Encouragement, The Invisible Moth

Year-End Wrap-Up (WHAT. Just, WHAT.)

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I could just as easily call this post, “Welcome To Your Weekly Dose of Cute,” as adorable animal pictures seem to soften the blow of just about anything. Including the stunning, harsh, cold realization that yet another year is coming to a close — and you have no idea where most of it went.

A while back, I announced that I was officially dispatching agents to discover who had stolen approximately 37% of 2018 — because I swear calendar pages never turn that fast by themselves. I’m guessing that those I sent out fell victim to this same curse or villain, as I have yet to hear back from them. Shame.

However, despite losing accumulated days and not being very happy about it, I did accomplish and learn things in 2018.

Important tidbit to remember:

I lost a fair amount of free time to being very unwell, especially in the winter and spring. After suffering with stomach and back pain for most of 2017, I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis, which is a difficult and not-well-understood condition. So I can’t blame my lack of productivity in certain areas on anything other than legit being ill.

The only good thing about getting a diagnosis is that I can at least receive some sort of treatment, although I haven’t yet found a lot that concretely works. Predicting a flare-up is about impossible, so preventing one is a crapshoot, at best. So I can’t beat myself up for having times when I simply did not feel up to doing anything.

Major lesson worth sharing:

Comparing oneself to others, whether it’s in numbers of reviews, sales, publications, blog traffic, or anything else, is a sure, slow descent into madness. There is nothing wrong with the fact I only released one new title this year, or that I hit writer’s block on a couple of my planned WIPs, that I opted out of NaNoWriMo, or that I still cannot figure out how to stop Toby jumping up where he’s not supposed to. None of this means I am not successful or well-liked or appreciated.

Is it tough regardless that I didn’t meet some of my goals for this year? Yeah, it is. But I have also learned I am not the sum of my goals.

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Truths I had no idea even existed:

There are little things you can do online to make a bit of desperately needed cash. Such as taking surveys on advertising campaigns. Yup, it sounds hokey, but corporations will pay to hear your opinion. Not much (I gave this a whirl this fall, and in more than 2 months, I made less than $100). But is this a good (non-scam) option to know about when you’re broke? Sure.

There are also organizations that will give artists money to exhibit their work, teach a seminar, or share an artistic discipline with the community. You can enter contests, apply for grants, and sign up as an independent contractor with local non-profits that support the arts. Again, it isn’t guaranteed income, but it is absolutely worth going after.

Knowing when to let go:

One of the most difficult and most vital decisions I made to my author platform and my personal life this year was removing myself as a reviewer from Goodreads. My published titles — and all the reviews readers have kindly written of them — remain on that website, but I am no longer an active participant.

And it has revolutionized how I feel about reading — how quickly I finish new books, whether or not I review them, in fact whether I pick them up at all. Yesterday I checked two books out of the library that I’ve never heard of, that I may or may not return unread, and I don’t even careThe possibility of discovery, of not getting invested in liking a certain title that’s been hyped by social media, is more motivating than the fear of missing out, or even the excitement of stumbling on a new author. The joy of not giving a dang feels invaluable.

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It’s about who you’re with:

This year, I was not feeling the gear-up to the holiday season, anyway; then my Thanksgiving got thrown for a massive loop, and the short version is: it was terrible. Now I honestly have no requirements for Christmas, except that somebody remembers to buy Muffin toys (that’s already in the works), and that my family is all together. (And, thank God, that one should be taken care of as well.)

Hold on to the impossible dream:

Not being able to go to Realm Makers this summer was a real downer for me. I so wanted to be there to meet all these lovely people I’m in contact with through the year, whose support and encouragement of me as an author, a blogger, a person have been so constant and precious. But too many things made it not happen. Money, needing childcare, being nervous about flying, not being sure how my health would be in July. And I was sad.

But I should not, ever give up on trying to attend next year. Or the year after, or the year after that. A no once doesn’t automatically translate to a never.

