In the midst of this pandemic so many lives have been turned upside down. People have been thrust into new ways of living, existing, coping. I haven’t. My life hasn’t changed much because being home, working from home, homeschooling was my life and to a point, still is. The most I’ve struggled with is finding toilet paper and finding focus. The degree of change has varied with each person, with each family.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I know there are people struggling with getting anything done at all when the house is full of people, when normal routines have been disrupted, when there’s no certainty when things might go back to some semblance of the way they were. I wish I had some tips and tricks to help others figure out how to navigate this, but the way I did it was to just do it. I didn’t have any other choice. I didn’t have the privacy of a home office the way I do now. I didn’t have the dedicated time to do what I wanted to do. I had to make it or I just had to do it in little swatches of time.
And one thing I learned by doing it the way I did is that I’m a high stress person. I’ll stress about the smallest things and I’ll stress about big things and I’ll stress when something impacts my family and I’ll stress when something may impact my ability to get coffee the way I like it… But I’ve found, in general, that I can actually thrive and make progress when there’s a lot of stress, outward stress, at least. Inward stress and I’m done for. But the outward stress… That’s what I thrive in.
I didn’t always believe that and here is what this post is actually about. I thought having a nearly empty nest, and all sorts of time in a day, and a dedicated home office, and a chore schedule, and pretty much zero interruptions that I would be productive as shit, cranking out books left and right and upside down and right-side up… And well, I was wrong.
I can’t speak for anyone else. There are writers who need that, who need to not be on the verge of pulling their hair out. They need dedicated space and quiet and to be left alone. I get that. For instance, when my books are in editing and when I’m formatting them, I am that writer. But otherwise, I am not. I get distracted and unfocused and even…bored. God, I hate that word. So fucking much. And I’ve tried the schedules. The morning routines. The plan everything. The set my intentions.
Maybe the quiet gets to me. Maybe the walls get to me. I don’t know. But I do miss the chaos of all the things happening and going on.
And there’s definitely a piece of this that is mourning the near empty nest. I am in mourning that my kids are grown and don’t need me as much. I am in mourning that those magical years are over. I am in mourning that a new stage of life is here and I wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared for it. Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with it all and maybe that’s what most of my struggle is. What do I do with it all? The mourning and the new? I spent so many years working and writing and living one way that I’m not sure how not to work and write and live another way. This is the inner stress. This is upheaval of life as it once was but isn’t anymore and I know a lot of people are going through it, just on the other end.
I worked a job. I homeschooled. I did the cooking and cleaning. I wrote in the wee hours.
Then… I homeschooled. I cooked and cleaned. I wrote in the between times and in the wee hours.
Then… I dropped off and picked up. I cooked and cleaned. I wrote less and less and not in the wee hours.
Then… I wandered aimlessly and the concept of time got skewed in my head.
I miss the chaos. I miss the way things were. I miss being pushed against the walls of all the things that needed to be done.
Now, none of that is to say that chaos is the only thing that helped me or that peace and quiet and time are the only things that I’ve struggled with. I’ve struggled jealousy. Envy. Compairisonitis. Too many things. Not enough things. Inconsistency. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Lack of confidence in myself. Lack of belief in my writing and the stories I’m trying to tell. These are all pretty serious things in and of themselves, but put them together and it’s one big fucked up show.
But when there was chaos in my house, when there was normal life in my house, I didn’t have time to think about all those other things that throw wrenches. I could only throw myself into the writing in the windows of time I had at my disposal. I wrote at the kitchen table. On the couch. In bed. At baseball games. At band rehearsals. In the pick-up line at school. In coffee shops. At restaurants. In bookstores. In the middle of the hotel lobby at a conference. Those things worked for me, worked like a fucking charm for me. I can set goals until I’m blue in the face and with the best of intentions and for a couple of days, I’ll get all over them. Then, I’ll fall off. I have time. I can start again later. I can do that tomorrow or next week or whenever. No one is waiting. No one cares. And those things are just fucking lies. People are waiting. People do care. I am waiting. I care.
