Archive for the 'L Viehl’s Posts' Category
Friday, November 27th, 2009 by LViehl
One of the many things I’m not very good at is saying good-bye. “See you later” or “Take care” or even the occasional “It’s been fun” are more my speed – something a little more upbeat and promising than the usual farewell. It must be the series writer in me; after I build my story playground I never want to leave.
Beginnings are fun, but they’re a bit scary, too. Before I joined Genreality, I’d never been part of a group blog. I’d been kicked out of enough groups to know I probably wouldn’t last long, but two of my favorite online writer friends were involved in this project. I also really liked the concept: writers working in different genres getting together to talk about the work, the writing life and the biz.
So I jumped in here and began blogging with our first line-up: Alison Kent, Joe Nassisse, Jason Pinter, Carrie Vaughn and Sasha White. I didn’t worry about keeping up with the demands of my once-weekly post; I’ve been journaling online for nearly ten years now and I still haven’t run out of stuff to write. No, I worried about keeping up with these five very talented people and what they contributed to the group.
My first post was The Last Word, the sort of oddball goofy thing I write when I’m nervous. And I was, very. The quality of my blogmates’ posts pushed me to be a little more serious, so from there I went into series writing, the tale of my first sale, and my problems with bad luck (I even got all the Friday the 13th posts here at the blog). I behaved myself for the most part until April, when I kept a promise I’d made years ago and posted the first of my royalty tell-alls, The Reality of a Times Bestseller. When I didn’t get kicked out of the group for that post, I think I finally relaxed a little.
Working in a group of gifted writers makes you step up your own game, and I tried to do that. Now and then I had to recycle an old post from my author blog, and sometimes I fumbled a post (theme weeks always kicked my butt), but I was also able to talk about topics important to writers, like online endorsement disclosure, some very intense professional experiences, and things that make the writing life a little better.
Most weeks I spent quite a bit of time thinking about my posts for Genreality because I wanted to contribute something to the blog that was worthy of this group. Over time the line-up changed a little, but the quality has always remained the same. I think that quality and the commitment to it has changed me as well as the way I think of groups. I never thought I could be at my best in a group, but here I learned that when you find the right one, they bring out the best in you.
For that reason and many others, I wish I could remain a part of Genreality forever. But situations change, and I’m about to take some different directions with my work that are going to demand quite a lot out of me for the next couple of years. Starting in December I have some serious coordinating to do, and in 2010 I’m also going to try some experiments in writing, art and blogging to see what other kind of trouble I can get into. To have the time to attend to all that, I have to leave the group blog and head off on my own again.
It’s been a tremendous privilege to be included among such terrific writers, and I will not forget what I’ve learned from all of them. I’ll also be back to hang out in comments and annoy my blogpals whenever I can.
As for you all, I thank you for stopping in and commenting and contributing your ideas and opinions to my Friday posts. I will miss you, but I know I’m leaving you in excellent hands.
So . . . see you later. Take care. It’s been fun.
SUNSET © Alex Staroseltsev | Dreamstime.com
Friday, November 20th, 2009 by LViehl
Last week I touched a horse. This horse right here, as it happens. I put my hand on his nose and patted him. No big deal; it’s something people who live around horses do all the time, especially where I live, as there are more horses than people in my town. Only I haven’t touched or gone within five feet of a horse in 40 years, not since I was thrown off a big black nightmare some adults thought it would be cute to put me on.
I think horses are beautiful creatures (at a distance.) I take photos of them all the time (from my car or while standing behind a nice, strong, safe fence.) My daughter loves horses and has become an accomplished rider, and I take her to her lessons . . . and stay far, far away from her while she saddles and climbs on while I watch and sweat and silently pray Please God don’t let that evil beast from Hell eat my baby. Then I have to leave before I throw up.
I have a very real, very solid case of equinophobia. The last time some well-intentioned friend try to “cure” me of it by taking me into a stable, I passed out cold. And the horses know how frightened I am of them; they see me coming and their heads go up and they watch me. I can almost hear what they’re thinking: Hey, check out the fraidy-cat. Let’s mess with her.
