In Love with Colorado Gold

I just realized that the Colorado Gold conference is less than a month away, and I did a little happy dance right in the middle of my kitchen.

This is, unreservedly, my favorite conference, the only no brainer when I sit down to plan my conference going schedule for the year. Okay, who am I kidding? I never really sit down and plan a year worth of everything. But it's true that I don't have to even think about whether I'll be heading to Colorado in September.

What makes this conference so special?

I'm glad you asked.

Part of the awesome is the great workshops, the pitch appointments, the pitch coaching, the fabulous keynote speakers, and the always top notch organization and programming. And these are all wonderful reasons to attend. But what really sets Colorado Gold apart is the group of writers who come here.

This is the warmest, friendliest, most accessible conference I have ever been to. From the very first day of my very first time, I felt welcome, comfortable, and like I belonged. If you, like me, always feel a bit out of sync with the rest of the world, then you know how incredibly wonderful it is to find somebody you click with. And when you find a whole group of people who get you?

Priceless.

It seems I'm not the only one who feels this way. I asked my writer friends on Facebook who are Colorado Gold regulars what they love about this conference, and here's what some of them had to say:

What Colorado Gold Writers Have to Say
What Colorado Gold Writers Have to Say

Colorado Gold is the perfect size: big enough to invite quality teachers and speakers, and small enough to prevent first timers from getting lost. There are hosted tables at the group dinners, which facilitate making connections and new friends. Usually there's a hospitality room set aside where we can hang out and have a few drinks in the evening. And yes, there is always the bar.

So if you've never been, consider making this your con this year. It's not too late to register. When you get there, be sure to find me and say hi.

Starting at Word One…

Every writer has to begin at the beginning.

I know this sounds like a cliche, but it's not. Think about it. Every. Writer. Dickens, Tolkien, Charlotte Bronte, Stephen King, Nora Roberts - even Mr. Shakespeare himself. All of them were at one point unskilled, unknown, and unpublished. I'm willing to bet that at some point in their lives, each one of these well known authors felt like what they were writing was going nowhere.

Sometimes, the beginning feels like the void before creation, or the Big Bang, or however the universe came into being. The prospect of creating something in the middle of that vast emptiness is mind boggling. Add in the extra dimension of trying to publish whatever we manage to create and knowing we'll need to fight to bring it to the attention of readers and it's a wonder every single one of us isn't rocking in a corner somewhere, clad in a straightjacket and gibbering at the moon.

Somewhere along the line, every writer you've ever heard of caught a lucky break. But here's the thing--in order to catch that lucky break, they had to be ready. Which means they wrote things without knowing whether those things would ever be read. They practiced. They persevered. In a sense, they made their own luck.

Perhaps you have heard of a little book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? The author, Douglas Adams, didn't actually set out to write a book. He wrote a screen play. And this is what he had to say about the night it first aired:

"The first episode went out on BBC Radio 4 at 10:30 P.M. on Wednesday, March 8, 1978, in a huge blaze of no publicity at all. Bats heard it. The odd dog barked.

After a couple of weeks a letter or two trickled in." ~Douglas Adams

Douglas freaking Adams, you guys. Words he wrote, characters he created, are now catch phrases that are part of casual conversation. There is even a Towel Day every year. And yet, he too experienced that terrible silence so many of us fear when we're launching a book.

Stephen King threw Carrie into the trash can. His wife pulled it out and talked him into submitting it.

You get the picture. If you feel like you're spinning your wheels with your writing and going nowhere, write anyway. If you're in the desert of bleakness at the middle of a novel and have lost all hope of ever writing anything good, write anyway.

Writers are not good judges of their own work. You never know when your lucky break will come, or which book you've written might suddenly strike a chord with readers and take you to the top of a list.

Write even if none of these things happen, if you never catch a lucky break.

Write because you're a writer, damn it, and that's what you were put into this world to do.

 

Things That Keep You From Writing: The Fear Factor

 

FEAR"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Today's motivational writing post is brought to you by the emotion fear.

