When Your Muse Leaves the Building…

I’ve been feeling very unmotivated lately. I’d say there are reasons, but for the most part (like 70%), they’re just excuses. No matter how many times I berate myself, I still find myself on the couch, staring at Jenson Ackles as Dean Winchester (I’d blame him–he is too pretty to ignore–but I know better).

In case you didn’t hear, several areas in my state and surrounding areas were without power for days. Luckier than most, my power came back after 4 days. (I’d like to take a moment and state that I’m a spoiled wuss–I need power: lights, a/c, TV, a working fridge. Having to carry a flashlight every time I had to pee got REAL old, fast.) I couldn’t type a damn thing. We got power back and then one of my/JLo’s best friends got married; since JLo was in the wedding party, that took me away for 3 days. So by this point, it’s been well over a week since I’d added any new material to my WIP. But even before we went to a temporary Dark Ages era, I’d been slacking on getting new words down. I couldn’t focus and when I did sit down to write, the words refused to flow. Frustrating. As. Hell.

I’ll admit that while I had no computer those 4 days, I did take a few hours one evening to set my mind with pen and paper on my male lead, using my “character layering” technique. I got some decent development in, realized a few new things about him and how he ticks, and now like him even more. But I haven’t touched any of the actual WIP. I found myself staring out the window or suddenly finding other things to do, like laundry or reading.

Funny Cry for Help Ecard: That moment when you have so much stuff to do, that you decide to take a nap instead.

I have a full time job, a great gig that not only pays the bills, but lets me throw my creativity around as the in-house “social media expert.” I’m on the computer from 8-5, Monday-Friday and while it’s certainly not a complaint against my job, I gotta admit the last thing I want to do when I get home after work is stare at my computer screen for another 3-4 hours. So that left me braindead on the couch with marathons of Supernatural, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly not doing me any favors on getting a book written.

So. There’s the excuses, outta the way. My problem is motivation. My problem is that if I miss a couple days, I think it’s okay to miss a couple more. My problem is that I don’t hold myself accountable, despite my big talk of holding myself to deadlines, because they’re just MY deadlines and no one else’s.  Despite people asking for more books, despite my pride in the fact that I wrote a freaking book, despite my desire to get all these stories out of my head and out for the world to see…I’m still avoiding sitting at the desk. And I have no one to blame but myself. No one will write the damn things for me. And if I sit on my hands and don’t release anything for months and years because of it, I’ll be forgotten, no matter how many times I tweet about that one stupid book from a hundred years ago.

How do we, as authors, overcome laziness or writer’s block or a general lack of motivation? What happens when your Muse leaves the building? When the WIP is in danger of becoming a discarded manuscript, how can we shake our funk off and jump back into our world-building?

I’ve read several suggestions. Some say to get the heck outta Dodge (or your house) and observe people. When you’re at a loss for dialogue or reactions, go sit in a coffee shop or whatever and discreetly eavesdrop (don’t get caught looking like a stalker. It’s embarrassing for everyone). Besides eavesdropping, there are other ways we can shake it up–going for a workout, taking a scenic walk or bike ride around town, having a drink with friends, etc. I think the key is taking a step away from your WIP, even for a few hours, to get a different mindset, to take a mini-break (as opposed to the long vacation my mind’s taken the last few weeks) and get a new outlook on things. For me, I need to look at everything I have to do in stages and make a few lists. (One for everyday, one for the marketing plans, one for the actual WIPs, etc.) I think once I see everything that HAS to get done ASAP, then everything that must come after that, I’ll at least feel more focused and will hopefully feel more motivated to sit down at the desk again. After lists come schedules of how I can best use my time wisely. Once I schedule my time, then I can add in the free time for reading or drooling over Jenson Ackles.

What do y’all do when your muse leaves the building? When you’re feeling lazy and uninspired and have a hard time putting words on paper?

Writers Have Feelings, Too

I feel like I’m holding my breath right now. That I have been for a while now. I don’t know when I can let go, but my face hasn’t quite turned blue yet. Luckily, I’ve got this guy–Fisher, not his chipmunk pal–to keep me distracted enough to barely even feel the burn in my lungs: (brief pause to show off my cute dog)

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I have several (no, dozens) of copies of my book out right now for review. Lots of paperbacks; triple that with Kindle copies. Now the hard part is playing the waiting game. Because my book is already out, I’m not upset my book isn’t “blowing up” but that means when everyone finally does review it (which is apparently next month and through the summer), I’m going to hear ALL THE THINGS that people like or don’t like. While I’m noting and planning corrections to my marketing mistakes, for now I accept whatever time frame it takes for bloggers to get back to me. I understand that I should’ve planned much further ahead of time. But I’m taking it in stride and will apply that to future releases. In the meantime, that leaves me waiting with bided breath, hoping that when reviews begin to come in, I’ll appreciate and learn from each positive or negative one. I expect reviews will be, as my mom puts it, feast or famine. Much like my two years of job searches, I expect I’ll have days, weeks even, without a single review or mention, followed by two straight weeks of my email hitting Red Alert.

