Category Archives: Balancing Acts

Monkey-throwing Wrenches

There’s proverb in the May household:

Don’t worry about monkeys throwing wrenches into your plans. Worry about the wrenches throwing monkeys into your plans.

There is logic behind this. You see, any monkey can throw a wrench and since a wrench is normally an inanimate object there’s only so much damage it’s capable of doing after its been hurled. However, if particularly talented and determined wrench were to throw a monkey…well there’s no limit to the damage a distressed airborne monkey can do.

This year there have been many wrenches, some old and some new, and one surprisingly troublesome monkey. At the start of the year my sole goal was to start dictating. I had set aside the summer to train the software and my brain. The rest of the year I planned on spending cleaning up both novel manuscripts and editing any stories I happened to sell. The latter happened easily enough (yay sales!) but because of the fatigue and pain from my quickly escalating osteoarthritis I didn’t get much done on the former until recently (yay acupuncture!).

My biggest revelation this year is that I can’t expect my body to cooperate 100% of the time. I can still set big goals but I have to give myself more leniency. If the airborne monkey of osteoarthritis causes more pain and fatigue than I’m prepared for, then I need to give myself permission to postpone the deadlines I set for myself so I can take the time I need to recuperate. There’s definitely a big learning curve with arthritis. That’s for sure.

I look forward to taking this new knowledge with me into next year. Only time will tell how much trouble the wrenches and monkeys cause and how much they’ll let me accomplish.

Short Story Deadlines

One of the challenges of writing short stories for publication–other than, you know, the writing part–is keeping track of calls for submission.

T-18-Cover-270x417-100dpi-C8Many ongoing magazines don’t accept stories year-round. They have submission periods, during which writers are invited to submit stories. When the window closes, writers have to wait for the next submission periods. Magazines do this to give their editors time to catch up with submissions, to ensure their queue of stories to review remains at a manageable length.

Anthologies have publication dates, and the editors need to factor in time for edits, typesetting, printing, and everything else involved in preparing a book for sale, whether in print or in e-book format. This means that anthology submissions also have deadlines, and the editors will choose the best stories from the pool they receive before the deadline.

Respect deadlines. Begging editors for more time is a waste of their time, and unless you know the editor well, they probably won’t give you an extension. After all, they have deadlines of their own to meet. Turn your work in on time, or else wait for the next submission window, or consider another market.

I’ve found a wall calendar to be very helpful in giving me a clear visual picture that will tell me at a glance what deadlines are coming up for what markets and how much time I have to finish the projects. Online calendars don’t work well for me because I don’t think to look at them, and pop-ups serve only to annoy me when I’m trying to focus on something else (so I dismiss them, then out of sight, out of mind….) A big calendar right there on my office wall catches my eye every time I enter the room, but doesn’t interrupt me while I’m doing other things.

But…damage control. What do you do when those deadlines are too close?

When you haven’t signed a contract, you’ve got the freedom of choosing to miss a deadline. It’s disappointing not to submit for a project you were excited about, definitely, but you won’t be held legally responsible for it, either.

I’ve learned from experience that I can’t do my best work when I’m under the gun. Some people can; I’m not one of them. I need at least a week for edits, because my stories are always much stronger after the fifth or sixth revision, and most of those ideas for revisions come to me at night, or in the shower. If I don’t have time to think on the story, I can’t “brew” those revisions.

Knowing this, I know that if I have less than a week to submit a story, it’s probably not worth my time to race for the deadline. I’m unlikely to create work I’m satisfied with, meaning that time, and effort, would be better spent on a project that will be my best work and that is more likely to pay me for the time I spend on it.

Also, if I have a week, but most of it is already devoted to other commitments (like travel, where I can’t access a computer, or contractual edits for a novella, in which I am obligated by the contract to return my edits in a certain number of days) that also counts as “less than a week” of actual working time to focus on the story in question.

It’s best to find a system that works for you so deadlines don’t take you by surprise. Eventually, though, one will. If you’re under contract, you’ve got little choice but to gun it (if you can’t make it, for example, you’ve been hospitalized, have a family member or friend contact your editor as soon as possible to let them know the situation). If you’re not, then self-awareness is key. Some writers do great work in bursts, sprinting for deadlines; some don’t. With practice, you’ll know how long you typically take to produce a piece you’re happy with. If you don’t have time to do work to your usual standard, you might be better served spending your time and energy on a different project and letting this one go.

Game of Thrones and the Permission to be Unpredictable

*Contains no spoilers for the current season, but does contain some spoilers for past seasons.*

 

I love Game of Thrones for the reason everyone seems to hate it: no character is safe. You can’t be sure if your beloved favorite character will survive the entire season, or will die in a completely unexpected way. And at the same time, you don’t know which awful character will be victorious in his or her pursuits, making it that much harder for your favorite character to survive.

Game of Thrones started off innocently enough. Sure, I screamed “Noooooooo!” at my television along with everyone else when Eddard Stark was beheaded, but that’s not enough to make me quit watching (although, can someone write Sean Bean a character that doesn’t die, please).

Fast forward to season three. I’d been enjoying a fantastic season so far, updating my husband as it went along. He had read the books years ago, and I knew he had read at least the first two or three. The first time he had thrown one of the books across the room, he had just read Eddard Stark’s beheading.