Fear is a tricky emotion. It doesn't always manifest with a pounding pulse, shaking hands, and chills up and down your spine. Sometimes, when it comes to writing, it can masquerade as boring, ordinary, avoidance.

You sit down to write. You open up your manuscript. You stare at it. It stares at you. You feel a sudden need for another cup of coffee. Or maybe a snack. Brownies would be good. You don't have any brownies in the house, but there's a box of mix in the pantry. Or, better yet, you have a made-from-scratch recipe which will allow you to feel creative and virtuous for eschewing chemicals and the make-it-quick mentality of our modern society.

While the brownies are baking you have a good thirty minutes of writing time, but it occurs to you that the dishes need to be done and the floor should be swept. The cat rubs around your ankles. When was the last time she saw the vet? You can't remember. Maybe she needs shots. Rabies would be a terrible thing. That horrible scene from Old Yeller is permanently etched in your memory and the thought of a rabid cat shredding you with her claws is terrifying. You don't own a gun, unlike the Old Yeller kid. Maybe you should think about that. What would it take to own a gun?

By the time the oven alarm goes off to let you know your brownies are ready, you've researched vet appointments and guns.

Now you have brownies, though, and it's time to go back to writing.

That manuscript is still staring at you. There's a small uneasiness in your belly. A sudden desire to go outside. Or vacuum. Forget vacuuming, the carpets haven't been cleaned in forever. This really is the day to go rent a carpet cleaner and get that done.

Of course you really want to write and you're very sad that life keeps getting in the way, but that's just how things are...

Next time you sit down to write and feel this huge resistance thing going on, consider staying right there in your chair and checking out your emotional state. What is your body telling you? Can you feel the tension of resistance in your shoulders and your thighs? Is there a weight in your belly? Or butterflies?

Take out a sheet of lined paper or a notebook, if you have one. Get a pen. Now write, at the top of the page, these words:

I am afraid that...

Now free write for five minutes, keeping that pen moving and not stopping to think about what is going on the page.

In my world, it's going to be something like this:

I am afraid that I can't write this book, that it's going to suck, that I'll lose all of my contracts and my former readers will hate me. Maybe I have Alzheimers or something and have forgotten how to line up words on the page. I'm afraid that everything I've ever written is horrible. I'm afraid this book is too big for me. I'm afraid I won't get done in time, that this deadline is too tight, that I've bitten off more than I can chew...

Whatever your version of the fear may be, this emotion is a strong deterrent to writing.

Anything.

Ever.

And the only real solution I know is to push past the fear. To write through it. I find that this is easier if I write every day. It's like that old "get right back in the saddle after you fall off the horse" cliche. The longer you wait, the longer you let the fear keep you from the page, the harder it will be to overcome it.

Here are a few methods that have helped me get past my fear.

  1. Write something. Anything. If the manuscript proves too formidable, write something else. A blog post, say. Or some free writing in a journal. Anything that gets the words flowing and begins to dissolve that big, cold, lump of fear labeled I Can't Write.
  2. Actively give yourself permission to write crap. Yep. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and consciously tell myself, maybe even out loud, "Go ahead. Write something that sucks."
  3. Make friends with the fear. Talk to it. Bribe it with treats. Name it, even. Because it's probably not ever going to actually go away. Ten books down the line it will still be sitting on your shoulder, much like Poe's raven. So you might as well get used to it.

And that's about it. I've made a little permission slip for you, to help you get started. Print it off, put your name on it, sign and date it, and keep it where you write.

Permission Slip
Permission Slip

The Writing Habit

If you want to be a productive writer, then you need a habit.

Not this kind of habit:

singingnun

THIS kind of  habit:

Butt in Chair

Yeah, I know, we writers are creative people. We like to have muses and write when we're inspired. We want all of the rainbows and unicorns and leprechaun gold while we're at it. Habits are boring and stifling and structured, for God's sake. We get enough structure from our day jobs and our family responsibilities. Writing should be spontaneous and fun and happen when we're really feeling the love.

