Monday, July 25, 2016

Guestopia - Aften Brook Szymanski

It's Guestopia time, and this month we are thrilled to welcome YA debut author Aften Brook Szymanski to YAtopia! 

In case you're wondering about her Aften - OF COURSE YOU ARE! - here are a few details to get you started! 

Aften Brook Szymanski, at the age of five, once fell on her bum looking out a large picture window while eating a pickle and people laughed. She thought she was funny, life has never been the same. She’s obsessed with LEGOs, cozy reading nooks, and over-the- knee socks. A graduate of the College of Southern Idaho with an Associate of Arts degree, Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Science degree, and the University of Utah with a Master of Education degree. Learning is more fun than testing, sometimes we have to endure both.

She lives in a very cold Wyoming valley with her husband, three kids, and one unhappy cat, where they are being cryogenically preserved for all time—thanks to how cold it is.


And now for the interview! Take it away, Aften! 


Is this your first published book?

Yes—through a publisher. Though I have self-published children’s books, mostly for my own kids and family. That is what got me started and taught me that “hey, maybe I can do this writing thing I’ve always loved.” Not everyone considers self-published works to be the same as published.

What’s it called?

Killer Potential

Which genre?

Psychological Thriller

Which age group?

YA or teen

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s written as a standalone novel.

Are you an agented author?

I am not agented. I’d love to have an agent. I’m currently querying a different novel in hopes of finding agent representation.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

BookFishBooks offered me a contract. I had three offers for this piece at the time, and it was difficult to decide where to take the story. I loved the covers that BookFishBooks puts out and they’re contract was very fair. I’ve also loved working with their editors and staff. They’re fantastic.


How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?


I’ve revised a number of areas that just weren’t sharp enough, as well as gone through several rounds of edits. The marketing team lets me know what they’re working on and asks for my feedback, but overall they get the final say. They make good work, so I trust them. I was also able to approve the cover design, which I’m sure stressed the team out a ton. I panicked once of seven times.

Do you have another job?

My favorite job is being a mom. I also work as a teacher for the visually impaired, where I get to do cool stuff like work with braille (only part time). I like to work and have taken jobs from filling in at the local Post Office on Saturday’s for our Post Master to weeding onion fields and picking peas. I’ve worked in a fabric store, burger joint, teen correction facility, psych unit, research aide for a molecular biologist, teaching grade school (this is what my undergrad degree is in), filing HMO’s… I enjoy work where I feel like I’m helping. (I also started working when I was 13 and worked while I was going to college and grad school, which gave me a lot of different work opportunities).

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

Heck yes! There were some weeks when I averaged a rejection a day.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

Probably staring at the blinking cursor of mockery.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

I’m a bare bones plotter. I create a basic outline and beef it up from there.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

This story flowed. Revisions… That was a wrestle, but well worth it.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

Two. I probably should have waited for three. I think Tifani Clark was my first beta reader. We often read each other’s works. She’s an amazing writer.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

I circulated through two rounds of beta readers and critique partners. In each round I had between three and five people read and made revisions first on things that were common concerns, and then went into greater detail with each person’s notes from there. I have great beta readers/critique partners.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

Probably twenty-three. By the time I sent to BookFish It had been revised twenty-seven times (at least, maybe more).

How many drafts until it was published?

If I count the edit rounds with BookFish, I’d say thirty some-odd drafts.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

So much. Completely. All for the better.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

Sometimes I’d like to make it a happier story, but it just doesn’t fit.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

The part before revision, but the most rewarding part is definitely the revision phases.

What part do you find hardest?

Due to my natural lack of organization, revisions can be a struggle. But, I’ve managed to employ some helps that make it easier for me to tackle everything thanks to amazing writing friends.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?


Both. It depends what’s going on in my day as to whether I can push through or need to just walk away. I’ve found that I generally make better choices to address the barrier if I go with my instinct regarding the hang-up. By that I mean, if I feel the need to walk away, I often discover the problem/solution engaging in other activities. Or if I feel I can push it, the scene often materializes.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

I try to work on one project at a time, but might also be doing revisions while working on a new WIP.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?


I’m a firm believer in dedication over talent. I am not naturally talented in writing. I am dedicated and in love with writing. Determination to learn skills in areas I fall short has helped me continue to progress. I love that.

How many future novels do you have planned?