I don’t like my phobia. I want to stop being afraid of horses. It’s stupid. But the last time my daughter’s trainer tried to lead me up to one just to stand close to it, I started shaking so much she had to hold me up with one arm or I would have fallen like old timber.
So why would someone as terrified of horses as I am touch one? Because I wasn’t thinking about it. I stopped to take a picture of a horse with unusual coloring, looked down to check my camera settings because I was shooting toward the sun, and when I looked up the horse had come over to have a look at me.
Time seemed to freeze. I didn’t think OmiGod and freak. I didn’t twitch. There was just this horse, right there, in my face, and it was about to bump me with his nose. I reached out instinctively to stop that, I think, then I just petted him like I would our dog. He made that snorty sound and turned his head so he could take a good look at me. Maybe he heard about my wimp ass from all the other horses, but he didn’t seem too impressed. That was the moment I snapped this pictue (and honestly, I don’t remember doing that at all.)
I’m pretty sure I said “Nice horsey” while I backed away a few steps, whirled around and ran back to my car. Once I jumped in and locked all the doors, then I silently freaked out. The horse watched me for a minute, got bored and went back to grazing.
It was a huge moment for me, and once I’d let myself have quiet hysterics, an important one. I hadn’t fainted. I hadn’t thrown up. I hadn’t even punched the horse (which I’ve always been horribly afraid I’d do in a situation like this.) I’d survived an up-close and personal encounter with one of my giants, and neither of us had thrown a single stone.
The first person I told was my daughter, of course. “You’ll never believe what I did today.” I didn’t even wait for her to guess. “I touched a horse.”
Just like that horse, she gave me the eye. “Are you on drugs?”
“No, and I didn’t faint or anything.” I decided not to mention my subsequent in-car freak out. “I just petted him very gently on the nose.” Then I made her swear not to tell her trainer, who is still determined to get me on a horse if it’s the last thing she ever does in this life.
The thing that is so great about this accidental aversion therapy — other than the fact that the horse didn’t bite my hand off — is that I did it on my own. Maybe not on purpose, maybe just out of reflex, but the end result was that I had a good personal experience with a horse. Unlike every other tactic other, horse-loving people have tried, this one experience has convinced me that I’m not a total wuss after all, and maybe not all horses are evil beasts from Hell who want to eat me.
This is also fortuitous in another sense. I have about six months of research to do for three books I’m writing that prominently feature horses. No, I’m not insane. One of my goals in writing these novels (other than pleasing my horse-crazy daughter) is to personally discover all the amazing and wonderful things about horses. I do think they’re beautiful, elegant creatures who add greatly to the lives of people who love them. I see how much my daughter has blossomed since she began riding, and how much confidence it’s given her.
Then there’s me — I not only hate my phobia, I resent it. Living with this kind of self-inflicted fear is not what I’m about. I may never get to the point where I can actually ride a horse (that’s the phobia talking right there) but I refuse to spend the rest of my life being this afraid of them. The only way I know to do that is to learn as much about them as I can, and keep pushing myself to familiarize myself with them and be exposed to them until I can build up enough positive, healthy experiences to overcome that one rotten experience from childhood.
I’m pretty sure this will work for me because it’s how I overcame my fear of public speaking (I went to open mike night at B&N every week for three months and read my poetry out loud. First time it was like being skinned alive. The twelfth time I felt like I could address Congress) and my aversion to spiders (wrote a SF book prominently featuring three-foot-high spiders as characters who were not villains; the research included spending time with and eventually handling a tarantula.) Neither of those dreads were as severe as my equinophobia, but I beat them, and that gives me hope.
Not every person chooses to confront their own phobias alone, nor do I recommend my existential approach as the ideal way to cope with a phobia (to get the best treatment options for any phobia, mental trauma or condition, you should always first consult with your family doctor or therapist.)
