Tag Archives: life

What About the Symphony?

I wasn’t going to post today, but I ran across an idea in my morning reading (quoted in Thrive by Arianna Huffington) that made me think–and that I thought might be helpful for others, as well.

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole point of it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

-Alan Watts

Quite the idea to process while I was going over my plans for the day, setting my goals, and generally trying to take steps to improve my life. Does this mean we should let go with the idea of improving ourselves, our circumstances, our productivity (*cough*), or our lives?

I don’t think so. But it’s a great reminder to look at why I’m setting the goals I am, why I’m creating new habits, and why I’m putting so much damned work into making my days work for me instead of letting them slip away.

Because, as with so much of life, it’s about balance.

I don’t have a boss. Nobody’s going to fire me if I’m unproductive in the short term. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to let a day go by and feel like I’ve wasted it (especially if I’m in a bad place with social media or other things that seem enjoyable, but really add nothing to my life). That’s why I need a to do list, why I set my top three priorities for the day, why I get my work done before I play.

On the other hand, it’s also far too easy to buy into the self-improvement hype that says you can do anything and everything if only you believe in yourself… which really means you’re falling short if you’re not doing, having, and being it all (and posting it on Instagram, obviously). To focus so much on what we should be doing to better our lives that we never actually stop to reflect on how far we’ve come or to enjoy the benefits of all this improvement.

I mean, so many things that I do don’t seem like parts of a symphony. I meditate, but I often find the process uncomfortable. I work so hard on my writing that the fun bit where I’m making up stories for my own enjoyment is dwarfed by the analysis, the problem solving, the revisions, the editing, the learning about writing craft–things that can be rewarding in the end, but are often stressful in the moment (and don’t even get me started on marketing, bookkeeping, or taxes). I don’t enjoy telling my kids to get off their tablets and enduring their grumbling, and I don’t enjoy getting them to clean up after themselves when it would really be easier and less stressful to do it myself. I don’t enjoy cooking or cleaning at all. And playing with my schedule and tracking results was rather tedious.

Why not let it go?

Because though I don’t always enjoy this stuff in the moment, it improves my quality of life in general.

Meditation is helping me stay in the moment and is helping me distance myself from emotions and physical pain that might otherwise consume me. Improving my writing means a better experience for my readers, and it offers me immense satisfaction in knowing that I’m learning and growing (and all that other crap makes it possible for me to keep writing, because income to cover editing costs is rather essential). The effort I put into making my kids do things they don’t like is helping them establish habits that will help them (and me) in the long run. Cooking puts food on the table, and while I don’t like cleaning, I do like a clean house.

And as for improving my productivity, I’m happier when I’m getting stuff done, and everyone in this house is happier when I’m not stressed about deadlines that crept up while I was procrastinating. I like knowing that I’m doing my best.

…And none of that is me disagreeing with the quote. It’s why this idea is so important.

Because I do get caught up in it. I feel at times like every minute has to be well spent on working toward a goal or doing something productive. I tend to become unduly absorbed in improving my life.

At times I need to be reminded to stop and smell the damn roses. To appreciate the “fog happiness” that my work offers if only I take time to step away from the stresses and appreciate it.

To actually live the life I’m working so hard at.

Who I am and what I’m doing right now are important and worth enjoying all on their own. This moment and this day aren’t just steps toward some end goal, and what I’ve got now is pretty damned amazing.

Not every day has to be perfect. Blah days and down days and unproductive days are normal and fine. But taken as a whole, there’s a whole lot to appreciate, even in darker times.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to get to where I am, and my life is immensely more satisfying than it was five years ago. I’ll keep working on improving what I can as needs arise.

But this morning, I added that quote to my bullet journal. I put it on the January “memories” page, on the back of my habit tracker and directly opposite the spot where I note my accomplishments for the month.

Because it’s easy to note the good stuff without really stopping to go, “Yes, I did a thing that improved my life. I did a favour for Future Me, and she’s going to be thrilled about it. I helped make someone else’s life better. I did something I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. I improved a relationship even though it felt awkward in the moment. I changed my world in some way.”

It’s easy for me to just jump into the next goal, to not stop to listen and enjoy the symphony as it plays, and to become unduly absorbed in the improvements as though there’s some end goal I’m racing for.

This moment, right now, even with all of its stresses and problems, is what I dreamed of just a few years ago. There’s no guarantee anything will last forever. Every symphony ends. I’m glad to have been reminded to appreciate mine while it lasts.

