Writers, give yourself 10 minutes a day

Don't Give Up Dinosaurs

Honesty time.

I’m at this weird point in my writing life where I know I’m getting better, but I’m the least motivated I’ve ever been.

Let me back up and explain. I’m about a third deep into my WIP, which will be my third novel (fourth if you count that one I started in high school and never finished). At the same time that I’m writing it, I’m querying my previous novel and starting to wonder if I’ll ever get a manuscript request, let alone get it published. Even after two years of writing/revising and rounds of query critiques (including by published authors), it may not happen, folks. The query — for whatever reason — isn’t hooking agents.

So I’m feeling kind of discouraged. Like, what’s even the point of trying?

I know I’m usually all about preaching, “YOU CAN DO THIS KEEP TRYING,” but the truth is, even those of us who understand the value of persistence to a successful writing career aren’t immune to struggling with confidence. I’m feeling pretty lousy.

Yes, I take comfort in the fact that for many published authors, it takes multiple books before they get published. Maybe even ten books. Or twenty. (Seriously, read this post — it will give you hope.) And pretty much every book can feel like “the one” and not be it.

And I know I’m growing and getting better. For my first book (not counting that high school attempt), I finished the first draft but not revision. For my second book, I finished the first draft and several rounds of revision with several critique partners, but the foundation is perhaps too weak to fix. For this book (third), I’m much more confident in the world-building, characters, and the foundation of the novel — it’s going to be better from the start.

All signs point to “it will happen someday.” I will get published. But the “someday” part throws me off.

And then I watched author Rachael Stephen‘s video about how it’s important just to try, every day, and keep trying. “You don’t want to write today,” she says, “but all you have to do is try. For ten minutes. … Once they’re up, you can get up and walk away. And at least you tried today.”

After that, she says, chances are you’ll get over the feeling of “oh my god this is so grueling ugh why even do this” and actually get carried away in the writing and start to enjoy yourself. You’ll start to remember why you wanted to write a book in the first place, and that will support you through the process.

Stephen admits that the video is as much a reminder to other writers as it is to herself, and I think this blog post is the same thing for me.

So I’m going to put in my ten minutes today. Even though I don’t want to. Even though I’m not feeling it. Even though I don’t particularly believe in myself right now. Because if I don’t at least try, then it will 100% never happen. And if I do try, and keep trying — well, even if I can’t predict whether it will or won’t happen, those are far better odds.

The importance of vulnerability

Nobody wants to show themselves failing. Yet that’s exactly what Kim Chance did in her latest video.

Let’s redefine that: Kim isn’t actually failing. She’s acquired a literary agent, which means she has a better chance of succeeding than the vast majority of writers whose manuscripts never get accepted. (See my interview with Kim here.) But the feeling of failing is admitting that you don’t have it together, that things might not work out, and that you’re scared shitless.

It takes a lot of courage to say, “Hey, I might not pull this off.” It takes even more courage to take a step closer to success, in front of the whole world — like Kim has on YouTube — and then fall short. We all go through this. But nobody wants to say, “I’m in the middle of the messy part that could be my failure,” with everyone watching. We only want to say, “I made it to the other side, and whew, it was tough, BUT I DID IT.”

Yet when Kim exposed herself — cried on camera, ditched the bubbly-happy persona she usually shows us, and let herself be completely vulnerable — she sent a message that was way more powerful and inspiring than any “We can do it!” speech. Because she showed us we’re not alone.

Of course, we all realize other writers have doubts and anxiety like we do. But to actually see that? Totally different.

“I guess what I lie awake thinking about is, what if it doesn’t happen?” Kim said. “What if [my book] Keeper doesn’t find a home? What if it doesn’t get published?”

She said, “I’ve been on submission a couple months now, and I’m scared. I’m really scared.”

That wasn’t the only fear she shared. She challenged herself to write the first draft of a new manuscript by June, before her baby is born. But she admitted she’s made no progress since that announcement.

“I am crippled with this fear that I can’t write a book. Isn’t that dumb?” she said. “But I just have this fear that I’m a one-hit wonder. I wrote Keeper and that was awesome, but what if I can’t do it again? What if that was it? What if that was my bout of creativity there in that one book, and now I’m trying to write the book of my dreams, the book that I would absolutely die to write, and what if I can’t do it?”

Yes, yes, a million times YES. I recently finished my second book last year and started querying it, and I’m already paralyzed by this fear. How can I move on to begin another project after this last one took two years of my life — hundreds of hours of time and energy — and nothing might happen with it? And that’s the norm. How do you find the motivation to do that all over again while facing rejection after rejection, or no response at all, from agents about the last book you wrote? How do you not get defeated by that? How do you not judge yourself by each and every “no”?

