Missed Deadlines and Fighting the Muse

I know there are a lot of writers out there that just go with the flow, throwing out however many words a week at sporadic intervals, relying on their Muse to get them through.

Wait, you actually thought you'd be writing today?
Wait, you actually thought you’d be writing today?

I envy these people. I imagine their Muse sitting right beside them, nagging them at all hours of the day to get their work done because there’s sooooo much more to be done.

My Muse …

My Muse is that fat, lazy cat licking herself in the corner. She really couldn’t be arsed to move herself, let alone nag me about anything. If I relied solely on her, I would never get anything done.

So I have to make deadlines. Deadlines motivate me, force me to go to the corner and pick up the lackadaisical Muse and pester her until something resembling a plot starts to show up. This is why first drafts take me so long and why editing has become my favorite thing ever, because editing relies more on style and craft than it does on my capricious Muse.

This is also why a missed deadline drives me to hiding in a make-shift couch fort, gorging myself on chocolate.

Now then, I have missed several deadlines for Persona. At first this was because of the Great Avocado Incident of 2014 wherein I managed to stab myself through the hand.

Yes, I really did that. Yes, I lost feeling in three of my fingers on my left hand and the Doctor’s weren’t sure if I’d ever get it back. It was awful, I tell you; awful.

However, it is now nine months into 2015, I have full functionality with my left hand (hurray!) and I have still managed to miss nearly every deadline I’ve given myself with Persona.

Why?

Several reasons …

  1. Because I missed the first deadline.
  2. Because I MISSED THE FIRST DEADLINE.
  3. Because life happens sometimes and there were family issues I needed to attend to.
  4. BECAUSE I MISSED THE FIRST DEADLINE.
  5. Because this is the single hardest piece I have ever written.

I think you get the point. While there were other elements that got involved here, the main problem is that I let that first deadline slip away from me. I lost my momentum, my drive, and it took forever to get it back.

So if you’re like me and your Muse is a fat orange cat whose back is constantly turned to you, make deadlines.

And then KEEP those deadlines. Your couch fort and chocolate will only sustain you for so long.

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Owning Your Craft – Sedition Version

I began reading Sedition to my son recently. He’s seven now and the whole Fantasy world of Dyngannon seems to appeal to him.

Sedition-WEBThat or he just really likes the sword on the cover. I’m pretty sure much of the story is over his head but, he picked it and all. (Don’t worry, we read picture books before we settle in for a chapter of this one.)

In any case, it’s been nearly six years since that book was first published and Trenna Silvanus remains one of my most popular characters. I get loads of commentary from people wanting to know when the next segment of her story is coming out (soon, I promise) and … yes, this does make my little writer’s ego fluff up in pleasure.

That being said …

If Sedition weren’t already published I would be doing a major overhaul on it.

The dialogue is hard to get through in places. There are dozens and dozens of peripheral characters whose involvement in the story itself could be richer – sometimes shorter, but richer in content at least. The exposition is clunky. The narrator’s voice bounces (particularly in regards to Brenson and Nelek, which I’m going to blame on the fact that I wasn’t handling the male POV right).

The one bright, shining light in the book so far (and we’re only in Chapter Seven) is that Trenna really is likable. She’s spunky, tough, and has a sense of humor that exerts itself in some of the oddest places.

Why am I telling you all this?

This book is out for sale. What sane writer points out the flaws of their own work in a public forum? Who’s gonna go out and buy this thing now?

Honestly?

Because any sane, professional writer also owns their craft.

I own the fact that the book I wrote nearly ten years ago (NOTE: it did not get published as soon as it was finished, it took a long time to find a home) is not as strong as the books I’m writing now.

I own that my personal style has changed with every book I’ve written.

I own the mistakes that are in Sedition just as much as I own the things I did right.

What did I do right?

Trenna.

In fact, the main cast of characters were done right; Nelek, Brenson, Faolan, Marsali, Brock. They have individual voices, concerns, arguments, and motivations. And while I remember it was complicated to the max trying to get all those individuals out into the open without making a 300,000 word book, it worked out in the end.

So this is me owning my craft. Maybe I’ll start working on a 10 year anniversary edition of Sedition and clean up some of my mistakes.

Maaaaybe.

Probably not, though. Because after Usurper is done there’s at least one more book in this series. And the Tapped series has at least 4 main books with several novellas in the queue. And I have a Civil War/Western that has been simmering on the back burning for a while now. Annnnnd … my Dragon Noir.

You get it. There’s lots going on in my head. But hey, if there’s enough interest maybe I will.

Hurting Your Characters – Persona Version

Me: I really don’t want to kill Character A.

Internal Editor: Then you really should.

Me: But he’s so important to the main!

Internal Editor: Then you really, really should.

Me: Maybe he can just be seriously wounded?

Internal Editor: You know better. The very fact that you want this character to survive so badly proves the impact that their death will have on the novel.

Me: I hate you.

Writing While Unmotivated

I know there are lots people out there who just plain won’t write if they do not have the proper inspiration. They follow their creative muse and lean heavily on the concept of being an artist, and those things are true. Writing is an art and yes, sometimes you just plain don’t want to write.

I’m not talking about those moments when life steals your writing time. I’m talking about those moments when you sit down at the computer for your designated 2-3 hours of writing time and just don’t want to do it. The words feel stale in your mind, feel stale when you get them on paper, and you think that a thousand other authors could write this better than you are right now.

How do you push through that?

Well, I imagine it will be different for each person but I can tell you a couple of things I’ve learned about myself.

1) These moments do not last for only a day.

If I allow it, this feeling of drudgery can last for months at a time. So when I discover myself stuck in one, I have to take measures immediately. Sometimes this means going for a walk, cleaning the house, going to the gym or jumping in a pool. Anything where my brain can wander wherever it wants.

2) Rely On Craft

Yes, it does feel like I’m slogging through my work when I’m in this particular mindset. Yes, I groan and grump and get only a little bit of progress done on my manuscript. But the truth is, if I write anyway then I find myself looking at the work through the mindset of my craft, instead of the mindset of my muse.

Yes, it’s hard.

However, when I look at the work through the mindset of my craft I generally find a solution that would never have occurred to me any other way. It zooms the creative lens out and forces me to think outside of the character and onto the book as a whole, which produces a far stronger book.

The awesome thing about relying on my Craft, is that eventually something sparks and the inspiration snaps back into place. It might take several weeks, but it’ll get there and I’ve learned to have faith in that.

3) Read

When I start feeling unmotivated, I start reading anything and everything I can get my hands on. Fiction, Nonfiction, News, Poetry, literally anything in my path I will read. This not only stores new concepts and story ideas somewhere in my subconscious, but it makes me a better writer when that motivation finally does return.

4) … And this is going to sound terribly geeky … Play a Genre specific game

If I’m writing a science fiction, I will play wither Star Wars or Star Trek. If I’m writing fantasy, I play Dungeon Siege. Historical Fiction … well, I haven’t found a game for that one but I do watch tons of WWII movies and documentaries. My creative mind soaks up the visuals of those games (and/or movies) and often bounces me right back into wanting to write again.

And that’s it. Those are my four steps to getting back into the swing of things. Generally, I do all four. They aren’t a guarantee that my muse will start working again quickly, but I know that eventually it’ll come back. The main focus is that I keep writing regardless because I know that my Craft is capable of moving forward.

World Building – Graphic Detail Edition #1

Right now the boys (one mine, one his friend who stayed over for the night) are fixing the cushions on my sofa. They made a fort to sleep in for the night and my living room was a mess of brown pillows and mismatched blankets that I had to step over to get to my computer. There’s also a plastic Bat-Cave sitting near my fake fireplace with the Millennium Falcon parked right next door.

All the evidence of a night well spent with two 7 year-old’s.

The world we live in is not static. There’s color and shape and the blatant trace of human contact embedded in our environment. And while there is something to be said about a writer allowing room for the reader’s mind to build a particular setting in their own imagination, these details are also integral to telling a story right.

We’ve all heard the “show, don’t tell” mantra told over and over again.

“I want to feel the ocean spray on my face!”

“Let me taste the apple! Don’t just tell me he bit into the apple!”

But I’m going to tell you to stop.

Don’t write hoping to make your reader feel the ocean spray, or taste the apple. These are not helpful in telling your story. It’s actually really distracting and can draw your reader right out of the story. And the last thing you want is for your reader to be jolted out of the story.

Instead, let’s alter that mantra; show what is affecting your character.

Your character walks into a room – what impacts them the most? What jolts them? Based on who they are, what would they notice first?

I’m going to use Megan Shepherd from my current WIP, Persona, as an example.

Early in the book she comes to the home of Victor Von Buren, a very austere Naval Captain. When writing the scene where she first enters his home I have to consider not one but two voices – Megan’s and Victor’s.

Even though Victor isn’t present, he has left his fingerprints on his home. So as Megan is wandering through different rooms (which, I confess, I might have been giving a slight homage to the Von Trapp family in Sound of Music) she is not only reacting to the room itself, she’s reacting to the man who lives there.

A writer’s job isn’t to just paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind, it’s to make that picture important. It doesn’t matter if they feel ocean spray on their face, what matters is the emotion that can be hooked onto it.

When Life Steals Writing Time

Life happens.

Loved ones get married, move home, move away, die. People get sick or injured or stab themselves in the hand whilst coring an avocado. Cars get towed and unexpected bills show up in the mailbox. While the average human being sees all of these things as hiccups to their days/months, the writer discovers them to be the greatest thief of all.

Because they steal our writing time.

In some cases, such as the injury or death of a loved one, they steal our very desire to write. The creative drives shut down and we avoid the work in progress in order to deal with the trauma in front of us. I’m not going to touch on those moments. Those … have to be lived through. There’s just no “one-size fits all” way to try and get back into the groove of writing after personal tragedy.

But for everything else – weddings, moving, change of jobs, family things – I’ve learned a trick or two to keep my work in progress foremost in mind.

1) 3×5 cards are your friend

For the last little bit I’ve had to go back to my Army days and tote 3×5 cards around with me. One card a day had to be filled, whenever I could fill it throughout the day. Yes, you need a clear filing system for these, and generally by the end of the week I was transcribing them all to the computer.

2) Let something go

In this case, I had to let the blog go for a bit. For various reasons. (That is obviously changing now.)

3) Forgive yourself

Writers have this habit of beating themselves up when they can’t reach the desk for a day. There’s a rule out there that says you have to write every day and whatnot, and while that’s partially true – you really should write as often as you can – in a world of single parents, full time jobs, family crises and such it doesn’t always happen that way.

So …

Forgive yourself.

Remember that even if you didn’t make it to the computer that day, the experiences you live in your day to day life are just as important as the time you spend writing. Because it gives you content.

4) Scrivener is the best

I only recently received Scrivener as a gift for Christmas and I have to admit I kinda love it. The virtual corkboard helps me keep track of the details I want to remember in future chapters and the physical descriptions of each character and … yes. Scrivener is awesome.

5) Sleep is not an option

At least for me it isn’t. I have to have enough rest to recharge my brain or I just can’t function. I end up staring at the computer screen until it blurs and I pass out. Not even coffee can manage to dent the fog of sleep deprivation for me.

And that’s it … Those are the things I’ve managed to learn about my personal writing habits versus the world around me. Maybe something in there can help someone else.

Hopefully.

Happy writing!

Round Robin Blog Tour – Bucket Lists

I’m still relatively young but I do have some things I’d like to do before I kick the proverbial bucket. And honestly, I’ve done a lot in my thirty-plus years that I’m really proud of.

I’ve submerged in the ocean in both Alaska and Hawaii, visited the Caribbean twice, road-marched through South Carolina with the Army, starved on Virginia Beach hunting for fifty bucks a day to pay for my hotel room, traveled across the continental U.S. in the middle of winter and gotten snowed in for three days (in Colby, Kansas), graduated with honors from the school of my choice, and become the parent of one amazing little boy.

Oh! And I saw Wicked on Broadway with a very dear friend who lives on the East Coast.

So what would I like to do now?

1) I want to go to DragonCon or some other science fiction and fantasy Convention. 

Seriously. I think WorldCon might be the one I manage to get to. I don’t know. I keep watching. My son is getting old enough that he could come with me on this little adventure and I certainly wouldn’t want to deny him that. He’s as much of a geek as I am. (He is totally playing Lego Star Wars on the Wii as I am writing this.)

2) I want to go on the Writing Excuses retreat. 

Right now they’re putting it on a cruise ship, which is really cool. If they continue to do that I might actually manage to go next year. My son can come with me, they have stuff for him to do and safe places for him to be while I’m working with some of my all-time favorite authors.

3) I want to go to a Supernatural convention. 

If there is one show that I absolutely love, it’s Supernatural. I am enough of a fan to want to support them this way.

I think that’s it. Generally speaking, I go out and find adventure on a week by week basis. I think perhaps the misadventures of my youth have spoiled me some. I mean, it’d be cool if I could visit Ireland one day, or travel through Germany, or knock on the door of my friend who lives in Britain, but I don’t consider those part of the bucket list.

Find out what’s on the bucket lists of some of my fellow authors!

Skye Taylor  http://www.skye-writer.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.webs.com/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Rachael Kosnski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com
Geeta Kakade http://geetakakade.blogspot.com/
Kay Sisk http://kaysisk.blogspot.com
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/