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Know your limits and stick to them:

Setting unrealistic goals or even to-do lists don’t really make you feel better about yourself. Having 3 things to check off, and getting 2 checked, is pretty freaking amazing, let me tell you. No matter how much you think you need the status/prestige/money/whatever, before you take on that new project or possibility, take a few serious moments to evaluate your priorities, how they’d be affected, and if the outcome is really what lines up with your long-term plans.

And don’t let someone guilt-trip you into taking on too much. You will be a much more effective — and happy! — parent/employee/friend/family member by refusing to tackle it all.

So, that’s about it for me right now! I’ll be around on social media, but between now and New Year’s, I’m not sure if another formal post shall be forthcoming. My coveted spare time is being divided between family, the holidays, and writing. See you on the dark side of the moon, moths!

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HANUKKAH!

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Encouragement, writing

To NaNo or Not to NaNo? That is the Question…

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At least it’s the question on the mind of all writers who regularly torture themselves…er, participate in NaNoWriMo. The short answer for me, is: No.

No, no, no, no, and — no. Here’s the detailed reason why:

Last year I about died when I was nearly 30k words into my project…and then woke up one morning somewhere around November 20th — and realized I absolutely hated the direction it was going. I liked the characters, and the tone, but too much of the plot as it had developed made me melt into a puddle of oozing bleck that was ruining the carpet.

Plus, I was finishing the final edits for Rulers and Mages at the same time. Yes, yes, I actually was doing that to myself.

Anyway, I was pretty close to finishing NaNo, in a non-traditional (“rebel”) way, so I decided to add to my monthly word count the approximately 10k new words that had come out of Volume 2’s final edits, and about 12k of an untitled/ungenred experimental piece/possible novella I attempted exploring a different take on my imploding project. (I did make it to 50k by November 29th, but I ultimately scrapped the different take, and put the original project on the shelf indefinitely.)

Also, last year I realized that “winners” have to pay for their prizes — which is just so not okay after we’ve literally toiled for hours and hours and made our families afraid of us and sacrificed our chances for relaxing over an entire month.

It really turned me off the whole idea.

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So, as far as I am concerned: NaNo, away with thee!

Here’s what NaNo is good for: You quickly develop a lot of self-discipline when it comes to your writing. You learn how to stick to a project and make serious headway on it in a short amount of time.

The first year I undertook this challenge, that was exactly my goal. I’d been struggling for literal ages with a novel that I’d written when White Fang was still in elementary school, and I’d always thought about trying to do more with it, but never did. A reason to put it off always came up.There was always a reason to put it off.

So, in 2016, the goal became to finish the novel, entirely, and find out how to self-publish. I’d queried several times before without much luck. And I was tired of feeling like I’d never get anywhere. So I took the leap. (What came out of NaNo 2016 was Masters and Beginners. It did pay off.)

However, since then, the one problem I have not had is finishing a WIP. After not writing very much for a long time, it’s like that part of my brain can’t be shut off. In a year and a half, I’ve published a total of 4 books, and my plans for 2019 include at least 4 more.

But I have also learned that I have limits, and sticking to them is highly advised.

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For example, trying to write 90% of a novel within 30 days is not a good idea. Setting myself a realistic deadline of having a draft done within about 6 weeks, and then making sure the rewrites and edits don’t take more than another 6 weeks, is a worthy aspiration.

The other good teaching tool of having a strict time limit is refusing to let your inner editor go crazy. Some of us continually battle the critic that arises while we’re writing, the voice that always triple-guesses our choice of wording, character names, how much description we put in that paragraph… And that needs to stop.

Yes, editing is necessary, and everybody’s first draft is going to be a bit of a mess. And that’s totally fine. But we also deserve to like our own work — we certainly pour enough blood, sweat and tears into it.

Overcoming the urge to edit every single chapter I complete, as I go, is not a NaNo-friendly strategy. In the interest of time, you really can’t. Though if there’s a certain phrase or adjective that just isn’t clicking for me, I simply don’t feel comfortable going on until it isn’t bugging me anymore. This is just how I roll.

And how I roll and NaNo…well…that may not line up.

