Monday, December 31, 2018

What Am I Doing?

In case I’ve been unclear as to my game plan for HIRAETH, I’m letting it sit for at least two weeks, and my goal is to have it finished and ready for querying by the end of January. That could change. My beta readers could find some huge, glaring flaws, which wouldn’t be the end of the world. But January 31st is my current plan.

Which begs the question: Liz, what are you doing right now?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

Actually, I have a fair amount of writing I hope to get done before January fifteenth, which is weird, because when I finished my draft several days ago, I pictured myself sitting around with not a whole lot to do, slowly becoming more and more neurotic.

Let’s start with my most exciting goal. I would like to finish an 8-11,000 word rough draft/outline hybrid for my new creepy space story, which I will reference again very soon. I’ll set it aside while I’m finishing HIRAETH, so I would like to have it at that natural point where I would be taking a break from it anyway. In theory, 8-11,000 words is a very manageable goal for me, and anyway, I don’t want to drag out this part of the process. Mainly, I just want to have something solid to occupy my brain space so I don’t go crazy while I’m querying.

Additionally, there are several blog posts I want to draft and several more I want to edit. I have two others besides this one that I would like to post over the next couple days, if I can get my act together, because they make better sequential sense that way. You’ll understand.

I also am overdue sending an email to a friend, and when I say we write long emails to each other, I mean that my next email will, in all likelihood, be four to five thousand words.

On top of that, and most importantly, I am editing the query letter for HIRAETH as well as the synopsis. The synopsis is not as hard. The query letter, on the other hand, is a nightmare. I mainly want to get an agent just so that I never have to write another query letter again. I feel like that’s a fair reason. *nods sagely*

All that to say, I don’t think there’s any danger of me being bored over the next two weeks.

This might end up being too much writing for such a short amount of time, which is fine. But if I keep myself busy, I won’t be so tempted to pick up HIRAETH prematurely. Also, yesterday, I sat down and calculated how many hours per week I actually spend writing, and it’s around 21. All told, 42 hours feels like it should be sufficient to get everything done.

Having said all that, right now all I want to do is reread HIRAETH, so this might not be so easy after all.

In other news, my birthday is tomorrow, and since I have the day off, my idea of a good time is spending the morning writing before meeting up with my sister and her boyfriend to watch a movie in theaters. Because I’m a New Years baby, everyone else will be celebrating my birthday as well. I’m pretty sure that’s how this works.

Happy New Year, coffee beans!

Sunday, December 30, 2018


The people at Starbucks probably think I’m homeless, because I’m there at least once a day. Soon I will have to start paying rent.

This routine started out as my reading getaway. I would go there for an hour every morning, sit with my latte, and read on my phone. Once I’d grown accustomed to that, I switched from reading to writing. I used to struggle with horrible, often crippling anxiety, and this was one of its last strongholds. I was afraid to a) write every day and b) write in a coffee shop. Both of these fears were bizarre because a) I used to write every day, and b) I have known for several years now that I do my best writing at coffee shops.

At least part of my fear had to do with the fact that, with how tight my schedule is, I have to go straight from Starbucks to work, which means I need to bring my laptop to work with me, where it could get stolen, or stepped on, or, I don’t know, put in an oven or something. In the end, I decided that I had to just get over my fear, because NaNoWriMo was too important to risk not being able to write every day. (Now I’m so chill about it, I’m like, well, my laptop is going to have to be okay, because there is no way I am not going to write today.)

Starbucks is expensive, so you might be asking yourself why I go there so frequently, even just to read on my writing vacations. For a while, I tried to make Starbucks only a treat, a twice-weekly occurrence, but now I’ve been doing this writing routine for over two months, I understand why it’s important for me.

There are very good arguments for not limiting yourself to a routine, one of which being that you can train your brain to perform only under specific circumstances, which is suboptimal (one of my awesome coffee beans mentioned this to me, and I thought it was really cool). I say that that’s fair, but also that it doesn’t apply to me, or rather, without a routine, I don’t get as much writing done. 
It’s not a bad thing if you don’t have a schedule or if you don’t write every day; it’s just not for me. 

There’s nothing like going to the same place for an hour or two (at least) every day for the sole purpose of putting words on the screen. My brain knows what’s expected of it, so it (usually) performs. There are times when it’s a drag, and all I want to do is bash my head against my computer screen until the baristas kick me out. But one thing about going somewhere, for a set amount of time, to do a set thing, is that you tend to do the thing, even if you don’t want to. Or, at least, I do. There are times when I find myself with half an hour left before it’s time to head to work, and I don’t feel like writing more, but I tell myself to write anyway, because there’s not a whole lot else to do. I make sure to limit my available entertainment options when I’m at Starbucks for that reason. That practice is why posts like this exist.

So why Starbucks? Why not just establish an at-home writing routine? First of all, there are innumerable distractions at home. I could make food. I could eat food. I could wash dishes. I could go outside and play with the dogs. I could count the number of books I own. I could have an existential crisis. Etc. It’s not as bad at the new apartment, since we don’t have internet or reliable cell reception, and there’s something about the ambiance there that’s more conducive to concentration. So I do write there, but when I write at home, it’s spontaneous, incidental; it happens because I feel the words bubbling up inside me and need to let them out immediately.