For a long time now, by this point in the year, I’d have given up already. The goals long forgotten. The planner collecting dust. And I’d be in the… Well, I’ll try again next year frame of mind and beating myself up. I had time. What’s wrong with me? But this year… through the writing of blog posts and journaling and not giving up and plugging along and trying to learn about myself as I am now, as life is now, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t do well with a planner (that post is HERE), and I don’t do well with word count goals (that post is HERE). I need pressure and a little chaos, even if it’s manufactured. And when it comes to my writing, a deadline does that. It gives me an end. It gives me an ultimatum. And I will thrive in that. Telling myself that I need to get to 50,000 words by the end of the month does absolute shit for me. I’ll let the end come and go, and I’ll wave as it passes. Set up a pre-order and have a deadline… Dude, I’ll get that done. I’ve let one lapse over the years, but my mindset game wasn’t strong at all. It’s stronger now. It’s better now. It’s not to be fucked with now.
It’s kind of like when my mom is coming for a visit and my house is a wreck the way it always is… I’ll start off doing little things here and there a few days before she’s due to arrive. Then, the day she is supposed to get here, I’ll talk to her throughout the day to find out where she is and how much longer it’ll be until she pulls into the driveway… When she’s an hour to an hour and a half out, my ass is in high gear and this place is spotless and things are put away and the toilets are cleaned and the floors are mopped and the clothes are hung and the surfaces dusted and the kitchen is gleaming.
The writing for me, with a deadline, is like that. The writing for me, in small pockets of time with all the things going on around me, is like that.
The writing with all the time in the world to get it done, is not like that for me.
The writing with peace and quiet and time, is not like that for me.
It’s probably why I also like and need and have conditioned myself to use a timer when I write. Not blog posts, obviously, but my books, definitely.
Life is a bit of a struggle for me. I’m not ready for all the changes that are here now or that have been coming. I can’t control any of it and I can’t stop it. I can’t make my life go back 10-20 years even though I wish I could. I’m jealous of all the people who are homeschooling now and who have all their kids around because I miss mine. Because I miss those years. And I know some people are jealous of the situation I find myself in…kids pretty much gone and time is now my own. The only things I can control right now is my writing and my output and I’ve not done well with it. I’ve lost a lot of time trying to find what box I fit into now.
How do you cope with changes in life and stress? Does your writing soar or suffer? Let me know. I’m curious. Always.
And coming from a romance author, that’s kinda…well, not a good thing, is it?
My story endings tend to be more Happy For Now rather than Happily Ever After. I’ve tried writing HEA’s but they don’t feel genuine to me. That, too, coming from a romance author isn’t a good thing, is it?
There’s a strict definition of romance and it’s centered around the idea of a Happily Ever After. I even have a couple signs in my office that say Happily Ever After. That’s the aspiration for me at time, I think. But as all writing does, mine shifts and changes and gets closer to HEA’s and gets farther away from them, too.
I don’t like endings. Not in books, not in movies, not in television shows, not in my favorite band’s careers, not in life. Ending scare me. Endings mean change. Endings mean finality. Endings, happy or sad, leave me with a sense of…loss.
My first memory of an ending came when I was a kid, kindergarten, and my father sitting on the side of the bed in my parent’s bedroom. He was upset and that’s my last memory of him as my father. After that, he became someone else’s father and someone else’s husband. I saw him a couple times after that, but it was never the same. I was never the same.
When I would leave my grandparent’s home at the end of every summer growing up, I would cry because what if it was the end? What if something happened and I never saw them again? I’d cry at the beginning of summer, too, when my mom would drop me off with my grandparents because what if it was the end? What if I never saw her again?
Friendships. Relationships. I either stay longer than is healthy because I can’t handle the thought of ending something. Maybe I should try harder. Maybe I haven’t done enough, given enough. But there’s another side of it, too. There’s the side that says I’m going to do the leaving. I’m going to do the hurting. I’m going to do the ending because it won’t destroy me as much if I’m the one who controls it. None of it is healthy or easy. It’s all fucking hard as shit. It’s all growth and acknowledgement. It’s all confrontation of myself and my fears that I’m not worth, that I’m not enough, that I’m not lovable, that even as a child I wasn’t lovable. It’s a thing internalized that it wasn’t a thing between my parents, but that it was a thing with me. After all, he married someone else and had a son with her and they stayed married, are still married.