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WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG?!

There are authors who can put out a book in a month.

Spoiler alert: I’m not one of them.

I know that a lot of people are waiting for Torn to come out, some rather impatiently. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s wonderful to know that people enjoyed Bound enough that they’re excited to read more of the story. Amazing. A little shocking, as there are more of them than I expected, but wonderful.

I thought it would be a good time to explain why I don’t get a book out a month, why it takes a while for me to do this, and why it’s best I don’t rush things.

But first: In case anyone missed the note before, the release date for Torn will probably be late March/early April, with February pre-orders, not December 2015. I know, “Winter 2015” could have meant either, but I really couldn’t be more specific than that when I released Bound. But hey, sooner is better than later, right? Yaaaaaay.

But still, this is 8-9 months after Bound came out. What gives, WRITER PERSON?

A few things.

I started Bound in November 2010 (yes, it’s a NaNoWriMo novel. Officially). That means it took me 3.5 years to get it ready for publication, most of it spent finding the story, improving it, and developing the characters that many people seem to be somewhat fond of. I was also learning about the craft of writing. This wasn’t my first story (I’ve been writing for years), but it was my first completed novel.

A big part of the reason all of this took so long is that writing is not my full-time job. During 2.5 of those years, I had a kid at home full-time and one in school during the day. Last year the younger guy went to school half days, and I finally got time to work. A whole hour or two a day! WOOHOO! But still, writing was a hobby. I couldn’t devote a lot of time to it without ticking the family off.

The point is, I’ve had to fit writing in around my family’s schedule, because they’re kind of my main job. My husband works shifts and is on-call a lot, so that factors into it, too. I can’t spent six, or eight, or twelve hours a day cranking out books, as some indie authors say they do. I hope I’ll get at least a few solid hours in a day now that the kids are both in school full-time (though home for lunch), but until now it’s been hit-or-miss.

Second thing: I do a lot of revisions. I know some people say not to do that, but I do. Why? Because the story, the characters, and the world get better with every draft and every scene re-write. If I had released Bound when it was “good enough,” it would have looked nothing like it does today, and I’d be wishing for a do-over now. It takes time for my ideas to evolve, for the puzzle pieces to fall into place, for little details to appear that make the story richer. My first drafts aren’t the worst in the world, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. If I waited for perfection I’d never release anything, and there comes a time when I have to let go. But when there are still big issues, I can’t. You all deserve better (and so do my beta readers).

So I do two drafts before anything goes to my first readers (three in the case of Bound and Torn, because they just weren’t ready after two). I have to let the stories rest for at least a month between drafts so I can gain some perspective, so that adds time, though I am working on other things while those are festering. Then beta readers get time with them, and I revise again based on their critique. Then I have to wait until my editor is ready, and he gets the book for about two weeks, and then… yes, scene rewrites, edits, all that fun stuff.

And then someone has to read it again.

It is a long process, but I’m committed to only releasing the best-quality books I’m capable of. That takes a lot of help, and a bit of time.

Maybe now that I have time during the day, I’ll get on a roll and be able to produce a 30,000 word novella in six months. But with rewrites, off-times, and waits for editing, I can’t see a big story taking much less than a year, at least in the near future. (For reference, Bound was 118,000 words, and Torn is almost as long.) Maybe as I become more comfortable with crafting longer and more complex stories, those puzzle pieces will start falling into place in earlier drafts. That would be fantastic, and they did for my unreleased Urban Fantasy novella. But at this point I’m not going to sacrifice quality for speed.

Good thing I started Torn in November 2012, right? Did the first draft through December that year, and did the second draft last year. And that’s how it goes: It’s a long process, but I try to have several things on the go at once so you all don’t have to wait so long.

So there you go. Reasonable best-case scenario (as of right now) for a long book: 3 months for draft one, 1 month to settle, 2 months for draft 2, another quiet month, another run-through before beta readers see it (probably at least 1 month), 1 month for them to read, 1 month (conservative) to fix that, 2 weeks with the editor (if I can get him at that time; scheduling can be an issue), 2+ more months to make things shine. Then proofreading, formatting, advance copies, etc., and LAUNCH.

And through that there are birthday parties, Christmas, summer vacation (two months when things slow to a crawl), a dog to walk, dentist appointments, teacher meetings, and those oh-so-irritating and frequent migraine days when it’s all I can do to keep the household running, never mind stringing a sentence together. I know, other parents manage to work at home just fine, and some writers with full-time jobs crank out a book a week.