With my routine, even working full time and allowing myself most evenings to read, I managed to write 121,121 words for NaNoWriMo. Most of that writing happened on my days off and in the two hour window I grabbed every morning before work. Pre-Starbucks, I struggled for three years to integrate some semblance of order into my writing habits, my closest thing to success being when I wrote at my old church, which was like writing at home, but with more distractions. Another victory is that I have a long-standing routine of going to a different café, actually a patisserie, and writing for several hours every Thursday, which for several months was the only writing I was getting done. It made for an excruciatingly slow pace, but it was also better than nothing, and it was the highlight of my week.

I think what it boils down to is this: writers love writing, but we also hate writing, and usually we will put a fair bit of energy into avoiding our work. If you are in an environment where distractions are possible, they will become probable. If you don’t go looking for them, they will come looking for you. But an environment that forbids distractions is, inherently, a game changer.

“But Liz,” I hear you saying, “there’s internet at Starbucks. Isn’t that a distraction?” Sometimes. It’s useful for Spotify, so I can have a wider music selection. And I’ll scroll through Twitter while I’m waiting on my latte or when I need a quick mental break. But I’m afraid I’ll look like a bum who spends all day on social media. I don’t generally advise worrying what other people will think about you, but in circumstances like this, if it helps me stay on the straight and narrow, I guess it works.

Maybe the dedication for my first book should be something like this:

to my vanity, without which this book would not exist 

I feel like that would go over well.

I completely understand if you’re reading this post and recoiling in horror because the thought of a Starbucks routine is as low on your list of appealing options as it could possibly be, right down there with “finding a dead body”. If you can’t get work done in an environment where people might read over your shoulder and sometimes old men get too chatty and the background noise can border on obnoxious, that’s okay.

I won’t lie. These were issues for me at first. (No one cares about your fake best friend, Sharon. The whole shop doesn’t need to hear about her implants.) This enterprise has been an exercise in stepping out of my comfort zone, across the board. I still have to block out the noise with my earbuds sometimes, but the background chatter does well to neutralize my tinnitus. I still write notes in my draft aimed at anyone who might be snooping, sweet nothings like, “This is a rough draft, don’t judge,” and “No one loves you,” and, “I will burn your house down.” I get squirrelly about the whole reading over my shoulder thing, because there are stages in my writing where I would show you my draft, but then I’d have to—well, you know. (I think it’s a testament to how confident I am with HIRAETH that I was rarely worried about that. Although there was that day when I was editing a fairly gory scene, and the chatty dude next to me clammed up real quick and moved to the next chair over. So I guess there are perks to this arrangement, after all.)

But there’s nothing like casually eavesdropping on people’s conversations (because when they’re talking that loud, you know they want to be heard), nothing like working alongside other people, learning the faces of regulars, getting to know the baristas by name and realizing they’re the closest thing you have to friends. *awkward laugh*

Now that I’ve established this routine, I don’t want to go back.

What about you, coffee beans? What are your writing routines? Do you like to write at coffee shops? Where do you prefer to write? What do you do to combat the whole reading over your shoulder thing?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Life Update 3 // DRACONIAN

Ages ago, in the forgotten year of 2017, I started querying DRACONIAN, which you may know as DSS. I talked a bit about it in this post.

In that post, I reference a sweet, kind agent who offered me a snippet of personalized feedback for my novel. Although it was still, ultimately, a rejection, and although I didn’t do anything about it right away, it got the gears in my head spinning. I knew that I hadn’t been getting as much interest in my queries for DRACONIAN as I had with TIB. I felt like I was missing something vital, like I had taken a step backward in the quality of my writing. So after I got over a bit of burn out, I pulled myself out of my funk, sat down with my story, and made myself face what I knew was wrong.

A long while ago (everything was a long while ago for me), I read some writing advice that said something to the effect of, “If you know you have a weakness in your story, and you’ve done your best to fix it, so you know you’re not being lazy, it’s okay to go ahead and query. No book is going to be perfect.” I’m still on the fence about whether or not that’s good advice. In my case, it wasn’t, because it gave me an out. I tried to fix the problem. I found I couldn’t. So I let myself query a novel I felt supremely insecure about, when I should have been like, “No, no, we are going to sit here, right here. We are going to look at this problem, and we are not going to leave this Starbucks booth until we know where the story’s going wrong.”

Okay, so maybe that’s a little overdramatic.

Let’s talk about the sticking point in DRACONIAN. It happens to be the most unfortunate, I dare say most common one. My beginning wasn’t working. It’s bugged me for years, has always felt like a low-level criminal offense. In its earliest iterations, when I was thirteen, it was pure exposition, all the telling and none of the showing. It stayed that way until I was eighteen. In my defense, I think that’s when I did succeed in streamlining it and introducing a good sense of rising tension. Where the breakdown happened was a few pages in, during a scene where I have a revelation that reads as too clichéd, the beginning of every single fantasy novel ever. I spent so much time trying to think around the issue. For the sake of the plot, my main character has to learn a significant secret her parents have been keeping from her, not because this will then launch her into glory and fame and riches, but because the betrayal will hurt her more than anything else, and it will affect how she behaves from that point on. But the way I had written it, it came off as tropey. There was no way for any agent to know, upon reading the first few pages, that I was trying something different.

