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Posts tagged with: writer’s life

A Dark Horse is Born

Over the past few months I’ve been swamped. Spring is always busy with baseball, end of school activities and, since I try to write 2-3 books a year, a perpetual deadline. So, yeah, busy. Which means I haven’t blogged here in a while. It’s good to be back among my peeps.

Since I’ve been MIA, I thought I would share a day from my journal several months ago. It was a really good day, a click-my-ruby-slippers-together kind of day. We’ll skip the days with headaches, dirty socks and dismal book sales for now.

March 26, 2015, aka Golden Heart/Rita announcement day

7:00 am – Today is the day calls go out BUT I’m going to pretend I don’t know and act accordingly. Okay, fine. I have to promote the Ruby announcement party. That means I can’t pretend to not know. I’ll just pretend not to care. RITA schmeeta. Who cares? Doesn’t really mean anything. Besides I’m writing today. I have a deadline. Focus, sister. Focus.

9:30 am – Ah, Starbucks! My true friend with your muffins and much needed caffeine. Let’s get the laptop open. And maybe sneak a look at phone and see who has finaled.

10:00 – No writing done. Okay, one sentence done. Sinking realization I’ve entered wrong category. Let me hop on email loop to Rubies and share my idiocy (cause misery loves company). There. Feel better (but not really) but better. Try to focus on wip.

10:15 – chat with fellow writer about Chapter business. Don’t mention RITAS. Don’t think about the fact the categories are filling up. RITAS don’t matter anyway. Right? Right.

11:05 – Screw it. Check Twitter. See lots of congrats. Feel happy for friends. Sad for self. Consider saying to hell with it and buying a cake pop.

11:12 – see I have a message on Twitter. Wait. Abigail Sharpe wants me to check my messages. Why? Wait. What? Is this a sick joke? She better not be asking me something about the Golden Network. Is she in the Golden Network? I can’t remember. But, this could mean something.

11:13 – Send Abigail a message that I’m not at home. Send a question mark. Then send cellphone number just in case.

11:14 – pretend to write. Look at  friend writing across the table and try not to vomit.

11:20 – phone rings. Unknown number from Florida. Pick it up. Answer calmly with hello.

11:20:20 – break down crying when she says she’s calling on behalf of RWA. Scare writing friend. Alyssa Day says magic words  – “Is this Liz Talley? I have really good news.”

11:21 – look at writer friend who looks worried. Her eyes get big with unasked question. I nod and say something into phone that is gibberish.

11:21:20 – hang up and shake like leaf.

11:24 – wipe eyes and call husband’s office. He’s with a patient. Damn it. Leave message. Get on Ruby site and drop the bomb that I finaled in the RITA! The MFing RITAs that seconds ago meant NOTHING!

11:25 – call Mom (should have called her first!) Explain what the Rita is. Assure her it’s a big moment.

11:26 – call agent, switch over to tell husband, switch back to agent. Shut computer down. Who can write a sex scene at a moment like this?

11:35 – go to lunch. Eat grilled chicken and veggies because now I have to buy a dress and not resemble a baby hippo in it.

Rest of day – accept congratulations, try to get a grip on reality, and wash baseball uniforms. Oh, and answer perpetual question of “what is there to eat around here?”

So there’s a glimpse into a helluva day…a most wonderful day. Other good days came as a result of this day, things like getting Godiva chocolates and flowers, receiving invites to fun things like receptions, and getting that pretty little pin to wear at conference. I’m sure by now you’re thinking,  “Okay, sister, we get it. You’re a finalist. Whoop-dee-do.” And I understand.  Because what does it really mean? A pin, a moniker behind a name?  Why bother sharing this day with you?

Because often I’ve thought about quitting. Just letting my writing career slip from my fingers much the way my child’s hand slipped from my grasp at the playground. At some point it just all pulls away and you’re left standing, wondering if that’s all there was to it. You sit day after day on the sidelines, sending congrats to other people, watching them talk about the calls they got, the big news, the deals, the numbers, the accolades. And you feel like you suck. You fondly recall a moment when you were one of them. When you believed in yourself.  That’s how I’ve felt for the past two years. Very much like a nobody sitting on a park bench waiting for someone to remember she existed.

I don’t share the wonder of this day to gloat or to cheerfully say “looky here what I did.” No, I share it because I am you. I’m every writer who wants to quit and do something better with her time. I’m the writer who felt alone, who wondered why everyone else was doing better than she was. I’m the writer who doubted everything she did. Who didn’t know if she should write more, promote more…get another job and forget about writing.

And I’m the writer that on that day not only felt joy, but sincere, SINCERE relief that I might have some small glimmer of goodness still in myself somewhere.

In essence I’m every writer out there.

So there. The reason why I needed to share this. And I’m sure you’re wondering about why I called this a dark horse. It’s because if I had an extra $100 I wouldn’t bet on myself. No. Seriously. I’m so dark a horse for this award, you might as well call me Midnight, Ebony, Obsidian and every other word you’ve used to describe your hero’s black eyes. But that’s okay, cause I made it to the track this time. I’m happy to be on the fricking track.

So I don’t even have a question to ask. Maybe you can think of something in your own life this pretend journal entry (like I keep a journal…I can barely find my list to the grocery store) can relate to. Do you feel like you’re on the sidelines? Are you waiting on something good to happen in your writing life?

