Saturday, March 21, 2015

How do I write more?

You just do it.

You just wake up in the morning or stay up late or write on your lunch break or stop watching television or give yourself a deadline or join a writing group. You experiment with different times of day and different methods until you find a rhythm that works for you. And you try to find some motivation outside yourself. But mostly you just do it. All the time. Until you're so sick of your book you can't think straight about anything. Don't worry about that part. You'll bounce back when the book is over. You just write.

I'm not saying it's effortless. It's super hard. There are days when you just want to sleep in or watch another episode of Chuck on Netflix. And there are days when you do just that. But then you get up the next day and try again.

There is sadly no substitute for the sheer amount of time it takes to write all those words. 

But there are a few things you can do to make it easier. 

1. Play to your strengths. 

Find some form or style that you can write fast and freely. Then see if you can turn that into a book. Or if not a book, then maybe it'll become the outline or the first draft.

My first finished novel was a paranormal, first-person, present-tense YA novel, with a hint of some steampunk backstory. Admittedly, it sounds pretty cool when I say it that way. But it was not easy to write. I'm glad I wrote it and it definitely stretched my writing abilities, but when I read it now, it sounds forced. It doesn't sound like me.

The Jane Journals, on the other hand, sounds exactly like me. There are seven different narrators and each one has a little bit of my personality, my voice. And because of this, it was much easier to write.

What made the difference? I used journal entries. This not only made it super easy to write in small chunks, like just one entry at a time, but I've been journaling my own life for the past ten years. I'm obsessive. I write in my journal everywhere: work, church, road trips, out with friends. I've been practicing this form for ages.

All I had to do was channel that practice into writing for fictional characters instead of myself.

So again, figure out what you write fast and well. Maybe it's letters or instructional how-tos or recipes. Not every book has to be written in third person or first person. You may discover that you don't even want to write fiction. And that's okay. Just write what you write.

2. Prioritize your passions.

If you are passionate about March Madness, then by all means, be passionate about it. It's okay to take a month off of writing sometimes. Just don't take every month off. If you really want to be a writer, then you probably won't be able to stop yourself from writing for an entire month anyway.

The point is to look at how you're spending your time over the course of a week or a month or a year and figure out if you're happy with your time budget. This may mean giving up a few things that you like but don't love.

I'm looking at you, facebook and pinterest.

On a typical day, I spend about eight hours at work. I try to watch no more than an hour of television. I might go for a walk or a run, and with a shower afterward that's at least another hour. I do my best to get eight hours of sleep because sleep is very important to me.

That leaves me with about six hours to do everything else: eat, read, drive to and from work, blog, brush my teeth, do the dishes, go to the movies, buy new clothes, magnify my church calling, keep in touch with my family, read my scriptures, hang out with friends, go to the temple, go grocery shopping, visit the library, ride my bike, go on a date, clean the house, and (of course) write.

I can't do all of that stuff all the time. 

There are days when I have no choice but to leave the dirty dishes in the sink because I have a blog post I want to write. It won't make my mom very happy to hear this, but it's the truth. I could waste a lot of time doing things I don't care about, but instead I say no to everything else so that I can do the things I really love. 

One of my favorite quotes goes: 

I live a fairly stress-free life. When I do start to feel stressed, I take that as a sign that I'm not devoting enough time to the things I really love. And I adjust.

3. Stop overthinking it. 

I've heard it called "discovery writing." I've heard people talk about how they can't outline or they'll lose interest. I've heard of it as anti-world-building. (That's not true, actually. I just made that up.)

Whatever you want to call it, consider the fact that you might be one of those people who can only tell a story once. 

I am one of those people. I used to spend hours coming up with plot lines and character ideas and key scenes in my head before I ever started writing a new book. But then something strange would happen. After I had it all set and ready to go, I'd sit down at my computer or put my pen to a notebook and get about two pages in before going, "This is boring. Why am I writing about this?"

And then I'd give up. 

For a long time, I thought I just wasn't pushing myself hard enough. Or that maybe I wasn't really supposed to be a writer after all. "What if I can never sustain my own interest long enough to write an entire novel?" I despaired.

But looking back on it now, I can see that I was just over-preparing. It's a real thing, guys.

