Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Low Confidence

It’s recently come to my attention that I’m not as good of a fiction writer as I wish I was. This comes from the sort of things writers run into all the time–a combo of bad reviews, harsh critiques from my writing group, lukewarm response from betas, rejections on short stories–but this time it kind of feels like a wake-up call.

Of course, there’s a number of ways one can react to finding out that they’re not as good at something as they thought they were:

  1. Give up
  2. Ignore the feedback and continue on doing the same thing
  3. Evaluate weak points and take steps to fix them

I mean, there is always the option that you’re not good at something and that you will never be good at something. Some of us are just not athletic or smart or good at math/languages/common sense…

Though I do hope we’re not at that point.

Anyway, as you can imagine, this hasn’t been great for my self-confidence as of late (also combined with a terminal diagnosis for my cat from my vet and other stresses), but I have managed to take a step back and look at my path moving forward.

  • I have publishing obligations in an anthology and the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin. Those will have to be done. But perhaps I should hold off on submitting short stories and querying agents on other projects until I do some more evaluation.
  • I bought Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course like, ten years ago. I got a few steps in but never finished the process, and perhaps a hands-on course on writing would help me learn some new skills and tools for novel-writing. (Also of note, I took Holly’s How to Write Flash Fiction course a few years back–it’s free and short–and out of the four stories I got out of it, I have sold three, which is pretty damn good on percentages.)
  • I have several writing books that I’ve never touched, both practical ones (such as writing exercises) and craft ones. Maybe now is the time to crack them open.
  • Experimentation might also be in order. I love fantasy–I love to read it, and I love to write it–but maybe it’s not destined to be. My husband thinks I should combine my drawing and writing to try out a few children’s books, which could be fun to do. And I would also like to try my hand at a mystery. It wouldn’t hurt to do something just for fun, too, without worrying about trying to make it marketable.

Any other tips, squiders, for when you’re feeling down and worthless? Thoughts about fixing things?

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Writing Around Life: Personal Anecdotes?

Hey, squiders, a question for all of you that have been following along with the writing around life posts:

Would they be better with personal anecdotes?

I’ve been in most, if not all, of the situations described in the book. Most of the tips and methods described are ones that I have used in various situation.

Would it be beneficial to include “Back when I was in college, I would blah blah blah”?

Or is it just extraneous information and the tips/methods themselves are enough?

I can’t decide if showing that I’ve tested the methods out and know they work would be useful to a potential reader.

The other issue is that I’m concerned that they’ll come across as bragging/discouraging. “I wrote 50K in a month while working full time AND working toward a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, so what’s your excuse?”

So, help me out, guys, Yea or Nay?

Reading Old Books vs New

A writing friend once, in the middle of a storycraft discussion, declared that if you want to be published, you shouldn’t be reading anything older than about five years. So, for example, if you’re reading anything before 2013 today, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.

There is something to be said about this advice. By looking at the recent trends, especially in your genre, you can see what’s selling and what’s not, as well as what agents and publishers seem to like. (While something can come out of left field and be a bestseller, most books that are published are “safe” books.)

(Also, said friend is a bestselling author whose book has been optioned for television, so he does know what he’s talking about.)

If you’ve been around here at all, you know I’m terrible at following this advice. (As we speak, I’m wading through an 1896 novel called The Well at World’s End which is fantasy in the 1800s-romantic poetry sort of fashion.)

Is there something to be gained from reading older books?

Well, to be honest, probably not. I mean, not from a marketing standpoint. The publishing industry is not a static thing. Something that was big ten years ago probably won’t fly today. (And you have to remember that, if you’re reading traditionally published books, that the book that comes out today was probably accepted about two years ago, so the industry may have already moved on.)

But, I mean, that’s not why I’m reading them.

I’m reading them because I like to see the evolution of the genre. Because it’s interesting to see how genre conventions came into being and how they’ve changed over time. Because I like reading the stories that influenced the authors that influenced me.

And because, arguably, the things that worked once can be rewoven and reintegrated to work again in new ways.

What do you think, squiders? Do you like the occasional older work, whether it’s over a hundred years or closer to 50? Do you think there’s value in looking where we’ve been, or only in where we are?

Writing Around Life: Work/School/Kids

Here we run into the ultimate combination–work, school, and children.

(This is also our last official post in the writing around life series. If you think I should add anything, or you have any comments, please let me know!)

Now, this can be intense, but isn’t necessarily. As we discussed in previous sections, you’re probably not full time on work AND school AND kids. Most people are full time on one and part time on the other two. For example:

  • Person A works a full-time job, 40 hours a week. They’re also taking a continuing education course and have two small children at home.
  • Person B stays home with the kids. When they can, they do freelance or contract work from home, and they’re also taking a MOOC course (massive open online course) to see if they’d like a certain career.
  • Person C attends university working toward their bachelor’s degree. They also pick up a few hours a week at a coffee shop, and spends time with their older kids when they’re not in school.

There’s infinite combinations of this, but most people fall into one of the above categories. You are primarily a worker, a student, or a parent. That’s not to say you’re not also the other things, but that one category takes up most of your time.

