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3. Other Things Authoring Writing Advice

Learning Lessons

Originally published on my Patreon in June 2022. Become a Patron!

My 2nd-favorite convention button* reads, “Oh, no, not another learning experience!”***

One lesson I still have not mastered is this one:  “When in doubt, say no. If you aren’t bedrock-solidly sure you should say yes, say no. In fact, default to saying no, and you’ll rarely go wrong.”

I say yes more than is good for me. Good intentions are listed among my many reasons, plus a high capacity for rationalizing my way into corners. I tell myself writing outside my own worlds will hone my writing skills and build self-discipline. (It does) Taking on creative work other than writing will recharge my energy for my own writing. (True)  Sharing and collaborating are personally affirming and help build community. Etcetera and so on.

Saying yes always makes sense when I agree to it, but roughly 50% of the times I’ve taken on extra projects since I became a professional writer, saying no would’ve been the wiser choice.

Great stats for a baseball player. Not so great for, say, bridge engineering. I don’t know if it’s good or bad for a writer.

Some projects turn out to be a bad fit emotionally, some became outrageous time-sinks of scope creep, and others bogged down in the mire of “great concept, not-so-great organization.” Some managed to be all three things at once. Even projects that were wholly enjoyable came with a high cost. Time and energy are my most limited resources.

Being a champion overthinker, I routinely revisit all the disastrous, exhausting, costly yes-es in my past and question my judgment. Was saying yes worth it when things worked out so badly, so often?

The answer, in a word, is Yes. (I bet you saw that coming.)

No matter how much wiser saying no would’ve been, I never regret having done things. I’ve benefitted in some way from even the most frustrating & joy-sucking “shoulda said no” experience. Each one taught me a new life trick or two, most taught me new writing or writing-adjacent skills–or refreshed & polished my existing ones.

I don’t make the same mistakes. Every time, I find new ones.

All that said, here’s the latest incarnation of my ever-evolving list of Important Things To Do If You Must Say Yes.

1. Decide your limits & engrave them like stone in your own mind.

2. Write down everything you’ll be expected to do. Go over this information up front with the person or people you’re saying yes to.

2.5. Make absolutely everyone understands this is the absolute limit of what you expect to be asked to do.

This is not quite the same as “get it in writing.” This isn’t about contractual obligations. It’s about the fallibility of memory & the inevitability of misaligned expectations. It’s about making sure you have a record of your own expectations for yourselfbefore you become entangled & invested in the project.

3. Pull out your written list & consult it whenever you’re asked to do more things, other things, or feel like you’re being pressured to renegotiate your role.

4. If you have to remind someone of the agreement more than twice, it’s 3-strikes-and-out, DTMFA, walk away time. Sunk-cost fallacy will be hard to fight (really, REALLY hard) but seriously? If someone creeps across the line twice, they’ll just keep asking until they wear you down or you bite their head off.

I’m good at the snap & bite part. Doesn’t make it fun.

My final words in this  Say No 101 refresher course: remember that small favors turn into big problems if you don’t protect your boundaries like a mama mockingbird defending her nest–and sometimes even if you do.

You can keep your shields on full, charge up your orbital lasers and your asteroid cannons,  have all your best spells locked & loaded & ready to cast–and still get ambushed by a bad situation.

It still won’t be a total loss as long as you find something worthwhile to learn from it.

That’s it until next time I feel like ranting, venting, or musing.

And here is a random image of carp in the Chicago Botanic Garden lagoon, photo taken on a recent visit.

***Oh-ho, you’ve found the footnote!

My favorite button reads, “There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives.”  It appeals to me for complicated reasons and remains my fave despite the quote coming from Scott Adams, whose sociopolitical stance proves he’s  more like Pointy-haired Boss than nerdy Dilbert.  I would’ve included a photo of both buttons on this post but I can’t find my button collection at the moment.

