Category Archives: Balancing Acts

When the Well Runs Dry

A Guest Post by Marie Bilodeau

Marie_TurtleI’ve always seen my career as a long-term one. Whenever I envisioned my future self as a novelist, I pictured a steady growth in sales and popularity. I hardly ever dreamt of immediate bestseller success, since I’d seen so many fizzled careers based on that first, all too successful, difficult to follow up book. I wanted to make sure that I was steady, confident in my own voice and that I kept producing good stories while growing my fan base.

I sold my first book in 2008, followed mere days later by the sale of a second book. Both books were the first of a series. I was thrilled, to say the least. My publishers, both (then related) small presses, had great reputations, and I couldn’t wait to work with them.

One of those books was Princess of Light, first in my Heirs of a Broken Land trilogy. I sold it with the synopses for the next two books (which I kinda-not-really followed in the actual drafting). The agreement was that each book would come out within six months of each other, starting in March 2009. That basically meant that my next year was dedicated to these books. Drafting, rewriting, editing, reviewing final proofs from my publisher, all while maintaining a day job and paying my bills. I’ll admit – quite a few other things dropped from my plate then. Hobbies that weren’t writing related, friends (most of whom I rediscovered after the madness ended), TV shows, cooking… You know, life.

It was a mad rush and I loved it. I lost myself in the Heirs of a Broken Land for a whole year, getting the last two books drafted while bringing all three to print-ready volumes. I lived, breathed and dreamed those books, and because of that, they possess a raw energy that I would now find difficult to reproduce. They’re better for it.

After the last volume, Sorceress of Shadows, came out in March 2010, it was time for my other book, Destiny’s Blood, to release in October 2010 (thank goodness for differing production schedules!). Final edits were sent in (I’d done requested structural edits already, among all the insanity of the Heirs). Oh, did I mention all the media work, books launches, website work, etc. that goes with three released books in a year?

Destiny’s Blood wasn’t even out yet when my wonderfully story-driven and perceptive editor, Gabrielle Harbowy, asked for two more books in the Destiny series.

No problem, I thought. I’ve done this before. With much shorter timelines.

Except, when I came to write it, I blocked. I thought at first it was the story. I hadn’t anticipated returning to the world of Destiny, though I loved the ship and characters very much. But I couldn’t get it to gel. Getting my butt in chair was nearly impossible. Words came out like razor blades – painful, and they left me wounded and a bit on the bitchy side.

It took me a while to realize that I’d burnt out. That the mad dash of Heirhad left my words clunky and my mind tired. Both were now blunted.

I tried to work through it, I really did. I had to inform my editor that I wouldn’t make my deadline for Destiny’s Fall, the second book in the series. My pride has yet to recover.

I decided I‘d take a weekend away at a convent, in a quiet solitary retreat, to work on it. Get maybe another 10,000 words, which might bring me halfway. I wasn’t ready for the silence and being alone with my story. I wasn’t even willing. I was just desperate and tired. I enjoyed a (rare, thank you) meltdown that first night and went home.

Obviously, trying to force the story wasn’t working out.

I took some time to myself. I spoke with other writers. I read books on writing. I read good fiction and got excited about story again. I let myself become immersed in someone else’s world, with no expectations. I rediscovered what I loved about story. How it provides guidelines and inspiration for our own lives. Something to strive for.

After a summer of recharging, I went back to the convent, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle a new challenge. I thought I’d get 10,000 words down. But I’d refilled my story well so effectively that as soon as I opened the floodgates, I couldn’t stop writing. In three fantastic, crazy days, I wrote 45,000 words. I don’t think my fingers stopped. I don’t believe I slept. I just wrote. I let the story carry me.

I learned that refilling my story well regularly is necessary. See pretty things, do stuff I like, talk to friends and read good books. Whatever you need to keep the thoughts inside you fluid, and to keep the words flowing.

It’s worth it. The burn out and the dry well are like razor blades – it’s to all our advantages to avoid bleeding out.

Nigh_Cover

Guest Writer Bio:

Marie Bilodeau is an Ottawa-based storyteller and science-fiction/fantasy writer. Her writings have been nominated four times for Canada’s biggest SF award, the Aurora Awards. Her new dark fantasy series, Nigh, is slotted to be released this November. She’s told stories across Canada in theatre houses, tea shops, bars and under disco balls. Find out more about Marie, her writings and upcoming shows at www.mariebilodeau.com.