 

 

 

Words in the Refrigerator

It’s no secret that I enjoy food. Different food groups, different cuisines, I love it all. So when Susan Elizabeth Phillips said in a speech that it’s an all too common problem to “look for the next line of our stories in the refrigerator,” it touched my taste buds.

There are many authors who deal with their writing by eating while sitting at the keyboard. It could be they’re on deadline and can’t take the time for meals at a table away from their work. It could be to deal with the anxiety of not knowing, or not liking, where the story is headed. It could be they use food to help start the process of writing and then stop eating when they get into the flow of the story.

I’m guilty of the last. It’s a terrible process but it’s instinctive and I’ve never been able to completely stamp it out.  

Whatever the reason, this isn’t a healthy way to eat. And the next line of our story isn’t hiding behind the yogurt. So for our series on the real life of writers, I thought I’d discuss the problem of keyboard calories. 

When this hits you, as it hits me daily, there are some things to do. Chew gum. Fix a cup of coffee or tea. Get up and pace rapidly like a regency hero about to explain to the heroine why he can’t deflower her. Do something mindless like scrubbing the toilet until the next line pops in your head or you wear a hole in the porcelain. Chomp on carrots, radishes, apples, etc. to give your jaws the workout they need to make your brain function.

All those who suffer from this affliction with me, give me an “amen” and tell me how you deal with it. I could use some more ideas.

Kate Parker writes historical mysteries laced with romance and fueled by tea and carrots. The next, coming out in July, is The Royal Assassin.

Finding the Aha Moments

Last week, for about the twelfth time, I found myself befuddled up to my eyeballs over a romantic suspense work in progress. Whether you’re a panster, like myself, or a plotter, at some point you could find fresh ideas hiding in the deepest, darkness recesses of your mind amongst a pile of crappy overused ideas. When this happened to me in the past, I’d walked around for days mulling over my problem, my plot’s direction, which is perfectly fine, if you don’t have a deadline and or have time to waste. This time I purchased a few books (Snap: Seizing Your AHA Moments by Katherine Ramsland and Your Creative Brain by Shelly Carson, PHD) and learned for one that mulling is an acceptable process to release your muse. What I also learned, so far, that the more tricks you use to open the gates the faster that will happen.

We’re like the grains of sand on a pearly white beach. Besides having the potential to be stuck in places we really don’t want to go, we’re totally awesome and unique and we all learn in different ways. And in combination of ways.

It’s alleged that we have seven mind-sets (seven ways of learning and using our minds): Absorb Brainset, Envision Brainset, Connect Brainset, Reason Brainset, Evaluate Brainset, Transform Brainset, and Stream Brainset. I’m not going to divulge every detail I’ve learned from these books so far. I suggest you check them out for yourself.  However, I will share a concise description of each mindset and an exercise you can use that key to unlock your mind’s muse.

Absorb Mindset: Ability to absorb new information in a non-judgmental way to be stored for use later when you can use say information to see associations between objects and to remain open to your subconscious.  

Exercise: Pick a space, indoor or outside. For five minutes, really absorb your surroundings. Notice the colors, textures, lines and shadows.  Then touch, listen, smell and taste. Next pick an object and think of a new way use for it. We’ve all seen the Knorr Side Dish commercial where a cork screw is used as a coat nail and a fork is used a cabinet handle. That is the same idea.

Envision Mindset:  In this mindset we deliberately imagine ways to solve problems, using absorb information. This mindset is well known to creative people.  The exercise below will help you increase your mental imagery. It turns off the stream of unwanted thoughts.

Exercise: Close your eyes and take three deep cleansing breathes. Now image your happy place. Where you feel the most relax? Picture yourself there. Allow yourself to feel the surroundings. If your recliner, feel the texture of the material against your skin, the firmness of the cushion surrounding you, the angle of your body as you relax. Are there sounds around you? Soft music or maybe a ball game on the T.V., or your children playing at your feet.  How about smells, tastes.  Allow yourself to enjoy your happy place for a few minutes.

Connect Mindset:  This mindset allows you to spawn many ideas without concerns to how they will play out. You’ll think out of the box. Successful use of this mindset could lead you to become overwhelmed with creative possible ideas. You’ll become energized and excited about your work.

Exercise: Set a timer for three minutes. On a piece of paper write down as many uses for a shoe you can think of. Then set the timer again and write down all the things you can do with a shoelace. Set the timer again and jot down the consequences of a torn shoelace.

Reason Brainset: This brainset solves problems logically, using all your storage memories and knowledge. It allows you to control what thoughts occupy your mind. It is deliberate and necessary as you complete your creative project. It is the perfect mindset to flesh out a whimsical idea and make it realistic. It helps you motivate action, manage time, increases chances for success, strengthens self-confidence and heightens sense of control over your life. It’s one mindset I’ve consciously worked on every single day, several times a day, over the last several months.

Exercise: You will stop particular unwanted thoughts or train of thoughts as soon as they enter you mind by simply saying, “Don’t go there.” Or “Thinking of this is not my on my hour’s agenda.”

Evaluate Mindset: Coming up with fresh ideas is vital is our line of work, but judging whether those ideas are indeed worth spending time one is also essential. This is where this mindset comes in. Three factors are necessary: active judgement, focused attention and impersonality. We need to judge our work against others of which it’s competing. Not us against them. This is about our work, not ourselves. In order to do that, we need to get some distance from our work, judge it with respect, don’t toss the work mid-project, look at each of its parts and evaluate their merits, and look at the work from the point of view of your audience. Be flexible. Consult others. Be hard on your work and not yourself!