When I finally sat down to address the problem from a new angle, I don’t know if I owe the subsequent revelation to timing, brooding, or pure happenstance. (I have this theory that stories are the sum of the times and places they were written, that where and when a scene is birthed changes its genetic makeup, that until you have written a thing, it is in flux, rich with infinite possibilities, infinite directions you could take that depend on the thinnest threads of fate and chance. Like, if you’re in the wrong place when you write something, you’ll miss some great revelation, and you won’t do it right. Or, if you write it too soon, you won’t have a vital, game changing thought that was scheduled to occur to you two months later. It’s at this point that I have to shut down this line of reasoning, because I can follow it in circles until I’m in the throes of an existential crisis, migraine and all. So, moving on.)

Somehow, (don’t look at the existential crisis, Liz, don’t do it), I finally thought of a way to restructure the beginning, to erase the aspects of it that had led to my querying woes. Of course, you know that whole, I’ll just tug on this one thread, just one more tug, one more, and then suddenly the sweater you were holding is gone, replaced by a pile of yarn. That’s what happened with DRACONIAN, but in a far less destructive way.

Altering vital details in the beginning has affected how the rest of the story plays out. Addressing those changes has, in turn, caused a cascade of differences down the line. I’ve kept a journal with extensive notes to track every stray thought that crosses my brain as I do this (it has two dragons on the cover), because there are so many balls to keep in the air. I’m about two-thirds done with the first pass now, but I don’t know how much work remains. I expect I’ll have to go through the whole thing at least two more times, so I catch all the errors and inconsistencies I’ve introduced.

I have been moving at a glacial pace on this story, usually only tackling it for (in a good session) four hours every Thursday. To which you are probably asking, if you haven’t read my pre-NaNo post, “If you were so frustrated with your slow progress, why wasn’t this one your NaNo project?” Two things. Firstly, I’m not frustrated, not generally. I’ll get to that later. And secondly, burn out is a hideous thing, and I was starting to feel it creeping up behind me. I decided I needed to set DRACONIAN aside and duck out for a month-long fling with some other stories.

The consequence of this hands-plunged-in-all-the-way-up-to-the-elbows-deep-clean edit is that my book is stronger, and I’d like to think richer, than it was before. My world building has improved; my characters have grown. I’ve shored up plot holes I’d never noticed before. My insecurity—it’s almost gone. DRACONIAN isn’t done yet. It might not be done for another six months. It might be done in two. Who knows? But I can see the bright shiny spark of what it’s supposed to be, now, and I’m entranced. Even if this book never sits on store shelves, this effort will have still been valuable. It has taught me so much about editing, so much about patience and determination and endurance. I’ve relearned, through this experience, how to love writing for the sake of writing.

As for the whole querying question, before November, I had fully intended to keep DRACONIAN as my main project, the one I prioritize finishing. There are now a few reasons why my plans have changed.

For one, it could be a while until it’s done, and it’s become such an intricate, loving revision, that I don’t want to rush it like I’ve rushed it before. I owe this book the time and effort it requires. That means that it’s going to have to become one of my side projects, at least for the moment.

Another thing is, and maybe this is a silly reason, that having already queried this one, I might want to put some distance between those efforts and renewed ones. I know people revise and re-query, and I know there are still so many agents I never queried with this project. But it’s also harder to jump back on the bandwagon with a book you’ve tried and failed with once before.

My last, and I think most compelling, reason is this: HIRAETH is suddenly so much further along, and while I have renewed confidence in DRACONIAN, it pales in comparison with how I see HIRAETH. HIRAETH feels like the one in ways that my previous two didn’t. As I mentioned in this post, I still have scenes to add and, realistically speaking, it will probably be a few months before I’m ready to query, maybe longer. Even if it was ready, I don’t think I’d send out queries until midway through January, so they don’t get lost in the holiday mix. But I want to take it and run with it.

That being said, I will still fight to get DRACONIAN to you someday, coffee beans, even if that means I have to print it out on rolls of toilet paper and leave them on your porch in the dead of the night.

That’s it for today, coffee beans. What are some stories you’ve wrestled with for years? What are some of your greatest revision triumphs? Are you currently in the query trenches/planning to jump in soon?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My Writing Process Doesn't Exist

Fair warning, coffee beans, this is going to be a long post. So buckle in and make sure to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

Now that I’ve edited two complete novels and am close to finishing my third, not to mention my various editing dalliances and numerous rough drafts along the way, I feel like I have a bit more perspective on my writing process than I did when I started this blog. That means it’s time to confront some of my overconfidence.