Way too many. I have an abundance of ideas and not enough time to write them all. I have a folder with story ideas that continues to fill all the time.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I write all the things (minus articles). I love venturing into different styles. Though I admit I am not skilled in every genre of writing. If I worked at each genre I’m sure I’d improve in those areas, but I might not ever be awesome at them all.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

When someone relates to something in the story. That’s my favorite thing in the world.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

“Whether or not you write well, Write Bravely.” –Bill Stout

And one that doesn't.

“Write every day.”

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

Trust your instincts or accept the consequences.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

Q: “Are those salon made silver streaks in your hair? It looks amazing.”

A: “Nope. That’s all my own self-grown wirey-gray strands or life experience and awesomeness. Gray Pride.”

Best question and answer ever! 

Well, thank you, Aften, for taking the time to pop by. We wish you all the best with Killer Potential and implore lovers of dark YA fiction to get out there and buy this book! Here's the blurb and some essential links! 

BLURB

Seventeen-year- old Yvette Gibbs was just admitted to the hospital psych unit in handcuffs as the main suspect in a murder case, which she refuses to talk about. 

Drugs and depression claim her family—leaving Yvette to fight her own demons alone. Adopting the skill of master of passive-aggressive vengeance lands Yvette in the psych unit with no family support, unless she cooperates with her therapist to clear her name, also a convicted murderer.

Yvette wants revenge on the world that taught her to be afraid, claimed her mother to depression, hid her father in a fog of job hopping, turned her brother to dealing drugs, and swallowed her sister whole, but to achieve this she must lie, manipulate, and most of all survive. Pitting her dead sister’s shady friend whom she fears against the man who reminded her she’s not immune to victimization, is her perfect solution to all life's hassles, even if that means she ends up with blood on her hands. Until everything backfires.

Follow Aften

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Where to Find Killer Potential

Goodreads

Buy Link

And here's a cheeky giveaway! 
 
Rafflecopter

Friday, July 22, 2016

Showing Character Reaction



It’s pretty tricky when writing character body language and facial expression to avoid being repetitive. As an editor I see a lot of authors struggling with this. I read an abundance of eye rolling, shrugging and lip biting and numerous times by different characters in the same manuscript. Of course, these are absolutely fine to use because they show and don’t tell.

·        Eye rolling perfectly demonstrates that ‘Urgh, this is sooooo embarrassing’ reaction.

·        Shrugging is a clear ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Whatever’ response.

·        Lip biting shows a ‘How am I going to get out of this?’ concern.

So, yeah, use them, but don't over-use them. It figures that the more extreme emotion – like fear, delight, shock – the easier to put a reaction into words. But, what about the more subtle reactions? Like intimidated or offended. Those that need ultra fine detail to let the reader know precisely what the character is feeling.

The best sure-fire way to help is to grab yourself a mirror...

 

 

And be the characters in the scene you’re writing!

Or, if you are just too embarrassed to behave in this manner or are defunct of human emotion, then analyse the actors in a movie or TV show (the lower budget and tackier they are the more helpful they can be because the actors are nearly always over-acting) or just look up some GIFs/pictures on the internet.

Like here...
Intimidated




There is a fine line between showing intimidation and fear. Because even though they are different, they definitely stem from the same receptor.

·        There could be cowering, instantly making their body smaller, rolling in on themselves.

·        The arms come in, the body turns away, the face the same, but the eyes might stay with the intimidator; maybe darting away but coming back to check where the person is, what they are doing and saying.

·        The knees might bend, backward steps are taken, even a seat.

·        If another person is there they may move closer to them, try to blend into their body, or just touch them in some way, grab their hand for protection.

·        Fidgeting, or perhaps the opposite, they stay statue-still.

And here...

Offended.


So this reaction has a number of tell tale signs and can often depend on the exact situation in which the character is offended. Like, for example, if it’s by their boss and they have to maintain ‘face’ in front of their colleagues isn't the same as when it occurs on a drunken night out with mates.

Here are a few possibilities:

·        An immediate dip of the eyebrows to create a slight frown.

·        The head could come forward just slightly like a tortoise’s head pops out its shell, but then it goes back. Or the chin comes up as if the person’s absorbing the verbal punch there. Or maybe the opposite and the head is driven back.

·        The eyes could get a little wider, maybe even the eyebrows pop up then back down in disbelief as the person moves their head to the side so they can’t be seen.

·        The mouth might open just slightly as a small intake of breath occurs. Nasty words want to come out, but it might not be the right time to react; the person might need to swallow their thoughts and move on. Or they might just grit their teeth, thin out their lips.

