Archive for 'the writing life'

Monday, July 16th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
“Snapshot” of My Desk at the Moment

You’ve probably been able to infer from all of our posts over the years that being a working writer involves a lot of, well, work.  But “work” is abstract.  “I’m busy,” we all say.  “You know — work.”  Work meaning the thing that most of our lives are focused on that is necessary to put food on our table and booties on our feet.  For the working writer, what does “work” look like on a day to day, week to week basis?

Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve got on my front burners right now — the work of a full-time writer in concrete rather than abstract terms.

  • I just finished the rough draft of the twelfth Kitty novel.  I have a couple of things to clean up, then I’ll send it to my editor at the end of the month.  So it’s still technically sitting on my desk.
  • I’m now working on the sequel to my superhero novel, After the Golden Age.  I’m about 30,000 words in and trucking along, so I’m pouring a lot of wordage into it for the moment.
  • I’m in the middle of writing a new short story in my Harry and Marlowe steampunk series.  I put it aside to work on the new novel, but I really need to pick it up again and finish it. I probably will when the novel hits a snag.
  • In two weeks, the next Kitty novel, Kitty Steals the Show, will be out.  Promotion is taking up quite a bit of time right now.  My publisher set up a blog tour, so I’m spending an hour or so a day on interviews, guest posts, and updating my own online outlets. (Like this thing.)  I also have a handful of signings/appearances I need to prepare for.  I’m avoiding looking at the book’s Amazon page.  (No, really…)
  • Correspondence:  “Catch up on e-mail” is almost always on my to-do list.  Sending updated biographies to editors, responding to requests for short story reprints, answering random questions, following up on various leads, etc.  (This is the kind of thing that ends up aggravating me, because it really only takes a few minutes a day, but I end up putting it off and avoiding it, which makes it much more stressful than it really needs to be.)
  • I have three short story rough drafts that need fairly heavy revision.  I might end up taking these with my when I travel to Alabama for a family reunion in a couple of weeks.  So I’m not really working on these, but I’m thinking of them.  One story is promised to an anthology, due in January, so I’ve got time.
  • I’m in the very early stages of thinking about/outlining a short story I’ve promised to another anthology, also due in January.  I know what the story is about and I have a rough outline, but because it’s going to be a historical piece set in World War II, I have some research to do first.  I’ve got the books out, but I haven’t read them yet.  I’ll keep thinking about this and reading the research until I get a critical mass of “story stuff” in my head that’s ready to pour out.

This doesn’t include all the projects on my back burners, like the stories I want to write and the YA space opera that’s half finished and so on and so on…   Really, this is a pretty average work load for me.  It’s not too bad — I don’t have any galleys or copyedits waiting to be reviewed at the moment.  I have maybe more rough drafts than usual needing attention, which gets frustrating.  The book promotion is the only overwhelming thing I’m doing right now, and it’ll be over in about a month.  By then, my late summer/fall convention season will begin.  So if it’s not one thing, it’s another, which is pretty normal in the writing life.  And really, I love that I always have something work on.  Work = never boring.

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
If Not Writing, What?

I’m still drawing on some questions I solicited on my Facebook page awhile back.  This comes from Gregg Chamberlain, and it’s one I get asked a lot in blog interviews:  If I wasn’t a writer, what would I be doing?  Would I have some other creative outlet?

What I usually say:  What would I be if I wasn’t a writer?  Institutionalized.

Seriously.  Like a lot of writers, I feel like if I couldn’t write, or didn’t write, I’d go crazy.  Completely bonkers.   Even taking a step back and considering the question seriously, it’s still tough to answer because I can’t imagine what else I’d be doing.  I’ve spent so much of my life on stories and writing, that a huge chunk of my current identity would be totally different.  I’m a writer because around the time I graduated from college, I decided there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do with my life, my career, my time.  It took about twelve years after that to be able to write full time, but I did it because I didn’t give myself much of a choice.  I don’t want to consider what other career I might have gone into besides writing, because it would change my life too much, and I like my life the way it is.

The question of what other creative outlet I might be doing if I didn’t write is a little less traumatic to consider, because I’ve always had lots of creative outlets.  Art, sewing, theater, music.  Looking back, I think I could have made a career at any of them — if I had chosen to put as much time into any one of them as I put into my writing.  Writing won out because it’s easy to do any time, any place.  A pen and paper, that’s it.  Art and music have steeper learning curves, I think, and the rewards aren’t as immediate.  Theater usually needs  collaborators.  I sometimes think in an alternate universe, I did follow one of those other paths, and in that universe I’m wondering what would have happened if I’d become a writer.

I’ve been on a couple of panels over the last couple of years about other creative outlets writers have.  Lots of writers knit, make jewelry, play in bands, and so on.  I do find I really love making things with my hands after days and days of working mostly with my brain.  But I don’t consider trying any of my crafty hobbies professionally.

How about you?  If you didn’t write, would you be doing something else?  Do you have creative outlets in addition to writing?

