Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New

I’ll admit that 2012 was not a good year in my household, so I’m looking forward to what 2013 may bring. The turning over of the calendar from one year to the next is a pretty arbitrary thing; tomorrow morning will dawn much like this morning did. Still, it’s a good time to pause and spend some time to reflect. What have I made it through? Where am I now? Where would I like to be?

When it comes to resolutions, I tend to be the kind of person who makes several, follows through for about two weeks, and then sinks back into my usual patterns. It can be discouraging. So this year, I decided that instead of making a resolution, I’d choose something I wanted to learn–and then take a class. This appealed to me for a couple of reasons. My husband’s ill health keeps me home most of the time, and a class would get me out of the house. Also, there’s much greater motivation to follow through on something that you’ve paid for. Finally, it’s been a long time since I went out of my way to learn something in the context of a group of people, and doing so seemed like fun.

So I started thinking. Initially, I came up with three main ideas:

  • A physical activity. Most of my exercise these days comes in the form of taking walks. So I was thinking that something like yoga or Pilates (a new studio just opened a couple of blocks from my house) might be a good addition. My daughter does Crossfit and loves it, but I don’t think I’m ready for that. :)
  • A musical instrument. I took piano lessons as a child, abandoned them, started playing on my own when I was in high school, and then stopped again in college. We don’t have a piano, but I do have an electronic keyboard. I wondered how quickly I could learn to play again.
  • A language. I love studying languages. I used to have decent intermediate-level French, and I have a friend who takes French conversation classes. I’d also like to learn German (which my husband speaks) or Italian (largely due to my opera obsession). And ever since starting Deadtown I’ve wanted to learn Welsh, although I think I might have a tough time finding a Welsh class in central NY.

Those were my first three thoughts. All of them are appealing to me. But in the end I signed up for something completely different: a writing workshop. I saw one advertised in my local weekly. It’s called Writing Through the Rough Spots, and it seemed like it might be a good way to process some of the changes and challenges that have been happening in my life. One of my goals for 2013 is to expand my writing repertoire. Of course, I’ll be writing Deadtown 6 and (hopefully) a sequel to my mystery, Peace, Love, and Murder. (People have been asking for that long enough!) But I have other stories to tell and other voices to let speak. A workshop seemed like a good way to open up to those stories and voices. I’m not taking it for therapy (although writing can be therapeutic). I’m not taking it with the intent to write something publishable (although who knows what stories might emerge). I’m taking it to flex my writing muscles and explore new possibilities in my writing. And I’ve committed ten weeks to doing that. It’s the best resolution I can think of.

Happy New Year to you! Whether you make resolutions, set goals, or simply go with the flow, I hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013!


The Next Big Thing in Deadtown

I was recently tagged by Sean Cummings to participate in The Next Big Thing, where authors answer ten questions about their current works in progress. If you haven’t read Sean’s post about what he’s working on now, jump over to his blog to take a look. It sounds awesome–how could you resist an apocalyptic young adult tale featuring zombies?

In turn, I tagged three excellent writer friends. K.A. Laity has already posted about her weird noir project. (And she’s such an amazing writer she’s been tagged three times now to share her “next big thing.”) I’ve also tagged Keith Pyeatt, award-winning author of “horror with heart,” and J.R. Turner, whose urban fantasy Redemption I called “a heady mix of action, thrills, and sizzling romance.” Watch for their posts on November 21.

So thanks, Sean, for asking me what I’m up to with my writing. Here’s what I had to say:

What is the working title of your book?

Hellhound. It’s the fifth book in my Deadtown urban fantasy series featuring demonslaying shapeshifter Victory Vaughn.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Because I’m writing a series, everything that’s in this book comes from two things: Vicky’s story as it’s unfolded so far and the overall plot arc that will finish with book six.

What genre does your book fall under?

