Inspired by Allison Morton’s guest blog post on Anne Stormont’s website.

What I wish would happen vs. what happens in actual life. See if you can guess which is the real version 🙂

Version 1

Wake up. Holy fuck, I slept in again! The last thing I remember is getting up to pee at 3:36 am and the neighbors honking a car horn and some laughing across the street. And the cat wants water AGAIN (two of them drink straight from the tap). At the time I thought, “Okay, I have 2.5 hours until I need to get up, that’s like taking a nap. No problem.” 

I should not have gone back to sleep.

So I get up and feed the cats, then the betta fish. I notice the betta’s water temp is a few degrees lower than it should be and take measures to heat things up. I don’t have an aquarium heater because it’s always pretty warm where I live. Then I clean up the kitchen; put away dishes, make sure mom’s coffee maker is ready for her morning coffee, etc. I put the kettle on for my coffee and set out to empty the litter boxes. One cat vomits all his breakfast on the floor in partially digested puddles. I clean that up. I resume the journey to cleaning the litter boxes. I notice someone (who shall remain nameless) has peed outside two of the three boxes. I clean up more puddles. I disinfect the floor. Then I empty the fucking litter boxes.

I go back into the kitchen and make my coffee. I take my coffee back to my office/room and set it down on my desk. I realize I have not emptied the betta’s litter box (siphoning out the poop). So I do that. Then I wash my hands, brush my teeth, wash my face. I greet my maternal progenitor and, after making sure she’s all settled for the morning, I sit down at my desk (an hour and a half after waking up) and try to write.

My coffee mug lives next to the betta fish’s tank and every time I pick it up and take a drink he lunges at the glass. His threat displays are epic. One day, he will kill the shit out of my coffee mug.

I try tackling a half-written draft of a chapter. I need to switch character POVs and decide the company policies that this character has to follow. It is not very exciting.

So I switch to school work. Somewhere in there I have breakfast…and lunch. I’m burned out on school work so I look at the clock and holy shit 5 hours have passed, how is it already 4 pm?

The betta fish gets bored and goes to take a nap on top of the digital thermometer. I bought him a special leaf shaped “betta hammock” that he happily doesn’t give two shits about.

I need a nap. But I don’t take a nap. Instead, I sift through my email and read author newsletters.

No writing gets done.

I love getting newsletters (yes, I’m weird). I look at all the success other authors have and go, “Gee, I wish I had that. That will be me someday. Stay positive. Stay positive. Look at all you’ve—fuck! I’ll never be like these people. Half of them I don’t think their writing is any good, I know [insert name here definitely doesn’t use an editor] and they have over a billion 5 star reviews. How. The. Fuck. Is. That. Possible? I’ll never fit in with readers. Even if I finish my book, no one will want to read it because…etc, etc, etc.”

I stare at the betta fish until the negative thoughts disappear. I have an early dinner with mom and, since I’ve already put in a lot of hours for school stuff today, I cut myself off and watch YouTube videos until I’m tired enough to sleep.

Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day. Sometimes my brain feels like a wad of soggy cheese cloth. It’s winter time, but it doesn’t feel like winter. We’re in for a few more hot days before Jacket and Scarf weather officially starts. Not that I have anywhere to wear jackets and scarves too right now…I’m going to have to go to the grocery store in an evening gown and a full face of makeup to boost my morale.

Version 2

I wake up before my alarm goes off. Two minutes and 16 seconds before. I win.

The cats are ready for their breakfast and wait patiently in the kitchen for me to dollop out one spoon of wet food from the can for each of them. Then purr and munch pleasantly as they eat, content that all is right with the world.

The betta fish is happy too. He swims up to the surface to get his pellets and then hovers around his beloved Cobalt Neo-Therm aquarium heater. Even though he has a huge fake plant now, with soft leaves to swim between and rest on, and a diving helmet for a cave to hide in, the heater is his favorite “decoration.”

I have morning chores, who doesn’t. I tidy what I didn’t get to from the night before, and then I make my first cup of tea. Before all I drank was coffee, at least 14 cups a day (not exaggerating). But I’ve gone almost 3 weeks without any, and tea makes an acceptable substitute. I’m sleeping better and I’m not as jittery or irritable/anxious as much as I was before. If I can notice this much of a difference now, it was definitely time to stop drinking coffee. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not quitting coffee, just taking a break.)

