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On Writing, Part 1000

Continuing the discussion from yesterday’s post (shocker, I know – two posts back to back!), I leaned hard on something I’ve already blogged about here, here, here, and here. A writing bujo, story keeper, bullet journal for my books.

I went back to all the notebooks detailing the love I have for Shara. How excited I was for her world. I flipped through page after page of sprints and notes I had made about the story and discoveries I made over time.

See, it’s easy to forget the good times when you’re stuck in the bad times. It’s easy to forget how you got out of a mess before. My stuck list (again, thanks Becca) included brainstorming and using good pens and paper. Now I can add actually READING those notes again. Drooling over the sparks of inspiration and joy that ooze on those pages.

Even more importantly, I saw that when I kept track of my word counts and sprints, there were definite patterns.

Let me stop here and explain what I mean about “sprint” because I don’t use it the way most writers probably do. I don’t race. I don’t like to race other writers. The truth is that I’m too competitive (#5 achiever) but I’m also slow (#1 intellection). I want to be the fastest person in the room and if I’m not, I’m uncomfortable. I feel dumb and slow, which only makes me slower. I put too much stress on getting words – and not serving the story. Which results in tossing out garbage that I’m not happy with.

So for me, “sprint” means “dedicated focus time.” I have an app on my phone (Flora) that allows me to set a timer (usually 25 mins). If I hit my goal, I get to grow a plant in my garden. If I grow enough plants, they actually plant a REAL tree for me. Pretty awesome!

Back to looking over my previous bujos. There was a definite trend over time when I was consistently using the word count stickers. (I use a different color highlighter for each sprint, so it’s easy to see how many words I got at a glance.)

I’ve said before that I’m an exponential writer. If you give me a deadline of one year to write a book, I’ll still write 75% of it the week before it’s due. A lot of that is my INFP personality. I need that pressure of a deadline. I thrive when the going gets tough. I need that deadline breathing down my neck to do my best work. (Another reason 2020 was so lackluster – I had to cancel the Sunfires2 release and that really took the wind out of my sails.)

That means that when I first start tracking word counts on a new project (or a “start over” writing moment), I can definitely see low days. 200 words. 250 words. Maybe 700, then back down to 200 the next day. It’s easy to get discouraged when I KNOW I’m fully capable of writing 70K in a month when I’m in the zone. It’s easy to listen to the negative voice that says something must be wrong with the book if it’s this slow. It’s stupid. No one’s going to want to read this stilted garbage.

But if I keep at it, and slowly work up the number of sprints I do, one very easy to see trend emerges. The more sprints I do, the more my word count goes up. If I can get at least 2 sprints in during a day, my average begins to stabilize around 500 words in 25 mins. If I can get up to 4-6 sprints a day, that number goes up again. I start to see some sprints with 700, 800 words.

So the biggest takeaway for me personally: it’s not about the word count in the sprint. At all. It’s about how many sprints I do. If I put the time in. If I sit down and open the file, and get through those miserable 200 word days. If I keep at it….

Eventually the magic is there. It just needs some time to emerge.

To finish Sunfires2, I estimated that I had about 30K left from where I’d stumbled and fallen into a pit of despair. Rather than shooting for a daily word count goal – which does not work for me since I’m exponential! – I sat down and drew a grid in a brand new cool black journal I got from Archer & Olive. If I had 30,000 left, and I generally get an average of 500 words per sprint (my low end), then I needed 60 sprints to finish the book, plus some extras to balance out the grid and give myself the space if I needed it. I set a goal of getting at least 2 sprints done on weekdays, ideally 4 on a good day that the Evil Day Job didn’t blow up in my face, and 6 on the weekend or days off.

And you can see what happened (pics below). Toward the end, my word count was soaring, from 700-900 a day to 3500 at the end. I was hitting the sprints. I found my pace. I finished the book. And it didn’t take all 60 sprints either, because once I kept up, I could get more words in each session. (To keep track of which sprints ended up in the black journal, I used a blue highlighter to mark through the time spot. Ha, you can see a little wine droplet too. Yeah, there was definitely some wine happening toward the end!)

