Category: Personal

Lessons Learned from Futurescapes 2021

Lessons Learned from Futurescapes 2021

I had a chance to attend my first Futurescapes Writers’ Workshop this week, and I had a great time! I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate, and I really enjoyed meeting so many talented folks.

Futurescapes is a paid, application-only workshop for speculative fiction writers. The faculty are brilliant authors, editors, and agents who specialize in spec-fic genres. They lead instructional classes ahead of the main event: a multi-day series of small-group workshops. The goal is to get writers ready to query and publish their piece. My faculty members were David B. Coe, Tricia Skinner, and SJ Kinkaid (who are ALL brilliant; please check them out).

I learned SO much, but I want to distill three of my biggest takeaways here.

Clear over clever.

When you have to choose, opt for clear over clever.

This is something I remind myself of, as a professional copywriter. It’s also true for fiction.

David elaborates on it better than I could here: Lessons from Manuscript Critiques – Simple Is Better.

Tricia reinforced a different aspect of this concept during my query session. If you’re writing with the intent to publish (whether self or traditional), remember your manuscript is ultimately a product. As its writer, you can show how marketable that product can be. For instance, instead of defining my current work in progress as “an adult secondary world fantasy heist,” I should figure out which shelf it would live on at a bookstore and call it that: “an adult fantasy.” Make it easy for agents, editors, and readers to see how your book can fit into the market and what they’re already enjoying.

The small stuff does matter.

It’s easy, as a writer, to focus on plot structure, worldbuilding, keeping the tension high, and character development. All of that is important. In fact, it’s crucial!

And also, considerations like word choice, sentence length, what is being described (and when), the order information is given in, passive writing… this stuff matters too. Just as much, really.

Because if anything (no matter how small) takes your reader out of the story, slows them down, or bores them, you’re in danger of losing them. No matter how gripping the next page might be.

Writing is for the passionate.

Kimberley Cameron said our novels are “Word document-shaped horcruxes” — fragments of our soul (that, fortunately, don’t involve murder).

David acknowledged that writing is hard, and writer’s block is part of the process. (And so is rejection, for that matter.) Writing isn’t always meant to flow. Sometimes it’s halting. Sometimes we stumble. Sometimes we stare at the wall for hours. But he reminded us to love what we do. We keep writing because the idea of stopping is too terrible to consider. And we should always write what we’re passionate about. That passion will shine through and carry us a long way.

Changes to my work in progress

Changes to my work in progress

Stone Breaker started as a Gloomhaven fanfiction that I hoped to get officially licensed.

I finally got up the nerve to pitch the Cephalofair team, and the very next day, I got a very gracious “it’s not a good time for us to consider this” response.

No problem, but that left me with a decision to make.

Did I keep going and publish it as a free fanfic? Or did I salvage what I could of the characters and plot and devise an entirely new world?

I chose the second path.

I’ve always wanted the story to center around fantasy tropes of discrimination between races and groups. I want to call these tropes into question, examine them, see what they mean for the characters, society, and reader.

So I hired a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) consultant to help me think deeply about how to approach this topic from a storywriting and worldbuilding perspective.

A few weeks later, the Black Lives Matter protests renewed their intensity after the murder of George Floyd. And I knew without a doubt, my book could be a way to investigate the journey towards allyship — in a fantastic setting with compelling characters and swashbuckling goodness.

So Stone Breaker has been reborn into something I’m even more passionate about than ever: Flightless. I’m so excited to build this world and continue this story. Honestly, I’ve never been more giddy about a writing project than I am about this one.

Still, I’ve had a fair number of stops and starts as I venture into this new iteration of my writing project. Running a business during COVID-19 has been a major one, with tons of my creative energy going to what clients I’ve been able to maintain.

But the most difficult challenge has been the loss of my beloved dog, Gabby. I adopted her 11 years ago, and she has been with me through thick and thin. She joined me at coffee shops to write. She was the most attentive alpha reader one could imagine. She kept me energized and dreaming of new adventures. Our bond was incredibly strong, and when she died peacefully in my lap after suffering from awful degenerative health issues, it felt like a piece of my soul was ripped out. I’m still grieving… I may always be grieving… but I’m trying to be kind to myself and not force creativity when all I can do is think about her.

A healthy Gabby from six years ago, ready for me to put away the computer and take her on a walk

She would want me to keep playing and having fun, so I’ll be sure to thank her as I lose myself in the world of Flightless.

Writing in the Coronavirus era

Writing in the Coronavirus era

Today’s my 8th day of self-quarantine (except for a quick trip to the grocery store 7 days ago).

Is this not the most surreal experience of your life? It’s both comforting and horrifying to know that the conversations I’m having are taking place all over the globe.

I was supposed to be on vacation in Italy this week — spending my first trip to the country in Venice. Needless to say, that’s not happening. However, I took the opportunity to use my PTO for a staycation instead. My goal this week: Try on the life of a full-time author.

So far I’ve written 184 words. #productive

I’m finding it really freaking hard to concentrate. Even though I’ve worked from home for 7 years, there’s something uniquely weird and distracting about this experience.

That’s not to say I’ve done nothing. Monday, I spent all day working on client stuff. Tuesday, I sent out a few queries for Unrelenting. And today, I’ve been trying to tune out the news. I might even achieve an epic power nap.

I’m trying a few things that might help me recapture my focus.

I’ve hosted Zoom rooms to co-write with fellow alumni of the Writing Excuses Retreat.

I also migrated my weekly writing critique group to Zoom so we can stay accountable to one another.

I’m wearing my sound-canceling headphones to get in the zone.