There’s nothing like finishing your first novel to make you think you know what you’re doing. You wrote a book. You conquered. Now you are equipped to sit sagely, handing out advice, telling others how to climb their own mountains, banish their own demons, etc, etc. It becomes uncomfortably obvious that you don’t actually know what you’re talking about when your own advice doesn’t help you write your next book.

I’ve noticed a pattern with myself. Every time I write something, big or small, I end up thinking I know who I am as a writer, how my process works. But this is a stultifying, dangerous perspective, because it limits my ability to move forward.

When I finished TIB, I knew that I was a writer who drafted in chronological order, who wrote quickly and edited quickly, who needed a minimal number of drafts. I looked at my success and told myself, okay, whipping out a book each year is easy. Knowing that I hadn’t pushed myself as hard as I could with TIB meant I could probably even manage two books per year. (Wow, Liz. Wow. I did not raise you to be this arrogant.)

Through that experience, I learned a great deal about the mechanics of my editing process, which I consider to be, in many ways, divorced from my writing process. How I approach the editing itself has never changed. I rewrite everything word for word. I subtract in the second draft, add in the third. My brain works well with that sort of structure. But the way I go about editing—the broader picture, how I approach the draft as a whole—differs.

There were things I learned through the TIB experience that I thought were steadfast aspects of my writerly identity. I got up early—4:00 am early—every morning, and wrote with my Earl Grey in bed, listening to music. I wrote after school, until supper, and after supper I wrote more. Weekends I worked late into the night after watching Star Trek. I was a writing machine.

After TIB, I picked up DRACONIAN, and I thought, with all this new knowledge and, gasp, expertise that I have garnered, surely this will be a breeze. Spoilers. It was a breeze in the way that a hurricane force wind that rips your clothes off and lands you a free trampoline in your demolished backyard could be considered a breeze. What’s worse is that the whole experience was deceptively fun at first. Drafting it was straightforward. Even the first round of editing wasn’t so horrible, though it took longer than I had planned. I was still pleased with my story, still confident that I knew what I was doing.

Then disaster struck. It was inevitable, a land slide that started ages before, whose rumblings I chose to ignore. The whole time I was working on DRACONIAN, I was querying agents for TIB. I think I sent out letters for six months to a year. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but it was a while. I received a stream of rejections for even longer than that. One came five months or so after I marked it off as an assumed rejection. I could give you more accurate numbers, but opening that Excel spread sheet is a walk in a different sort of park, the kind where you need to carry shivs and mace and everyone looks at you like you would be fun to murder.

I received an onslaught of rejections. Had I so desired, I could have printed them out and folded enough origami swans to have like, fifty origami swans. (Seriously, how am I not published?)

I experienced some life changes around this time. I graduated high school, got my first job. Then I moved to Virginia and started rooming with my sister. Like, literally rooming. Our first apartment was a single room, with a bathroom and a shared kitchen. All of these various events made my 4:30/4:00 am mornings first improbable, then impossible. I think it was easy to let that routine go, to not fight for it, and then to tell myself that I was failing at writing because, see, I wasn’t able to get up early in the mornings anymore.

What made the whole situation more unbearable is that I had a beta reader, on what I think was the third draft, who hated my book and tore it to shreds. I had it in my mind that you are allowed to ignore beta feedback you don’t think will make your story better, but you aren’t allowed to ignore feedback out of spite or because you’re hurt by it. I figured that I had to overcompensate for my emotions by listening to everything she said, no matter how untrue it felt to my story. Eventually I reached a point, some ten thousand words before the end, when I finally realized that if I looked at another one of her critiques, I was probably going to delete my entire draft.

When I handed my poor, battered book-child off to my next critique partner, this time my sister, she pointed out that all the edits I had input in the name of responding well to criticism had caused my book to take a massive step backwards. I don’t want to write a harangue on beta readers, because they are a necessary part of the process, but it really shook me, the whole experience, has made me a lot slower to seek out feedback from strangers, even vetted ones.

In 2017 I got DRACONIAN to the point where I felt it was as close to done as I could make it, so I started querying. I think I sent out around twelve query letters before realizing they all had a pretty glaring typo in them, which I had somehow missed even when I tried to fix it. I think that, more than anything, shows me how horrible my eating disorder brain fog was. And I was still trying to function like I was at 100%.

I didn’t hear back from most of those agents. One super sweet, super kind agent gave me some light, personalized feedback on my first fifty pages, and she said basically what I had been fearing, that, among other things, my world building needed more work.

I didn’t make any sort of set decision, but it just kind of happened naturally. I always meant to send out more queries, did the research on more agents, prepped more letters. I never sent them. (Don’t despair. I haven’t trunked DRACONIAN. I have another editing update that I plan to post soon.)

The lesson from that whole experience, as I saw it through the lens of how I felt as a writer post TIB, is that my writing process worked, but that I was broken. I couldn’t stick to the roadmap, so something must have been wrong with my vision.

I’m not going to argue that there was one single thing that I did wrong in the process with DRACONIAN that, if avoided, would have altered the entire course of events. There were so many things that went wrong, and there were additional factors that were out of my control.