Urban fantasy. I try to write the kind of urban fantasy I most enjoy reading, with tons of action, some humor, and a touch of romance. There’s also some darkness as Vicky struggles with her own fears as she races to save others.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This question always gives me trouble, because the characters are like real people to me, and I’ve never been able to match them up neatly with actors. Keira Knightley or Emma Watson (in a few years) could probably play Vicky—but that’s mostly because they both look good with hair that’s short, like hers. I think of Vicky’s werewolf boyfriend Kane as looking sorta like a decades-younger Richard Gere, but keeping the silver hair Gere has now. And my mental image of Pryce, Vicky’s nemesis and demi-demon cousin, looks a little like Cillian Murphy. See? I’m really bad at answering this question.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When some of Boston’s zombies turn murderous, Vicky must find out what’s causing the killing spree, while trying to prevent a demon war and outrun the pack of hellhounds on her trail.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have an agent. The publisher for this series is Ace. Some time next year, I hope to self-publish a collection of Deadtown-related short stories, including a novella-length prequel set during the zombie plague that created Deadtown.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Probably about three months, if you don’t include some breaks related to pressures of the day job (which is also writing, but mostly related to technical and educational topics).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t like to make direct comparisons because it feels presumptuous. So I’ll say that if you like to read fantasy series set in a modern urban environment that show characters with special powers trying to save the world while dealing with the problems of everyday life, you’ll probably enjoy my books.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’d been reading a lot of urban fantasy and thought it was a fun genre that I’d like to try writing. Several things came together to launch Deadtown, the first book in the series—a blog comment that no one besides you can “wrestle with your own personal demons,” my background in medieval literature with a long-standing interest in Welsh mythology, a joke that zombies improve any book (and that was before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out), and a desire to use Boston as a setting. And so Vicky Vaughn—a descendent of the Welsh goddess Ceridwen who lives in Boston’s paranormal-only district and kills other people’s personal demons for a living—was born.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hellhound features a book that doesn’t want to be read, a teenage zombie fashion entrepreneur, and a wisecracking guilt demon that may or may not have an actual conscience. Not to mention a pack of actual hellhounds.


My Halloween horoscope

I’m one of those people who glances at her horoscope each morning and then promptly forgets what it said. It’s a fun way to start the day, but for every prediction that seems uncannily accurate, there are hundreds that had nothing whatsoever to do with the way my day unfolded.

Today, though, the horoscope that landed in my Inbox was too good not to share, especially on the eve of NaNoWriMo. Here it is, as sent by Astrocenter.com:

You need to start giving yourself more credit, NANCY. You have tremendous talents, many of them untapped. If you would just begin to harness the talent and power that is already within you, then you would begin to see a dramatic arc to your career path. Something is holding you back. Could it be fear of failure or, more likely, fear of success? You need to spend some time meditating about what you really want out of life. Once your heart’s desire is clear, it will be that much easier to claim it.

This feels less like a prediction than good, solid advice for anyone who creates. You don’t have to be named Nancy, be a Pisces, or write books. Whatever your dreams and goals, decide what you want–and then go for it! It’s the only way to succeed.

Happy Halloween! And good luck to all the NaNoWriMo writers who are revving up their creative engines!


On backsliding and brick walls

A month ago (good Lord, a month?!), I was posting about how I was finding strategies to focus–to single-task and increase my daily word count. It was going great. I was averaging about 3,000 words a day instead of my usual thousand. I was looking forward to my writing sessions each day. My novel took on terrific momentum and almost seemed to be writing itself. Writing was fun, and I felt happy and satisfied at the end of the day.

Then, my momentum slowed down. Not to a crawl–I was still surpassing the thousand words a day that I’d always striven for in the past. But suddenly writing 1,700 or 1,800 words in a day felt like failure. That was silly, and I knew it. Still, I’d raised the bar and I was no longer clearing it. It got harder to start each day.

Sometimes, a slowdown in momentum comes from taking a wrong turn in the plot. It’s like my characters let me know that I’m trying to make them act in ways that they simply wouldn’t. When that happens, it helps to take a step back from the writing, stop orchestrating the story from above (like God or a marionettist), and get down on the ground with the characters. In other words, to forget what I want to have happen now or plan to have happen next and see the story through the eyes of those living it.

