Steal It Back

A Poem

I don’t write much poetry, but there are times when prose doesn’t do the trick.

I wrote this poem to help myself climb out of this pit of despair I’ve been feeling in the wake of Charlottesville and everything else. It seems to have worked its magic, because I’m feeling like myself again.

Four Lessons from Writers’ Police Academy

Whew! We’re back in Seattle. And while I’m already looking forward to our next adventure, there’s a certain sweetness to coming home. Before I get sucked back into my normal life, I wanted to pause and tell you all about the writers’ conference I attended this month: Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay Wisconsin.

I wanted to attend a writers’ conference this year, and the WPA looked like the  most fun. And it was! What I hadn’t anticipated was the way it changed my perspective about policing, human nature, and how to write novels. It was quite the experience.

It’s Launch Day for Orientation to Murder

In Paperback and eBook

I’m so pleased to announce that my second novel is out in the world!

Orientation to Murder is a lighthearted mystery novel about HR director-turned-private investigator, Kat Voyzey. You might say it’s a “cozy mystery” except that there’s some cussing, and it’s set in corporate America.

Here’s the synopsis:

As the HR Director for Holy Heart Medical Center in Seattle, Katherine Voyzey has her hands full. When the Bathroom Bandit strikes, she’s ready to do whatever it takes to catch them, even when her team questions her professionalism. But after an employee goes missing from new hire orientation and is found strangled on hospital property, Kat will face her biggest challenge yet.

As Kat practices her PI skills and navigates new relationships at work and at home, she’ll need to decide what matters most to her. All while hunting a criminal that seems far too close for comfort.

Paperback

You can order Orientation to Murder in paperback or Kindle format from the Amazon store.

It’s also available in eBook format from Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Tolino (ebook.de), and 24 Symbols.

Happy sleuthing!

The Voices of Self-Doubt

Let’s talk about courage, shall we?

I’m thinking about it because I need my courage right about now. I’m getting ready to publish my second book and that means the voices of self-doubt are whispering in my ear on a regular basis. They say: Give up this silly dream, girl. The best thing you can do right now is stop, before you embarrass yourself even further. Everyone knows your books are shit, they are just too nice to say it to your face. You know it too. You just don’t want to admit it.

View post on imgur.com

I hate self-doubt, not because it’s cruel, but because it’s damn persuasive. Self-doubt takes what I believe and twists it until it feels like despair. 

Things I believe: When it comes to writing fiction, I’m still a beginner. I have a lot to learn. Plenty of authors are better at this than me. My books are not yet as good as I want them to be.

Self doubt replies: Yes. Therefore you suck and you should quit.

I know self-doubt is wrong. But that doesn’t stop me from wincing when she talks.

What Courage Is

Thankfully I have some experience with being an enthusiastic beginner. I remember self-doubt trying to kick my ass when I started consulting. I kept telling myself I was too young, too inexperienced, and that no one would ever hire me because I was a fraud. I felt like a child playing dress-up in mommy’s shoes. It took a a good three years for my imposter syndrome to fade.

I kept going despite self-doubt. And perhaps that’s what courage is. Being stubborn enough to keep putting yourself out there when you are all awkward and beginnery. Being willing to trudge through all that uncertainty while having faith you’ll find your footing, given enough time and practice.

Courage has a voice too, I think. I want to be my best self, courage says. And the only way to get better is to keep on going, even when I’m scared. 

Ira Glass, the host of the podcast This American Life, put it this way:

Creator: Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

It’s Okay to be Afraid

I guess I wanted to say a few things with this post:

  • Putting something you made out into the world is scary.
  • Even though I love my second book, I’m nervous about sharing it.
  • People who seem confident on the outside are often quaking on the inside.
  • Being a beginner is hard.

Part of me thinks that I shouldn’t be writing this blog post. After all, if I am full of doubt, why should anyone else read my book? If I were a smart marketer I should be telling you how awesome my story is, and how it’s going to make you laugh so hard your buttocks fall right out of your pants.

But can’t both things be true?

  1. Yes, Orientation to Murder is tremendously fun. I’m proud of it!
  2. Yes, I am full of self-doubt. I’m constantly worried I’m not good enough, not talented enough, not skilled enough.

The voice of self-doubt was there when I published my first book. It’s still there as I get ready to publish my second. All I can do is choose to ignore it.

