Prioritization and DAMN IT, it’s hard!

Originally posted on Writing, ADHD, and Goals:

PRIORITIZATION.  It’s DAMN hard.  Seriously.

Work is easy.  I got emails that flood my inbox that drive my priorities for the day.  Then, I have the major projects I have dedicated myself too that fight for priority in my life.  I have coworkers that come to my cube insisting that they are the highest priority.  (Of course you are!).  But, what about my personal life?  Work always dominates because it pays the bills.  I HAVE to manage my job well else there will be dire consequences and Mommy could lose her house.

Keep House – Priority Number one.

So, how do I get my personal priorities arranged so they are not forgotten and buried under the impending doom of lack of source of income?

Sometimes, I believe that having kids makes it a little easier to NOT be a workaholic.  I guess I was a parentaholic.  Constantly researching better ways to…

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When Life Feels Like Getting Hit in the Face by a 2×4

Disclaimer: I have not been hit in the face by a 2×4. I did know someone who had one fall on their head and suffered a severe concussion. So there’s that.

I’ve been posting less because I’m in the weeds of doing some work that is taking a hell of a lot longer than I think it should. This is, maybe, because it’s difficult work to do and takes more energy than less emotionally taxing work does. It’s also something that speaks to the very real thing we all face: failure. It’s made me realize I’ve been on and off struggling with my career for at least the last five years. That’s not…a pretty thing to think about. When it was bad, it was bad.

There’s been a lot written about people being jealous of their friend’s lives via social media. Humblebrag is a real word used by real people in 2k14. (This guy whining/parody whining about his friend drives home the need to promote vs. being annoying.) There are people I know who are young and extremely successful. Like, they own their own companies, are meeting the president and freaking JK Rowling, and travel the world. Their lives look shiny, and it’s weird when people tell me my life looks that way, too. It sure doesn’t feel like it, and while things aren’t rock-bottom bad, they aren’t I-chilled-with-Bruce-Willis good, either. It’s a spectrum, and you never know when failure will start to give way to the good times or when those nice moments will break apart like the Titanic and suddenly you’re drowning in the North Atlantic.

Metaphors, man

On its surface, success looks the same for everyone, but it can be a wildly different journey for every person who ‘makes it’. The biggest disservice we do to ourselves is to say that there’s only one path to being successful. We’re human; patterns is what we do, but the world is weird. People that take risks sometimes fail and sometimes they strike it big. Quiet people, loud people, smiley people, the Grinch…they can all be successful. There’s no ‘personality type’ that guarantees success. Some people seem to do well without effort, but the truth might be that we just don’t see the work they do or understand their methodology. The 10,000 hour rule is thrown around a lot, but there’s an interesting variation to that rule that says that different people achieve that ‘plateau of mastery’ with less hours, and some people can never reach it or only after much more effort and putting in that time/energy effectively changes their outlook on life anyway.

The nuggety center hidden in the story of success, I think, is the role failure plays for each person. Those friends who are doing quiet well for themselves? I know some of them have pushed through some obstacles. There are other friends who are in the midst of their own struggles, but it doesn’t mean they won’t come out of them. Struggle teaches us patience and focus. When you’re pissed, what’s really important to you? When every other word coming out of your mouth is ‘fuck’, what do you do? Where do you turn? With writing, we talk about the rejection letters. An agent rejected you, a publisher rejected you, here’s the first 1 star review…maybe your great book falls under one of those categories that’s worn out right now. It really can feel like you’re looking down a tunnel where the light at the end is a big, old train ready to run you over.

Trying to convince people to take a chance on you

The only thing that has kept me going somedays is me and my mania. Healthy, I know. And there are totally days I don’t get going (my attitude is basically a cup of coffee and a giant middle finger. Pleasant, I know). There might be some of you reading this who’ve been homeless, who’ve been struggling with addiction, or have lived through natural disasters. The world is a horror, and everyone feels like a failure in a variety of big and small ways. But the world is also weird place, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do think the brain is a resilient organ; you can trick yourself into optimism or slide into envy. People notice which direction you choose, by the way, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

I used to think intelligence was the most important characteristic someone could have (arrogant, I know). Now, I think the #1 virtue award might go to patience. If you’re patient with most people, sometimes they’ll show you things you didn’t know they had in them; in turn, you might surprise yourself in return. Things can really hurt, and time can at least allow enough other things to come into your life to crowd out the misery. Daily struggles become routines; maybe taxing, but manageable.

I’d like to echo the words of Miss Dahlia: you’re not alone. From one random internet stranger to another, it’s not just you. Many of us have been down the rejection road, done the failure tango…you get the idea. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to stay there or cuss out the heavens, shaking your fist.