Exercise: On a sheet of paper write the titles of your top ten books of all time.  Imagine they’re no longer available anywhere or ever again. Now, ( I know you’re going to hate me)  cross off five. Behind them, write why you crossed them off.

Transform Mindset:  Is all about emotion. Our emotion. Our negative emotions and how they affect our memories and visions. It’s important we know this mindset and how it disturbs our creativity. It is a what-if state, just like the envision mindset, but unlike the purposeful imaginings of the later, this mindset’s themes are worry, anxiety, self-pity or regret.  But this mindset can help with your creative project. Our characters are an extension of humanity.  People have flaws, negative thoughts, regrets. We can use this mindset to write timeless characters if only we draw on the transform mindset.

Exercise: Pick three things in your home that you feel best represents you: personality, taste, qualities. Now write a paragraph about each and how they relate to you. Did you learn anything about yourself? Was there a negative or positive view of yourself?

The Stream Mindset: We refer to this mindset as being in ‘the zone.’ It is the unique melding of self and action. You lose your sense of self and focus on the world at hand. But how do we achieve this mindset.

First, you need the expertise to enter the stream mindset. Second, you need to be engaged in an activity that intrinsically motivating you. (Intrinsic motivation means that you’re involved in an activity because of an internal award and not an external one.) Do you write for the joy of writing?

Exercise: On a piece of paper jot down five activities that had your blood surging and your mind whirling. These activities are your passion.

 

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I’ve only touched on the information contained in these two books. In fact, I’m not finished with either of them, but what I’ve learned so far has helped me to be more productive, to think out of the box on my wip, and be more acceptable of the amount of work I can accomplish in a day.

Just Say “No” to NaNoWriMo: In Defense of Writing Slowly

Two books and a novella.

That’s what I remembered being “normal,” back in 2011, before my son was born. It felt like a lot, but as an unpublished author, I didn’t think I had much say in the matter. Swim with the big fish or get left in the shoals. And before my baby was born, I could keep up. I mean, I wasn’t writing the sort of books that I absolutely love to read, but doing so would have required a much lengthier research period, and I didn’t feel like that was possible. Not with the pressure we were all under. I had to demonstrate that I could meet the very high expectations placed upon us. Whether or not I was writing the book of my soul was secondary to meeting the expectations of the industry.

Look, the first book I wrote won a Golden Heart. Doors opened for me. I couldn’t stand in the hallway. I walked through and got to work.

Then my baby was born.

I didn’t fall into motherhood as naturally as I’d hoped I would. He was large and needed almost constant feedings. He didn’t sleep well. He cried often, not quite enough to be called “colicky” but enough to make us feel like we were doing it all wrong. 

This is not unusual, I know. What was unusual was that I hadn’t intended on taking any maternity leave from writing. I’d sold my first two books just weeks after my son was born. I meant to keep writing, to capitalize on this amazing sale to a fabulous publisher. But I couldn’t. Just….couldn’t. I was too tired, too sore. Even when I found free time, which was very rare, I couldn’t think of a single thing worth writing about. I tried. But I had no interesting inputs, and therefore I had nothing to output. I was drained. Empty. 

But every other mother I’d talked to had been able to do it. Why couldn’t I? Why was I so weak-willed that I couldn’t do it all? Why was I so unimaginative that I couldn’t write while taking care of one little baby?

Failure. Guilt. Shame. You know the drill.

I soon found that I was happier when I was 100% devoted being a mother. So I stopped trying to write. We moved to live closer to family, became happier. Life got easier. My son flourished. He has turned out to be a bit of a physical and mental dynamo who was probably just pissed off that he didn’t pop out of the womb ready to run. Now, he’s in preschool, and I have twelve hours a week to write.

Except I’m not writing, not in the way I used to, with #1k1h sprints and daily tracking on a spreadsheet to keep myself motivated. I was happy but not healthy on that treadmill. Worse, I’d been afraid to write my most favorite kinds of books: multi-layered, beautifully written romances with a rich cache of historical detail and intricately woven mysteries.

Why was I afraid? They take a lot of time to write, especially if you’re starting from scratch in a historical period. I didn’t feel like I had that sort of time before. I just jumped in and started swimming. Frantically.

But now? I’ve been out of the game for three years. I’m a mother. I feel like I’ve been through battle. My skin has thickened. I’m not afraid of the industry anymore. (Oddly, this has carried over into my personal life, as well.) As long as I’m being true to myself, I don’t care very much what other people think of me.

So I’m writing what I love to read. Finally.

And I’m not NaNoWriMoing. Instead, I’m researching. I’m taking weeks to read and think and plan, and I’m not feeling anxious about how many words I’m writing or what the market is doing in the meantime. What matters to me now is whether or not I’m writing my very best book. My best. Every time. That’s how you make it, in my opinion. That’s how you find and keep devoted readers. By giving them your very best every time, as often as you can, but not so often that you die trying.

Let me repeat that: Don’t die trying.

Really. How is your thyroid? Your carpal tunnel? Your back pain? How’s your neck holding up? That tingling in your toes? Your weight? How’s your caffeine consumption? Your energy level? Your sex life? Your relationship with your non-writing friends? Your children? Your family? When’s the last time you had your teeth cleaned? How much pain medication are you taking? Alcohol? Anti-depressants?