I hear you, self-doubt, but you’re not helping! Go eat a taco and leave me alone. I’ve got better things to do than put up with your nonsense.

Onward!

What Blogging Does For Me

When I made this blog I wasn’t thinking like a business person.

I was thinking about having fun. But as I’ve gotten more serious (whatever that means) about my writing I’ve been reading about what authors are supposed to do with their websites. And I really hate the advice I’ve been reading.

I don’t want to pick one or two narrow topics and stick with them. I’ll get bored.
I don’t want to create a recipe of the week blog. I don’t write cupcake mysteries.
I don’t want to do only book reviews, or only blog posts about my own books.
I don’t want to write posts full of SEO keywords or marketing bullshit.

Instead of worrying about what all the experts are saying I decided to think about the author blogs that I actually enjoy. They tend to be the ones where you’ve got a writer acting like an actual human being and not like a marketing robot. I’m talking about blogs like Whatever and WilWheaton.net and TerribleMinds. Also the LiveJournals run by George R.R. Martin and Seanan McGuire.

Most of the time these authors are writing about their lives. And when they aren’t writing about their lives they are talking about their passions. Books and movies and politics and creativity and a million other things. And I get the sense that most of us are blogging for the same reasons.

  • Daily or weekly writing is fun for us and a blog gives us a place to do it.
  • We like connecting with people (both friends and strangers) and a blog makes that possible.
  • As writers, writing is one of the ways we make sense of our lives and the world we live in. Writing = organized thinking.
  • We write because it’s what we feel compelled to do – we probably couldn’t stop even if we tried.  And all those words need to go somewhere, right?

Blogging as A Place to Take Risks

I blog for all those reasons and also because blogging pushes me outside my comfort zone. I’ve shared personal essays on this site that have left me feeling anxious because I worried that I shared too much and I was making a fool out of myself in a public forum. P asked me recently why I chose to put myself in such an uncomfortable position on purpose, and I had think really hard because I didn’t have a ready answer for him.

What I’ve figured out is that writing honestly and without concealment is a way for me to work on becoming the kind of writer I’d like to be. Writing about my insecurities and my family history has been a way for me to practice vulnerability and emotional courage. Whenever I write about “the hard stuff” what I’m really doing is bringing a wider range of emotions and experiences into my writing. That’s hard for me, yes, but it’s ultimately rewarding.

Taking risks in my writing.
Finding the courage to share a piece of writing when I fear being judged.
Writing about subjects that are emotionally difficult.
Exploring my personal history. (source material for any artist)

Blogging allows me to do all of these things.

Still a Playground

I’ve been thinking long and hard about whether or not I should change this blog in order to make it better. Or more professional at least. Should I listen to the advice of the experts and turn this blog into “an author platform” to “drive clicks” and “build my empire” or what-not?

Nah. I think I’d rather keep having fun. This blog is my little playground.

My intent moving forward is to continue to write about my life, my interests, and what I’m learning. If that makes me a bad marketer I can live with that. And to my readers I can promise you this: while the blog may be unfocused I will do my best to keep it interesting. Let’s swing from the monkey bars. Let’s have some fun, read some books, and talk about our lives.

Blog Status: Still a Playground.

Photo by DrPavloff (CC)

Photo by DrPavloff (Creative Commons)

Why We Need People with Disabilities in Fiction

Here are a few thoughts on the importance of including characters with disabilities in the stories we tell.

For the purpose of this blog post I’ll focus on television writing because those are the examples I have to work with. Do you know of a writer (fiction or screen) who is doing a good job portraying characters with disabilities? Leave a comment so I can check them out!

This blog post contains minor spoilers for recent episodes of Supernatural and Arrow.

Portrayals of Disability on Television

Recently Supernatural introduced a new character named Eileen. She is a hunter like the Winchester brothers and she crossed paths with them while hunting the monster that had killed her parents. She was brave, clever, a good fighter, and also deaf.

Eileen and Sam (undercover)

Eileen and Sam (undercover)

What I love about the episode is that Eileen’s deafness wasn’t a big deal in the story. This wasn’t a oh-isn’t-that-nice-a-deaf-chick episode. It was a monster-hunt episode with a nice set of twists and turns. Eileen was a bad-ass and she had a great sense of humor so I hope they bring her back.