I get dressed and sit down at my desk for my pre-morning brain dump. Other writers call this Morning Pages (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way) I call it thought vomit.

After I clear out all the nonsensical things, I can begin my drafting session for the day. I set myself a 500 word count minimum, and if I write more, I reward myself by buying an ebook off of my wish list.

My pets and family all support me on my writing journey and leave me in peace to do my very important work until I am ready to be social. Every so often a cat wanders in and paws at the betta’s tank or sits on my lap, exuding emotional support.

In Real Life

As you may have guessed by the chaos, Version 1 most accurately represents actual life, however, my betta has a Cobalt aquarium heater and I have switched from coffee to tea and I do feel more mellow and less anxious.

But anxiety and writing are still holding hands. I often battle with imposter syndrome and fear that I won’t be able to finish the projects I love so much.

Whenever I don’t add words to my drafts, I verbally beat myself up. That is not healthy. I hide behind the excuse that I care too much and I’m a failure at being disciplined.

But guess what, y’all? Not writing every day is okay. Not thinking about your manuscript or your publishing business every day is okay. Taking care of yourself is okay. Taking care of your pets and your environment and your family is more than okay 🙂

My ideal writing day is one where I don’t have to exist in real life and I don’t have any problems conveying my ideas into prose. That is a dream. That is impossible.

I wish I had a quick fix for all my negative thoughts. I wish I was a writing robot. I wish I had a million dollars.

My husband, Mr. J says as long as I’m trying (not even trying my best, just trying) I’m doing a good job. I try to focus on doing things, on action, instead of wallowing with the negativity. It’s really hard. Sometimes it’s easy to distract myself with other things, but other times all I want to do is take a nap or binge watch anime. But I have to remind myself that stagnation doesn’t help anybody, and even if I just switch gears and read a book, that’s better than mentally checking out.

Thanks for stopping by and keep on keeping on!

*

Photo by Nashad Abdu on Unsplash

Or: The Impact of Short Fiction on Longer Novels

Or: Why Writing Short Fiction is Good…

*Disclaimer: this can be read as a “writing advice” blog post but please don’t take it seriously or personally. What worked for me might not work for you, everyone’s writing process is different and art is, as always, very subjective. So if you resonate with anything here, great. If not, also great. Thanks for reading.

I strongly believe that if you’re going to be a successful writer you have to know how to write short forms. If you write fiction, you have to be able to write and finish a short story/flash fiction/micro fiction. If you write poetry or more lyrical forms of prose, you need to have some experience with shorter forms of poetry.

(And I’m not just saying that because I wrote a short fiction collection and it’s now available for pre-order.)

Some of you out there might be reading this and thinking:

  1. I’ve written full-length novels but never short stories and I’m successful so what gives?
  2. That’s exactly what my awful creative wiring teacher said and those “old school” ideas about how to be a writer are way more harmful than helpful.
  3. I don’t like writing short fiction/short fiction isn’t my goal so I don’t see the point in this.

All of those thoughts are valid. I know writers who only write long fiction and they are happily existing not writing short stories. I know writers who think that the only way to be successful in the traditional publishing world is to sell short stories to well-known magazines first and then get picked up by a larger publishing house (Ray Bradbury and I think Stephen King did this as well).

And as for that third question; I’m a poet. I don’t like writing sonnets. I know how to write a fucking sonnet. Not because I was pressured into following some gatekeeper’s rules or had an awful teacher in the past, but because it was part of the craft I wanted to master (not that I’ve mastered poetry in any way, shape, or form). So I learned how to do it.

If you want to get good at playing the piano you do scales. If you want to get good at writing, you practice writing.

Short stories force you to make up an end.

They force you to be specific and concise with your narrative.

(Back to poetry)

When I first started sending out my work to get published I was met with a flurry of rejections. But I’d revised and polished and revised again. I couldn’t figure out why editors were rejecting me.

Now, I wasn’t writing long poems but they were directionless. They were pretty word pictures with either very vague or no purpose.

How did I realize this? I discovered micro poetry on Twitter. And then I tried writing micro poetry and I found I was shit at it. I learned that if you can’t make a small version of the thing, you really can’t make a big version of the thing.

So I worked on it and got intentional and specific with my language. I wrote lots and lots of micro poems. And then my longer pieces started getting published.

