How to Jump from One Story to Another

This is one of those times I’m going to blog about something I’m admittedly struggling with in the hopes it inspires me, (and maybe you too!)

Namely: changing from one creative project to another.

You may have encountered this before. Perhaps you’re trying to draft one story while you wait on edits for another. Or you’ve sent your first manuscirpt out to the query trenches, and now you need to write something new.

Maybe, like me, you’re a debut author who is also trying to write a new book.

It’s not easy, to split your thoughts, your hopes, your creative enegry between two projects. I’ve come up with a few ideas, but I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

  1. Image board!
    I admittedly do this the old-fashioned way, where I print out random things that give me story-related feels, then tape them to a posterboard I hang by my writing nook. It’s a great way to get some visual inspiration. However, most people I know use pinterest… which is the exact same thing, without the whole “attempting not to glue yourself to bits of paper.”
    Here’s a mini version of mine for my new project.Untitled design (1)
  2. Playlist!
    One of my all-time favorite things to do! Simply hop on spotify, or 8tracks, and start adding songs to a list that will give you all the feelings of your main characters.
    Here’s one for my next story: link to spotify
  3. Pretend to be your main character
    Okay. Maybe don’t do this if your main character is a brain-eating zombie or something, but I find a little method acting can be a lot of fun. Maybe it’s eating a food (not brains!) that your character likes, or perusing a store they might frequent. Have fun with it!
  4. Art!
    If you can, draw your characters! Or commission an artist (I’ve found amazing ones on Tumblr!) to draw them for you.
    Here’s a sketch the amazing Linnea did of my new MCs. I love how she captured their personalities too!Untitled

    Okay! So I’ve shared my favorite ways to start a new project. Now, tell me, what are yours?

Vacations, Best Laid Plans, and Other Thoughts

This post may actually be shorter than the title of it. I’ve returned, and recovered, and am reliving in my dreams, from a lovely, lovely vacation to the UK. I’ve been planning the trip for months, analyzing, studying, and learning everything I could.

Turns out there’s still mysteries, confusion, and unexpectedly wonderful occurrences, even when you think you planned the perfect trip.

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For example, I went into the trip way, way more stressed than expected. My cat, Skunk, had a mild cold that didn’t seem to be going away, so on my last day before leaving, I took him to the vet, assuming I’d get the usual “You’re being an over-worried cat mom, he’s fine”… I didn’t. He had a condition with a 50% chance he might not pull through. I had to decide then and there if I wanted to cancel my trip of a life time to spend the (possible) last days with my best buddy of five years. Thankfully, he turned out okay, and is currently trying to chew on my laptop. So, all’s well there. But, I didn’t know until about the third day of the trip that he’d pull through. I’m so grateful to have a loyal and trusted friend who watched him.

On the plus side of the unexpected were… billions of things. The amount of amazing live music I heard. Meeting total strangers that ended up becoming fun friends. Getting lost but finding incredible pastries (and falling in love with handbaked Empire Biscuits forever and ever) In general, it seemed as long as I kept a positive attitude, happy surprises could be found everywhere. Like this view, below. We came by it on a total chance, because we’d detoured so I could see where Robert Carlyle filmed Hamish MacBeth. (Because who WOULDNT WANT TO WALK IN HIS SEXY FOOTPRINTS?)

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I also got to meet up with internet friends in person for the first time, which was so, so awesome. (Waves to them–they know who they are) and got to see so many sites I’d only ever read about. It was truly the trip of a lifetime. (And yes, there will be blog posts detailing the adventures)

Weirdly enough, I would have never gone on this trip if it wasn’t for the writing community.

We tend to think of the writing community as a network for…well, writing. But it opened so many doors that led me to the trip. I had met friends, through happenstance and happy accidents, who not only answered billions of my questions before traveling, gave me advice and guidance once I got to the UK!

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However, no one warned me pancakes are cold and jam filled. WHY?

Even the whole process of writing a book, from draft to finished product, made it seem so much more possible for me to travel across the ocean alone.