When’s the last time you lamented your slow pace and wished you could just…write…faster? When’s the last time you heard a friend say the same thing?

Honey. Stop. Just…stop. Listen to me: you don’t have to do this to yourself. This is absurd! Why are we accepting these insane expectations as normal?

WHY?

Because we are WOMEN, and women are supposed to make people happy.

Aren’t we? And it makes editors and agents and husbands very happy when we are extremely productive, and all the more so when we pretend that we can get up at 4:30 AM with a smile and that our backs aren’t killing us and that we don’t harbor a secret and unhealthy addiction to caffeine.

We are supposed to “do it all,” remember?

That’s our right as beneficiaries of feminism. If we don’t “do it all,” we are failures. Even though we think it’s really hard or perhaps even impossible to be extremely productive without driving ourselves into an early and painful grave, we think it’s WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING. This is like the Mommy Wars, only there’s no one on the other side saying, “Hey! I’m tired. I’m sick. And I’m unhappy. I can’t meet these insane expectations, and I think we need to slow down and support each other in doing so.”

I think we’re doing it to ourselves.

Or at least we’re complicit in the agreement that this is all supposed to be normal. By nodding in agreement when some editor or agent or whoever talks about the crazy pace they want us to meet, we’re agreeing with the insanity. When we beat ourselves up for not meeting this unmeetable standard, we’re complicit with this craziness.

Well, bull. I think that what I should be doing is living a full and healthy life while also writing beautiful, well-researched and fully imagined books that I can stand behind 100% (rather than some half-baked, one-handed erotica that pays the bills but makes me feel like I’m not using my talent or speaking my truth. Not that that’s what I or you have been doing, but I know we’re all wondering if that’s what it’s going to take to make it big). I think that if more of us who cannot meet these unreasonable standards take a vocal stand against such pace, we’d all be better off.

For me, this is a feminist issue.

It’s an issue of women vs. women, and how hard we are on ourselves. Victoria Dahl gave a moving and brave speech at the Emerald City conference about how the whole “your heroine must be likable and good!” message is finally fading, and it’s because writers like her took a courageous and lonely stand against it. She feels that part of the “likable heroine” messaging that we receive is an extension of the “women must be likable” messaging that most of us would agree we have been receiving since birth.

So, I’ve begun having conversations like this one with my friends who feel that the expectations placed upon us are insane, and that those who manage to meet them are very often living unhealthy lives. I’m not saying that every writer who can meet this schedule with a smile are unhealthy; please don’t take offense if you are a productive, healthy writer. 😉 But most writers I speak to who are extremely productive are also secretly very, very tired and very, very sick.

We’re killing ourselves and encouraging our friends to do the same. I say it stops now. NaNoWriMo if if makes you happy. I’ll cheer you on! But if you feel like the pace of our industry is killing you softly, then please, for your own health, join me in writing at a more reasonable pace. I realize that we’re genre-fiction writers, and our readers do expect regular offerings. But our health and happiness is more important than our writing output. Don’t let the industry squeeze you dry in ten years flat. Find a steady, productive pace that allows you to maintain your own good health and loving relationships with your friends and family.

If I hear one more of you tell me that you skipped a family vacation to write, I’m going to get seriously angry over here!

Love,

Jamie

Jamie Michele writes smart, sexy suspenses about women who never do what’s expected of them, and the men who should know better than to stand in their way. Check out An Affair of Vengeance, the first in a two-book sequence, on sale for $2!

What Makes You Weird?

I have a clear memory from when I was nine or ten years old of being in the back seat of a car and looking over to my right. There was a man driving next to us, and he was just staring straight ahead of himself, not looking at me, not doing anything at all but waiting for the light to turn green. But he didn’t look bored. He looked preoccupied. He was thinking about something, but I would never know what it was. I would never know this man. He would never know me. I didn’t matter to him.

It struck me then that I wasn’t the center of the universe (and that I should probably stop trying to be), but also that each person in the world had an internal life that was entirely separate from mine. On the surface, we may be still, but inside our own minds, our thoughts move like ants in a hill, ceaselessly tunneling.

It was a profound moment for me. I imagine that everyone must have this realization, some earlier than others. Perhaps I was late to the game, but thereafter, I became rather interested in the internal worlds of people.

I had a related realization much later, when I was in my twenties and browsing Home Depot. I happened to look at a man and was hit with the idea that he probably really, really enjoyed having sex. I glanced around, saw other men, and knew, just knew, that they all liked it, too. Young and old, hot or not: all of the men in Home Depot love to have sex.

Research: Unexpected Consequences

One of the things I love the most about writing medical romances is the research. I’m a sucker for all of those not-so-common ailments and spend far more time than I should perusing medical sites and my trusty Physicians’ Desk Reference.

Tina and Dolly--stuck inside on a rainy day

Tina and Dolly–stuck inside on a rainy day

There are a couple of problems with research, though. One is that I’m not squeamish. At all. And my filter for knowing what others might find icky seems to let all kinds of things slip through. I have a friend who just had surgery on her foot. She has a long line of stitches on the side of her big toe, another line on the bottom of her foot (where a neuroma was removed) and more stitches on three of her smaller toes. Well, she posted pictures of the stitches on Facebook. I studied them, commenting about how good they looked–not much redness or puffiness–and only realized later that other people were writing things like “Ack!!” “Frankenstein’s foot!” and other similar comments. Yep. No ick filter.

