Weekly Musings #7

Image from Pixabay

I came down with a cold this week so I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked, but I still met the small goal I had set for myself for the week so I’m satisfied with myself.

My WIP now sits at 86,608 words. As I near the end of my first draft, I decided to add to it more incrementally to make sure it packs enough of a punch and to breeze past the inevitable doubts and overthinking. I’m planning to make it 100,000 words but after I get to 90,000 I won’t restrain myself to a certain word count; I will end it when it feels right, when I have done the story justice.

I’ve been working on this manuscript so consistently that even taking a few days off to recover from my cold made me feel guilty and restless. I don’t like it when I don’t write these days. I have so much fun with my characters and my universe that I don’t like leaving it behind. It’s not always fun, sometimes it’s quite emotionally involved; but it’s still always something I have to keep coming back to, again and again, to get all my story ideas out of my head. Even if it’s not always fun, it’s usually fulfilling and therapeutic. At the very least, it’s a distraction from my very boring life.

Even when I feel like I’m stuck and I don’t have an idea for the next chapter, I start with a general setting or theme, and because I’ve been writing regularly and practicing that muscle, the words usually flow eventually and I’m not staring at a blank screen for long.

But even muscles need sick days and recovery days. If you’re trying to force yourself to write through a migraine, don’t. In my case, I had low energy, brain fog and fatigue for a couple of days, so I didn’t even try. (I took a covid test and it was negative, thankfully.) I felt better over the weekend so I added a few more words and my writing sessions were more productive because I had rested.

It made me realize that maybe I need to add in weekends to my writing schedule. My “weekends” happen whenever I don’t feel up to writing, but it might be good to schedule in time off to just do nothing or to work on my other hobbies, just as I schedule in 25 minutes to sprint after a weeknight dinner or on a weekend morning. Too much rest can make it hard to get back into the flow of it; but just enough rest can be just what our creative muscle needs.

I am already feeling better even though my cold’s not quite done. Another few days of taking it easy and I think I’ll be able to get back to the gym and do more of my normal activities. And back to writing – almost every day.

I also thought I’d mention, I decided to take down the first three episodes of my story on my blog because I plan to completely rewrite them. You can see on my Patreon how much my first draft changes from my final product.

My plans this week are to write two short stories, one to submit; get over this cold; and reach 90,000 words in my WIP. Happy Easter, Passover and Ramadan if you celebrate, happy Spring if you don’t, and until next week.

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Weekly Musings #6

(Image from Pixabay)

Apologies for my absence. Haven’t felt like blogging for some time. It doesn’t get the same kind of immediate interaction that posting to Twitter or Tiktok gets you so it can be hard to keep up with it sometimes, and frankly, I get so busy writing that I don’t leave as much creative energy for the marketing side of things. I have been writing almost every day though and making significant progress on my novel.

It’s also hard to figure out what to blog about on a weekly basis when I’m in the drafting process. Only so many times you can report on your word count. The actual act of drafting is pretty tedious stuff really; 30 minutes a day, 500-1,000 words pumped out. Then it becomes a habit. Like doing the dishes, or taking your medication. The same thing every time, even if the writing is exciting. But you can’t say much about the writing because spoilers. I’ve shared excerpts on social media but I don’t think these really say much about the story, just show people a taste of your writing.

I’ve hit 83,214 words in my m/m paranormal romance crime thriller, which makes it officially book length no matter how much longer it grows, and it continues to be the longest manuscript I’ve ever stuck with. I am in the home stretches of the ending so the words are coming more slowly now, 300-500 words a day versus 1,000-2,000. I feel a little bit of imposter syndrome kicking in, as I get nervous about wanting to build an unpredictable ending and to tie all the pieces together in a way that will satisfy my readers.

I decided I will look at Fiverr for my cover art; I don’t want to spend $300-500 on it, because I probably won’t make $300-500 in book sales (I’m a pragmatist here!), but I am willing to spend more than $50 for a good cover. Graphic design just isn’t my strong suit. I’ve thought about commissioning character designs too as a marketing tool. (I made the mistake of mentioning this on Twitter and I got mobbed by people using bots soliciting their services; if you send me one of these emails I will delete it without looking at it and block you. Just saying.) I want to see my characters come to life, though.