This is all true UNLESS you want to write professionally. Because here's the fly in the ointment, my friends. If you want to be published - and continue to be published - then writing becomes a J-O-B.

Yep. I said it. Writing professionally is a full on responsibility.

Sure, it's still fun - some of the time.

Magic still happens - some of the time.

The Muse still sings songs of enchantment and wonder that get you lost in Storyland - some of the time.

But that isn't going to cut it if you're trying to build a career. Your capricious Muse won't help you meet deadlines, and neither will fitful inspiration. There will be days when writing feels like the last thing on  the face of the planet that you want to be doing. There will be days when it feels hopeless, pointless, and maybe even stupid. This happens to every writer, even, I dare say, to those who are highly successful and appear to have "made it."

You have to find a way to write anyway.

I am going to offer a caveat here. Yes, there are days when "writing" means thinking. There are days when the best thing you can do is step away from a manuscript and take a walk, do some brainstorming, or talk to a friend. Some writers take regular, planned days off from writing, in order to rest and refresh. This advice is for writers who are struggling with getting the writing done.

I've talked in previous posts about setting priorities and finding your focus. These things are hard.  I'm not sure what Life has against writing, but I can tell you that Life does not want you to write. It will throw things at you overhand, underhand, and sideways. It will screw you over six ways from Sunday. If you wait for those wonderful, golden moments of sheer writing bliss to be handed to you on a silver platter, you're going to be waiting until you're in the ground and fodder for the worms.

Ever notice how you don't have to carve out time for your habits? If you're a morning coffee drinker, you don't have to think about that in the morning. Imagine if, when the alarm went off and you managed to drag yourself into the kitchen, you spent fifteen minutes debating about whether or not to make coffee.

God forbid. That would be one question too many in your decaffeinated state. Nope. Before your eyes are open, you're fumbling through your morning coffee ritual. Maybe you were really smart and loaded the coffee pot the night before.

Everything in your morning routine - from taking a shower and brushing your teeth to getting dressed - happens pretty much on auto pilot. These things are habits (at least for most of us.) We do them every day, whether we feel like it or not.

A writing habit serves the same purpose. If you have made it a habit, when your allotted writing time comes up, you write.

You write whether you feel the writing love or not.

You write whether you're brimming with inspiration or feeling jaded and tired and beset by doubt.

Writers write. Regularly.

Some of you are going to tell me that your days are too unpredictable or that you don't have time. If this is true, chances are it's time to rethink your priorities. If you REALLY WANT TO WRITE then you will find a time to fit writing regularly into your life. But I will also tell you that something else that you love may need to go, because we don't get anything for free.

Even when you've developed the habit, there will be days where writing doesn't happen. There are probably days when you don't get dressed or brush your teeth, and maybe - gods forfend - days when you don't drink coffee. Life is like that. But the thing about habits is that once they're established, they are hard to break. So if you have a Writing Habit and you miss a day, you'll find your way back to it the next day, or the next.

When you don't write, you'll feel that something is missing, just like when you forget to brush your teeth. Words will get written.

Chances are, once you establish it, this is one habit you'll never want to break.

I'll be teaching a class on getting writing done at Colorado Gold 2016 called Write Now: Making Space for Writing in a Busy World. It's scheduled for 8 am on Sunday, which is either appropriate or ironic, or maybe both. 

Focusing Your Energy Where it Counts

I'm probably the last person in the world who should be talking about focus.

You know that person with her head so high in the clouds that she put her car keys in the freezer? Or  pulls into the neighbor's garage, gets out of her car, walks into the house, and wonders who changed the linoleum and why the cat is the wrong color?

Yep, that's me. I'm the woman who starts off taking out the kitchen garbage, stops along the way to pet the cat, notices the litter box needs attention and scoops, leaving the trash bag in the house by the cat box and taking the litter to the outside trash can. I'm the woman who then notices it's a beautiful day and wanders off to see if the lilacs are going to bloom this year, coming inside an hour later to wonder who left the trash bag sitting in the bathroom.