Writing about the things we fear isn’t something I think we should avoid, though. In as much as we like to write about things we love, I think it can be just as important to explore on the page things we hate or fear or dislike. Those emotions are just as valid, and expressing them in a constructive venue like writing can be the first step toward a healthy resolution. Even if that means taking a long, close look at something we’d rather avoid, I think it also helps the quality of the work to present the shadows as well as the light. That way we don’t end up writing nothing but fairytales that take place in the Village of Smiling People to whom nothing bad ever happens.
Friday, November 13th, 2009 by LViehl
“My personal quest, as well as what I want for my viewers, is to seek out that thrill of escaping into an unknown land. I want to lead them into my landscapes with just the hint of a trail, the odd shrub, or a far-off village — and let them fill in the rest for themselves.” — Canadian artist Raymond Quenneville, Visions of an Unknown Land
I am the least mystical writer I know. If there were a Mystical Writers organization, I’d be crossed off the membership eligibility list. When you look at mystical in the dictionary, one of the definitions is not Lynn Viehl. Practical, yes; honest, try to be; hopeful, of course. But mystical? Not in this or any other lifetime, pal.
I know mystical writers. They’re those tall, willowy graceful creatures who float around in an impenetrable bubble of otherworldliness. When you sit next to them at luncheons and they speak about their writing, you have no idea what they’re talking about (but if you listen long enough I think you do get a little contact high.) I’m too short, too klutzy and far too hard-headed to ever join their club; the only time I float is when you toss me in a pool.
Yet when I read the above quote, which begins an article written by the artist for the Oct/Nov ’09 issue of International Artist magazine, I knew immediately what he meant. I totally got it.
As much as I am compelled to keep both feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds, I share Raymond Quenneville’s work ethic. I’m on the same quest. I want to create the unknown for me and my readers, whether it be a character or conversation or a conflict, or an entire universe filled with them. This is the work, in a nutshell: Here’s the unknown. I built it for us. Go, on, check it out.
So I might be a little mystical. Maybe. In my left big toe or something.
For me writing is more an organized, finite process than a nebulous mystical experience, so I’ve always shied away from talking about what cannot be organized or processed. I’m not comfortable with behaving like a spontaneous artist because I’m not — except when I write dialogue.
Dialogue is the one element in any story I write that I never plan or plot out or otherwise mess with. My dialogue is always spontaneous; basically whatever comes to mind as I’m working on the scene. This doesn’t sound all that weird, unless you consider that I plan and plot out everything, in painstaking detail, well in advance of writing a single word of the story. In fact, I can’t write a story unless I know in advance everything that is going to happen in it. Except dialogue.
For me, dialogue is a mystical thing because it comes out of nowhere through no deliberate action of mine at all. As I’m working and I need dialogue, the lines pop in my head and I write them down. Occasionally when I’m thinking about a scene I sometimes hear bits and pieces of conversation, but I don’t listen to them. For me, dialogue happens on the page during the writing process. Which makes absolutely no sense to me at all, and you know what? It works fine, so I don’t care. I don’t try to figure it out because there is no explanation for it. If there is one, I don’t want to know it. Knowing would probably jinx it.
In your writing work, there are probably dozens of methods and processes and things you do in a certain fashion to obtain an expected outcome. We’re taught these things in school and at workshops; we’re told them by our colleagues and writer friends; we read them in how-to books. We often modify them to suit our needs. Even the most dedicated organic writer has something they do that is part of their non-process process, even if it’s as simple as putting on a favorite CD, making a cup of a certain herbal tea, or wearing bunny slippers while writing. Personal rituals are often as important to some writers as plotting a detailed outline is to others.
In our quest to improve our craft and become better writers, we regiment ourselves to refine and rely on methods and processes. As long as this works for you I think this is wise; most of us can’t build a story without first sketching out some floor plans or drawing up some prints. But no matter how often I recommend planning and organization, I also believe in protecting whatever mysticality is involved in the writing life. If there is such a thing as a muse or a well, this is what comes from it. Or maybe it’s just the wiring between the mind and the soul.
