A Post about Negativity and Writing

I received a lovely comment from Beatrice (hi Beatrice!) asking for some writing advice / general thoughts about the process of being a writer.

Beatrice writes:

How often do you work, how often do you write? I find it hard to work a job and also find the time to write.

This is a doozy of a question! I work about 40+ hours a week, including my actual time working shifts at the coffee shop, and then whatever things I have to do outside of my shifts (e.g. do sales tax, go to the bank, pick up supplies, manage crises–of which there are a lot!–and do upkeep on my relationship with vendors and the like).

In regards to writing, I haven’t done a whole lot since taking over the coffee shop three years ago. My goal is 30 minutes a day, usually before I go to the gym after my shift ends at 2:30 PM. Lately, though, most of those 30 minutes have been devoted to trying to figure out a print version of STAR-CROSSED, re-reading parts of my next novel ENCHIRIDION, or submitting some old short stories to literary mags. I count all of this as ‘writing,’ though, because it’s all part of the process that contributes to my career as an author.

But, my advice is: start off slow! If 30 minutes a day sounds like too much, then do 10 or even five! Even thinking about a story you’d like to write while you’re showering or doing the dishes counts as drafting or planning, which is, to me, an important step in my writing process. Got a few moments at work? Plan out what happens next, or do a quick character sketch or plan out an environment. Even a few moments a day just thinking about writing can help, once you finally put pen to paper.

You’ll be surprised how, once you make a habit of it, how easier it is to build that writing muscle and go for 45 minutes, maybe even an hour.

(Back when I was writing almost full time, three years ago, I remember spending one Tuesday afternoon writing for six hours, just like a real job! Now, that would be pretty impossible, but I’m working on getting my writing stamina back up. Just like riding a bike or playing tennis, writing is an exercise that you have to repeat over and over until it’s basically just routine.)

And if you’re struggling to sit down and write, it happens to the best of us! There are days where I seriously plop down in front of my computer and stick my tongue out and stare at a blank, blinking cursor for twenty minutes and then give up. Where it becomes most difficult is not actually giving up, and instead, making yourself go for just a little longer, even if what you produce (or don’t produce) is utter crap. Just feel accomplished for what you DID do, and promise to do better.

(I recently started running and the similarities between the two is astounding. A few months ago I couldn’t even run for 4.5 MPH for half an hour, but now I’m already running faster and for longer. It just takes patience and commitment.)

Beatrice continues:

How do you deal with those who believe writing is “easy” and “everyone can do it”? I’ve encountered those people a lot; they view me as a narcissist or egotistical because I have the “gall” to call myself a writer when I haven’t been published yet.

First of all: shut down those haters. Even if one of them is inside of your own head. You have every right to call yourself a writer, even if you haven’t been published, even if you never will be published (which I doubt will be the case–persistence!). The most important thing is to call yourself whatever you want (in this case, a writer!) because you gotta dress for the job you want, not the job you have. In this case, the dress is your mental picture of yourself, but the same rules apply.

I, too, before I got published, felt weird calling myself an author, but one day, someone asked what I did for a living as part of a small chat and I just blurted it out: “I’m a writer!” Didn’t matter that only my friends and mom had read my stuff (hi mom!), and it didn’t matter that I had only been writing a weird sort of teenage angst vampire novel, I said it and truly believed it and have never looked back.

In regards to the fact that ‘writing is easy,’ I would say it never has been for me. I struggle to write every single word in every single sentence I’ve ever composed. I ache for the right words and I reach and grasp and barely get finished, just to start over again in the next paragraph. And then the next. Until, finally, hundreds of thousands of words later, TA DA! I have something.

But that’s just me. Maybe for some people it IS easy, but that doesn’t mean that their work is better than mine or that mine is better because I slave over it. It just means we have different processes. And even for me, sometimes it is easy. I can sit down, and, in what seems to be seconds, look at the clock and realize it’s already been three hours and I’ve gotten down 2,000 words. But most of the time, it’s not. You just have to find a pace that feels right to you and most importantly: NEVER GIVE UP.

Which leads to:

So my last question is, can you do a blog post on what has and hasn’t worked for you as a writer? Not just writing but mentality wise too (like letting go of negative thoughts etc.)

There is a thing (and it’s totally a real thing) called Impostor Syndrome, where a person, no matter how successful or how accomplished they are, feels like they’re not good enough or that they’ll never amount to anything. Pretty much every author or artist or engineer or doctor I’ve talked to has suffered through this at one point or another. It’s the inability to internalize accomplishments, which leaves you feeling like you’ll never be good enough, even contrary to concrete proof.