He’s kind of an idiot, but you’ve got to admire that attitude

Writer’s Wednesday: We all write differently

There’s some cliche about there being ‘no right way to skin a cat’ or something, but that’s just gross. The gist of the statement is that there’s no one way to do things. On r/YAwriters there was a discussion about bad writing advice. The original post tackles such tried and true ideas as ‘write what you know’, ‘show, don’t tell’, ‘raise the stakes’, and ‘kill your darlings’. Mary Robinette Kowal does a fantastic job at taking some of these things apart; especially dear to me is the ripping up of ‘kill your darlings’. For the love of God and/or Satan, don’t you dare rip up the good parts of your book just because you believe you have to be more critical of the things you love the most. Readers can feel that passion, so be critical, but no unnecessary book surgery.

The discussion on r/YAwriters delved deeper into other tried and true aspects of writing advice, which shows one thing: we all do this writing thing differently.

Write Everyday

There is no one right way to write a novel. You’ve got to write it one way or another, but trying to ape another author’s writing style might not work for you. I go days (months, sometimes) without writing fiction, but I’m a speed drafter. I can write 2000 words a day, sure whatever, but I personally feel writing more words per day helps me link up the emotions and pacing between scenes better. That said, I get very few days to sit down and write 6000+ words a day, so yeah, there are plenty of days I just won’t write. There are others who’d get twitchy if they had to write for more than an hour or two a day and can’t speed draft.

Harlequin Valentine summed up the issue with this piece of advice:

HarlequinValentine

It’s not quite the same as the ones here but one that gets me is “write every day” – I unfortunately took that to mean that if you don’t write every day then you’ve failed horribly and need to give up being a writer…

I’ve always thought that better advice (for people who take things too literally like my younger self) would be: “set yourself high but achievable writing goals and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always make them”.

When I wrote about not doing NaNoWriMo, I didn’t include this reason, but my reaction against this piece of advice is probably another reason NaNo doesn’t work for me. It’s just not what I do. Writing everyday can make my story feel like suck. (I don’t want my story to feel like suck until I have to edit it…I’ll have plenty time to contemplate how bad it is then.)

Writer’s Write

Let me put this one to bed: writer’s do a lot of things. One of those things must, by it’s very definition, be writing. That said, writer’s also can edit, market, tweet, blog, book sign, book tour, read contracts, negotiate with agents/publishers, approve cover art, and a whole mess of other things I cannot think of. There’s way more to this gig (and being a successful author) than just writing. You’ve got to write, yes, but there are so many other parts of this career. One thing people often over look is hustling and branding. Whether they do it intentionally or not, a lot of successful creative people have branded themselves and are always on, always selling themselves and their work even if it’s subtle. Being an author is about more than just the work itself, and if you’re famous enough, there’s always ghost writers.

Write What You Want to Read

There is a niche for everything in the world. The larger that niche, though, the easier time your story might have finding readers. Writing an alternate history about were pigs struggling against monarchy in 17th century France might be great, but the number of people who want to read that story could be shockingly small. Or not! You don’t know. When I write, I do have a (vague) audience in mind–but it’s not always the same audience for every story. You might want to read some erotica, but those readers aren’t necessarily the same ones who might like your sweet-romance YA (even if you like both). Today, self-publishing can eliminate the need for pen names, but plenty of authors still use them to cross genres because what you want to read doesn’t necessarily line up with the groups of readers you’re trying to reach. This is more of a marketing thing, sure, and some authors do genre hop successfully (Delilah Dawson comes to mind). But the main point is this: what you want to read may limit your readership. Some of you (and sometimes me) don’t really care, but it’s worth pointing out the cynical, business aspect even if it is considered the Dark Side of being a writer.

Book Review: The Hollow March

The Hollow March by Chris Galford

I picked up this book initially because the cover is seriously beautiful; it reminded me of the Alan Lee illustrations for The Lord of the Rings, which are the editions of that series I own. I was looking for a new epic fantasy that combined the high adventure elements of a travel quest with something new and different. The strength of The Fifth Vertex was in its characters, and it’s a book that does just this. This story, however, has all the setting of epic fantasy, but none of it feels grounded in the characters, and this kept destroying my reading experience.