I’m not them. My point is, it takes me some time, but I promise you’re not going to get anything less than my best. I respect readers enough to offer only that, even if it means a semi-frustrating wait between books. I wish I was one of those amazing writers who can offer both (and some of those fast writers really do), but right now I have to choose between more books and better books.

I choose better.

 


The Things I’m Learning – The World Doesn’t Stop

In this series of posts, I’ll be sharing a few of the things that surprised me about publishing a book, as well as a few things I wish I’d known before I started. This is all personal experience and personal opinion, shared in case it helps someone. Your mileage may vary.

For a few weeks, my life revolved around getting a book out into the world.

There were formatting issues. Proof copies. Corrections. Panic. Excitement over “Your book is now live at ____” announcements. Tears over the first glimpse of a paperback. Party planning.

Party execution.*

Continuing struggles with my decision to not do any big promotion until I have more books out.

Trying to keep track of who wanted a signed paperback, who didn’t want one after I found out how much shipping a book costs when you live in Canada. Who had questions about how to get it elsewhere.

It’s been both fun and insane.

For me.

For the rest of the world, not so much. My family is happy for me and supportive, but I’m going to tell you a secret: Those dishes? They didn’t start doing themselves when I was e-mailing last-minute changes to my formatter.

That chicken thawing in the sink stubbornly refused to shake and/or bake itself when I was busy notifying people who won e-books at the Facebook party.

The kids still needed someone to remind them to put pants on before they answered the door, to make snacks for them, and to make sure they bathed at least twice over the course of those few weeks.

Even my headaches refused to take a vacation. They continue to insist on cutting in on my work time, whether it’s getting-a-book-out time or writing-the-next-one time.

I know. It’s crazy.

I consider myself fortunate to have a few friends who will patiently listen to my freak-outs, rants, and squeals of delight that I’m too shy to share with the wider world.

But for the most part, life really does just go on.

In a way, that’s good. It reminds me that this really isn’t the most important thing, even when it’s the most urgent. As much as I love this project, and as opposed as I am to taking a day off once in a while, there really is more to life.

I guess.  😉

Bound is now available in e-book and paperback

*But seriously, SO FUN.


Anticipation (ROW80 Update)

The sun came out yesterday. This isn’t big news, I guess. The sun tends to do that every once in a while, even during April showers season in Newfoundland. But blue skies still manage to take me by surprise sometimes, especially when I don’t get a headache to warn me that they’re coming. Yesterday was one of those times.

And what did the sun shine down on? Brown. Relentless, monotonous, winter-coloured brown. Dead grass. Bare branches. Dirt. Even the evergreens we have around here have a brownish tone to them, though they’re called black spruce. No flowers yet. No buds on the trees bursting into green life.

Oh, but the rocks are grey. Kind of brownish grey, but still. We have a lot of them to break up the scenery.

Honestly, it’s a depressing time of year. There’s no pretty snow anymore to cover up the bare earth and last year’s leaf litter, but life hasn’t caught up to the change in the seasons. It’s just… blah.

It’s hard to see the end. Though I know in my mind that spring (real spring, not calendar spring) will come eventually, it’s difficult to truly believe that. It seems like the aggressive brownness is eternal and inescapable. My facebook friends have pictures of green lawns and flowers. I have brown.

But yesterday I chose to look at it differently. There’s beauty in every season, even those that are difficult or dull as housework.

Yes, the world is brown. The plants look dead. In fact, most of them are dead.

But the world is waiting, isn’t it? This is the part where Nature holds her breath, waiting for just the right moment to explode back into life and growth and wonder. No, spring isn’t here like it is in other places. Our lawns are brown, it’s too early to plant gardens because of frost, and most of the birds haven’t returned. But it’s not an empty or useless time. It’s the season of anticipation and preparation for every amazing, beautiful thing that will be here.

It will start small, with fuzzy little buds on branches and an escalation of the twitterings in the trees that I only started to notice yesterday. Small patches of green will appear on lawns and spread, overtaking the brown.* We’ll have to watch out for mama and baby moosies on the roads– they’re still brown, but in a far less depressing way. Flowers will come, some day.

But for now, the world waits and prepares.

Yes, I’m procrastinating.

