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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
Media Consumption Writing Life

After-Capricon post

Yesterday morning Spouseman gave me a cheery “You’re up early!” for getting my ass out of bed before 10 AM.

For context, I usually wake up 7:30ish this time of year. I often go back to bed to snuggle for an hour or two, but I wake up within an hour of sunrise when I’m healthy. (Even with blackout curtains.)

Except after cons. Sometimes I’m in bed as late as 11AM for a day or two or three after getting home.

And I usually get 7+ hours of sleep per 24, but I am rarely in BED for more than 6 hours at a stretch because my joints hate me lying still.

Except after cons. I’m in bed as much as 10 hours the day after a con.

Two data points. It’s officially a trend, right?

My brain pretty much shuts down for a reset after leaving high-interaction events. Unless I crash a few hours before leaving. That’s a simmering hot stew of awkwardness when it happens, so I try VERY hard to avoid it. I was home, unpacked & washed up after Cap before I crashed hard with a cat purring on my lap. Good times.

I had a fabulous time at Capricon this year. It’s always a great convention, but this time was extra-special because, well <waves vaguely> YOU know. Things. I had the most panels I’ve done at a con ever, and I enjoyed every one of them, despite 3 of them being in a room with a CAMERA POINTED AT ME.

And I moderated three panels (two in the Camera Room Of Doom, one in a room without microphones because tech difficulties) and I only screwed up a few times in each panel, so big yay and confetti and buckets of self-congratulatory happiness right there.

The Dealer Room was like a bookstore smorgasbord, books were sold, things were bought, plans were made, and fun was had. Evenings included hallway chats, hotel room haircuts, and late night conversations.

New friends were made (I think, I hope) and I enjoyed getting to reconnect with old friends too! (although not NEARLY as much as I wanted. Sorry to alla y’all who only got bits & pieces of my time, my energy was low & I had roommates & I didn’t feel comfortable crossing the streams or mixing up groups and, well. Anyway.)

Some of us should get together soon, masked & safe indoors. That’s all I’m saying. Soon.

Now the con is somehow a week in the past, Thursday is over, (it’s technically Friday morning wee hours tbh) and my biggest accomplishments since getting home have been…hm. Unimpressive:

  • laundry! Yes, it deserves the exclamation mark
  • dusted my home desk
  • dusted my work desk & did sundry library tasks over 2 shifts
  • put away con stuff, updating inventory & sales records
  • brushed the cat two days in a row (he forgave me both times)
  • reread 2 romance novels, ignoring the stack of lovely new books I really do want to read
  • surfed on Twitter & Facebook more than I’d like
  • played a lot of Absurdle
  • filled out a Con Feedback survey, gushed about my fellow panelists & praised other moderators
  • watched episodes of 2 TV shows and 2 movies (finished Stranger Things rewatch, started Mythic Quest, big thumbs up, sat through Free Guy & Venom: Let There Be Carnage, meh x2)
  • booked 2 hotel rooms & 1 plane flight for 2 separate future events. This involved multiple conversations, negotiations, and consultations over a couple of days.
  • read one whole chapter in the nonfiction book I’m trying to chew through. Stolen Focus. There’s irony to be found in my inability to concentrate on a book about all the ways modern systems demolish our attention spans, but I’m not appreciating it.
  • cooked a spicy chicken casserole from scratch. Well. From a boxed rice dish plus leftover rice from Chinese takeout, and various other add-ins. So, kinda like Stone Casserole instead of Stone Soup?
  • sliced up a cucumber I’d forgotten was in the fridge & set it to soak w/onions & brine for fridge pickles.
  • and wrote this blog post

It looks good written down, but hey, I’m a writer. I’m expected to make things looks good in words.

When measured against my days of otherwise unemployed time, the accomplishment level is…meager doings. George Carlin had a bi about stuff filling the space available. Tasks fill the time available, I guess.

Has it been restful? Oh, yes. And have I enjoyed myself? Mostly, when I’m not ambiguously frazzled, or second-guessing every recent interaction (at the con & since, online & off) and/or draaaagggggggggging myself through daily routines in pursuit of basics like personal hygiene.

It’s silly, all this listing I do, but it’s also soothing. In one sense it’s a long, wordy version of, “Look at me, I can do the bare minimum to survive!” And in the world I grew up in, making much of nothing is tacky, selfish attention-seeking nonsense.

But in another sense, these lists are the vital opposite of making much of nothing. They’re making much of things overlooked and undervalued. They’re balancing the meaningfulness scales.

I am proud of others when they do what I am doing, so it’s only fair I make note of the important basics too. Besides, even just thinking, LAUD ME, FOR I HAVE DONNED CLEAN CLOTHES & INGESTED SUSTENANCE! makes me smile, and smiles are always good.

So I shall feel proud of myself now that I’ve noted all I’ve done. I mean, I didn’t spend the WHOLE time surfing or reading articles about dairy cow milk production and teaching dogs to pull wagons. And I did get in a little good writing time. A teeny bit. But as the That Counts As Writing bot on Twitter points out out, it’s all progress.

