behind-the-scenes sunday

Oops. I didn’t get around to planning, writing and scheduling posts for this week. Life has been busy of late, but in a good way. So, let’s go behind the scenes and see what I’ve been up to lately.

Homeschooling

We went back to school after a week’s vacation. That required planning on my part, some of which included:

  • Find copywork sentences and passages for the olders
  • Correcting school work and ordering new workbooks as needed (math for Sir I., spelling for Miss M., phonics for the Baron)
  • Looking over the next few history chapters, picking supplementary books, and checking them out from the library
  • Choosing which science topics to cover and gathering supplies for experiments (current list includes cream of tartar, a head of red cabbage, and graduated measuring cylinders!)

And then there’s actual school time, which takes up all of the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon.

Writing

Folks, I’ve been struggling through Ironhand (working title of the Mourning Cloak sequel).

I’m a weird breed of fantasy writer. Barring a set of loosely-related short stories featuring the same character, I’ve never written a sequel. None. Zilch. Nada.

And I realized that I’m terrified of sequels. Yes, I would rather build a whole new world and bring a whole new set of characters to life than write a sequel.

Sequels come with baggage. Other people’s expectations.  The sinking feeling that you might’ve broken the story. The duh moment that you wished you’d added that one detail in book one that would’ve set everything up so well for book two. The feeling that you’re writing yourself into a corner and you can’t do a darn thing about it because the first book is already published!

Working on Ironhand was like being a rabbit running away from a big scary dog.

It wasn’t pretty. One should not get that anxious and sweaty-palmed over a scene in which characters aren’t even being attacked.

So I took some time out to write a very short story, and a few nights ago the right brain and I had a little talk. In which right brain handed me some ideas for how to finish up the Kato/Flutter story in one novella, gave me some truly scary monsters, and some helpful plot guideposts along the way.

I’m calmer now.

In other writerly news, I’ve started a fantasy novel about a girl and a pegasus for 6yo Miss M. and a sci-fi collaboration with 8yo Sir I.

O.o

Yeah, that was my reaction, too.

This and That

Things are happening with the Quartz serial! I went through the novel and divided it up into 90 episodes. I’ve polished, proofread and stuck the first four into WordPress. My tech people and I are working on figuring out how to integrate the serial into my site (current plan is to give it its own page and RSS feed). A weekly episode will run on Tuesdays, with Saturdays open for a bonus episodes (at $5 each).

I also have a very tentative production schedule for this year (always subject to change), but it includes Ironhand, a follow-up anthology to Shattered, the completion of a Kai’s book that is sitting (still) at 80K, and a Snow White-inspired novella with electricpunk elements (and no, I don’t know if electricpunk is really a word).

 

How about you? What projects are you working on?

2013: the year ahead

I’ll ‘fess up.

I was planning on being all bubbly and cheerful about looking forward to 2013. But the reality is that I have mixed feelings about this year.

2012 was a year of many big changes, and we’re still seeing the ramifications–both good and bad–for our family. I alternate between being thrilled about the new direction of my writing career (good reviews! sales! strangers who like my books!) and being scared stiff (meh reviews, lack of sales, strangers looking down on me for self-publishing, complete and ever-lasting ruination of my career).

And–this is very superstitious of me–I can’t feel quite comfortable with a year that has a “13″ in it. I keep expecting it to go all puckish and slippery on me.

However. January is as good a time as any to work on positive changes in my habits and attitudes, no matter what else life might bring. So, without further ado, here are some things I’m keeping in mind for this year:

Do New Things

I’m a rule-follower. Always have been. And that’s not a bad thing (imagine driving out on the roads with everyone doing their own thing *shudder*), but I take it to an extreme. When I started writing seriously, I crossed all my t’s and dotted all my i’s. I read the right blogs and books. I joined a critique workshop. I parroted Show, don’t tell and Down with passive verbs! I dutifully submitted short stories to ‘zines and queried agents with my novels.

And the truth is that while this was a good path to follow–one many people successfully take to publication–I did it more because of fear that if I didn’t do everything–everything–exactly right, my hopes would be forever and truly quashed.

