We’re flying to Key West tomorrow for a wedding, and the impending switch to East Coast time has given me the kick in the pants I needed to start waking up earlier. Like early-early. Like, five fucking thirty in the morning.
Ye Gads. I feel tired! :)
Waking up early will be a good thing, as my sleep-wake schedule has gotten funky. I’ve been getting up at ten, and staying up till two, which isn’t inherently bad except that I’m completely unproductive on that schedule. I may be a night-owl by genetics, but that schedule doesn’t help me write, exercise, or lift my tubby butt off the couch. So now I’m entranced with the shiny concept of waking up at 5, writing for a few hours, and then starting my day with that work behind me.
In theory, it sounds great. In practice, here on day two of waking up earlier, I’m sitting at my desk with my chin dipping down into my coffee cup, feeling like my head is stuffed full of cotton wool. But I’m a believer in baby steps. Yesterday I got up at six thirty, today it was five thirty, and I made it over to my desk and sat down. Because I felt too woolly-headed to write, I did some business tasks instead.
- Updated Goodreads with my new blog feed.
- Updated my author bio page with better contact links.
- Connected my personal blog to my author website.
- Updated my bookbub profile.
- Added an email subscription option to my personal blog.
I may be tired, but I can handle website updates with half a brain. I’m switching from a stuffy author blog to my more free-flowing personal blog, and I needed to connect up the new weblinks to the correct places. And now my head is only feeling half-woolly. So that’s progress!
Or possibly it’s the coffee finally kicking in.
Today: February 12, 2019
- Wrote and sent out author newsletter.
- Morning journaling
- Coffee (1 of… 3?)
Remaining Tasks for the Week
- Add at least 5000 words to Power Play (By Friday)
- Get feedback on the scramble-scene from Writers Group
- (Still) Schedule Freebooksy promo.
- Verify Bookbub author profile is updated
- Book accommodations in Kyoto
- Networking with SP (consulting)
- Look up Hemingway House info for Florida Trip
- Start learning “courtesy japanese” for our trip. (Please, thank you, how much, where, GODZILLA! RUN!)
Bah. Putting my newsletter together took way too much time. I don’t mind marketing, only the time it takes. I wish I had Hermione’s time-turner.
Waiting for Snow
We’re expecting a big snowstorm in Seattle, so I interrupted my writing day yesterday to do a Costco run. We’re snug inside our tiny condo today, the fire is on, and the show is due to start within the next few hours.
In typical Seattle style, I expect the populace to be pissed if it’s anything less than a snowpocalypse. We’re weird that way. Give us a chance to prepare for a storm, and we’ll get angry it if doesn’t arrive. HOW DARE YOU WARN ME I MIGHT NEED EXTRA FOOD we will shout over our steaming fair-trade lattes.
I blew off some steam this morning by enthusiastically dragging Spotify for trying to take over the podcasting industry. I love a good business rant! It really clears out the pipes, like meditation, only with more cussing.
Today I’ll draft three scenes, have a phone call with my writer friend D from St. Louis, and stare out the window a lot.
My brain: Let’s write! We’re already behind schedule.
My heart: snow, snow, snow, snow.
Today: February 6, 2019
It’s Wednesday already, and my “writing week” is just getting started. Monday was spent having too much fun with my blog, and yesterday I was up north attending to my consulting practice.
My author copies of The Assistant with the new paperback cover just arrived, and they’re very attractive and thriller-y! Patrick spent much of our train ride yesterday updating the paperback interior to give our (new) cover artist credit for her work and to fix a couple typos I found. The PDF needs a lot of post-processing to make it work with the printers, so even small changes to the file can become a hassle.
Such is the nature of self-publishing! And I’m grateful to have a partner who is detail-oriented and tech savvy. The fact that I’m married to him and he’s as sexy as hell is just a bonus. ;)
My current goal (hope?) is to finish a complete first draft of Power Play before we go to Japan at the end of March. That would allow me to “let it go” while we travel for a few weeks. Then I can come back from our trip with fresh eyes for revisions. I haven’t done the math on how many words I need to write per day, but the deadline alone will light a fire under my ass and push me forward.