The last line of Raymond Quenneville’s article also found an echo in me: “I search for a feeling of peacefulness and light that will draw the viewer into a state of well-being.” As a storyteller I search for many feelings too, and work to share them with my readers. If that means not exactly understanding how I do that, then I think it’s a fair trade.
Spiritual Writing: Inciting Inspiration by Candy Arrington
Plato’s Cosmology & the Mystical Experience by Mark Bancroft
Defining The Mystical Energy by John L. Waters
Saturday, November 7th, 2009 by LViehl
(In honor of NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d post a scene from my as-yet-untitled WIP I’m writing for fun this month. This is a first draft that has had only a single-pass edit for typos, so it’s a bit rough, but part of the joy of NaNo’ing is roughing it. — Lynn)
Doyle finally tired of pacing, yanked out the chair on the other side of the table and dropped in it. After he gave me that cool, flint-edged stare he’d inherited from his Grandda, he asked, “Why did you do it, Kit?”
I gave him my full statement in four words. “I didn’t kill him.” Of course I had; I had spent all week planning it and all night running about trying to do it. Murder had turned out to be an exhausting business. “Is that what this is about, then? You’ve got the wrong—”
“They’ll send you to the gallows.” Beneath his rage was something more I hadn’t expected to see: regret.
“I doubt it. They hardly ever hang women.” A cramp in my right shoulder made me adjust the drape of my arms around the back of the chair. The chain between my shackles jingled. “You’ve no body, no witnesses. How could I have done him, what with me being such a young, helpless female and all?”
He bent to one side, took something from his case and placed it on the table between us. A small, flat square, carefully swaddled in soft black cloth. He didn’t have to unwrap it to show me what it was.
I stared at it, fascinated. Not such a rare thing as it had been before the Empire had permitted it, but surely too expensive for the likes of Tommy Doyle. “You’ve glass.”
“Aye, I’ve glass.” He braced his hands on the table and leaned over it. “Why did you kill him?”
It had to be a trick, the glass blank, the threat empty. Unless— “Show it to me.”
Tom unwrapped the cloth, exposing the plate inside.
Silverblack mottled the slick surface with splotches and lines. They formed the reverse image of a long pier, a tall woman and the monster she was straddling. When the tints were made from it, they’d show the finer details. The tears in her bodice. The blood on her mouth. The iron spike she was just about to thrust into the monster’s chest.
Damn me, he had it all on glass. “That’s not what it looks like.”
He picked up the ambrotype showing me killing Lucien Dredmore. “This is not you shoving a rail tie through the man’s chest, then.” Hot blue eyes shifted to the blood-soaked remains of my bodice. “And I suppose that’s not Dredmore’s blood all over your tits.”
“No.” Well, most of it wasn’t his blood. I hoped.
“You’ve a homicidal twin sister tucked away somewhere?”
“Sorry.” I grimaced. “Only child.”
Tom checked his pocket watch. “After you didn’t kill Dredmore, did someone else roll him in tarp and take him for a swim?”
“I don’t know.” Damn it, he was going to make me explain everything. “Tommy—”
“Inspector Doyle to the likes of you.”
“Inspector Doyle.” So much for the tender bud of that relationship. “I did not stab Lucien Dredmore in the heart or pitch his ass in the bay. I may have wanted to – I may have even dreamed about it now and then – but I am innocent of these charges being filed against me.”
I smelled piss again and glanced down. No wonder the floor and the seat felt tacky; the one they’d brought in before me had disgraced himself. Maybe the Yard hadn’t cleaned it up very well in order to break down the resistance of other suspects. The stench was certainly working wonders on me.
“Can’t you see what’s happening here?” No, he couldn’t, that much was obvious. “Think about it, Tommy. I hated the son of a bitch. Everyone knew it. They wanted him and me out of the way. One stone, two birds. It’s the oldest trick in the book.”
“So you’re being framed for Dredmore’s murder.”
I kept a straight face. “Yes.”
“There’s just one problem with that.”
“I’m the one who took this, and the others.” He shoved the glass across the table at me. “I watched you kill him.” His blond brows formed a V over his bright blue eyes. “And I will testify.”