As a reader, I better be able to tell what the main character(s) want, and the early, driving action in a story needs to bring that into lazer focus. This is, essentially, what the book is about: what the character wants or needs. The main problem in The Hollow March is that I kept struggling with what Rurik wanted. He wants to fight his father because of backstory, okay, but what else? This is also a story that could’ve benefited from only focusing on one character, too, because a single well-developed character can make a book, but a weak main character will only get their perspective diluted in a multi-POV story. Essa’s character rose above the rest, and maybe the story should’ve been about her, but trying to make the story about the band of sell-swords didn’t quite work, either. I didn’t hate any of the characters, but I just didn’t feel much of anything for them, which is much worse, honestly, than if I’d hated them. I’ve read books where I’ve spent the better part of the book loathing the main character, but I can hate them because there is something there to hate. It just doesn’t feel like there’s much behind Rurik & Co.

The other issues I had with this novel might’ve not occurred at all if I didn’t have such a lackluster experience with the characters. There’s a lot of telling about the backstory and the fantasy world, but in epic fantasy, the world building exposition tends to be heavier because it can be essential in helping the reader understand the story. There’s still a tad too much telling here for my liking; a bit more sticking to the action vs. explaining backstory could’ve done the first several chapters of this book a lot of favors. The story, in many ways, should’ve opened with Rurik or found a way to do so and make him interesting. I honestly think that’s often the way to know if an author has written the story about the wrong character–if they can’t find any interesting way to open said story with the main character. Are there exceptions to this? Yes, but they are highly exceptional, and those stories do have to work extra hard to convince me that the main character should be the protagonist. It takes a level of story-telling finesse that, not gonna lie, most authors (including moi) don’t have to successfully open a story without the main character any where in sight.

Backstory is never as interesting to the reader as it is to the writer. I love my character’s backstories and think they’re terribly important, but readers prefer the here-and-now, which can make it tough to get the necessary info into the story. Epic fantasy tends to just dump it in there, but even that’s not the specific problem I had here. It felt like the story was about the backstory and not about the current action; it’s just that the explanations about who did what never let up. The action got lost in all of that, and there simultaneously needed to be more action and less. It’s a confounding book, and a problem that I usually don’t find outside of fantasy books with literary aspirations, or at least, that’s where I’ve experienced this feeling before.

Random Thoughts:

  • I don’t like to rag on books or authors, but I thought I should post something that I bought with the intention to enjoy, but for reasons, couldn’t get into it.
  • The cover is really great, and I seriously wish the story itself could’ve been half as good.
  • This book is long, and while that doesn’t specifically turn me off, there has to be a lot there for me to be convinced the entire story is worth it. (I’ve never been able to finish a Neal Stephenson novel because I find I just don’t care enough to spend the time, but lots of people seem to love his stuff.)

Read if: You have a lot of patience with characters.

Beware if: You wanted epic fantasy with a little more action.

My Rating: 2 because I just couldn’t get into the story. There’s a lot of explanation with much story, IMO.

Trip Round Up: Summer ’14 (and early fall)

I ended up having a very busy late summer, so I didn’t get into the outdoors as often as I would’ve liked to. This wasn’t helped by having my backpack and gear stolen, either, but I did get several trips in that I really enjoyed this year, and I’m hunkering down and saving money for a really exciting, longer trip next year. Here’s a list, in a rough order of time, what trips I did starting in May and continuing into mid-September.

San Gorgonio

This was one of those trips. I intended to do a 3 day trip through the San Gorgonio wilderness, and this is what happened:

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The middle of May when wildfires were burning up other parts of SoCal.

The middle of May when wildfires were burning up other parts of SoCal.

I didn’t want to hang around too long in a thunder-snow-hail storm above 9000 feet, so I didn’t. The weather was supposed to be partially cloudy in the morning with a 30% chance of rain, so this was very unexpected weather! It was snowing down to 7500 feet, so I bailed on this trip.

Joshua Tree

This is the corollary to ‘failed San Gorgonio trip’, and it turned out to be two of my favorite days in the outdoors all year. I yo-yoed the California trail in Joshua Tree, and it was a solid decision because the cold front that came through the mountains lowered the temps in the Mojave as well. I’m aware the California trail isn’t the most exciting or challenging trail in the world, but it was a relaxing walk across the desert, and I had it to myself 95% of the hike. After the mountains, I thoroughly enjoyed being dry! I also enjoyed the wildlife I saw, too, although they moved quickly, and I didn’t get any good pictures of the lizards, snakes, and rabbits. Bonus: there were still some flowering cacti. These are some of my favorite photos, too, because the light mid-morning was so perfect.

CAM00334CAM00356 CAM00346 CAM00340 CAM00359New Hampshire: Presidentials

The next several are out of order, but I’m posting the Presies first, even though I did them a bit later in the summer. New Hampshire is easily the nicest place to hike and climb out East, even though I didn’t have the energy or time to do the drive more this year. I tend to take less pictures when I do more scrambling and harder hikes.