But maybe this makes me the right person to talk about focus, after all, because I've developed some coping methods over the years that help me get important things done. (See my last post on setting priorities for some ideas on how to sort out which are your most important things.)

Following are a few of the things I've found to be helpful in finding enough focus to get my words written.

Schedule it. If writing time is important to you, signal that to yourself and everybody else in the same way you would other important events. Make it an appointment and treat it like a parent-teacher conference, a work meeting at your day job, a visit to your doctor or your hair stylist. Put it on your calendar. Don't stand yourself up.Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.46.47 AM

Minimize distractions. Figure out whether you do better in a quiet or noisy environment. Experiment with music - can you focus better with it on, or off. What location works best for you - the kitchen table, a writing room desk, a corner in the coffee shop? Whatever works best, do that. Note that this might change depending on the book you're writing, and whether you're brainstorming, drafting, revising, or editing.

Turn off the social media. How many times have you sat down to write, only to find yourself an hour later deep down some rabbit hole on Facebook? Besides the time suck component, how can you get deeply involved in your character's emotions and lives if you are constantly receiving signals from outside influences? If you're like me and lack will power, consider a program like Freedom that blacks the internet for you for a set period of time. Or, shut off the internet altogether during writing time. I recently went through a spell where I didn't turn the internet on in the morning before my words were written. I was a little bit shocked at how much more writing I got done.

Sprint. Sometimes, if you're struggling with focus, settling in for a short stretch of 15 minutes can work very well for getting things done. I love to do this with a friend through a chat window. Set the time, go, and report back in. It's easier to settle down to work when you know it's not going to be a long haul. Plus, it's highly motivating to know you'll need to fess up to your partner if you've wandered off to Twitter. (It's also amusing when you both wander off to Twitter and call each other out for bad behavior. This may just have happened to me a time or two.)

Put the cat in the garage. I know, this is a drastic measure. The GDC, currently in my lap and judging everything I write, takes offense. We love our fur babies and they are wonderful and often comforting. They can also be a huge distraction. If you are struggling with focus and getting your words written, you might consider finding something else for the fur babies to do while you write.

I have a few other ideas, but I'm scheduled for my writing time in about two minutes and I'm choosing to honor that commitment and am signing off now.  I'm excited to tell you that I will be presenting a session on getting your writing done at the Colorado Gold Conference this year, so if this topic is of interest to you I'd love to see you there!

I'd also love to hear the strategies you've developed for managing focus during writing time.

 

Getting Your Priorities Straight

"We all have the same number of hours in the day."

I don't know about you, but when somebody says this, I generally want to kick them in the shins or slap them with a large, dead fish.

It always seems to get said with a self righteous air, as if the person uttering the words has everything in their life perfectly under control. They are never late for work. Never miss a deadline. Never find themselves scrambling to fulfill an obligation at the very last second.

The fact that the words are true just makes them more irritating.

Unless somebody has invented a time machine and is doing an incredible job of keeping it hidden in their garage, we all get the same allotment of twenty-four hours in a day. Except this week, of course, when those of us living in misguided countries have an hour stolen from us, but that's another story.

Some of us have a lot more living to cram into our time allowance than other people do. Some are contented with a slow and steady space. They go to work, come home, pet the cats, eat a tidy, low fuss dinner, watch TV and go to bed. I don't personally know anybody like this, although I'm told they exist. I don't think I've ever met anybody who felt they had more than enough hours in the day. People only trot out the "we all have the same number of hours in the day" statement when they're talking to somebody else.

My point is that until Science and Magic get their acts together and create a time turner, we're going to have to muddle along with not enough time to do All The Things. We can try, and sometimes even pull it off for awhile, but sooner or later we have to sleep. And the body, mind, and spirit will all rebel at some point if we push too hard, and find a way to force us to slow down. A rest enforced by physical illness, depression, anxiety, or some other system breakdown will slow us down more in the long run than a more reasonable pace.