I plan to spend 2-3 months on editing after I finally type “The End” on my manuscript. I need to rewrite the first 30,000 words at least, and fix some continuity issues, and insert more action into some dialogue-heavy scenes. I’m good at self-editing so I feel pretty confident with this step. Then I’ll need to learn formatting but seeing as I do that for a day job on legal documents I think I’ll be able to figure that out too.

I’ll probably be looking for volunteer beta readers after I get it edited into a decent shape. Then comes the task of finding ARC reviewers; I’ll probably sign up for a site like Booksprout once that time comes around.

I also decided to turn this book into a trilogy since they sell better than stand-alones, I’m not quite ready to leave this universe just yet and I have a few more ideas up my sleeve. For the rest of the year I will be working on that as well as novellas and submitting short stories.

I have episodes scheduled out on my Patreon through May 10. Nearing the ending of a first draft is a whole slate of mixed emotions – fear, excitement, giddiness and nerves. But this one will happen, I can feel it in my bones. I haven’t finished a book-length manuscript since my creative writing thesis at age 23. Now, at age 40, I’m actually doing it. Just goes to show that you can start following your dreams any time. You just have to put in the work to make them happen.

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Weekly Musings #5

Image from Pixabay

Once again I’ve remained single-mindedly focused on my paranormal romance and haven’t gotten much of anything else done this week, but I met my writing goal, wrote nearly every day and I’m now up to 60,051 words in my main manuscript.

I have not been able to switch gears and work on short stories or blog posts as well, but hopefully I’ll be able to work on some of those in the next couple weeks. I did, however, force myself to get back into reading. I’ve found it difficult to focus on reading given the war in Ukraine and general geopolitics; but then again, I found it difficult to focus during the thick of the pandemic, too.

I am trying to take the lessons I learned from my year in 2021 of not really doing much of anything creative for sustained periods of time. People talk about forcing yourself as a bad thing, that the work will feel uninspired or bland. But sometimes you really do just have to sit down and do it, instead of giving into your excuses. There are always so many good excuses.

Then you show up every day, every week, and eventually, you start reading again, you start writing again, you start exercising again. If you can’t make yourself do it or if doing it becomes bad for your mental health, maybe it’s time you to admit you need help, or to do something else entirely.

I am not tackling anything light for my reading material either – I’ve got an essay collection by Wendell Berry and Homer’s The Iliad. I realized part of my boredom burnout is that I am starved for intellectual stimulation. I hope to change that by varying my reading and taking some classes.

I have also realized that my ability to crank out fairly clean copy is apparently rare among writers. It comes from my journalism days, I think; I thought fiction was harder because it is not as formulaic as journalistic writing, but turns out when I really put my whole self into it, I can crank out fiction too. I hear about other writers who take three hours to produce 500 words or take all day on some emotionally involved short story. Makes me wonder if my writing is somehow lesser than the writing of those other writers because I don’t necessarily slave away at it. It just… flows. But I’ve been doing it almost every day since I was 12. I did it professionally on deadline. I guess it is just a unique talent of mine, just the way my brain works. It’s not like I am emotionally divorced from the work either; couple scenes this last week made me cry.

I was the same way in school. I called it the art of bullshit. I was a terrible procrastinator and always cranked out my essays the night before the due date with copious amounts of Coca-Cola… and just the right amount of bullshit. And they would still get A’s. Perhaps it was because teachers are used to reading such poor writing from students that when they read good writing it blows them away. I don’t know. Maybe I’m biased and my writing is really terrible and could use some more time and concentration. Who’s to say. All I know is I can’t stop doing it, it’s like a compulsion. Something feels off whenever I don’t do it.

It’s not always like this; I gravitate between periods of despair as well. My horror novel took six months to write 47,000 words and it’s still not done. But my mindset was in a dark, angry place. I couldn’t think of writing. Writing just made me mad. This year I finally figured out that was my whole problem. That was what was making me more depressed – the not writing, the demonizing of writing. I had to show up to the page and just do it.

So maybe it’s not a drug. Maybe it’s more like a medicine.

My goals for this next week are my same exercise goals from last week that I never did, to get to 70,000 words in my WIP, to write a short story and a blog post, to keep practicing guitar and read for a half hour every day, and not just The Economist.