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Adirondacks: Great Range

There’s a reason this hike is infamous, but it did bump me over the two dozen mark for the ADK 46er list. This was a hard hike, but it was the perfect early summer day for it, although I ended this thing looking like I’d done Tough Mudder.

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Maine: Grafton Loop

Bailed on an original New Hampshire plan to hike this loop and bag Old Speck. It’s a bit more weedy than most people would like, I think, but I did enjoy having the blue blazed trail mostly to myself. This, however, was a hike where I got a rude note left on my car, so that makes me think less fondly of it.

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Acadia

I went into this trip with negative planning, especially for me, but that’s kind of what I needed that weekend. I went to the sea shore at 6am, went for a slow, small starter hike, and then proceeded to do a hike/trail run around the major ‘mountains’ in Acadia. The best thing about the hiking there is that the tree line starts at ~600 feet, and there are some wonderful slab ridge lines with endless views of the coast and inland Maine. It’s quite nice, but also a bit crowded, which is why I trail ran–to get away from some of the slower walkers and more crowded areas.

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Wonderland Loop

I ended up with an UTI during the last day of this trip, but there’s a reason this trail is super famous. It’s a well-maintained hiking trail with spectacular views. The best part was that we saw an entire herd of mountain goats, including 6 babies. Lovely trip overall. This is also the last trip my overnight pack went on, RIP Mariposa 2012-2014.

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Mount Tremblant

I did this last one for a work conference, and my gear was stolen shortly after this trip, so this is the last one I’m posting. The area was lovely, but it was overcast for most of the time I was there. I’d love to go back and ski there, too.

1411481024940 1412339788626My final notes on these trips is that I did most of them solo, which was something I didn’t anticipate doing this year. I found I really liked the solitude and control I had while hiking solo, although there is a certain motivation and comfort that I get hiking with other people, but being able to go out and do my own thing ended up being the major theme of this hiking season for me. The bonus of doing some of these trips is what I was able to work into running half-marathons and several days of 8-12 miles of running on a weekly basis, which gave me the best aerobic performance I’ve had in years.

God’s Play Blog Tour Round Up

The God’s Play blog tour finished up last week. It was a lot of work (and a lot of fun!) to finally have this happen, and here’s a master list of the blogs that hosted the book and my favorite highlights of what they said about it.

Overall I enjoyed this book. A nice read, great writing and the story will keep you interested throughout. The fantasy was done well and the author didn’t over do it on the genre. I liked that, and would read more from the author!

-Lovely Reads

Lynn weaves together a variety of mythologies in an original fashion and writes top-notch character interaction.  The few domestic scenes are particularly well done.  She even manages to weave in flashbacks fairly organically.

-In Bed With Books

This is a creative story blending paranormal, fantasy and mythology together into an interesting albeit simplistic plot.

-I’m A Voracious Reader

The idea of shapeshifters isn’t a really unique one, but I felt that with the Veil and the links with the mythology, it was a much more unique take on the shapeshifter genre. Since I read a lot of Egyptian and Greek mythology-based books, I recognized a lot of the links that there were in this book.

-Sarah, via GoodReads

Once things got going, I read this book in one sitting. Toby and William are great characters. They are perfect opposites to each other. The start of their “relationship” is biased only on Toby wanting revenge for his mother’s death, and William just wants to get rid of someone from his past who wronged him as well as many other shifters.

-Pages to Explore

My Guest Posts:

To Sally Forth

We Do Write

What Happened to The Wallflower

Matthew Graybosch

Lili Lost in A Book

Diane’s Book Blog

Nightwolf’s Corner

Writer’s Wednesday: On opting out of NaNoWriMo

It’s time for the most sacred holiday among writers: National Novel Writing Month. Every year, the writing community comes together and pounds out millions (maybe billions) of words worldwide, all in service of finishing their novels. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is a simple: write 50,000 words (or the entire first draft of your novel, which ever comes first) in a month. The main goal behind NaNoWriMo is to discipline yourself to write everyday, no matter what distractions there are in life. Writing first! Writer’s write! Art harder!