Case in point: when I got my first short story published, I thought it was a fluke. “Well, they only wanted it because they’re a fledging magazine and they were desperate,” I thought. When my second one happened it was, “Well, I knew the editor.” When the third and fourth came around, it was, “Well, they’re already familiar with my work and they didn’t have the heart to tell me no, even though they didn’t REALLY like my story.”

I still, hard-core, rationalize that all of my accomplishments weren’t really because of me, but because of dumb luck or nepotism or something equally implausible. I have a hard time sitting myself down and saying, “No, it’s because they actually like your work and they want to share it with others.” But, slowly, I have been working in banishing thoughts like that and not simply because more stories are getting published, but because I am becoming more confident in my skills and, not only that, but realizing that there are people out there who simply won’t like my work, just because.

And that’s fine! Once you realize you can’t please everybody, you lose some of that fear that makes it impossible to recognize your own talent. I sort of have this mentality that when I get my first negative review of my novel, it’ll be like an ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Someone who doesn’t have my ego in mind read my work and is offering me a different perspective.

So, I look at it as an opportunity to find any weaknesses in my own writing and then change, or, simply shrug and think that, “steampunk zombie comedies just aren’t for everyone.” Which, they aren’t. And that’s okay.

I think the key is to embrace that aspect of fearlessness and be confident that your best is your best right now and not everyone will like it. Some people might even hate it, but there’s nothing you can do except to NEVER GIVE UP and trudge along. See it as a point to take any criticism and improve or to simply ignore. All you can control is your reaction; you cannot control what other people say or think, nor should you.

My last piece of advice is this: write write write write. Write until your fingers are sore. Write until your pen runs out of ink or your computer loses all of its juice. Even if what you think sucks is what you’re writing, continue to write it. I promise that a few weeks later you’ll look over it and think, “Oh, that’s not so bad after all!” The worst thing to do is to stop and allow other people or your own head to think that you should quit while you’re ahead because then the haters have won, and they’ve stopped you from doing something that obviously you need and want to do.

You’re only as good as the last thing you’ve written. And I know that seems tough and like you’ll never get there. (I just finished my first novel and am thinking, “WHAT? You want me to do that AGAIN?” But I know I need to.) But just 10 minutes a day and eventually, you’ll have a spectacular piece that you can be proud of and show to the world (or just keep it to yourself!) What matters is what you derive out of writing and how it can make your life better. Writing, though you should treat it like a job, should never FEEL like a job.

Good luck, Beatrice! Thank you so much for the thoughtful response. I really appreciate your input and your questions and am humbled that you were brave enough to ask.

(My last point in this novel, I promise. If you want to know more about Impostor Syndrome and how it affects artistry, I highly recommend Amanda Palmer’s THE ART OF ASKING. She is far more eloquent on the subject and has more advice to tackling being a woman in an artistic industry and how to deal with the life/work/writing balance.)

 

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Read RETRIEVER in Luna Station Quarterly

The newest news is that my short story RETRIEVER, has been published by the lovely people over at Luna Station Quarterly.

Read it HERE.

I highly recommend buying a copy of the magazine (linky here for paperback and here for ebook) because they’re actively supporting women writers in sci-fi/fantasy, which is obviously a cause that’s very near and dear to my heart.

In other news: STAR-CROSSED has sold a few copies, which is delightful, but a wee bit disappointing in that I set ridiculous expectations for myself. (Emkay, why aren’t you James Patterson famous, yet?) BUT! I will trudge forward, gallantly into the bright, shiny future (heya, Lenin!), write another book, make that book cheap, and then put STAR-CROSSED out for free and see if I can’t get this live-by-writing train a choo-chooing.

In the meanwhile, my comic is still moving along nicely, too. The chosen name is GOING STILL (and you can follow us once we get going in January via le Twitter). Which, you should just click that link anyway and go see the fantabulous art that Stevie has come up with and get super stoked for pages to be released.

 

Pre-Order Star-Crossed Now!

Hello, faithful followers!

Today marks the day when you can pre-order my debut novel, STAR-CROSSED: THE CONFOUNDING CALAMITIES OF BYRON THE CAD AND MARIETTA THE ZOMBIE from Amazon!

Follow the linky-link here!

It releases on Halloween, as I said in my last post and I would be so wonderfully grateful if you’d drop a line and review it!

(Here comes the obligatory I-am-not-one-of-those-crazy-authors-you-see-wrecking-stuff-up-because-of-a-bad-review. I genuinely want ALL feedback, regardless of the number of its stars. How else am I going to become a better author?)

So…now that this one is done….WHAT DO?

Write the next one, I guess. *huff*

Halloween Release Date

Exciting news, friends!