This fear of endings followed me all through childhood and teen years and young adult and new adult and now I’m 49… And guess what? I still hate endings. I still cry with big change, little change. When one thing is ending. When transitions are happening. And there are things happening in my personal life right now that are ending and changing and transitioning and shifting forward and back and I’m an emotional mess over all of it. Even knowing these days would come, these changes, these transitions. Even knowing… I’m still just…
Expecting an ending isn’t the same as being prepared for it and how this translates to my writing is… Hell, if I know. I don’t write good endings. I write them well, either. I kind of just…end them. Like there’s something more coming after, like the middle or beginning of another scene. Like it’s not really over. And I know that’s because I suck at endings, I hate endings, I’m fucking scared of endings, whether someone else ends a thing or I end a thing. You can never go back once it’s done. You can never get it back once it’s over. At least that’s how it is in my head. It’s final. It’s unchangeable. And I do realize that my view of endings is skewed based on my earliest memory of one. I’ve always been fascinated with Happily Ever After. My favorite story was Cinderella and the Prince who search high and low for her. Of love being the triumph. The Hallmark Happily Ever After is one, too, that fascinates me. But the one that always gets me, that resonates with me, as far as a Hollywood everyone has seen it thing… My Best Friend’s Wedding. The friendship that always was is changing, forever. The friendship that was this way would never be that way again. The unresolved issues will always remain because he’s moving on, his life changed and she’s left with a broken heart and trying to piece a new part of herself together from the emptiness that is now there. Now, I’m the one who sees it that way, but most see it a different way, that’s just how my brain works.
We all process and handle rejection differently. We all handle the way things end or don’t end or change or morph or transition and it’s something that I work on, that I journal on. Sometimes distance helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it haunts me and I think for years of what I could have said or done or what I did say or did do… I am a second guesser and that follows me through pretty much everything I do (and I’ll discuss this in another blog).
I think in some ways, this is why we experience book hangovers. Sometimes it’s just the content is just that good, and sometimes it’s the fact that something just that good has come to an epic end. And for me personally, this is sometimes why I avoid reading the last or last few books in a series. I love it so much and I don’t want it to end so I leave it undone. I can go back to it any time at all because I haven’t experienced it yet.
How weird am I?
If you’ve got any thoughts or helpful hints or anything at all, leave a comment. (See, I don’t even know how to end a blog post.)
I wanted to be. I still do want to be. But the honest truth, y’all? I’m not.
And it’s not because I set unrealistic word count goals. At least, not anymore. I used to. But then I’d fall off the wagon a week in and I’d be running to catch up, only to be left in the dust because I didn’t run fast enough or hard enough or consistently enough.
Being a consistent writer… Well, what do I consider consistent? Every day? Yeah, sure. I’d love that, but again, that whole honesty thing and no. I’m not an every day writer. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. I’d like to think that I will one day be an every day writer, but… Now, some people consider any writing, writing… Journals, blogs, books, short stories, essays. And if that’s something I adopt as a truism, then I am an every day writer because I journal, whether it be my regular empty my head of the shit journal or my gratitude journal daily.
I am always thinking about writing, whatever book or books that I’m working on, how to re-write a blurb, what’s coming, what plot point needs fixing… An author I love, V.E. Schwab considers these ruminations writing and well, who am I to argue?
So, if I’m not a word count writer, what am I? And can I aspire to certain word counts?
The answer to the second question is yes. A group on Facebook that I’ve joined has a 10K Words in a Day challenge. I have tried it once. The other days they did it, didn’t work for me as I was either on the road or had family things come up. But I did try it and I did do well. Not 10K well, but over 6K that day and it was good. Of course, my brain was fried afterward and I didn’t write for several days.