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Anyway, while I am officially not participating in NaNo, here’s what I will be doing in November:

I’m spending October getting as far as I can on the Order of the Twelve Tribes prequel. When November 1st comes, if I feel like there’s still more to tackle on that, I will do so. But if, by November 5th, the inspiration’s no longer kicking, then I will devote a chunk of time (till about Thanksgiving) to the Super Secret Project. (Both of these WIPs I really want to finish drafts of before Christmas.)

Spreading myself too thin is an experience I should only be describing in the past tense. And avoiding writer’s block is a priority. So, if my mind goes blank on the Super Secret Project (since I don’t have all the twists worked out for that yet), there is always Volume 4 to get back to.

Since I prefer to write my first drafts by hand, keeping up with word count can be kind of tough. Measuring my daily progress by number of pages — and not fretting if I fall short — is my ambition instead.

To those of you heading into traditional NaNo, may the odds be ever in your favor. To those of you opting out, I hear you. And to those of you who are just plain writing — rock on.

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Encouragement, Mental Health

Post-Birthday Resolutions

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Some people make New Year’s resolutions. I’ve never seen the point; after all, the only thing that changes on January 1st is your calendar page. In the morning, you’ll get up and look around, and realize that the new solar year strongly imitates the last one.

But making resolutions after a birthday makes sense. Something has definitely changed, you’re a whole year older (whether you feel like it or not). And the idea of an entire 365 days passing and possibly not much change coming to your life can be daunting.

It can motivate you to action.

While striving for the moon isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re in a job, a home, a life you like, it’s important to be aware of brewing discontent. It might huddle under the surface, prodding at you now and then, until it becomes a constant prickle of irritation. Then an event or particular instance can catapult you into the realization: You’re another year older, and your achievements are lacking, you aren’t satisfied, you don’t see goals being accomplished.

So, what do you do about it? Write down a list, put it in a drawer, and forget about it?

No.

You write the list, or not, and set out to cross items off.

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I don’t have specific plans in mind for the next year of my life, but there are certain things I want to work on more, and I think doing so will only be a benefit. Too often, fear keeps us from rocking the boat, and later we may incur regrets. At the end of my life, I don’t want that to be me.

So, proceeding, how do I see my days playing out?

I want to employ the courage to speak up more. Not in a political or social justice way; I already have little trouble voicing my opinions on the matters I feel passionate about. But on things that require sticking out my neck in a more personal way.

For example, about 2 weeks ago, I was in the library, picking out Muffin’s prizes for the summer reading, and I noticed that on the prize shelf was a full set of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls. White Fang has had his eye on obtaining the series since he read the library’s copies, and fell in love, a few months ago. Not all that long ago, I would’ve panicked about asking the librarian if those books could be set aside as White Fang’s reward when he finished his reading challenge. But guess what I did? That’s right, I wrangled us free Stiefvater. And having that carrot dangling spurred White Fang into completing the challenge that had been taking well over a month.

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I also want to take my time more and enjoy the journey, rather than concentrating too heavily on quantity of production. The other day, I was feeling like other indie authors are so much more well-known than me, and that I’m somehow falling behind. But then, when I realized that in the space of 14 months, I’ve released 4 titles, that my work is well-loved by those who have read it, and that I actually had an article on writing Christian fantasy published in a web zine this week — well, then I just felt silly for worrying.

(By the way, for those of you who are interested, the article can be found here: http://speculativefaith.lorehaven.com/why-i-believe-in-jesus-and-love-fantasy-fiction/)

Although I do hope to make some decent wages off my book sales, it shouldn’t come at the expense of losing my joy in writing itself. Lately I have not been feeling it, and that’s bad. The thing about creative endeavors, whether part of their purpose is to bring in money or not, is that they need to bring joy to their creator.

So, by the same token, I don’t want to spend my time attempting to refuel my creative tank with styles or genres that simply aren’t for me. I feel I’m truly at an age now where I shouldn’t have to apologize for liking the things I like, and keeping up with every single new thing of every single minute isn’t required. I no longer see the need to bang my head against the wall with authors or movies or music or TV shows that just don’t appeal. My life will grow richer minus the consistent hunt for the “hot now.”