There are a couple ways to fit writing in around your busy schedule, and they’re primarily things we’ve talked about in the individual work, school, and children sections. Ideally, you can carve writing time in or around your main responsibility, leaving you time to complete your secondary ones. If you work full time, you shouldn’t be sacrificing school or time with your kids for writing.

So, running with the working full time example, if you can get your writing done during your commute and/or your lunch break, then you’re free when you get home to focus on other things. Likewise, if you write during short breaks at school, then you can help the kids with homework when you get home and work after they go to bed. And if you can write while the kids are doing their homework or while they’re napping, then you’re free to work or do your class once your spouse or other child care arrives.

And remember–if you’re too tired to write right now, don’t beat yourself up about it. Yes, you can make time for writing. It’s not impossible. But if it’s not working now, give it a break. Situations change. Classes end. Kids get older. It’s all right to take care of yourself.

Be realistic about the time you have available. Realize that even a little writing adds up over time.

Thoughts about writing around everything, squiders?

Writing Around Life: Work/Kids

Like some of the previous combination sections, squiders, we’re going to divide this into work part-time/kids and work full-time/kids. We’re also going to assume you have childcare worked out, whether a family member is watching the children or they attend daycare.

WARNING: Remember, check regulations and make sure all your work is done before attempting to write during work hours or using work resources.

Part-time work

The problem with part-time work is that it may not always be on a reliable schedule. You may work Tuesday/Thursday/Friday one week and Monday/Wednesday/Saturday the next, or find yourself switching between day time and evening shifts. This can make it hard to reliably schedule in writing, so you might need to find time as you can, or schedule a week at a time.

Several of the techniques we’ve discussed before also work here:

  • Work when your kids work
  • Use your commute (if you have one/use public transportation)
  • Ask the babysitter/daycare if they can keep the kids a little longer (if financially viable)
  • Try to have a night off once a week for writing
  • Work while they sleep

Full-time work

If you work 40+ hours a week, you probably don’t have a lot of time with your kids, so it can be hard to prioritize something that takes you further away from family time. Plus you may have a spouse to maintain a relationship with, or a house to keep up. So how do you stuff writing in?

This can be a good time to look at your writing goals. Do you want to eventually quit your day job and write full time? Do you want something to share with your kids? Is writing something you do for fun?

Once you’ve established what you want out of your writing, it can be good to break your goal down into steps. If you want to release self-published novels every few months, you’re obvious going to have to write more/faster than someone who has a single novel or memoir in them that is less concerned on speed.

And once you’ve broken your goal into steps and determined a vague schedule, you can begin to see how much time you need in a week. (I like to work in weeks at a go; others work in months or even years. Up to you.)

Depending on your goals, maybe you set aside a few hours every Saturday morning to work. You get some work done, and then the kids are up and you can do things with the family. Or, depending on how much energy you have, what your spouse (if you have one) is up to, etc., you can try writing for an hour or so after the kids go to bed.

Remember that you might have built-in time at or around work that you can use as well, such as your commute (if you take public transportation) or your lunch break.

Anything to add about working, having kids, and writing, squiders? We’re almost done. Next week we tackle the ultimate work/school/kids combo.

Writing Around Life: School/Kids (Older Children)

Good morning, squiders! Is it hot where you live? It’s hot here. Man, summer.

Today we’re going to be looking at how to write around both school and older children. Like last week with the younger children section, this will be divided into part-time school/older children and full-time school/older children.

In this case, older children includes children who are going to school on a full-time basis, so essentially ages 6 and up. The nice thing about older children is that they begin to be self-sufficient to some extent. Even a 6 year old can dress themselves (though admittedly, not always appropriately for the season/occasion) and can probably get themselves simple snacks. (They probably still need help tying their shoes, but oh well.) By the time you get up to the tweens and teens, your kids may only need you to make them dinner and drive them places.

NOTE: All children are different, and all have different needs. You know your own children best, so use your discretion when applying techniques. ‘

Like last week, this section assumes that you have a childcare solution for when you are at school.

The biggest thing you can do, no matter if you’re in school part or full time, is to work when they’re working. Homework starts early these days. Even kindergarteners may have the occasional 15-minute assignment they need to do at home, or they may need to practice reading. Working next to your kids accomplishes a couple of different things:

  • If they need help, you’re readily available
  • It somewhat counts as family time, even if you’re not directly interacting
  • It helps the kids work because you’re setting a good example
  • You’re getting stuff done

And then, when everyone’s done, you can all go off and do fun things, and your schedules are (hopefully) in sync.

Part-time students

Again, how these strategies will work for you depends on how many classes you’re taking at a time. One or two is generally the most doable when also having to take care of your children, but you know what’s right for you.

  • Utilize the time while your children are at school

The average elementary school student is in school for about six and a half hours a day.  Even if you’re using several hours of this a day for schoolwork (homework, or doing online coursework) you can still probably set an hour or so aside to work on writing or other creative projects. It can help to differentiate school work from creative work–perhaps an hour before the kids need to be picked up, you go to a cafe or a library and work there, then get the kids on the way home.