Kim said, “What if I let everybody down? What if I let [my agent] Caitlin down? What if I let you guys down? What if I let my family and my friends down? What if I let myself down? What if everything I’ve been telling myself is a lie?”

The stakes for Kim are even higher than they are for many of us. Personally, I don’t often share, outside of the internet, that I write books. That I spent night after night, week after week, working on a manuscript. Because as soon as you do that, people expect results. They don’t understand that the normal process is very slow-moving, that some authors don’t get published until their third or fourth or tenth book — and others, never at all. People think no news or bad news is a sign that you’re doomed to fail, that you’re a hack writer, that you’re chasing an impossible dream. And it’s hard not to believe them.

Kim said, “I know that somewhere out there, there’s somebody watching this who’s shaking their head, saying, ‘That’s me.’ I don’t want anybody to feel alone during this process. So as defeated as I feel right now, I’m gonna tell myself … I’m gonna keep telling myself what I’m always telling you guys. That dreams don’t work unless you do. And that no matter how hard it gets, you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to keep fighting.”

Every part of a writer’s journey is tough, she said. And it is. It absolutely is. “Writing a book is hard,” Kim said. “Querying a book is hard. Writing a sequel is hard. Being on submission is hard. Being a writer is hard, guys! … But it’s one of the best jobs in the world. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. And I’m so glad to be a part of it.”

Me too, Kim. Me fucking too.

My favorite books this year were all by women

Kristen Bell sloth

It’s December, which means soon we’ll have a whole new year of books to look forward to. What’s your favorite book that you read in 2016?

Without a doubt, mine is …

Uprooted

Okay, Uprooted is from 2015, but … sigh. It’s so beautiful. And powerful. And enchanting. It’s the best fantasy literature that I’ve read since Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle (my favorite series). I don’t often encounter genuine page-turners, but this is one of them. GO READ IT PLEASE.

Also, yay for positive female friendships!

I also have to give a big shout-out to Liane Moriarty, who’s my new favorite author that I discovered this year (her books are secretly amazing), and Ava Jae, who’s my new favorite debut author (go read her too, please!).

I finished my Goodreads challenge this year. Did you?

It’s totally OK to burn these books

Game of Thrones candle book

When burned, these books give off a charming smell.

Like pumpkin souffle, clean cotton, and ocean breeze.

These are the smells of Hagrid’s Pumpkin Patch, Dobby’s Socks, and Gatsby’s Shoreline — all candles, and all great holiday gift ideas.

You can also find lip balms and wax tarts in the Etsy seller’s shop, From the Page.

Plague World: What constitutes a ‘good’ book ending?

tackyIn August, author Dana Fredsti released Plague World, the third and final novel in her Ashley Parker girl-kicks-zombie-butt series. Years ago, the first book, Plague Town, caught me by surprise as I wasn’t expecting something so good — Resident Evil novelizations have taught me that zombie fiction is usually kind of corny, while The Walking Dead comics and countless movies about the undead have convinced me that any visual probably suits the genre best.

Thankfully, I was wrong, and the Ashley Parker series is as good or better than any zombie movie (although it’s still a little corny, in a good, fully-conscious-of-its-corniness way of course).

Still, as much as I love Fredsti’s writing, I was a teensy bit hard on the second book, Plague Nation. I was worried that — with the zombie outbreak spreading so fast and then going airborne — maybe this thing was getting too out of hand for her or any of the characters to manage.

I didn’t know it then, but that was kind of the point.

plague town

Not everyone was happy about the trilogy’s ending. One reader on Goodreads left a one-star review (warning: it’s here, but spoilers!) and asked, “How on earth is that conceivably a good ending? An appropriate one? I … I can’t even … I’m so pissed off I wasted all this time just to end up with THAT! […] I will NEVER recommend this series to anyone (even my enemies) again. It was that wrong. If I could go back in time and unread the Ashley Parker series I would.”

So, yeah, strong reaction.

Let me first say that, without revealing any specific details, I thought Dana Fredsti did a beautiful job on the ending to Plague World. So big hint here: Somebody dies. Was I shocked by what happened? Yes. Was I OK with this death? Not so much, and I can understand why someone else might outraged.