So what's the answer, then, for those of us overwhelmed by the drive to do everything?

I think it starts with setting priorities.

I ran into a Facebook meme the other day about this which was pretty simple and brilliant. Every time you catch yourself saying, "I don't have time," change those words to "That's not a priority." And then listen closely to yourself.

"I'd love to write but I just don't have time," becomes, "Writing is not a priority."

"I know I should read but I don't have time," becomes, "Reading is not a priority."

And - harsh reality time – maybe these things are not priorities for you. Maybe your priorities right now are raising kids, building a career, and binge watching The Walking Dead. No problem. If those are the priorities, then do those things.

Or, maybe, The Walking Dead can wait, and writing could fill that time slot.

It's all about awareness and choices. You can find writing time and reading time, you can find time to play with your kids. You can find time to clean your house from top to bottom and do Pinterest crafts and bake chocolate chip cookies. But you might not be able to choose all of those things, all at the same time.

CHALLENGE

Take a few minutes, five at the most, to jot down a list of priorities, things like career and family and writing. Don't get deep into the weeds on this – just jot them down as they come to you, in no particular order.

Got your list?

Great. Now pick the top five. This part is harder. Be honest and ignore the niggling guilt if your true priorities aren't what you think they should be. Also be aware that priorities shift. Maybe family was the top priority when your kids were little, but now they're in college and you're focused on another goal. It doesn't mean you don't love your family if another priority rises to the top. It just means you are choosing to focus your energy elsewhere. Arrange your top five in order of current importance, with number one being the thing you would keep if you were forced to relinquish the others, and so on. Hold onto your finished list. Pin it on your bulletin board, or stash it wherever you keep such things. Whatever works for you.

Now, for the next week, observe how you spend your time. How many hours spent sleeping? How many hours on the internet? How many hours with the family? Watching TV? Writing? Reading? At the day job? Cleaning house? Jot down notes at the end of every day and make sure you account for all 24 hours.

At the end of your week of time observation, sit down with your priority list and your observation notes and compare them. How much time are you spending on your priorities? How much time are you spending on things that didn't even make the priority cut? If your priorities and how you spend your time match up, chances are you're feeling reasonably good about what you accomplish in your life. If they don't, my guess is that you're feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

The next step is to figure out how to focus your energy on the things that matter most to you. This comes at a cost, by the way. We don't get anything for free, and no matter what we'd like to believe, we can't have it all.

I'll be talking more about this next month.

 

An Experiment in Decreasing Book Launch Stress

Whether you're Indie, Traditional, or somewhere in between, launching a book can be crazy making.

You've invested hours of your life creating characters that are more real to you than your next door neighbor and most of your co-workers at the day job. You've developed extra brow wrinkles from frowning at the computer monitor. Your wrists hurt and you have calluses on your fingertips from typing and retyping all of those words. There are gaping wounds in your soul from the darlings you've cut. The pages of your precious book are drenched in your heart's blood.

And then, one day, you get a publishing contract. Or you decide the book is polished and ready and set it up to go Indie. This is exciting! This is fun! Everything is going to be marvelous, and you're filled with all the superlative emotions of elation and joy and excitement--

Until the reality hits.

People are going to read it. Not just friendly people who love you.

You've hoped all along that the reading masses will love and adore your book. Universal praise! Money! Fans! Helicopters!

Nope. Even the most successful of books have their share of haters. Trolls will read your book. Critics. Reviewers. Readers who don't understand what you were trying to do and totally miss the point.

Or, worse, maybe nobody will read it. Maybe you'll send your little book out into the world and it will drift, lonely and unloved, in a tiny little backwater somewhere far away from civilization.

But wait - this isn't even the bad part, yet.

The nightmare side of launching a book is really this: its fate is now out of your hands.