  • Make use of childcare

If financially viable, you can use after or before school programs to get in a little extra time. After school programs are often less than $20 per afternoon, and you can get 3 or 4 more hours of work. Used once a week or even every other week, this is still a decent amount of extra time to get things done. Likewise, if you’re already using childcare (if your classes don’t correspond with when the kids are in school), perhaps you can add on a little extra time by dropping the kids off a little earlier or picking them up a little later.

  • Set a dedicated writing time once a week

Even when life is crazy, there should be an hour or two a week you can claim as writing time. This should be some time when someone else can watch the kids (or while they’re at school) and should be as consistent as possible to help build a habit. By having a dedicated time, you can make sure you’re making at least a little progress.

Full-time students

Unfortunately, a full-time college schedule isn’t as consistent as a K-12 schedule, so you may be taking classes outside when your kids are at school. Again, these techniques assume you have childcare in place.

  • Work during breaks on campus

You may have short breaks on campus that aren’t long enough to work on school projects or head home. These can be great times to get a little bit of creative work done. Make sure you’re carrying a notebook or a laptop or a writing instrument of choice with you. (Not too hard, since you probably have some for schoolwork anyway.)

  • Set a writing time at the beginning of the week

Since college schedules aren’t always consistent (you may need to go to office hours one week, or meet extra with your group another, for example), you may not be able to set a time each week for writing. But you can look at your schedule each week and block off time you know you’re busy (it also helps to block off homework time) and choose an hour or so for writing. Things may still happen, but having it on your calendar makes it more likely to get done.

As mentioned previously, school comes first, and it does end eventually.

Thoughts about writing around school and older children, squiders?

Writing Around Life: School/Kids (Younger Children)

This post is going to be divided into part-time school/young kids and full-time school/young kids. In this case, young kids essentially means any child who is not also going to school full-time, so infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers.

This is a tough combo, no way around it. Young children need almost constant supervision, and it’s hard for them to advocate for themselves, so you need to make sure you trust whomever is watching them while you’re at school. Cost can also be an issue, since you’re probably not working (if you are, please see the work/school/kids combo section).

But, for the sake of this book, let’s assume you have a child care option that is working for you that allows you to attend school. So we’re going to look at the time you have outside of school where you have to balance non-classroom course work (such as homework and projects), watching your children, and hopefully getting a little writing in.

NOTE: It’s okay to let writing fall by the wayside if you have a hard semester. School is finite. It ends eventually. Your children are only young once. You will have to be the judge of this, of course. If you have time to spend an hour or so a day playing MMORPGs or catching up on your favorite television show, you have time to write. If you run around all day and crash once the kids are in bed, then you might not.

For both part- and full-time students, short breaks are your friend.

Long breaks between classes aren’t the best time to try and fit writing in because they’re better for other things. You can take the kids home and feed them lunch. You can run errands. You can meet with groups and get homework or projects done.

Short breaks are golden because you can’t do anything else, but 10-30 minutes is more than enough time to think through that plot snaggle, write a couple hundred words, outline the next few scenes, and so forth.

Part-time students

Some of these strategies depend on the number of classes you’re taking at a time. I tend to take a single college-level course at a time, which generally means that it requires two hours or less of work on any particular day. Adjust as necessary to your situation.

  • Add half-an-hour on to your child-watching situation

Depend on who’s watching your child and how much you’re paying (and whether you can afford any more), see if you can add an extra half hour on. Maybe your mother-in-law is perfectly happy to watch little Susie for a bit longer while you camp in the lobby of your school and get some writing done. 30 minutes isn’t a lot, but it adds up over time, even if you can only do it once or twice a week.

  • Get a night out

See if your spouse or a family member is willing to watch your children one night a week for a few hours on a regular basis. This has the added benefit of getting you out of the house as well as giving you the opportunity to write (or do school work, as necessary).

  • Exchange time

Perhaps you have a friend who also needs some child-free time to get some stuff done. Maybe she can watch your kids on, say, Thursday, or whenever you need it the most, and you can repay the favor on Fridays, when you don’t have class and your classwork is done for the week.

  • Work while they sleep

Sleeping children are the best. I wouldn’t recommend trying to burn both end of the candles (i.e., staying up late after the kids are asleep AND getting up early to work before they wake up), but doing one or the other and also working during naps can be a great boost to productivity.

Full-time students

If you’re on campus all day and have full-time child care, you’re actually ahead of the game. A full-time day care provider typically charges by the week, so the actual hours your child(ren) is at day care don’t matter as much. Even if a relative is helping you out, you’re probably on campus all day and can spend breaks between classes as you see fit.

Of course, school should always be the top priority, and sometimes you may find yourself inundated with work that needs to be done. But it does tend to balance out. Very few courses keep you super busy all the time. Make use of your small breaks when you can.

If you’re not on campus all day, or if you’re doing online school where you have more control over your schedule, try out some of the techniques listed in the part-time section.

Anything to add, Squiders? Thoughts on writing while doing both school and having young children?