Juggling Personal and Professional Lives – Never Drop the Ball

A year has passed since I wrote my post on how we spend our time being a value statement, but I still find that my time is my most precious resource. By the necessity of my choices, I have become very skilled a juggling large workloads. Between extraordinarily long professional workweeks, maintaining my personal relationships, and the every day effluvia of keeping food on my table and a roof over my head, I somehow find the time to regularly blog and write fiction. It is a juggling act that I suspect that many aspiring writers will empathize with.

However, some of those balls, those commitments, have come disturbingly close to hitting the ground recently. I was able to recover, but as I grow older, the number and weight of my obligations grows ever larger. I fear that one day I will accidentally and irrecoverably sacrifice something important to me to feed my ambitions.

I have been pondering this possibility a great deal recently, as both my personal and professional lives gain momentum. For me, personal and professional progress is both exhilarating and terrifying. You see, once you start getting what you want, you have something to lose. As we chase accomplishment, we often put on blinders to what else is important in our lives. As an example, I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner with an extremely successful author in her field at a convention I recently attended. During the meal, one of the diners asked the author what her greatest professional regret was. I can still remember the broken sound of her voice as she told our group that she was afraid that her daughter would never forgive her for the years she spent locked in her office.

Despite the trepidation that such examples inspire, I am unwilling to give up my writing and my dreams of professional authorship. After all, in biological terms, the fear response serves to both identify potential hazards and prepare us to face them. If I want to accomplish my personal and professional goals, I must use my fear, not be ruled by it. My unease reminds me that I have things that I value outside of my accomplishments, and in so doing, allows me to keep my other priorities in focus. I must choose what I sacrifice, not let circumstances decide for me. As an example, for the past couple of years, I have rarely played video games or watched television. By cutting out these activities, I have made more room in my schedule for writing. I have talked to many authors who have done the same thing. Compared to the rest of my life, that particular sacrifice was well worth the cost.

Throughout my life, I have found that accomplishment is almost always paired with sacrifice. It is up to me live deliberately and choose how I spend my time wisely so that I may both achieve my goals and retain what is important to me. To live is to risk pain. To fear is to be aware of that risk and to manage it appropriately.

Life vs Story

Great SunsetWe’ve seen some incredible stories this month. I know I’ve enjoyed them.

Reading through the posts so far this month, I’ve been left wondering why real life is often so much stranger than fiction. Fiction is make believe, but it has its limits. They’re not the same limits set in our physical world or we’d never accept things like time travel, hobbits, and big magic. Yet those wonderful figments of our imagination are believed and embraced while some events that transpire in real life are rejected as ‘unbelievable’.

Why is that?

In fiction I can have purple unicorns or good fairies or soul-sucking demons and readers will clamor for more. But I cannot have serendipitous coincidences, unexpected miracles, or meaningless tragedy without risking the breakdown of credibility.

As authors it’s a critical element to understand. If we get it wrong, we knock our readers out of the story and they dismiss us as hacks. If we get it right, we suck people into our worlds and spin tales of wonder that can enchant for a lifetime.

First, it’s a matter of setup.

We define our worlds and transport the readers into them. We can set any boundaries we want, and sometimes we set some pretty wild ones.

I developed a story with my kids once that included a completely random magic system. We had a blast with that one because no one had any idea what might come next. It included assault rainbow ponies, fajita blaster go-karts, fifty foot pits of jell-o, and much more. And since we had defined it as a random chance based experience, all of that was believable.

The catch is, once we define the boundaries of a story, we cannot cross them. Once we build a world within those boundaries, everything that happens must be ‘believable’ within the context of that world.

So why are things that happen in everyday life not ‘believable’ in fiction worlds?

That’s the second piece to the puzzle. Life is not story.

Real life is unpredictable, chaotic, and often downright unfair. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and no matter how skilled or prepared or determined the protagonist of our lives might thing we are, there’s no guarantee we’ll win the day, get the girl, or live happily ever after.

A great example for me of the difference is the emotional balance of characters verses the emotional roller-coaster that is life. In a book we don’t like to see characters cry, even though in real life that is a very natural occurrence. We like our protagonists to be level-headed, calm, and kind all of the time, even though many people who should be adults regularly act like spoiled brats or worse.

