Getting to that *next* novel

A friend’s social media post recently observed that the abundance of writing advice online (and at convention panels, and in writing workshops) focuses on New Writers. Writers who are working on their first book. Writers wholly unfamiliar with publishing. There isn’t much for writers who are working on their third book, or their eighth.

And the question was posed: what advice would you (where you means writers of multiple books) offer to writers who have gotten beyond their first. The thoughts I had were bigger than a comment, so they’re here!

First, why is this so? Welp. My cynical take: the money is in pushing products & resources to those who haven’t made any personal connections or located professional mentors or tracked down their own resources. Less-cynical me is willing to acknowledge that there are a lot more New Writers than ones who are typing away at book 4 or 5. And most writers who’ve stuck it out that long have collected colleagues and bookmarked resources and developed a lot of tricks they like.

And my answer to the questiion was this: my words of wisdom to writers seeking guidance wouldn’t change between book 1 and book 8.

  • There is no One True Way To Write Your Book
  • There is no One True Path to successfully publishing a book.
  • There is no One True Definition Of Success

I can break down that a bit more, though, and right now that feels like a good reflection post to share while I await the release of book 8 and work on book 1 in a new series.

We now interrupt this post for an advertisement! Do you love fantastic fiction? Do you enjoy stories full of emotional depth, high-stakes conflict, and mysterious superpowers? You need to pre-order your copy of The Sharp Edge of Yesterday today.
B&N link
AMAZON link
–> or order it by name from your friendly local independent bookstore!
–> or recommend a purchase to your local public library!

Ahem. Back to writing advice for writers who’ve already written that First Book all the Internet Advice Experts focus on.

One. The tricks you taught yourself to remain motived through writing FirstBookEver won’t necessarily help you get through Book 2. Or book 5. Motivation is a fickle thing, and the creation of art is an ever-changing pursuit of an ever-changing goal.

Two. There is no International Agency of Writer Certification. No one will ever send you an official Writer Diploma, not when you graduate from writing to having a book published, not after three books, not after seventeen thousand short story sales. Once your words have been read by an audience–even if that audience is you and you alone–you are a writer. All other levels of accreditation, legitimacy, and worldly success are just additional layers. And remember–we inhabit a late-stage capitalist hellscape. It’s a tough fight to define legitimacy and professionalism in non-financial terms, but it’s a battle worth fighting. Professional writing associations set their membership bars based on economics, period.

Two point five. Success isn’t a set of moving goal posts. That’s bullshit. Every damned goal achieved is success. Period. Setting new goals after achieving a goal is one form of growth. So is shifting focus and working on something else. Which brings us to the next point.

Three. You are allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to stop writing a first book or a fifth one. You’re allowed to stop writing a series. You’re allowed to stop writing at all–for a day, for a month, for years, forever. You’re allowed to turn your back on publishing after querying one book, or self-publishing three, or selling seventeen thousand short stories to magazines. You’re still a writer even you never pursue publication at all & only write in your private notebooks or on fanfic sites, or in letters to your besties. But that’s a different post.)
The point is, you decide what to write, how to write it, when to write it, and what to do with it when you’re done. YOU AND ONLY YOU.

(CAVEAT: the above paragraph is true unless you have signed a contract obligating you to write a given thing within a given time frame for financial remuneration. I mean, that’s a legal commitment.)

Four. The feeling that the next piece of writing isn’t “good enough” won’t ever go away. Wrestling with insecurity is a popular hobby for many creatives. Impostor syndrome is a popular term with gigantic amounts of advice written on overcoming it, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. The classic form is fear of being exposed as a fraud–feeling like you’ll be kicked out of the cool-kids club as soon as people realize you don’t belong. I rarely feel like that. Okay, never. I just don’t feel like a fraud, ever. But! I often feel un-respected in the company of experienced, talented, and business-focused professionals. That’s a VERY different kind of insecurity, but it’s rooted in the same fear of not-good-enough. (It’s an insecurity rooted in and fueled by the pro-club’s finance-focused membership requirements, but that’s another different post.) My defiant answer, even when my on insecurity whispers “not-goodenough” is this: “FFS, WHAT DOES GOOD ENOUGH EVEN MEAN? Good enough for whom?”

Five: You should never expect the publishing landscape for the next book to look the way it did for the last one. Publishing is still in a state of massive flux fifteen (or so) years after electronic self-publishing began disrupting it. Marketing strategies and social media change even faster. One year, email newsletters are The Route To Commercial Success. The next year, it’s Twitter followers. The year after that, it’s all about Bookstagram. The one thing that never changes: everything changes.

Six: Everything except writing the next book is a distraction from writing the next book. BUT ALSO. Some non-writing distractions are IMPORTANT, and some will remind you why you’re putting all the effort into writing that next book. Never underestimate the power of connecting with other people who get excited about the worlds and people you write.

I think that’s all the rambling thoughts I have for now. Remember, there’s a new book for you waiting for you to pre-order it right now! Moms with superpowers, potential apocalypse, and gardening tips!

Here are those links for Sharp Edge again:
B&N link
AMAZON link
–> or order it by name from your friendly local independent bookstore
–> or recommend a purchase to your local public library

Until later!

Learning by doing: my latest project

I only did 2 virtual conventions during Our First Pandemic Year because Discord became the default interaction platform, and it was not only a New And Scary Thing, it was a complex new social one. I was already two social media programs past coping, so navigating Discord servers was overwhelming, bewildering. It was impossible for me to get bast anxiety blocks to process how Things Worked. Not the technical side, that was refreshingly clear, but in a basic, human “how do people use this thing?” way.