In the show Arrow one of the main characters (Felicity) was in a car accident, leaving her permanently paralyzed from the waist down. And while there are plenty of “bad guys” this season we’ve also seen Felicity struggle to come to terms with her disability. We’ve seen her struggle to regain her confidence. And we’ve seen her respond to the well-intentioned but patronizing behavior of her board of directors. And yes, she is still fighting for the forces of light.

These two have had a rough year.

These two have had a rough year.

My point isn’t that “it’s nice” to include disabled characters on TV. These two stories are notable to me not because they are well done (although I think they are) but instead because they are rare. People with disabilities exist. They are real. So why don’t we see more of them in books, movies, and TV?

I believe it’s because our stories reflect what we admire and what we relate to. And for readers and writers without disabilities it may not not occur to us to admire that kickass person in a wheelchair or to relate to a character who is deaf. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Why We Need Characters Like Eileen and Felicity

I believe that we all win when our stories include characters with disabilities. Here’s why:

For those of us who don’t have a disability, it reminds us to step outside of our own perspective and see the world through someone else’s eyes. As we relate to that character and empathize with their struggles the emotional distance between “us” and “them” begins to melt away.

Do those feelings of connection persist and help us connect to the real people in our lives who have a disability? While I can’t prove it I suspect the answer is yes: storytelling fosters empathy.

And for someone with a disability I can only guess at the impact that these stories have. But I imagine that it must be satisfying to see people-like-yourself reflected in book and film. Especially if you feel invisible or less-valued.  And of course there’s a lot of pleasure in relating to a character who has had similar experiences to you.

To the writers of Supernatural and Arrow I say “keep it up!” It’s worth noting that both of these shows are part of the CW network. Not only have those stories entertained me, they’ve got me thinking about how I can become a better writer too. Pretty cool.

My Project Based Schedule for 2016

One of the things that being an OD consultant has taught me is that planning isn’t sufficient on its own.  There’s a world of difference between deciding to run a marathon and finding a way to lace up your shoes and do your daily mileage. The former is pretty easy. The latter can be really difficult.

So here’s the question I’ve been wrestling with: If I want to live a more balanced life where my writing and consulting and personal projects get equal weight, how on earth do I implement that?

Over the holidays I sat down and tried to identify what an ideal day would look like for a project-based chick like me. The end result was something like this:

Wake up well-rested between 8 and 9am.
Write until lunchtime.
Exercise mid-day
Work on consulting projects in the afternoon.
Run a few errands or take a walk before dinner.
Relax in the evening. (Books, Time with P, Netflix, etc)

After a few iterations (and a couple conversations with P) what I came up with this:

My Project Based Schedule

Project-Based-Schedule

I’ve set aside three “project blocks” each day. For the moment my three projects are writing, consulting, and a catch-all category I’m calling errands. The latter is for those odds-and-ends tasks that come up during the week, ranging from grocery shopping to letter writing and taking photographs for the blog.

And while I’ve assigned certain times to certain projects, I view this as more as a template than as a fixed schedule. For example, there will be a few days each month when I’m out all day with clients, so those days won’t follow this pattern. Outlier days are no biggie because afterwards I’ll return to my “ideal day” as a way of re-centering myself in the life I’d like to have.

The trick will be not allowing outlier days to become the norm, unless I want them to.

What I’ve Learned So Far

In my first two weeks with this schedule I’ve made some discoveries:

  1. My ambient stress level is lower when I sleep the hours my body wants to sleep.
  2. Morning is my prime writing time. I write best when I hit the keyboard within 6o minutes of waking.
  3. Exercise is excellent for “clearing my head” between projects.
  4. Checking email first thing in the morning totally murders my writing mood.
  5. I crave social interaction, but 2-3 times per week is sufficient to keep me happy.

It’s still early days and so I expect that my schedule will continue to evolve as my projects evolve. But for the moment it’s producing a kind of mellow productivity that feels really nice.

So far so good.

How Not to Revise a Manuscript

Manuscript revisions have been kicking my ass for the last two years.

Up until recently my editorial process went something like this:

  1. Write Book.
  2. Read Book.
  3. Realize it needs work.
  4. Go to page one and start re-writing from the first page.
  5. Lose track of where you were (because you get distracted, take a week or a month off, or can’t hold the whole story in your head).
  6. Go back to page one and start re-writing again.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for a couple years, feeling defeated.

insert the desperate gurgling sound of someone drowning in their own stupidity

I was making my manuscript slightly worse with each pass. The front section was getting over-edited and the things that actually needed fixed weren’t getting any attention.