Third, and most importantly, stories are entertainment. Reality is life.

We escape the stresses and challenges of reality through fiction and therefore it cannot be as unsatisfying as life often is. Authors take readers on an emotional journey that can drag them through the deepest abyss and transport them to the highest levels of heaven, but in the end we need to leave them feeling satisfied or fulfilled. If we don’t, then we’ve failed in our mission.

Life has to be lived, but Story needs to be enjoyed.

Own Your Choices

A guest post by Peter J. Wacks

I’m taking a break from working on a Veronica Mars Media Tie In story to sit down and contemplate the following request: ‘If you could go back in time and speak with yourself as a new writer just starting out, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give yourself?’ The makes me think a lot of things.

First thing it makes me think, though, is that it’s a trick question.

I have accomplished a lot of what I have set out to do, and I have done it because of the failures I have embraced.

I manage Wordfire Press because I had the temerity to have a company fail in the game industry, over-hiring from a group of friends until it crashed itself under the weight of payroll. Without that failure… I never would have learned to abandon caution in your dreams—while laying groundwork—plans within plans—to protect your creative child in reality.

Without the frustrating failure of my first book The Divine Prank, which ended up in the trash as a 100,000 word partial manuscript under the first printing of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I wouldn’t have learned the hard edge of fight that lets me never back down, and always find a way through… that same edge that pushed me to sell tens of thousands of copies of my first book, Second Paradigm, by hand. It’s also what gave me the edge and strength to say no to a 2,000 book print run with a $2,500 advance from the big six and say, I’m not going to change the plot structure, I’m going to self-publish it instead.

There are a dozen other examples I won’t cite, because you get the point. What else does the question make me think of? What about successes? What about learning curve?

The second thing it makes me think is, what successes have I had that I could have amplified?

That is another slippery slope. The largest frustration I have dealt with when it comes to success is that I was a better writer in 2008 than I was in in 2012. I spent so much time on marketing and promotion that my writing style regressed.

I got worse.

Talk about frustrating! I couldn’t sling my stories as well! …Which forced me to study my style and start coauthoring with others to regain my skills and find new techniques.

It

Was

Awesome!

I am so much better now than I could have been by myself. Each author I have worked on a project with has amplified my skills. How could I give that up? Why would I give that up? More importantly—if I hadn’t been faced with my own lesser skillset, would I have been able to learn what I have, could I have embraced the growth? I don’t think so. Which ties back to failing your way forward, and we are back to our first answer.

The third, and final thing, that the question makes me think on is what I like to call the ‘Hallmark’ factor. What platitudes are out there that seem trite until you REALLY need to learn that lesson, at which point they become incredibly poignant? And how the heck do I generalize a very personal lesson to a large audience in such a way that they gain something of value out of it?

Don’t forget your personal relationships?

Sleep is important too?

Never give up, never surrender!?

And there it is, the one thing we can ALL learn from. But it is not something that any of us need from the past. If you are here reading, or in my case writing, then you haven’t given up. You haven’t surrendered. But…

Writer, musician, artist, actor… the title of a creative almost synonymous with the phrase self-doubt. So let’s not focus on a lesson for the past, but instead focus on a lesson for the present and, more importantly, for our future selves.

Every failure isn’t a failure. None of them are. They are just weapons your future self can use to create success. Be it a month, a year, a decade, or a lifetime of fighting, you are remarkable – because you haven’t given in! Because you fight, you learn, you grow, and each step that feels like it is a step back, is, in fact, something you will look back on in the future and say “Wow, I’m glad I learned that lesson then!”

Own your choices. Only you can. And every choice, good or bad, is what will, in the end, give you the strength to succeed… and you will, because you have been strong enough to not give up.

Write on.

~Peter J. Wacks

Guest Writer Bio:
Peter WacksPeter J. Wacks, the managing editor of Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press, is a bestselling cross genre writer. He has worked across the creative fields in gaming, television, film, comics, blogging, and most recently he spends his time writing novels.
When he isn’t working on the next book he can be found hanging out with his kiddo, practicing martial arts, playing chess, or fighting with swords. He also loves Angry Birds and drinking IPAs with friends.
You can find out more about Peter at his website, which he rarely finds time to update:www.PeterJWacks.com