So I did that. I let go of any and all word count goals for a couple of days, let the story sit, and then reread the last several scenes, tinkering with those a bit but not making any big changes. During this time, of course, I was conscious of not getting any new writing done. And I’ll admit I let myself slide back into some bad habits, especially going online first thing in the day. But I tried to set such concerns aside for the moment. I know I focus better when I single-task, and that knowledge gives me the power to regain my concentration. Plus I have time before this manuscript is due, and I wanted to focus on the story–not on progress charts or days until deadline or any of that.

Reading over my work, everything seemed solid. I decided to try the strategy of jumping ahead to the next big scene and then going back to connect the dots later. That often works for me. And it seemed like the best way to get back to writing 3,000 words a day was to stop obsessing about how many words I was writing. To just get on with telling the story. After all, daily progress is what builds momentum.

That’s when I hit the brick wall. An acute medical problem sent my husband to the emergency room, and he was admitted to the hospital for the better part of a week. He has multiple medical issues that have gradually stolen his health, and this one has left him weak and exhausted. He’s home now, but he’s still very sick and I’ve become his caregiver. Gladly and with love. I will do whatever I can to take care of him, make him comfortable, and help him recover. And I’m grateful to be able to do that at home, sparing him an extended hospital stay.

I haven’t written in two weeks, since the health crisis started. I took my laptop to the hospital so I could write as he rested, but a combination of worry and the unfamiliar setting kept me from getting much done. Since he’s been home, I’ve spent hours on the Internet looking up his symptoms so I can have an informed conversation with this doctor. And I’m on call 24 hours a day when he needs help.

That’s as it should be right now. It’s important that I understand what’s going on with his health, and it’s important that I take care of him. And to be honest, I’d give up writing entirely if doing so would restore his health to 100%. But the gods aren’t offering me that bargain.

So I need to figure out how to start writing again. I suspect the answer is, “Just do it.” I’m working on the how. I never thought of myself as a creature of routine until my routine was interrupted and my days exploded into a thousand tiny fragments. I used to get up first and have about two hours of writing time in the morning. I can’t count on that now. But two hours–or an hour at the very least–always seemed like how much time I needed to write. I don’t have that luxury right now. I don’t know when I can sit down to write or how much time I’ll have to do it. So I have to learn how to make progress when all have have is 10 or 15 minutes. I have to turn on my laptop at the start of the day and pick it up when I can. I have to be able to jump into a scene without a lot of warm-up.

It seems to me I have two kinds of fear to get past: fear for my husband’s health and fear of losing my writing. The only way to get past these fears is to face them, moment by moment and day by day. To stop worrying about the future, about what might happen, and to do what I can right now, in this moment. I’ll let you know how I do.


Night Owl Reviews makes Darklands a top pick!

I’m a little late discovering this one, but there’s a great review for Darklands at Night Owl Reviews. The verdict: “Overall, another great installment to a very addictive urban fantasy series!”

Thanks to the reviewers at Night Owl Reviews for reading my series!

 


In pursuit of single-tasking: Update

I’ve been writing here lately about my desire to be less distracted and more focused. This goal is tied to a deeper desire: to write faster and more efficiently. And to derive joy more consistently from the process.

Over the past couple of weekends, I’ve stayed off the Internet on Saturday and Sunday. My goal was to steal back for myself the time I tend to waste on the Web. On both weekends, I was pleased to see that I easily met–and surpassed– my daily word count goals for my writing, and I had lots of time left over for pure pleasure: walks, reading, meeting friends, spending time with my husband.

After a couple of weekends like this, I decided to revisit this advice from author Rachel Aaron about writing faster. I’d posted about her technique before, but I hadn’t made a serious effort to follow it. Now was the time.

Why now? For me, the hardest part of the novel-writing process is what I call the “mushy middle.” I’m maybe 100 or 150 pages into the novel, and it feels like I’m standing knee-deep in a swamp. I have an idea of what the next big scene will be, but I can’t quite see it from here. And I sure as hell can’t see any way to get there.