There’s another side of research, though, that involves the heart and not the mind. About a year and a half ago, I began writing a story about a hippotherapist (a therapist who uses horses to treat cognitive and physical challenges).

I’ve been around horses for many years and have always loved them. In fact, several of my books have horses mentioned in them. But a strange thing happened as I was researching this newest book. It engaged something deep inside of me. So when I went with my husband to his (mumble mumble) high school reunion a couple of months ago, we were chatting with one of his friends, and hubby mentioned my love of horses. The friend stopped in her tracks. “You know horses?” It turned out she works at a nearby equine therapy stable, and they desperately needed volunteers–as in they might have to cancel one of their classes, if they couldn’t find a few more people to help out. Coincidence, anyone? It was the perfect storm–in the best sense of the term. I jumped at the opportunity! So now I’m a side-walker for a precious little girl who stares longingly at the horses as they’re led into the arena. An expression of love that I recognize from my own childhood days.

Research. Sometimes it has unexpected consequences–of the best possible kind.

Have you ever read (or written) a book where the subject matter touched you deeply or made you want to get involved in some way? I’d love to hear about it! Oh, and here’s the cover of the book that started my journey:Tina_Girl

Milestones

When I realized my birthday is tomorrow and I’ll be hitting another decade milestone in another year, my first reaction was, “That’s it—I’m not having any more birthdays after this one!” Then it dawned on me that the only way to avoid getting older is . . . well, you know.

Death is not an acceptable alternative, so I’ve decided to continue blowing out candles and change my outlook toward aging to an attitude of welcoming the opportunity for accomplishment.

The year 2014 has been especially challenging for me. It started off with my husband hitting a deer with our brand new car the first week of January, followed by my mother having a minor stroke which required her to move to a nursing home. That left me to clean out the hoarder’s mess in her apartment, in the middle of which, I had to have half of my thyroid removed, and my husband’s company announced they’re closing the facility he works at in the beginning of 2015, meaning he’ll be unemployed.

We’ve decided to move to Austin, TX (closer to our kids) for him to look for a new job, which resulted in having to quickly whip our house into shape to sell it, listing it, getting a sales agreement, packing and moving into a temporary apartment until my hubby’s job ends late this winter—all while my energy levels are extremely low from my new thyroid hormone deficiency. We’ve just gotten settled in our new apartment and have discovered it’s infested with fleas from the previous tenant’s pets. An exterminator sprayed the apartment on Wednesday, and now I’m crossing my fingers it worked.
We’ve all survived years when our lives seemed to be in constant crisis. Then on New Year’s Eve, we’ve all heaved a sigh of relief and said, “At least that year is over, or Yay, I’ve made it through another year!” Even though we’re just glad it’s behind us, there’s still a sense of accomplishment for having endured.

On Monday, the Rubies will be celebrating their fifth blogoversary. It’s hard to believe we’ve been sharing our experiences with our readers for that long. This started me thinking about all the milestones I’ve passed during my writing career: My first finished manuscript, my first national conference, my first request from an editor or agent, my first submission, and then my first rejection. Then came the second and third rejection, and a fourth and fifth. (The rejection total is really high, so I’ll quit right here.) Then I was nominated as a Golden Heart® finalist for the first time and actually won. I landed an agent, and two years later, I won the GH again! I was a finalist five more times, jumped into indie publishing in 2012 and have released nine books since then, realizing my dream of making a living from my writing.

We all have our list of achievements, disappointments, tribulations, and celebrations. And when we get discouraged and feel as if we’re no longer moving forward, it can be really uplifting to look back at all we’ve accomplished. But, more importantly, we need to look ahead to our next goal—our next milestone.
As writers, we all know that if we don’t give our characters strong goals and compelling motivations at the very beginning of our novel, no one will care enough about our characters to continue reading. And if we don’t put up roadblocks to challenge our heroes and heroines in the journey toward accomplishing their objectives, we’ll end up writing a very boring book.

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs

That’s true in our lives, too. Anyone who’s ever taken Psych 101 has studied the humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow, and his theory that all people have a hierarchy of needs. Those needs can be illustrated in a pyramid structure—the foundation of which is basic physical needs, peaking with emotional needs like personal fulfillment or self-actualization. If you look at the diagram at the left, you’ll see that according to Maslow’s theory, in order to satisfy our highest need, we must have a sense of purpose in life. If we have no goals or dreams, we have nothing to look forward to, and without challenges, there will be no sense of accomplishment, which is vital to feel fulfilled.

I’ve observed that the people who seem the most unhappy or depressed are usually those who have no purpose—no reason to roll out of bed in the morning—no goals to work toward. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a tough year with a lot of circumstances that have kept me from working toward my writing goals. My last book release was back in February. I’d hoped to release two more books by the end of the year, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Therefore, I’ve lost my sense of accomplishment in my career for this year—despite that I’ve achieved a great deal in handling all of the challenges the universe has thrown at my personal life. The problem is none of those triumphs were celebrations of achieving a goal, they were simply sighs of relief over enduring and coming out the other side.