Oh, sure, there are some things you can do. First and foremost, you can write a really good book. And then there's the blog tour, a little advertising, maybe a book signing tour, if you can swing the time and money. Maybe you'll offer up some great giveaways. If you're Indie, you can change up pricing or rewrite the cover copy or maybe get a Book Bub. Your efforts will find you a few more readers.

But whatever that magic something is that makes a book go viral may or may not happen, no matter how much you engage in smart marketing practices.

There's a point where you have to relinquish control and move on to other things.

My Viking came up with an excellent analogy for me as we were battening down the hatches in preparation for the launch of Dead Before Dying.

"You're the Queen of Spain," he said. "You've just launched the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, off to find a new route to Asia. You don't have cell phones or email or radio or any means of communication. Those ships sail out of harbor, and you're not going to hear anything for months, if ever. Maybe the voyage will be successful, and sooner or later they'll sail home laden with all sorts of foreign treasures. Or maybe they'll sink in the middle of a storm and never be heard of again. So you get on with your life and do other things, because there's absolutely nothing you can do to help the ships or the crews once they're out to sea."

I had to acknowledge that he had a point, and that it fits with my life philosophy of focusing my efforts on the things I do have control of and letting go of the rest. So, adopting the ship metaphor, I agreed to forego my usual launch week behaviors. No haunting of Amazon sales rankings, no looking at reviews, no angsting over the number of Goodreads shelf ads.

I've managed, so far, to abide by the terms of this agreement, and I have to say that this has been, so far, the least stressful launch I've had for any of my books. If I have a PR task lined up, I do it. If an opportunity to promote or buzz something comes to my attention, I do that.

I've done everything I could by writing the best book I knew how to write, and then lining up the best promotional avenues I could think of and/or afford prior to the launch day. The book is out there and off to make its way in the world. Maybe it will come back to me laden with new and wonderful things. Maybe it will founder and sink.

While I'm waiting to find out, I need to be preparing for the next voyage, and the one after that.

I Have an Idea

"Where do you get ideas for books?"

I've been asked this question a lot, and I have to admit it bewilders me. I don't know what actually spawns them, but the suckers are everywhere, like ants at a picnic, like wasps at a barbecue.  They come to me in the night, born of dream fragments or of lying awake worrying about the state of the world and the creatures in it. They pop up out of books I'm reading. They lie in wait on pages of newspapers and magazines, on the TV screen, in snippets of casual conversation.

They love to present themselves when I'm on a writing deadline for another project. Those particular ideas emerge from the ether, floating around my head scattering fairy dust and singing a siren song of distraction.

I don't know about your writer brain, but mine works like this:

I scan through Facebook, see a picture of an amazing underground cave that has plants growing in it, and I get an idea for a fantasy set in a subterranean world.

I see a story about a missing woman on the news, and I get a thriller idea about a woman who fakes her death and goes into hiding, probably to protect her family from the aliens who are blackmailing her.

I'm at work in the clinic and the doctor takes an extraordinarily long time in the room with a patient.  I start wondering, "What if they're both dead in there? If they were, how could it have been done?"

I walk outside and see icicles hanging from the eaves, beautiful but lethally sharp and pointy, and think they would make a fabulous murder weapon. Or we're burning dead wood on a bonfire and I have the same thoughts about a sharp ended stick...

Oh, and the day we discovered new orders had been entered in the chart of a deceased patient? Clearly a zombie story with a humorous twist...

You get the idea. (Ha. See? Ideas lurk all over the place.)

The difficulty is not in finding ideas. What's tricky is distinguishing a good idea from a bad idea.

In my younger days, if an idea hit me I used to just dive in and start writing, emerging from a creative frenzy only to realize that what seemed like sheer brilliance unrivaled in the history of mankind had fizzled out into nothing. Ah, youth. There was time for such foolishness then. I had a gazillion years in which to write every idea that came my way, and I wasn't writing professionally. I had the hope of being published, but not the expectation. That is a very different sort of thing.

These days I need to be a little more selective.