Sometimes you have to let the writing process be the time that you discover the story. Sometimes if you think about it too much ahead of time, then the actual writing part becomes a connect-the-dots kind of chore. That's no fun for you or your readers.

Maybe it won't work and you'll get halfway through a book and realize you've written yourself into a corner. But there's usually another way out. Besides, you're the author. You can write in a trap door in your corner.

So try it. Stop thinking so much. Just write and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much easier it is.

And if you're really worried about getting lost in the woods or having to go back and rewrite everything, then keep a timeline as you go or chapter notes or whatever. But just don't get too far ahead in your plotting.

I know it's easier to write character descriptions than it is to write a scene with that character in it, but resist the urge. Because unless you somehow turn into JK Rowling or JRR Tolkien, no one will ever care enough to read your character bible. And that means, you're just wasting your writing time.

Those are my tips for the day. Sorry there are only three, but this post is already getting super long and I've got dishes to do. :)

Final note: There's a funny thing that happens when you practice discovery writing (or whatever you want to call #3 above). You'll get to the end of your book and go, "How did I do that? Did I really write that whole thing?" 

Don't worry about it. It's totally normal. 

I'm not a mother so I can't verify this, but I imagine it's the same thing that happens after childbirth when a mom looks at her kid and thinks, "Did that thing really come out of my body? How did I do that?" Sometimes it's best not to think too hard about the process.

The point is, we all have stories to write—ones only we know. It's up to you to determine if writing them down is something you're really passionate about. If not, lucky you. Writing is hard and the success rates are not high. Harsh, I know. But true.

But if this is your passion, then you just have to go for it. Spend the time. Stop the overthinking. Do it in a way that's natural for you, even if it's outside the normal bounds of "writing."

And don't give up. 

Good luck!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How long did it take you to write your book?

One of my coworkers asked me this question today and I got distracted before I could give her a real answer. So I decided to do it here.

The thing is, though, I'm not actually sure how to answer this question.

I don't write straight through a book and finish a "first draft" and then go back to the beginning and revise the whole thing into a "second draft." It's a lot more messy than that. As much as I would love to turn off the editing side of my brain while I'm writing, I can only do that for so long before the editor in me kicks in and starts revising—sometimes against my will.

So while I can tell you that I started writing what would become Liam Darcy, I Loathe You in late October 2013 and technically submitted it for publication in July 2014, I really have no idea how many times I revised it or how long I spent writing it.

And that's not even counting all the stuff I reworked after it was accepted.

In the drafting stages, I try to spend an hour or so every morning just purely writing without much revising. "Try" being the operative word.

Sometimes I'm super productive. And sometimes (like this morning, for example) I'm writing pure drivel that I know I'll have to completely toss out later in the process. But the point is, I'm putting more words on the page. Some days that's all you can ask for.

I guess the short answer to this question would be about six months.

The longer version is: I finished the majority of my first draft during Nanowrimo 2013. Then I had to go through it maybe three or four more times, drafting and revising and drafting and revising. And then I did a really thorough copyedit. And after that I changed a bunch of the characters around and messed with the plot again. And just this last Christmas I added a good-sized chunk and rewrote the entire ending.

This is not a recommended method, by the way. Ideally I'd have solved all the plot holes and fixed the ending before I did all that copy editing work. But writing a book is weird and never really goes according to plan.

Eventually, whether you're ready or not, you just have to be done.

This is something I'm still learning. Just this morning I had the urge to call the printer and tell them to stop the presses so I could "fix" something. I could've done it too. I am the production manager. That's one of my powers.

But I talked myself off the ledge and realized, again, that it's over. My words are in print. (Gulp.)

And that's both terrifying and oddly relieving.

It's kind of that calm-before-the-storm feeling of knowing that whatever's going to happen is going to happen and that there's not much I can do about it now.

Except, of course, to promote my book as much as possible and cross all my fingers and toes that it will sell well.

And keep writing.

Which reminds me, 1, 2, 3 with Nephi and Me! went to press today. I'm so excited for you guys to see this book, I can't even tell you. The illustrations are AWESOME!!!!! And I'm just jazzed that I got to write a board book.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my life?

For reals, though.

And on that happy note, stay tuned for more exciting news about upcoming author events I'll be involved in. I can't announce anything officially yet, but I have lots of fun things in the works.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Is it Spring yet?