So he would, because that was the sort of man he was. If things had gone differently, Tommy and I might have been friends. Another thing to regret, but not enough to keep me from hanging myself. It didn’t matter. My life had ended two hours ago on the docks.
I had to finish this.
“I’ll say that we’ve slept together,” I said. “My barrister will use it to destroy your credibility.” Pain exploded across my face and my head snapped to one side as his swinging hand connected with my cheek. I spat some blood-streaked saliva on the floor and rolled the bottom of my jaw. “Very good, Inspector. Go on, hit me again. Use your fist this time. I deserve it, lying bitch that I am.” If I were very lucky, I might be able to goad him into breaking my neck.
“So you can use the bruises to discredit me?” He shook his head. “What happened, Kit? What did he do to you? How in God’s name did he drive you to murder? You were lovers.”
I laughed. “I’d rather bed a jackal.”
Doyle took something from his pocket and tossed it down in front of me. The last time I’d seen the old chain, I’d left it hanging from a bed post.
Now, looking at it and the dark stone hanging from it, I could hardly take in enough air to form words. “Where did you get this?”
“We recovered it,” he snapped. “We also have the tarp and the murder weapon. They’ll be tested. They’ll find his blood on them.”
“Where’s the body?” Without thinking I tried to stand, only to be jerked back as my shackles cut into my wrists. “Where is it?”
“The skips are stilling trawling,” he said, “but the tide’s coming in. We’ll have it soon enough, I imagine.”
The pendant changed everything. “I want a vicar.”
Outrage flagged his cheekbones red. “You don’t get—”
“I’ll confess,” I said quickly. “To all of it. Everything. In my own hand, if you like. After I speak to my vicar.”
He stared. “You’ve never been Church.”
I ran my tongue along the seam where my cheek met my gum line. “Remorse has converted me. It’s a miracle. Now, the vicar, if you please.”
Friday, November 6th, 2009 by LViehl
Back in April when I posted and discussed the royalty statement for Twilight Fall, my top twenty New York Times mass market bestseller, I promised I would post the next royalty statement that came in for the book. That arrived this week, so today I’d like to take a look at that and share some thoughts on how the book performed in the eleven months since the initial release.
First, the actual statement, which you can view here.
As before, the only thing I’ve blanked out is Penguin Group’s address. This statement represents the sale period from November 30, 2008 through May 31, 2009. It was issued on August 18, 2009 and I received it on November 2, 2009.
On the statement my publisher reports sales of 7,550 copies and returns of 10,812 copies. The publisher released credits of 21,140 copies or $13,512.69 from reserves held against returns, but at the same time reserved credits against another 13,790 copies or $8,814.57, which reduces the credit adjustment to 7,350 copies or $4698.12.
Total sales for the novel now stand at 89,142 copies, minus returns of 27,479, for net sales of 61,663 copies. My credited earnings from this statement was $2,434.38 with no money due; it will probably take another six months to a year for the novel to earn out the last of my $50,000.00 advance.
So how much money have I made from my Times bestseller? Depending on the type of sale, I gross 6-8% of the cover price of $7.99. After paying taxes, commission to my agent and covering my expenses, my net profit on the book currently stands at $24,517.36, which is actually pretty good since on average I generally net about 30-40% of my advance. Unless something triggers an unexpected spike in my sales, I don’t expect to see any additional profit from this book coming in for at least another year or two.
One thing I didn’t mention in the last post is whether or not my sell-through, advance, and royalties are typical of an author with a top twenty Times mass market bestseller. Very few authors offer up their numbers, and even when they do they either go the anonymous survey route and/or don’t post statements, and publishers rarely give us any information at all, so it’s difficult to know. But based on my estimation of comparitive print run sizes, placement, distribution and a couple of other factors, I’d say no; my numbers overall probably run lower than most of the other authors on the list (of course if any other Times bestseller authors out there want to post their royalty statements, we’d all love to see the real numbers so we can establish a range.)