But let’s move on to HIRAETH. I drafted HIRAETH out of order, just threw everything on the page, and none of it made sense, but all of it was exhilarating. The adults had exited the building; I could do whatever I wanted. I could make as much of a mess as I needed to in order to draft the thing, because I didn’t have to clean it up in any sort of hurry. My only plan for the story, at that point, was to share it on this blog someday, maybe, if it was good, if I felt like it. Zero pressure for me to perform. That release made it fun for me, made the story a refuge, something secret I got to keep for myself.

What I’ve learned, I think, is that my writing process doesn’t exist. With TIB, I wrote how I felt I was supposed to write, in order, quickly, with more confidence than was my due. With DRACONIAN, I thought that I could apply the same mold and get the same results. I thought I could ignore everyone saying your sophomore novel is the one that makes you want to quit, because I thought I was special and therefore exempt.

Here is something that you should know. You are allowed to write however you want, and you don’t have to have any set way you do things. Whatever works for you in the moment is your writing process. You can write at home for one book, at a coffee shop for another, in your unsuspecting neighbor’s basement for your next. Whatever gets the words on the page.

I think it’s maybe a bad idea to label yourself as a panster or a plotter, to force yourself into that dichotomy. If that works for you, awesome, and if you want the label, then wear it proudly. I spent so long telling myself that I was a panster that I never even let myself try plotting, except with the understanding that it was something I would hate. It’s hard to explain that brain space. Your subconscious takes over, turns your preconceived notions into rules which you follow to your detriment. You don’t like something because you tell yourself you don’t like it.

I outlined HIRAETH. True, I did so after the fact, when I had a handful of random scenes I was juggling, when I had to bring some semblance of order to the words on the page, but that was something I would have never even let myself consider before.

That’s what I’m trying with BMT, outlining, writing out of order, pantsing, a little bit of everything. For the first time in four years with this book, I think I finally see a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. (Although it’s weird, because I keep hearing these choo choo noises. Anyone know what that’s about?)

All this being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if, three years down the line, I decide to write a new post about how wrong I am in this one. So this is nothing definite, just something I am mulling over. But writing it down has helped me put my thoughts in order, and I hope reading it will help you too.

That’s it for today, coffee beans. What are some misconceptions you have had about your writing process along the way?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Life Update 2 // Upheaval and No Internet

I never got around to finishing my series of life updates before November rolled around, so this blog is going to maintain its status as update central for the next few posts, I think. Let’s take a quick break from writing to talk about life. (What am I saying? Writing is life.)

I guess the first thing I want to cover doesn’t come first chronologically, but it’s the easiest to talk about, and so I’ll lead with it. I moved. Not far—I’m still in Virginia. This has been my third move, and my third town, in as many years. Our original deal with our landlords was that we could rent their basement until their daughter decided to return home to live with them. Long story short, that’s what ended up happening, and they were able to give us sixty days to find a new apartment and move out. For some of you, sixty days may feel like a wealth of time, and we managed, but we were also supposed to be traveling for roughly two weeks of that, which made it more interesting.

We’ve been all moved into our new apartment for three months now. The downside to our new place is that we don’t have internet. My understanding is that our landlords have tried to get internet, but providers aren’t willing to come out and give service to this area. VA encounters issues like this, despite how wealthy this county is. Actually, in some ways, because of it, since when you’re rich you think you can afford to demand that there be no ugly eyesores like cell towers and at the same time ask yourself why you never have more than one bar of reception. So yeah, no internet, and while my sister and I have unlimited data on our phones, there are only a few spots in the apartment where we can access the LTE network. Eventually we will look into a booster, but that hasn’t been our priority.

The silver lining to this whole situation is that, while it’s not especially convenient to not have internet, and I’m not being rewarded a million dollars for my suffering as certain memes have hinted, my productivity has skyrocketed. I no longer have the option of sitting around on YouTube, unless I wanted to stand outside and enjoy the brisk, below freezing breeze. This has turned writing into a generally more appealing option.

We live in an expensive county, and while we were blessed with low rent two apartments in a row, our new place is significantly more expensive, so I’ve been picking up more hours at work. (We also pet sit for our landlords on the regular, which lowers the rent. Their dogs are adorable, too, so that’s a perk.)

This all leads me to my next update, which is a long time in coming, but for months I wasn’t ready to share, and I couldn’t give you all the details, even if I’d wanted to. I got a new job ten months ago. I work at a pie shop now, and I love it. Sure, I have to deal with rude, angry, thoughtless, indecisive, clueless people all day, intermingled with the regulars I’ve come to love. But I love my boss, my coworkers, the location. (It’s smack dab in the middle of town, houses squeezed together and businesses clustered like close friends, but there’s a field WITH COWS IN IT, like, RIGHT BESIDE THE ROAD. Businesses, houses, COWS, more buildings. *shakes head*) The work is physical and challenging, but even though I’m on my feet all day, lugging around heavy trays of pie, I don’t go home every night feeling like I have to crawl into bed. I don’t spend my days off trying not to have an anxiety attack at the creeping thought that it’s a matter of time before I will have to go back to work. Probably I will talk someday about what it’s like as an eating disorder survivor working at a pie shop, but today is not that day.

