Monday, May 18, 2015

Happiness and Tiny Journals

In December I happened to find this tiny little journal. I've tried keeping journals before, but they always seemed to take up too much time, or I would have some days that seemed boring and not worth remembering, and so I'd set it aside and forget all about it after writing for a week or two. But this little journal gives you enough space for a sentence a day, for five years. That's a lot of journaling.

Happiness is rolling down a hill on a sunny day.
I don't know much about the happiness project,  but I do know that making little changes over time is easier than trying to make a huge change. I wanted to keep a journal, and I wanted to be more positive. If I don't work on it, I turn into a major Eeyore. One sentence a day isn't a huge commitment, so I picked this journal up.

Writing in it every day took some getting used to, but I left it out where I'd see it, and I finally got into the habit. Some days are boring, but when you only write a sentence, it's no big deal. Other days I wish I could use up the whole page. I've kept track of some great things, both big and small, and also some scary things, both big and small, and some things that have angered me, or made me sad. When I have no idea what to write, I think about one good thing that happened that day. Am I happier? I think so. I definitely haven't felt Eeyore-ish. And even when big scary sad things have happened, the journal has helped me realize that they don't last forever. Best of all, when I look through it years from now, I'll know exactly when my kiddo graduated from Pre-K, or made a soccer goal, or when I had a bad day or a great day, and I'll know when I received the ARC of my latest book, or sold a short story, or went on vacation. Even just a line or two should be enough to bring up more details of the memory.

So if you've been struggling to keep a journal, start with a line or two a day. The days--and the memories--will add up quickly.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Rejection Game

When I started writing and submitting, I was hungry to see my stories published. I followed the advice to send stories to new markets as soon as they came back. I wrote several short stories and sent them out once they had gone through revisions.

Then I sold some stories. Yay! I kept submitting. I kept writing. I published a novel through World Weaver Press. I published three novels on my own. I blogged. I became the correspondent for the Odyssey Writing Workshop blog. I wrote more fiction. In other words, I got busy. And I was no longer a new writer. I had published some stuff. That initial hunger wasn't there. Sometimes stories came back and then... I didn't send them out for a while. When I finally got around to finding markets for the stories, I experienced doubt. Maybe the stories weren't good enough. Maybe they shouldn't see the light of day. I didn't always submit them.

I realized that by not sending them out again immediately, I was allowing the dreaded inner editor too much free rein. It's similar to when I write rough drafts. I have to write rather quickly, or I begin doubting the story. I have to write fast enough that the inner editor can't keep up, and I have to submit faster than the little bastard, too.

Somebody in one of my writing groups mentioned rewarding herself after so many rejections. A form rejection was X number of points, and a person was Y number of points. So I came up with my own system. After I reached certain points, I rewarded myself with little prizes, like a couple of new songs on iTunes, or a small tube of hand lotion I really like. I started at the beginning of the year, and I've already racked up 14 personal rejections and 18 not-so-personal rejections. I submit far more often now than I did at the end of last year. And best of all, the inner editor is blessedly silent, and that hunger to submit stories has returned.



Monday, May 4, 2015

Guest Post with Josh Vogt on the Parallels Between Writing and Fitness

I'd like to welcome Josh Vogt to the blog. His debut novel, Forge of Ashes, is currently available for preorder and comes out next month. He's on the blog today to talk about the intersection of fitness and writing.

At first glance, writing and physical fitness may seem like polar opposite pursuits. After all, writing has you sitting in at your desk or in a coffee shop for hours on end, days at a time, moving little more than your fingers—which, I can tell you, doesn’t burn nearly as much calories as I’d like. Trying to be active and healthy, however, involves getting off your duff and often making with this thing called “sweating,” be it through running, lifting weights, downward dog poses, flipping massive tires, or anything else that forces your body to go into survival mode and punish you with immobilizing soreness the next morning.

How could these two things have anything in common? Actually, you’d be surprised. Let’s go down a brief list, shall we?