The point of all this is you can use short stories to

  1. practice writing
  2. develop your voice
  3. make your writing better

And it’s also pretty damn satisfying when you can write THE END on something. Even if it’s a piece of flash fiction. You completed a project! Good job!

I’m writing a nine to ten book grimdark paranormal fantasy series. I’m constantly scanning the big picture and a lot of the time I get stressed out because I can’t see the trees for all the forest.

I know where the story is going but I don’t know how to get there. I get hung up on the minutiae and everything stalls.

I’ve re-written Book One four times since 2018 and I’m about to start on the fifth and final re-write. How do I know this is the final one? How do I know I’m not just going to repeat the cycle of incompletion over and over again and never get my book done?

Spite. Sheer spite.

And writing short fiction. When I get stuck I jump to something else, a different character or a different part in the series. Sometimes I make a short story out of it. And that short story helps me fill those plot holes and move on.

Short stories help you practice how to end things, remember.

Not all the short stories in Pulling Teeth came about that way. I seriously love it when a writer adds companion and/or prequel pieces to their series. I will eat that shit up.

So, if you’re a writer and you’re stuck on something, try writing an unrelated short story. See what happens. Let me know 🙂

*

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

Every writer has horror stories. Here’s one of mine.

Back when I was using my old name and only publishing poetry (2016), I had zero negative experiences with self-publishing. My formatting was on point, uploading my content to the various bookseller sites went as smoothly as it could. There were a few operator errors with Kobo but nothing disastrous.

Two years later, my poetry collections weren’t getting any new downloads and I thought I’d revitalize my writing career by diving into fiction. I was super confident because I had just finished the first part of a science fiction story. I was 35,000-ish words in and I had just finished reading Nnedi Okorafor’s The Binti Trilogy.

I thought, “I can write something paced like that. Novellas are way easier than whole novels.”

Ha!

I polished part one and started my first draft of part two. I bought a gorgeous book cover and published it.

Mistakes I Made/What Went Wrong

1. I did not use an editor.

2. I ended the novella on a cliff-hanger. Note: cliff-hangers themselves aren’t inherently bad, but for this specific situation, it was bad.

3. I didn’t have any kind of marketing or project/release plan.

4. I got caught up in the excitement of self-publishing and did not give myself enough time to finish my story arc.

After I hit submit and published Past Life, I sat down to work on part two, which was to be called Morning Star, after the space ship my main character would find herself transported to after the explosive ending of Past Life (remember, I said cliff-hanger)…and all my ideas for part two fell apart.

ALL OF THEM.

5. Without my supporting characters to interact with, my protagonist was flat, not even two dimensional. She was a line*. A boring line.

6. My plot was full of holes that I couldn’t patch.

I remember one of my writer friends suggesting something like, “Well, MC knows how to adapt to strange situations, if Supporting Character is with her, showing him how to adapt you can deepen their relationship.”

I told her, “Supporting Character is dead and the book’s already published so I can’t really change that…”

7. In my frenzy to fix everything, other characters were emerging. These characters did not fit with the original plot at all but at least I could write them. So, of course, I tried to change the plot to fit them in but that made the story arc fall apart even more.

Time passed, first, it was only 4 months, then 5, then 6. Then a whole year. The one review I got for it was an amazing rant about how disappointing the ending was. I wanted to tell this reviewer and the world that part two was coming and everything would make sense but that was a lie. Part two was DOA and I reached the point where I had no desire to fix it.

My confidence crumbled and I scrapped the project. I de-listed the book and cameing this close *pinches fingers together* to delete all the files. In 2019 I made a half-hearted attempt to revise the project but I soon realized I needed to put A LOT more work into fleshing out the technology and deciding how the story would end. Too much work. Not enough love.

I might finish it one day but for now, that manuscript is sitting in my “Shelved Projects” folder and may never see the light of day.

So, what am I doing differently now?

Here’s what I learned:

1. Finish the story before you even think about publishing. Make sure you have an ending, even if it’s just in an outline or in your head.

Lots of writers say this and we hear this all the time: don’t worry about marketing and publishing until you’ve finished your book. And we all go, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.” And immediately buy book covers for stories we haven’t written yet. Okay, maybe that’s just me.

But seriously, if I try to think about all the publishing things before I finish working on my final draft, bad things happen.