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Weekly Musings #4

Image from Pixabay

Things are progressing with my paranormal romance. I didn’t write for a couple days and it was stressful not writing, honestly; it’s become kind of addictive. I don’t see it like work anymore, I just see it as fun. Stress relief. A nice distraction from impending World War III and the terrible news in Ukraine.

Wrote 2,106 words this morning to make up for it and scheduled out Patreon posts three times a week through April 5. I have reached the point in the story when I have hit the second act and I need to deal with the villain element so I have been introducing suspects. Trying to cast just the right clues and misdirection in this puzzle I am building.

My latest episode will probably piss off Mal/Eamon fans if there are any of those. Talk about a heart wrencher though. I don’t know why this is so fun to write when I put Eamon through a lot of pain and introduced his backstory more. I could have made everyone polyamorous in this I suppose but I decided monogamy added more drama. Wolves mate one at a time after all.

I am now up to 54,224 words total so I am pleased with my progress. More than halfway through my first draft. I think I can finish a first draft in another month.

As I was looking at graphic design courses for book cover design I decided I would splurge on cover art for my main investment up front. It’s going to take a lot of work to learn cover design and that’s still something I want to do. But I don’t know anything about color theory and white space, just general ideas of what I think looks good visually. However, a good cover is a better advertisement than buying an ad on Amazon so I think it’s worth it to make that investment, and that’s what my day job is for anyway. It funds my art. Trying to invest as little upfront as possible though because even though I have the money it seems like a waste of money when you only expect to sell 10 books.

So, I’ve been a bit depressed and haven’t done anything else but write, but I’m happy I have my werewolf universe to escape into. Another thing that I think is interesting to explore is I’m not doing any research into werewolf lore or tropes; I want something totally fresh and different, so I’m inventing my own mythology and creature design. It might piss off some purists but maybe the controversy will help sell books, who knows.

Looking forward to the coming week, my goals are to get to 60,000 words, keep writing every day, plan out a photo shoot with a model, sign up for a gym again and go back to swimming in the morning. Also need to plan out some more blog posts for the coming weeks; a blog post I wrote last fall about running keeps gaining traction so I’m considering more fitness and wellness content. We’ll see.

Weekly Musings #3

Image from Pixabay

I have reached 45,523 words in my WIP, CRY WOLF, and am starting on the 31st chapter. This is generally the point in a manuscript when I tend to give up but I am determined to see this one through. I find something compelling about doing it in an episodic format that makes me want to stick with it; it’s like writing a string of interconnected short stories.

Although I have again slacked on self care, I have written every day this week again except for Friday. I got stuck and I realized I needed to figure out the bones of the middle of the story even though I knew who the killer was and what the end would be. That could always change. On Friday I made a, gasp, outline. I realized I didn’t want to introduce the killer too late, or have a predictable mystery. I have reached the point in the story where I need to deal with the murder mystery subplot and introduce the suspects. Until now it’s been hovering in the background as the romance has taken precedence.

Previously, I was scared of outlines, finding them too constraining. I like the thrill and adrenaline rush of discovering the story as you go. But I also don’t want more continuity issues, and I needed to figure out if the story had legs for a longer book.

Some scenes I come up with organically are worth keeping, though; I do not have to follow my outline exactly. And I realized there are many different types of outlines you can do. You don’t have to prepare a detailed spreadsheet with your characters’ backstories down to their mother’s maiden name and their favorite way to cook an egg. What I did is I started a process notebook in a spiral college-ruled notebook, and I wrote out each chapter and what the total word count would be after each chapter. Then I summarized the chapter to make sure I could build the plot into my desired ultimate word count. The goal is 90,000, but if it needs to be shorter, then it needs to be shorter. The story is driving it. Since I’m indie publishing it, I don’t need to worry about arbitrary industry standards for word counts.

Trick here is not getting too predictable, nor getting too melodramatic. This is not Magnum PI. Building a mystery is like fitting pieces of a puzzle together. I feel a bit intimidated by it but I’m also excited by the challenge.

I also realized that at this point in the book I basically have to write another 40,000-50,000 words to finish this manuscript. So it’s like I’m starting a second book with a new inciting incident, raising the stakes and adding more conflict. That has helped me attack the midpoint with fresh eyes.