But was it a good ending? Yes, yes, yes — because first, it was indeed “appropriate.” OK, minor spoilers here, but not really: It’s an apocalypse. People tend to die. Secondly, the ending wasn’t good because the characters died or lived. It was good because it was believable. I was expecting Fredsti to try to find a way to “resolve” the huge Zombie problem with a capital Z, but that wasn’t giving her enough credit. Would we be able to fix something like that in real life with a wink and two swings of a paragraph? No, I don’t think so. The consequences of a catastrophe that huge would last a long time.

I understand the reviewer’s disappointment. I even understand her anger. But to say that the ending wasn’t worth the journey because you disagreed with it — well, that’s like saying your whole life is shit just because something bad happens. And, hey, we all totally do that sometimes. I’m as guilty as anyone. But you’re going to drive yourself crazy unless you realize that you got some good stuff out of the experience, too, and maybe you learned something, and that has to be enough. Life isn’t fair, and frankly, the author doesn’t owe you anything — except maybe a conclusion to all hanging plot threads (which Fredsti addressed). Be happy you got a third book at all.

Take The Hunger Games, for example. I love that trilogy. But hell if I don’t think Mockingjay is the biggest insult to Katniss and readers everywhere. Do I hate it so much that I wish Collins had never even bothered, or that I hadn’t read a single word? No. Because the story wasn’t a waste. It provided me with some entertainment for a while, and I got to disappear into a world and become close to imaginary characters that mean so much to readers that they might as well be real. It’s the mark of a good author when you give a shit what happens to a character. If you’re angry or sad or scared or even happy — the author has done her job.

So if Fredsti made that reviewer that upset, she obviously wrote some good characters because the reader was attached to them. But to wish you had never picked up those books and met those characters is like saying you wished you had never met Dumbledore or — hell — anyone in real life. Because we all die sometime. And we’re all worth knowing, for however long or short of a time that we’re here.

Grade: B

Dear book: I’m just not that into you

grumpy catWe’ve all been there. You’re reading a book and it’s just not doing it for you.

Do you …

A) Grind your teeth and finish it even if it’s taking you forever and you’d rather read anything else but this.

B) Stop immediately because there’s so many other things you could be doing, and this book sucks.

Right now I’m somewhere in the middle and having trouble deciding which to do. Will the book redeem itself? Am I just wasting my time? What to dooooo?

On one hand, I’m determined to finish it just so I can say with 100 percent certainty that I didn’t like it and/or the protagonist. For all I know, there’s a few chapters at the end that would totally change my mind.

Then I think, well, probably not. And I’m procrastinating reading this, so I’m never going to get to the end, and waiting too long between reading sessions could skew my impression of the book anyway.

What do you usually do in this situation? Were you totally happy with your decision, or did you regret it later?

Quick! I need book recommendations …

… for the following genres. So I can get with it and complete the Eclectic Reader challenge already.

  • Historical mystery
  • Romantic suspense
  • Made into a movie
  • New Adult
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Dystopian
  • Memoir
  • LGBT
  • Action Adventure
  • Humor

I can probably count The Curse of the Wendigo under action adventure and Prophet of Bones under new adult, maybe. What exactly does “adult” entail, anyway? Boring grown-up stuff like jobs? PoB has cool work stuff …

Thoughts on books to read in these categories?

Bad cover? Forget reading the book

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Tables of books in stores are the ultimate proof that covers matter. If customers like what they see, they might even bother to read the description.

I like to showcase my favorite covers every Friday, but there’s more to it than good art. Some people believe that good designs conceal good books — or at least ones that are worth your time.

“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” Naomi Blackburn, one of the top Goodreads reviewers, told The Huffington Post. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”

Simply put, good covers sell books.

“In addition to promising what a book will deliver, the [cover] image also promises — or fails to promise — that the author is a professional, and that the book will honor the reader’s time,” said Smashwords founder Mark Coker.

Investing in an amazing cover can fool readers into thinking you acquired a publisher rather than self-published, which can negate the “it’s indie and crap” logic. A quality design can even interest retail merchandising managers, which can equal more sales. It also makes a book easier to market.

“The art shouldn’t fight the typography,” said Kris Miller, the designer for the Saima Agency. “A romance novel shouldn’t look like a thriller or visa versa.”

And strong, simple images “pop” best.

I gotta say — a beautiful, striking, or fun cover can make me interested in a book when I had no reason to be. So if you want people to take you seriously as a budding author, make sure you have the best picture to sell your many thousand words.

Did you ever find a beloved book by judging its cover first? Do you agree that a good cover usually means a good read?

Awesome book cover Friday: Idoru

Wow, May’s over already? Crazy!