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I also want to appreciate more what I have in this moment, not fret too much about what will happen tomorrow, or next week, next month, without certain things. Being aware of what’s coming up and what has to be done is a good, solid way to carry on; however, I don’t want to sacrifice the present as a result of being too focused on the future. Muffin and White Fang will only grow up once, and I don’t want to miss it because I’m always concerned about how their lives will be in 20 years.

If the ultimate goal is to make every day count, then let’s start with today.

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Encouragement, writing

A Creator’s Shift in Perspective

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Here’s a tough one as a writer: You’ve put in hours (sometimes many, many hours) of blood, sweat, and tears (yes, blood — haven’t you ever had a paper cut?) into a project, and then one day you realize you can’t stand what’s been produced. Literally, feel quite strong negative feelings towards it.

And you begin to rue the day you ever started this WIP. You dread going back to it and attempting to fix it. Maybe its problems seem insurmountable.

And all of this can make you start to wonder if continuing to write at all is even worth the hassle.

Now, before you completely throw in the towel, let’s break this down, into bite-size pieces.

Here’s the unfortunate truth: You will not like every WIP you initially produce. Sometimes a draft will just downright suck, and guess what — it’s okay. 

Guess how many times I re-wrote what eventually became Masters and Beginners? About half a dozen. Across as many years. No lie. Not even published authors always get it brilliant on the first go.

So, number one — don’t despair. Don’t panic! Don’t give up.

Taking a break, however, is another matter, and a well-advised one.

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There was a period of about 18 months when I did not touch my YA fantasy series, except to do the research. During this time, I crafted my short story collection, grew my blogisphere space, but put the whole concept of a several-installment contemporary-fantasy-world endeavor on the back burner.

It was SO helpful. My brain and my confidence came back. And now I’ve published the third book in the series.

Now and then, deciding to scrap a project isn’t actually a terrible crime. If you realize that the reason the dialogue or world-building is in the rubbish heap because you simply aren’t invested in the WIP, then setting it aside is smart. Readers won’t relate very well to something the author themself didn’t really connect to.

Maybe you changed your mind on the plot, or maybe the characters just aren’t coming to life for you. This is all right, I swear.

One of the toughest things to admit about being a writer is that our work might never see the light of day. It’s hard, I agree, to spend lots of time in front of a computer or notebook, demanding peace and quiet and solitude from your family and friends, and then not have anything to show for it, weeks or even months later. I get it.

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Many authors do, in fact, have day jobs, and it’s partly because of the practical necessity of producing something concrete. If you’re primarily a teacher, a librarian, an accountant, a dog kennel assistant, there’s a lot of satisfaction, and function served, in every day receiving a paycheck for services you know you gave to the community.

However, when you’re a writer, even if you’re taking a break — even when you’re enjoying the break — the urge will still be there.

The driving force of your passion. Hiding just under the surface. It will invade your dreams, your bus ride, your showers. You’ll be making dinner, and think, “The killer isn’t the money-grubbing estranged nephew — it’s the old lady in the nursing home!”

Before too long, you’ll open a new document on your laptop, or grab a pen, because you just can’t stop yourself.

This is totally fine, too.

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Changing direction — either in your life or your writing process — can be vital to saving your sanity, and your eventual work.

There are subplots in Healers and Warriors (Volume 3) that were originally part of Rulers and Mages (Volume 2). And after determining (for at least a year) that there would be 4 installments in the canon of my series, this spring I expanded it to 5 — and I feel good about that choice.

I rewrote Volumes 2 and 3 at least twice — each. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always fun. But it was 110% worth it, for finally getting to the stories that I knew were in those messy drafts all along.

So, don’t be afraid to alter course if the path you’re on is full of stones and mud puddles. If there’s an overgrown track veering off to the side, tempting the corner of your eye, plunge into the bushes and tramp through it.

Just see what happens.

The risks usually pay off.