I let fear rule my writing far too long. This year I’m trying new things–whether it’s writing different forms and genres, exploring new ways to reach readers, or working on quirky, interesting projects. I have some ideas that I’ll be asking opinions about soon!

Recharge my creativity in different ways

These days I wear two hats–homeschooling mom and self-publishing writer. It doesn’t leave me a whole lot of time for other things, but I do need to get out of the box sometimes. So far, my non-writing, non-schooling plans may include:

  • Artist Trading Cards
  • Play piano (I miss it, I really do *sigh*)
  • Draw every day for a month, using prompts from Every Day Matters
  • Doodle class
  • Doodle Stitching
  • 30 Days of Flash Fiction (yes, this is writing, but not my usual style–I’m thinking of doing this in April, which, yanno, is a thirty day month)

Any other suggestions for fun, low-key ways to recharge creativity?

Diversify my reading

I say this every year, but… more classics! This year I’m going off NPR’s Top 100 Speculative Fiction books. I haven’t, for instance, read Dune, the Foundation trilogy, or any Heinlein.

And more non-fiction. I say this every year. One of these days it will stick. :D

Miscellaneous

There are a few other things I want to work on, some of which are more personal and some which I should work on but don’t have a plan for as yet (like exercise, *sigh*). Oh, and this year I want to be better about tracking my writing, to see what my base-line productivity actually is.

What are your goals for 2o13? How are you going to get there?

 

Friday edition

This has just been one of those weeks. I lost two writing days and eked out a miserable few hundred words on a third day.

But School Happened (yes, even when the public school kids got two days off, which did not go unnoticed by mine). We read Shakespeare retellings, made a “blubber” glove for science, plowed on through math.

And also! I’m at two other blogs this week, answering questions about writing, life, and Rainbird:

At Forego Reality, I talk about finding time to write as a homeschooling mom, the inspiration behind the sunway, and my commitment to quality as a self-publisher.

And today, I’m at Liv Rancourt’s blog, discussing where I picked up my style, how a girl from Pakistan ended up in Northern Virginia, and the YA elements in Rainbird.

And, thirdly, I’m strongly leaning towards joining the slow blogging movement. I’m a fiction writer with limited time. I enjoy blogging, but I cannot put out three or more high-quality posts every week. I have to drop down to one longish post and (maybe) one shorter, quick-to-put-together post like this one per week. I’m still thinking about this, so if you have any opinions about this change, let me know!

NaNo-lite

It’s November 1st.

And we all know what that means, right? National Novel Writing Month!

Yep, it’s time for that annual madness when thousands of writers from all across the world attempt to write a 50,000-word novel (or part of a novel) in 30 days. If you listen carefully, you can hear the click-clack of thousands of fingers flying over thousands of keyboards.

It’s an exciting, heady time.

Once upon a time, before I homeschooled… or had children… or a big house to clean… or a job… I attempted and won NaNoWriMo (and I will forever love the book I got out of it: my first novel, The Changeling). Nowadays, though, NaNo just seems a recipe for burnout and exhaustion.

However, I am inspired to set and reach for some personal writing goals this month–just not as crazy as NaNo’s. Liv Rancourt calls this NaNo-lite. It sounds healthier, at least. :D

The goal: 25,000 words on my current WIP

The daily breakdown: David’s handy self-adjusting wordcount tool (WriteTrack) tells me that I only need 800 words a day, with 1500 words on Saturdays and Thanksgiving Day off (I rounded the numbers). I got 872 words today, which puts me a wee bit ahead.

The project: Rafe and Isabella are baaaack! Flare is the sequel to Quartz, picking up two years after the end of the first book. I’ve never written a sequel before (yes, True Confessions of a Fantasy Writer). I figured I could use the exercise–plus I need to know how these kids are going to save the world! (Okay, they’re not kids, but I’m the lofty writer, so I get to call them whatever I want… er, hi, Isabella *grins nervously*).

Who’s doing NaNo? Who’s doing NaNo-lite?