I have decided upon a Halloween release date for my self-published novel STAR-CROSSED: THE CONFOUNDING CALAMITIES OF BYRON THE CAD AND MARIETTA THE ZOMBIE. I mean, Halloween = Zombies and Zombies = Witty Dialogue and Witty Dialogue = MY NOVEL, so it all checks out.

I’m going to start out on the Amazon Kindle and then move to everywhere else in the market. Print books will come soon, too.

Below is a little re-vamped (ha! see what I really didn’t do there but totally could if I wanted?) cover for the Kindle version! It’s slightly greener, and as we all know, GREEN = ZOMBIES (and maybe the Hulk), so that checks out, too.

You sure do have a purty cover

I’m really only expecting to sell about fifty copies (and those all coming from my friends, family, and those I have threatened with bodily harm) but anything could happen. I’ve had to really re-assess what it means to me to be a writer and what I want from my life as a novelist. Is it more important to be seen (i.e. get published no matter what) or is it more important to find an agent and go the traditional route and continue to shop a somewhat unmarketable novel around until, years later, it may or may not ever be published?

I’ve had three different publishing houses request this manuscript and each one has given me the feedback: “Yes, we like it! It’s really well written with a unique world and great dialogue, but:

  • it’s not a romance novel (which was so cute because I’m probably one of the few authors who doesn’t ACTIVELY put a romantic plot in her writing)
  • it’s TOO world build-y and there was too much detail in the first chapter to explain
  • it’s TOO clever”

Which pretty much sums up all of the criticism I’ve received about my short stories too, so I’m now of the understanding that STAR-CROSSED is just too weird, too niche, and too genre-bending to find an agent or a house any time within the next decade.

So it came down to deciding that I’m more interested in having other people read my work, regardless of who publishes it. The stigma is slowly going away for self-published authors and I have edited/re-written/fine-tuned the ever-loving shit out of this thing, so it’s time to give it one last spit-shine and send it into the world, like a turtle leaving its eggs to hatch and find the ocean by themselves. (That metaphor kinda fell apart, but you get the gist.)

HALLOWEEN. YOU. ME. A STEAMPUNK ZOMBIE NOVEL.

I think the best part is going to be talking to my mom after she (unsuccessfully) tries to read my novel.

“It was…interesting, dear. Good job. You finally did it. Why do they have to eat other people, again?”

An Announcement: SWORDS V. CTHULU

Fresh off of my last announcement about being an honorary mention for the Kraken Awards, I have more exciting news!

My short story THE THIEF IN THE SAND is going to be published in Stone Skin Press’s Swords v. Cthulu, an anthology that mixes together D&D-style swordplay and Lovecraftian themes. I’ve been told it’ll be out early next year, but the bigger news is that it will be in bookstores.

That’s right, MK-Ultra-ers (which is what I’ve decided to call you), you will be able to read a short story by yours truly in a book. That you bought. From a store. And can hold in your hands.

This is kinda big shit.

Not to mention the fact that I’m sharing a Table of Contents with the likes of Carrie Vaughn, NY Times Bestseller and one of my personal heroes, Jonathan L Howard, writer extraordinaire and author of the Johannes Cabal series, which is one of my favorites and a huge inspiration on my Steampunk Zombies novel.

I squeed quite loudly. Neighborhood dogs were barking.

Pretty soon I’m going to need a WHERE TO FIND ME section!

Also: I’ve been querying kinda hard with Steampunk Zombies after a little interest surged on the Twitter, but, alas, have been rejected by several interested folks. (One even asked for an entire manuscript read, which was a first!) But the train is a-choo-chooing down the self-publishing line and I must follow where the winds blow.

The second draft is in my hands, fresh from my editor and soon to be a third draft. Once the third draft is complete, beta readers will get their grubby mitts upon it and–voila!–there shall be another thing for you to read. In your hands. From the Internet.

Not as cool, but still pretty legit.

An Honorary Mention

Last February, I submitted a short story entitled HOW LILY AND IVAN THE TERRIBLE’S SON SAVED THE WORLD FROM SHAKESPEARE to Devilfish Review, an online magazine that previously published my short story CHRYSALIS in the fall of 2012. Yes, it has a bit of a Snakes on a Plane feel to it, and that’s intentional.

They were holding The Kraken Awards, a short story contest to celebrate their four years of publishing awesome speculative fiction. A few months later…ba DA DA DUM! — an honorable mention appears!

I’m so grateful to Devilfish Review for picking up a weird short story about a girl with colored hair (wonder where I got that idea from?) who has to protect the world from the things that come out of the colored strands at night. A wee bit Lovecraft, a wee bit absurdist (I was writing this whilst writing STAR-CROSSED, my steampunk zombie novel that is just this side of Daniil Kharms when it comes to surrealism), and a lot of puns.