Or, you know, they might just do this...


It's clear when you start writing reaction and from these options that every character and situation you as a writer put them in is going to be unique, so how you convey visible reaction is going to vary tremendously. Giving your character habits they fall back on when feeling certain emotions is a great help. But also, to accompany the physical, external movement, as shown above, the best weapon you have to get a character’s true emotion across to the reader is their mind. Access your character’s thoughts so the reader can hear exactly what’s being felt and how it’s being processed.

Intimidation

‘John strides toward me, his mouth curled into a smile only I can see. I turn my body away and fold my arms. I try to keep eye contact but I can’t. His penetrating stare is boring deep, right into my grey matter. I lower my head and study some old breadcrumbs from my sandwich on the tiled floor. I would give anything not to be here right now.’

Offended

‘My hand freezes mid-restyle, my fine hair tickling my skin. Did he really just say that? How dare he? My heart is thumping like horse hooves on turf; a tingle moves up my neck as I grit my teeth. I finish my plait and swallow down my reaction. I’ll get him back. Not here, not when he’s expecting it.’

Have fun!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Words in a Time of Arms

The world is a mess. It’s a very scary, sometimes violent, place. And it feels like it’s getting worse. I try to comfort myself and say it’s just a matter of media. With smart phone cameras and instant sharing, it’s easier to see the latest horror. Just because we didn’t always have instant upload of violence doesn’t mean it didn’t always exist. But whether the world has become a more violent place or not, you can’t hide from the terror that coats the planet.

Then I sit in my dressing room at the theatre, or finish writing a new chapter in a book, and I wonder how I can be so complacent? In a world where refugees are starving and people are afraid to celebrate their holidays in public, how dare I spend my time doing things as silly as playing the Wicked Witch or writing about magic? I war with myself. Decide to quite all art and join the Peace Corps. But then there’s a moment, a wonderful moment, when I realize that what I do is important.

The moment comes in different ways. An audience member who finds me after a show to tell me that it was the most fun they’ve had in a long time. A reader who says that they stayed up all night to finish a book. When I realize that the undercurrent of the story I’m writing might lead readers to a more compassionate point of view, or make one LGBTQ teen feel like there is another distant person on their side.

What we do as artists – authors, actors, painters, musicians – is important. We are important. Art is important. No, we aren’t doctors. We aren’t saving a bombing victim’s leg or life. We aren’t policemen who put themselves in danger to stop mass shootings. We aren’t creating new laws for a safer tomorrow.

We are the people who distract from the pain. We are the ones who teach without classrooms.

We tell stories that remind us of the past and show what the future has the potential to become. We have voices that people want to listen to. And we can use those voices to tell stories of inclusion, compassion, and the terrible things that happen when we forget the most important things about being human.

It has been said that my generation is less likely to trust the media. There is a theory, and I for one believe it, that it is because J.K. Rowling taught us not to trust The Daily Prophet. Rita Skeeter will say anything for a headline, no matter how untrue the story might be. J.K. Rowling made us think for ourselves, to doubt and to question. She didn’t preach, she just wrote. How magical is that?

Our voices may not be as loud as J.K. Rowling’s, but we as a community of artists and authors can be heard. Our voices are important. Our words are important. And together we might just mold the world into a less frightening place.

Words in a Time of Arms

The world is a mess. It’s a very scary, sometimes violent, place. And it feels like it’s getting worse. I try to comfort myself and say it’s just a matter of media. With smart phone cameras and instant sharing, it’s easier to see the latest horror. Just because we didn’t always have instant upload of violence doesn’t mean it didn’t always exist. But whether the world has become a more violent place or not, you can’t hide from the terror that coats the planet.

Then I sit in my dressing room at the theatre, or finish writing a new chapter in a book, and I wonder how I can be so complacent? In a world where refugees are starving and people are afraid to celebrate their holidays in public, how dare I spend my time doing things as silly as playing the Wicked Witch or writing about magic? I war with myself. Decide to quite all art and join the Peace Corps. But then there’s a moment, a wonderful moment, when I realize that what I do is important.

The moment comes in different ways. An audience member who finds me after a show to tell me that it was the most fun they’ve had in a long time. A reader who says that they stayed up all night to finish a book. When I realize that the undercurrent of the story I’m writing might lead readers to a more compassionate point of view, or make one LGBTQ teen feel like there is another distant person on their side.