Here are a few questions I use to decide whether a story idea is worth my time or not:

  1. If I write an idea down and leave it alone for a week, am I still excited about it when I look at it again?
  2. How much energy does the idea have? Is this an idea I'm going to want to spend the next year of my life writing, rewriting, editing, publishing, promoting - or if I commit will it start to feel like an ill-advised Vegas wedding?
  3. Are there actual plot possibilities? Can it support a story arc and a cast of characters? Or is it just a bit of fluff that might be fun to add into another idea?
  4. What are the odds that anybody else will want to read it? (Consider this one with caution. It's impossible to predict what readers are going to latch onto, and trying to predict and follow trends is a quagmire.)
  5. How many times has it already been done? The truth is, most ideas have already been written in one way or another. If an idea burns in my writer soul like a little sun of inspiration, though, I'm going to write it anyway.
  6. Consider genre. If you're writing purely for the sake of Art (which is a wonderful thing) discard this bit of advice. If you're seeking publication, or are already published and want another contract, you've got to at least think about genre. Where does this idea fit in the grand scheme of things?

After you wisely consider all these things, if you're like me at all you'll still end up writing something like my Dead Before Dying - a weird, misfit paranormal-mystery-thriller-with-cozy- elements, born of a Twitter conversation and a joke about a geriatric vampire. And maybe, if it makes you happy, that's okay.

 

 

I Have a Strong Opinion – Now What?

Politics.

The Viking happened to be looking over my shoulder when I wrote that word, and immediately told me, "Don't go there."

He's wise, of course. If, as a writer, you venture to spout your political beliefs on the internet, you're going to get yourself in trouble. You'll alienate readers. You'll invite trolls. You might get into arguments with other writers. Most agents and marketing and PR people advise their writer clients to button up and stay out of the fray.

So far in my writing career I haven't had much trouble keeping my mouth shut. I'm busy. I hate conflict. And since I'm Canadian and living in the United States, I can't vote and don't really feel I have a say in anything that happens here. As for Canada, I've been gone long enough to feel detached and like I don't really understand the issues. So I keep my mouth shut and write my books and let the world fall as it may.

But I've been having thoughts about this of late. Not little, fleeting thoughts, but big, cumbersome, slow moving THOUGHTS that are insisting I pay some attention.

There is so much ugly out there. Thanks to social media, even if I don't watch the news (which I avoid like the plague) all of that ugly is brought regularly to my attention. Rape. Police brutality. Racial injustice. Suffering refugees. Sexual inequality. War and rumors of war. A constant, overwhelming, deluge of hate.

I have opinions on all of these things. Sometimes I have vehement opinions. Still, knowing that anything I put out there on Twitter or Facebook or even a blog post will be out there FOREVER, I mostly just bite my tongue, sit on my hands, and keep my thoughts to myself.

Over the last year I've been pushed to the point where I question my own silence. Things are happening out there that move beyond politics. They are moral and ethical issues involving people. Other living, breathing, human souls who are being hurt.

If a Syrian refugee child showed up starving and homeless on my doorstep would I feed and shelter her? Of course I would.

If a woman knocked at my door late at night looking for refuge from some horror of a human being who has raped her, would I take her in, get her to safety, do everything in my power to help her bring the assaulter to justice? You bet I would.

If I see racial injustice happen in front of me, will I speak up? Yes. I have. I do.

But there's this thing that happens, I think, when we're inundated by horrific images from all over the globe. Before the age of technology, people only needed to focus on what happened in their own corner of the world. Now, everywhere you look, there's somebody suffering. Every minute of every hour of every day. And, as human beings, we have a limited capacity to absorb horror and trauma and fear before we begin to suffer our own traumatic response. When we reach a certain threshold our defense mechanisms kick in, numbing our response, making it easier to see some things as "far away" and therefore not a danger or grief we need to attend to. At some point, even those things close to home can seem less relevant.

Defense mechanisms are healthy, to a point. Just as keeping our mouths shut in public is healthy to a point.