So my husband surprised me when he asked if we could watch Game of Thrones together one Sunday night. And like a naive fool, I felt excited my husband actually wanted to watch it with me! As the episode went along, I almost felt guilty because it was turning out to be a so-so episode, not the most exciting I had seen. Then, we came to the part of the episode with a wedding. Robb Stark was supposed to wed one of Walder Frey’s daughters, but handed that *honor* over to his cousin or somebody.

Violin music started, and I said out loud, “You know, I have a weird feeling about this.”

“Oh?” my husband asked innocently.

As we watched on, the insanity unfolded. My husband watched me as I gaped, horrified, to the end, through the credits, and continued to watch me as I stared at the blank screen in total silence.

“And now you know why I threw the third book in the series across the room,” he said and turned off the television.

For days after, my mind reeled with possibilities, replaying the scene in my mind. I felt horrified, shocked, and so very sad.

But I didn’t feel betrayed. I felt satisfied because George R. R. Martin, the show’s creators, and cast made me feel, and feel very deeply.

Think back to the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through in your life. A blind-siding break up. The death of a loved one. Losing a part of yourself, whether physically or emotionally.

Now consider the reason it happened. Chances are, and more often than not, the reason doesn’t feel good enough. It feels flimsy, unbelievable. Sometimes, there is no reason. No reason at all. It just is.

During the Red Wedding and all subsequent twists in Game of Thrones, I didn’t feel betrayed by George R. R. Martin, or by the writers and producers of the show David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. The moments they create continue to shock me, and the story continues to captivate me and draw me in. Because, just like life, just like the real world, the show and its creators promise nothing. Sometimes people die. Horrible, unspeakable things happen to some of the characters. But the story keeps on turning, keeps on spinning. Ironically, that’s perhaps that’s why so many people feel betrayed by Game of Thrones. They expect entertainment, but instead are shown too many situations true to life in the real world.

Although Martin wasn’t the first author to do it, I’d argue Martin is paving the way to make unpredictability of mortality acceptable in epic fantasy. In the coming years, I’ll expect to see many more deaths of main characters because that’s what keeps readers and viewers on their toes. It’s what bridges the gap between fantasy and the real world: unpredictability.

As writers, we often feel that certain things aren’t allowed. We aren’t allowed to make our readers sad at the end of a book – it’s almost taboo. You’re supposed to leave them with a lift, right? Leave them with hope, closure. But life doesn’t always close a chapter with hope and happiness. George R. R. Martin knows this and teaches us an important lesson with Game of Thrones: It’s not your job as a writer to make your readers (or even your editor or publisher) happy with your story. It’s your job to make them feel.

March Wrap Up – Nathan’s Top 10 Take Aways

This month on the Fictorians, we’ve thoroughly explored the many aspects of balancing our writing with the myriad of other responsibilities we have in life. I lead this month by insisting that we all have to choose how we spend our time. I have the words “70 hours” written on my bathroom mirror to remind myself that I have plenty of time outside sleep and my job. It’s up to me to choose how I spend it. And I still stand by all of that.
However, the stories and experiences of my fellow Fictorians and our wonderful guest posters have helped me realize a few things about my own work-life balance. It’s not perfect, nor does it need to be! Instead of repeating their words, I’ll simply share my top ten favorite posts for the month. Do they line up with yours?

  1. I found out the secret of Gama Martinez’s awesome prolificness! The man keeps up with one of the most aggressive release schedules I know of by writing his books 10 – 15 minutes at a time when necessary, capturing every opportunity he can to do what he loves.
  2. Ace Jordyn reminded me that you don’t need to write every day to be a writer. We all have our own rhythms. Do what works for you!
  3. Kate Corcino told us about some pretty intense points in her life, how she struggled to find time to write, and those times when writing wasn’t the most important thing she had to deal with. Writing’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  4. David Heyman talked about the struggle to have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes, however, you must give up a slice to make time for your novels. It’s essential to remember that you need to take that slice out of your own portion of your time, not out of the work that pays the bills or the family that loves and supports you.
  5. No one is busier than a new momma, but Joy Dawn Johnson let us peak into her crazy, distraction filled world. And yet, she still gets work done. The trick? No matter what distractions arise, always come back to the keyboard.
  6. Speaking of distractions, there are some things that come up that we have to attend to, while others can be ignored. At least for a while. Emily Godhand talked about how to tell the difference and knowing when to remove or ignore the ones that are keeping us from getting writing done.
  7. I’ve been obsessing about making my writing a business so much over the past couple years that I’ve lost sight of the need to let the artist run the show sometimes. Like Sean Golden, I’ve recently found that my best work has been done when I’m not worried about making a sale, but rather focus on writing a good story.
  8. Nancy Green reminded us that you can’t have “it” all; you just have to decide what “it” actually is.
  9. Jen Greyson talked about the difference between balance and equilibrium. After all, it doesn’t matter if the scales are even, so long as you can be happy with where they lay.
  10. Holly Roberds’ post reminded me that you can’t be a slave to your work. Sometimes you just need to cut yourself a break and give yourself permission to do something other than writing. Seriously! It’s healthier that way.

And those lessons only represent about one third of all the insightful posts we’ve seen this month! Did you catch them all? Which were your favorites? Unfortunately the month is almost done and we need to be moving on to a new theme, but please come back for April’s topic. I promise you’ll love what Anne has in store!