Technically, no.

But in my mind, totally yes!!

The signs are everywhere:

- My daffodils are poking up, which is surprising because I forgot to plant them until mid-December and I figured they'd all died when it snowed the next week.
- The days are SO MUCH LONGER. It's awesome.
- And best of all, Stephen's hot chocolate was on sale at the grocery store because winter is almost over.

Spring is always exciting, but this particular year it's quite possibly the most exciting ever.

Because this year, so many good things are going to happen in the Spring.

1. My BOOK is coming out!!!!

I'm sure I've already told you this a million and five times, but just in case you missed it, May 12th is the day. The day to end all days. The day my life will forever change. The day . . . okay, it's just a Tuesday. But it's the Tuesday my book will officially go on sale! So cool.

And only 59 days away!

2. I'm going home. Finally! It's been FOREVER. I. can't. wait.

And assuming I can get my flight switched and everything works out with my family, I think I'm going backpacking at Point Reyes, which is going to be so cool. But even if I don't get to do that, I'm still going to have a whole week to go to the beach and San Francisco and soak up the sunshine and see all my friends. So stoked. Seriously.

3. I'm going to run a 5K. I'm nearly there.

Well, and when I say "nearly" what I mean is, like, "halfway." But I'm making progress, people. And that's what matters.

4. I might move back into my bedroom instead of sleeping in the living room like I've been doing all winter. I haven't quite made up my mind about this one yet.

5. I'm going to LDStorymakers. If you're an author-y type person and want to meet up there, just look for a girl holding a copy of her book the whole time and sporting a goofy grin on her face like she can't believe this is really real.

6. And, wait for it, drumroll please..... the next weekend I'm going to have a real, live book launch!!!

I know! It's almost like I'm famous or something.

Here are all the details I know so far:

May 23rd
3:00-5:00 pm
at The King's English in Salt Lake City
Probably out on their back patio (pending weather conditions)
Likelihood of treats = yes

So please oh pretty please mark your calendars now because I might never get married so this might be my only chance to throw a reception/party for myself. And the good thing is, you don't even have to bring me a present. You can just buy my book there and we'll call it good. Or come and don't buy a book. I totally won't be offended. I just need friends!!! Please, by my friends! For one afternoon! That's all I'm asking!!!

Ahem. Enough desperation for a Friday night? Probably, yes.

But anyway, speaking of me being famous, I have some cool news to report.

This week Publisher's Weekly did an article on the fastest-growing publishers in the country (plus one from Canada), and Cedar Fort made the list! Not only that, I got quoted! In a real magazine!

Utah-based publisher Cedar Fort Inc., founded in 1986 by Lyle Mortimer and Lee Nelson, specializes in LDS fiction and nonfiction, as well as general trade titles in the cookbook, clean romance, and YA categories. The publisher attributes its 41% growth to a “total restructuring” of its in-house production teams, according to production manager Heidi Doxey. Rather than dividing itself into traditional departments such as editorial and design, Cedar Fort has genre teams that work together, each focusing on its own titles. “[The restructuring] allows us to respond quickly to trends in the marketplace, both in acquiring new titles and packaging our books to help them stand out from everything else on the shelf in that genre,” says Doxey. The publisher reports it has also increased its sales by “branching out into new areas, such as film distribution, e-books, and audiobooks.” Diana Keuilian’s The Recipe Hacker, a cookbook that offers healthy versions of classic comfort foods, was one of the publisher’s top-selling titles in 2014. Released in 2012,Visions of Glory, by John Pontius, remains one of Cedar Fort’s bestselling titles.
How legit is that? (I added the bolding myself.) You can read the whole article here, if you're interested.

And in more news, early feedback about The Jane Journals from book buyers has been super positive. It's weird, actually, to have people respond so well to some random idea you came up with a long time ago.

Actually, they're mostly responding to the cover, I think. But hopefully the book will live up to its cover.

I read this article today (also in Publisher's Weekly, incidentally) about how after a book is published it doesn't belong to the author anymore. But the truth is, I haven't felt like this was my book for awhile now. I mean, yeah, I wrote it and my name is on the cover, which is cool. But it's already taking on a life of its own somehow.