And who wants some Halloween candy? I have plenty left over. *eyes heaping basket warily*

new year’s resolutions 2012

I always approach New Year’s resolutions with a great deal of caution. It’s so easy to get swept up in the frenzy of goal-making (that has be done by NYE, or else you lose that magical window of time or something) and overreach. Two mistakes I’ve made setting yearly goals in the past are:

1. Not being flexible enough. Often I’ve started the year off convinced that my big writing project should be “Shepherdesses in Saskatoon”, when, really, by June I’m starting to suspect I’d be better off working on “The Lovelorn Laundress”. Or perhaps my enthusiasm for creating illuminated letters has waned and I’d rather be crocheting snowflakes.

Sometimes my goals live me no wiggle room in terms of time. “Write a novel in a month” might be doable for some people–including many many NaNoWriMo winners *grin*–but realistically? It’s not good goal for a homeschooling mom of three who’s trying to sell her house, and likes her sleep and her husband, thank you very much.

2. Taking giant leaps, instead of small steps. Often, resolutions fall by wayside because they were overambitious in the first place. If you’ve been writing in drips and drabbles over the past several months, it’s very hard to start writing two thousand words a day once January 1st rolls around. And if you’ve committed to some big daily goal, the first couple of times you miss it, you fall so far behind that it’s easy to give up altogether. Baby steps build habits.

As I’ve pondered what I want to change this next year, I realize that what I really need is intentionality–to prioritize all that I have in my life, and to focus my energies on the things that are most important to me. I need to eliminate the clutter in my life, and work on creating good habits that will carry me through Life Stuff and be such a part of my routine that I do them without even thinking about it.

I usually post about writing resolutions on this blog, but this year I’ve realized that I need to do other things first, which will prepare the soil for my writing to grow and flourish. So, while writing is on the list *grin*, you have to scroll down to get to it.

So this year, I resolve to focus on and build good habits in the following areas:

Prayer and meditation. Faith is the bedrock of my life. Going without talking to God and listening for Him every day is a recipe for a tired, drained and cranky me, with nothing to give to anyone or anything.

Exercise and healthy diet. Alas, my post-thirty body isn’t able to shed the fat as easily as my 20s body did. But more than just being able to fit into my old jeans again, I want to be healthy, fit, and have energy. So I can, you know, enjoy life and do the things I want to and that are good for me.

Watching five episodes of 24 in a row is probably not one of those things.

The “get healthier” plan consists of portion control, breaking the post-dinner snacking habit (*siiiiigh*), learning that I do not need to say “Yes” to very piece of dessert that bats its eyelashes at me, getting out for a brisk walk as often as I can (challenging, since like the groundhog, I’d prefer to hibernate all winter) and finding some sort of exercise video/class/magic pill/spell that works for me. Still working on the details for that last one.

My family. It might be funny to hear a homeschooling mom say this, but I want to focus on spending more time with my children. More time playing Bananagrams and Go Fish, reading non-school books, doing practical things together like cleaning up and folding laundry… things that don’t involve workbooks and index cards. My 3yo, the non-schooling child, would like some attention, too, in the mornings.

My patient husband also deserves more attention. And, no, watching 24 together doesn’t cut it.

Eliminate the time-wasters. Stuff that doesn’t get used, but that I still have to clean, pick up, put away. So-so books that aren’t more than mildly enjoyable. And the Internet, oh the Internet! Flame wars and train wrecks and rabbit trails and tangents and cool websites and an RSS feed a mile long and… and… So much of the time, I’m a spectator, not a participant. So when I’m online, I resolve to use my time learning and interacting.

Writing! Finally! I resolve to build good writing habits. 700 words a day is my goal when I’m working on a rough draft, otherwise I’ll spend time doing writing exercises, brainstorming, or revising. If I miss a day, I will not beat myself up or try to catch up; instead I’ll get back in the saddle. I’ve got a bunch of projects in the pipeline, and I’ve put the top few on Sticky Notes to keep them at the front of my mind. If I hit on a block on one story, I have other stories I can work on.

And I’m determined to be consistent with keeping up with this blog (I’m even taking a class to help me, eek). Plan is to post M-W-F.

Reading. More non-fiction and classics. I make this resolution every year. Someday it’ll stick. Perhaps. :D

Additional reading:

Dean Wesley Smith on Life Happens, restarting, and failure.

