Anxiety Monkeys

I’ve been writing these articles for a long time as an unpublished writer, because other than several short stories I’ve sold to magazines, that’s what I am.

But that’s about to change. I recently signed a contract with a traditional publisher for my first book. I’m thrilled. I’m excited. And my anxiety monkeys are climbing the tree.

All the information from speakers at chapter meetings about publishing and marketing, all the tips and advice from author friends about social media and book signings, all the knowledge from workshops and classes about Amazon rankings and keywords and online statistics, had been filed away in my mental “do not need yet” file because…I hadn’t needed it yet. I’d been focusing all my brain power on what was necessary at the time: writing a book, entering contests, writing a synopsis, creating a pitch, getting an agent.

Now I need to learn all the things I know I don’t know. And I think what’s making me breathe into a paper bag is that I don’t even know what I don’t yet know.

What will revisions from an editor be like? What will publicity involve? Will I really have to face a room of people for a book signing (raise your hand if you’re an introvert)? Worse, will I have to face an empty room for a book signing? Will anyone buy my book? Will they read it? Will they like it? And these are only a few of the questions I can think of. I’m sure my anxiety monkeys will come up with some doozies as time goes on.

And in the midst of all the anxiety, I’m still thrilled. I’m still excited. And I can’t wait to find out what’s next on my journey as a, gasp, published author. (Repeat after me: Revisions will be fun. Revisions will be fun. Holy crap, pass the tequila. Revisions will be fun.)

I think I’m gonna need a bigger tree.

Ghosting

ghost2I’d like to talk a bit about ghosting. Not “why don’t you return my calls?, why don’t you reply to my texts?, why did you block me on Facebook?” ghosting.

Ghostwriter ghosting.

I’ve always known ghostwriters exist. Celebrities hire them for autobiographies. Entrepreneurs with no writing talent hire them for how-to books. Sometimes people who want to tell a true-life story hire them because, again, they have no writing talent. I totally get that. And I’m not criticizing ghostwriters for making a hard-earned buck.

I don’t expect a self-help guru to also be a bestselling author. I wouldn’t expect a survivor from the Titanic to write their memoirs without help from a professional author. But if someone is throwing fiction books they claim they wrote, but in reality were written by someone else not acknowledged as a co-author, up on Amazon and calling him/herself an author, what the heck?!

Although I’m often accused of being cynical, I’m sometimes surprisingly naïve. I had no idea this was even a thing. I mean, seriously, why would someone do this? Do artists pay ghostpainters to create landscapes? Do vocal artists release albums actually sung by ghostsingers? (Milli Vanilli don’t count as vocal artists, and kind of prove my point.) Why is it okay for so-called “authors” to publish books they didn’t write but say they did?

If you have a great story idea but can’t form a coherent sentence, co-author the damn thing with someone who can write. Acknowledge them on the cover. And split the royalties with them. Fairly. Stop lying to readers, scamming the system, and hurting real authors, all in the name of the almighty dollar.

True writers pour their hearts and souls into their stories. They work long and hard; physically, emotionally, mentally. They sacrifice time with their families, time for other interests, time sleeping. They do this because they are artists who want to share their creations with others. That’s who real authors are. Real authors write their own books.

 

Thank You, Mr. Martin

baby sloth poses for the camera on the treeAs I was slaving away recently on my current WIP, struggling to pry words loose from my brain like flesh-eating scarabs in the mummy’s tomb, I needed to Google something. Grateful for any diversion, I managed to lock onto a video of George R. R. Martin and Stephen King, discussing writing. Martin, known to be a slow writer, asked King, “How the f%*k do you write so many books so fast?”

I’m a huge fan of both King and Martin, so of course I wanted to hear the answer. But being in my currently frustrated frame of mind, I was all ready to make my well-la-de-da face (you know the one, when someone tells you how easy it is to do something you can’t do), fully prepared to become even more depressed.

King’s response was “I try to get six pages a day. When I’m working, I work every day, three, four hours, and I try to get those six pages and I try to get them fairly clean.”

My mind, already exhausted from fighting with words, took longer than it should have to do the math. But I got there. One and a half to two pages each hour.

At this point, I’d been writing for two hours, and I’d written about four pages.

Holy Crap! Even writing at the speed of a sloth on Ambien, I was keeping pace with King’s daily goal. Holy Crap!

Granted, the pages on my computer weren’t exactly clean. And I certainly don’t compare my writing to the caliber of a best-selling author. But it made me realize that sometimes (like, always) we’re too hard on ourselves about our progress (or lack thereof).

And then that glorious man who created the mother of dragons made me feel even better.

Martin asked King, “You don’t ever have a day where you sit down there and it’s like constipation? You write a sentence and you hate the sentence? And you check your email and you wonder if you had any talent after all and maybe you should have been a plumber? Don’t you have days like that?”