There are certainly low points in the life of a creative person. Rejection, disillusionment, loss of that elusive “muse,” can all make it seem like the process isn’t worthwhile. But the next time you’re feeling down, or that you’ve “wasted” time on a manuscript, try to look beyond the page, to what goodness and connections that manuscript has helped you make in the real world.

And above all, believe that good things will happen. Perhaps not the good thing you wanted, or set out to achieve, but a good thing all the same.

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The Bright Side of Subjectivity

For as long as I’ve been a writer, there’s a term I’ve struggled to grasp: subjectivity.

It always seems to be used negatively, paired with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry that person didn’t like your work. It’s just subjective, you know?”

But I didn’t know. I came from a educational and professional background where (besides, like, Bernie Madoff ) there was a right, and a wrong. A clear cut answer. A way to plug numbers into a formula and receive the correct answer. Subjectivity was a strange, dark cloud, hanging over everything I attempted. Why couldn’t I write something everyone would love? What was I doing wrong?

I thought, hmm. Maybe I should just become better! Then, I shall be able to vanquish subjectivity! But, even after spending a year studying craft books, working with freelance editors, and pushing myself, I still got negative feedback that was… subjective.

Someone suggested that I read one-star reviews of my favorite books. This technique, they suggested, would make me realize even this amazing authors got subjective, negative reviews of their books. Instead, because I am made of fiery passion and undying loyalty, I wanted to fight every deluded fool who couldn’t see the obvious talent of my favorites.

Meanwhile, I was also getting positive feedback. People liked my work, adored certain characters, laughed at my jokes. It didn’t matter to me. I was more concerned with fighting the big-bad subjectivity monster. Surely, there had to be some formula I could apply to make it go away, and have everyone equally love my work.

Spoiler: there’s no way to ever do that. I’m going to skip over the months I spent bashing my head against a wall, and instead tell you about what finally made me realize what subjectivity truly is.

What happened was… I read a book.

Of course, I’d read plenty of books during my battles with the smoggy subjectivity monster, but this book I LOVED. It was one of those books that turned me into a book evangelist, pushing the book at everyone I knew. Shockingly, some of my friends didn’t like the book. Or they did, but they didn’t like the same things I did. I had no real reason for why I loved the book, aside from a fuzzy feeling of it hitting me in just the right brain spots, like the way a cold glass of water quenches more on a hot day. I couldn’t point to any narrative craft, any technique the author used to specifically make me adore the book. I just knew that my world was a better place with the book in it.

I loved the book, subjectively.

That’s the bright side of the mysterious subjectivity-monster we forget sometimes. The same inexplicable force that causes some people to dislike our works (or not love it enough to accept it) also allows people to adore  our work. Subjectivity fuels book deals, creates fanart, causes readers to squee in 5 star reviews. So the next time you get mad at that subjective rejection, remember there’s someone out there who will subjectively love your work.

Don’t give up, darlings!

I’m Sorry I Didn’t Read Your Book

Hi Writer-Friend,

It’s been a while. You may not remember me. Or maybe you do, but you recall me with anger and hurt. Or perhaps, you too are a simmering kettle of apologies and regret, wishing things could be different.

I’m sorry I never sent you beta feedback. My life got hectic, and by the time I remembered to read yours, I was afraid of asking for more time.

I’m sorry for reaching out for blog post info, for an interview, for a possible critique partner relationship, only to disappear. My attention span flutters as much as a caffeinated butterfly, and my forgetfulness comes from that, not from a place of disrespect.

I’m sorry I disappeared from our friendship. I was battling anxiety/jealousy/insecurity, and knew I would only hurt you if we kept talking.

I’m sorry I never responded to your request for a blog tour. I barely blog as it is, and wasn’t sure how to tell you that. Would you think I was less of a writer if I told you I didn’t blog on a schedule?

I’m sorry I forgot your release date. My own life got hectic with family/school/work, and then when I checked Twitter, it seemed overwhelming, and I didn’t know how to help.

