How Do You Balance Your Time? My Half An Answer

I love my job. And I’m not even saying that because you might think I’m lying if I jumped right in like that, but because I really do love my job. I’ve been there just under a year and have lucked out to already feel like such an important piece of the business. I’m pulling my weight, working my best, and can do my part to really use my skills. I’m constantly in work mode, keeping up with everything I can use for Facebook. My college degree helped me get here. I help write (about and for), market, photo, cook, and other fun things to keep it interesting, for the office, its publications and their social media presence. My coworkers are awesome. It’s not just a job. It’s a career and it’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. It’s a dream job.

I also love to write. I write eventually discarded short stories, forgotten and rediscovered novels, and nightmares I didn’t even know I had. I don’t want it to be another three years before the next book- I’m thinking less than one year. I know it drives my husband crazy when I don’t listen to him because I’ve wandered off into a new scene. It’s an escape and a way to constantly use my imagination. Books and magazines have been a staple in my entire life, and went full speed when I became a reporter and then editor-in-chief of my middle school newspaper in the seventh grade. I’m self-published and have been published several times in my life now, typically by local media. I know readers enjoy my work and how I want to pursue the rest of my time. Writing is something I’ve done my whole life. It’s a dream job.

So as you can see, I have two things that are very important to me. I can schedule some things for work stuff ahead of time, but I usually update it 7 days a week and often like to stay connected for any local updates. I can’t express how serious I am when I say I think about my job a lot – sometimes I can’t shut it off. It keeps me awake at night pondering solutions to questions that will probably never be asked. And then I get started with an idea or plot veer that I disappear into my computer. It’s not a bad problem to have, but between that and the characters yelling at me every day, how do I want to balance them out? In addition to spending time with my husband, friends and family, plus things like errands and downtime?

I only have half an answer for you. My schedule is predictable. I work, I usually stay in, we sometimes go out to dinner or drinks, and I like lazy Sundays. Sometimes, I do have the time to both decompress for a couple hours and then go write for the rest of the night in the back room. And even though my laziness loves to kick in, when I get started on a chapter, it’s hard to tear me away. If you do, it’s like I’ve just woken up from a dream and am still trying to remember all the pieces, so I only pay half attention.

The reason I say half an answer is because I know so many of you indie authors out there who are probably rolling their eyes at me, because they’re doing all these things, plus raising children and living far busier lives than me. (Since that’s not going to be me, I know I’ll eventually feel bad when I’m in my 30s without kids and complaining about no time. My married mom friends will punch me because I get a little quiet time. At least, that’s what my friend told me.) But that’s the thing – I feel like a lazy jerk sometimes because I don’t write fast enough. I let life get in the way, especially when it’s convenient.

And really, that’s my question. How do you balance it out? If reality were like my world in Gifted, my friend Courtney Cole would have to be either a Runner or a Doubler, because she is everywhere at once! She’s got her busy family AND she cranks out a book every few months, which is amazing to me! I can’t get over how fast she produces well-written, great novels that are all so different from one another. (I have to practically immerse myself in the characters before a story can really get going and sometimes that takes a while. That might be weird, I don’t know.) I really look up to her and wish I could write that fast (and well) but it might even just plain take me longer.

How do I write faster? How often do I yell at myself to get up and write before I make myself cry? And now that I’ve gotten this important, great job that now consumes most of my brainpower, can I find time to write? How do you stay sane, alone in your head, and relax long enough to get immersed in a book or another hobby? How do you find the time between kids (especially in the summer), jobs, weddings and other things?

Writers…share your secrets with me.

…please?

Why Pinterest is My New Favorite Writing Tool

I first began using Pinterest as a civilian. Beautiful photos full of pretty clothes, scrumptious food, hot boys, and funny nerd things filled my boards and I’m almost convinced I tried to pin things in my sleep. When Pinterest first exploded onto the social networking scene, it was easy to see it as a fun tool to become inspired as the Next Great Chef, City’s Best Dresser, or just burn up hours in a dull work day (kidding…sorta). It was all about images and looking at different things from around the Internet, but then I took a step back to realize Pinterest could be an amazing tool for writers.pinscreen

It’s impossible not to absolutely RUN with this idea of Pinterest as a writer’s marketing and inspiration help–sure, I can post book covers for current or favorite reads (my board there has been a little neglected lately), but what about using Pinterest for character and setting inspiration? Pinterest is the perfect tool for a writer–we can collect images we love, like city settings or character clothing. We can even upload our own photos if it helps with the process. For example, in my Super Nova title, Arcania City is almost a background character, based off my own downtown city.

This building in Roanoke is my setting inspiration for where Nova’s father works as Arcania City DA

Last week I took photos and then uploaded them to keep everything in one place. I’m still surprised by how useful it is to glance at a board and get a better idea of how to describe that Gothic structure or how a back alley connects to a main road, in turn helping a villain get away.

Another obvious way to use Pinterest as a writer is how we write our characters. I love collecting images of actors and models who, to me, resemble my characters. They might have a different hair color/style or be missing that beauty mark you love on your heroine, but you can get a general idea of what your characters look like when you compile images.