Speaking of comparisons, the publisher’s portion of sales on this book has grossed them around $453,839.68. I don’t have any hard figures on the publisher’s net, so I can’t give you the bottom line there. If I had to make a guess, I’d say they probably netted around $250K on this one.
What I’m taking away from this statement: returns were about what I expected; booksellers have been keeping these books on the shelves due to steady sales, and that helps.
My export sales are up, and they’re now constituting about 10% of my total sales, which is great. I’ve been reaching out to overseas readers for a couple of years now via blog promotion and I’m seeing a growing return on that investment. I’d love to see some foreign rights sales so that more of my readers could have the books in their native language, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen very often, and I can’t do anything about it because it’s all decided and handled by the publisher.
My income per book always reminds me of how tough it is to make at living at this gig, especially for writers who only produce one book per year. If I did the same, and my one book performed as well as TF, and my family of four were solely dependent on my income, my net would be only around $2500.00 over the income level considered to be the U.S. poverty threshhold (based on 2008 figures.) Yep, we’d almost qualify for foodstamps.
I finished this novel’s series in January of this year with the seventh book, which debuted eight spots lower than TF on the Times extended list. I’ve since moved on to writing a spin-off series, the first book of which is Shadowlight, which debuted at #17 on the Times list, two spots higher than TF. Shadowlight is now my bestselling novel to date.
What it boils down to is that you never know. I won’t find out for another six months how well Shadowlight initially performed or if TF will earn out in the next six months, which keeps me from obsessing over my sales. Either the books sell or they don’t; I have zero control over whether or not they appear on any list. My focus has to be on the writing (and Carrie did an excellent post this week to celebrate her series anniversary and to discuss excellent reasons to focus on the work; check it out when you have a chance.)
The overall response to the last statement I posted in April was quite positive and supportive, especially here at Genreality. A few places elsewhere, not so much. Several times since April I considered forgetting all about this follow-up post because I knew if I did it I’d be painting another great big target on myself, and no one wants to volunteer for that kind of duty. But I did promise my writer friends and you guys that I would do this, and I keep my promises. So I will duck and dodge one more time.
I know how important writer dreams are — sometimes they’re the only thing that keep us going — but I think they also have to be tempered by facing reality. To me, sharing an uncomfortable truth is better than perpetuating a myth. I know Publishing will never rise up to meet our expectations, but fiction belongs on the page, not in what we tell each other. Otherwise we risk becoming characters uttering lines of dialogue instead of working writers helping each other make good decisions.
So there you have it. If you’d like to share the info, please do; a link back to this post in return would be appreciated. If you’d like to express any gratitude, you can buy one of my books (or if my work doesn’t appeal to you, buy a book written by one of my blogmates. They’re all very talented folks.) And if you have any questions about the statement, let me know in comments.
Friday, October 30th, 2009 by LViehl
I think the Publishing industry may be growing extremely near-sighted. So are writers. Yesterday is some fuzzy, forgotten place, tomorrow is too far away to worry about, so we’re all focused on the now. The right this minute now. The Twitter now.
With no health care, no benefits, no job security, and the ever-present, incredible amount of talented competition out there, writing professionally has always been a high-stress job. Today writers are also expected to produce multiple books per year, have a platform, aggressively promote their books, finance their own marketing and navigate through the always-rocky waters of the internet. Is it any wonder that the professional stress has gone from constant to unbelievable?
We have editors telling us that we must have a web site, a FaceBook page, a MySpace page, a blog, a newsletter, an author page on five different bookseller sites, mailouts, bookmarks, book videos on YouTube and giveaways and contests. Add to that reading all the feeds we’re supposed to subscribe to and commenting on all the other industry blogs out there, making the conference rounds, doing the writer org things, holding booksignings, giving luncheon speeches, submitting books for awards, and oh, let’s not forget about updating the Twitter account every five minutes in case someone wants to know what we’re writing right now—
Does any pro who does all this crap really have time to write anymore? Or is it something they try to squeeze in between logins and updates? Sometimes I wonder.