Categories
Writing Life

Baby Clover Sighting!

happy patch of clover in struggling grass lawn

This is an exciting moment in the short history of my lawn diversification project. When I reseeded the lawn back in March, the turfgrass sprouts were visible in a week, just like always, but the the fancy (expensive) clover seed I spread at the same time was a MIA. So I figured it was a total bust.

NOPE. Clover patches are popping up all over the lawn now, front and back. Turns out clover comes up as ultra-tiny sprouts that stealthily spread along under the taller turf grass and take their sweet time establishing themselves.

Why am I deliberately infesting my lawn with a plant people routinely nuke into obliion with herbicides? Short answer: because turfgrass is a boring, expensive, high-maintenance monoculture.

Long answer…

Clover builds a better topsoil layer than turfgrass by rooting deeper & fixing nitrogen, requires much less mowing because it’s naturally shorter than turfgrass, and it blooms below mowing height to provide pollinators with nectar for three full seasons.

Clover also stays green throughout the summer, unlike turfgrass that goes dormant in hot weather unless heavily watered. Which I don’t do.

All that leads to the question, why would ANYone plant a species that requires constant intensive maintenance when you can plant something that doesn’t need nearly as much care but fills the same niche? (namely, “low, soft, walkable surface on which to do other outdoor activities without damaging plants or being baked to death from reflected heat like on concrete.”

People who sell herbicides, insecticides, lawn care tools, and even whole services long ago convinced the American Public that a turfgrass lawn was The Best Thing Ever. <major side-eye at the Lawn Maintenance Industry, which isn’t really a thing, exactly, but it exists as a concept.>

But it isn’t. It’s an ecologically questionable timesinking money pit.

So in due time my lawn will have not only clover, but also violets & plantains & wood sorrel & other native ‘weeds’ galore. Dandelions? No, but only because they don’t play well with the others. There’s even an oficial phrase for this kind of lawn: “Pizza lawn”

Who doesn’t love pizza? (Rhetorical question.)

I understand many people feel the “attracts pollinators” aspect is a bug (HA!) not a feature, but I am not among them. Bees are not mysterious monsters. They’re pretty tolerant of people as long as you avoid stepping directly on them. So if you avoid stomping around your lawn in the early morning, you’re fine. And all your garden veggies will produce better, too! (if you have a veggie garden.)

Anyway. That’s my clover post. Until later!

Originally published on Patreon 6/14/2021 Become a patron to get posts as soon as I write them: Patreon.com/kmherkes

Categories
Writing Life

Nobody asked me, but there’s something I need to say.

This may be unwise, and it certainly feels awkward, but I also feel compelled to make abundantly clear where I stand, politically.

I am an unapologetic bleeding-heart progressive liberal.

How progressive? Here be some of my foundational beliefs: abortion is health care, black lives matter, the earth is a sphere, evolution is real, love is love, my body is my business, no human is illegal, silence is violence, trans lives matter, trans men are men, trans women are women, and women’s rights are human rights.

(that’s alphabetical order, for those keeping track) Don’t get me started on my opinions about the role and reach of government, the importance of collective action, or the proper distribution of wealth within my ideal society.

It feels weird to declare those things in a public forum, small though this audience is. I’m from one of the generations that was taught  “polite people don’t talk about politics, religion, or sex.”  It’s hard to fight that ingrained, internalized pressure to make nice, keep my opinions to myself, agree to disagree, move on, and so forth.

Two things have brought me to this point. 

First, the whole, “silence is violence” part has been poking me harder and harder with every passing year. In meatspace I’m far from quiet about my political leanings, but I’ve been more circumspect about my virtual aka “professional”  presentation–and that needs to change.

Believing in equity & social justice isn’t the same as championing it. Recognizing my many social & inherited privileges isn’t the same as aiding others who lack of those privileges..

Taking this step across the line into openly declaring my position, however belated and small, is the only way to keep my conscience from beating me bloody.

Is it much? No. I’m not saying it’s something amazing, to just be blunt and open. Silence has always been the cautious path, the safe path, and I’m fragile. I admit that. Emotionally & physically, I’m lace, not denim twill. So even this small step is a scary one.