I’m sorry I never wrote a Goodreads review. I’m afraid that if I did one, all my friends would expect me to read their book.

I’m sorry that I review books on Amazon under a fake name to hide from their silly deletion policies, so you’ll never know I reviewed it.

I’m sorry we got into a huge argument, and now the expanse of the anonymous internet separates us, isolating us from ever finding a way of speaking to each other again. My apology hangs in empty air, like a dead link to a vanished site.

BUT

I’m not sorry for the hours I stayed up, reading your book. It was incredible, and I loved every page-turning moment.

I’m not sorry I keep my fingers crossed for your book to get published soon, and I talk about it to everyone I know.

I’m not sorry I retweet and reblog other’s release day posts for you, trying as hard as I can with my limited time, to show you that your words matter, that your book touched me.

I’m not sorry that I mention your artwork/editing services/skills to anyone in need of that, hoping to send you the customers you so very much deserve.

I’m not sorry I bought two copies of your book, one for me and one for a friend. I wait, ninja-style, for people to ask for book recommendations, so that I may push yours, like a dealer with the enthusiasm of a toddler.

I’m not sorry I still follow you on our social media sites, celebrating in secret for your successes, and mourning your losses. This tiny, dusty window into our former friendship is just enough for me to remember all the good times we had, and learn from the bad.

I’m not sorry we exist in this world together, and I’m so grateful that our paths crossed, no matter how short a time.

May all good things come to you, and may your future be filled with joy.

From the shadows and the silence, I am sincerely yours,

Carrie

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When the Magic Goes Away

Scene: First day of second grade. Kids running around, showing off new backpacks, new shoes, same uniforms though. 

The teacher clears her throat and announces, “Let’s write a journal entry about what we did over summer vacation.”

Tiny-Carrie, with pigtails and an already messy desk, glances around at her classmates. They’re talking as they write. Disneyworld, Disneyworld, Disneyland, France, a cruise in the Caribbean (with Disney Characters.)

Tiny-Carrie’s summer had been fun, but, not like her classmates. She’d hung out with her Grandmas, learned to make cookies, played  make-believe in her backyard and loved every minute of it. Until her classmates started talking about the Disney princesses they’d met. A bit of fear crept into her brain, whispering that her summer had been stupid, that she was lame and a loser.

But, Carrie never liked being told what to do. Not by a teacher, and definitely not by some dumb, negative voice.

So, Carrie put pencil to paper, and began to write. She might not have traveled, but she had read. A book called THE BOGGART by Susan Cooper had launched an all-summer quest to learn everything about Loch Ness, its mythical monster and the magical-seeming land of Scotland. She’d even worked her way through “grownup” books explaining just how a monster might exist in the loch, and cookbooks about how to make “oatcakes.”

She wrote a story about going to Scotland, and all the things she’d experienced there. And as she wrote, it felt real to her. It felt just as fun, as exciting as her classmates “true” stories about Disneyland. Tiny-Carrie may not have traveled, but she had read. Now, in writing what she read, it was like real magic, making something out of thin air.

That’s what writing has always been to me. Over the years, I wrote my way out of countless bad feelings, out of fear about a surgery, or heartbreak over a person who didn’t like me back. My stories, although they were fictional and full of fantastic events, were woven with real truths, and real emotions.  Re-reading them is re-reading a diary, even if it’s set in a magical land, and the main character is a red-headed warrior-princess sneaking into royal balls, instead of an awkward fourteen-year-old Carrie dreaming about attending prom.

Nothing I write is autobiographical, but it’s all true to my heart. Be cause of that, perhaps, I’d been reluctant to share my words with others. These stories were part of my very DNA. I couldn’t let random people examine them for flaws any more then I could appear naked on a subway stop and shout “JUDGE MY BODY!”

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Not a Clone, Not Alone

I have a friend who got into a special program at a major company right after college. She, along with ten others, had the exact same job description, and the exact same salary. They were all the exact same age, and lived in the same company-owned housing area. They even had the same company cars. In many ways, they were clones, trained to perform the exact same role with little variability,

I bring this up because… the writing world is NOTHING like this.

