The Guide to Being a Slow Writer

It’s time for me to confess: I am a slow writer.

I’ve tried to up my word count, to keep track of daily words, to do word sprints. I’ve tried getting up early; I’ve tried staying up later. I’ve tried finding my “peak writing time.” I’ve tried dozens of motivational methods, “productivity hacks,” and the like. But nothing has worked.

I am slow. Some days, I write 150 words. Some days, I don’t write at all. This is mostly due to time and energy. Working, taking care of two small children, and being pregnant with a third child all take their toll on my free time, physical stamina, and mental focus. This isn’t me grouching; it’s simply a fact of life and who I am. Maybe I have an iron deficiency, I dunno. But some days, I’m just not feeling it.

Some days, I can write closer to 2,000 words. When those days come, I’m grateful for them, but I have no idea how they happen or how to replicate them. In fact, I don’t think I’m supposed to replicate them.

Because I’ve come to learn that my creative process is not linear or predictable. Some might say that I need to get more disciplined, or that I need to treat writing like a job. Set the alarm for 5:00 a.m. and write those 1,000 words, dammit. But I already have a job; it’s a necessary evil. I don’t want my writing to become my job. Bradbury said, “Relax, don’t think, work.” Work is awesome; I love to work. I love to work on my blog posts, I love to work on my role-playing campaigns, I love to work on my lesson plans for teaching. Work — the kind that stimulates my heart and imagination — is fun.

But a job? A job is a drag, man. A job is stress. A job is plugging away at something simply because bills got to be paid and if they don’t, we’re living on the streets.

I don’t want writing to be a job; I do my writing to get away from my job.

What I’ve learned about myself over the past few months is that I need to let my imagination stew and ferment and congeal in order to be productive. What does it mean to stew, ferment, and congeal? It means I need to write in my “writer’s notebook” even if what I’m writing about has nothing to do with my Work In Progress (WIP). It means I need to listen to music that gives me goosebumps, or music that challenges me, or music that I’ve never heard before, or music I’ve heard twelve-dozen times. It means I need to spend a day writing a D&D adventure, or making up a character for my FATE campaign, or reading Conan stories. It means I need to go outside and play “Adventure” with my three-year-old instead of squirreling myself away from my family because “Mama needs to work.” It means watching Prisoner of Azkaban because it pumps me up, even though I could be using that time to write.

This isn’t procrastination. Procrastination is screwing around on twitter for three hours a day. Procrastination is not reading the latest SPFBO novel on my kindle, but reading a bunch of dumb political stories online instead. Procrastination is watching Antiques Roadshow all evening when I should really be noodling around in my writer’s notebook.

But listening to evocative music? That’s part of my writing process. Working on a side project? That’s part of my writing process. Doing something every day to stay in contact with my WIP, even if that means just rereading what I wrote yesterday? That’s part of my writing process. If that means it takes me several months to finish a draft instead of four weeks, then so be it. That’s several months of FUN instead of four weeks of hell.

And I’m not one of those writers who hates writing but likes “having written.” I LOVE when I’m actually writing; it’s like the greatest challenge and the biggest natural high all rolled into one. But I don’t love feeling like I have to do it, or that I’m a failure if I don’t do it everyday. I don’t love having a word quota. It looms over every word I write, that damn quota; it casts unforgivable, judgmental glares in my direction. It’s like having a boss leaning over my shoulder and tut-tutting every choice I make. No thanks! I’ll stick with undisciplined and happy, if that’s alright with the rest of you.

And I know there will be writers out there who will challenge this and say I’m just fooling myself. But when I try to set daily quotas, or I try to stick to a certain writing time, when I try to keep pace with other writers who release three or four books a year (or more!), I find myself mired in self-hatred, stagnation, and, ultimately, joyless writing. I don’t want writing to be joyless. I don’t want it to be a source of stress. And, well, maybe that means I won’t be a six-figure author (or even a five-figure one). And I’m okay with that. I don’t want writing to be “just a hobby,” but I’m not going to go against my nature just for the sake of a career.

I suppose this makes me a lousy entrepreneur. I’m okay with that.