Now that act one of Power Play is in decent shape, I’ve sent it off to a friend of mine who is also a writer. She’ll read it and send me some feedback while I work on the next section. My Friday writers group is great for getting feedback on a snippet or scene, but it’s beneficial to have someone who can see the bigger picture.
Should I write down my goals for the week? Probably.
- Add at least 5000 words to Power Play (by Sunday) - 3,000 so far
- Draft Newsletter (with new cover art) to go out next week
- Get feedback on the scramble-scene from Writers Group - postponed due to snow
- Create pinned-tweet for The Assistant (with the new cover art) - done
- Schedule either a Freebooksy or FussyLibrarian promo for the Kat Voyzey series
- Update Bookbub author profile with the new cover art. - done
Okay, enough thinking. Back to the manuscript. I’m working on a conversation between two villains, and it’s so much fun! With my first-person cozies, I spend a lot of time inside the mind of the “good guys.” Here, I get to write from the perspective of a cold-hearted murderous super-bitch, and it’s tremendously entertaining.
Today: January 28, 2019
Here are my goals for the week:
- Add 8000 words of quality prose to Power Play (roughly 8 scenes) -done
- Order a new paperback of The Assistant to check the new cover art. (as soon as Amazon approves the new cover…) -done
- Write a blog post or two -done
- Research new keywords for the Kat Voyzey Series
- Get a haircut -done
- Consider running a promo for the Kat Voyzey series -done
- Setup a Bookbub Author Page -done
Also done: Patrick updated our paperback interior for The Assistant with the new cover artist name and two typo fixes.
Today January 25, 2019
Today I’m at writers’ group. We’re in a coffee shop, in a tight cluster around a long white table too big for us, and fingers are flying, pens are scratching across paper, and finger pads are pressing against the glass of an iPad in a flaking mock-leather case.
Writing is something you do alone, so once in a while it’s nice to do it together. We gather at the coffee shop, order a drink and perhaps a muffin, and we sit in a huddle writing our individual projects. At the end, if you want to, you can read and get feedback.
Writers’ group is a reminder that you’re not alone.
Writers’ group is a comfort.
Writers’ group shows you that everyone struggles.
Writers’ group teaches you to be kind to the person whose writing is terrible.
Writers’ group keeps you humble, because sometimes your writing is terrible.
Writers’ group teaches you to be kind to yourself!
The coffee is good today, and we start reading aloud in thirty-five minutes.
Today January 22, 2019
I’m working at the Seattle Public Library today, on my favorite floor, surrounded by relative quiet, listening to the coffeehouse playlist on Spotify, waiting for the writing mood to settle over me like a soft blanket.
I’ve been thinking about how experts are rarely expert. We writers sit at the feet of wealthier writers and ask them for their secrets. They tell us that adverbs are the devil, or that you must plan, or how you should never plan, and depending upon how much you like the expert, you might take what they say as truth, or dismiss it as opinion.
We spend a lot of time asking, listening, and worrying that we’re not doing it right.
I don’t blame the experts for trying to be helpful. But I’ve come to see “success” as an emergent property, it arises spontaneously from the underlying conditions and cannot be directly manufactured. My success isn’t like yours, and yours isn’t like mine, and we each have our own unique qualities which add up to something.
I think it’s better to stop chasing the externals, the expectations, the shiny statues that are supposed to denote acclaim, and to sit at the library and listen to your inner voice when she tells you when to begin.
I think I hear her calling.
Perhaps it isn’t wise, but I’ve decided to cheat on my manuscript with other manuscripts.
I enjoy being a multi-tasker. Not in the sense of thinking about four things at once, but I tend to do one task until I get tired, then switch to another, then switch back. Perhaps I’m more of an alternator than a multi-tasker?
Today I worked on Power Play, and I also created tidy new Scrivener files for all the other books bouncing around in my head. And I’m wondering: Can I bounce between them? I’d like to keep my focus on Power Play, but perhaps a little variety will keep my brain from tiring out. A little of A, then some B, then back to A.
Like a crazy person, I now have five novels to work on.