1. Dedication
Both writing and fitness require you to, y’know, do something! If you don’t actually sit down and write, the words don’t get on the page. If you don’t actually get off the couch, you won’t get any stronger. These are simple realities. People often try to shortcut fitness efforts with diet pills, fad exercise machines, or endless reading of fitness forums. People will talk about the great novel idea they have or spend all their time reading books on how to write without ever putting their knowledge into action. But if you aren’t dedicated to getting the work done, then guess what the results are going to be?

2. Planning
If you want to succeed in either area, having a plan is critical. Going at either writing or fitness haphazardly, without any clear goals or steps to take will quickly leave you floundering, discouraged, and unaware if you’re even making any real progress. For fitness, having an established training and eating plan is going to greatly increase your chances of reaching your goals, be it weight loss, strength gains, mileage boosts, or races won. For writing, having a word count goal, draft deadline, or even an overarching business plan for your career can give you greater focus and keep you on track. Winging it rarely works in the long-term.

3. Perseverance
Times get tough. We fail. We get rejected. We hit points where we want to give up and go back to the status quo. But the hard truth is if we quit trying, then we’ll never succeed. Getting a finished draft? Getting published? Finishing a race? Hitting a new max lift? None of that would happen if we stopped part way. Succeeding means pushing through the obstacles and overcoming the temptation to walk away because it feels too difficult. Sure, we can have off days, or let ourselves rest and recuperate for a time after a setback—but then it’s time to re-engage and keep striving ahead.

4. Personal
Remember that, in the end, the right approach to writing or fitness is the one that works best for you. Your writing skill and style is unique. So is your body and health needs. So are the definitions of success you hold to in each area. Don’t just jump into the latest fitness fad. Find the activities or sports you truly enjoy. Find the eating protocol you can stick with for the long haul. Find the writing tools and techniques that work best for you. Find the writing community that supports your dreams and goals. Your way is your way, no matter what anyone else tries to tell (or sell) you.


Lastly, I’ll note that working on being more physically fit can actually help boost your writing in itself. It can drive more blood flow to the brain, increase energy levels and focus, and show how much you’re capable of when you set your mind to conquering a goal.

Want to learn more about the junction where writing and fitness meet? Check out the Write Strong blog post series, which covers a wide array of fitness topics and has more than a few guest posts from writers all over the country and the world, discussing their approaches to a healthier lifestyle alongside their writing pursuits.

***

Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Guest Post with M. Darusha Wehm

I'd like to welcome another guest to the blog this week. M. Darusha Wehm's novel Children of Arkadia will be available this month. Read on to find out more about the novel and for a bread recipe. I tried out the recipe and am happy to report that it is absolutely delicious, and it made the house smell great. The only downside? You might find yourself drooling while it bakes, which could be awkward if you have guests.

Children of Arkadia follows three generations of humans and AIs participating in an audacious experiment — to create a just and free society in an orbital space colony. The book is, in many ways, utopian science fiction. The Arkadians are literally trying to build a better world. Of course, it’s not that simple, and this story revolves around how people can (or can’t) resolve the inherent conflict between competing views of what doing the right thing actually entails. And, of course, how they are going to feed themselves.

Arkadia is a mix of high-tech and rural living. Farming is the chief concern of most of the people — human and AI — and even those not directly participating in growing food are, to some extent or another, foodies. Among the human population, at least, everyone needs to eat.

Isabel Hernández isn't like the other residents of Arkadia and she finds herself at a loss to navigate her new surroundings. Baker Chen Wu helps her figure out how some parts of this society works and keeps her coming back to his market stall with both his knowledge and the savoury smell of this bread.

Chen Wu’s Herb Bread

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp table salt
5 tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp mixed herbs(basil, oregano, marjoram)
1 tbsp rosemary leaves
sea salt

Instructions

1. Mix together the flours, salt, yeast and mixed herbs.
Delicious bread
2. Add 3 tbsp of the olive oil and the warm water. Stir together until it's too hard to work with a spoon, then knead with your hands until it's all elastic. The dough will be moist.
3. Let it rise an hour or more, then punch it down and shape it into a rectangle. Place it on a baking sheet with about a teaspoon of oil rubbed over it. Let it rest about half an hour.
4. Stretch the dough out to the edges. Let it rest another half hour. Preheat oven to 425F/220C.
5. Poke some divots into the top of the loaf, then drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F/200C and bake for about 30 minutes. Cool on a rack and cut into squares.