I’m eating as well as I can and taking daily 3-mile walks.

And all of that is great. But…

None of it is quieting the buzz of anxiety in my brain. So I’m trying to be kind to myself by allowing myself to feel the feels, playing with my dogs, watching comedy shows with my husband, and curling up with some great books.

I’ve also found I’m feeling very disconnected from all of my projects set in the modern day or near future. The world has changed so quickly, and it’s hard to resonate with stories where characters do crazy stuff like go to coffee shops or hang out at a friend’s house.

So I’m switching gears from the novel I’m querying to focus on my main WIP. It’s set in a secondary fantasy world (yay, Gloomhaven!), so it’s already different from real life. That’s making that project feel strangely normal right now.

If you’re struggling to focus, you’re not alone.

But I believe we can get through this.

Be kind to yourself. Lower your expectations of yourself. This is traumatic and weird and stressful.

People are losing their jobs, wrangling kids, and wondering how they’re going to pay the bills. So give yourself grace if you’re not feeling 100%. I’ll try to remember my own advice.

Stay safe, wash those hands, and self-quarantine (if your situation allows it) like a boss! Love you all.

My 2019 Recap

My 2019 Recap

So long, 2019. It’s been a frenetic, crazy year. It’s also been good to me, but I’m so happy to put in the rear view mirror.

For years now, I’ve had a ritual of settling on a Word of the Year. My 2019 word was ACTUALIZATION. Knowing me, I picked it to avoid the woo-woo concept of “manifesting.” Equal parts woo-curious and woo-skeptic right here, y’all. 🙋

Basically, I wanted to actualize all the learning, growth, and self-discovery I’d started in 2018.

That meant creating a few things:

  • Epic growth in my business
  • More financial freedom in my household
  • Improvement in my mental and physical health
  • A completely edited manuscript for my co-written novel

Here’s how everything shook out.

Epic growth in my business

My business partner and I hit this one out of the park. We grew our team from 6 to 10, upleveled our clients, and invested in networking events that were a great fit for us. (Yes, this introvert networked. Hold the applause, please.) As a result, our 9th year in business was our best yet, and we made more than 2.5x the revenue of our next highest year.

In 2020, we’re focused on stability and optimization at this new level.

More financial freedom in my household

My husband and I moved to New Mexico three years ago and bought a house right at the tippy top of our price range. The result was a beautiful home on 3 wooded acres… with a mortgage that stressed us out like nobody’s business. We decided in 2018 to downsize our square footage and mortgage. It only took 6 months to sell our house 😓 but sell it we did.

The new home ticks all the right boxes. It’s smaller with a better layout for us, costs less, and is closer to amenities. The downside? It needs major renovations. Demolition kicked off before we moved in during March 2019, but it’s January 2020 now, and we’re still renovating.

I can’t even express to you the amount of frustration, angst, hours on hold, and dust storms this has created in our lives. We’re slowly unpacking, but we’ve been more or less living out of boxes since October 2018. Frus. tra. ting. (In a first world problem kind of way.) But we’re getting there, slowly but surely. And the lower mortgage is definitely easier on the pocketbook.

Our goal for 2020 is to wrap up renovations and make this house feel like a home.

Improvement in my mental and physical health

Until I was about 28, I was the picture of self-confidence and poise.

And then I started to feel like crap. I was filled with self-doubt and self-loathing. I didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t believe in myself.

Most of it stemmed back to unprecedented challenges I was facing. I no longer had a steady paycheck and was self-employed at poverty levels. I was traveling full-time in an RV, without a steady community or friend group at my fingertips (holla RV friends, I love you, but I couldn’t see you all the time… the internet only does so much). I discovered I was a conflict-averse people-pleaser, which meant I wasn’t as strong as I’d thought. By the time I was 31, I was desperate for help.

So I sought it out. I was, not shockingly, diagnosed with depression. Finally, I felt empowered, because I had a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

Last year marked my 3rd year of counseling. Plus I added to my mental health treatment weekly personal training at the gym. The difference has been amazing. Even though I still have super-rough days, I’m feeling better all the time.

The key for me has been accountability. My therapist and my personal trainer are expecting me to show up… so I DO show up, and I do the work.

In 2020, my plan is more of the same — to continue caring for my mental and physical health. No compromising. This is the most essential thing for my well-being. (And yours, btw.)

A completely edited manuscript for my co-written novel

I flubbed this one, but not for a lack of trying.

My business partner and I have co-written an urban fantasy novel titled Unrelenting. We’re super proud of it. And a teensy bit perfectionistic.

In February, 2019, we got an offer from a New Mexico publisher to put the book on paper and get it into stores. Hello, dream come true!

We were in the midst of post-beta-reader edits at the time (which is a no-no… you’re supposed to submit a fully edited as-good-as-you-can-make-it manuscript to publishers, but fortunately he is SUPER gracious).

We’re now on a final pass of revisions. But between moving, living in a construction zone, business insanity, and life in general, that process has turned into a 12+ month slog. That super-gracious publisher friend also understands that we want to find an agent, so that’s next on our list.

In 2019, we did also attend a fantastic 9-day conference for fiction writers led by some of the most incredible humans, authors, and agents on Planet Earth. We loved it so much, we’re attending again this year.

In 2020, I’ll finally actualize my 2019 goal of a fully edited manuscript, querying it to agents, and starting on the next project! Can’t keep this girl down.

2020 is for boundaries.

In order to achieve what I want in 2020, I need to get serious about boundaries around my time, energy, and choices. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

Happy belated New Year, everyone! May it be a productive, prosperous year for us all!