I’ve already started a sprint grid for Broke Down’s epilogue and will continue to use this new journal tool going forward. (In the sprint journal, I used a different fill symbol for each day, so it was easy to see how many I managed to do each day.)

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On Writing, Part 999

Seriously, I think my process has changed a thousand times now.

That’s not a bad thing. Far from it. To survive as a writer since 2003, I’ve had to make several leaps. Successes, followed by failures or dry spells. It’s the nature of the game.

Last year (2020), was hard for a multitude of reasons. The biggest for me personally was divorce. I couldn’t publish anything “big” that might complicate an already complicated situation. But I also had to survive. Readers needed to remember who I was even if I didn’t have a big book. I had to keep my income up as much as possible, so I could continue to pay for my kids’ college, without any major releases.

I learned. A lot. I learned how to work that backlist like nobody’s business. And honestly, I’ve still got a long ways to go there. I am working on getting some of my less KU-friendly series out wide to get some stability outside of the Amazon basket. But that takes time and it’s definitely a learning process. I learned I REALLY did not need to buy all the pretty covers in all the lovely design groups. I’ve been dipping into my stash for individual anthology covers, and I also gave four to my daughter, who dipped her toe into writing as Bobbie Jo Hart.

With all the divorce stress, combined with pandemic nightmares, I really didn’t write a lot of new words. I did write new short stories. I kept up with the promo stuff. Continued to do giveaways, etc. But I just didn’t feel very creative. When I did write, it was a torturously slow process and it was easy to get discouraged.

I didn’t know if I’d ever feel like “me” again. If I’d ever find that black highway at night, roaring down the road with no headlights but seeing everything so perfectly clear.

Instead, I was hunched over the steering wheel barely in a crawl, peeking out a tiny hole in a frosted-up windshield with blowing blizzard winds hiding the road completely.

In desperation, I started looking for new ways to inspire myself. New ways to get some energy pennies back on my plate (thanks, Becca). I was intrigued with her idea of “office hours,” where writers got together on Zoom for quiet sprints, with very regulated and limited convo times in between. But I was too shy to jump into an existing group of people who already were working together seamlessly.

It took some trial and error to figure out what could work for me. Ultimately, my beloved sister proved why she’s so beloved. She too was looking for a way to get back into writing. To sit every day with the words and find a way to complete something. Plus, bonus, we got to see and talk to each other! (Molly has health issues so we’ve not seen each other in over a year to keep her as safe as possible during the pandemic.)

Since Feb. 1st, Molly and I have met via Zoom for “office hours” daily. Some days we talk a lot and only write a little – but we write EVERY DAY. We’re evolving too so that we can write 2-4 sprints in a session, and still talk in between. It’s casual and fun – not regimented. It’s a REWARD to zoom in and get some words, rather than a chore. She’s about twice as fast as me, so I’m hoping that she’ll inspire me to slowly inch my word counts up, but she’s already written around 40K (she actually stopped counting words so it may be much more) this month, and I’ve written 30K.

That’s a huge reason why I’ve already been able to finish two books this year. (Broke Down, though it was finished before Molly and I started zooming, and Queen Takes Sunfires2.)

I have another post on a different thing I’ve starting doing too – I’ll post that tomorrow.

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General Update, Happy Thanksgiving

Oh my, where to begin. It’s been quite the month at least mentally.

The divorce is finally almost wrapped up. I’ll be free on 11/29 and plan to have a party in the Triune! I’m sure there’ll be Zoom and wine and lots of laughs. I went through a few weeks of thinking through my options about what to do with the house, and decided this is NOT the time to move. It’s too scary out there, and finding a rental that would allow 2 dogs and 2 ferrets without costing me $1000 non refundable deposit was impossible. Even finding anything available to rent was difficult, and the list of things I’d have to do to get the house ready to list ASAP was overwhelming.

I had to stop and ask myself a very important question. A question that I’ve not been able to answer in a very very VERY long time.

What do I want to do?

In a perfect world, what’s the best option for me and the kids? What’s the best way for the next few months to unfold?

I know it sounds dumb, but since I was 18 years old, it was never what I wanted to do. It was what “we” wanted to do – and I’m a very adaptive, and yes, passive, person for the most part. I don’t like to rock the boat. I don’t like anyone to be mad at me.