***



M. Darusha Wehm is the three-time Parsec Award shortlisted author of the novels Beautiful Red, Self Made, Act of Will andThe Beauty of Our Weapons. Her next novel, Children of Arkadia (Bundoran Press), will be released April 28, 2015. She is the editor of the crime and mystery magazine Plan B.

She is from Canada, but currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand after spending the past several years traveling at sea on her sailboat. For more information, visit http://darusha.ca.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Guest Post with David Walton

I'd like to welcome author David Walton to the blog today. David's latest novel, Superposition, comes out tomorrow. Superposition is a quantum physics murder mystery, which sounds absolutely fascinating. David has been on the blog before, and I'm pleased to have him return so I can find out how he fits writing into a life already full with work and seven kids. That's right, seven. Without further ado, here's David:

No matter what your life looks like, I bet it's full.  You have more things that you want to do than you have time to fit in.  Parts of your life threaten to crowd out the other parts, and sometimes it seems like you spend all your time doing what you have to do, and not enough doing what you want to do.  How do you find a balance?

I have seven children, ages 1 to 14.  I have a full time job as an engineer.  And in my "free time", I write and publish science fiction novels.  I often hear people say, "I don't know how you do it" and "Where do you find the time?"  They think that my wife and I must be super-organized, running our house like a well-oiled machine.  They think we must have it all together.  (They also think we're crazy.)

In truth, my wife and I are pretty flexible.  We don't plan very much, we take things as they come, and we're willing to let some things slide for the sake of what we care about.  We're not superhuman.  So how do I balance family and work and writing?  Most of all, by being clear about my priorities.

My first priority is my family.  I spend a lot of time at home.  I make dinner, help with homework, change diapers, engage with my kids' lives.  This can mean saying no to other things.  I don't work overtime very much, even though some of my colleagues do.  I don't spend much time with friends.  I don't write as much as I'd like.  Sometimes those choices cause pressure or stress, but I know what's most important to me.

But... seven children?  How do you have time for *anything* else, never mind writing novels?

I have time by letting lesser things slide.  I don't exercise as much as I should.  I don't always wash the dishes before bed.  I stay up too late.  I clean up the clothes and toys strewn on the floor only when it reaches avalanche proportions.  I don't fix things around the house.  Sometimes, this causes stress and aggravation, but most of the time, it's okay.  I know what is most important to me.  I spend time with my family, and I write.

I also don't write all that much.  I've written two dozen short stories and five novels, but that's over the course of 17 years.  Writing fits in the corners of my life.  I just never stop doing it.

Staying healthy is important to a lot of people, and Becky asked if I could talk about that, too.  I'm not an ideal example in this regard: my weight is more than it should be, and my eating habits aren't the best.  However, I have been running with my daughter, and we've done a few 5K races.  Also, we take long walks as a whole family, often as much as five miles (when the weather is nice).  My approach to exercise is pretty much the same as with everything else: I do it to the extent that it fits with my other priorities.  I don't go to a gym, which would require time away from my family.  Instead, I choose exercise I can do while spending time with them.

Everyone's life is different.  I'm not saying my priorities should be your priorities.  But if you know what your priorities are, you'll be able to accomplish what's most important to you.

----

David Walton is the author of the newly released novel SUPERPOSITION, a quantum physics murder mystery with the same mind-bending, breathless action as films like INCEPTION and MINORITY REPORT.  His other works include the Philip K. Dick Award-winning TERMINAL MIND, the historical fantasy QUINTESSENCE (Tor, 2013) and its sequel, QUINTESSENCE SKY.  You can read about his books and life at http://www.davidwaltonfiction.com/.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Lesson in Spontaneity, or, Go With the Flow

I'm a creature of habit. If something disrupts my long-standing plans, I typically get out of sorts. I know this stems from my anxiety, and I've tried to address it over the years. But the phrase 'go with the flow' certainly doesn't apply to me. Typically.