Some writers work full-time at a day job, and have extra cash, but no extra time. Some write full-time, but budget carefully.

Some are parents. Some live with their parents.

Some are older, some are younger.

Some have sold ten books. Some haven’t finished their first.

Some are city-folk. Some are small-town people.

All of us are writers. We all dream wonderful dreams and spin incredible stories. We have more in common than we do differences, if we dig down deep enough.

This beautifully multi-faceted community is part of what makes our literature so unique and interesting. If we were all clones, we’d all write the same books, over and over again. Instead, we each write from our own personal truths, sharing and growing along the way.

However, sometimes, in the stew of peoples making up the writing community, it can feel like you’re the only one who’s different. The only carrot among potatoes. Maybe you’re the youngest one in your writing group, or the only one without a significant other. Maybe you had a kid and you’re suddenly in a different time in your life than you’ve been, and it seems like every other writer has plenty of freedom. Maybe you feel lonely, because you live hundreds of miles from any other writer.

Maybe it just seems like there’s a “popular club” and you’re not part of it. It’s not true. You belong here. You’re as much a writer, as much part of the community as anyone else.

Social media can be cruel. We all share the best parts of our lives, buffing and photo-shopping away countless imperfections. We humble-brag and white-lie our way to perceived happiness, all the while battling self-doubt and insecurity.

The independent writer might secretly be as lonely as the remote one.

The writer with an adorable-on-paper significant other might be contemplating a divorce.

We compare our worst days to other’s bests, and we beat ourselves up because of it. We judge and critique others who are not like ourselves, instead of seeing each person as a main character in their own story.

 

Let’s stop. Let’s be kind to each other. When you feel excluded or alone, please know, you are never alone. Someone out there cares about you, even if you’ve never met them. Together, let’s write a new story. Of belonging and acceptance, of building each other up and respecting our differences.

Let’s bond over what we have in common. Our story-telling talents.

I’m going to try harder to do this in the new year, and I invite you all to do the same.

You Are More Than Your Book

When I was younger, I could never finish writing a book. Even after I typed “the end”, I’d find a sequel to write, or a spin-off series. In fact, the first seven manuscripts (mind you I started these when I was in 6th grade, so manuscript might be too kind a word) were all directly connected to each other,  featuring the same characters and settings. I simply couldn’t let them go. Their world had become my own.

As my writing journey progressed, that emotional bond to my writing amplified. In fact, some days it seemed my self-esteem was entirely tied to how well my edits went on my book. I’ve noticed this occurring to other writers too, on many different parts of the publishing path. Some might measure their self worth in that request/rejection query pie-chart. Others, in how sizable an advance they receive or how many twitter followers they have. If one is self-published, it’s easy to obsessively watch sales, and let each one impact one’s mood.

But that’s not healthy.

We writers are more than the sum of our manuscript words, or our query stats or our books sales. We are members of families, artists, career-people, athletes and artists.  We’ve achieved so much in our non-writing lives. We’ve bought houses, landed promotions, learned dance moves, taught our dogs to fetch…

We are more than our writing.

So, right now, wherever you are in the writing journey, pause for a moment. Make a list. On paper or on the computer. Include ALL the wonderful things you are, and ALL the things you’ve achieved. Then, keep that list close. Whenever you’re having a bad day editing, or don’t have any book sales, or get a query rejection, review that list.

My list is pinned above my desk. One item on it is “I am a knitter.” And sure enough, I’ve found, on days when the writing is crappity-crap crap, I should pick up my knitting needles to create something new. Something awesome. Something unrelated to my words.

You can do that too. You created amazing words, yes. But you are also an amazing human being, made of so many more parts than just your writing.

 

Falling Back in Love With a Draft

Writing a novel is a long, slow process. Although the story might start out as a brilliant spark, one that you’re willing to dedicate hours upon hours to, the magic may not last.