So when I saw the proofs today from the printer, I had this surreal feeling of non-possession. I'm currently in the process of giving the world my book. And I'm really hoping that at least a few people out there in the world actually enjoy it. That's really all any author can ask for.

Well, that and weekends. Enjoy yours, folks.

I love this song. (Although I'm sorry about some of the language.) But mostly I love the fact that it's the weekend. It's the weekend. :)

And don't forget to celebrate Pi Day tomorrow! I started early with some apple pie this afternoon. Yum.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Will you marry me?

This is a question I have never been asked and for all I know, I never will be. But I've been thinking about proposals lately and also thinking about the way that I think about them.

When I was younger I used to imagine what I'd say when someone asked me to marry him. I'd come up with entire dialogues and blocking. But every single time my answer came down to, "I'll have to think about it." Not once did I imagine an immediate yes. Is that weird? I suppose when you're just imagining things, you want the story to keep going. You want the drama and conflict of not knowing what your answer will be.

But what I noticed was that, for some reason, I was always imagining the unexpected proposal—the one that comes out of nowhere. I didn't imagine that we'd already talked about marriage in a round-about way. In most of my scenarios, we weren't even dating.

That's the part I now think is most weird.

And it's making me wonder if that one mental tic is actually symptomatic of a larger trend in my thinking: I tend to look ahead and focus on possibilities instead of on the present. So in this case, instead of daydreaming about dating first, I would jump straight from mere acquaintanceship to the proposal scene. 

There's nothing really wrong with dreaming about the future, except when you miss the real-life steps it takes to get there. Like with dating. I should be daydreaming about meeting someone I'd want to spend time getting to know in an increasingly more romantic way. I should not be daydreaming about being unexpectedly proposed to by a near-stranger who shows up on my doorstep because he can't stop thinking about me. In real life, that would freak me the heck out.

But still, I jump ahead. 

And it's not just with dating.

Same thing holds true for my tiny house dreams. I constantly envision the day I can walk inside of this beautiful small space and know that it is totally and completely mine forever, with no more work to be done on it and everything exactly as it should be.

But that's not real life. In real life, the most likely scenario is I'll buy a tiny house eventually, but it will be secondhand and I'll want to make it my own with renovations. Or possibly I'll muster up the courage to actually build the thing myself, which will mean there will be even more steps in the process and it will probably never be really "done," since there will always be tweaks I'll want to make.

Today at stake conference I was sitting in a room surrounded by families with an average of five children. Seriously. I'm telling you, there were a LOT of kids there. And it made me remember how I used to come up with names for all of the kids I was planning to have someday. I don't do it as much anymore, but back when I was in college this was a favorite pastime for me. Once again, I was jumping ahead.

Real life is full of mess and confusion and complications. But that's not the stuff of daydreams. (Except, apparently, when you end your hypothetical proposal scene with "I'll have to think about it." Because that seems pretty complicated and messy to me.)

The point is, I think I need to do a better job of focusing on the reality of taking one little step at a time instead of jumping ahead to the end of my journey. That's really the only logical way to do things. It's good to have an ultimate end goal in mind, but it's much easier to accomplish something when all you're worried about is the next little baby step.

That's what I'm planning to do this month: look at all of the things I want to accomplish in life and figure out what the next baby step is for each of them. It might be something as little as making a phone call to change my flight plans or writing another 700 words each day in March or putting $20 more dollars into my emergency fund. Actually those are all things I really do plan to do this month. 

No matter what your goal is, there's always something little that can be done. And once you do that one little thing, you can take another little step until eventually all of those little steps add up and you find yourself at the top of the mountain. Or something.

Excuse the mixed metaphors. It's getting late and I'm rambling. The point is, when you get stuck on something, it might be because you're looking too far ahead. Instead concentrate on one little thing. That's my thought for the day.

And now I'm going back to daydreaming. Or maybe I'll just go to sleep and do some actual dreaming. Yeah. That sounds like a better idea to me.

PS—I really hope that if I ever do get proposed to, it will be nothing like my daydreams. I hope I'll just say yes and everything will go smoothly. But I suppose one upside to all of these daydreams is that if I ever write a proposal scene in a book, I'll already have a thousand different scenarios from which to glean inspiration. That could be really fun. Except that now you'll all know how the scene ends. The heroine will always say, "I'll have to think about it."