What we do as artists – authors, actors, painters, musicians – is important. We are important. Art is important. No, we aren’t doctors. We aren’t saving a bombing victim’s leg or life. We aren’t policemen who put themselves in danger to stop mass shootings. We aren’t creating new laws for a safer tomorrow.

We are the people who distract from the pain. We are the ones who teach without classrooms.

We tell stories that remind us of the past and show what the future has the potential to become. We have voices that people want to listen to. And we can use those voices to tell stories of inclusion, compassion, and the terrible things that happen when we forget the most important things about being human.

It has been said that my generation is less likely to trust the media. There is a theory, and I for one believe it, that it is because J.K. Rowling taught us not to trust The Daily Prophet. Rita Skeeter will say anything for a headline, no matter how untrue the story might be. J.K. Rowling made us think for ourselves, to doubt and to question. She didn’t preach, she just wrote. How magical is that?

Our voices may not be as loud as J.K. Rowling’s, but we as a community of artists and authors can be heard. Our voices are important. Our words are important. And together we might just mold the world into a less frightening place.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Writing Representation by Calista Lynne

Today I'm delighted to hand over the blog to YA author Calista Lynne, whose brand new book WE AWAKEN just released from Harmony Ink Press!


Writing Representation

by Calista Lynne


People fear the unknown. Maybe that’s why there’s an odd amount of stigma

surrounding asexuality. This sexuality is so underrepresented in the media that a lot of people

don’t even know it exists, or if it’s brought up the response is some sort of joke about the

Whenever asexuals are represented it’s usually in a narrative where they can be “cured”

in the end. This is extremely invalidating for young people who might already feel broken. They

need positive examples to aspire to but I have yet to see a story where an ace character, let

alone one in a f/f relationship, gets a happy ending. So that’s what I wrote.


My novel is about two female asexuals in a same sex relationship. It is young adult

magical realism and has all the cheesiness and joy you could hope for from a romance in that

genre. Although there has been a good number of books recently with gay boys getting happy

endings, heterosexuals are generally the ones who ride off into the sunset at the end. How are

people supposed to expect that they can hope for something more than tragedy when there

aren’t any examples of it? Representation matters and poor representation can be toxic as well.

Take the sheer amount of lesbians who are killed off on television for example.


My recommendation for you is to create the representation you wish to see in the

world. 

Don’t worry if the story doesn’t seem marketable because people will come around and if

you’re passionate, the world can see that. If someone isn’t the first to do it then no one can

follow in their footsteps and there will never be positive role models. Just also keep in mind that

there will be haters, or at least people who don’t understand. For example, my father keeps

saying that I write about alternative sexualities. Except being ace isn’t alternative. It’s not an

edgy choice or a type of music it is literally just a sexuality like all the rest. Not to mention there

are people who won’t get it because they don’t want to. Whenever someone leaves a review

explaining how they believe asexuality to be a choice and not one they agree with, I contradict

them by selling more copies to people who will understand and appreciate the validation.


My goal is to one day see books about marginalized groups not being viewed as niche

writing or alternative, but instead just as books like all the rest.


And if my novel about ladies loving ladies sounds of interest to you, here’s the synopsis:


Victoria Dinham doesn’t have much left to look forward to. Since her father died in a car

accident, she lives only to fulfill her dream of being accepted into the Manhattan Dance

Conservatory. But soon she finds another reason to look forward to dreams when she

encounters an otherworldly girl named Ashlinn, who bears a message from Victoria’s comatose

brother. Ashlinn is tasked with conjuring pleasant dreams for humans, and through the course of

their nightly meetings in Victoria’s mind, the two become close. Ashlinn also helps Victoria

understand asexuality and realize that she, too, is asexual.

But then Victoria needs Ashlinn’s aid outside the realm of dreams, and Ashlinn assumes

human form to help Victoria make it to her dance audition. They take the opportunity to explore

New York City, their feelings for each other, and the nature of their shared asexuality. But like

any dream, it’s too good to last. Ashlinn must shrug off her human guise and resume her duties

creating pleasant nighttime visions—or all of humanity will pay the price.



~Suzanne~

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cover Reveal - Shattered: An Open Heart Novel

Shattered: An Open Heart Novel Book 2

SHATTERED digital

Book Blurb:

Mishca needs to save her sisters, but only Ryder can save her.

The truth about Mishca’s past shattered her heart. She deals with the pain by focusing on a new mission: saving her newfound family from their creator. With her sisters scheduled for termination, Mishca and her friends set out on a journey up the North Queensland Coast to save them before someone else dies.