Today’s book cover selection is Idoru by William Gibson. I picked this up recently at Half-Price Books. Love, love Neuromancer, so I thought I’d give his other works a chance.

Idoru

Here’s a description:

21st century Tokyo, after the millennial quake. Neon rain. Light everywhere blowing under any door you might try to close. Where the New Buildings, the largest in the world, erect themselves unaided, their slow rippling movements like the contractions of a sea-creature. Colin Laney is here looking for work. He is not, he is careful to point out, a voyeur. He is an intuitive fisher of patterns of information, the “signature” a particular individual creates simply by going about the business of living. But Laney knows how to sift for the interesting (read: dangerous) bits. Which makes him very useful–to certain people.Chia McKenzie is here on a rescue mission. She’s fourteen. Her idol is the singer Rez, of the band Lo/Rez. When the Seattle chapter of the Lo/Rez fan club decided that he might be in trouble, in Tokyo, they sent Chia to check it out. Rei Toei is the beautiful, entirely virtual media star adored by all Japan. The idoru. And Rez has declared that he will marry her. This is the rumor that brought Chia to Tokyo. But the things that bother Rez are not the things that bother most people. Is something different here, in the very nature of reality? Or is it that something violently New is about to happen? It’s possible the idoru is as real as she wants or needs to be–or as real as Rez desires. When Colin Laney looks into her dark eyes, trying hard to think of her as no more than a hologram, he sees things he’s never seen before. He sees how she might break a man’s heart. And, whatever else may be true, the idoru and the powerful interests surrounding her are enough to put all their lives in danger.

Do you guys like it? Hate it?

Postscript: The legend of the wendigo

Postscript is a new ongoing feature here on the blog that explores themes raised in the books I’ve read and reviewed. My first is a follow-up to Rick Yancey’s The Curse of the Wendigo, which presents one version of the wendigo monster myth.

I encourage you to suggest other books or topics you’d like me to discuss in the comments.

The Wendigo - CharmedI’m a junkie for television shows on Netflix. My most recent addiction is Charmed, which I used to watch as a teenager. (Don’t judge me.) I must have started viewing the show later in its run because boy, are some of the characters (cough cough Andy) and events of the first season confusing considering what I know. [Update: Scratch that. I thought Ted King and Julian McMahon were the same person. They look EXACTLY ALIKE.]

The other day, I came upon the episode “The Wendigo” — which is, surprise, about a wendigo. This monster (pictured left) was more like a werewolf, but whatever. Anyway, it was an interesting episode for me to watch so soon after reading The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey. The only trait that Charmed‘s version of the monster shares with the one in Yancey’s book is a heart of ice.

In The Curse of the Wendigo, the wendigo is a creature so thin that it’s almost invisible. It ravenously consumes but, unable to sate its hunger, only grows more emaciated. It calls out the names of its victims on the high wind before it attacks, ripping out their hearts and tearing the skin from their bodies.

The Charmed episode provided a good explanation for the organ removal that fit well with Yancey’s story: the wendigo commits this act because it suffers from a broken heart. So it’s all about love, as usual.

I started to wonder: what’s the real folklore of the wendigo? The legend originates from the Algonquian Native American peoples. The heart of ice is a common characteristic, and the creature either feeds on human flesh or possesses someone, turning them into another wendigo.

But there’s also a medical term called “Windigo psychosis,” which describes cannibalism as a result of delusion. It typically affected families in winter — a period of little sunlight — who spent too much time in isolation due to snowfall.

Swift RunnerThe story has roots in Canada and particularly Ontario and Alberta, such as with the Swift Runner case. The wendigo is considered an embodiment of evil, and Swift Runner — who butchered and ate his wife, six children, mother, and brother though he was not malnourished — afterward expressed considerable remorse at his actions, believing them to be the work of a demon.

As for the monster itself, some believe the wendigo to be a relative of the bigfoot. When it claims someone, that person undergoes physical changes, such as lip swelling and a persistently low body temperature.

John Chanler, the character in The Curse of the Wendigo, went through a transformation as well before he became a deranged killer. His behavior appalled him though he was unable to stop. And Piper Halliwell in Charmed became one when a wendigo scratched her (more like a werewolf, see?). She broke out in cold sweats and experienced uncontrollable anger — with lots and lots of swearing.

Besides The Curse of the Wendigo, you can find the monster in Algernon Blackwood’s short story of the same name (available on Project Gutenberg for free), which introduced the wendigo into horror fiction, as well as in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, Jean Zimmerman’s The Orphanmaster, and much more. It’s also appeared in television shows like The X-Files and Supernatural.