I realized the only way to pull myself out of this funk and feeling of failure is to set a new writing goal and work toward it. I refuse to completely write this year off, so I’m here today to publicly declare my goal to release another book by the end of the year and to invite all of you to join me in making a commitment toward some career objective.

Your goal needs to be achievable. It can’t be to earn a nomination as a finalist in the GH or RITA or to sell a book, because those aren’t things you can personally control—we all know luck plays a huge part. However, your goal can be to enter the GH or RITA. It can be to finish a manuscript, send submissions to a certain number of agents or editors, write a number of blog posts, or whatever it is you choose to work toward. A few weeks ago, Ruby sister, Elisa Beatty, challenged us to commit to a daily word count. That’s a great start to reaching our milestones.

So how about it? What’s your writing goal for the rest of 2014? What do you want to accomplish before the calendar rolls around to 2015? Do you have any good tips for staying on track toward your milestones?

 

 

When the Words Get in the Way

whathehellI spent more than a little time at 2014 RWA National in my hotel room, writing. Let me correct that: I was struggling. I was working on this love scene that takes place at about the halfway point of my WIP, ENTHRALL ME.  For some reason, Tia and Wyland’s bodies were doing all the right, sexy things, but the scene was flat. Dead. 

Over some awesomely sleazy Chinese take-out, I realized I’d completely lost track of Wyland’s emotional arc. Why were Wyland and Tia in bed again? They must have reasons, right? 

I realized I had no earthly idea what those reasons were. Houston – or should I say San Antonio – we have a problem.

After returning home, I took what felt like a really drastic step–I stopped writing. I pushed writing new words aside and, using my daily writing time, tried some troubleshooting techniques I use in my day job as a quality and process analyst (namely root-cause analysis, and The Five Whys) to investigate what was up. 

And I figured out what the problem was pretty quickly.

I hammered out the first draft of this book during NaNoWriMo, in Nov. 2013, then devised a Chapter/Scene breakdown based on that first draft. Over a half year had passed since then. So much had changed in my story, but I hadn’t taken the time to update my plot line document, my GMC charts, and all the support materials that are so essential to my process.

However, my revisions document was 10 pages long and growing by the day. *choke*

In a moment of serendipitous timing, a couple of my Ruby Sisters mentioned registering for an upcoming Story Masters workshop, which I’d had the opportunity to take last year and had written a blog post about. As I re-read the blog post, it hit me: I’d fallen headlong into the trap Donald Maass had warned us about!

Paraphrasing:

Goals can get in our way. When you feel all caught up in deadlines, word count, page count, and meeting agent/editor/reader expectations, STOP. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What am I trying to say? What matters in the end is not that you made your daily word count, but that you told a compelling story. THAT’S the goal. Remember?

I’d become so focused on daily output, on the number of scenes piling up, that I’d lost sight of the endpoint. What was I writing toward? How was I going to get there?

* crickets *

My mental story map was no longer accurate. My out-dated support materials had become an albatross hanging around my neck.

Why had it taken me so long for me to recognize this? The best I can come up with is that I allowed outside influences, and thoughts about commitments to others, to get in the way. I’d stated a goal to readers to release a book annually, which still feels s-l-o-w. My CP wouldn’t get new, polished chapters if I stopped to assess whether the chapters I delivered to her actually, you know, connected in any reasonable way. 

I also realized I’d fallen into what author Chuck Wendig called The Pit of Comparisons (language NSFW). Reading all those tweets from people who release multiple books per year, when I can’t release one, and who talk about their 10K-word writing days when on my most productive day, I can barely eke out 500, had really done a job on my head.

These things made it really easy for me to just…plow forward, to ignore that niggling spider sense telling me that something was wrong. Because activity equals productivity, right?

Right?

No. Not so much. 

So I took a deep, painful breath, and told my CP it might be awhile before she saw any new chapters from me. I acknowledged—really acknowledged—that there was no way in hell I’d be ready to release ENTHRALL ME by years’ end. Then I devised a bullet-point plan to get myself back on track.

My plan includes:

  • Reading the first half of my manuscript, which is at second draft and which my CP has already seen, to reacquaint myself with the story facts I’ve committed to paper.
  • Updating my Chapter/Scene breakdown document to reflect what actually happens in the first half of the book.
  • Updating my character development charts to reflect current GMCs.
  • Applying those piled-up revisions to the first half of the book.

After these steps are done, I figure I’ll be standing on a firmer foundation story-wise. Next, I’ll need to:

  • Reassess the plot and storyline for the remainder of the book. What scenes do I need to write to tell the rest of the story, based on what I wrote in the first half of the book?
  • Update my Chapters/Scenes document to reflect that analysis.
  • Re-read first draft NaNoWriMo scenes from the back half of the book to see what might be salvageable.
  • Start writing the second half of the book.

I’m on step four of this plan, applying revisions, and I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!! I’m getting my story back on track again, and not letting the words, or the illusion of progress, get in the way. 

What do you do when you recognize your story might be clattering off-track? How do you keep yourself from falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others?

  TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100px

TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more at www.tamarahogan.com.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

This Writer’s Life: Balance

I may have blogged about balance before. It’s one of my favorite topics because I believe feeling balanced is one of the keys to happiness. To be honest, I’m not sure I qualify to lecture anyone in balance, as each case is as unique as each individual, but as a mother of three, wife, the family secretary, daughter, sister, author and domestic goddess (*snort*), I often get head shakes accompanied with “I don’t know how you do it.” Or questions like “How do you make time for writing?”