That’s where I was a week ago. I knew what the next big plot point would be, but I didn’t know how to get there. I was pretending to wait for inspiration, but in reality I was procrastinating, distracting myself, spinning my wheels. Anything BUT solving the problem.

Getting off the Internet for a couple of days reminded me of how it feels to focus. What I liked about Rachel Aaron’s method for writing faster was that it was all about focusing, especially the part where you know what you’re going to write that day before you start writing. It seems obvious, right? But often I would just open a document and hope the scene would get rolling on its own. That I’d write my way into the actual scene. Sometimes it worked; often it didn’t.

So last week, I set two rules for my writing sessions:

1. I’d be offline during my writing time.

2. I’d take 5-10 minutes to sketch out the scene in a paragraph before I started writing.

I won’t say that those two rules wrought magic, but they DID speed up my writing and make it more fun. And they tripled my average daily output.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that 1,000 words was a reasonable daily goal for writing fiction. And that’s pretty much what I was doing. Some days I’d barely make 800. Others I’d zip past 1,200 and feel like I’d really accomplished something.

Now, I’m writing for fewer hours but averaging 3,000 words a day. My two “rules” are actually two benefits:

1. Less distraction

2. Sharper focus

In addition, I’ve built up momentum that is propelling me forward through the story. I don’t feel like I’m lost in a swamp. Now, it’s more like I’m in a room, describing what goes on there. Then a door opens, and I go into the next room and describe what happens there. Then another door opens . . .

I’m excited. I’m excited about writing faster and with more focus. More importantly, I’m excited about my story again. This week, I’m going to try to increase my average word count still more. I don’t expect this streak to last forever. I know I’ll hit walls and get stuck sometimes. But I feel like I’ve got a way to get through that now, because I’ve remembered how to focus. I’m not just trying single-tasking; I’m loving it!


In pursuit of single-tasking

My Internet vacation last weekend left a lasting impression. It didn’t change my behavior as much as I would’ve liked, but I’m working on that.

During the week, I came across the article Is the Web Driving Us Mad? through a link on Facebook. It’s worthwhile reading. If you read it, I’d love to hear what you think.

For me, the biggest two pitfalls of the Web are (1) procrastination and (2) distraction. As I’ve mentioned before, when starting work seems hard it’s very easy to say “I’ll just take a minute to scan the headlines” and then get sucked into a maze of stories and links and blogs and more links and videos . . . I end up with several windows and tabs open, switching back and forth and never fully absorbing any of it. Before I know it, I’ve spent half an hour reading Postcards from Yo Momma (admittedly hilarious, with the added benefit of making me feel like one of the same moms) or some other site. And my writing time is slipping away.

Writing a novel takes concentration. It takes immersion in the world of my characters, so I feel like I’m there with them, recording what they’re saying and doing. If I’m constantly pulling myself away to finish a blog post or check my email, I break that spell. Besides, it’s rude, like someone who can’t stop texting when you’re trying to have a conversation. :)

So I’m going to continue to limit my Internet time in order to improve my focus. Multitasking is great, if you can do it. I can’t. It leaves me feeling scatterbrained and grumpy–qualities that getting older is already supplying me with, thank you very much. So my new motto is “One thing at a time.”

Here’s my plan: On weekdays, I’ll restrict online time to afternoons and evenings. That will let me get my writing done in the morning, which is when I seem to work best. On weekends, I’ll stay off the Internet altogether. I want to try doing this strictly at first, because it’s so easy to slip back into old habits. If things go well, maybe I’ll loosen up eventually–or maybe I’ll prefer the new way. Anyway, if I’m not around in the mornings and on weekends, you’ll know why.

One of the benefits of my Internet hiatus last weekend was that time stretched out before me almost the way it used to when I was a kid. I could actually stop and think, “What do I want to do now?” (As opposed to my usual, “Oh, no! Look how late it’s gotten! And I still have x, y, and z to do!”) I hope to use that time to write, to read, to spend more time with my husband and friends, and to do some creative idling. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,420 other followers

%d bloggers like this: