Updates

Well, hello again, blog. It's been a while, but not without good reason.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my schedule became rather loaded in the fall. I was teaching five writing classes between three campuses (again) while working on the first draft of my current WIP. I finished the first draft before my self-imposed deadline, but it's rough enough to warrant a full rewrite, which I've been working on since.

My schedule has not exactly lightened up, which accounts for my absence on this blog. However, I'll be stopping back at least once a month to drop some updates before I dash off again. Sound good? Cool.

All right, so, some updates:

I decided late last year that I cannot simply keep working as an adjunct instructor indefinitely, and after teaching a wonderful class in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) for a program through Onondaga Community College, I decided to get my 7-12th grade high school certification. This will allow me to earn something like a decent living through one of my passions (teaching) while I continue the other, less lucrative one (writing). For the next year, I'll be completing a residency program through NYU and the SCSD.

I'm not putting my writing on hold, either. I've made significant progress on the second draft of my latest novel, which I'm aiming to finish by the end of summer. The manuscript is much longer than Deathform, and quite a bit more complicated. To give you an idea, there are three main characters: a psychic, a recent high school grad, and a police officer, all wrapped up in the pursuit of an ultra-violent supernatural creature that's been traveling around the country possessing and murdering people for some unknown purpose. I'm extremely excited to see the project through completion and get it to readers, but first I have to make it the strongest story it can possibly be. I promise I will be quicker than George R.R. Martin. Much quicker.

So that's where my career and my writing stand. Now, I'm dying to tell you about what I've been reading.

Since my latest project steps more fully into the horror genre, dropping the side-helping of sci-fi that Deathform embraced, I've been stacking my bookshelves--physical and digital--with horror novels I might have missed. My current homework is to read the entire backlog of HWA Bram Stoker Award winning novels. Though I have a long way to go, there are some obvious personal standouts so far, such as John Langan's The Fisherman, Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie, and Joe Hill's NOS4A2 (nominated, but not a winner, if you want to get technical). 

I'm currently reading through Charlee Jacobs' Dread in the Beast, which is, to say the least, an intense ride. Unless it somehow comes to an abrupt halt, I see it making my all-time personal favorites list. I particularly appreciate the way the horror is grounded by historical references, so that even as the depravity mounts, we see that it is no more outlandish than the atrocities human beings have committed against each other for millennia.

I could go on. In brief: I like this book so far.

Another note before I go. I probably won't continue with individual Advice for Writers posts any time soon, but I'll share anything that comes to mind in these monthly updates. For starters, here's something I've had on my mind for the past several months:

It's easy to get frustrated when you're juggling competing priorities, but that's no excuse to give up. And if you can make the space for your passion, the frustrations will clear up, and you'll be left knowing that you worked your butt off and have something to show for it. So, if you find yourself in that situation, let yourself rest when you need to, but get back at it as soon as you can.

Okay. That's all for today. Keep writing, friends. And don't forget to read.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Spreading Yourself Too Thin #amwriting #amdrafting

This semester, I am scheduled to teach five writing classes across three campuses. I've done this before, and found that I had virtually no time left to write. Which brings us to today's advice, plus an announcement about this blog.

Like my writing students, I started taking writing seriously when I was an undergraduate. I think when most people are in college, they don't realize how much free time they really have. I had a part-time job and was attending classes full-time, but I could drop back to my dorm in the middle of the day and do homework or take a nap, then watch movies or hang out with friends at night. Now I'm lucky if I have an hour and a half after dinner to relax. This, I think, is the norm for most working people, and if you're trying to be a professional author, it's a serious impediment. I think this is the primary reason so many people in college are enthusiastic about pursuing a writing career, but give up six months after graduation.

There's no answer to the problem of time. Last week, I wrote about guilt that results from failing to make writing time. I said the best thing to do in that case is to let go of the guilt and to reexamine where things went wrong. Can you schedule things more effectively tomorrow? Give it a try. That's all you can do. And if that fails, try again or try something else.

I know some authors who barricade themselves in a hotel room in order to finish their works-in-progress. I'd like to try that sometime, myself. In the meantime, I focus on a weekly word count goal. I try to keep a daily writing schedule throughout the week, but some days, shit happens. Today, for example, I have to prioritize planning and organizing course materials for classes that begin next week. I may have to put my writing on hold for several days so I can prioritize that pressing task. It's tough. I'm enjoying my novel-in-progress, and I just got over what was beginning to feel like a slump. But that's what we have to do sometimes, because that's life. And I don't even have children. (I don't know how writers with young children complete their projects. I am in awe of these people.)

I think the key is knowing what you're capable of. Some people can get up at 5am, write, and go to work. Some people can only write on weekends. Some people use hotel rooms. The only way to discover what works best for you is to try some things, fail, and try different things. But be careful not to spread yourself too thin for too long, because you might end up resenting your own writing for making you exhausted. And a miserable writer is an ineffective writer, generally speaking. Still, you need to write if you're going to be successful. Period.

With that in mind, here's my announcement: For the time being, because my schedule will be packed for the next four months or so, I'm going to put my writing tips on hold so I can concentrate on completing my novel-in-progress and teaching my classes.

Ron Swanson once said, "Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing." For those of us with full-time jobs (which is 99.99% of all writers in the world), we need to find a way to whole-ass two things. It's tough, but it's doable. So get at it.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Guilt #amwriting #amdrafting

It's been a long day. You couldn't get out of bed right away, so you had to rush your morning shower and grab breakfast on your way out the door. All day at work, you guilted yourself for your failure to get up early and write. Again. So you promised yourself you'd write when you got home, even though you had to buy groceries, get quarters, and do laundry so you'd have something to wear tomorrow. Oh well, you thought. If you don't get the writing done, you're going to be pissed at yourself.

And that's what happens. You get all your errands done, and when you look up at the clock, it's almost bed time, and you haven't written a word, but by now your brain is pretty much useless. Might as well hit the sack and try again tomorrow.

But the guilt lingers. And in the morning, when you again fail to get up early enough to write, guilt is still what you feel. The rut. The cycle.

Okay, maybe your problem is a little different. Maybe you do write often, but you still feel like it's not enough. You look at that successful author you follow on social media, and it's only been a year and a half since their last book, and they're already promoting a new one, and here you are struggling to get halfway through your latest project. Ugh. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

If you go back through my writing tips, one of the things you may notice is how often my advice sounds like something you'd find in a self-help guide. This is no accident. Because, like self-help, writing has everything to do with your mental health and your state of mind. If you're feeling foggy and depressed and just want to binge on reruns of The Office, how are you going to write 100,000 words, and then rewrite them over the course of months or years, and then maybe rewrite them again? Because that's what it takes sometimes. And let me tell you something about guilt: it doesn't help.

Guilt is a negative emotion, like fear and depression. And if you are trying to get yourself to a more positive place, negativity is never going to be an effective motivator. Maybe for a day or two, but sooner or later, you get fatigued, you fall into a slump, and you think, "Screw it. I already feel like crap." That's the cycle.

The guilty feeling you get when you aren't writing can be useful, but only for one thing: to tell you that you aren't meeting your goals. Once you recognize that, you have to effectively deal with the realization and move beyond that initial negative emotion. If you dwell on the guilt and try to use it as a motivator, it's not going to work. Because negative emotions are emotions of stagnation. They don't push you. They make you sit idle. They hold you in place.

So, my advice, when you aren't meeting your goals and you feel guilty about it, is to focus not on the negative emotions as a motivating factor, but on the positive emotions you crave to feel through success. You need to continuously remind yourself of your goals and how nice it will feel once you meet them. Focus on that, the place you want to be, not on how bad you feel when you fail, the place where you don't want to be.

So, let's go back to our initial plot: you wake up late. Miss your writing time. Get home. Can't write. Too busy. You feel guilty. What do you do after that? Well, first, you put aside the guilt. You reassess the day and ask yourself where it went wrong, then imagine correcting it tomorrow. How will you do that? Maybe go to bed a little earlier tonight so it's easier to get out of bed. Maybe use an alarm clock instead of your cell phone so you don't sit in bed constantly dropping the phone on your face as you browse the web. Maybe shoot up and immediately make a coffee and sit in your underwear in front of your laptop, trying to write. The solution might be something different, but the point is, you're searching for solutions. You're seeking out a way to succeed and get to the positive place you crave.

If you fail again, don't dwell on the guilt. Reassess things again, always striving for positivity. It sounds cheesy, I know. But if you can get yourself in this mindset, you will be motivated to find the time, and you will write that damn book.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Doubt #amwriting #amdrafting

Doubt is one of the biggest challenges you'll face as a writer. Doubt that your writing is any good. Doubt that your work is ever going to get published. Doubt that, even if your work were incredible and published, there would be anybody in the world who'd want to read it. You're not alone, and though I can't definitively say that every successful person has faced these doubts, I believe most sane, rational people have, even when they are on the right path, making all the right choices. The trick is not letting them overwhelm you.

It's human to have doubts. It's rational. And when it comes to tackling a project that will take months or years before it's ready to share with another human being, especially if it's an ambitious project, doubt should be expected, even accepted. Then, just as certainly, it needs to be cast aside. Tossed.

Doubt is just another word for fear. It's the fear that what you're doing is a waste of time. But writing is never a waste of time, even if it ends in failure. Cormac McCarthy famously said, "Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing. Make yourself available for something to happen." I have this quote on my wall, next to my writing desk. When I have doubts about what I'm working on, I go back to it. I think, So what if this project collapses before it gets off the ground? I'm writing.

Writing is not always easy. You'll hit roadblocks that will make you question your project. A work-in-progress can twist and turn and lie down limp and jump up and smack you in the face. All you can do is keep writing, plotting, working around the challenges and working around the doubt until it's no longer valid, because suddenly, the project that you doubted would ever come to completion is just a few thousand words shy of the climax, and then you're writing the last line, and when you read over what you have and see how clunky and unpolished the writing is, you're smacked again with doubt that this was worth your while, but you push the doubts aside again and you rewrite the first few chapters and the language is suddenly alive, and the characters feel like old friends, and you can't believe you ever doubted yourself.

I should also say that some doubt can be a result of putting too much pressure on yourself. Maybe the pressure comes in the form of a self-imposed deadline, or from comparing the writing in your rough draft to the writing in your favorite author's best book. Finding a way to ease the pressure can help alleviate the stress that comes with it, and that can allow you to have more fun with the story and give yourself over to the writing. Try to forget the world around you when you sit down to write. The act of writing can and should, at least at times, be a reprieve from the stresses surrounding it. It should be fun. It should be freeing. Sometimes.

So, when you're in the midst of those common doubts, remember that writing is all about process. Doubt might be part of that process, but if you play it loose and allow yourself to forget your career aspirations or your deadline or whatever, you'll likely have an easier time letting go of doubt and finishing the project at hand.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Dedicated Writing Space #amwriting #amdrafting

I don't need to tell you that separating work and play in the age of infinite distractions can be a challenge, but there it is. We multi-task too much. We lose our focus too easily. And the one thing you need in order to be an effective writer is focus. I used to have a hard time with this. If I hit a road block in the day's work, I might allow myself a quick break to surf the web. But we all know how easily a "quick break" can turn into an hour spent clawing around the YouTube rabbit hole--or whatever rabbit hole you gravitate toward these days.

There are plenty of solutions to this problem. There are apps that block the internet. There's also turning off your WiFi. Willpower is nice, too, but who has time for that?

Personally, I've found the best way to separate work and play is to physically separate them.

I have two computers. My writing laptop, and my everything-else PC. My everything-else PC is my general use computer. I browse the web, watch Netflix, grade student papers, plan classes, reply to emails, whatever. My writing laptop, you may have guessed, is what I use to write. 

I also have a writing desk. In my current setup, because I share a small apartment with my wife, my writing desk and my everything-else desk are in the same room, across from each other. When I haven't sat at my writing desk in a few days, I start to feel like crap. I sit over there for a while, writing. I keep the space clean and uncluttered. I dust it from time to time. Sitting there, even when my writing isn't going great, I am focused. I know that this is not my time to be distracted by any internet rabbit holes. I imagine breaking this code and browsing the web would give my laptop some sort of disease. Not a virus. A genuine disease. Like the measles. Eventually, it would shrivel up like a dying flower and start to stink. Before long, I'd have to bury it in the yard.

It also helps to keep my phone a few feet away with the screen facing down or away. That way, if it goes off, it won't be in my pocket where I've been programmed to clutch at my leg like a text-hungry zombie when I feel it vibrate.

It's all in the name of shutting out the big, loud, oppressively distracting world.

So, if you find yourself having a hard time focusing when you sit down to get the words out, don't blame writer's block or a lack of inspiration. Consider making a physical space and dedicating a device to nothing but writing, if possible. That way, if the work isn't getting done, you can't blame the big, loud, oppressively distracting world. It's more likely you haven't made the time for it, and that's a whole other issue, but one that's generally simple to solve.

Writing Tip Wednesday: 1st Drafts, or the Who and the What #amwriting #amdrafting

There is so much excellent advice about the drafting process in the world, and I won't pretend to have read all the books and essays that cover the topic, but my favorite of those I have read is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. If you've studied the craft of writing for five minutes and haven't heard of this book, it's possible that you are dead and have been for some time. It's wonderful. Arguably the most important chapter is the first, titled "Shitty First Drafts" (but read the rest of it, too). This is a much loved, very popular chapter, and for good reason. Did I mention that it's wonderful? It's wonderful.

I won't bore you by reiterating everything Lamott says in the chapter, but I want to build on her main point in order to share a piece of my own advice.

Lamott's purpose in talking about "shitty first drafts" is not to encourage bad writing. It's to discourage premature editing. AKA: revising before you should.

Let's say you spend two hours writing the first draft of your first chapter for a brand new project. You read it back, and you start to think the writing isn't very good. So, you spend another two hours, maybe three, revising the chapter so that it's like Goldilocks' third choice: juuuust right.

You should feel accomplished and proud, right? Not so fast.

Let me explain what happens to people who apply this approach to a novel-length project.

You're writing along, revising as you go, making good progress, but suddenly come to a point where something big changes, affecting the whole project. The character you thought was a lawyer is actually a high school dropout living in her parents' basement. Oops. Being a perfectionist, you can't just leave the first draft with such a glaring inconsistency, right? What about all those early chapters where you wrote about the character's lofty Manhattan apartment? What about the trouble she was having with her latest client? Guess you need to go back and change those chapters, eh? So you follow the pattern you've set for yourself. You start to revise. You revise and revise, editing as you go, and you reach the point where you got stuck, and you progress past it and feel pretty good, but then, suddenly, something else changes. The main character isn't the woman living in the basement. It's the woman's mother. Well. What about all those chapters written from the daughter's perspective? Guess you need to go back and...

Okay, you get it. The point is, you get stuck in a loop if you take this approach. Eventually, you'll get so frustrated thinking that your project "isn't working" that you throw in the towel. But the project isn't the problem. Your process is.

Here's the thing. Stories change as we write them. That's true for all writers who aren't robots. You cannot get hung up on making the first draft perfect. What you must do is understand the purpose of the draft.

Let's go back to our scenario. The bad news here is that the time you spent editing was a total waste. Throw it right out the window. You might as well have been sleeping. Now you're depressed and questioning your very existence. But hang on. There's good news. All that time you spent writing the chapter? That time was not wasted. See, the writing is what led you to the character and the story as they were meant to be. Through the writing, you discovered the Who and the What: who is this character, and what happens in this story. That's what the first draft is about. It's not about perfect continuity. It's not about pacing. And it's certainly not about writing beautiful sentences. All that comes later.

If you keep this in mind as you attack the first draft, you'll be more comfortable playing it loose, which just might keep you sane, at least for a little while longer.

One last note. Don't make the mistake of treating the first draft like an outline. Outline, plan, pre-write, and outline again, then tackle the first draft. You will still discover things that your outline couldn't predict.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Play It Loose #amwriting #amdrafting

Here’s a drafting scenario for you.

You’ve come up with a pretty killer idea. You’re sure it’s gold. You’ve got the premise, and you’ve got a few key scenes you know you need. So, heart racing, headstrong and certain, you charge in, doing a bit of outlining, a bit of drafting, a bit more outlining, and you’re still feeling pretty good, but after a while you look back at what you’ve got and a few of the scenes you had in mind don’t make sense anymore, but you’re sure you have to have them. They’re the meat in this burger, after all. So you plot and plot and draft and draft, and more time passes and you feel like you can make a few of these scenes work, but they don’t feel right with everything else anymore, and, weirdly, even the premise is beginning to feel flimsy. So you plot and you plot and you draft and you draft, and you get maybe a quarter of the way into what’s supposed to be your book, your burger, and the bun is stale, and the meat is weird and gray and limp and cold, and you’re pretty sure this whole thing was a bad idea from the start. This isn’t a burger. It’s some kind of rancid fish. Into the trashcan it goes.

First, the good news: you aren’t alone. This is common. It’s fixable.

Secondly, the bad news: your process needs work.

There are many reasons a project refuses to get off its feet, but one of the most common is that we hold too tight to our original ideas. See, by putting an idea down on paper, by outlining it, we immediately lose certain elements. Think of it this way: when you’re a kid, you have your whole life ahead of you. You can be an astronaut. You can be a lawyer (if you’re into that). You could be a very rich teacher—sure, why not? You can be a professional dog whisperer, even! But as you get older, you get C’s in math, turns out you don’t like physics and your eyesight is too poor to be a pilot, you’re a terrible liar, teachers get paid in rat turds, and after Sparky died, you discovered that you don’t like all dogs, just Sparky. All these ideas of the things you could have been drop away, and you’re only left with what you are. That can be difficult to face.

Now, you have two approaches to this existential crisis. You can freak out and scream until you pass out and wake up in a padded room, or you can keep trudging forward, figuring everything out as you go, constantly asking yourself, “Okay, so where next?”

Can you guess how this translates to writing advice?

In case you can’t, I’ll tell you: it’s better to take the second approach. If you hold too tight to your initial concepts—the things that drew you to the project—and refuse to let those concepts evolve, you’re almost guaranteed to find yourself getting lost or terribly frustrated. This is because our ideas tend not to come to use fully formed and perfectly logical. They come in emotional spurts, half-formed and barely coherent. They just don’t fit together.

I think of plotting a story like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Except, as a writer, you get to cut your own jigsaw pieces and throw out the ones that don’t fit. Nice, right? Well, only if you’re paying attention to the puzzle. Play it loose. Don’t worry if your original idea changes or becomes almost unrecognizable. Many times, I’ve found myself abandoning a story only to recycle the characters into another story later, or the central place with different characters, or the same characters in the same universe, but at a different time in their lives. The only way to get there is to be comfortable playing it loose, approaching each story with curiosity and sensitivity rather than certainty and stubbornness.

So, let's go back to our drafting scenario. What do you do when those key scenes start to feel a little moldy, a little off? Easy. You throw them out. You stop looking at what you wanted to have, and you start working with what you have. Maybe the character isn't who you thought she was, and the ending isn't shaping up to be anywhere near what you expected, but if you're drawn to these new things, these little surprises, there's a good chance they're leading you in the right direction. Stop fighting and go along.

Writing Tip Friday: Audience Attraction #amwriting #amdrafting #amsick

This week’s writing tip comes to you on a Friday because, to be honest, I came down with a terrible cold this week and forgot to post a writing tip on Wednesday. Let it be known: being sick during the summer is much worse than being sick during winter.

Okay, so, this week's advice:

Write for the audience you want to attract.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, in a post about rejection, I mentioned The Secret, which is a terrible documentary from a few years back that you should definitely not watch. Maybe read a Wikipedia article about it. To cut to the case, it's partly about new age positive thinking. You get back from the world what you put into it. If you're talking strictly in terms of your interactions with society, this is a pretty effective model (but it's probably best to ignore all the spirituality stuff). If you're a jerk to people, flip off other drivers in traffic, and are generally a miserable human being, you're going to attract other miserable human beings. If, on the other hand, you're a happy-go-lucky sunshine-spewing cheer monster, you'll ignore all the people flipping you off in traffic and naturally attract other positive people. I genuinely believe this.

So, the same can be said of writing for a particular audience.

Full disclosure: this idea is not originally mine, but I don't have a way to attribute it to the original, and I'm probably butchering it, anyway. See, I heard this secondhand from a friend of mine who couldn't recall the source, but it went something like this: when you write, you should always assume the audience is on your side. Flirt with them and have fun with them, because if you're having fun, they will be, too. This might sound obvious, but I think it's vital. My writer friend, when she came across this advice, realized that, in the past several years, she had subconsciously allowed a bit of cynicism to enter her writing. It was as if, for whatever reason, she began to resent her imaginary reader, and started--not exactly talking down to them--but jabbing at them in unintentional ways. I've done this, myself, mostly in stories and nonfiction pieces that I never bothered submitting anywhere because I knew they weren't very good. These pieces were coming from a place of cynicism, of negativity. It's hard to explain, but I think I was subconsciously skewering imaginary people out in the world who might flip me off in traffic. It was heavy-handed, unsubtle, and probably pretty boring stuff. If you're writing this way, you won't be writing developed, three-dimensional, living characters, and you'll probably be turning off a lot of readers in the process.

Write for readers who are already your allies. Forget the people who aren't. They can flip you off all they want. You're in the next lane, minding your own. Roll up your windows, crank the AC, blast your favorite music, and know that your audience will be right there with you, nodding along.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Roxane Gay Says It All #amwriting #amdrafting

This week, I'm going to cheat a little and let someone much wiser than me share her advice. (Hint: it is very good.)

Click it: Roxane Gay: How to Be a Contemporary Writer

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Rejection #amwriting #amdrafting

Writers live in a constant state of rejection. You spend weeks or months or years working on a story, and sometimes you spend weeks or months or years receiving nothing but rejections from publishers and agents for that same story. This can be emotionally and mentally taxing, but it's also somewhat useful as a life skill. Remember The Secret from a couple years ago? You know, that DVD where an "expert" says that nobody understands the nature of electricity? Well, let's ignore that part. The part I'm interested in is the idea of positive thinking. Putting out into the world what you hope to get back. Focusing on the positive and cutting out the negative. This is the approach you have to take when sending work out. A rejection isn't a negation of your work. It isn't really even a commentary on the quality of your work. It's possible that the editor or agent or publisher rejecting your work kinda sorta even likes your work, but can't publish it because they've already accepted something similar. There's a multitude of reasons your work can get rejected, but all it takes is for one person to say yes one time and you are suddenly there. You've made it. Well, then, wouldn't it be nice to look back at all that time you spent getting rejections and think to yourself, "At least I didn't let all those rejections get to me." Easier said than done, I know. But important.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, however, that sometimes--just sometimes--those rejections could be related to the quality of your work. I know that might sound like it negates everything I just said, but I prefer to think of it as something like a syllogism: in an ideal world, all bad writing gets rejected, but not all rejected writing is bad. If your writing has been rejected, does that mean it must be bad? Nope. So keep going.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Openings #amwriting #amdrafting

I don't particularly like saying that any one part of a story is more important than the next, but I do think it is worth noting that the very first sentence can either draw a reader in or push them away. Whether you're writing a 100,000+ word novel or a 3,000 word story, you first have to hook readers with your opening. As with all things writing-related, there's no objective right or wrong way to do this, but I find the best approach is a straight-forward, streamlined opening. A strong statement or image. A character in a clearly defined place and time. And don't feel like you need to explain everything in the opening. Beginnings writers often get bogged down with exposition in the first few pages. They want to explain or justify the action. This is almost always a mistake. Think of the first few lines as a series of arrows pointing the reader onward. Exposition points backwards. And you don't want to point backwards until you've established enough forward momentum. So, when you first start your story, or when you finish your draft and go back to revise the opening, think to yourself: forward, forward, forward. Cut anything that clutters or distracts from that forward movement.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Dayjobs #amwriting #amdrafting

When I was an MFA student, thanks to a visiting author program through my school and an author-interview radio show I co-hosted, I often had the privilege of meeting and speaking with a number of successful authors. Even if I didn't directly ask, one of the first things I always wanted to know was how the hell these people managed to be so prolific while working other jobs. What jobs had they worked that allowed them to write, or had they somehow found a way to make this writing thing profitable? I never found a definitive answer. Probably because I rarely asked the question. I wish I did. It shouldn't be taboo. It's a genuine problem, especially for young writers. In last week's post, I wrote about headspace--finding a mental and emotional safe space to write from. Along those lines, you have to keep in mind that writing creatively--for the vast majority of human beings on this planet--doesn't put food in your mouth. There are exceptions, of course, but they are exceptions. I like to think of writing as a privilege. If you're struggling to put food on the table, or if you're drowning in debt, writing may not be a top priority. Or it might be a pipe dream. Whatever. The point is, you have to decide how you're going to make ends meet and pursue this writing thing at the same time. If this seems like a daunting task to you, you're not alone. Very few people out there manage to avoid this struggle early in their careers. If you get a chance to talk with someone who has, ask them how they did it, and let me know.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Headspace #amwriting #amdrafting

Headspace is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. You have to be in the right mindset if you're going to finish a lengthy, demanding project. And guess what? There are going to be times when outside factors in your life take over, and you simply can't focus on the task at hand. This might last days. It might last weeks. It might even last years. That's okay. Think of it this way: how can you focus on a fictional character's actions in the face of adversity while you are also struggling in the face of adversity? You need a safe mental and emotional place where you can hide out and let your imagination do its work. If, for whatever reason, that cozy place gets disrupted or taken away for a while, don't force yourself to get back to work before you're ready. It might just ruin the project you were working on. There's always more work to be done. Take care of yourself first. Don't forget your project, but know that it'll be there waiting for you when you're ready to return.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Prewriting #amwriting #amdrafting #amprewriting

I have taught several semesters of English Composition in the past, and one of the first tools a teacher will introduce in those courses is the concept of "prewriting." In an academic setting, this consists mostly of outlining and freewriting. Yet there's a lot more that applies when you're writing a book. It will almost always be a huge time and energy savor to plan as much as you can about your story before you try to pound out a thousand words a day or whatever your goal may be. One of the most common issues I hear from writing students is that they can't seem to finish a damn book-length project. They get to about 30,000 words or so and sort of lose the thread. The story gets away from them. This has happened to me too many times to count, so I fully sympathize. There can be a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes you realize through the drafting process that you don't actually care about this story as much as you thought you did. But more often, you thought you knew where the story was going, but something went off the rails. Maybe there was a plot problem you didn't see coming. Or maybe you never worked out a character's backstory and now you're stumped. Or maybe the plot became just a little too convoluted for the story to contain. I've found that holding an idea in my brain a little longer, meditating on it, freewriting about it, outlining and re-outlining, producing character sketches and even diary entries from characters before I start chapter one can save me a lot of grief later on. This is true for the book overall, but it's also true for each scene. Sometimes, I'll get stumped mid-scene because I suddenly don't know all the actions that are supposed to take place. When that happens, I shut my laptop and take out my notebook (or use my personal whiteboard ) and brainstorm the mechanics of the scene. Who's in this scene, where are they, and what are they doing and why? Once I figure that out, I'm ready to go back in and finish the scene with gusto. or, just as importantly, I realize that the scene never made any sense in the first place, so I should replace it with something else. So don't devalue the process of figuring things out before you try to blast through your word count. However, keep in mind that some writers will use this as a stall tactic because they're afraid of putting the words down and getting them wrong. The prewriting has to end sometime. Trust your gut to know when. If you feel like you're rushing, you probably are. If you feel like you're stalling, check your notes and reassess how confident you are that the story is there. If it is, I think you'll know. The more you do this, the better you'll come to understand your own process.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Read #amwriting #amdrafting #amreading

This piece of advice is not particularly new or original, but it is of supreme importance. If you are not reading regularly, your writing will suffer. If you're binging on the latest Netflix craze every night, your thoughts are going to become Netflix thoughts. Your imagination will begin working in a visual storytelling mode. But writing is not visual. Imagery and visuals are not the same thing. We work with language. If you aren't constantly putting new language into your system, like a motor running out of fuel, your creativity may stall or sputter out. I often find I'm less motivated to write when I'm not reading. So read, and read widely.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Decompression #amwriting #amdrafting

The ability to produce strong writing is as much about your mental and physical health as it is your dedication to the work. If you aren't taking care of yourself, the likelihood of completing multiple drafts of a 60,000+ word story is pretty slim. If you start to feel overwhelmed and overworked, take some time to decompress and relax. When you feel balance returning, get back to work.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: When To Abandon Your Baby #amwriting #amdrafting

Some projects don't work. You try and you try, you draft and you draft, you write and you rewrite, you outline and re-outline, but nothing fixes the issues. If that's happening, it's time to step away. Put the project on a shelf. Don't think about it. Let it call you if it calls you. If it doesn't, leave it where it is. Walking away doesn't always make you a failure. Sometimes, it makes you wise.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.

Writing Tip Wednesday: Ego #amwriting #amdrafting

Don't waste time comparing your successes and failures to the successes and failures of others. That's the ego, and the ego has no place in the writing process. Focus on the work.

Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.