Not being a word count writer I think is also why I don’t win NaNoWriMo, even though I try every year. But if I approach it differently this year, maybe… If I approach it the way I plan to approach Camp NaNoWriMo, I should be able to pull it off. We’ll see. (I did not pull off Camp NaNoWriMo, this year.)
I tried doing 10K Weekends and I loved this idea so much, but I couldn’t seem to get my ass in gear consistently enough to do it. I’d put it off on Thursday, and say that I’d make it up on Friday, and then oh look! it’s Saturday and then Sunday and well, I’ll try next weekend. Yeah, that sucked. It sucked hard. I haven’t attempted it in a long time.
Now, the answer to the first question… I’m a deadline writer. I think I’ve always known it, at least always as far as my decade+ long writing career has been going on. When I wrote just for me, or for Literotica, or whatnot, I wrote until I was finished. I wrote a lot in a short span of time. There were no expectations. No one cared. It was just me. And often in the middle of the night after the family was asleep. Once I began pursuing publishing and writing as a career, I wrote my own way. A lot here. A little there. A lot more somewhere else. So on and so forth until the book was finished. If there was a deadline, I rarely missed it. Except when it came to self publishing. I could move that date around all I wanted. And that’s pretty much what I did.
When 2020 began, I took author Sarah Cannon’s writing plan workbook and worked up a plan for releases, word counts, days off, etc… And within a couple of weeks, I’d once again fallen off the wagon. I raced to catch up. I modified my route to make it easier, but it didn’t work. By the end of January, I’d only written 24,448 words. I was 40,000+ words behind where I’d planned to be. I was discouraged. I was sad. And I wrote all of 1444 words in February.
I spent most of February depressed and aimless. I was falling back into this pattern that I have every single time I’d set word count goals. I tried to fight through it because my plan for 2020 was bigger than a single month. And then… I ended up spending 10 days in Florida. I wasn’t on vacation. My time wasn’t my own. My mom had knee replacement surgery the day before my 49th birthday and got out of the hospital on my birthday. That same day, my grandmother came down with the flu. Was taking care of two of the most stubborn women I know, alone. I didn’t get to celebrate my birthday and that kind of depressed me, too. I spent very little time doing anything but seeing to their needs and running errands they couldn’t. But it did offer me some moments to think…especially in the car on the drive down and back home. I wondered what I could do differently than I had been. What could I change? What inside my head would make any sense? That’s when it kind of hit me. I’m a deadline writer. And I didn’t know why I couldn’t see it before.
1K1Hr… That was the standard word sprint. For others. Give me an hour to write 1000 words and I’ll waste time until the last 30min. Give me a deadline and I’ll typically write a little here, and a little more there, and bust my ass the last two weeks to get it finished. I usually have multiple projects going, too. This is how I wrote as much as I did when I first started out in 2008/2009.
I kept telling myself that I couldn’t write that way anymore, and yet… Why not? Cleary the way I wanted to write wasn’t working for me, so why couldn’t I try going back to what I know did work?
I’m currently working on 5 different books. 3 new ones and 2 re-releases, along with re-writing 2 blurbs. I know what I’ll work on next month because it has a pretty immediate deadline. But the ones I’m working on right now, have later in the year deadlines. I’ll be putting things up for pre-order to seal in the deadlines from Amazon and that will help me out a lot. And yes, I could do the same thing and set daily word count goals, but that’s never been me as a writer. Facing the truth of how I write is not fun or easy. Not when I want to be some other way. But it’s also kind of freeing. I’ll enjoy it more if I don’t force myself into a hole I don’t fit in.
Have a great weekend, y’all.
I think we all have them. Even those who don’t think so, I believe all writers have them. I do. I’ve had several over the years that worked well for me and that at the time, I wasn’t aware of their significance. It was only after a certain point that I realized, hey, this is something, this is necessary for my brain to focus. I had trained my brain to recognize certain things and turn on writing mode.