So. Here we are, at the end of another meandering life post. That’s all there is to it. Except for a cat pic.

Until later!

Categories
Authoring Cons & Appearances Writing Life

Gen Con Nerves & Other Musings

I’ve been pretty quiet online this last little while. Mostly because I’ve been busy offline, also avoiding 9/11 anniversary overload, also-also trying not to stress myself into a funk over Gen Con.

Because seriously. I’m staring down four solid days of cold-selling quirky, slow-burn, defiantly progressive SF adventures to gaming con attendees who are looking to be dazzled & have plenty of places to lay down their dollars.

It could go well. Sure. I know how to engage people without being a hard-selling pestilence. And I do love talking about my books. I mean, they are excellent, original, emotionally-intense stories about imperfect, ordinary heroes who do extraordinary things. What’s not to get excited about?!

I try to remind myself that I mainly go to cons to meet other SFF nerds and rejoice in sharing; to find new shiny books to read, games to play, art to cherish, and to talk about SFF & gaming & TV & movies. Bookselling makes it possible, because I would freak out too much if I didn’t have a table to hide behind & a reason to be talking to strangers, but I’ve loved Gen Con since my first one several decades ago.

But, um. This con also be 4 days of my beloved books being ignored or passed over, and there’s no way I can ignore how much that will hurt if it happens. Not when I’m in prep-for-travel Stress Mode. So I’ve been feeling pretty raw, and that’s why I’ve been defensively avoiding the oversaturated emotions of the online world.

The closer I get to the con, the better I’ll do. Once I’m safely there, badged up, set to sell, and checked into my hotel room haven, a lot of the loser-mopey anxiety will evaporate.

I hope I’ll have happy things to share about Gen Con.

I’d really love to sell out. If I sell out of my existing stock, I can commission a series-matching cover for Weaving In the Ends AND start questing after a series design for the middle-age onset supers books.

As long as I get to see friends & family buy a geeky thing or two, and sell at least ONE copy of every title every day, I’ll consider the whole con a whopping success. (But I’d love to sell out.)

There might be con updates. Might not. Either way, that’s all for now.

Until later!

Categories
2. Worldbuilding Authoring characters Writing Life

A story about rediscovering a story

3+ years ago, I wrote a 600-word scenelet/start of a potential new midlife superpowers story. I shared it with a couple of people, then promptly forgot the filename, where I saved it, and even what application I wrote it in.

As one does, if one is me.

Once I finished Sharp Edge of Yesterday, I went hunting for this one writing snippet. It had been stuck in my head it–not in any detail, but in a hazy “this was a fun bit, might be useful later” way–and I like to revisit ideas like that, the same way I like to pull a particular shiny stone out of my rock collection to see if it’s as pretty as I remember it being.

(Ideas really are like shiny rocks. But I digress.)

I had a gut feeling this snippet would make a good springboard into the sequel for Sharp Edge of Yesterday. But I needed to read it over and check all its facets to be sure.

I Could. Not. Find. It.

I checked through all my document folders on both my computers. Nothing. I tried various keyword searches online on this blog and on my social media, in case that’s where I’d decided to write it for reasons surpassing understanding. Nothing. It didn’t help that I couldn’t recall what I’d named the characters, or if I’d used any place names. Search engines don’t do well with mental impressions of actions and dialogue.

I began to wonder if I’d ever actually written it, or only hashed through the concepts in my head and thought about writing it. Except — I remembered people commenting on it. Maybe I dreamed that too? No. It had to be somewhere.

The bigger problem was that I was kinda stuck on starting anything in the Rough Universe until I found it. It’s been my periodic quest for months now, a nagging little frustration I would pick at between other activities.

Oh, sure, I could’ve always tried to rewrite it from scratch. Only 600ish words. A few manuscript pages. PFfft. Nothing, right?

But I knew I wouldn’t be able to capture exactly the same scene, the same way. And I’m stubborn. This was the piece I wanted. Not any other shiny rock. THIS ONE. So I kept hunting and hoping. Until today.

<cue inspiring music>

Today I finally hit on the right keyword combo in the right place. (Road kill, in case you’re wondering, and I wrote it in a blog post from the end of 2018. VICTORY IS MINE! I FOUND MY LONG-LOST STORY SNIPPET.

And my instincts on rewriting from scratch were correct — I never would’ve come up with the details that made it stick with me if I’d tried to re-do it. Side note: it’s a perpetual mystery to me how well my brain can retain the vivid impression details make on it, but totally blank out the details themselves. BRAINS ARE WEIRD.

Anyway. The POINT is, at last I can expand on this and decide how it’s going to fit into the sequel to Sharp Edge. I have found my new shiny, and now I shall play with it.

Because a frazzled, frizzy-haired Midwestern auntie who wakes up with a necromantic superpower HAS to go into the next book. It just does.