What snapped me out of it was listening to the outstanding Writing Excuses podcast, particularly the recent episodes on revision.  They suggested printing the damn manuscript out so you can write down all the changes before you actually change things.  And they suggested looking at structure before you start fiddling with things like word choice. And I wanted to smack my head and say “Well Duh!” because it was so right and so obvious.

I talked to P about it and we agreed that that editing a book is a bit like editing a piece of software.  You can’t just change sentences (or lines of code for that matter) willy-nilly because there are cause-and-effect links with what happens later. You keep slicing up your book without a plan and you’ll end up with a big ball of nonsense.

Editing is going more smoothly this time. I printed the whole thing out, and I’ve been making a list of all the things that need to be changed, moved, or clarified.

The good news is that I really like the story and it’s going to be great when it’s done. Although I seem to have written the thing half out-of-order so I’m reshuffling a lot of the scenes.

Here are a few things that I’m keeping track of as I edit:

Story Chronology:
A list of the events in chronological order, by day and time.

Word Penalty Box:
When I use a word too much it goes in the penalty box so I can hunt it down later on.

List of things to Fix:
This is where I write down general stuff that needs to be fixed. With page numbers so I can go back and find what I was referring to.

My paper edits are nearly complete and it feels mighty fine. If it always felt this easy and this fun I’d be putting out two or three books a year.

IMG_1240

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Writing and Having a Career Part II

Last year I wrote about my inability write books and have a career at the same time. I figure it’s time for an update.

Reducing my work hours to make more space for writing has been a positive step. But doing so didn’t instantly make me prolific. If you put the last year on a timeline it would look something like this:

Endings (Oct14-Mar15): Finish the work that I had already committed to doing.
Middle (Apr15-July15): Decompress! I got lots of sleep but didn’t feel creative at all.
Beginnings (Aug15-now): Reconnect to my creativity by reading a lot and writing every day.

The good news is that I’m writing (almost) every day. But I’m not producing shareable work yet. I feel like a piano player practicing the scales or a marathon runner doing slow warm ups after recovering from a broken foot.

And while I’ve picked up my manuscript a half-dozen times I always end up putting it back down again. There’s a gap between the story I want to to write and my ability to do so. So I’ve backed off from “the book” to spend some time honing my skills.

Editing

It’s a big beautiful mess right now.

I feel guilty when people ask me about my next book because I feel accountable to finish it and it’s already been in the hopper for two years already. But I’d rather do it well than do it quickly. So I’m trying to be patient with myself.

Where I’m Struggling

It’s hard for me to shift between consulting-mode and writing-mode. I feel like I need to dedicate the entire day to either one or the other even though I don’t want to feel that way. Something as small as a couple emails or writing a consulting proposal can gunk up my creative flow and make it difficult for me to write at all that day. It’s damn frustrating.

It’s especially tough this time of year because I spend 3-4 days per week on the road consulting. I never really get into that state of creative flow.

As I flip back and forth between writing and facilitating I feel like I’m driving a car that is breaking down every couple blocks. And it’s tiring to constantly jump the thing when all I want to do is keep rolling.

I need a rhythm and I haven’t found it yet.

What’s Working Well

Reading (almost) a book per week has been great. It’s loosening me up creatively. And I’m gaining a better appreciation for what does and does not work in a story.

Journaling daily has also been productive. It’s helping me develop the habit of writing less self-consciously and turning off my inner editor. In the past I’ve mostly written for public consumption (blogs, articles, books) and having a place to write with no one watching is important.

And lastly I’ve purchased a few intelligent books on the craft of writing and I’m slowly making my way through the exercises. The best texts I’ve found so far are The Writer’s Portable Mentor and Steering the Craft. They dispense with the pep-talks that most books on writing seem to specialize in and instead focus on technique.

My Hopes for the Future

My dreams haven’t changed too much over the last year although I think I’ve gotten more realistic about what it’s going to take to get there.

My first book was a way to to prove to myself that I could finish a mystery novel and find the courage to share it with other people. But  I think the bar needs to be higher. My first book was good, especially for a first novel. I want my future books to be good, period.

Kat Voyzey has two more stories to tell and then there are a couple other characters waiting impatiently for me to write their books too.  I can sense them in the back of my brain, lined up like customers at the DMV, waiting for me to get my shit together and call out their number.

Hang in there, I’m saying to them.  I’m on my way.