We live in an age of constant gratification and distraction. I get it: lots of things threaten to take priority in life. Loved ones, waitressing shifts, going for a run, Steam sales, the new season of Korra…shhh, shhh I understand. I’m here for you. It’s not easy making time for creativity. Are there valid reasons to do NaNoWriMo? Yes, and here are a few:

  • Writing community. Twitter and the NaNo boards are going to be JUMPING with people frothing at the mouth to talk about their new novel this month. THEY WILL BE SO EXCITED to post word count (always word count!), discuss characters, dissect plot…all of the things we writers never have enough people on earth to talk about. (Hey, it’s why I started this blog!)
  • Discipline. Making time for writing is hard. Developing productive habits and getting in a rhythm is something you’ve got to learn, homefries, if you’re going to write things or just get things done in general. NaNoWriMo can and absolutely will teach you how long a scene should be, how many hours it takes before you want to bash your head into a wall, and most importantly, how to write consistently.
  • Getting shit done. This is a corollary to the point above, but if you’re stuck on an idea, NaNo it out. Don’t let your little brain nugget rot away. Get it out there, see what it is on paper, and move on.
  • Transitioning into a new genre. Want to experiment with writing erotica or Westerns? Never written a space opera? DO IT NOW. NaNo is the time for experimentation. Make it happen!

Still the best comic about NaNo

However, I will not be doing NaNoWriMo this year, and I’m here to talk to those of you writers who feel like you’re going to be sitting on the sidelines twiddling your metaphorical thumbs this year. I’ve done NaNo; I even ‘won’ NaNo. I’m not participating this year. Gasp! Writing Sacrilege! Wait, wait, before you click away, let me tell you my experience with NaNo, and then lay out some reasons why it’s perfectly okay to opt out of NaNoWriMo and be the black sheep of the writing community.

When I did NaNo, I had a project that was partially finished, but it needed to be rewritten from the beginning. The idea changed a lot when I started to write it (this is a common theme with my writing…), and it needed demolished completely for it to be a better story. This was several years ago, and I’d known friends who did NaNo the previous year. I checked out the website and thought, ‘Why not? Need to get this crap done someday. Why not today?’ I made my account, popped open a new Word document, and stared to pound it out. I’d written ~75k by the end of the month, and in December, I finished the new first draft. And I realized the story sucked. Hard. Even after editing, it was all over the place and just not the right story for me to tell. So I shelved it and started new projects, which never would’ve been possible until I faced the cold, hard truth about that particular story.

The 1st of November for many writers.

Am I staying away from NaNo because I wrote a bad novel using that method? Maybe, but it helped me discover things about my writing, and one of those things is that I’m just not a NaNo type person. I can pound out the words with the best of them. My PR (personal record) for words written in a single day is 15,000. My PR for fastest rough draft was 88,000 words in 10 days, with multiple days of sustained 10,000 words per day to make that happen. Getting the word count down was never the problem for me; if that’s an issue for you, NaNo will teach you how to Art Hard.

How many novels are conceived.

That said, there really is something to all the frilly talk about the ‘creative process.’ Sometimes, what that means, is not writing. Ideas are like good wine: they need time to ferment in your head. I have to tell myself the story I want to write about half a dozen different ways before I write it down. If you’ve got an idea, and you think its ripe, write it down. Do NaNo and finish; make the dream real. But here are some reasons to bench yourself during NaNoWriMo:

  • You’ve just finished a big project. I’m coming off a marathon of a writing streak from August, September, and October. Any writing I do during November is going to be more intermittent. Word count isn’t going to be a priority if I sit down and drabble out some stories.
  • You’re working on other art. Maybe it’s not conducive to the NaNo format.
  • Real life takes priority. November might be The Month From Hell for you to write your novel, even if it’s ready to meet the page. The good news is there’s a NaNo something just about every month now, so don’t feel pressured into November if it sucks for you. Hey, my birthday’s in November, and I still don’t know why my parents picked this month. (Hint: look at where Valentine’s Day is on the calender. Yes, this turned into a sex joke.)
  • You’ve got your own writing groove.
  • You don’t feel particularly inclined to participate in the NaNo specific writing community.

There are probably more reasons why you should or shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, but I’m just listing some of them that have been prominent for me and those I know who’ve done NaNo. The idea of always writing, always being on point and ready to sell yourself, is so pervasive in creative culture today. Sometimes, you need to turn that off to reconnect with yourself and your stories. At least, this has been true for me. This isn’t a popular opinion, but when I turn that nebulous thing on to write, it’s like an atom bomb blowing up in my head. It’s powerful, but I can’t sustain that kind of energy indefinitely. The smart asses among you will say ‘build a nuclear plant, duh’, but that’s more like editing for me than rough draft writing. The power is there, but in a more controlled way. So write if you have to write, edit if you need to edit, and let your ideas get delicious in your head. Whatever it takes, and remember, if you’re doing NaNo or not: you’re not alone.