I’m also okay with being a slow writer. In fact, I’m more than okay with it. I love it. Writing slow means writing with joy; it means making every moment of my day into a “working on my novel” moment. When I don’t have the obligation to write, I find my mind is more eager to engage with my story even when I’m doing other things.

Can’t manage to find the mental energy to write today? Totally fine. I managed to come up with a cool idea for my story while fixing lunch. Can only manage fifty words on my WIP? Awesome! Those are fifty words I didn’t have yesterday. Noodled around with that mega dungeon I’m stocking for my next RPG session? Excellent. It gave me a chance to be creative while stepping away from my WIP. Hearing a cool song pop up on my iPod (one I haven’t heard in ages)? Love it. That’s inspiration for the next scene I need to write.

When I make storytelling and creativity a seamless, integrated part of my life, I find that writing becomes easier, and that I have less pressure to switch from “writing time” to “other parts of my life” time. They all become the same thing. And by scaling back my goals, by keeping my deadlines modest, I become a happier, less stressed person.

Writing should be fun. And if that means being a slow writer, then I claim that title and wear it proudly.

I am a slow writer. And I love it.

The Golden Age of Geekdom

thI decided to set my series, Merlin’s Last Magic, in the 1980s because, for me, the 1980s were the “golden age” of fantasy-related stuff: Conan. Red Sonja. Labyrinth. The Dark Crystal. The Last Unicorn. The Neverending Story. Ladyhawke. Dragonslayer. Legend. The Dragonlance Chronicles. HeroQuest.

I grew up in the 80s, and because fantasy seemed to be everywhere during that decade, my imagination was fertilized by all of these movies, books, and board games. In writing Merlin’s Last Magic, I wanted to give a little nod to the decade that nurtured me.

But as I was preparing to write this post, I realized that perhaps the 1980s weren’t really the golden age. Or, if they were the golden age, then perhaps they’ve given birth to an even more exciting and fertile age for fantasy genre stuff: Right now.

I contend that perhaps it wasn’t the 80s at all that were THE decade for fantasy lovers; perhaps that time is now. Perhaps we are living in the true golden age at this very moment (the Platinum Age, perhaps). Just look around: fantasy and science fiction have never been more mainstream or popular, from HBO’s Game of Thrones to the Marvel movies to fantastic writers like Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Neil Gaiman (all of whom are being courted by Hollywood for big-budget adaptations of their work).

Being “Geek” is cool. Nerds no longer hide their obsessions but display them proudly. San Diego Comic-Con (not to mention the dozens of other conventions that have gained prominence in the last decade) has become Mecca not just for comics nerds and sci-fi geeks but for big-name celebrities and the mass media at large. When I was twelve, I tried to hide my love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-Earth; when I turned twenty, Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring was debuting in theaters, and suddenly, I didn’t have to hide anymore.

I think this new geek renaissance can be credited to both Jackson’s films and the Harry Potter phenomenon. Without either of these two creations, my fellows geeks and I would most likely still be part of a niche genre, something that the “wider world” looks down on with slight disdain. But because Jackson’s movies were incredible international hits, and because Harry Potter continues to be a straight-up juggernaut in the film and literature worlds, suddenly being “geeky” was cool. The media at large (and the people who consume it) are always gravitating towards what makes money, what sells. And starting with Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies, fantasy started to sell, and sell hard.

The success of the Game of Thrones TV show has cemented fantasy as a genre that adults can and should enjoy. Now we have TV shows like The Magicians, Vikings, and American Gods, (not to mention the Marvel and DC superhero shows), and no one is hiding their fandom for these SFF stories anymore. We are allowed to like (and even love) fantasy and science fiction in a way that was just not possible in the 1980s.

But we can’t dismiss the decade of my childhood. The golden age of geekdom that we are experiencing now is a direct result of the fantasy and sci-fi of the Reagan Decade. What do so many of today’s popular novelists, showrunners, and screenwriters have in common? We came of age in the 1980s (or at least, many of us did). We grew up soaking in the realms of Krynn and Fantasia and Thra. Our heroes were Conan and Molly Grue. We played endless hours of D&D and HeroQuest and Warhammer and turned all of those adventures into our first, fumbling stories and novels. Without the incubation of the 1980s, the golden age of today wouldn’t have happened.