My goals for the week are to keep writing every day; by the end of this week I think I’ll be able to easily reach 50,000 words. And to work on self care again. No more rice and cheese for lunch and I need to start exercising again. Swimming or yoga in the mornings, running at lunch, hiking on the weekends. At least I have proved to myself that I can write every day no matter my mood or stressors, if I am excited about the story.

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Weekly Musings #2

Image from Pixabay

I was out of town this holiday weekend visiting friends in Portland and completely forgot to post this column, so I have renamed it to “Weekly Musings” so I am still in the clear. It was a fun weekend. I’ve felt rather socially isolated lately working from home, so I feel out of practice being in a group these days. It was good to get my social juices flowing.

On Sunday, we had fondue and taco night. Couldn’t decide between the two, and both sounded good. Saturday evening we made pizzas in a portable clay-fired oven. Both days we went on hikes. I even brought my computer and got some writing done.

That’s my biggest takeaway from this last week. I can’t not write every day these days. It’s become like a drug to me, and I have to have my fix. I keep thinking up new scenes for my paranormal romance and then I have to get them out of my head and pound out the words on the page. I didn’t always feel this way about writing, so I don’t know what has gotten into me.

I used to be one of those “Writing is hard, stressful and full of emotional pain” type of writers. You know, “It’s open a vein and watch it bleed” or however that saying goes. Maybe it’s just that I have found my genre and hit my groove, I don’t know. Maybe it is that I have released all attachment to the outcome of this book. I literally do not care what happens to it; I don’t care if no one else loves it as much as I do; I know I love it and that’s all that matters.

I at first was going to publish it to Kindle Vella, but then I decided to self publish it. I still question myself on my decision of course; you hear so much about querying that it’s impossible not to be influenced. But this book in particular is made for indie publishing. I can always query other novels. I don’t even care if it’s a success. I don’t even care if I only sell 5 books.

I just love writing it. I feel joy in the process again. I feel like I’m addicted to my couple and I have to know what happens next. I’m completely discovery writing this so when I look back over it I notice some continuity issues that will need to be edited. It will definitely be going through a few different versions, I’m sure, but I doubt a total rewrite will be necessary. I love it too much. Every time I read it over I love it more. I know, I know, I may have a conflict of interest in that assessment.

Next I plan to take some Udemy courses in book cover design for Photoshop. I know I can probably outsource all these things and people should do that to improve the standards in indie publishing. But then I start adding everything up. You pay $1,000 for developmental editing, you pay $200-500 for a good cover, you pay x amount for a good formatter, you buy ads, et cetera, and soon you are spending $3,000 to make $50.

I mean just take editing. Every writer needs quality editors, but editors also need to make a living and deserve to get paid. But you do the math on 25 cents a word for 90,000 words, which is hardly a living wage on an hourly basis, and it doesn’t make much sense for an indie publisher. Think too carefully about the economics of the market and it can completely ruin your desire for creativity. So I’m not thinking too much about that yet. Just trying to write the best book I can.

Even though my day job funds my writing and creative efforts and I think nothing of paying for studios and hiring models for making no money at photography, I still want to think like a business about my books. I also want to have a quality product, which will help you stand out amid a crowded field. And I know hobbies can be expensive and sometimes you just have to eat the costs, but something about that business model of hiring your own team with no guarantee of even making your investment back strikes me as too much of a risk. So my goal is to invest as little upfront as possible so I can still end up in the black.

Maybe one day when I am successful with these books and have a fanbase, I can run a Kickstarter campaign to fund those sorts of things.

I’m a photographer though and I like to think visually and have always wanted to learn book cover design, so it’s something I’m going to put some real time into studying. I’m excited about it and I have definite ideas of what I think looks good graphically.

All in all, it’s been another successful week in the writing world, even though I’ve slacked on exercise and all my other self care activities. I learned I can still get myself pumped up about writing even when I am feeling moody and exhausted. Even today I have to get this blog post done so I can get my ideas out of my head and onto the page. I now feel fairly confident that next week I’ll be able to hit 40,000 words in my paranormal romance. So this is what NanoWriMo is like when you’re actually winning at it.

Until next time.

