A Better Answer to: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
Last week I attended SFWA’s Nebula Conference and got to meet our 2018 Grandmaster, Peter S. Beagle. I legit teared up when we talked and he signed my battered old copy I received forever and a day ago. I felt like a teenager again and all those feelings that led into my early love of fantasy rose up and swamped me.
The conference in 2019 will be at the Marriott Warner Center in Los Angeles. I highly recommend it! It’s become my absolute favorite gathering of SFF writers and industry professionals.
Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is “Where do you get your ideas – the least popular question ever.” Come on over for three avenues I rely on for ideas.
Screwing Up in that First Book
I’m always terribly amused by these signs. Apparently in flat, desert landscapes like we have in New Mexico, one must beware of sudden lakes.
A big mistake, to be cruising along and not realize the road ends in a cliff dive into water.
That segues pretty naturally into this week’s topic at the SFF Seven: “Looking Back: Your first book’s (published or not) most cringe-worthy gaffe.” Come on over to find out about mine…
Leaving the Day Job
This is a pic of my Cadmus and EPA colleagues in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2011, the same week my first Carina Press book, SAPPHIRE, released. Environmental consulting for The Cadmus Group has been my day job/primary career for 18 years, as of October 1.
Today was my last day.
Talk about a huge life change for me!
I originally took this job for what I thought would be a year or two until I could support myself as a writer. Guess THAT took a little longer than expected, huh? Eighteen years later, I’m finally taking the leap into writing full time.
However, I want to be honest with you all, because it greatly bothers me when writers represent themselves as “being a full time writer” without disclosing other sources of income. It’s a badge of honor in the writing world, to say one writes full time, as so few writers are able to make a living wage at it. Many “full time writers” are people who’ve retired and are able to live on their pensions, or those who have a salaried and benefitted spouse to take up the income slack. I feel it creates an unfair expectation in aspiring writers when people claim the badge of honor without admitting to those other income streams that allow them to pay the bills.
So, my reality is that I’ve been laid off. I’ve known about the possibility for a long time. The major project I worked on, my niche expertise in drinking water that took me to Puerto Rico, was axed right after that trip. Since then I’ve been scraping for work. Environmental consulting works much like law does – if you don’t have billable hours, you are SOL. I’ve been working on a whole variety of projects over the last few years, but nothing consistent. EPA’s priorities have shifted with money going to different and fewer projects.
Though I was originally hired in an office in Wyoming, I’ve worked from home since 2004, when Cadmus closed that office because the principal there was finally laid off for lack of billable hours. That’s been a great gig for me, as it allowed us to move to Santa Fe so my husband, David, could go back to school after early retirement and have a second career as a doctor of oriental medicine. It also allowed me a flexible schedule to write.
Over a year ago I went to full-time hourly at the company, due to lack of work. As long as I averaged 24 hours per week, I could retain my benefits. If I fell below this for more than two months in a row, then I would lose those benefits. Some months I had more work, some months less. But overall, my day job income has decreased dramatically. This hasn’t been easy as David is still building his practice (he’s about three years in) and his income varies also. Because he took early retirement, his stipend is pretty meager. For the last six years, I’ve been the primary wage earner.
After a very lean August and September at Cadmus, it came as no surprise when I got a call from one of my higher-ups. She said that I could be laid off with a severance package or go to part time hourly, with no benefits.
All these years, with the writing income gradually increasing, I’d always thought there would come a day when the writing money exceeded the day job money and I would give my notice. It never once occurred to me that I could be laid off with severance.
(A big part of me figured I’d be fired for screwing something up, frankly. I managed multi-million dollar contracts and there were so many ways to do something wrong.)
Reader, I jumped at my chance to be free.
It’s been a great experience, in all truth, with people referring to my “sterling record” and the desire to “keep me close as a valued alum.” I may subcontract back in the future if they need my niche expertise again. Because it’s a no-fault layoff, I get the severance money, plus I can cash in my stock options and also file for unemployment. A number of very smart people have advised me not to be too proud to take that last. David has had health insurance via COBRA from his retirement and I can insure both of us through the Affordable Care Act (SO glad we can do this now!) for less than the extortionate sum he’s been paying.
I’m hoping I can pull this off. If it doesn’t work, I can always look for another day job. But I’m tremendously hopeful. I’m going to try to write 5K/day, which will allow me to get some more things in the pipeline. I’m greatly looking forward to having one career and the increased mental energy of focusing on one pursuit. I’m planning to read more books, too. Maybe get some projects finished around the house.
Mostly, I feel joyfully free!
Fifteen Minutes of Fame, Etc.
This is the full moon rising over Buffalo, Wyoming – seen from our hotel room. Not fabulous resolution, but decent for taken through the window with my phone.
Since it’s release week for Platinum, I’m in a few places today. There’s a post up at Harlequin on my Top Ten Reasons to Love a Dom Hero. I’m also at the Carina blog, talking about the fun research I did for this book.
If you don’t feel like you already know everything you could possibly want to know about me already, stop on by!
Also, just to be a little braggity, I have to show you all this. Yesterday, Platinum was #1 on Carina and Sapphire was #5. There’s MY 15 minutes!!
How Not to Be Distracted by Distractions
I got my trophy in the mail the other day for Sapphire’s win in the OKRWA International Digital Awards. It’s very pretty. I may or may not sit and gaze at it from time to time. Especially during day job conference calls.