For my own part, The Thirteen Treasures of Britain and the Merlin’s Last Magic series wouldn’t exist without the countless hours I spent reading Rosemary Suttcliffe’s Arthurian books, watching Excalibur when I was probably too young to be watching it, and playing Pendragon role-playing game (which, technically, I first discovered in 1990, but who’s counting). I learned to tell stories — and I learned to love telling stories — from playing MERP for summers on end. I fell in love with the realms of heroes by devouring books by Raymond E. Feist and Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis. I became lost in the kingdoms of Faerie by watching Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and  like they were on a never-ending loop.

The stories I write now are the children of the stories I wandered in during my childhood. We are in an incredibly fertile age for fantasy and science fiction. But we cannot discount the debt we owe to the 80s. The cheesy special effects, the cliche story lines, the underground and misfit-like nature of these movies and books are there for us to see, in the hindsight of 30+ years. But these things do not diminish the magic and sway these stories still hold over us. If the future looks bright for SFF, it’s only because our destinies were forged in the fires of the gloriously geeky 80s.

Paperback Writer

20170518_082308I am ridiculously excited about The Thirteen Treasures of Britain being available in paperback. Inordinately excited. Irrationally excited.

But holding it in my hands — feeling its heft and thumbing through its pages — makes being an author somehow more “real.”

Obviously, ebooks are real. I’ve read countless stories on my kindle, and they were all as absorbing and wonderfully mesmerizing as any physical book I’ve picked up.

But.

A real book. A tangible, physical, glossy-covered real book. It’s got me giddy.

I highly recommend you buy a copy (but then again, I am highly biased). I’ve set it at a reasonable price ($10.99). GO HERE if you’d like to pick it up.

Then when it comes, you can bask in its glossy glory.

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2017

Camp-2017-Participant-Profile-PhotoYsbaddaden and the Game of Chess (sequel to The Thirteen Treasures of Britain) is not making much progress. I had written about 7,000 words earlier this year, and then the Great Life-Altering News of 2017 happened: I found out I was pregnant. Again.

(Right. You see, I had a baby in October. THIS past October. 2016. So. Now we’re having “Irish twins,” a term I was unfamiliar with until the pregnancy test I took in January, and so here we are.)

Pregnancy, as it always does, makes me a grumpus in the first trimester, so I have not been inclined to work. (Okay, let me be honest: I slacked off. I got soft. I cherished the extra hours of sleep instead of being a highly disciplined word warrior who got her butt out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and got some serious writing done before the kids woke up. In my slight defense, I wasn’t getting much sleep since Mr. Baby [henceforth known as PJ] decided he wanted to start waking up every hour on the hour so we could put his pacifier back in.)

Anyway, Ysbaddaden suffered. The manuscript languished. I got lazier and lazier.

And that’s why I’ve decided to do Camp NaNo this month. I know I won’t finish the draft this month, but at least I’ll make some progress.

Because the beautiful thing about NaNo? Even if you don’t win — if you simply participate, if you write words you wouldn’t have written otherwise, if you get some inspiration, if you get re-energized and recharged, if you find a community of like-minded writers — then NaNoWriMo will be a success.

And what I need more than anything right now is some re-energizing. Let’s be honest: NaNo is simply fun. Camp NaNo even more so. The cabin assignments, the care packages, the slightly-kitschy camp-themed graphics and merchandise, the badges: it’s a place where writing ceases to be a solitary endeavor and instead becomes a communal celebration. NaNoWriMo is like one big writing party. And Mama needs a party right now.

For those who are doing Camp NaNo this month (or for those who are thinking of joining), my words of wisdom are these: Rediscover the fun of writing.

Camp is often a place for kids to rediscover nature and the spirit of camaraderie. For Camp NaNo participants, let’s rediscover what it’s like to be a kid. Let’s have adventures. Let’s tell stories around the campfire. Let’s create legendary moments that will live on in our hearts forever. Let’s delve into the depths of the lake, or search the wilds of the forest. Let’s eat lots of junk food and pull some pranks. Let’s sneak out at night and get into mischief. Most of all, let’s be wild and unfettered.