This morning I packed my son and myself and our things in the car. The plan: drop him off at school, then hit the gym for an easy run and some core exercises, shower, run errands, write. My first 10K is this Saturday, so this week is all about the easy runs. Then after the 10K it'll be all about the breakfast burritos and taking a nap. Sorry, I digress.

The car made a funny sound, and the engine didn't even turn over. I tried again. There was a sputter, the lights came on, and then nothing. My first thought was, "Thank goodness I don't have to go to work today." Every other time the car has crapped out on me, it's been a work day. So I got my son and his stuff out of the car, handed them over to his dad, and went back to my car. I coaxed it into turning on, then called my mechanic and asked if I could head over there. They wouldn't be able to look at it until Friday. Well, boo. But he kindly gave me the name of someone near me. They could get me in, so I drove over there telling the car, "Please keep going. Please keep going. Please keep going."

I also kept thinking about my plans and how they were most likely not going to happen. However, I was already dressed for the gym. The mechanic was only 3 miles from home. Maybe I could get that much done.

These feet (mine in blue) are ready to take me anywhere
Turns out my car's battery problems most likely stem from a drain on the system. So I told them to go ahead and find the problem and fix it (otherwise I'd be replacing the stupid battery every year or so). The mechanic offered me a ride home, and I said, "No thanks, I'll just run home." And out the door I went.

Two point nine miles later, I was home. The weather was perfect for a run. Sunny, mid-fifties. Did I mention it was uphill? I'm pretty sure my breathing sounded like an old transmission by the time I got near home. Fortunately, I wasn't passing anyone at that point, so I don't think I alarmed anyone.

When the car wouldn't start, I felt my anxiety kick in. Moments like that, I always picture my brain as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, rushing around and saying he's going to be late. But this time, the anxiety ticked up and then... subsided. By the time I finished my run home, it was gone.

So my gym time turning into a run outdoors in perfect weather, and a hill workout to boot. Instead of spending the time worrying about the car and how much this is going to cost, I spent the time enjoying the sunshine, saying hi to people running or walking, contemplating a side trip to Einstein's for a bagel and coffee (the only reason it didn't happen was that I didn't have cash with me), thinking about my upcoming race, and feeling fortunate that I was able-bodied and in such good shape that I could run home like it's no big deal. It's a much better use of brain energy than worrying.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Fever

The first day of spring has come and gone. The grass in the backyard and in the park is greening. The trees are putting out buds and flowers. The weeds are sprouting. Have I mentioned I'm one of those crazy people who enjoys pulling weeds? I find it cathartic, and I like seeing the progress I make in cleaning up the yard. Seriously, I go pull weeds when I'm feeling stabby. You're welcome, world.

Snow at the beginning of March
The weather makes me feel like I'm coming out of a long sleep. To enhance the feeling, I just finished the last book in my Necromancer's Inheritance series. This is the first time I've completed a huge project like that. Finishing the last book also makes me feel like I'm coming out of a long sleep, like I've been in this dreamworld for a long time and am waking up to a bright world and blinking my eyes.

While I enjoyed working on the series, I'm also glad to have the bulk of it done (with the exception of final edits and, ya know, actually publishing it). There are so many other things I want to write. I still probably have another good forty years ahead of me (pardon me while I go knock on wood), and yet I'm scared I won't have enough time to tell all the stories inside me.

Soon it'll be sunning weather
Things are also moving ahead on my fantasy novel Fractured Days, which is the follow-up to Shards of History. It sort of hit me this week that I have two books coming out soon, which means I get to start working on a brand new one. Eep! I've been in edit mode for so long that I need to shift gears hard to get back into rough draft mode. I love it when I get to dream about the story and imagine all the shapes it can take. So I guess I'm going right back into dreamland while the rest of the world wakes up around me. With breaks now and then to tend the garden and take care of weeds when I feel stabby.