Pretty to look at AND useful for character descriptions.

Finding pretty people who could play my characters is always fun and gives me much better ideas of how to write a particular trait (that constant 5 o’clock shadow on your hero’s jaw or that just-right-shade of strawberry blonde hair) – I know I use Jensen Ackles a lot as my beautiful bad boy inspiration, but when I see him in certain photos, I remember to add that mischievous twinkle in my hero’s green eyes when he smiles or that his hair is constantly disheveled because he’s always running his hand through his hair out of habit.

Then there’s the general inspiration you can add to a particular board. My board for Gifted, for example, has character suggestions, but it also holds many images with circus decor. And I don’t just mean a tent and a game booth, but beautiful images of girls swallowing swords, ringmasters in full regale, and lit-up Ferris wheels. It’s full of magical images to remind me that I should always include sword-swallowers in the circus, that acrobats are always covered in a dusting of glitter, and of course, fire images that remind me of Lucy the Firestarter and how it should be described when she’s playing with fire in her hands.

Lastly, and I’ve briefly mentioned this already, but by uploading your own photos, Pinterest can help a writer with their marketing plan. Because so many people are already on Pinterest, by seeing your boards, they can get a better idea of how you see your story and really “see” what you’re writing. You can also upload your own team badges (like my Keegan and Gabriel ones), show off your book cover, or fun little things your fans might do for you in their devotion to the story.

And in case you want to check out my Pinterest boards (to see examples of how I use it for inspiration), here are the links:

Gifted, A Donovan Circus Novel

Witch Hearts, TBR Spring 2013

Super Nova

Pretty Boys (this one is just for fun, but I promise it’ll end up being your favorite board of them all. Seriously, please go look. And have a napkin ready for the drool that will hit your keyboard.)

How else can writers use Pinterest? Do you have a Pinterest filled with boards for your writing or other inspiration? Let’s be friends! Follow me on Pinterest!

When Your Awesome Writer’s Brain Won’t Stop – Idea Overload

Sometimes writers have the complete opposite problem of writer’s block. As in, their brains won’t shut down and starts churning out all these good ideas that you want to follow through on and can’t because there are only so many hours in a week (I like my sleep, people).

For example, I’m still working on my superhero novel (Story 1). I still have a ways to go on that, unfortunately, but as I drifted off to sleep the other night, an idea popped into my head for a twist on a ghost and witch story (Story 2). When I started gathering ideas for that, I went back into an old novel I’d started a year or so back (Story 3). When I actually started reading what I had, however, I actually liked the story I’d been building (sort of a witchy murder mystery thriller) and decided that I didn’t want to fold that into Story 2. Oh–and I’m still getting hit with various ideas when I want to start working on the second book in the Gifted series! How does one prevent their brain from exploding again?!

So. Now I have 3 story ideas that I love and want to build on. This is where I need to be careful–writers tend to get overwhelmed when inspired because our brains are moving so fast on character development, plot twists, particular scenes or phrases, and the like. For example, I learned that I must really love the name Penelope–because I’ve got a character in Story 3 named Penny and a character in Story 2 named Penelope! So now I need to change one of the names, which means I may need to change other things in the story if I’ve built something around that name or its meaning. I need to make my stories discernibly different from one another to prevent reader confusion (or aggravation) and especially to keep everyone from assuming I work on some kind of formula (because I definitely don’t).

I also know that I shouldn’t be writing them all at the same time. There lies my problem–when hit with inspiration, I want to write down everything I can to save myself time and of course get it all out on paper for later referencing. But next thing you know, it’s a month later and you’ve worked on Story 2 so long that Story 1 feels neglected and sad and now you have TWO half-assed manuscripts instead of one full one. It’s especially bad when I feel stuck in another story with the plot–I move on to something I CAN write out and next thing you know, you haven’t touched the first story in months. Considering I’ve been telling everyone my next story is this Super Nova title, maybe I need to get control of the story situation and focus on one thing at a time.

I still don’t want to forget what I’ve come up with for the next title, though. So what do you do? I immediately write everything I think is pertinent. But then I set it aside and go back to finish the first story. I have to force myself to do it sometimes, especially when I’m inspired for another piece, but I know I don’t want to end up with 3 half-finished manuscripts – only to come up with ANOTHER story idea I want to work on, sidetracking me even more. It’s a vicious cycle, no? It’s about your focus–setting aside time to really concentrate on one idea at a time, putting your entire everything into it before moving on to the Next Great Project.

Some of it, of course, might not pan out, despite your thinking right now that it’s the greatest storyline ever thought up. And we have to keep in mind that there might already be several books out with similar plots or worlds, which means you may have to scrap it for fear of copycat syndrome (or you can call it your “fan fiction” and make a million dollars. I hear it’s been known to happen). In the end, that’s what I’d call quality–you can churn out 100 ideas, but sometimes there’s only going to be one great idea that sticks. One sounds like a fabulous book now might fall apart later–yet another reason to work one one thing at a time to make sure you’re producing the best work you can, as well as keeping an eye on the market to prevent oversaturation of your genre.