The second reason is colder and more pragmatic. My writing is personal, the personal is political, and I worry that I might be accidentally appealing to a market I am in no way pursuing.  

My novels share a lot of elements with stories celebrating Traditional American Values beloved of people who find my foundational beliefs offensive (at best.)

Yes, one of my series has a corporate billionaire entrepreneur hero, and the other series centers on a scrappy team of rogue military veterans fighting oppressive US government overreach.  (Their  little startup company is named Camp Liberty, ffs.) There are lone heroes taking on the corrupt welfare state, manly men defending their womenfolk, and extrajudicial action galore.

It sounds like socially conservative libertarian catnip, right? But. Um.

Things like exceptionalism, classism, racism, gender rigidity, and wealth privilege aren’t being celebrated. They’re held up to criticism and subverted into pretzels, and characters who engage in what I would call Problematic Behaviors either change and grow, get schooled, or crash hard.

Also, there are gay characters. Pan characters. Ace characters. Non-binary characters.  The plots I’ve written so far don’t revolve around those facets of their lives–with the exception of Novices and Flight Plan, those issues aren’t much discussed, and none of my characters have chosen nonbinary pronouns or been outed as trans (yet)–but if you ask to see my character spreadsheet, I can confirm that when that information does become plot relevant and gets revealed, I’m not retconning anyone’s identity.

There are frank discussions of social justice (and the lack thereof). The heroes are as unapologetically progressive, inclusive, flawed & sometimes problematic as I am.

So let me state for the record that if you’re looking for “Good Old Fashioned Science Fiction,” my books are going to disappoint you.

Whew. It feels good to get that unequivocally out in the open.

That’s all for now. Oh. OH! No, wait. One more thing. This post was originally published on my Patreon, where there’s a lot more good stuff available for the unlocking. patreon.com/kmherkes

Now I’m done. Until next time!

Categories
Writing Life

Seedlings!

NOTE: This material was cross-posted from my Patreon page. I invite you to become a patron at the Vote Of Confidence level or above to continue getting prime rants like this one. Most of my updates are going there, and most of my social media-ish activity is on my Discord server. (which you can join as a patron!)

Need a link? But of course. Here ya go: KM’s Patreon

And now, the post.

I’m starting seeds indoors this year. Pictured are 2 kinds of pumpkins, pickling cucumbers, 2 kinds of zinnias, and native sunflowers that might or might not be absurdly tall and might or might not be perennials. (sources disagree)

Strong sprouts have germinated in all categories! I’m right chuffed about that, I admit. I don’t usually bother starting seeds indoors. I garden for fun, and the fun-to-work ratio of seed-starting isn’t optimal. From a strict cost/benefit analysis, it sucks.

Anyone who says otherwise is selling something or has an agenda–and lots of people do say so. (this might be turning into a little rant…)

Every year in late winter I get really annoyed with gardening websites that breezily assure readers starting plants from seed is easy and cheap and all Real Gardeners ™ should do it!

There are loads of helpful tips and handy affiliate links to The Perfect Products You Need For Success, but there’s a critical difference between a thing being intrinsically easy and being easy IF you have money, time & energy enough to spend on it.

I swear someone wants to make people hate gardening or something. My aggravation with chipper “Anyone can grow plants from seed! So Easy” declarations is right up there with my loathing for the cabal responsible for sizing women’s clothing and my annoyance with recipes that insist onions can be carmelized in 5 minutes.

ANYway.

If you’ve ever tried to grow plants from seed, carefully following the instructions from the package and/or online and/or from green-thumbed friends only to see your seeds:

  • never sprout
  • sprout but grow leggy & weak & then shrivel up
  • grow great for a couple of weeks, then wilt away
  • thrive until the night gray fungus eats them alive

I am here to tell you that you didn’t fail. You were operating on bad information.

To successfully transform seeds into transplantable plantlings, you need:

  • a location with the exact balance of heat & humidity to germinate seeds & keep tender sprouts happy. And that balance changes constantly as things grow!