I needed to take another step in my personal growth, and getting a new job was that step. Phrasing it that way feels a little dishonest to me, because it implies that there was an abundance of agency on my part, and in retrospect I did make a life-changing decision and act of my own accord for my own good, but at the time I felt like I got backed into a corner. I was extremely unhappy in my old job. It had been getting worse, and I had been buying into the lie that another job, especially in a secular environment, would be just as bad. Things reached a breaking point when I finally decided to speak up about something that had been happening to me. The whole situation was really dark (to the point where I drove around, for several days, with a teddy bear in my passenger seat as moral support), but the bright spots were equally bright. Prime example: the day after I quit my job, where they were kind enough to let me leave without an official two weeks’ notice, and where they also gave me thirty days paid leave, I had my job interview at the shop, and I was able to start work the next week. I could have started sooner, if I had wanted to, but I needed time to collect myself.

Now I work more hours than I used to, at higher pay, and while I’m not rolling in wealth, I have a better shot at independence than I did before. Mostly I’m just happy to have more money for Starbucks.

I’ve had to gloss over a lot of details in this update, and I will have to skip a lot more before it’s done, because there are people I don’t want to hurt, and there are people who will be angry at me if I talk about what they did, are already angry at me for telling the truth in other venues. But if I’m going to tell you everything that’s been happening in my life, I am not going to skip over the most glaring section. You have the right to know, and I have the right to talk about it.

The bare bones is this, and maybe I’m saying too much, but I want to say something. I left my job because it turned toxic, and while that specific issue was resolved beautifully, and the person I had to forgive is a better friend than before, another issue popped up after that. And another. Because it wasn’t the job that was toxic, it was the people and the environment they created. These people were my friends; this was my church. I came to them for help when someone was leaving me afraid for my safety and well-being, and they punished me for it. They punished my sister for standing up for me and trying to clarify details that had been lost in the mix. They betrayed us in ways we should have expected and braced for, but didn’t because we thought too highly of them. I worked for almost three years to achieve a level of vulnerability and trust with my church friends that I now regret. I think it would take an actual miracle for me to go back to attending that church, and there are certain people that I never want to see again.

Someday, I think I want to talk about how Christians fail, because not enough people are having this discussion, or allowing it, and it benefits no one when we hide our ugly. Now I understand why people leave their churches, leave the community, leave the faith. This is not a hurt that is easily described or overcome. So if you are the praying type, I would appreciate your prayers. This happened five months ago, but I’m still living in the aftermath, and I’m going to be honest with you, I am having a very hard time forgiving these people. I have spoken to my therapist numerous times about how to do this, and I am trying.

I realize this update got dark pretty fast, and I apologize if it was too depressing for you. I appreciate you sticking with me. If you’re worried about me, please don’t be. I have my writing, and I have my job. I have a new house, and I have a few friends still left to my name. I will be okay. But I wanted to be honest with you about what’s been happening, and this is where I’m at.

What about you, coffee beans? What are some hard times you’ve been experiencing lately?

Friday, December 7, 2018

NaNoWriMo Shenanigans // Part Two

And now for part two of my NaNoWriMo update. If you're looking for part one, you can find it here

After finishing draft two of HIRAETH, I had plenty of NaNoWriMo stretching out before me and, in the spirit of the month, I wanted to churn out a ton more words. But I had a serious book writing hangover. I wanted to be working on HIRAETH. I wanted to be reading HIRAETH. I wanted to crawl inside it and let it seep into my blood. Other books felt dumb and boring in comparison. So I did what any rational person would do—I decided to tackle the project that has, every time I’ve touched it, given me the worst case of writer’s block ever. It’s name is BMT.

This book and I, we’ve known each other for four years. I spent a whole year daydreaming about it before we got together. We’re that couple that everyone gapes at and then asks themselves, “Why are they even together?” BMT has begun to feel like a running joke to me. Am I feeling bad about my writing? I can always pick up BMT and feel worse. Do I want to turn my brain into sad writer soup? I know where to turn.

It was almost NaNoWriMo suicide. Every day, I felt my gaze wandering from BMT to other projects, other words. I wanted to cheat on that book so bad. I did have a quick fling with a short story, but it was over in a day, and then I was back, staring at BMT’s ugly mug. Sometimes I think that my continued dedication to wrestling this book into submission is proof that I really do dislike myself.

I ended up editing a lot of what I had edited in 2016 and 2017, just running the story through my fingers, trying to get the threads, trying to figure out what went wrong, where it went wrong, where it always goes wrong. I drafted some stuff, too, in an effort to break from my normal chronological headspace and write out of order like I did when I was drafting HIRAETH in 2016. (To clarify, I wrote a full rough draft for BMT in 2015, but most of it is rancid garbage and so I am trying to start fresh.)