 

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know what works for me. I figure if I put my schedule below maybe it’ll help someone out there understand how it can be done. Or maybe some piece of it will resonate and help in some small way. Somehow, amid the chaos of raising a family and keeping a household going, I’ve released five books in the past three years and watched my career steadily, though slowly, grow. And I know many writers who face all kinds of incredible challenges and have persevered in this crazy industry. No matter what you’re facing, you can succeed, too.

 

KNOW THYSELF

 

What’s important to you? Whatever your answer, it will likely change over time. As my kids (ages 11, 9, and 4) grow older, I feel time speeding by. I always put them and my husband first. My dad and siblings are also a large part of my life. Dad lives in the same town as me and is alone since my mother’s death two years ago. He isn’t good at planning meals, cooking (or even pushing buttons on the microwave), or cleaning, so I make time for him each week. Besides, after losing my mother, I want to enjoy every moment I can with my surviving parent.

 

Even with all of the external demands on my attention and energy, I NEED to write. I write to reclaim my sanity. It even says so in my bio (see below). I started writing full time about a dozen years ago when my husband and I moved across the country and I knew nobody. And then I got pregnant and my life changed even more. With little sleep to go on. I needed the escape that writing fiction provided. Writing was a way to feel in control of some part of my world, and to have a piece of something for myself.

 

Basically, writing is important to me. And if something’s important, you make room for it in your life.

 

PRIORITIZE

After you’ve had a deep discussion with yourself about how you want to spend those precious 24 hours we have each day, make sure you take to focus on those priorities. How will you get the most out of your energy/time? What needs are your actions addressing, and are you meeting your most important needs? I envision my life as consisting of four primary arenas:

  • PHYSICAL – Your body’s health. Diet and exercise would be here. If you’re sick or have unhealthy habits, it impacts everything else.
  • SOCIAL/FAMILY – Humans need relationships with others. None of us is an island. (And if you are on an island, can I come visit?) It’s important to take the time to foster these bonds, just as it’s important to cut the toxic relationships out of your life.
  • MENTAL/EMOTIONAL – Keeping the brain primed is the key to a fulfilling life. This is especially true for writers. Having daily challenges to stimulate the brain is important, and for me, that stimulation is writing. 
  • SPIRITUAL – A connection to a higher power, a faith that we each have a purpose, keeps me going when things seem especially dark. It’s just as important to pay attention to the larger picture as it is the daily activities.

 

When I feel off-kilter, frustrated, or unusually anxious, it’s usually because I’m neglecting one of the above and my priorities need to shift for a while.

 

MY IDEAL DAY

What’s important will change over time, but here’s how my ideal day looks when my kids are in school:

7 a.m. – Up and packing lunches, getting kids ready, etc. (Social)

8 a.m. – Running kids to school, eating, laundry/cleaning (Social, Physical)

9 a.m. – Drink coffee while going through emails & popping in at social media/blogs (Social, Mental)

10 a.m. – Workout (Physical, Mental) unless I’m on deadline, and then this is writing time (Mental). I’ll also sometimes listen to audiobooks or workshop recordings while working out. (Mental)

about 11 a.m. – Lunch (Physical)

12 – 3 p.m. – Writing time (This can include WIP, edits, blog posts, putting together my chapter’s newsletter, or whatever tasks are on hand for the day.) (Career, Mental/Emotional)

3 – 5 p.m. – Picking up kids and running to after-school activities. Sometimes I can squeeze in more writing time, or if I have just a few minutes here or there, I’ll read a book for pleasure. (Social, Mental)

5 – 7 p.m. – More running kids around, homework, and dinner (Social, Physical)

7 – 8 p.m. – Clean up the house and get kids moving toward bedtime (Social)

8 – 9 p.m. – Settling everyone for bed (Social) and checking emails or catching up on whatever needs more attention (Mental)

9 – 11 p.m. – Online work, sometimes while watching TV with husband. Because my brain is often tired, this is the best time for catching up on emails, doing some social media, and tackling the miscellaneous tasks of the writing business like searching for cover images, updating my website, or listening to a conference workshop on tape. Or sometimes I can generate new words and they actually come out pretty good in this semi-conscious state. My subconscious takes over more easily. I also try to take some time to reflect on my day, be grateful for what I accomplished and what I have, and other things that connect me to the more Spiritual side of life. (Social, Mental, Spiritual)

11 p.m. – 7 a.m. – Sleep (ideally, though it doesn’t always work out that way!) (Physical)

 

While this is a glimpse into a “typical” day, there are the inevitable upheavals, illnesses, and unexpected problems that require flexibility. And deadlines trump a lot of things. I like to have a To-Do list to start each day where I can put the three or four items I absolutely need to get done. For me, feeling organized is important to getting the most out of the 24 hours I have each day.

Weekends are different. Kids and hubby are home and I spend time with them. However, the housework that may have been put off during the week can become a Saturday morning family project. Sunday, my dad comes over and I cook for everyone. But I also squeeze in a couple hours of writing time each day if I can. I find if I’m away from my WIP for more than a couple days, I struggle to get back into that world.

 

PREPARING FOR CHALLENGES

Three kids at different schools and a husband who teaches at another equals a germ factory. I can almost count on a week in October and another couple weeks in the winter and spring being unproductive due to illnesses.