Stephen King said he didn’t have days like that. I, however, do. Apparently, so does George R. R. Martin.

Thank you, Mr. Martin. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

 

Cheers to Critique Partners!

Moscow MulesJust as gamblers need to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, critique partners need to know when to be stubborn as a mule and when to mix a Moscow Mule.

My critique partner and I try to meet every week. Originally, it was strictly to critique. But as time went on, we began critiquing more by email and our weekly meetings morphed into “writing sessions.” Sometimes we brainstorm new ideas. Sometimes we discuss plot problems, characters’ issues or conflict solutions. Sometimes we just write. We can run ideas past each other in real time instead of texting or calling. And she’s faster than Google when I can’t think of a word I want.

The basic purpose of our meetings is to make sure we’ve got our minimum weekly goals done by our deadline. If one of us is behind, the other cracks the whip. If my laptop keys are tapping more slowly than normal, she’ll tell me to stop doing online book research and write. If her side of the room is unusually quiet, I’ll tell her to close that ebook she’s trying to finish reading and work on her own damn book.

But sometimes a writing session has nothing to do with writing.

Last week we met at my house, as we always do (she has small kids). I’d picked up dinner (we alternate). We ate, had a drink, and chatted (our normal start to the evening). I had a new chapter I needed to write; she had some revisions she was contemplating. But as we continued to visit instead of opening our laptops, I asked if she wanted another drink. (OK, that’s a lie, she just grabbed the vodka from the freezer and mixed us fresh ones.)

She’d had a particularly frustrating week, and my brain was fried from plotting and outlining. We finally admitted to each other that we didn’t really want to write. Instead, we spent the entire evening talking and laughing until we cried. We refilled our wells. (We refilled our copper mugs, too, but the wells are kind of the point here.)

A critique partner needs to know when to kick your butt into gear. But she also needs to know when to kick back, raise her glass, and laugh with you.

Cheers!

 

Under Pressure

pressureThe tune from the Queen/David Bowie song “Under Pressure” has been running through my head a lot lately. Not that I’m under any particular outside pressure. And maybe that’s the problem.

Considering I have a reputation for being just a wee bit OCD about preparing well in advance for absolutely everything, it seems strange that I’ve always worked best under pressure. In college, I wrote my best papers the night before they were due. I did best on exams that I crammed for at the last minute. I always began studying right away, but then tapered off, letting it hang over my head until I had to get it done.

The pressure of a deadline can be intense, but nothing compared to the self-induced pressure of knowing I’m not working on something I should be. It’s a mixture of two parts potential failure, one part guilt. And yet, the procrastination continues.

It doesn’t take my psychology degree to figure out why I procrastinate. I strive for perfection and feel like a failure when I don’t achieve it, knowing full well that nothing I do will ever be perfect. I struggle with every word I type, tinkering to make them perfect instead of spewing forth and fixing later. And all the while, my lack of progress weighs heavily on me.

At this point, my only deadlines are self-imposed ones. But seeing as my future goals will require me to meet the deadlines of others, I better get in the habit now. I think it’s time I have a Come to Jesus meeting with myself, and make sure I understand that failure to meet any deadline, even my own, is completely unacceptable.

But in the meantime, it’s pressure, pushing down on me…

 

Eyes to the Front!

smileLast week someone asked me, “Do you ever think about ‘what if’? Ever wonder what would have happened if ‘such and such’ had been different?”

My answer was a resounding “No! Everything that’s happened to me throughout my life has created the person I am today. Every decision I’ve made (however questionable), every decision someone else made that impacted me, led me to where I am now. Second-guessing any of it in hindsight won’t change a thing. And if I could go back and change something, I wouldn’t.”

Later that same day I happened to read an article in the paper that quoted “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror.” Dude! It was like the universe was backing me up or something.

Good memories of past times and places are wonderful, but sometimes we confuse time and place when we’re looking back. When I first moved from Colorado to Texas, all I wanted was to move “back home” as soon as possible. The memories of my happy life in Denver were frozen in my mind. But as I returned for visits over the next several years, I realized Denver had changed. If I moved back, or even if I’d never left, my life would never be the same as it had been.

I’d been wasting away my life by keeping both eyes on the rearview mirror, looking at a distorted view of something that no longer existed. Once I understood that, I focused my energy on regaining the joy I’d temporarily lost. By nature, I’m a fairly happy, smiley person, and it was surprisingly easy to get back into accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. (Earworm alert!)

We have the power to decide to be cheerful or miserable. So why choose miserable? Our time on this earth is too short to waste on the “what if’s” or “if only’s” in our rearview mirrors. So, eyes to the front, and smile!