I won’t lie, either. I needed writing rituals. Sure, I could sit down and crank out words, usually with very little prior thought, but there’s something special and zen-like if the ritual is followed, if the ritual is observed.
For me, it was more than one thing…
Coffee. I needed to have a cup of coffee sitting on the table/desk. And no, water in a coffee mug or anything else in a coffee mug, didn’t work. It had to be coffee, and often it had to be hot coffee. Regular, a latte, a macchiato, a cappuccino… Whatever it was, it needed to be coffee of some sort. I mean, why do y’all think I have such a huge mug collection?
Hoodie. I had a Kyle Busch hoodie that I bought one year after the season had ended and I wore that thing All. The. Time. It was comfy, oversized, and I loved it. It currently has rips and threads and holes and a rather interesting smell to it. However, if I were to wash it, it would likely disintegrate. I no longer use it, but for many years, it was a necessary part of my writing life. No matter the season, I wore it if I was writing.
Music. I need music to write with. I need songs that I know by heart, that I can sing along with. You know, the kind like… Well, for me, it’s 80’s music. I can sing along without giving it any thought whatsoever. I hear the music and the words just come out. It’s that type of mindless mindfulness that I need when I write. Writing in silence doesn’t work for me for the most part. In silence, I struggle with my editor brain, my floundering self-esteem and self confidence as a writer, and I second guess every single word, phrase, fragment, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, until I’ve second guessed the whole book and figure it’s the worst thing ever written and I hate it. Music in my ears keeps that shit at bay. Music in my ears calms me and allows me to get down to it. But like I said, it has to be music and songs I know by heart. I have to be able to sing along or tune it out while I’ve tuned it in.
Writing movies. It’s no secret that if you’ve followed me for some time now, that you know I have several go-to movies when I’m in a writing slump. When I need to be reminded that writers of other books, and screenplays, and even songs understand that writing is not a straight line from A to B. It’s not something that goes away. It’s not something that always flows or is the best combination of words ever put down on paper or screen. Writing is HARD. Writing may come easier for some at any given time, but every writer feels and experiences the struggle and sometimes I need to be reminded of this by way of Michael Douglas in his pink bathrobe in Wonder Boys or Emma Thompson standing on top of her desk as she’s trying to figure out how to kill Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction or Diane Keaton trying to write her latest play and struggling with it until she falls in love and gets her heart broken and then the words come pouring out in Something’s Gotta Give. These movies do something for me that help me get through, that help me see how much I love writing…when it’s going well, and how much I love that there are others who know the struggle when it’s not.
Those things were part of what I needed to write all the books I did when I first began writing. After a while, when I began struggling with the words, those rituals… Well, they didn’t help. My issues went far deeper and I’m still trying to claw my way back out of the darkness.
I’ve begun trying to develop better writing habits and honoring writing rituals that help me keep those habits alive and well.
I can now write without coffee on my desk. I prefer to have it rather than not, but a glass of water will often do the trick.
My hoodie has been relegated to the coat rack. I like to be cozy still and sometimes I’ll put on a cardigan or use another hoodie, but mostly I’ll just wear long sleeves and only use something else if I get cold, which is often. But I don’t need anything like it to write anymore. I think I find that rather sad.
Music is still and likely will always be a MUST.
Writing movies… I still love them so much and I always find something new in them. I won’t be giving them up any time soon, either.
I recently read a book called Finish by Jon Acuff. I loved it. And one of the things he talks about is having these little habits or rituals that help trigger the brain, to tell it that it’s time to write and get down to business. I understood this for myself as stated in the previous rituals, but I understand it more now because I struggle more and more with staying focused, and so, I’ve incorporated a few things…
A dedicated workspace. I used to roam the house or wherever to write and no doubt I can still write in coffee shops or in hotels or on the couch or at the kitchen table or even up in the bed… Nope. Scratch that last one. I’m too sleepy all the time to try to write in bed. But I’ve found that having a home office, a desk that I picked out and bought along with a chair, a computer set-up I like and some things on my desk that make me happy or feel productive or just because helps me center and somewhat tap into that focus.