ROW80 Update

Speaking of preparation, I’m waist-deep in it, wading through edits, exercising the superpowers granted to all writers (time travel, the ability to change the past and alter the fabric of fictional people’s reality, that stuff). It’s going well, but there’s still plenty to do. Having my own space to work is doing wonders for my ability to focus, even if my office doesn’t have walls. I’m discovering new angles and moments in my story that are making it better and more delicious** than it was before. I still struggle with doubts, but who doesn’t? And at least I’m moving forward, slowly but surely.

If you want specifics, I’m on chapter 12, after massive struggles with re-writing chunks of chapters eight and eleven. Coming up on more revisions as I simplify a few things and complicate others, trying to balance tension with backstory, action with dialogue… y’know. FUN STUFF.

In other news, a new friend and I have decided that “backstory” should be a curse word. I say it now when I stub my toe or drop stuff. So every five minutes or so.

I’m also beta reading a fantastic book. I wish I had time to get through that more quickly, but I’m getting there.

So there we go. I’m enjoying this process. It’s a little like May at times– it’s a hard slog, kind of dull after I’ve read this one story dozens of times already, and at times it feels like I’m not moving forward at all thanks to the need to go back and change history (which takes ages). But I am making progress, just as spring is. The difference is that I can’t sit and wait for this to happen. I have to work, and every bit of hard work and every irritating detail I don’t let myself skip is building to something grand.

In other news, this is why anyone who’s ever said “I could write a better book than _____, EASY” should actually try it. This stuff’s hard, yo. Rewarding, beautiful, but oh so challenging.

So there you go. UPDATED.

OH– and in other news, I’m a super huge dork, a bad friendquaintance, and a fool. A FOOL, I SAY. I signed up for a cover reveal, got the post set up, scheduled it to go live on May 1… and forgot to make sure the post wasn’t set to draft. Thanks to my absence from the WordPress-ular area, I didn’t notice until this morning. So PLEASE, stop by and give Adrian J. Smith and her book For By Grace some love on the post which has now posted. Here. HERE. Please.

 

 

*Well… not on MY lawn, because it’s just dirt now. But elsewhere. 🙂

**Books are brain candy. You know they are.


E is for Ever After

Betcha thought I was going to say editing.

I’ve never been a fan of the Happily Ever After (or HEA) ending in books. Not that I mind if people are happy; by all means, please. Have at it. I can’t stand a series that leaves readers miserable after they’ve been through hell with characters over three or seven or twenty books. What I mean is the actual, “And they lived happily ever after” ending that so many fairy tales either spell out or imply.

Really? I don’t buy it. I’m willing to bet that Cinderella had issues after the wedding. Maybe she turned into a huge slob after so many years of being forced to clean up after people, or maybe she’s constantly nagging Prince Charming about leaving his socks on the floor. Sleeping Beauty seems to have married a guy she hardly knows, and you can’t tell me that’s not going to lead to some problems.

The idea that we should aim for a happy ending in our own lives is problematic too, isn’t it? Romantic comedies take us through the ups and downs of dating, but everyone’s happy at the end. It’s often implied that a big, beautiful wedding is the thing that really pulls a girl’s life together, and the rest is just details. Sure, we know it’s fiction. But we also kind of believe it. Of COURSE we’re going to find eternal happiness! Isn’t that what life is all about?

And if life’s not perfect after the wedding… where did we go wrong? Did we choose the wrong Prince? Was the wedding not Pinterest-perfect enough? Or maybe it was too perfect, and everything after is a let-down. Maybe the happy ending is IT, and it’s all downhill from there, and THAT’S why they never show the rest in movies and romance novels! *gasp!* Shouldn’t life be better than this?

It’s not just weddings. I’m sure most of us have a big goal in our hearts, and we’re sure that when we reach it, we’ll have our Happily Ever After.

The perfect mate.

The child.

The book deal, or the X-number sold.

The degree.

The (insert career-related goal here).

The bank balance.

The house on the beach.

The pure-bred dog of our dreams.

All of the whatevers available of the thing we collect.

But it’s not so, is it? There’s always something to disappoint us, some difficulty that the fairy tale didn’t prepare us for, one more hill to climb. Constant happiness is an unrealistic expectation.

But if we understand that, we can find our happiness among the slips and the falls and the failures and disappointments. We can understand that life’s not perfect, but it’s still be a wonderful adventure. We can laugh at the beautiful, messy imperfection that is real life, ride the waves, and find joy even when we know it doesn’t last forever.

The real problem with Happily Ever After is that it’s the end of the story, and who wants that? I say screw HEA. I’d rather keep living my story, whatever it brings.

(Special thanks to a few of my characters who taught me this lesson)

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