Eventually I had to rip off the bandage and look at the ugly, infected sore I’ve been dancing around for four years. I hate this book. I hate almost everything about it. Nothing works. The colors are wrong, the feel is wrong, everything is wrong, wrong, wrong, but there is just enough right, hidden beneath it all, that I have not been able to walk away, still don’t want to walk away. I wrote a super long list of all my problems with the story, everything that makes me want to stop writing and, instead, knit sweaters for snakes in the Arizona desert (you know, so they won’t get cold at night). Then I took that list of problems, and I brainstormed ways to address each issue. It seems obvious that I should have done this years ago, so maybe I lose some writer cred in saying I didn’t think to do it sooner, but I didn’t think to do it sooner.

Some of the issues were easy to address. For instance, I needed to establish clear rules within which my time travel world was going to operate. My story has been plagued with inconsistencies and plot holes spawned mainly by my inability to put up a fence around my playground. I’d waffled, writing one scene where time travel works one way, another where it works differently, and this zig zag running made it difficult to head in any set direction. It was starting to feel like that whole “sound and fury, signifying nothing” scenario. The quote feels especially apt, because most days I end up feeling like BMT is more than just a little melodramatic.

Here’s another fun confession. Lazy writers make ugly art, and I was making ugly art. I spent so much time avoiding scenes that I knew I needed to include, and it left my story flimsy and overwrought. I avoided those scenes because some subconscious part of my brain that I wasn’t willing to look at or address kept telling me they were too technically challenging to write, that I wasn’t the sort of writer who could write scenes like those, so there was no point in even trying, and the hilarious thing is that I think I spent so much more energy trying to write around those scenes, trying to write out of sinkholes I wrote myself into, than I would have if I’d just done the work. Lesson learned. Don’t be a lazy, fearful writer. Do the hard thing. It probably won’t kill you.

The topper on this sad wedding cake of a relationship is that I don’t like the characters. No, that’s not accurate. I don’t like the color beige; I don’t like the smell of lilacs. I hate the characters, every single one of them. I can’t expect any reader to love these characters if I don’t even want to look at them. I can’t write this story if I don’t want to spend time in its world. I’m still brainstorming solutions for this issue, because it’s extensive, and I may need to do some character transplants, if that’s a thing. But I’ve named the monster—I know what it looks like. Now all I have to do is cut off its head.

There are more issues, but I think everything else can be dealt with by plotting and planning and taking notes, and since I am no longer allergic to outlining, even though it isn’t what comes most naturally to me, I don’t expect that will be much of an obstacle.

As for what the story itself is about, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll summarize it here: When Ember’s attempt to use black market time to save her boyfriend fails horribly, she kidnaps a time traveler and sets off to undo her mistake before time runs out.

Here, have two completely out of context snippets. Also, please note that Vince and Fred are stand in names until I think of something better.

She turns to Vince. “Tell me about the scanners.”

He glares at her.

Her hand rests on her gun, still tucked into her shoulder holster. “You know, the sooner we save Fred, the sooner I set you free and you can go to a hospital. I would get to work, if I were you.” As she says it, she sees the thought she has tried to hide from herself, only lets her mind touch it for a moment before wrenching it away, back to the task at hand. If she lets him go, he will tell her grandfather, and it will ruin everything. She does not think she will be able to let him walk away from this, even if she wants to.

“Tell me how we’re going to find him, then.” Ember tries to focus on the word he used, disintegration, how it sounds too much like decomposition. Until now, the solution has seemed fairly straightforward to her. Grab Fred from the time vortex, pull him out. She hasn’t considered that they might be working with a very small window in which saving him will matter.

“Finding him should be easy enough,” Vince says, and she has to focus on his words to understand them, her thoughts are so distant and scattered. “The scanners are always on, always tracking and recording activity in the vortex. So they will show when he entered and where he’s been since he did. We can extrapolate from there where he’s likely to end up next, and how long he’s likely to hold together. A lot of it will be guesswork, but we’ll have a starting point and a framework to go on.”

Ember nudges him aside and takes a seat at the desk. Almost without thinking, she traces her hand across the screen, feels the fuzz of static beneath her fingers. For an instant, as she watches the hundreds of blips, she feels as if she could will them all to safety, clear out the time vortex with nothing more than wishful thinking.

She doesn’t know why they are all there, but there are so many blips, more than she could have ever guessed. The longer she looks at them, the more they seem like bacteria on a slide, stained blue and viewed through a microscope. They move in imperfect circles, intersecting, bouncing off each other, every blip its own center of gravity, like they’re hitched onto one point in time, and they’re spinning around it in ever widening revolutions. It’s not as clean as that, but that’s how she prefers to look at it. Which one is Fred? She massages her temples, tries not to think about how good a strong cup of coffee would be right now.

She turns away from the scanner, her pulse a jackhammer in her throat. “Okay, so tell me which one he is.”

And that’s it for today, Coffee Beans. Have you ever spent a long time working on a project you don’t like? Have you ever conquered writing a story with characters you can’t stand? Teach me your ways.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

NaNoWriMo Shenanigans // Part One

How did my NaNoWriMo go, you ask? Let me tell you, it went better than I thought. I realize that sounds anticlimactic, considering how disappointing last year was for me. If you’ll recall, my goal was to write anywhere between 50K and 100K words. I ended up with 121,121. Definitely not something to turn up your nose at. Compared to last year, when I felt like I was digging words out of my brain with a spoon, this NaNo was a cakewalk. Even in the best month, not every writing day is going to be amazing. Most days are just average. But this month was full of more amazing days than I think was my fair allotment.