Once I stepped back and really asked myself what would be the perfect outcome… I realized that scrambling to move and list the house was not something I was prepared or wanted to do. I’d have to table my writing projects YET AGAIN. I’d have to use my holiday vacation for stressful packing, moving, and cleaning. Any savings would be sucked up by movers and deposits. It’s just not the right time.

The perfect time will be in the spring. That gives me several months to clean, declutter, minimize, pack non-necessities. That allows time for my youngest to decide where she wants to go for college. I can still finish my book as I planned – as soon as possible! – rather than stressing out about nothing available to rent.

Even more importantly, we can hunker down and wait out the winter surge of COVID. The housing market in my area is really good right now, which was why everyone was telling me to sell, but it’s not worth having strangers in my house fixing or loading things right now, putting us at risk. We cancelled Thanksgiving plans. No big family dinner. My dad stayed home. Molly stayed home. We’re not going to my mom’s. Why on earth would I sacrifice family time – but then risk us all with movers in and out of my home? It just didn’t make sense. If the housing market crashes before I can sell, so be it. At least I’ll have a roof over our heads.

So I’m a little off my schedule with Sunfires2 thanks to all the mental gymnastics I’ve done the past two weeks, but not completely off the rails. I have about 1/4 of the book to write. Maybe 1/3 if the last few scenes get really long. I may not finish this month as I hoped – but it’s definitely SOON.

Today was a cooking day, since my youngest is working at the hospital all day tomorrow. We didn’t do the turkey today because it’s still frozen (I ordered a breast – but got a full 27 lb bird!), but I made some of our usual dishes to eat over the next few days. I’ll hope to roast the turkey tomorrow for carcass soup and homemade noodles. I’ve got a huge stack of dishes to do yet, but I’m hoping to get back to a decent writing schedule and use the next few days to see how far I can get.

If you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so grateful for all of you.

Long live House Isador!

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Intuitive Writing

Hello, my name is Joely and I am an INTUITIVE writer.

Two years ago, I took the Strengths for Writers class with Becca Syme and learned so much about myself. Though I honestly didn’t have enough time right then to dedicate to the class and really learning the materials. That was about when Shara took off, and I was writing like a mad person. Maybe that’s why I’m having to relearn some things now. Or at least remembering to lean into them.

I’ve studied all the plotting methods. They all make sense to me. I love to learn new things (LEARNER is my #3). But when it comes time to actually apply a plotting method to my books… I struggle.

I used to say that I could hold a book in my head. That I saw it all, and I could just dump it out. That’s still true – if I see all the book from the beginning. Sometimes I do get an entire book in a rush. I know exactly how I’m going to end the book. It’s easy to write there. But now that I’m 10+ books into Their Vampire Queen, I can’t hold all the past and future books in my head at the same time. I can’t see that far ahead. Sometimes I can’t even look that far back. I have to refer to my notes.

I don’t have a lot of notes for the future. Oh, some vague ideas, sure. Some hints that I’ve dropped to myself. Some of you in the Triune will ask questions like “What did Kevin ask for when he agreed to become second consiliarius?” And I’m like…. uh…. I don’t know.

I really don’t. I’m not being cute or secretive. I have NO IDEA what he asked for, only that it was important to him and I needed to capture that moment in the contract. When it’s time, I’ll know, and it’ll all make sense and everyone will think it’s brilliant. But all I’m actually doing is brushing away little bits of dirt and rock to reveal the story that I know is hidden underneath.

I can’t capture moments like that in a detailed 3-Act plot structure. If I waited for all that level of detail to become apparent to me, I’d NEVER finish anything.

I’m envious of the writers who can spreadsheet out an outline and follow it. Who can sprint endlessly and whip out 500 words in 20 mins, or double that. When I see the story and know exactly where I’m going, sure, I can do that. But not every sprint. Not every story. Certainly not now, this deep into Shara land. I love writers like Sarra Cannon (her HB90 class is fantastic too) who can color code out scenes by character POV. I love the idea of it. I want to do that SO BAD.

