s organized. It’s darn near pristine. It is a work of art!

And then I pretty much forget about it. The “project” was setting it up. Doing something – anything – day in and day out is definitely not my strong suit. I wait until I have 3 hours worth of ironing to start (hey, pop in a movie and iron away – it’s a pretty good workout!); I wait until every flat surface in my house is covered with papers and magazines and (inexplicably) my son’s size 13 basketball shoes before I go on a tidying frenzy; I don’t do much marketing until I spend about 20 hours over 3 days doing it.

So here’s the thing. At the ripe old age of 47, I need to grow up. (Bummer.) If I am to follow my vision and continue to be an author going forward, and if I am to actually write, produce, and sell books, I’ve got to start treating it like a full time job. I’ve got to dedicate time and stop surfing the internet (I do research for my husband ‘on the side’ which is a bit of a conundrum). I’ve got to guard the time I have as if I was working for someone else. I’ve got to focus, day in and day out. I’ve got to be the employee I always looked for and valued in my own business.

And that really pushes against my nature. There’s a reason that we’ve been self-employed all these years. There’s a reason that I homeschooled my kids. There’s a reason that I have thousands of dollars worth of art supplies sitting around. I’m not disciplined and organized and able to compartmentalize my life. I’m not the 9-5 type. I’m not the dedicated employee of my dreams. At least not naturally.

But now I realize that I really have to be. This isn’t so much a New Year’s Resolution post/thought as it is a “What Color Is Your Parachute” one. (I remember reading that book in my twenties and being completely flummoxed!) I am, albeit accidentally, now living my dream. I have found my passion. I can see books out in the distance as far as I can see. But my current state of laissez-faire about the hours in my day isn’t going to get me where I want and need to be. It certainly won’t allow for much more to be added to my plate, because my plate is currently looking more like one of those soggy paper plates that collapse as soon as you put the pot-luck spaghetti casserole on it.

I’m not good at following through on boring daily stuff. (Yes, I do brush my teeth. And I journal. Other than things that my family depends on, like cooking and grocery shopping, those are literally about the only things I do every single day.) But I have to grow up now, because if I don’t, the death of my dream will fall squarely on the embarrassing fact that I was… okay, let’s just put the word out there… lazy. Unmotivated. Unable to take what is truly a driving passion and harness it.

There would be some benefits to actually getting a handle on my daily schedule. I would probably get my nights and weekends back (or mostly). I could probably put an end to the panic attacks when I am supposed to be doing something — or think I’m supposed to be doing something — and I’m not able to. I might even be less grouchy about editing. Okay, no. That’s a bit optimistic. But you see my point.

So, after, well, 47 years, I’m going to try. I mean really try, not the “oh, this planner is really cute, and I’m sure I’ll be soooooo organized if I buy it and put everybody’s birthdays in it!” kind of try. This is the announcement of actually trying to force myself into a full-time job mindset. The upside is, my job is being a writer. How cool is that? It’s way better than any job I’ve ever had (mom and wife don’t count). I don’t have to have any employees, I don’t have to pay for an office, I don’t even have to get dressed in the morning!

I’ll let you know how it goes. I got my (latest) day timer inserts for 2013 yesterday, and dusted off my old red leather case. I have a marketing calendar, and I’m pretty much done through February. The rest of December will be doing the things I already have scheduled, going on a much-needed vacation with my family, and Christmas, and I plan to be gentle with myself. But we’re having a family meeting during that time, and I’m going to make the announcement: I now have a full time job. Hopefully they’ll all be on board!

How about you? Are you the creative, cluttered, disorganized type, or the to-do list lover? Are you thinking about a change of perspective for 2013? Maybe we can encourage each other over tea!

NOTE:  Several commenters have taken this post as being hard on myself. I’m really not. I am pretty happy with myself overall, but I have now identified something that can keep me back from where I want to go, and this is meant to (start to) address that. As a 5th generation Floridian who grew up sailing, I’m pretty laid back. That’s not going to change — it’s not possible! But I think everyone can improve, adapt, adjust, and possibly exert a tad more discipline on ourselves, without changing into Mr. Hyde. Thanks for reading!

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Chip chop chip…

As we have previously discussed, life happens. Also, $hit happens, but we don’t cuss around here (we call those magic words), so forget I said that… So life has been happening, and my perfectly laid plans for August went up in smoke last week.

Here’s what was supposed to happen:

* I write 60k words for August Camp NaNo. I was really enjoying my YA dystopian low fantasy experiment, although it became obvious around 20,000 words that 60,000 words won’t finish it.