Music. The constant. Always. I have lovely pink over the ear headphones and I have a fantastic JBL speaker. I use them both. Obviously not at the same time. But they pump the music to me and that’s what I need. Also, a subscription to Spotify Premium. I know some think it’s a waste of money, but I have to say, it’s been an amazing tool for me for not only music, but for podcasts, too. And I’ll talk about those another time.
A candle. Jon Acuff says he lights a balsam candle or fir candle and the scent triggers his brain that it’s time to work. I love candles, especially the ones with wood wicks because I love listening to the crackle as they burn. I love a good balsam candle, but a good pumpkin spice one is nice, along with cinnamon. I like strong, warm scented candles that I associate with cozy thoughts and feelings. Seeing that flame flickering helps my brain calm and start to focus, as well.
A timer. One on my phone or on my fitness band or even one I’ve downloaded to the computer. I write best with sprints. I focus better if I do sprints, so I set a timer each time I sit down to write and it helps narrow my focus. I need words during a set amount of time and the shorter the period the better for me. Some do 30min, 60min, even 90min writing sprints. Those are too long for me. I have done as short as 5min and cranked out 200 words. 10min is between 300-400. 20min is between 600-700 (on a good day). But the writing sprints have saved me so many times when it comes to needing words. When I think, ‘ugh, I still need to write’, it’s a feeling that is stressful and daunting. But… when I look at it from the view of 10min. That’s it. I can write for 10min without breaking a sweat and then I don’t think about it. I just write. And before I know it, I’m on my 3rd sprint and nearing 1000-1200 words.
And nature. This is one that is becoming more of a thing for me. I like looking out at the sky, the green of the grass, the magnolia tree, the bushes around the deck. I like looking outside when I write. It’s not necessary for me, but I love it and the more I can do it, the more at peace I feel.
All writers have things that work or don’t work for them. All writers struggle from time to time and the systems that we put in place, either consciously or unconsciously, help us get the words in so that you can have books to read one day. Habits and rituals don’t always remain the same. They shift and change as we shift and change as human beings, as writers. I am constantly learning this.
I’m working to develop writing habits that help me be much more consistent than I’ve been in a number of years and it’s not been as painful as I expected. I’m working with much more love and grace for myself and for whatever process it is that I am working at any given moment. But if I do keep to the things above, I’ve learned that I am more successful in my endeavors than when I try to go off script and free-wheel my way though the fog.
…I did write throughout the month of November. And for the first time in all the years I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo, I am not beating myself up for not winning. I am not talking bad about myself to myself for not reaching 50,000 words. I started 3 different stories in November. Two of them I’m not sure they’ll go anywhere, but the third one…? That one has some serious promise. It’s the one I started writing while I was over in Birmingham a few weeks ago. It’s the one story that has the least number of words on it, but it has more heart in it in those 6000 words that it does have.
One of the things that I have done, since I haven’t beat myself up about not winning, is I have applauded myself for writing consistently throughout the month of November. it was something I hadn’t done in a really fucking long time. I mean A Really Fucking Long Time! And writing like that felt good. Even on the days I didn’t write more than 300 words, it still felt good to write them.
I’ve been listening to different podcasts and have seen for a while now about writers who write anywhere from 5000 words a day to 10,000 words a day…every day. Those who are 6-8 months ahead of their latest release. And let me tell you, seeing that so much, seeing so many writers claiming that and proving it…It’s incredibly disheartening when I’m sitting here trying to be proud of my 300 words that felt like I had to carve up my insides to get out. Especially when I used to be one of those who could write 3000 words a days with relative ease and have books coming out on a consistent basis. But proud of my 300 bleeding words I am. We all start or in my case start over somewhere.
So, while I didn’t officially win, to me, I won by virtue of the fact that I started writing and have kept writing and will continue to write until something or several somethings are finished.
I hope you’re having a good week so far and I hope that you’re proud of yourself for being consistent in something, for starting something, for pushing forward and never giving up, for showing up for whatever you need to show up for that sets you on fire because I’m proud of you.