I’m going to cover this NaNo update with two posts, because I worked on two major projects, and I have a lot to gush about. I also figure I’ll share a snippet or two per project, because I’m feeling magnanimous.

You might recall that, way back in November 2016, I drafted a story I have oft referred to as my Super Secret Novella Side Project (SSNSP). My plan had been to whip that thing into shape and share it on my blog, back when it was supposed to be, you know, a novella. Then I got sick, and it sat untouched for a long time. When I finally picked it up and started working on it again, it was only as (brace for it) a side project, something I pulled out when my main WIP was stalling. Somewhere along the line, I decided that while it would make a decent novella, I also wanted to expand on it and explore how it would play out as a novel.

I may have, from time to time, referred to SSNSP as GITM, though I can’t remember. Either way, GITM is a meaningless title, a stand in with little relevance to what the story has become, so feel free to forget it immediately. When I began drafting it in 2016, I’d wanted to write a story with a glitch in the matrix sort of feel, so that’s what I called it, but it very quickly veered off course to something I like a whole lot better. Right now, it still doesn’t have an official title, but I’m changing the stand in to HIRAETH, which is a great deal more applicable.

When I started work on it this November, it was a feeble, 20K word story, gap-toothed and malnourished. I already had a chunk of it edited, but my main challenge was to beef it up and give it a good, thorough scrubbing.

About halfway through the month, I finished the draft, which is a weird sort of draft 2 hybrid. Let me clarify. My first draft was 100,000 words or so of mayhem, in which I drafted the story multiple times, back to back and in no particular order, trying to get a handle on what I wanted to say. Then I went into an editing frenzy and hacked away at it, keeping only the scenes and, in most cases, paragraphs that I thought had potential. I had the gall to call it a second draft, but it was only an 8,000 word, semi-coherent, extra-detailed outline. That round included zero editing, only chopping, so it doesn’t deserve a draft number, in my opinion. Then I started adding to it and editing as I went, that being the process I finished this November. I’m choosing to call this completed draft a second draft, because that’s how it looks chronology-wise, but I’ve been told it’s very clean for a second draft, and it certainly feels that way.

Currently, it is still a feeble book-thing. It weighs 42,000 words soaking wet, which, translated into normal-people-speak, is not even 200 pages. I love it. I love it to pieces. I have already read it twice through, just for fun, and I don’t normally do that sort of thing, because it’s hard not to see flaws everywhere I look. This book has been the easiest, most painless piece of writing I have ever pulled from my brain box, and it’s a breath of fresh air on the heels of DRACONIAN.

I still need to feed it some protein powder to give it muscles, because it’s a scrappy little thing, and my goal has gone from being a nice person and sharing it on this blog, to seeking out traditional publishing. I’ll need to insert some scenes, at least 8,000 words worth, (which feels like coming full circle) and I have some anxieties about that, because the pacing feels tight, and I don’t want to throw off the balance I think I’ve achieved. But I also have to make the science in it accurate and sufficiently nerdy, and I’ve got some ideas. I’m ruminating. I already got one set of beta feedback, which made me cry happy tears.

Here’s a quick rundown on what it’s about, without giving too much information: The crew of the Hiraeth, the most advanced spaceship Earth has ever produced, is tasked with terraforming a planet lightyears from home, but soon the mission devolves into chaos as the ship begins to break down, and, one by one, people start to go mad.

I could gush about this thing forever, but I think I’ll end up turning into one of those moms who talks up their snot-nosed little Johnny so much everyone secretly hopes Lassie will push him into the well. So I’ll just leave you with this snippet.

Objectively, you know that there are six thousand windows on the Hiraeth. Until recently, you had not realized exactly how many windows that is. It is a staggering number. You can avoid them a great deal during the day, if you stick to the inner portions of the ship. Where they present the most trouble for you is when you are on the flight deck, which contains the largest window of them all, and when you walk to your quarters at night. For whatever reason, the ship’s designers thought the captain would want a view of the outdoors, and so they built your quarters on the outer ring. You must walk along a corridor of windows to reach your room, and once inside, you are faced with another. It is almost as if they thought you would want to look out at the stars.

Over the past couple nights, you have considered relocating your quarters, but for a long list of reasons—the first being convenience and the last being your desire to maintain an appearance of normalcy—you have decided not to do that yet.

With every window you pass on the stretch of corridor, like an endless house of mirrors, you feel eyes on you. It’s subtle. If you force yourself to focus on other things, you can even forget it for a while. But then, inevitably, you remember—you feel it again. It’s less a sense of being watched and more of being observed. Not like being seen, like being looked at. So there it stays, in the back of your mind, an adrenaline drip building up in your blood.

That’s it for today, Coffee Beans. If you participated in NaNoWriMo, what projects did you work on? What are you excited about (writing or otherwise)?