Kristen Lamb on planning for success.

How about you? How do you maximize your chances for success?

rebuilding habits

This past week I fell off the writing bandwagon, and fell hard. After weeks of steady progress on my WIP, I took a planned vacation off, then got sick, then got caught up in all the details of life, then just didn’t plain want to write. Writing was not the only habit to fall by the wayside–so did exercise, piano practice, and several personal goals. Not to mention planning, prepping and cooking nutritious meals (we won’t discuss the frozen pizza we had for dinner two nights in a row *shudder*).

But this post is not about wallowing in guilt by the side of the road. It’s about climbing back onto the wagon, moving on from the disruption caused by last week and returning to those good routines. On Saturday I banged out over 600-plus painless words on Kai’s book, then followed that up with 700-plus words on Sunday. I got back into exercise with an hour of stretching (though admittedly I wouldn’t have if David hadn’t been holding my pudding hostage). Home-cooked meals and veggies are back on the menu. My fingers still remember how to play Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.

I’m rebuilding those good habits, with the help of some practical articles, a supportive community of writers, and this cute and inspiring button by WriterBelle:

What good habits are you trying to build? What routines are you trying to establish? How’s it going for you?

writing resolution

I have a number of writing goals for this year, but, for a number of reasons, I’m reluctant to commit myself to specific projects. First, I have a tendency to seriously underestimate the amount of time any given project will take. Secondly, a project that seems right in January might not be so in October, and I don’t want to do something just so that I can tick it off my list. I want an umbrella resolution that will inform my shorter-term writing goals; a framework, with lots of flexibility.

So, what my resolution came down to was not a list of to-dos, but an attitude.

In 2011 I want to work towards treating my writing more seriously, more professionally.

What does this mean to me?

It means being disciplined about writing and creating good habits. It means writing six days a week, hitting a (rather low) minimum wordcount, even when I don’t want to.

It means being more intentional about my project planning, including research, rather than just winging it, as I am prone to.

It means learning to write synopses so I can actually query agents/publishers who require them.

It means following through with a submission plan instead of getting bored/distracted/discouraged a quarter way through and wandering away to do something less painful and ego-bruising.

It means seeking out and utilizing opportunities to sub my work, get feedback, fail, pick myself back up, and go on.

I have micro-goals that fall under one or more of these categories. I have a deadline for writing the first draft of Kai’s book, some submission opportunities to pursue, and a couple of new novel ideas kicking around my head. More on those as the year goes on…

What about you? Any resolutions?

on resolutions

Do you have resolutions for the New Year? I’m still working on mine. I don’t feel any need to rush this process along. Otherwise, I might end up with goals that are unrealistic (“Write five novels this year”), out of my control (“Win apple pie baking contest”) or just not that important to me (“Knit a pair of socks every month”).

In the meantime–while I’m thinking this through–here are some thought-provoking links on the topic of goal-setting:

Holly Lisle talks about figuring out the theme for your life, realizing what your philosophy, needs, wants and interests are, and fitting your goals to match those.

Here’s Juliette Wade on breaking down your goals into smaller, achievable targets. Figure out the logistics of reaching a goal. Thinking of writing a novel this year? How many words a day will you have to write? Where will you find the time to do so? What will you give up? What kind of planning do you need to do before you write? Research Beijing? Create a language? Write character dossiers? Sit down and come up with a strategy, or else you’ll be struggling pretty soon.

J. A. Konrath has a comprehensive list of resolutions for writers written over a number of years. Worth checking out for inspiration.

reading roundup 2010

I snuck in a few more books before the end of the year, bringing my total to 79 (including one novella). I read Peter Brett’s The Warded Man, Janice Hardy’s The Shifter, (and on my new Kindle *squeak*) The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt, A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith and The Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon.

I met my goal of reading 75 books in 2010 (yay!) but not my goal of reading more non-fiction (boo). I didn’t read a single book of American history, just one on creativity, and only bits and pieces of theology books. My history reads were For All the Tea in China and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens. Continuing my fascination with Mongolia, I picked up Hearing Birds Fly, an account of one woman’s yearlong sojourn in rural Mongolia. I have yet another Mongolia-based travelogue, Eagle Dreams, in my to-read pile.