My big boss, head of our 60-some person team, Chi Ho really hates it if we’re not paying attention to conference calls. For people in the office, he makes them come to the conference room for big meetings, instead of phoning in from their desks, as many would prefer. Chi Ho says that there’s no such thing as multitasking, that if you think you are, you’re really not paying attention to any of the several things you’re doing. I think he does have a point.
Yesterday I was talking on the phone with a gal junior to me who’s doing a whole bunch of work on my projects. She’s very sharp, organized and I trust her with a lot. We were doing long-term strategizing about finishing out projects for the rest of the year. As we were talking, an email from Chi Ho popped up on my screen and I scanned it – then realized this gal had asked me a question. I rewound the tape in my head, but no, I didn’t have it. I had to confess that I’d been reading Chi Ho’s email and had stopped listening and what was her question again? She started laughing and said “caught you multitasking!”
I’ve been reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, which was a gift from the lovely Laura Bickle. It’s a very interesting take on creative and leading an artistic life, because Twyla comes at it from such a different perspective. As a dancer and choreographer, her creative process is in some ways the polar opposite of a writer’s. She is physical where we are sedentary, working with large groups compared to our solitary dreaming. But the differences point up the similarities in how we create and nourish new ideas. I’ve been highlighting a lot and this one struck me:
The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently. You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently. You’re compromising your virtuosity. In the words of T.S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”
It’s a challenge to cut out multitasking because we all get a frisson of satisfaction from being able to keep several balls in the air at once. But one week without multitasking is worth it; the increased focus and awareness are their rewards.
That’s Twyla’s idea – that cutting out all distractions for a week improves creativity. She’s pretty draconian about it, saying that when she’s working up a new dance, she cuts out all input for a week before – email, TV, music, newspapers, everything. This is where I see a big difference in being a writer. I suppose there was a time when a writer prepared to Write The Next Book and would do this creative preparation. However, these days, I think most of us are writing pretty much all the time. I know I have to. I finish one project and move on to the next. So, while seductive*, it’s not practical for me to create this well of silence around my creative process.
*And it’s totally seductive to me. I have this idea that I would love to be a cloistered nun and take a vow of silence. Except that I’m not religious and I really like sex and other hedonistic activities. But still.
Instead, I think this silence can be created on a temporary and daily basis through dint of habit. My ritual now is turning on Freedom for two hours. (Those keeping track at home will notice that I upped the time. Deadlines – they be looming.) This silences the internet. I turn off the phone. The more I make myself sit with no other stimulation and simply focus on the story, the more it flows.
And for the day job? When I talk on the phone, I turn my back to the computer screen.
Five Tips for Writing Short
I’m over at Word Whores today, giving advice on writing short. No short jokes, please, Kev! :-p
Ruby Will Be Coming Your Way!
I’m thrilled to announce that last night I received a contract offer for Ruby from the fabulous folks at Carina Press! Ruby will be the third book in the Facets of Passion series, following Sapphire (10/24/11) and Platinum (2/25/13). Ruby should be out sometime in the fall of 2013.
This is a milestone for me, because it’s the first time I’ve sold a book I haven’t written yet. Fabulous Editor Deb asked me for a partial and synopsis on a book 3 after we finished work on Platinum. And they liked it!
I feel so grown up now.
Plus? I have a deadline. At least I got to pick it myself. (Yes – I totally used my spreadsheets to plan. Shut up.)
Happy Thursday, everyone!
How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love Rejections
I’m over at Word Whores today, talking about the best rejections I’ve ever received.
Focusing a Murky Story
I really wanted to capture how these 4 o’clocks glow in the evening light – their luminosity – but then the focus isn’t crisp. It makes me wonder if it’s always a trade-off between the two.
I’ve been working up the third story in the newly christened Facets of Passion series, which started with Sapphire (last October), continues with Platinum (out in February) and will culminate with Ruby. Normally I wouldn’t have started on this third novella yet, keeping to my established rotation. (And because I need to work on RP2 for all of you bugging me for it!) But Editor Deb asked me to work up a polished partial and a synopsis for her, with an eye to bundling the three books. Very exciting! This is something you only get to do after you’ve proven yourself to your editor and your press.
She’s so funny, because she asked how long it would take me to do that and I said, it depends on the amount of partialness she’s looking for – and I assured her that is, indeed, a word. She told me she told me she needed 20-30 pages of extra sparkly partialness. I love her.
So, at any rate, I’ve been working up Ruby. Even though each story involves different characters, and different emotional arcs, they are intertwined for me, thematically. Ruby is a kind of culmination of the three. (Though I do have an idea for Book 4.) I know this is part of me being a character-driven writer, who doesn’t really plot ahead, but some stories just feel “murkier” than others. The characters in Ruby are more complex people in many ways, with layers of “psychological candy,” as CP Carolyn Crane just put it.
It took me longer than it should have, to work up these sparkly pages – maybe because I felt more pressure, knowing I couldn’t just spin along with the story to see what happened. I reworked the opening several times. The whole thing felt a little formless still. Out of focus But I sent it to the CPs for feedback, cringing, waiting for them to ask me WTF I’m doing.
And they say it’s working!!
Funny how, as a writers, sometimes you just can’t tell.
But Carolyn just told me she thought this is a super strong book shaping up. Which is so good to know. Laura said “very complex and fun stuff!” Marcella just wants more. This all reassured me that the luminosity is there, shining through – and the comments they gave me are helping me to focus it.
Maybe I *can* have both.