Sunday Musings #1

Image from Pixabay

I’m starting a new column on my blog called “Sunday Musings.” This is where I will share insights into my publishing and writing journey this year and these will publish every Sunday. I hope to avoid focusing in granular detail on my emotional state and my word counts and instead offer useful and engaging posts about creating with mental health issues, creativity and productivity in general, publishing, marketing and the like.

This last week I learned the importance of sleep for your creative mindset. After having an extremely productive week I guess I just needed a week of laziness. But seriously, it’s difficult to be productive when you’re tired all the time. You have to force yourself to get to the computer and the excuse of “I’m too tired” becomes all the more compelling.

Sleep and the creative mindset: Check. I need to be better about having an evening routine and winding down electronics before bed. I am experimenting with writing for an hour after dinner in the evenings; sometimes it can be overstimulating, as I go to bed with my mind racing with ideas for my stories.

Meditation and reading essays, short stories and poems would help with that.

I turned things around and wrote this weekend, mainly focusing on a story I am serializing to Patreon before releasing it on Kindle Vella in my grand experiment in web publishing for 2022. It’s the tale of a werewolf reporter who moves back home to help his pack investigate a series of murders, only to find himself falling for the local homicide detective. Added about 3,000 words yesterday and 1,566 today, meaning I was able to schedule posts out for three episodes, significantly reducing the pressure.

I actually am really enjoying this web publishing game; I find it’s not really that much pressure, in fact. I’m having loads of fun with it. I’m still editing myself and giving it my best, of course; but it’s different than publishing a book. Got its own special magic. It’s part of my efforts at building a platform this year and attracting new audiences for my writing.

Speaking of platforms, I also need to think some more about reinventing my newsletter. Everyone says email marketing is where it’s at, but I’ve found more success with my blog than with my newsletter. People just don’t subscribe. I skipped doing a January update because I’m dreaming up some changes for more engaging content. I just read Mary Oliver’s essay collection Upstream and I’m considering doing something like that. Creative nonfiction expounding on the creative life and nature sounds interesting to me.

I’m feeling good about the week ahead on this Sunday, now that I have written all weekend. My goal is to keep working on my horror novel, which I have ignored far too long, and finally hit 50,000 words. I have an idea for the ending at last so that’s not what’s stopping me. Guess I just get distracted by all these shiny other projects and ideas. Curse of the writer, eh?

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Bloganuary Day 20: Favorite Photo

Photo by Denise Ruttan

Bloganuary Day 20 prompt: What is your favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

I don’t think it’s possible to pick one single favorite of the literally 10s of 1000s of photos I’ve taken over the last 10 years or so. I first ventured into photography with my first DSLR, a Nikon D5100, in 2014 or thereabouts. Prior to that I was a journalist and took photos on assignment with my work camera for small-town newspapers. My partner thought I had an eye and encouraged me to get a camera of my own, to finally abandon automatic mode and truly learn the inner workings of a proper DSLR.

At first I shot nature, landscapes and that sort of thing; then I decided I wanted to make it a side hustle, so I wanted to shoot portraits, and I needed a portfolio.

But I couldn’t get anyone to pose for me. One friend did a shoot with me that turned out great. I next turned to the Internet, to Facebook groups and later Instagram, to find models. My first foray into model photography was a Facebook post about a shoot workshop at Eugene photographer Allan Erickson’s home studio. This was a fantastic south-facing older home with wonderful natural light. I worked with a pro model and I wasn’t sure how I felt at first about art nude photography but soon I was hooked. I went back there many times in later years for future shoots.

Landscapes of the body.

Finally I was able to find more local collaborators, amateur models who did trade-for-photo arrangements (They provide modeling services, I provide shooting services and photos). This was for portfolios – some of them wanted to make it as professional models; others turned to sex work to make money and did boudoir or portraiture for the creative passion of it. Photographers usually made their money off commercial work like weddings and collaborated with models for their creative outlet. I ended up using freelance journalism to fund my photography habit, since I didn’t have it in me to hustle as a commercial photographer after all.

It was a fun scene for awhile. Thanks to an old group called ISOConnection and a now-defunct art nude site called Zivity, I was able to meet lots of models and photographers. The fun scene had a dark side, of course, as all these sorts of tight-knit communities do. Photographers taking advantage of models, and vice versa; unprofessional behavior; down to the flat out abusive kind of conduct, not just the wait six months to return any photos kind.