- Power Play (Jessica Warne #2) my primary project
- DOW (Kat Voyzey #4)
- GTM (New Mystery Series)
- TA (New Mystery-Sci-fi Series)
- WOW (New Cozy Series)
No, I don’t want to put the full titles out on the web. ;)
This might be a terrible idea, productivity-wise, but I’m intrigued. Let’s see how it goes!
I brought the new opening chapter to writers’ group and they really liked it. The new version of is more interesting, shorter, and most importantly it focuses on telling the damn story instead of cramming in all the things I wanted to say. So I’m writing this down so I can remember the lesson.
My first version of Scene 001 was BORING. When I get stuck on “fixing” a piece of writing, sometimes it’s difficult for me to see that instead of fixing it I should chuck it. When your nose is up to the glass boring is difficult to see.
Advice to future me: When you’re banging your head against a wall, step away from the wall. Are you polishing the wrong thing? Is it boring? Go for a walk and think about it, or ask someone else for feedback.
Scene 001 (Version 2)
See Version One
Jessica Warne’s fingers flew over the keyboard at 110 words per minute while she discreetly swept her gaze across the engineering team. The open office sprawled out in front of her like a chessboard. She knew every piece, player, and movement by heart. She was working undercover on behalf of the Duke Agency with the goal of controlling one man, Tony Glass, the VP of Engineering. But before you can capture the king, you’ve gotta control his environment. So she watched, and she waited.
Today there could be no surprises. Tony had a specific path to walk, and it was up to her to keep him on track. Employee drama or a customer emergency might throw him off course, tempting him to cancel the meeting she’d worked so hard to facilitate. To Jessica’s relief, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Software engineers sat in the center of the workspace, while team leaders occupied taller desks placed in strategic positions around the room. The leads were like sentries, watchful and ready to swoop down whenever productivity flagged. Product managers moved laterally across the space, cutting between teams, demanding changes to the product without warning. Even among so-called equals you could tell who mattered and who didn’t. The database engineers had nicer chairs, bigger monitors, and newer machines, while less important employees were seated near the bathrooms, and far away from the communal whiteboards where decisions were made.
Hierarchy was everywhere, if you knew where to look.
Tony was tucked away in his private office at the edge of the open workspace, and he kept his door open because he wanted to seem approachable. Appearances were important to him. Tony Glass was forty-five, athletic, and surprisingly easy to manipulate. Most people were, once you understood what their hearts wanted most. What Tony craved was to be seen as an inspirational leader, like Richard Branson, the kind of person that the younger employees at Chrysalis could look up to.
According to Dana Duke, Jessica’s boss, their client wanted Tony to arrive at dinner in a particular state of mind. It wasn’t enough that he showed up for the meet, they needed him talkative. Honest. Ready to hash out the conflict. So Jessica needed to deliver one more nudge.
The morning went by smoothly. As the hands of the wall clock swept forward, Jessica performed the tasks that came her way with warmth and efficiency. Supplies needed ordering, invoices needed payment, and the UX team wanted a different caterer for their focus groups.
Who would suspect an assistant of being a spy? No one, that’s who. To them, she was just another administrative worker hired on contract. Temps were like sex workers. Use them to scratch your itches then shoo them out into the street when the moment was over. No loyalty, no benefits, and no commitment required. The Duke Agency found it easier than ever to place operatives where they needed them.
By one thirty the office had mostly emptied out, and it was time for Jessica to make her move. But one of the interns, Bill, was stubbornly sitting at a desk nearby, writing code with an intensity usually reserved for those defusing a bomb. A thin trickle of sweat ran down his temple, and he paused, rummaging in his desk drawer. Jessica’s heart lifted. Was he leaving? She didn’t want an audience. But no, he was just getting an energy drink. He opened it with one fingernail. A carbonated hiss slid through the air, followed by a chemical fruity smell, like childrens’ vitamins gone stale.
Jessica grit her teeth. Should she send him away on an errand? There were thin white cords snaking out of his ears, they trailed down into the pocket of his navy blue hoodie. His head bobbed slightly to his music. Bill the intern probably wasn’t listening, and that was good enough for her. If she did her job well, no one would find this conversation significant, anyway.