I won’t debate the merits of social media or self-promotion; I’m more concerned with the negative effect trying to keep up with all these demands is having on writers. Many pros I know are already coping with significant health problems: migraines, ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, carpal tunnel syndrome, weight issues and various forms of mental and physical fatigue. The majority of these are related in some way to the biz of being a writer. I’m not going to suggest that working in the industry is killing us, but all that pressure is not doing us any favors, either. Since publishers have plenty of eager, willing talent to choose from, they’re really not worried about our personal longevity. If anyone is going to look after us and see to it that we stay in good shape to write, it has to start at home, with us.
Everyone should know what they need to do to combat stress in their personal lives, but I believe that destressing your professional life is just as important. It’s fairly simple, too; with all the demands being made of us we have to start making intelligent choices instead of trying to do everything. Here are some of my ideas on how to do that:
Put the work first. No matter what some social media junkie tells you, writing is your job, and doing it should be the number one priority in your professional life. If it’s not, you need to change things so that it is.
Accept that you can’t do it all. Look at what you’re trying to do, and choose to do what you like most, what you can reasonably handle doing, and what provides the maximum amount of career benefits. And then dump the rest. It’s better to do one thing very well than a hundred things badly.
Learn to say No. I know it’s scary. I know editors and agents can be intimidating when they want you to do something that “all the other authors are doing.” I know you’re worried about your future employment. But if you let them, they will run you into the ground, murmur how sorry they are as they step over your twitching body and move onto the next writer. You don’t get brownie points for being the most cooperative writer, you just put yourself in a position for them to make more demands of you. It’s a little easier to give them a polite no when you remember that to them you are basically a disposable commodity that can be replaced with a single e-mail or phone call.
Live the writing life you want. If you love going to conferences because they rejuvenate you, go and enjoy them. If you hate booksignings, don’t have them. If your blog is way more fun for you to update than your web site, shut down the web site. If you’re so shy that it makes you ill to get up in front of a room full of people and wax poetic about the fruits of your labors, don’t even go there. You should be happy to go to work every day, and the only way to do that is to eliminate as many things as you can from your job that make you unhappy.
Don’t make the biz your entire life. It isn’t, or it shouldn’t be. Unplug. Spend time with your significant other, your spouse, your kids, your loved ones. Avoid online train wrecks and jackasses who piss you off. Take up a non-writing hobby. Get involved in sports, plant a garden, take long walks. Weave baskets if you have to, but don’t try to be a 24/7 pro. You don’t want your eulogy to be “He kept his Twitter account updated.”
Get the help you need now. If you’re already suffering work-related health issues, see your doctor or therapist. I can almost guarantee you that ignoring the migraines, the wrist pain, the insomnia, etc. is not going to make them go away, and may lead to more serious medical conditions.
Destressing and taking care of yourself is one of the best investments you can make in your professional future. If that means taking some time to seriously evaluate your writing life and weeding out whatever causes you the most grief, do it. Then you’ll not only be happy to go to work every day, you’ll be in a better position to keep doing that for a long, long time.
A Dozen Proven Stress Busters by Harriet Meyerson
John Carpi’s Psychology Today article Stress: It’s Worse Than You Think
Ten ways from the American Heart Association to Fight Stress With Healthy Habits, or download their information sheet on how to manage stress here.
Friday, October 23rd, 2009 by LViehl
Today at 4:43 pm I wrote the final word of a story. I chose that word, and the very last sentence that contains it, way back when I wrote the very first word of this story (which was “I” if you’re curious.) Even back then I knew that I wanted “forever” to be the very last word of the story. I didn’t know if I’d ever get to type it, but I was hopeful.
It did take a while to get here. Nine years, ten novels, and over one million words in print, in fact, to go from “I” to “forever.” All that constitutes StarDoc, a novel series which began with my first published book in 2000. StarDoc has become my longest novel series to date, and is the longest continuous story I’ve ever written in my life.
I think that rates a blog post, don’t you?