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Encouragement, writing

Let the Rebellion Begin!

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Recently, I had an interesting experience.

I’d decided to join a “writers’ group” in my local area. (Note: I’m not anywhere in this post stating where that is at the moment, nor calling out any particular individuals. That’s not the point of this discussion).

Anyway, I gathered pretty quickly — after a couple of meetings — that the way this group had been operating was not really what I was looking for, nor how I understood the concept of a “writers’ group” to apply.

Each month, a theme would be assigned, and the group would, on their own, write something related to the theme, then they’d all meet up again. After everyone read what they’d brought, the conversation tended to go off into non-related tangents of memories, social issues, and eventually what the next month’s topic should be.

There was absolutely no feedback given on each piece regarding literary elements, tone/voice, characterization, setting, atmosphere, or plot. Of course, many of the pieces did not have a majority of these aspects, as we were all (bluntly) told that the group traditionally focused on autobiographical, non-fiction content (nothing more than journaling, really).

No one present (except for me) has a work-in-progress. I was also told (again, point blank) that sharing fiction with the group wasn’t really appropriate.

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Excuse me? Isn’t this the whole idea of people who like to write gathering together for the purpose of writing? To explore, to learn more, to hone your skills in the craft?

I also noticed that others were interested in the exploring, the learning, the honing part, and that they appeared to be shut down by one, very vocal voice.

Ahem. Please pardon me while I clear my very fiery bookdragon throat.

So, here’s what I’ve done: I’m looking into starting my own group, which actually would focus on the craft of writing.

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When you’re passionate about something as wonderfully varied and diverse as literature, that passion should not get shoved away by a pushy minority declaring what “fits” and what “doesn’t.”

It’s exactly why we have genres. If you want to write historical fiction, go for it! A contemporary romance, sure! Murder mysteries! Science fiction! Epic fantasy! Poetry! A collection of Post-It notes you left taped to your irresponsible teenage children’s foreheads! Sure, why not?!?! Whatever you want to write about, chances are, somebody out there will want to read it.

And why can’t we do this in a number of ways? Novels. Essays. Magazine articles. Poems. Novels of essays and articles. Blog posts. Fiction. Non-fiction. Combining the two. Fictionalizing real events in your life — with plenty of plot and dialogue and pithy puns.

The “rules” for what and how writers “should” write are treated very loosely these days, and I’m glad for it. We get to share so much with the world by expanding definitions and conditions.

Trying to box in people’s creativity just doesn’t work.

Experiencing this the other week really threw me.

And then I decided to do something about it.

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This will probably turn out to be a big undertaking, and I’d appreciate your prayers! I’m honestly not sure what lies ahead as this venture gets underway, but I’m excited, and hopeful!

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Encouragement, health

In Which I Become An Episode of a Medical Drama

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But it was an episode that ended with Patrick Dempsey coming out to the waiting room to announce all was well.

Okay, not really Patrick Dempsey (but wouldn’t that have been cool if Derek Shepherd of Grey’s Anatomy had been my surgeon? which wouldn’t have happened, though, as he was a neurosurgeon and I had a GYN issue…anyway…)

But, yes, everything went well. Sure enough, there is nothing wrong with my stomach or digestive system. All the pain was being caused by a blockage in my uterus, which was pressing against other organs and creating pain.

Today I feel a lot better than I have in months. Literal months. No bloating, no indigestion. Yes, I am sore from the incision, and my throat hurts from the breathing tube, and my muscles are stiff and achy after the anesthesia wore off (which they warned me would happen).

I’ve been able to keep down some soup and crackers and tea, and I’m still tired, but I have a flat stomach for the first time in easily six months, and my side doesn’t hurt for the first time in nearly a year.

The official problem is endometriosis, which is a bit tricky, but treatable. Most likely, there will be further treatments, maybe another operation in the future if the initial treatments don’t take. But for the moment, I am certainly healthier than I was.

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I made it through the worst part so far; recovery will be a walk in the park compared to all the suffering of the last many weeks. Last night I could actually lie in bed in almost any position I wanted and be comfortable. This is a huge stride in the right direction.