I always set aside a couple weeks around the holidays for family and relaxation, and try to adjust publishing schedules so that I’m not doing the most challenging stuff at those times (i.e., major edits).

The essence of prioritizing is sacrifice, and knowing what you’re willing (or NOT willing) to sacrifice is the first step toward finding more time for writing (or whatever your priorities are). Sleep is a biggie for me. I did without it for so many years when my first two were young and horrible sleepers that it’s hard for me to give it up now. But sometimes the promise of a nap the next day is enough to trick myself into staying up a little longer. And the week before a deadline is almost a given that I’ll be sleeping five hours a night instead of seven or eight. But that’s a finite commitment, which is so much easier than those days when I didn’t know when my kids would finally start sleeping. Or if they ever would.

Another sacrifice is giving up TV time or going out. And weekend time. And reading time. There are weeks when any spare hour I have might need to go toward writing or editing.

Balance isn’t easy. A lot of days, I feel like I’ve got too many balls in the air or can’t take on one more thing. Making writing a priority comes down to what you’re able to sacrifice, and knowing what’s important to you.

 

What’s your daily life like? Are there any tips you’d like to share for managing it all, or any questions you have that the Rubies might be able to help with?

 

AnneMarieBecker-300Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at www.AnneMarieBecker.com. There, sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest information regarding books, appearances, and giveaways.

 

Kill Your Darlings…And Save Yourself

(*Warning: Author has the tendency to seek patterns in life and wax philosophical about them.*)  

What is an important part of a satisfying romance? Pacing.

What is a key ingredient in making a story suspenseful and thrilling? Pacing.

What can make or break an author? Pacing. And knowing one’s limits.

Years ago, one of the most valuable lessons I learned as a newbie romantic suspense writer was how to use pacing as an effective tool. I had to kill my darlings—to delete paragraphs, sometimes even pages, of backstory and description that bogged down the story. It wasn’t easy to cut these hard-won sentences. I liked them. I’d nurtured them. But I had to admit, leaving them in the dust increased the power of the story.

Sometimes we have to let go of things that seem important in order to be stronger.

But pacing is also a factor in an author’s career. The pressure to increase the quantity of books can be enormous. But it’s the quality of books that builds readership. How does one pace oneself to achieve maximum potential and still stay sane? That’s been a very real question for me this past year.

On the writers’ loops, blogs and conferences, there appears to be a constant hum of, “You must have a backlist and produce several books a year to keep your readership happy or your career will wither away.” Logically, I know not everyone is producing more than a book a year, or even one book a year. Likely, there are only a few writers who can keep that pace and still keep their lives together and their readers happy with good quality. Today, I’m releasing my fourth book in just under three years, and I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough. (And some days I don’t feel quite sane.) But I’m doing all I can. And I need to stop and recognize that before the joy is gone, or before I burn out.

So I’m killing my darlings and saving myself. What darlings? Those beliefs I harbor that could end up breaking me. It may be time for a new belief system—one that’s framed in a positive way.

  • I can write a book (or less) a year and still be a successful author. The important thing is that I’m living life, and writing when I can.
  • I am on my own path. That author, over there, is on her own path, and those journeys can look different.
  • I give myself permission to simply write new words or edit old ones today, without spending an hour keeping up my social media sites.
  • I can take tonight off to enjoy my family, rather than work.
  • I can be a productive person without being Superwoman.

If it comes down to saving myself (and my health) versus producing more books, I choose myself. I’d rather kill my darling misconceptions than lose myself in the process. Sometimes we have to let go of things that seem important in order to be stronger.

What beliefs (or darlings) do you need to kill off to pace yourself better and stay healthy and sane? Extra points for re-phrasing that belief in a positive way. 

And…to celebrate my release day, I’ll be giving away a digital copy of DARK DEEDS to one non-Ruby commenter, so please share your advice and/or experience below.

Dark Deeds (Mindhunters, Bk 4)

Dark Deeds (Mindhunters, Bk 4)

Dark Deeds Blurb:

Walking away from sexy Detective Diego Sandoval was one of the toughest things security specialist Becca Haney ever had to do. But her past is a direct threat to his future, to the career he’s working so hard to rebuild. Now, with a witness from a horrific case implicating Diego, Becca must decide whether to listen to her head or her heart.

Diego is a big-city lawman used to cracking the hardest cases, but he’ll never understand why Becca ended their passionate affair. When he’s assigned to help keep her safe from a human trafficking ring, he’s determined to stay by her side and learn about the woman behind the passion—scars and all.  

But Becca has another admirer. Known only as “the Fan,” he believes he’s the perfect partner for her—and he’ll kill to prove it. When the stakes are raised in the killer’s deadly game, Diego will be called upon to save lives—including Becca’s.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Carina Press

AnneMarieBecker-300 Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at www.AnneMarieBecker.com. Sign up for her newsletter for the latest about her books, special sneak peeks, and giveaways.

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The Latest Comments

  • Arlene Hittle: Sounds great!
  • Gwyn: Reading the premise made me smile, Vivi. Sounds like a winner!
  • Anne Marie Becker: Looks like a great book! Congratulations on the new release!
  • Elizabeth Essex: What a delightful premise. Can’t wait to read it! Congrats on your release Vivi/Lizzie!...
  • jbrayweber: Sounds like a fun book, Vivi! Congrats on the new release!

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