The recycle bin she’d moved the day prior was still in position directly across from Tony’s open door, a short distance from her desk. The magazine was in front of her, the relevant article marked with a purple paperclip. After mentally rehearsing her gambit one more time she opened the magazine to the correct spot; it was time. She’d nudge Tony toward compliance, then get him to his meeting. And once it was all over, she’d pocket a bonus large enough to pay off a third of her student loan debt. Excitement made her heart race and her limbs tingle. God, I love this job, she thought.
Jessica pretended to read the magazine. She formed her face into an irritated expression and flipped the pages as noisily as she could. After a suitable pause, she let out a frustrated sigh designed to prick up Tony’s ears. Then she stood up, holding the magazine out at arms length like it smelled bad, and marched it over to the recycle bin, where she dropped it onto the plastic bottom with a thump. “Good riddance,” she muttered. Then she paused. Having put out the hook, it was up to Tony to bite down. But would he?
This version is far better than the first, but it needs style edits. Did you notice the places where I started several sentences with the same word, or where the rhythm of the language fell flat? I did, and I’ll address those points in the next iteration.
I need to go to writers’ group more often. Not only are these nice people that I enjoy hanging out with, but they have a knack for finding what’s wrong with a piece of work very quickly.
I’ve been rewriting the same damn two chapters for the last two weeks, and when I read them today the group was like UM YEAH WAAYY TOO MUCH BACKSTORY. TELL US WHO SHE IS THERE TO SPY ON, WHY, AND HOW SHE’S DOING IT. GET TO THE POINT MY FRIEND.
That’s when I realized I’d wasted two weeks polishing a turd. Now that I know I can take a new angle. But I could have figured this out a week ago if I’d been attending writers’ group.
I’ve been reworking chapter one and two today as I continue my exploration of the “looping” write-revise process. On the one hand, I can see how this method of writing is super slow because I’ve been reworking the same material for days instead of driving the narrative forward. But on the other hand, I feel as if I’m writing a song, and you’ve gotta get the first few chords figured out before you can work on anything else because those chords are the foundation of all that follows.
During my last few sessions these initial chapters have gone from serviceable to good and that feels like progress. If I work at this pace for the whole book I think it will take forever to finish the story. But my gut tells me that I’m on the right track, so I’ll keep skipping along the path like this.
I’m thinking about printing these two chapters out. Perhaps if I start tomorrow with the printed copies, I can read them aloud, think it over, tweak them, then roll smoothly into chapters three and four.
I’ll end here, grateful for another good afternoon at the keyboard. :)
With a Song in My Heart
I’m listening to the Confidence Boost playlist on Spotify and getting myself into the zone for a productive writing day.
There’s a huge difference between the fun feeling of “let’s do this!” and the grim feeling of “this will be SO hard… gotta steel my nerves for the fight.”
JESSICA WARNE LET’S DO THIS!!!!!
Q: Why are you returning to consulting work, Cheri?
(Five thousand words of emotionally-complex analysis. An examination of my personal journey and philosophy of life, in which I lay out my framework for the role work plays in human flourishing. A list of limits designed to avoid overwork and creative burnout.)
A: I miss it.
An Opening Scene
In an opening scene, I want to be dropped into the moment, visualize the setting, get a sense for the character, and be hooked (made curious) about what’s to come.
I’ve done those things below, but this scene needs work on both tone and style. It lacks a sassy opening sentence, and the opening paragraph is weak. But it covers what an opening scene should cover, and it includes a lot of information, including:
- Character mindset
- Initial Goal/Conflict
- Timeline (since last book)
- Hook/Questions Raised
Scene 001 (Version One)
Jessica Warne stood up at her desk, stretched her arms overhead, and yawned. Anticipation warmed her body and made her limbs tingle. Today was the day! Five months of effort had brought her to this moment, and her victory was close at hand.
It was ten in the morning, and she’d slept poorly the night before, but Jessica’s sleepy posture was a lie, a deception so second-nature that she offered it up without thinking. Standing gave her a better view of the room, and yawning gave her an excuse to stand. It was that simple. She swept her gaze across the engineering team, reading their non-verbal cues with the intensity of a shark scenting blood.