But I fail in execution.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking if I could JUST FIGURE OUT HOW TO PLOT that I would write faster. That’s a lie I tell myself when I’m feeling badly about how slowly I’m writing. I know how to plot. I know the dark moment and all the steps of the hero’s journey. The Save the Cat beats. MICE etc etc That doesn’t mean I can sit down and plot out the entire story using those guideposts. I don’t find inspiration there. I don’t find the story that way. I know those guideposts intuitively, if I trust my process. When I’m down in the dirt carefully excavating the story – I’ll find those beats. That tells me generally where to dig. But it doesn’t help me reveal the story any faster.

Instead, I tell myself if I could just get the magical formula or method that works for me, then all my worries would be over. I indulge the learner, because I do love to learn, sure. But I’m neglecting my #1 strength.

INTELLECTION.

I need the time to think. I am writing in my head even if I’m not at the keyboard. I’m writing when I’m in the shower or doing the dishes or sometimes even watching television. For me, a lot of the writing process happens before I ever get to my laptop. That’s how I finally see the whole beautiful beast. That’s when I write in that glorious rush to finish.

That’s why the first 2/3 of a book can be painful for me. I’m still figuring things out. I’m still thinking. Slowly brushing away clumps of dirt to reveal the story that’s buried below. (With a toothbrush some days, painful but steady.)

Instead of leaning into my #1 strength, I’ve been beating myself up about being too slow.

Instead of giving myself time to think and brainstorm, I’ve been sitting, staring at the blank page, and grueling my way through a few painful paragraphs that seem stilted and stiff. To me, at least, it feels forced. My beta readers disagreed or I wouldn’t have released Queen Takes Venom. That story took MONTHS for me to figure out, even though it was short. There were days I celebrated getting 100 words.

Part of that was definitely impacted by other stressors (COVID, divorce), but I also wasn’t giving myself the focus time I needed to figure things out.

As Becca says, you have to look back at when you got stuck before. How did you get out? What worked?

For me, the best thing I can do is take some paper and colorful pens and just start brainstorming. Jotting notes. Letting my mind wander from thing to thing. Then I research a lot (INPUT is #2). I write some more notes. Follow another rabbit trail. Eventually, I feel the excitement building. I know it’s close. The story is right there, almost….

Until then, I have to be happy with 100-500 word count days. I have to remember the work my mind is doing. Eventually, the big word counts will come. All the threads I’ve been tangling up will suddenly fall into perfect place.

This week, I’ve started scheduling 30 mins each night to just sit and take notes and brainstorm. I haven’t seen it pay out in words yet, but I know it will. I’m getting that excitement back. I’m feeling the story just out of reach. I hear its siren call. Pretty soon, I’ll trade that toothbrush in for a bigger brush, and bigger yet, and then I’ll sit back and look in awe at what has been revealed.

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Sunfire Progress

Good news! I am making progress on Queen Takes Sunfires2 again!

As I’ve posted before, I’m going through a nasty divorce and it’s been really hard to focus for a variety of reasons. I’m still in limbo, but the end is in sight, and I’m trying to gear back up for some decent production.

I had to start small. Like really small. Even the 444 word goal on 4thewords was too much for me most days. I printed out a little NaNoWriMo calendar I got from HB90 and decided I would accept either 250 words or 30 mins of focused, uninterrupted time. Even if that was just re-reading files, plotting, working on characters, etc. I just had to focus for that time. There was no “sprinting” or race.

It also helps that my youngest has to be up for marching band by 6 AM every weekday, so I’ve had about 30 mins before the Evil Day Job each morning to work. That way I’m hitting the file first thing in the morning. Even if I don’t touch it again all day, I still got something done.

It’s slowly paying off. I’m still nowhere near my usual daily word count that I know I’m capable of, but I’m being patient with myself. One day I only got 29 words – but I was working out details for some of Karmen’s sunfires. That was a win. Yesterday, I actually managed just over 1200 new words, as well as edits on a scene I’d written months ago but got stuck in.

I often say that writing is magic for me. I don’t know WHY I do a lot of things, but I just intuitively know it’s right. For example: I was working on Karmen’s charm bracelet to get my mindset back into the world and characters. It had to be gold, naturally, and I didn’t have any gold charms in stock. I started shopping for various gold charms I could get in bulk on Etsy, and I bought some rather strange ones. Like bees. I had no idea why bees worked, but I wanted them, and so I got them.