But it's also important to act, to make a difference, to be an instrument of change. As writers, we are adept at using words to share ideas and provoke emotions. I think it's important to develop an awareness of how we are using, or not using, our influence. Action, even in small ways, makes a difference, even if we are never able to see it.

Social Media isn't the only place we can express our opinions, our outrage, and our grief. I've always admired Dickens for his ability to tell a good story while condemning social injustices. Pratchett did this brilliantly, as well, so a writer doesn't have to be focused on literary fiction in order to write stories that make a difference.

To be clear, I'm not advocating that any of us get preachy. Tales told from a moral high horse seldom make for good reading. And I don't have answers for the question of how much we should share our beliefs in the public arena. But I do think some serious soul searching is in order. Knowing what we believe, having a moral compass, and allowing that to find its way into our work is an important step.

I'll be working on that. What about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Never Give Up

Whatever you're writing, wherever you are in the writing process or in your career, I have two pieces of advice for you:

  1. Finish the book
  2. Don't ever give up.

Nobody said this writing life was going to be easy. I don't need to tell you about the obstacles – you already know what they are. Only you know how strong your personal demons are and how much energy it takes to overcome them every time you sit down to write. Only you know how hard it is to summon up enough faith to send out one more query. Only you know how deep and dark your doubts are when you're wide awake in the middle of the night.

Don't let any of this stop you. If you have the passion, if writing is the one thing that makes you feel fully alive and present in this world, then you must keep on.

Write on the days when the words flow as easily as water. Write on the days when it feels like every word has to be dredged up from your toenails. Write on the days when you feel like the painted ship upon a painted sea, when words are sludge and hope is gone and you know for certain that nobody in their right mind will ever read this tripe you're smearing on the page.

Some of you are doing Nanowrimo this month. Maybe you're blazing trails and have left that 50k word count goal in the dust. Maybe what you're writing is sheer brilliance and you are riding a writing high. But if you happen to be three weeks into Nanowrimo and your word count is falling behind, don't give up. Keep writing. If you can't quite make the word count, focus on making a word count.  If the end of November comes along and you've only got twenty-thousand words, or ten, that's more than you had at the beginning of the month. Keep going. Don't let some airy-fairy idea of failure make you stop.

If you're above ground, if you're still writing, you haven't failed.

And when you finally finish your draft and you read it and you're sure it totally sucks, see if you can make it better. Then move on and write another book. And then another and another. Focus on making every new book better than the last.

I'm not saying you shouldn't revise the sucky draft. You probably should. Most first drafts are wormwood and despair. They need a lot of work to turn them into masterpieces. By the time I'm done revising and rewriting, I generally have as many words in what I call my "Darlings" file as there are in the finished novel.

But there is a danger in getting fixated and stuck on one novel. I see writers working on the same book forever and ever, like they're Sisyphus pushing that damned boulder up the hill, day after day after day. The energy leaks out of the book, or it becomes a convoluted mess. The writer lives in a state of desperation and despair. This is not good for either book or writer.

Sometimes you have to step away for a bit. Find a new idea. Write another book. And then another one. Every book will teach you something new about your craft and lead you closer to mastery. And then, maybe, one day, you'll go back to that sucky Nanowrimo draft and realize you now have the skills you need to fix it.

Look what I ran across the other day:

 

winner

Notice the date. Yep. Dead Before Dying was written five years ago, and is just now on its way to publication. Since the time that draft was completed I've written four other books and three novellas. Dead Before Dying had to wait its turn until I'd figured out what it needed. That first draft was a mess. The POV was all wrong. It didn't fit any genre category known to humanity. And Maureen, my feisty lead character, wasn't even in it.

I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that something was wrong with it. I never abandoned it - I always knew I would come back to finish it. But I had to go build some writing chops on other projects.

My point with all of this is exactly what I said at the beginning. Whatever you're writing now? Finish it. And then write something else.

Don't stop.

Don't give up.

Writers write. You are a writer. So go do the thing you're here in this world to do, and don't let anything or anybody stop you.