Monday, June 25th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Saying No, Redux

I’ve mentioned that one of my ongoing goals is to practice saying no.  I need to not take on too much work, and I can’t commit to every invitation — for a guest blog, an anthology, an appearance, etc. — that comes to me.  I’m getting better about saying no.  I know about how many short stories I can promise in a year and still be happy, and I’ve been able to stick to that for the last year or so.  I’m still figuring out how many events in a year is sane, and what kind of events I’m comfortable doing.  I think this is going to be an evolving process, pretty much forever.

Part of my problem is that, in effect, my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  The invitations and projects and conventions and so on always sound like so much fun.  I’m ambitious and I want to do it all.  But I’ve learned that I simply, physically can’t.  What seems like a great idea now will turn into that one deadline that tips my life into stress-out chaos six months from now.  I really can’t go to a convention every weekend and still maintain an actual life at home.  Not without some kind of teleportation device.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  This may be the hardest part of learning this lesson, after spending so much of my early writing career hustling for opportunities and networking my head off:  Saying no is not going to wreck my career.  On the contrary, saying yes to everything might very well wreck my career, if I start missing deadlines and getting so stressed out that I can’t write effectively.  In fact, I think my career will be better served in the long run by saying yes selectively, and saying no a lot more often.

A couple of weeks ago, some other writers posted on their blogs about the great challenge of saying “no.”  Jim C. Hines writes about boundaries in general, the social difficulties of saying no — and how we’re often trained to feel guilty for saying no, for various reasons.  Cat Shaffer writes about setting boundaries as a professional freelancer — how freelancers can be under particular pressure to make their schedules and boundaries infinitely flexible, and how establishing strict boundaries will make both you and your work better.  Both posts are well worth reading, for advice and for validation — it’s not just me who’s going through this.

This is my lesson learned:  I need to pay attention to my boundaries, and then — most importantly — stick to them.  Both me and my career will benefit.

Monday, May 14th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Friends, or No You’re Not Crazy

Just a quick note on one of my favorite things about being a working writer:  A week or so ago, a good writer friend of mine was in town for a stop on his current book tour.  He had a few hours to kill before the event, so I took the day off and went to hang out with him, drinking coffee, eating dinner, and talking about everything.  What we’ve been up to, the business, how crazy things are, how crazy we are, and so on.  And how far we’ve come since we met, and how grateful we are that we’ve had people to share the journey with, who are right there with us and to whom we can bitch and moan about problems that don’t actually look like problems to anyone else.

I didn’t get a lick of work done that day, but you know what?  I still felt super-productive at the end of it.

Monday, April 30th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Leveling Up

You ever played D&D?  Then you know about experience points and leveling up.  It’s actually a neat system for advancing characters through bigger and better adventures.  When characters complete adventures, the Dungeon Master grants experience points.  In the games I’ve played experience points are generated based on the difficulty of monsters defeated, problems solved, and the quality of roleplaying.  For example, when I played a bard, I’d get points for actually composing songs and poems about our adventures.  I’m sure I still have copies of those somewhere…

Anyway, when you reach a certain number of accumulated experience points, your character advances to the next level.  Skill points are higher, fighting ability increases, ability to resist damage increases, and so on.  Usually, after that, the bad guys and monsters your character encounters are tougher.  It’s like that old saying, what’s the reward for a job well done?  A harder job.  (Now that I think of it, this may not be a bad way to think about advancing a character through an ongoing series. . .  Hm, must ponder.)

Some of my writer friends talk about “leveling up” in the business, and I like the metaphor.  You accomplish a bunch of things, tick off a bunch of goals, and you’re feeling pretty good — then you find yourself encountering a whole new slew of monsters you’ve never seen before.  I’ve been feeling this lately.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve accomplished a ton of great stuff, and on the one hand I feel like I have superpowers.  But on the other hand, holy cow look at those new monsters…

*straps on armor and hefts +2 red pencil of copyediting*

Just for fun, here’s a tumblr of Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor.

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
My Reading Habits

I tend not to read much in my genres any more.  Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on in thrillers and science fiction.  Once I started writing, though, I find it sometimes muddies the water.  Actually, I don’t really consider genre when I read.  I follow Stephen King’s advice to read better writers than I am.  I just finished Defending Jacob and was blown away by the author’s use of point of view.  I’m usually not a fan of first person, but it fit this story perfectly.

I read a lot of nonfiction.  Mostly research.  I call my ‘genre’ factual fiction.  I take a lot of facts and add a fictional element and I’m off to the races.  Duty, Honor, Country, A Novel of West Point and The Civil War is historical fiction.  It goes from 1841 at West Point, through the Mexican War and ends on the first night of the battle of Shiloh.  The fictional element are two characters who travcrse that history with the real people.  Sort of like HBO’s Rome miniseries.