Until later! That’s all for now.

Categories
Writing Life

Launch Week Feels, or, I am a sea turtle

The Sharp Edge Of Yesterday dropped this week, and you all know what that means!

…or maybe you don’t. I am so steeped in the daily minutia of writing and publishing that I sometimes lose sight of an important fact: most of the world does not revolve around the creation & publication of speculative fiction books.

It means:

  • if you bought Sharp Edge in ebook, it’s waiting for you to read it RIGHT NOW!
  • if you ordered a paperback, it should be arriving really soon (I think?)
  • if you read Sharp Edge of Yesterday before release, or have miraculously finished it already, you can now post reviews to Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, or wherever. Not that reviews are life for new books or anything, NO WAIT YES REVIEWS ARE VITAL.
  • if you take pics of your copy of Sharp Edge, I would love for you to please, please share online! I adore seeing pics of my bookbabies thriving in the wild.

It means a lot to me, and, I hope, to others. Sharp Edge is a Real Book Forever ™ now. The week’s been hectic. Best release by far for me. Tuesday was amazing. Meanwhile, for Spouseman, Tuesday was a supremely awful whopper of a bad day. (Nothing permanent or professional, just a SOMETIMES LIFE SUCKS bunch of things coming down at once like a load of bricks.)

Proof the universe leans toward balance, I suppose. But we got through it, and here it is, DAY THREE of Sharp Edge’s life.

Professionally speaking, I should be doing author interviews, readings, release parties, blog hops and generally putting my book out there to Be seen. Realistically, I should have been scheduling such things and recruiting reviewers for months now, so I could take advantage of promotional opportunities that come along only when a book is new-new-new. I should have lined up the book equivalent of playdates and tutoring sessions and all manner of success-building activities.

(Spoiler alert: I do none of those things unless they figuratively fall into my lap.)

Marketing is vital to a book’s financial, commercial “look-it-shiny” survival. But, um. I’m not doing much.

Look. I am not a nurturing, watchful, energetic book mom who can boost her child’s development with every possible enrichment and trumpets its accomplishments to all & sundry. I’m just not able to do that. Kudos to all who can. I salute you.

This new book of mine–about midlife superpowers and the people wrestling with them–it’s a great read. It’s wondrous. I love it enough that I’ve spent tens of thousands of hours with it. It’s a thought-provoking yet entertaining, ride of a story. But…

I am more like a sea turtle mom than a tiger mom. With the help of many others, I invested time, energy, and all my love and substance into my book’s creation. Once the book is uploaded and ready to go (carefully buried in the sand to mature until hatching day) my every instinct urges me to crawl back into the sea to seek out new adventures.

It’s just barely possible for me to keep watch over the nest until hatching day, so to speak. I stick with it. I make sure no one steps on my eggs, nothing bad happens to them, that conditions stay perfect for release. But when it’s done, it’s done.

The Sharp Edge of Yesterday has hatched out of the sand, and it’s headed for the ocean on its own, to sink or swim or be eaten by gulls.

The analogy kinda breaks down because of COURSE I’m still watching over my book, and I VERY MUCH WANT IT TO SUCCEED because it’s an incredible story worth telling & reading…but as far as the Constant Care And Presentation Activities For Success part? Not going to happen.

On any given day, I can choose to write posts online and talk to people about books, or I can write creatively. I cannot do both. No amount of “be proud, self-promote” advice and encouragement can make the work anything but physically exhausting and emotionally taxing to the point of turning my brain to mush.

To keep getting sales I have to keep posting to social media multiple times daily and pursue other marketing possibilities, which means corresponding and interacting with people. And that isn’t going to happen. Not the way it has to be done to drive sales.

Sharp Edge is off to a grand start. A phenomenally successful start. I had opening-day sales, even. (That was my main fear–that no one would want it once it WAS available. But a paperback and a couple more kindle copies sold, so YAY! There’s interest.)

But now…I’m done with it for a bit. Sure, regular reminders will go onto social media for a couple of weeks, but I’m giving myself more and more slack to just…write what I want, where I want it. Like, oh, here.


….For those who like numbers, here’s some full transparency for ya. Sharp Edge on Kindle popped at rank 30,000-something in the whole store, which is the highest any book has debuted for me. (It’s plummeted way down already, but hey. Highest ever. I’ll take it, thank you, Kindle readers!)

On the print side, Ingram tells me 50 pre-ordered paperbacks are going somewhere, and that is a BOGGLING record for single-day sales for any of my titles ever, even without the qualifier of “release day.” (Again, record so far. Never say I lack ambition. I mean, I do lack it, but I still have GOALS. ANYway. Digression achieved!)

I won’t have other ebook numbers for weeks yet, and Kindle is usually king tbh, so I’ll count anything I get there as happy frosting on the happy cake. Mmm, cake.


Until later!

Mmm, cake w/sprinkles!
(cake doughnuts anyhow)

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