What do you do when too many good ideas hit you at once? How do you separate them from one another? And if you need more help with this, Writer’s Digest has a great article to consider our “Too Many Great Ideas” problem.

When Your Setting Takes On a Life of Its Own

Settings are arguably one of the most important factors in a story. Sure, you need well-developed characters and a decent plot, but characters need a place to hang out, stand, sleep, [insert other verbs here]. When I sit down to write, things come to me at random intervals, but I always try to establish some sort of setting first, otherwise it’s hard for me to picture what my characters are doing or how they’re reacting to things.

Gifted, as 100% of other books, was only a kernel of an idea when I decided to make it a novel. Then the circus came to town and took over my mind. It was the first thing I truly knew about my story besides the fact that Lucy was something I called a Firestarter. I knew when Lucy walked on the grounds, I’d need to at least set up the usual idea of a circus:

Donovan Circus was more than a handful of tents; it also had game booths, a few small rides like the pastel carousel, and a large, bright Ferris wheel. The lot wasn’t completely set up yet, but already I could see several people prep the grounds. Only circus vehicles like loading trucks and clown cars were allowed on the actual grounds. I found the employees’ makeshift parking lot maybe a quarter of a mile from the tents and parked. On a mostly gravel dirt lot, it sat close to a small wooded area.

The grounds were maze-like and I passed the same game booth at least twice. The tents were red, white, or black, and all made from the same heavy canvas material to prevent weather damage.

The circus itself was a character–the acts, the noises, the way people interact within the grounds. Because my setting for about 80% of the book is on the grounds, I wanted to dress it up, make sure there was magic to see whenever Lucy discovered a new character or detail on the grounds. I couldn’t have the Gifted Donovan Circus get boring! The key to my circus setting was to make everything a little unique to prevent the “typical” circus–the fat lady turns into a lithe ballerina, the guy swallowing swords actually eats metal for breakfast, certain animals can talk to certain people. I had only intended the circus to be the rallying point–the area where Lucy meets her new friends and how Gifted hide within the human world. It came so easy to me–why, of course a bunch of magical beings would hide in a circus. At night, they perform for humans, tricking them into thinking the magic they’re seeing is real–and it IS, but they don’t know that!

We followed the already worn walkway around a corner, where a sea of activity blinded me. Whereas the campers were quiet, the actual circus grounds thrived with members preparing for the day. My senses hit overdrive—colors, smells, and sounds assaulted me. Costumes covered in sequins and feathers were traded off between artists; my nose detected popcorn machines, sawdust with hay, and sweat, both human and animal. And the sounds! It was so loud between the people yelling, animals’ screeches, and equipment in use to set up stands and booths. I would have to shout at Delia to be heard.

The most important notion to get across was that everyone could be exactly who they are. By day, they are able to be themselves around each other, show off their talents and not worry about getting caught by unknowing humans. Donovan Circus is about 80% gifted, but even the 20% of humans there are used to the chaos that goes on inside the grounds.

I suddenly became very aware of why Sheffield and Delia warned me against being surprised. People made no secret of their gifts in safe company. I saw another Runner dart in and out of the crowd while Levitators floated seamlessly between the bodies. Birds flew all over, carried messages or small objects such as tools or costume props. The air filled with sounds of conversation, animals protested their displeasure of cages, and men barked orders on the best way to get tents up fast. My heart jumped when I saw two other male Firestarters walking together. One was dressed in half a clown costume. The other one flicked a lighter and began to juggle fireballs with the clown; they walked simultaneously as they tossed them back and forth to one another, gradually creating greater space between them. Walking five feet apart, they continued juggling and while most troupe members simply walked around them and rolled their eyes, a few walked through, seemingly oblivious to the fire whizzing past their heads.

Despite the fact that the circus plays a major role as a setting, it isn’t the main part of the story and I hoped people wouldn’t be disappointed if they didn’t read about the performances. Since Lucy is actually part of the staff, she sees behind the scenes of her circus. I wanted the focus to be on Lucy and her progress and because she isn’t on the main stage, we don’t see what the audience would see. We do see the ring a handful of times and I know readers get the general idea of how it should look, but it doesn’t detract from Lucy’s point of view, either.

So what was tough about writing a circus? A lot more than you’d think! Most of us have been to the circus at some point in our lives and I know I’m not the only one to visualize the red and white striped tents, the wandering clowns, petting zoo, or game booths. Research was important so I could nail the basic stuff down, such as how they set up their camping grounds or where they eat meals together. I watched the PBS documentary “Circus” about the Big Apple Circus and got an idea of what needed to happen–then I spun it to work to my Donovan Circus.

And then there was the fact I had to somehow convince tons of people to read the book–I found lots of people who are totally freaked out by clowns! (Don’t blame you guys. I will never see “It” for fear I’d never write another circus setting.)

What are some of your favorite settings? (Should I even bother saying “besides Hogwarts”?) What’s important to see in a setting to establish a strong storyline?