Ryder understands the need driving Mischa. It’s in her DNA. But he’s not giving up on the chance they can still be together. She’s the only one to have seen him levitate. The only one to watch the sparks dance across his skin. The only one he trusts enough to know what is in his heart. And now, he might be the only one who can stop Mishca from losing her humanity. Driven apart by secrets, will they come together in time?

Book Extract:

My hands grip the steering wheel so tight my knuckles resemble mini snow capped mountains. I could drive under the truck 200 metres ahead in the opposite lane and end it all. It would be so easily. Accelerate; yank the wheel, and then nothingness. The scenario plays through my mind so vividly I actual wince.

Suck it up, soldier. This pity party is over. 

I shake my head as though that will make the intrusive thoughts dissipate. The best thing might be to think of nothing at all. Thinking about the fact people want to kill my sisters, thinking about how I stuffed everything with Ryder, thinking about Isobel and how I’m her incarnate, thinking about Colin… Ah crap, now I’m thinking about Colin.

I want to travel back in time and bitch-slap past-me forever believing that Imogene’s love for Colin was my own. Part of me is furious with my original for passing on her insanely passionate feelings for my former university professor. The other part of me is furious with Colin with not realizing that I was his soul mate’s duplicate. Being a clone sucks ass.

Release: September/October 2016

 Goodreads

Like the sound of SHATTERED, but haven't read An Open Heart Novel Book 1:DIVIDED yet? City Owl Press has lots of purchase options on their website. mischabannerready

Giveaway: Sharon is giving away three handmade bookmarks that all feature purple to match the cover and a heart for the book series.

See the Rafflecopter for details on how to enter.

  Rafflecopter Giveaway

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About the Author

FullSizeRender

Sharon is an author and public relations professional from Mackay in Australia. She writes across Young Adult, New Adult and Adult categories in a variety of genres. Her novel Divided is published with City Owl Press. Sharon is also a regular mentor for the pitch contest Pitch Wars. When she’s not writing or working in PR, Sharon is gaming with her hottie hubby and kids, binging on Netflix, or playing with her fur babies. Find her on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why Writers Should be Honest with Publishers

I'm an introvert, and I used to work in retail. Back then, I was a shy introvert too. But because I needed the job, I lied on my application and during the interview when they asked, "Are you a people-person?" I gave them a big fat, "YES, I AM. I'm so friendly and outgoing and I love working with people! Woo!"


Which was all fine until I got the job. I faked the people-person thing for a couple days, until my batteries dropped to zero, I cried myself to sleep (not really...maybe), and dragged myself back into work as a zombie. It's exhausting trying to be someone you're not.

Eventually, my boss had to remind me to smile and say hi and ask the customers if they needed help. I'm sure by now they realized I wasn't the people-person I said I was, but they kept me because I was a hard working and, ironically, didn't waste time talking to my coworkers like everyone else. (They told me this.) So my personality wasn't everything they wanted, but it still benefited them.

Not me, though. I was dying inside. That sounds dramatic, doesn't it? But any introvert who has tried to fake an extrovert personality and lifestyle knows I'm not being dramatic. It's suffocation.


I learned from my lies, quit the job, and accepted that it's for my own good and for the good of those around me if I accept who I am.


That is until I got an email from a publisher I had queried, asking me what my expectations are from a publisher. My immediate thought was, "What answer are they looking for?" I mulled that over for a while before I realized I was making the same mistake I made with the retail job.


If I lied to a publisher just to get the offer, that wouldn't be a good deal for either one of us. So I sent an honest response, and I'm so glad I did. Maybe my response will show them I'm a good fit and maybe it won't. If it doesn't, that's okay. I can't be in such a rush to make my publishing dream come true that I actually spoil it.

 
So if you get that question, be honest with yourself and with the publisher. I mean, do your homework so you understand how the industry works. Your expectations need to be realistic. But be honest. Our time will come with the right publisher fit for us.

 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Pitch Wars - donate to something great!

I've been involved with Pitch Wars since it first started, only missing one year as a mentor in the five years. And it's on again this year.

All the mentors donate their time. But unfortunately, the costs of running an event like this behind the scenes has grown along with the competition.

To help ease the costs, you can make a donation! Find out more about how to donate here.