Her questions required answers. Was anyone behaving oddly? Was there any talk of a late-night bug bash? Who was frowning today, and were those frowns out of character? Normally she wouldn’t care about the small dramas of the workplace, but today there could be no distractions. Her target, Tony Glass, had a specific path to walk, and it was her job to keep him focused. Thankfully, nothing seemed out of place that morning. Engineers sat at their desks either writing code or staring blankly at their screens. An intern across the aisle cracked open an energy drink. The carbonated hiss slid through the air like a knife, and disappeared into the general din comprised of key presses, mouse clicks, and quiet chatter between colleagues.
To Jessica, the offices of Chrysalis Systems resembled a chessboard. Software engineers sat in the center, while team leaders occupied taller desks at strategic positions around the room. Psychologically, the leads operated like sentries, watchful and ready to swoop down whenever productivity flagged. Product managers moved laterally across the space, cutting between teams at will, and demanding changes without warning. Even amongst so-called equals there was a hierarchy. Database engineers had nicer chairs, bigger monitors, and newer machines, while less important people were seated near the bathrooms, far away from the communal whiteboards where decisions were made.
Only executives had private offices, which was ironic, given how often they lauded the benefits of the open workspace. To an introvert (and most of the engineers were introverts) an open office was a cluttered hellscape, full of interruptions, noises, and unwanted smells. But they pretended to like it, because management said they should.
Hypocrisy was everywhere in corporate America. Everyone lied, to each other and especially to themselves. If anyone at Chrysalis found out why Jessica was there, they’d freak out, and possibly call the FBI. But they were no better than her. Everyone lies at work, it’s just that some lies are more profitable than others.
Jessica sat down, reassured for the moment that no trouble was brewing. She checked her boss’s calendar to make sure that the meeting was still there and confirmed for 6pm. It was. Before Glass attended that meeting, she had one more nudge to give him, but she’d wait until the lunch break. Spycraft required performance, and Jessica’s acting skills had much improved during her first year at the agency. Still, this was a performance meant for an audience of one, and the fewer people around, the better.
I’ll re-read this scene tomorrow, tweak it if I’m ready, and move to the next. I did a lot of throat-clearing in my first draft, so I’m streamlining the narrative and moving directly into action as much as possible.
How nice to put the holidays behind me. While I enjoy the socializing, treats, and twinkling lights of the long holiday season, I feel weary and bloated at the end of the year. Now, with January ahead of me, I’m ready for normalcy and forward motion. All lights at the intersection are green! Let’s go.
I’m preparing to re-open my consulting business in a few weeks. Moving forward I’ll be working part time. I figure I’ll start by letting my former clients/colleagues know that I’m back. If I’m lucky, I’ll pick up a few faciliation projects in 2019.
I’ve been pretty nervous about my return to work. Not because of the work, but because I don’t want to ruin this sweet setup of mine. (Writing books, traveling, getting enough sleep.) But there’s plenty of slack in my week, even when I’m writing and traveling throughout the year. Although to keep myself from falling back into a workaholic vortex, I’ve set cap on the number of days I’ll consult next year.
Note to self: Chill. You can handle this!
Current Publishing Tasks
- Mail out remaining “thank you” paperbacks to beta readers. (The Assistant)
- P is uploading new e-book editions of the Kat Voyzey mysteries with updated end-matter.
- January 15th: Webinar on Author Branding from Sisters in Crime
- January paperback giveaway to one randomly selected member of my mailing list (reader perks)
What I’m Writing Now
I spiked my first draft of Power Play (see: stale bread), and I’m reworking act one using the looping method borrowed from Dean Wesley Smith. The process feels good but damned slow.
Slow might be good though. A big trend in writing advice is to “get your shitty draft down quick, then fix it in multiple revisions.” But what if I don’t want to write a shitty first draft? What if I want to step slowly and surely, taking in the view, and enjoying each beat as I go?
As 2019 approaches I’m thinking about my work/life balance. Can I add some consulting back into the mix without ruining this sweet setup of mine? Here’s a look at my changing percentages.
Work/Life balance before going on sabbatical from consulting:
- 77% consulting
- 15% marriage
- 1% friends/family
- 2% health/sleep
- 5% writing
Net result: Plenty of money, Very little time, Stress level high.