Today is a snow day here, as we received the latest blast of snow and ice. Nothing really serious for our area, which is great. Muffin is at grandma and grandpa’s, probably playing in the snow. White Fang is bingeing library DVDs.

Outside it’s white and beautiful and cold, and quiet.

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I still have a ways to go. There are things that may happen in the future that will still create problems. Hopefully not, but I remain realistic. Though optimistic, as I now have a concrete reason for what was going on, and since it’s finally been isolated, and there are options for treatment. I no longer have to wait and wonder and suffer.

The anesthesia took effect pretty quickly, so I remember absolutely nothing after being wheeled through the surgical registration area. I have to say, I almost wanted to overhear something about the conversation between the doctors and nurses during the procedure. Or at least experience some cool trippy dreams while being under.

(Kidding, by the way. Mostly. Don’t do drugs, kids.)

Here’s what I do remember before I woke up: I was with the Doctor (10, for those of you wondering), and he had this box, and it had something important in it, and we were running up a mountain, towards where the TARDIS was parked. Hey, I’ll take that, too.

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For all of you who have been monitoring my progress and keeping me in your prayers, thank you. Don’t sign off just yet, however, as I have a feeling we’re not quite to the end of this.

But today I feel like I’m at the start of a new beginning, and it’s been a long time coming.

And I am grateful.

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cats, Encouragement

How To Get Through Life Like A Cat

Take the road less traveled. Sure, it’s tempting to go down the path others have already been on for ages; the pawsteps before you are clear and easy to follow, and most of the dangers that may come, you’ve been warned about. But nothing will make up for what you’re supposed to do in your own life, for jumping onto the path destiny has set for you and you alone, regardless of whether it’s planned or prepared or expected or not. Don’t worry too much about what others think you should or shouldn’t do. Find your own road, and proudly put your pawsteps on it.

Remember to play. Chasing that butterfly or leaf is valuable. It reminds you to let go of worry and fear; you can’t control the world, you can only control how you react to it. The sun may not always shine, the butterflies may not always be in the mood; but keep memories of those times in your heart, and bring them to your mind when the wind is cold and the dark is frightening. The playful moments will come back.

Sometimes we all just need to sit in the grass. When it’s a warm, lazy summer afternoon, and the desire to lie in the grass and roll on your back and splay your claws outweighs the obligation to change the litter box or fill the food dish, you have reached pure serenity. Take advantage of it. Revel in it. The duties will still be there later; and guess what, maybe they can wait.

Stop and breathe. Don’t think so much about that impending rainstorm or whether your humans will remember to take you to the vet for those shots, that you forget to appreciate that comfy couch or the fact your fellow cat let you have his treat the other night. Life is not always a bowl of shrimp; so we need to decide to live calmly, with dignity and confidence. Keeping your head is only for the better.

Get yourself a chair that fits. Don’t automatically try to squeeze yourself into the worn out lawn chair they’re throwing out next week, because it seems the couch and the beds are always taken up by human kittens or a laundry basket (that sleeping in means getting yelled at). Don’t think you have to settle for less than the best just because it seems to be the only option. Dig a little and discover an unused corner of a closet where you can knead an old afghan into the right position, or the top of that shelving in the basement where they store the camping supplies. Find what works to give you a little bit of heaven.

Naps are important. We keep telling our humans how much they need their sleep — and how much we need ours, and somehow they don’t quite get it. Sleep brings rest to muscles weary from climbing trees, soothes frayed fur, and rejuvenates our ears and tails, so we can maintain that amazing balance and awareness of our surroundings. We imagine it provides similar benefits for humans. So, everyone, nap.

Whatever you’re facing, you can do it. You are stronger than you think. Don’t just hide behind the garage or in the bushes and wait for another cat or a human to come chase away that neighbor dog or the nasty crow trespassing on your turf. Bristle up that fur and raise your voice in your most intimidating yowl. You have it in you; the blood of lions and tigers runs in your veins. Don’t forget it.