With my focus issues, I’d stopped using music with lyrics and had been using meditative/zen sound tracks, but this weekend, I remembered that I’d set up a Sunfires playlist on Spotify months ago. I started playing it. And then, out of the blue, the song Black Honey started playing, and I got chills. Yep. That’s exactly why I needed bee charms.

I’m still nowhere near release yet – but I am making progress and I’m feeling more like my old self. Or rather new self. I’m stretching out and opening up in new ways that still astound me. I had no real idea that I’d allowed myself to be so small and shrunken down, but as Karmen says, you do anything you have to do to survive.

Survival time is over. Now it’s time to get busy living. And writing.

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Order Update

All website orders are packaged and going out tomorrow!

I have one outstanding shirt to make for an Australian peep once I get the size in stock. But I’ve made *most* of the other shirts and bracelets from giveaways. I’ll be getting them out over the next week.

I’ll be so glad to get caught up! I’ve been wanting to put more things up on the shop, but I felt like I needed to be completely caught up before I committed to doing anything else.

If there’s something specific you’re hoping to see, please let me know.

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Orders Update

I got the new shipment of Queen Takes More and Queen Takes Jaguars in last week. (I like to include them in bundles even though they’re not specifically listed on the site.) I also got all the shirts made for pending orders this weekend.

Three orders are going out this morning. You will be emailed a tracking number.

The rest of the orders will go out this week as I have time to sign and bundle. I crashed last night before I could get through them all, and it’s a tough few days for the Evil Day Job.

But I’m almost caught up!!

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WTFIJW Update

It’s been a very slow few weeks. I don’t have a lot to report. I’ll do a quick rundown here, and then give more details below if you like the wordier version. Queen Takes Sunfires 2 is delayed. I just haven’t been able to get into the flow yet. I am very slowly working on Queen Takes Venom, part of the Queen Collection. Unfortunately we’re delaying the print anthology as well. We had planned to have it available at Literary Love Savannah in July, but with Covid-19 and all the implications–specifically, Middle Monster’s graduation was rescheduled to July 31st–I can no longer attend. Many others are in the same boat.

So it’s been a bit of a bummer all around. I’m sorry to disappoint those of you waiting for more Karmen! I’m especially bummed that I can’t attend LLS again this year after planning so many fun things. I miss seeing all the people I met in 2018.

This is a stressful month for me. We’re supposed to be in court in just under two weeks. I had hoped we could come to an agreement out of court, but it doesn’t appear to be in the cards. That was a mental adjustment for me. It’s scary and expensive AF but I don’t have a choice. I’m just focusing on the positive. In a few weeks, this will all be behind me. The uncertainty will be over. I’ll know what I need to do. I just have to stay calm and positive. My blood pressure will thank me!

Littlest Monster turns 17 tomorrow. How is that possible? Remember when I was posting about her going to school just seconds ago it seems? She’ll be a senior this fall and wants to go to medical school. Middle was robbed of her prom and expected graduation event like so many other seniors this year. We’re hopeful that she can walk across a stage in July, but we’ll just have to see what happens over the next few weeks. She hasn’t decided what she wants to do with her future, and I told her that’s PERFECTLY OKAY. No pressure. We have plenty of pressure about everything else. If she wants to take a year off and work, fine. If she wants to go to college in the fall, fine. We have time to decide.

Princess Monster will graduate from college next year with her early childhood teaching degree. Also extremely exciting: she wrote her first book for publication! Meet her pen name: Bobbie Jo Hart. Bobbie from Papa (Bobby), Jo is her real middle name, and Hart from Burkhart. Wolf Point Academy is an idea I had last year. I purchased the covers and had a few notes, but I just couldn’t make it happen. When she saw the wolf covers, she said, “Mom, I’ll write it.” And she did such an awesome job! She took just a few notes I had and the first chapter… and ran with it. She’s already completed the first draft of the second book too!