PLUS

  • clean growing medium (usually soil, right?) completely free of that many insects & fungus species that love to munch on seeds & baby plants

PLUS

  • adequate light in that location to sustain plant growth in late winter

PLUS

  • the mental focus and time to monitor your plantlings daily and adjust water, light, heat and warmth as they grow. Yes, DAILY.

That’s a lot. Even if you can afford the materials to make the conditions happen, you still have to put in time. (“Only a few minutes a day!” those Internet Garden Experts will assure you, and that’s true, but it’s also One More Chore which can quickly become One Chore Too Far. )

If you forget or don’t have the time one day across the 4-6 WEEKS it akes to get sprouts ready to plant, you quickly learn that seedlings, like any babies of any kind, do not handle neglect well.

Starting seeds is a satisfying and educational project if you do have time & space, and some seeds are MUCH easier than others. (hello, 2nd, 3rd & 4th graders with your bean plants, I see you) All that said, I’d still like to see the world stop treating it as a gatekeeping Gardener’s Rite Of Passage.

Unless you’re into obscure heirloom varieties, or simply want to try it and see what happens, (HELLO IT ME) there’s every good reason to leave seeds in the hands of those who have greenhouses & get paid to tend them.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, I do want to buy a little greenhouse. For next year.

My seedlings make me happy. That’s the only reason to bother with seeds.

That’s all I’m saying.

Categories
Writing Life

Crawling forward at a turtle’s pace

Spring is barreling along at high speed, and it feels like I’m chasing after lost time without ever getting a grip on things. And yet. Things are getting done.

Behold, the Numbered List Of Awesomeness, beginning with the reason this update is in two places: my blog AND on my Patreon page.

1. Yes, that’s right, I have a Patreon! (Patreon.com/kmherkes) It has tiers & everything. Why did I do it? Great question with a long answer worth a post to itself in due time. Short answer: I’ve had a patron account for years & I got tired of getting nudges from Patreon that I hadn’t set up my own page.

(Medium answer: it’s part of my strategy to reclaim my life from the void-shouty timesuck of social media without abandoning all online connections to people who like what I make.)

2. SFWA membership happened! The application process was an anxiety adventure, and my feelings about becoming a member are worth a post too, but for now getting accepted is accomplishment enough.

3. Convention & travel planning! (SO. MANY. SCARY FORMS.) I’m set to be a panelist at WisCon in Madison WI on Memorial Day Weekend, & I’ve applied to be a vendor & panelist at the WorldCon in Chicago over Labor Day.

4. A revamp of visuals for my online presence is underway, happening in a half-baked, scattershot, piecemeal fashion that is totally on-brand for me.

5. I took on a book design project for a charity anthology being edited by Tina L . Jens. Some 100-word stories of mine were accepted to the anthology, too. It’s coming together slowly but steadily, and we’re aiming at a June release. There are stories & poems & even short plays, and it’s going to be adorable when it’s done.

6. More Writing projects! Most recently I’ve laid down 1/3 of an LGBTQIA+ flash fiction piece that’s due for submission by the end of the month. If I miss the deadline, I’ll put it in the “I DID THIS” trunk next to the 6k word Restoration short story I finished 2 months too late to submit to the charity anthology. (It’s so much fun. Serena & Parker. Cats & dogs. Minor mayhem)

7. Audiobooks. Progress on this one is glacially slow, but it’s progress. I now have a (very short) list of female SAG-AFTRA narrators who would do the job as work-for-hire. The increasingly complicated accounting for royalty-share makes me nervous. I’d love to have at least one more audiobook by year end. It’s a goal.

8. Lastly, Art Things. I have made a big decision about re-covering the 2 Rough Passages books & getting a 3rd book cover at the same time. They lack series branding, & the idea of writing cover art into a story makes me happy. I have funds & the original Rough Passages stock images. Finding a top-tier book designer who can rock the art part too…that’s the next step.

That’s all for this way-longer-than-usual update on things in my corner of the creative universe. Until later!