(True story: a lot of magazines have a list of things they DON’T want you to do and one of them — I kid you not — said NO PUNS. My heart was broken a bit that day, as puns are the bread and butter of my writing process.)

I submitted that story high and low — got the feedback once that it was “too clever”– and thought that out of all of the short stories I’ve written, it would be the toughest sell. Of course, now that I’m back into the sending out and receiving rejections game, I think that another short story of mine, THE JAR TREE, is the toughest because it’s written in southern dialect with a little bit of stream-of-consciousness thrown in for good measure. So, the gladness in my heart of it finding a home — and being good enough to be an honorable mention! — has spurred on some new inspiration and has pushed back the impostor thoughts that so often crowd my worldview.

Amanda Palmer, my personal hero, published a book The Art of Askingin which she talks about the “fraud police,” or rather, the thoughts that she’s not good enough, not a real artist and that some shorts-wearing, moustached, uniformed officers are going to cart her off to I’M-A-FRAUD-AND-I-DON’T-KNOW-WHAT-I’M-DOING jail. I think all artists — or at least the ones I’ve come into contact with — have this feeling of not being adequate enough, of writing complete and absolute shit, only to figure out that NO ONE knows exactly what they’re doing and that we’re all just swimming along, doing our best. And that, more often than not, that best is actually kind of awesome. So, with this publication — and another one that’s TOP SECRET, but to-be-announced when I can, I’ve pushed those fraud police away just a little further.

So, without further ado:

HOW LILY AND IVAN THE TERRIBLE’S SON SAVED THE WORLD FROM SHAKESPEARE, by yours truly.

Check out all of the other authors that made the Kraken Awards issue and expand your mind!

A Comic…on the Web

I’m terrible at making names for things, but my working titles are kinda killer.

Along with Blue-Haired Stevie, I am writing a comic book that we’re going to be releasing on the internet that’s a sci-fi film noir about brain ghosts in literal machines.

I have no idea what to call it, but its working title is Fedoras in Space. Because that’s what happens.

Main Character is named after two heroes of mine: Gillian Anderson (aka Agent Scully, and yes, Agent is her first name) and Hayley Atwell (aka Peggy Carter). She investigates strange happenings in the future where Mars has been colonized and the colonists have supplanted their own bodies with so many bionic implants, that they’re almost no human anymore. Atwell and her partner, January Wallace, investigate supposed ‘hauntings’ and uncover a greater plot to destroy all of Mars. Both Gillian and January wear Fedoras and at one point in time, they go into Space.

There is method to my madness.

This is my first time writing a comic book–and although it may seem daunting, I’ve read plenty so I feel like I’ll get my comic-book legs soon enough.

I tried at first to just write down dialogue and then snippets of what was happening visually, but then decided that was just too far from where I normally brainstorm. So, I started just writing a synopsis of what would potentially happen with random dialogue tags and descriptions of scenes I’d really like. I’m hoping to sort of expand from there.

What I’ve learned, though, is that the pacing of a comic book is VERY different from the pacing of say, a short story and even more so than a novel, which is where I am most comfortable. I thought things A,B,C,D, and E would happen all in the first issues (22 pages) but, alas, not even all of A will make it into the final cut. I’ve had to revamp how I develop characters and plot and that’s been rather challenging.

I’ve also had to rethink how I plan out a scene. I’m sometimes dialogue-heavy in my stories, which I thought would be really helpful for a comic book–it’s pretty much all speech bubbles, right–but a conversation that goes on between two characters for a few pages could get visually boring, so I’ve had to spice up how characters say things, when they say them and maybe even leave a lot of what would be said up to the artist to show the audience.

Another thing I’m struggling with is knowing that Stevie will start to draw it before I’ve finished the entire story. Who even knows how long this comic will go on? We’ve both said we want a definitive ending and don’t want it to go on forever, but still, can I churn out 40, 50 issues? There will be no going back. I’ve been strictly told by Stevie the Artist that I cannot change anything once she’s starting drawing, which means I’m stuck with the strings I lay down and cannot do anything about it. There is no backspace once they’re up. It’s daunting.

We’re also going to be trying to get funding through Patreon–and hopefully get enough patrons to supplement our steady incomes so that we can devote more time to art and writing and become LEGIT ARTISTS. Building a fanbase will probably be extraordinary work, but I think we’re up to the task. And able to make it rad. Do people say rad anymore? Jeez. I’m going to lose my cool card.

This is a journey I’m super excited to be on and will be updating with progress as it is achieved! Stay tuned!