If it withers quickly, say, after twenty pages, or half an outline, perhaps that story wasn’t ready to be written yet. Let it go. It may come back stronger later.  However, at least for me, the “I’m in love with this story” feeling lasts for months. Then, one day, BAM. It’ s gone. Perhaps it was a plothole I couldn’t fix, or a bit of a feedback that hit too raw a place for me. Perhaps I just get sick of revising and start dreaming about the good old days of first drafting. No matter what caused it, I’m suddenly in a pit of despair where I can no longer find words or energy to edit.

I’ve committed to the story, I don’t want to give up. So, what do I do?

I don’t recommend whining to your friends, although I’m certainly guilty of this. If they’re not creative, they won’t get the need burning inside you to finish the story. If they are creative they may not be sympathetic to your own struggles, because they’re fighting their own doubt-monsters of writing.

 

A healthy thing to do is to get fresh air. Go for a run. A walk. Dance all night at a concert. Lose yourself in the real world, not the fictional one for a little bit. Or. Just be a cat. Cats know where it’s at.

 

Some people recommend reading published books, but when I’m in my pit of despair, that usually makes me roll around like a dying fish full of self-loathing. “I will never write such wonderful words as these” etc.

Likewise, be cautious around social media. All it might take is is one tweet about another writer’s success for you to feel more like a failure. Likewise, openly proclaiming aaaall your struggles with your draft might make you sort of annoying.

My favorite tip for falling back in love with your work is to return to your creative works. Maybe you don’t want to write in your manuscript, but you want to write short side stories (oh hey! mine are here. Exclusive Short Stories) or create pretty photo sets of your characters on Tumblr (like these! Gif post! With kissing! Non-gif but all the adorable )

If you’re artistic, try drawing scenes from your book. Or if you’re not, maybe consider commissioning an artist (easily found on Tumblr or Deviantart) for a drawing of your characters! This one is a huge one for me. Having an actual picture of the characters that previously were only words on a page re-energized me to tell the story.  My sketches are by the brillant Giles, found here.)


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But if nothing else works, and it’s been weeks, and the feeling still isn’t going away, it is okay to shelve the story for a little bit. Let it rest. Begin a new story. You’ll come back to the old one with fresh eyes soon, and re-write it into a beautiful masterpiece.

 

Either way, soon, you’ll emerge on the other side of the pit of despair. You’ll go back to writing, the words flying fast and furious. Plus, you’ll be a stronger writer for having preserved through this hard time. Now, the next time the doubt-monsters kick in, you’ll know you’ve vanquished them once before. Have you ever felt like giving up on a story? How did you work through it?

Health and the Creative Life

Creative people aren’t known for being paragons of wellness. There will never be an article called, “Workouts to get a writer’s body.” We tend to seek comfort as we create, so that all our energy goes towards the art we’re intent on making. We scarf down comfort food, guzzle caffeine, and hunch our shoulders low as we curl around the glowing screen of our computers until the wee hours.

But, that kind of life isn’t sustainable. The junk food may lead to stomachaches, the caffeine to headaches. We writers need to take care of our bodies.

Actual photo of a writer after a revising marathon.

 

Here are some of my favorite healthy things.

Green Smoothies.

You can make these as intense as you want. Kale has a peppery taste, but spinach is surprisingly sweet.  Add a handful of frozen berries, a handful of greens, a cup of yogurt, ice cubes, and milk (almond, soy, or regular) into the blender, and give it a whirl.

Running/walking/hiking

When I’m really stuck on a plot point, I know it’s time for fresh air.

Homemade granola bars

Recipe here– so easy to make, healthy, and a great snack when you’re in the middle of writing!

Yoga

Nothing uncoils the knots in my back like a good time on the yoga mat. I recommend Yoga with Adriene on youtube. Her workouts are free, and the ones for the back (both upper and lower) are lifesavers for a writer who hunches over the keyboard. Here’s the link

Herbal tea

Yes. This is me. Yes, you know me as queen of coffee. But I also enjoy peppermint tea for unblocking my brain, and sleepytime tea for relaxing. Rooibos are great for when my heart wants coffee but my head says no more caffeine. It has a similar, nutty taste.