Here's some reasons why I would encourage you to donate to this amazeballs competition:


  • Pitch Wars has a better success rate than querying.
  • Pitch Wars connects writers! Even if a writer doesn't get into Pitch Wars they find new people to connect with on social media, and many end up with new beta readers/CP partners. 
  • Pitch Wars helps writers grow! Being paired with a industry professional (author/editor) helps authors go to the next level with their work. 
  • Pitch Wars makes friendships happen: I have made amazing friends through Pitch Wars, and I don't think it's done connecting me to new friends yet. 
  • Pitch Wars makes mentors! If you look through the mentor list you will find authors who were once mentees, or where entrants who didn't get picked. The personal growth doesn't with being a mentee. 
  • If you are entering Pitch Wars, you will get additional mentors to submit to if you donate $20 or more. (Please note, PW is not a game of chance. Mentors choose their mentee on merit).



Friday, June 10, 2016

Emotional Balance

Perhaps it's just me (but I think not), but there is a lot of panic and rush from writers in the book building world. Panic over being good enough, rushing to finish a book to send it to the query trenches or on sub, distress about another author getting a sale before you do, the worry over why your editor/agent hasn't sent you your edits yet or updated you on where you're at... It's an endless list.

And this is where I want to say 'stop'. As writers, we have a tendency to obsess, and we really, really need to stop that. It's not good for our writing, our business, our sanity, our health or our happiness. Period.

I see so many writers who just want to "be published" that they have lost the reason why they love to write. I have heard countless writers say "if they don't get an agent with this book, they'll stop writing." My question to them: is that why you started writing? Just to be published? If so, then more power to you. But for most of us, we started writing because we love it. We can't not write. If that was how you started, then take a huge, big, leaping step back and really evaluate not just where you are in your writing career, but where you are emotionally.

Forget the old adage of the passion being gone makes bad writing. We all know that. However, writing without passion makes for a bad emotional balance. Writers should take time to write what they love. Have you ever thought of writing something that's not (*gasp, shock, horror*) ever going to be something you want to try and publish? If not, why not?

I believe that every writer, hobbyist or career, should always make a little space to write something purely for their heart, and purely for them, and to hell with the publishing of it. I'm a career author, so I work with that in mind. But I do stop and smell the roses, too. I hope you can as well!


 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Writing Through the Stresses of Life

Despite today’s title, I’m not sure how much advice I have to offer on this topic, but this is where I’ve been this year—stressed. But it’s been a sneaky stress. By that, I mean I haven’t necessarily felt stressed in my head, but I’ve seen the effects of stress. Tired. Crazy dreams. Lack of motivation. 
I’ve spent the last year apart from my husband, Brian. No, not a separation. He’s been away at school, and I chose not to move. Moving didn’t make sense. Not when we intended to return to the same place when he graduated. Instead, the kids and I remained in our home of the last eight years and took vacations to visit Brian. But what I didn’t realize was how great of an effect that separation would have. My kids are older. They contribute quite a bit to our household—cooking one night a week each, doing daily chores to help keep up the house, etc. I’m not tethered to them like when they were young. I can take four or more hours to myself, either in the house or away from it, with the expectation that they won’t need me.
In many ways, this past year has actually been good. I’ve enjoyed my somewhat independence. I’ve enjoyed spending extra time with the kids playing games and exploring new TV series. (We recently got into I Love Lucy, which has been fun to watch and to discuss.) But as the year went on, my ability to give attention to writing waned. Something about being the sole parent, whether the kids needed my constant attention or not, drained me. Not having another parent or adult around to reassure me that taking time to myself was okay left me feeling a little guilty when I did. 

So I’m confessing I haven’t written through my stresses this year. I’ve critiqued. I’ve judged contests. I’ve done edits for my publisher. But my creativity has been shot. No new writing. No edits to complete a manuscript for pitching. 
That doesn’t mean my year has been wasted. I’ve been learning. I’ve read a ton—like probably around 100 books since Christmas. I’ve judged contests, which has increased my skills with critiquing. The scoresheets have helped me focus on necessary elements, digging deeper than, “The writing is great! I loved the characters!” Because that’s been an area of struggle for me. I like to enjoy what I’m reading, so I choose not to analyze too deeply. But I’m a better critique partner (and judge) when I do.
So even though this year hasn’t been productive as far as producing content goes, I’m not ending this year-away-from-my-husband without success. I won a major writing contest and I signed my first contract. I’ve critiqued and (hopefully!) judged soon-to-be-published manuscripts. This is how I’ve written through the stresses of life—keeping my mind and my presence in the writing world, even if my creativity has taken an extended vacation.

Do you have any advice for me? Any ways you have fought through stress to write successfully?