Back in 1998 I originally planned the series to be fifteen books. That was also the year I signed my first contract, and had absolutely no freaking clue what I was about to get into. Sometimes I still wonder if I would have signed if I had known. My heart says no. My checkbook says yes. My readers, well, let’s put it this way: if it wasn’t for them, StarDoc would be the five-book series.
Published books are like orgasms. Most writers are pretty happy to make noise about theirs. Even when they don’t enjoy the process of getting there, they learn how to fake it and be convincing. I’ve always kept pretty quiet about this series, though, because it’s been so important to me. Even typing this post makes my skin crawl a little. No, where StarDoc is concerned, I always want to set out great big scary signs: Private property. Keep out. Trespassers will be shot.
Of course you can’t be that way about something you sell to other people. What’s the stuff they’re always telling us? “You have to grow a thick skin. Be cool. Don’t take it personally. Pretend it doesn’t matter. It’s just a book.”
But it’s not just a book. You writers know what I mean. It’s six months or a year or two years or ten years of your life. Frantic writing sessions squeezed in between the baby’s nap and Daddy’s dinner. Draft after draft after draft. Long weekend marathons at the keyboard, fueled by too much coffee, heavy on the anxiety. Thinking about and trying not think about and thinking about the family car that needs a new transmission, the only working computer that’s about to fry itself, the daughter who needs braces because everyone at school is calling her Bunny, the adjustable rate mortgage that just adjusted again. Maybe for you it’s a separation book, or a divorce book, or a funeral book (for me this last StarDoc novel will for all eternity be the H1N1 book.)
It’s endless, sleepless nights, up pacing the floor or watching infomercials or painting your toenails with your daughter’s Hello Kitty glitter polish while you try to figure out how to plug a story hole or straighten out a character or please God do something to fix that lame dialogue bit at the end of chapter five.
It’s a pile of rejection letters in the past, a ten-page revision letter from your editor who forgot to be polite after page two, a paperback that went straight to the shelves, and at least one snotty, sneering slapdown, and probably more. It’ll earn out, or it won’t, it’ll hit the lists, or it won’t, and a week after it’s released it’ll probably be forgotten by everyone in the biz but you. If you’re lucky, only a third of the print run will be pulped. A month after they’re read, most of the copies of your book will end up in a library donation box or sold for two bucks at the USB. Oh, and the hate mail. Let’s not forget that you are going to burn in hell for whatever you wrote that offended the Book Police (but if you do, they’ll be happy to remind you. At length.)
Ready to quit now? Don’t. Because they’re something they don’t tell you, something only long-haul, down in the trenches, no-glam career writers know: it is worth it.
Oh, yes. Sitting here, head throbbing, voice almost gone, and so tired I could just collapse and sleep wherever I drop for three days, I’ve still arrived at pretty incredible destination. Finishing a story, even one as long as mine, isn’t about typing “the end” once and for all. It’s about you, who you are, and what you can do. No matter how long it takes, or how many obstacles you encounter on the journey, when you reach your goal you don’t just cross a finish line. You prevail. You beat everyone and everything that tried to stop you along the way. You’re no longer attempting do something, you’ve done it.
That isn’t just finishing or ending. That’s triumph, and that’s yours, and that’s forever. And when you look around, you won’t see any of those obstacles or troubles or heartaches you ran into on the way. They can’t be where you are. They can’t do what you’ve done.
As long as I’ve been working on it, I thought I would feel miserable to end my story. I really expected that typing “forever” would have me busting out in tears. Instead, I felt a moment of overwhelming satisfaction – the kind you can’t fake – and then a sense of peace.
So: tomorrow I’m going to give myself a day off, catch up on my reading, take a bubble bath, watch a movie and bask in the glow a little. Then I’ve got to head off on a new journey, because I know there’s another finish line up there, just waiting for me to reach it. And then one after that, and another one off in the distance, and then the one I can’t see just yet but that I know will be there. There will always be endings, but there will always beginnings, too.
For writers, the story really never ends.
And coming in 2010: Dream Called Time, the final StarDoc novel, by S.L. Viehl