Did that for awhile and got burnt out on the scene, wound down my hustling and only did the occasional shoot when I felt really inspired, back in 2019. The pandemic hit in 2020, of course, and I stopped working with models for awhile but it was a long time coming. I needed a break. I thought I had quit for good; I had grown bitter about the community.

But still, I missed it. It was still a social outlet with fun, creative people, and I was feeling an itch to be creative visually again; so between outbreaks, I hired a pro art nude model and did another shoot this fall, which was great. Unfortunately, Omicron has meant I’ve suspended my portraiture work for the time being, but I’m keen to get back to it as soon as it’s safe again. I miss the light side of the culture. These are driven, creative people who love art and beauty – and often, cannabis.

This last spring I finally was able to upgrade my camera to my long-coveted full-frame. I now shoot with a Nikon D750. Photography is an expensive hobby, and the gear is only part of the expense – one of the things I burnt out on. Renting studios, traveling to Portland all the time. I loved many aspects of it but did I love it enough to spend what was essentially a decent side hustle income on it, precluding opportunities to travel or do other things with my time?

I digress; back to the photo. Gear is only secondary compared to what you do with it, how you use it, the composition you select. This was one of my favorite shoots from my intense years. I don’t want to get as intense as I had been in it; these days I just want to do a few shoots a year and only work with the same people, forming relationships to tell a series of portraiture work over time.

The model here is Devi, an Indian model from the Bay Area who goes by the moniker “Googlymonstor” on Instagram. I think this shot perfectly captures what I love about the art of body landscapes viewed with the female gaze. It’s probably one of my top five favorites from that whole five-year period; plus Devi herself was a wonderful person and a fun model to work with. This is why I plan to hire models a couple times a year, and collaborate with a few people the rest of the time. Shoots like this inspire me. Shoots like this remind me that a community is made up of people; some will bring you down, and some will inspire you to be the best artist you can be.

A collaboration with a model and photographer who are of similar abilities, vision and sensibilities is one of the purest artistic mediums out there. It won’t pay the rent, of the studio or your house. But sometimes capitalism alone cannot feed the soul. We need more than to just pay the bills. We need to survive, and then we need to live.

All natural light. Just shadows and curves. Nothing more to say.

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Bloganuary Day 10: Gratitudes

Image from Pixabay

Bloganuary Day 10 Prompt: What are five things you are grateful for today?

One: Exercise. I go lap swimming at my local city pool in the morning a couple times a week, I’m signed up for another beginning tennis class that starts tonight, I do yoga at home a couple times a week and I’ve been trying to get back into running and weight lifting, but haven’t been super consistent with that last one. I miss going to the gym but I don’t feel safe there just yet, but those other physical fitness activities are within my comfort zone. It gets me out of the house, helps my mental health as well as my physical health, and it gives me a social element.

Two: My health. My mental health has been pretty up and down the last couple years but hasn’t everybody’s? My physical health, however, is pretty good. I am grateful I’ve never had covid and am protected through vaccination and masking up when I go out indoors. I’m still fairly careful because I don’t want to get it or spread it to anyone else. I’m not afraid necessarily of getting it myself but I’d feel awful if I knew I had transmitted it to someone else. Aside from the usual aches, pains and insomnia, I’m pretty healthy and that’s something to be thankful for.

Three: My partner. Jim and I have been together for 14 years and I wouldn’t want to weather pandemic isolation with anyone else. He is my rock, goofy, a good listener, gives great advice and he is a wonderful cook.

Four: My house. I moved from a tiny, cramped apartment to a duplex with a yard just before the pandemic and I’m so happy we did. I have my own office and can shut the door, and we have a vegetable garden in the summer.

Five: My creativity. Staying home through the pandemic has made me realize what’s really important to me. Writing, playing music, doing crafts, are all things that make me happy, give me a creative outlet, intellectual stimulation, and help me escape to other worlds.

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Today’s publications

Image from Pixabay

I’ve published a weird gothic short story on my Ko-fi: The Vicious Sky This one’s free but tips are appreciated.

I’ve also published Episode Six of CRY WOLF, my werewolf crime drama with a dash of queer romance (with a love triangle forthcoming!) exclusively for $3 a month Patreon supporters. In another month or two I hope to start releasing it on Kindle Vella.