Learning to drive is the best analogy I can think of. Complex, multi-channel learning. It’s so difficult there are CLASSES and people have to CERTIFY, right? The difficulty has less to do with mastering the pedals, levers, and buttons to make things stop & go, and a lot more to do with learning the rules of the road, and MOST to do with learning to apply those rules to physical experience in real time so you don’t hit the wrong pedal at the wrong time and crash.

Social interaction is like that for me. ALL social interaction. But each new environment isn’t like a new car. It’s like a whole new kind of driving, period. Think car vs airplane, or electric scooter vs sailboat. New mechanics, new rules, new integration. Some elements transfer, but you don’t know which until you’ve put in the time in the new system.

With Discord, the mechanical part was simple, but there were so many different types of interactions that the patterns weren’t readily visible (To me. Things that are as clear as glass to many people are opaque to me, and vice versa. But I digress.)

Imagine trying to avoid a crash when you couldn’t learn the rules first because you’re already driving, so you can only learn the rules of the road only by watching other drivers while also learning your pedals and lever mechanics. Pretty dangerous, huh?

On social media, crashes translate as mortifying humiliation with the potential to drive me into solitude for, oh, years. That made Discord a no-go zone for me for ages. But that bugged me. Things I can’t do always bug me.

So I made Discord this year’s Hibernation Project.

Late winter is the best time for me to tackle Scary New Things. Once my energy starts to build up after the mid-winter crash, I find something shiny and carry them into my nest and get to know them better by combing & petting & squeezing the stuffing out of them.

Almost everyone learns better “by doing,” but it’s the only way I learn multi-channel processes. When I first wanted to understand website design, way back in the day, I bemused my friends who worked in web design by teaching myself to code sites from scratch using HTML & CSS. Why didn’t I focus on learning the web design programs, they wondered. But see, those programs didn’t make sense to me At All until I mastered the underlying language structure.

This year, I dragged Discord into the nest and made it my own. I built my own little server, nice and tidy, with all the usual parts & pieces, then brushed and polished it up to Discord’s Community Guidelines so eventually I can make it public.

That was a long read to get to the news that there now exists a Dawnrigger Discord server, huh? But there it is!

Right now it’s private, invitation only. If you’re a reader and/or fan of my books, if you have room in your Discord for a quiet little server where there’s not much clutter or content yet, you’re welcome to join Dawnrigger’s Den and share the fun.

This also means that when the day I flee Facebook inevitably arrives, I’ll still have an interactive space online, and I’m a LOT more comfortable surfing my way around other servers & occasionally even posting comments & engaging in conversations.

Not comfortable, but not as uncomfortable. And that’s progress. Wins all around.

That’s all for now. Some heavy shit happened online this week. I’m still processing, but there will be blog on ot eventually.

Until then, have a random cat with a book.

cat sitting on an open book
Photo by Heather McKeen on Pexels.com

Writer Reading Report: Battle Ground

Battle Ground releases on 29 September, 2020. I received an ARC through NetGalley and I aim for non-spoiler reviews, but read at your own risk.

(from the NetGalley description)

THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET SERIOUS FOR HARRY DRESDEN, CHICAGO’S ONLY PROFESSIONAL WIZARD, in the next entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files.

Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. 

Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.

I enjoyed the previous volume in this series despite its lack of a truly satisfying ending, which says good things about Jim Butcher’s skill in the art of spinning out a narrative. The mix of humor, conflict, magic, and mystery always keeps me coming back for more.

I enjoyed Battle Ground too, but again it was a liking despite elements.

I knew Battle Ground would hold a lot of action. I knew conflicts of duty, honor and heart-ties would multiply, and decisions would come home to roost. I knew all those things going in, and it was still a grueling read. A GOOD read, but a hard one.

No one coming into book 16 needs me to tell them what’s good about this series. So. Below, the things that stuck out to me as memorable.

  1. There were no breathers beyond a paragraph or or two of character interplay between epic fights and interpersonal demolition derbies. There just wasn’t page space for narrative relaxation or much of the typical Dresden banter. The whole book takes place over a single night of nonstop end-of-the-world battling. The stakes are sky-high, the forward momentum is relentless, and the tone is… blood-drenched.
  2. Character Development? I didn’t see much, but I didn’t expect much. There are big revelations, uncomfortable epiphanies, and questionable choices, all the juicy, twisty goodness that makes Dresden a wonderful train wreck of a character to follow, but nuance took a back seat to plot raveling.
    That blood-drenched tone I mentioned? I don’t see it lightening up any time soon. This book is the beginning of the end, the rise into the big, bad boss resolution of the whole series, which looks like a war to end All Of Time And Space.
    That means there’s some hard moral work for Harry Dresden ahead, and after his performance in Battle Ground, I am not sure he’s up to the task. That’s disappointment enough to pull my liking for the book down a bit.
    I’m sure I’m meant to feel doubt, but the ambiguity never develops. Will Harry turn to the light or the dark? Will he make the selfless decision when it comes down to the wire? Battle Ground leaves that answer thoroughly up in the air yet again, and not in a way that felt character-driven.
  3. My last impression concerns the “redemptive power of a child” trope. The larger story arc has already headed far down that road. Now, I love reading and writing about family bonds, and I am all-in on the ineffable wonder of love, but, um. It isn’t up to bearing the weight of so much narrative. I reserve judgment until the series is finished, but Harry’s relationship with his daughter makes me uneasy. It’s precious but feels…awfully pat.

Battle Ground is everything Harry Dresden turned up to eleven, the good parts and the problematic ones both. And with all the the virtues and vices of protagonist and plot are cranked up past maximum volume, some of the things I like about the music got lost in the noise.

(All that said, I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT)

That’s it for this one. Until next time!