My science reads were Napoleon’s Buttons (chemistry) and Reading in the Brain (neuroscience).  I also read much of Uranium and Plutonium (for research) but neither made it on to the list since I didn’t read them in their entirety and I’m a stickler for rules. I’m feeling an insane desire to go back to school and get a chemistry degree. I <3 chemistry.

I read six books related to homeschooling/child development/parenting. I lump them all in one category, since mothering and teaching and understanding my children’s brains are all tangled together in my real life.

SF&F (of course) made up the bulk of my fiction reads (48 out of the 75 books). I also read a fair amount of YA. I discovered The Hunger Games trilogy, Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera and Carol Berg. I read a lot of Brandon Sanderson’s non-Wheel of Time work.  Two of my favorite books of the year were Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy (upper MG/YA) and Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron (YA), both of which were recommended to me by other people.

There were some disappointments. I failed to finish two separate trilogies, having stalled out in the middle of their respective book threes. There were a few highly anticipated and/or well-reviewed books that I wanted to love, but didn’t. One book drew me in with fantastic worldbuilding, but then the protagonist did something so horrific and monstrous toward the end that I’m still reeling from the shock of it.

My goal for this year is to read 75 books again. Most will certainly be fantasy, though I’m going to make a push to get to the space opera on my to-read list. I’m going to make a valiant attempt (again) at reading more non-fiction, especially in history and science, with an exploratory foray into astronomy. I’d like to squeeze in a few classics this year–but I haven’t decided yet whether they will be a hodge-podge of whatever catches my fancy or fall neatly under a thematic umbrella. I’m also going to finish the CS Lewis books currently languishing on my nightstand. 

I got a Kindle for Christmas and I’ve already read three books and a novella on it. I didn’t realize I was going to love it this much! Now that I have a dedicated e-book reader, I’ll try out some indie authors.

What about you? What were your favorite books from last year? What are your reading goals for this year?

64 books in 52 weeks, and looking ahead

At the beginning of 2009, I committed to reading 52 books in 52 weeks. By the end of the year I had read 64. However, that number does not accurately represent all the reading I did last year. It doesn’t take into account blog posts, magazine articles, anthologies, all the books I only partially read (reasons: I got bored, I was re-reading my favorite parts, I was interested in just a few chapters of a reference book).

The bulk of my reading was in the fantasy genre. No surprise there. Fantasy is my first love, and what I write. I discovered several trilogies and series that I enjoyed–Garth Nix’s Keys of the Kingdom, Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap books, the Crosspointe novels by Diana Pharoah Francis, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, Nathalie Mallet’s Prince Amir series and Robin Hobbs’ Liveship Traders trilogy. I read Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Bear for the first time. I rediscovered Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. A lot of Young Adult and Middle Grade books made it into my reading pile.

I balanced the shorter books with doorstoppers like Charles Dickens and A Suitable Boy. I wanted to read more classics, but only managed a small handful. Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth ranks as the book I’m most ambivalent about, the one I found both fascinating and repulsive. It was like a horrific trainwreck that I couldn’t wrench my gaze away from.

I read some non-fiction, but not as much I would’ve liked. Mark Kurlansky’s Cod and Salt rank as the two of the more enjoyable ones. I only read one book on American history–Joseph Ellis’ American Creation. Outliers was fascinating, Your Child’s Growing Minds was informative and The Creative Habit inspirational. Karen Andreola’s comprehensive A Charlotte Mason Companion rekindled in me the desire for a literature-and-nature-rich education in our home. It made me view parenting and schooling as two sides of the same coin; it brought home to me the importance of character in a child’s education.

My reading goal for 2010 is 75 books (but no beating myself up if I don’t get there), and expand my non-fiction reading. I want to read at least three books each in the categories of American history, creativity and theology. I want to read much more about history and other cultures. I want to read science books (any recommendations?).

If I get any classics in this year, it’ll be gravy.

I’m also changing the way I review books on this blog. I’ll list my monthly reads with little to no commentary, and do separate review posts for those books I feel the need to say a lot about it.

Do you have reading goals for the year?