* Edit Undaunted Love (final final final edit) and start work on publication August 27.

* Help as needed for my husband’s book, scheduled to start publication work August 7.
Here’s what’s actually happened:

* I spent 21 hours over the weekend editing and formatting my husband’s book (yes, that was the weekend of August 18th, and yes, that was significantly past August 7.) Then I spent two hours on Monday, and an hour yesterday before 9am. But it’s done and on its way now, hallelujah!

* I haven’t written on my NaNo novel since Friday (yes, Friday the 17th), and am stuck just below 30,000 words until I can crank up again. Hence, I have lowered my goal for NaNo and will just get enough to “win”, and not worry about finishing. I can do the 20,000 words in 4-5 days, so I still have *some* time before I panic.

* I have edited 15 chapters, out of 60, in Undaunted Love. I have 4 days left. I have, at least, gotten all the other information together – blurb, acknowledgements, etc.

And here’s the biggest stink bomb thrown into my party – I found out Monday that I have a “monster” cataract in my left eye, that wasn’t there in an exam on July 19. So I spent 2 1/2 hours yesterday having my eye measured, ultrasounded, numbed, dilated (twice), and generally poked and prodded, not to mention the 4 hours I couldn’t focus afterwards, and will have surgery, but not until September 24. By which time I will be, literally, blind in my left eye. So I am going shopping for a pirate patch today, to reduce the strain on my right eye, but obviously, this is putting pressure on me to finish all the things I’m working on so that I don’t have to read so long on the computer. (That’s why I went back to the optometrist in the first place, to get computer-distance glasses.)

Oh, did I mention that September 24 is also the start date to work on publication of my sequel to Solomon’s Throne (called The Hoard of the Doges)? Yes, that means I have to completely edit that one, too, and write the blurb, acknowledgements, etc. But not in August. Thank God for small favors.

So to recap, between now and, say, Labor Day, I will be doing the final final final edit on Undaunted Love; writing at least 21,000 words on my NaNo novel; working on the publication of Undaunted Love; and doing the second, third and however many edits on The Hoard of the Doges. That’s all. No sweat.

Chip chop chip!!!!

So what are you up to with the end of your summer?!

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Do you write in a bubble?

No, me neither. Life happens. Our best laid plans go awry. Sometimes it’s our day job, sometimes it’s our kids, and sometimes it’s us. The key is to balance taking the time you need to deal with the issues at hand, and still staying on the path to your writing goals.

Last week I found out that I tested positive on a blood test for celiac disease. That was Thursday morning, and, to be honest, it threw me for a loop for a few days. I like to eat. I love pasta and pizza and this delicious sushi roll at our favorite sushi place that uses fried shrimp. Other than migraine medicine, I take no other pain relievers, even after a surgery, other than Advil Liqui-gels, and guess what? Advil Liqui-gels (plus Advil Migraine and Advil PM) that are made in the US have gluten in them. Beer, too… Now that’s just sad.

I took Thursday off from writing, because I was doing my OCD thing and researching celiac disease to death, plus my brain wasn’t exactly on the fiction fast track. Saturday I only wrote half of my 2000 words a day goal. Sunday I felt much better because I felt like I had a handle on the whole thing, and wrote 2777 words. Last night I wrote almost 2300. But tomorrow is the biopsy, and I’ll be sedated and all that, so I probably won’t write (or what I write will be gibberish!).

All that is to say this – life happens. Good and bad. Babies are born. People get sick or hurt. The opportunity for a road trip comes up. You get unexpected visitors. A deadline gets moved back. Your company gets a new account and suddenly you’re working 80 hours a week. Since I’m not Buddhist, I won’t say you need to maintain your “zen” but I will say that you need to have realistic expectations. And realistically, well, shit happens. (Pardon my magic word.)

It’s actually amazing that, in my 4th NaNo event, this is the first time that something like this has come up. Surely that’s beating the odds! But I’m OK with it. I’ll get my 50,000 words in August, even if I don’t get my goal of 60,000, so I’ll win. And I’ve begun to realize that this YA novel isn’t going to be finished in 60k words anyway, at least not the way I’m write it now. I’m not changing my 2000 word a day goal, but I’m realizing that there may be a few more days off or deficit days than I’d planned for. And I’m OK with that, too.

We tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Florida sailing… but I’m pretty mellow. But I can still start freaking out over my self-imposed goals. So once again, I’m giving myself permission to do my best, even if it’s not what I’d hoped, and to write a really bad first draft. It’s all OK – really.

Happy writing, friends!

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