My Area 51 series rewrites the entire history of mankind, but uses facts, just giving a different explanation.  I have the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid, Easter Island Statues, the Great Wall of China, Temiltepec, Qian-Ling, Jack the Ripper, Stonehenge, Sir Richard Francis Burton, Area 51– you name it, I’ve got it.  I just add a fictional reason for a lot of those things.  My Atlantis series uses famous battles such at Little Big Horn, Islandwha, Gettysburg, etc. but for an entirely different reason.  So to write those books, I have to do a lot of reading.  I’ve found that while the internet can be a great source of information, reading books is much better because books give you a deeper picture and add details that you’d have to really dig for on the internet or might not find at all.

I also read for craft.  To see how other authors do things.  I got a deeper insight into using omniscient point of view re-reading a bunch of Dennis Lehane novels.  I also– and this will upset some purists– watch a ton of TV.  My wife and I sit in bed with our two yellow labs and watch hours and hours every night.  Except she has the remote and it’s her DVR and I watch everything she puts on.  We watch old movies (just re-watched Suddenly Last Summer), comedy (Daily Show & Colbert & Family Guy and a new one:  Key & Peele), various series, mini-series (if you haven’t seen The Wire, you haven’t seen nuthing), and lots of nonfiction, especially what we call the murder and mayhem channels.  There’s a lot of information in those shows and also great story-telling.

I really believe I should be able to tax deduct my cable bill, but my accountant says no.  Sigh.  However, I believe all of life is learning for a writer.


Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
My Quest to Avoid Burning Out

If you want to write commercial fiction, modern publishing schedules require you to be prolific — writing a book a year at the very least.  Many publishers want books in an ongoing series every six months.  Every four months isn’t unheard of.  Most genre authors I know are so grateful for the ability to make a living (or near to it) writing fiction, they throw themselves into these schedules, working as hard as they can to be able to keep on making a living.  You don’t say no, you write as much as you can, you network and self-promote like a demon.  You’re constantly hustling for the next contract, the next gig.

Which leads me, inevitably, to a discussion about burnout.

2009 – 2011 were busy, traumatic, amazing, awesome years for me.  My series established itself as consistently bestselling, I branched out into YA and stand-alone novels, my short stories appeared in prestigious markets and got a ton of recognition.  I switched publishers, traveled extensively, went on my first real book tour, and wrote a Kitty book every six months.  And the whole time, I could feel myself burning out.  When I blew out my voice out last summer, that clinched it:  I couldn’t keep up this pace and stay healthy and/or sane.

It takes awhile to get into a burn-out situation — if I say yes to every anthology invitation or writing opportunity I get right now, I’m not going to feel the crunch until six to twelve months later, when all those stories come due.  Signing three book contracts in a year seems great, until two years later when you have a rough draft, a revision, a set of copyedits, and a set of galleys for four different books on your desk at the same time.  All due the week you’re supposed to fly off to a major national convention.  (This has happened.)  I actually set myself up for burnout around 2007-2008.  Kitty hit the NYT list for the first time in 2008, and that opened a lot of doors — and I walked through almost every one of them, because I couldn’t bear to pass up those opportunities.  If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t do things any differently, but I did learn a lot about how much work I can actually take on.

A burnout situation doesn’t happen overnight, and by the same token it takes awhile to get out of it.  I feel like I’m just now reaping the benefits of my plans to keep myself from burning out, which I started putting into place over two years ago.  2009 was around the time I added “learn to say no” to my annual goal list.  Last year, when I negotiated the contract for new Kitty books, I asked for spacing the deadlines out every ten months instead of every six months.  Happily, the publisher didn’t argue.

The payoff:  I think it’s working.  I gave myself two months off in December and January — which I could do because I have an extra four months to write the next Kitty book.  I didn’t write much of anything — revised some short stories, put together a new novel proposal, messed around with some ideas.  I went on a vacation that didn’t involve books or conventions or anything, and the trip seems to have actually de-stressed and recharged me.  Looking at my list of commitments does not (at the moment) freak me out.  At the end of my “break” about a month ago, I started the next Kitty novel — and I’m already about 30% finished with the rough draft.  I also revised a novelette for a collaborative project during that time.  And I feel good! (knock on wood…)  This is way up from my usual pace of production, and with much less gnashing of teeth than I’ve felt at this stage over the last few years.  I’m torn between thinking A) something must be horribly wrong with the book, or B) maybe I really did manage to hit the reset button and get myself out of that burnout situation.  My friends have noticed a difference in my mood and general amiability — and they’ve informed me I’m not allowed to work on four books at a time anymore.  Word.

I’m taking notes and paying attention to what I’m doing so I can keep this up and have a strategy in place for if I start burning out again.  I’m not taking “learn to say no” off my goal list anytime soon.  I’ve learned that writing a book every 8-10 months rather than every 6 months is a much more sustainable pace for me.  We’ll see how this goes over the next year or so, and if I’m feeling as good at the end of the year as I do now.  Tweaking and adjustments to my schedule will be ongoing, I think.

If I had to offer advice on the subject, I’d say this:  like so much else in this business, listen to your gut.  If something feels wrong, figure out what you need to do to make it right.  Making it in this business is tough and requires a huge amount of constant effort.  But if you burn yourself out, especially to the point of making yourself unhealthy, you’re not doing your career any favors.