Work/Life balance for the first half of my sabbatical:
- 35% sleep/rest
- 60% travel
- 15% friends/family
Net result: Living off savings, endless free time, detox mode. (because we are together most of the time, marriage-time no longer broken out separately.)
Work/Life balance for the second half of my sabbatical:
- 20% sleep/health
- 15% friends/family
- 20% travel
- 40% writing
- 15% boredom
Net result: Living frugally, plenty of free time, life is good, low stress.
The Post-Sabbatical Percentages
Adding some consulting work back into the mix, here’s what I’m hoping my percentages will look like in 2019.
- 15% sleep/health
- 35% writing
- 10% consulting
- 20% travel
- 15% friends/family
- 5% boredom
None of my percentages are meant to be taken literally. They’re an expression of where I want my energy to be going.
We just rewatched Avengers: Infinity War, and I gotta say that I like Thanos quite a bit. It’s a real feat to make a genocidal maniac relateable, and the writers have done so here. A good villain is one we can understand, and even empathize with. That only works when we have insight into what’s driving them.
On Twitter I saw someone joke that if Thanos gets his way, there will be a lot less traffic on the roads. Overpopulation is real and so is environmental collapse. In reality, many of us agree with Thanos’s concerns. But his solution is terrible, isn’t it?
That’s a good model for creating a villain: Find a real problem, one that we agree is serious, and offer up a charismatic person with an effective but horrifying solution.
Yeah, he’s a monster… But he has a point, right?
That’s a good takeaway, when it comes to crafting a good villain. But don’t get me started on the inconsistencies in the movie. I mean, if Thanos can shape reality, why not create a reality with enough resources for everyone? If they can turn back time, why not go smite the guy when he was less powerful?
No matter! I choose to enjoy what the story has to offer and ignore the irritating little plot holes. Suspension of disbelief makes fiction a lot more fun, and I’d rather be a fan than a critic.
The Assistant had a prologue before chapter one. I included it because The Assistant is an origin story for my protagonist, and I wanted to foreshadow a few themes that I couldn’t tackle until book two. Also, I really liked the way it came out, so I decided to include it.
Well, I’ve been assuming that I’d write a similar (brief) prologue for each book in the Emerald City Spies series. That way each book would have a consistent structure. But it’s not working! Now that the story is underway, any further hinting in prologue form seems clunky.
New decision: No prologue for book two. It’s better to drop the reader right into the action.
Work List December 24, 2018
- Print out current manuscript (as reference)
- Build a fresh Scrivener file
- Find solitude
- Close my eyes and visualize the scene
- Open my heart and feel the mood
- Start writing
No micro-managing the story allowed, this round.
The Quest for Solitude
Living in a one-room condo makes writing difficult. When I write, there is no door for me to shut, and we are both home during the day. The only true path to solitude is for one of us to banish the other. I wish that solitude wasn’t required, but it’s difficult for me to get in the zone when I’m with people.
Lately, I’ve tried a few approaches to finding creative solitude:
Opening a cabinet door to create a visual barrier between us, akin to a folding screen. From my position on the couch, with the cabinet door open, I cannot see P at the desk. This works pretty well.
Going downstairs to our condo recreation room, to sit at one of the tables near the window. The space is rarely occupied during the day, but it’s chilly in winter. Not bad. Bring a sweater.
Putting on earphones and listening to music. I find music distracting, but it does “shut the door.” Gets the job done for an hour or so.
Twice, I’ve taken pillows and blankets into our deep bathtub, built myself a nest, and pulled the curtain closed. This is wonderfully private and cozy, but it dirties the bedding, and is an admittedly weird thing to do. My moist fortress of solitude!
Overall, living in a tiny space is one of the best decisions we ever made. It’s affordable, low-impact, easy, well-situated, and nearly maintenance free. I could not afford to write full-time if we were living in a bigger space. But oh how I miss having an office of my own!
My tweaks are working fine, though. Perhaps I’ll fashion myself a set of blinders, like the kind horses wear. Some sort of blinder ear-protection combo. Like a hoodie on steroids. Then I’ll make ten million dollars selling them to those poor bastards who have to work in open offices all day. Collaboration is wonderful, but sometimes you gotta drift into your own inner world, right?
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