The Thirteen Treasures of Britain Is Now Live!

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THE THIRTEEN TREASURES OF BRITAIN_Kindle72dpi

The Things That Shaped Me: Lone Wolf RPG Adventure Books

IMG_20160418_171337_829I’m an incredibly nostalgic person.

It also seems I’m not alone, judging by the popularity of stuff like Stranger Things and Ready Player One.

In order to feed my ever-ravenous nostalgia, I’ve spent many an afternoon on eBay tracking down copies of the old tabletop role-playing games I used to own as a kid: MERP, the TMNT role-playing game, Pendragon.

I loved RPGs as a kid. Every time I went to Waldenbooks, I seemed to leave with another game tucked under my arm. But buying and reading a role-playing game is very different from actually playing one. I learned early on that RPGs only work when there are other people interested in playing them with you.

This became a problem for me. Occasionally, I could rope my brother or some of my cousins into a game. Other times, my brother and his friends down the street would play Battletech and I’d try to shoehorn my way in (unsuccessfully). Most of the time though, I just sat in my bedroom and re-read the rule books. I made up various adventures, characters, and campaigns that I never got to play.

Then, on a day I cannot remember with any clarity, I stumbled upon the Lone Wolf Adventure books. It must’ve been in a Waldenbooks, but honestly, I can’t remember.

IMG_20160418_171607_374The Lone Wolf books were perfect: Choose Your Own Adventure meets solo-RPGing.

Unlike a typical Choose Your Own Adventure, I got to make choices even before the page-flipping began. I could “create” my character: choose his skills, his items, his weapons.

Perhaps best of all, there was a method for combat. The Random Number table served the same function as the twenty-and-twelve-and-ten-sided dice of normal tabletop role-playing. It was far more interactive than a typical CYOA, and it was high fantasy with a dark, D&D-kinda feel. I felt very grown-up playing the Lone Wolf books; almost like I was a teenager. They helped satisfy my desire to play a “real” role-playing game. I still longed to find someone willing to play RuneQuest with me, but Lone Wolf was enough to keep me happy.

IMG_20160418_172037_031Unfortunately, in the pre-Internet age, it was hard to find many Lone Wolf books. I’m not sure I ever found more than two. Just as quickly as I had found them and loved them, I had met a dead-end.

Flash-forward to today: I had completely forgotten about the Lone Wolf books.

Then my husband came home from work carrying three rough-edged mass market paperbacks on top of his stack of paperwork. (Important note: my husband works for a charity that runs a bunch of resale stores.)

“Found these in one of the thrift stores today,” he said. “Thought you’d like them.”

I looked at the books. The dawning realization that I’d seen them before — somewhere in the distant reaches of my childhood — overwhelmed me.

“I know those books,” I said, awed.

They were the Lone Wolf Adventure books.

IMG_20160418_171112_623Then I laughed almost hysterically. It was like seeing a long-lost best friend while standing in line at the DMV.

Books 3, 14, and 17.

IMG_20160418_171826_890I started with Book 3. Every page was dripping with nostalgic memories: the map at the front, the “Action Chart,” the “Combat Results Table.” I resisted the urge to look up anything on the Internet about how to “win” the adventure. I wanted my experience to be fresh, untainted.

I started the adventure on a Saturday afternoon, and by Saturday evening I had fought with ice barbarians, survived the attack of a crystal frostwyrm, made my way through the underground depths of Kalte, and defeated the evil wizard Vonotar without once having to start over. I was stoked. I immediately went to Amazon.com and ordered Books 4 & 5.

Even though I had scoured the interwebs to find copies of the old RPGs I used to own, I still hadn’t been able to find anyone else to play them with me (the story of my life, alas). That’s the trouble with tabletop RPGs: they aren’t made for solos. But the Lone Wolf Adventure books are the antidote for the lonely RPG-enthusiast. They fed my need for role-playing as a kid, and now as an adult, they’ve nourished my ever-hungry nostalgia.

I’ve got Book 4, The Chasm of Doom all queued up, and frankly, I can’t wait.

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