As I’ve stated before, bad reviews don’t scare me (I’ve got a flask). I plan to take what criticism I can work with and use it to my advantage when writing Book 2. Assuming people aren’t jerks (and I can’t imagine that’ll be anyone I spoke with, rather random Amazon reviewers), I could take what they appreciate or can get by without to move the story along. That’s how writers grow and while it might sting, I’m ready to anticipate fixing any weak spots in future manuscripts. Plus I expect it’ll help my writing in other works too, as far as character development or pacing goes. I get where book bloggers are coming from and I’m hoping for honest reviews.

Now for the other side of the page: Writer have feelings, too. I don’t know if this applies to every writer, but many, many of us are pretty much just nervous people. That’s what I’ve decided in the last few months of putting out my work, specifically when I talk to other authors. There are plenty of others like me who are downright scared sometimes. We want our work to be good, to be special, to really grab an audience and move them the way your characters hope they do. It’s gut-wrenching to be turned down after so many queries to agents, so once we nut up the courage to go indie publishing, we now have to face everything ourselves. It’s intimidating and overwhelming and really, I’m looking forward to it being easier the 2nd time around.

Approaching a person, trying to be sincerely interested each individual, is worth every bit of the research and time investments a writer makes. (For the record, reading a book blogger’s Review Policy  is crucial. Every writer pitching stories to book bloggers, please take notice of their entries. You might have a basic skeleton of what your review request looks like, but send separate emails, name names, and anything else that shows a blogger you are. Read the About Me’s. If they’re investing their time to read an effin’ novel, you can take eight minutes of your day to read a few notes.) Once book bloggers have the books, however, it’s up to them to write a piece that best represents their ideas and opinions. Some state the sunny side of things–even if a book didn’t work for them, they still talk about what might work for others or what they did like. This is how I write reviews–even if I had problems, I don’t want to be blunt or rude about it. I especially defend the right to opinions (provided they’re all respectful), because what didn’t work for some usually works for others.

I’ve even seen some bloggers that offer the DNF (Did Not Finish) option to email the reason why and opt out of a review, thus sparing the reviewer time and the author pain. It makes sense to me, actually. If I can’t get through the first 100 pages of your book, it’s not going to end well for anyone. I just want to move on to the next book at that point. And at least as an author, I can be saved of a poor review and the only loss is a bit of your time (I’d say about twelve minutes**, tops).

I suppose that while I may get a low score on the love-o-meter, my hope is that it’ll be stated with respect. All the bloggers in my Twitter feed and email inboxes have been excellent and I believe even if they aren’t crazy about the story, they’ll still like something about the book. A character, a detail, a particular Gift even, would be something positive I can take from it, at least. We writers should always, ALWAYS be polite and sincere when asking book bloggers to do us a favor. But book bloggers will hopefully be considerate and professional about their reviews. (This is my general plan to saving the world, but we’ll come back to that.)

**I’m only joking about the time it takes for blogging, emailing contacts, and staying up to date on social media. Far longer than twelve minutes. I’d have a hell of a lot more posts if it didn’t take time and thought to create a unique post. Don’t throw tomatoes at me, book bloggers.

And now, just because she’s super cute and you deserve to smile on Tuesday, here’s my friend’s dog Lady. We like to think Lady and Fisher are dating, but neither of them seem particularly fond of the other. Either way, she’s a doll. It’s always better to begin and end a post with cute dogs.

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The Hardest Part of the Writer Thing.

“They” say that the hardest part about being an author is actually getting the manuscript on paper. To type up a full length novel (in my case, approximately 108,500 words) that you spent hours (turned into days turned into weeks turned into 3 years later…) on is, in my opinion, no small feat. Even if I didn’t plan to try and publish my book, I still feel immensely proud of the hard work I’ve managed to achieve. As my best friend/editor put it, “You wrote a freaking book. That’s not exactly an easy goal.”

Each new person who learns I’ve written a book is always surprised, as though it’s rare to find writers in their circle of friends (perhaps it is; writers, I’ve found if like me, rarely leave their hobbit holes). Each person I’ve told is always really supportive, too. Not just family members, either, but coworkers and friends who, despite perhaps not being into my genre of writing, always volunteer to read it or buy a copy when it’s available for purchase.

For me, the hardest part so far hasn’t been the writing. It took me a while, but I achieved my goal of finishing my book. It was, while time-consuming and frustrating, a worthwhile experience that I hope to learn from as I continue writing other books. I already see ways to develop characters or ask myself questions or even just plain establish a better writing plan. (I bought Scrivener this weekend and I am in love with its planning processes.)

So here’s the thing–I’m no chicken. I’ve been nearly fearless for almost my whole life, my slightly safer and more logical side coming out as I get older. My confession? I am effing terrified to send my book out to people. Obviously, this isn’t going to hinder me, but you better believe there’s a lot of “oh my god’s” and clicking “send” while squeezing my eyes shut tight to prevent my turning back. Like, I’m a freak. I sent off a copy to my author friend Courtney and even after her very positive feedback with the first half, I still spent the weekend rereading my story, making sure I hadn’t missed something and that it made sense. I was so desperate to please her (I love her and her books!) and so scared to death that it sucked. And when I emailed a PDF copy to my coworker as a beta reader, I told her several times, “It’s just fluff; don’t take it seriously; it’s just…” and a handful of other excuses to explain why it might not be the book for her if she doesn’t like it. She’s a smart, well-read, close-to-being-English teacher, so the fact that she has a copy in her hands is slightly scary, because now it’s REAL.