2. Hire an editor.

I have a master’s degree in poetry. I know how to write and proofread myself. WRONG! … Well, not really wrong. I do know how to do all the crafty things BUT—

—and here’s the thing I’ve never heard anyone say about editors but this really happens and it’s amazing—

When my editor looked at my manuscript, not only did she identify all the little technical mistakes I made, but she provided a fresh perspective on the story that I didn’t have. She also asked important questions that not only helped me fill plot holes I couldn’t see but they made me THINK.

Not only did I learn where the weaknesses in my story and writing style were but I was able to add little details and sometimes whole sections to chapters that I wouldn’t have thought of without another PROFESSIONAL’S critical eye on my project.

Editors don’t just fix grammar mistakes and point out what isn’t working in your book, they help make your book better. They polish, they highlight.

The best analogies I’ve come up with so far are:

Editors are like when you take your dog to the groomer. Your dog is already amazing (because it’s your dog) but after a bath and a brushing, your dog is extra amazing.

Having your book worked on by a professional editor is like power washing your house or having a new roof put on. (I’ve been doing a lot of home repairs during the quarantine.) Your house is great because it keeps the rain off and your stuff safe but after you clean the outside it looks, well, clean. And fresh. And shiny. And not a dump.

That’s what an editor does. Hire one** even if you think you don’t need it, even if you know you can edit yourself.

3. Make a realistic Project Plan.

I thought putting notes in my calendar and hoping I’d finish my draft “on time” was enough planning to get by. It is and it isn’t. Coming up with a project plan involves a lot of honesty. And telling the difference between what I want to do versus what actually happens.

I wanted to finish draft 1 of book 2 during this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo. That didn’t happen in April because school got in the way. It didn’t happen again in July because school got in the way again. I couldn’t do what I “thought” I could do. But what I thought was really what I WANTED and we can’t always get what we want.

So, for me to be able to say, Pulling Teeth and Other Stories of the Slaughter Chronicles will come out this winter, I need to figure out what to do to really make that happen. That means giving myself enough time to do things and budgeting time for my editor to do her job.

4. Don’t be embarrassed/ashamed/lose morale when mistakes/bad things happen.

I can’t say there won’t be more mistakes coming and you will definitely hear about them when they do. The best thing that I can do as an indie author is learn from them and move forward.

For posterity, here’s the cover of Past Life. It’s a pre-made cover I bought for $20 on thebookcoverdesigner.com. It’s so pretty and I still love it. Sadly, because it is pre-made and I ordered it so long ago, the designers will not make any new changes to the title or my author name, otherwise, I would totally repurpose it.

*This is a reference to Flatland. 10 points if you got it.

**I am aware during this uncertain and painful time it is not always possible to indulge in extra expenses like hiring an editor or a proofreader. Income is precious and sometimes you have to decide between paying your bills and extra stuff for your writing. But if writing is part of your income, you need to invest in things that make your writing the best that it can be. That editor is going to help you make more money. So sometimes you have to budget, sometimes you have to postpone your projects.

Right now I’m looking at paying for a proofread or taking my cat to the vet. Guess which one is going to win? My cat, obviously. I have to put that in my project plan. My release date might get pushed back (again) but at least my cat will be pain-free (gingivitis is a thing).

I get it, we can’t always pay for an editor. But I’m telling you right now, a good editor is worth every penny.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

So I haven’t played Vampire the Masquerade, or VTM as the kids might still call it, in a long time. Last month when Mr. J came to visit me he picked up a copy of V5, the newest edition of the core rule book. His D&D group wants to try it. I was about to read the rule book myself and see how much things changed from the old days and I was really struck by the Mature Content Warning on the first page.

The V5 core rulebook has probably the most awesome, compassionate, patient, tolerant Mature Content Warning I have ever seen and I would love to take it as my own but that would be plagiarism.

My favorite part of this has to be “Including a problematic subject in a Storytelling game is not the same as glorifying it, if you take the chance to explore it critically, it can be the exact opposite.”

As a horror writer, this sentiment is very important to me and I’m so glad I finally found something that expresses my feelings so clearly and professionally. Even if they thought it was okay to put a Malkavian in yellow leggings. I am not okay with that. But whatever. The times they are a changing.

“If we understand the problems facing us, we are better armed to fight them.”

Quotes and Excerpt from Vampire: the Masquerade V5, written by Kenneth Hite, Martin Ericsson, Matthew Dawkins, Karim Muammar, and Juhana Pettersson, produced by Jason Carl, published by White Wolf Entertainment, 2018.