I, however, am not anywhere near that fast. I am trying to be patient with myself. Intellection is one of my top strengths, which means I need to think a lot. It’s not wasting time – even if it feels like it. I have to get the knot of ideas straightened out in my head before I can make much progress. Unfortunately, stress and upheaval makes all that harder to do. My thoughts are consumed with the divorce and all the what ifs. All my brain cells are firing up frantic with all these crazy scenarios — but when it comes time to write, I get nada. Zilch. Some days I can’t even open the file. Other days, I get 100 words. I count it a victory each time.

I’m going back to my tried and true methods. I’m not blocked, exactly. I just don’t have the energy and fire right now. I am mediating again (Headspace). I am lighting incense and a candle each evening when I start to work. I got more distilled water for my fountain (it had run out while we were under lock down and I was scared to go buy more until I got a mask). I put my headphones on with different binaural programs. Zen music. Deep breathing. Affirmations. I’m trying to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.

Under two weeks to go. Deep breaths. Shara and the Great One Who Is and Was and Always Will Be have my back.

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General Update, WTFIJW

WTFIJW (What the Fuck is Joely Writing?!?!)

I usually post these in the Triune (Facebook group) but I realized I hadn’t blogged in a while and thought I should try and get back into the habit. (Incentive to join the group – I’m running giveaways every day through Sunday for some signed goodies I picked up from BABE 2020.)

I’ve been pretty quiet the last few days, weeks, and maybe a month. I am still working the Evil Day Job, which I’m extremely grateful for and glad the entire company is able to work from home. It’s been fun to see team members join me at home (I’ve been a telecommuter since 2000) and it’s pretty much business as usual, except for not being able to find certain items in the stores. The girls are all home and the school year is over other than online classes for all three. Poor Middle! She’s a senior this year and missing out on prom and graduation. The school is going to try and schedule an event later in the year.

I believe I’ve posted here before in very general terms about the “C and D situation” I’m going through right now with That Man. His C is back and the D is still delayed. It’s been a stressful few months waiting on everything. Mediation was postponed thanks to Covid-19 and now he’s dealing with health issues, so I really don’t know what’s going to happen, how long it’s going to take, and what that all means. I feel stuck. Trapped. Unable to move on with my life. And it sucks.

For someone who really needs stability, all this uncertainty is draining.

I hadn’t been able to write much at all. It’s been all I can do to keep up with the EDJ, and I’m sleeping way more than usual and still feeling exhausted. Needless to say, I’m pretty behind on everything.

I know many of you are frustrated that I haven’t written anything really long and meaty since Queen Takes Triune. My plan was for Sunfires2 to be a really nice long book, but the D is still dragging on, and my creativity has taken a huge hit. I delayed the preorder 30 days, but I may need to delay it again. We’ll see. I don’t want to risk losing my preorder ability for a year, but I can also only do what I can do.

The shorter stories may seem like a distraction, and not worth your time. But I can say from a creative standpoint, they’re easier for me to do right now. They don’t take as much extended mental and creative flow to put together. Usually I just need the idea, and they’re small in scope and I can pull them off in a few days rather than months.

Another benefit of writing short stories: they help me with the inertia problem. Bodies that are at rest are really hard to get moving again. The same goes for words and the creative flow. I had been blocked this entire month, but once I had the story idea for Coterie, the #BBBPublishings Mafia anthology, I wrote it in a matter of days. Now that I’m making words again, I’m going to switch back to one of my other projects (Queen Takes Venom and Sunfires2) and see if I can keep that momentum going in my favor.

4thewords has also been a great help to get me making words again. Small goals, even 100 words in 30 minutes, may not seem like much, but again, inertia takes a huge amount of effort to overcome initially. Once I’m moving again, it takes less work to keep that momentum. I may not be fast right now, but I’ll take what I can get.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.

Long live House Isador!

PS Order updates. Shipping from KDP has been sloooooooow but I did finally get all the TVQ books back in stock. I’l be doing my best to get the next orders out this weekend.

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Shop Update

Ack, I’m sorry! I’ve been so behind this year between travel, the Evil Day Job, and now this crazy COVID-19 upheaval. If anyone wants a refund, please contact me. I’m happy to do so.

I finally made it to the dungeon tonight and made up a ton of shirts for the orders. I’ll start packaging everything tomorrow with the goal of getting everything out as quickly as possible.

Thank you for your patience!