I’m pretty lucky in life. I’ve worked hard, won some awards, and have been told on several occasions that I possess talent. Yet no matter how often I’m told this (and no, not just by my mom, you jerks), I still doubt myself to the brink of insanity. I’ve never felt my good is good enough, even when I have nothing left to give. Perhaps it’s some childhood problem my future therapist can define, but until then, I’m a big pile of nerves when putting myself out there.

And that’s exactly what it is, right? As authors, as lovers and creators of our own worlds and characters, by agreeing to publish (in whatever way), we’re choosing to put our beloved work out there and hope to a god that someone else might love our make-believe world as much as we do. I figure if even one person (not counting my mother, best friends, or husband) finds joy and escape in my story, then I’ve achieved something I didn’t know was possible. I’ve never wanted to write for money or fame–I just wanted to let someone connect, to believe in something too extraordinary to exist in real time, to escape their own realities for a while. I read to escape and I hope I can give someone a free (ok, $0.99) mental vacation, too.

I already fear the first poor review, the 1-star, angry reader who feels they’ve wasted time and money reading my creation. It scares me to death and I know I’ll probably cry the day I read the review. But no matter what, I’ll keep writing and putting things out there because my hope is that for every one annoyed reader, there are fifteen thrilled ones (or fifty, I’m not picky). I won’t let my fear rule me (cue some sort of uplifting rock music).

But I see some heavy drinking happening the first months of my book release.

Rejection Letters: Why Writers Shouldn’t Hate on Agents

I think I just got the World Record of rejection letters. No joke-I emailed an agent everything she required in her submissions guidelines: query + the first 5 double spaced pages. I even spelled her name right. As soon as I hit send, I got the generic “Thanks, we received your submission!” email. Fine, okay, cool. I put it in the appropriate folder and went on to my next thing. Literally, not even a full minute later, I got an email directly from the agent:

“Thank you for querying me.  Unfortunately I don’t feel I’m quite the right agent for your project. I’m regretfully going to pass.

Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors.  Due to the volume of queries and submissions I receive, I’m unable to provide a personal evaluation of your query and/or further explanation of my decision.

Good luck with your submissions.”

The thing is, it’s not the rejection that bothers me. I’ve gotten them before and I’m 110% sure I’ll get a bunch more in the next few months. But there’s no possible way she even read past the opening sentence of my manuscript. NO. WAY. She barely had time to read my entire (short) query.

Here’s my deal: if it seems like you didn’t read my query letter past my “Dear Agent’s Name” (and I know I got that part right), then yes, it is frustrating for me. At least make me feel like I had a 1% chance of you reading the story description! I’ve commended myself on not taking these rejections personally and I still don’t. I know agents aren’t passing my manuscript up because they don’t like me. They don’t know me. They get what they read on paper and make a split second decision. We as writers move onto the next query letter, fingers crossed and ever-hopeful.

I get it, I really do. I’ve worked in publishing, both in books (three years ago) and magazines (present job). Agents are busy people, with thousands of submissions coming in on a monthly or weekly basis. I know from experience that it’s a tough job. And boy, do writers hate on agents. The ones that have agents love them, but for those of us lost out in publishing space, it’s mostly filled with frustration. I can see both sides of the page as well as the giant brick wall that’s between agents and new writers.

However. As disappointing at that rejection email can be for writers, we need to remember that agents are people, too. They don’t hover on their keyboards just waiting to reject us. For whatever reason, they don’t think our writing works for them and that’s okay. I mean, think about it–JK FREAKING ROWLING got rejected. I’m willing to bet every buck in my bank account that the guys who rejected her are still kicking themselves so many years later. When we get the letter telling us it’s not right for them, that does not translate to “It’s not good enough.”  I think it would do all writers well to remind themselves of that from time to time. I once read somewhere that most agents really do want that next Harry Potter/Hunger Games/sparkly vampire novel. They want to be excited about a manuscript and to have a successful and in-demand client. But they can only do so much–it’s up to us to write the damn thing and get it in their hands.

The query letter is the quick and dirty way to explain your novel and why it fits for that agent. So as frustrated as I was to get that particular rejection, I had to take a deep breath, remind myself it’s not about me, and start working on the next query letter. If it didn’t work for her, she had a reason, even if it was because of my query letter instead of the plotline. It just means that I need to rework my letter to reflect the best manuscript possible. I guess my main point for all of us is not to take it personally. It’s not about the writer. It’s not even about the agent. It’s about your novel, the story you want to tell because you believe in it and know you’re the right person for the job.

Worse comes to worse…get the hell away from your computer and get yourself a milkshake. (To drink, not throw against an agent’s car door.)