Now, get up, stretch, go for a walk! Then come back and tell me your favorite healthy routine.

Go Home, Self-Promo, You’re Drunk

We’ve all seen that meme of something obviously wrong, and the caption, “Go home, BLANK, you’re drunk,” right? (If not, scroll to the end and witness some lovely examples.)

Well, I’ve got some bad news. Your self-promotional strategy may be drunk too. Pull up a chair, pour a drink of your choice, and listen a metaphor story. Or, scroll past to get to the handy tip sheet on Twitter self-promo without a storytime.

***

Jill is throwing a party. She’s invited friends, including Author Friend Amy, and Bookstore Owner Brandon. Amy has recently released a book. The party starts. As the guests arrive, Amy greets each one with a handshake, and the exact. same. message. “Hiya! Thanks for coming. Buy my book!”

No one listens to Amy. After all, they’ve just met her.

The party kicks off. Someone asks, “Hey, does anyone know anything about ballet? My daughter was–”
“THERE’S BALLET IN MY BOOK!” Amy shouts, sprinting across the room. She’s got the sharp hearing only a desperate, post-launch author could have. “ON PAGE 17! BUY IT!”

No one listens to Amy. The conversation was about ballet shoes. Not books.

Jill, trying one last time to help her author friend out, sets the table so that Amy sits next to Brandon. He’s enjoying his pasta, and hoping his sales clerk isn’t putting copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in the Children’s Coloring Book section again. In other words, Brandon has had a rough day.

“Hey Brandon!” Amy shouts. “HERE! Have ten copies of my book! Autographed! You can give them to anyone!” Amy drops the books onto Brandon’s plate, splattering pasta everywhere. Even if he had liked Amy’s book, he will now always remember it as the book that ruined the one peaceful meal he’s had this week. He had been planning to reach out to Amy, but not until after his dinner.

Brandon the bookseller does not listen to Amy.

The party melts into drinking and dancing. A lovely time is had by all. Except Amy. She’s shouting at no one, standing in the corner. “BUY MY BOOK!” “LIKE ROMANCE? SO DO I! BUY MY BOOK!” “AMAZON loves my book! Here’s a link!”

No one listens to Amy. She is babbling to thin air, about a book no one’s even had a chance to ask her about.

***

This situation may sound extreme, but it’s a mirror of a tactic many author use on Twitter. The insta-DMs as soon as someone follows them, the inserting a mention of their book into every conversation mildly related to them, and the never-ending promotional tweets. This won’t sell any more books than Amy’s attempt will. No one likes to be constantly pitched at, shouted at, or bulldozed over.

Plus, even when I do read a tweet of a book that sounds cool, I view the author’s Twitter page to learn more about her. If her whole page is all promo tweets, I’m less likely to connect to her, and far less likely to buy the book. Selling is about a personal connection. Volume of exposure can’t beat quality of engagement.

Here’s a handy guide to sober up your self-promo

  • NEVER auto direct message new followers.
  • Have at least five normal tweets or replies before sending out another promotional tweet.
  • Don’t jump in unrelated conversations or hashtags to pitch your book.
  • If someone reviews your book and you want to signal boost it, do so once, then keep it on a list of reviews links on your blog.

Promoting yourself on Twitter is a dance, not a boxing match.

If you ever feel like no one listening to your promotion, don’t be like Amy at the party and shout louder. Instead, work on making real, honest connections with other writers, booksellers and readers. Just think of how much more effective that party would have been if she waited until Brandon the Bookseller asked her how she was doing. Then, she could have said, “I’m doing great. I just released a book.” And Brandon, having consumed a yummy dinner, and not having heard thirty shouts about her book already, could say, “Excellent. Would you like to host a workshop and book signing at my store?”

Bam. Success. Well done, sober Amy.

And now, for those drunk memes as promised. (That’s the only reason you kept reading, right?)

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