Also, Layla Al-Bedawi wrote a lovely article about Art & Words for ArtHouston that was recently posted online. Submissions open tomorrow, and I am thrilled to see this write-up.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks! Last week, on my birthday, I found out that my novelette “The Orangery” was nominated for a Nebula Award! I’m psyched to be on a ballot with so many friends and great writers and very much looking forward to celebrating in Pittsburgh. The full list of nominees is here.
And more news! As of today, I’ve signed with agent Connor Goldsmith at Fuse Literary. I’m very much looking forward to working with him.
One of the most difficult parts of writing is establishing a routine. One piece of advice I heard as a beginning writer was that I should write every day, no matter what. That advice is repeated as gospel in workshops, on convention panels, in writing advice books. I don’t believe that writing every day is the path for every writer–it doesn’t take into account writers with families and day jobs and can create a lot of anxiety and guilt for writers who struggle with mental health and may not always have the energy–but a routine that allows you to get in as much writing as you possibly, personally can is a great tool.
But let’s face it: sometimes internal motivation just isn’t enough. (Like that week when watching every Harry Potter movie in a week seemed like a better idea than writing, for example.) For those times I take to using external motivational tools.
Different motivational techniques will work for different writers. For me, a technique will work for a brief period, at which point I find I need to switch to a new system, or to take a break from systems altogether. Because of this, I’ve tried a lot of different methods. Here’s a few to sample for yourself.
1. Beads in a Jar
My friend Katie Crumpton first told me about this one. I like it because it offers rewards at various intervals, which helped me immensely with the long slog of novel-writing (since writing novels doesn’t offer as much immediate reward as, say, short stories, where you finish and feel that sense of accomplishment sooner).
To take advantage of this technique, first get a bag of beads from a craft store. Then paint a series of five or so lines up a jar. Assign a different reward to each line. Every time you accomplish a writing task–writing so many words in a day, submitting a story, updating your website, attending a conference, etc.–drop a bead in the jar. When the beads reach the first line, reward yourself with the first reward. When they reach the second, reward yourself with the second reward. Continue until you reach the top, then dump out the beads and begin again.
2. The Check-In
When I started working on my first novel, I entered into an agreement with a friend of mine, Karen Bovenmyer, that every Monday we would email each other our goals for the coming week and would give a rundown of our accomplishments for the week previous. This helped me immensely with that initial motivation. Now, two years later, we’re still emailing nearly every Monday, and even if I no longer need external motivation, I love hearing what she’s up to.
3. Marking a Calendar
This technique works best for me to track how productive I’m being in a particular period of time. This one may also be the simplest: get a yearly calendar and mark every day that you write. I also mark any days on the calendar where I know I won’t be able to write with an X. This helps me when I’m trying to finish a particular piece, writing so many words every day; knowing which days I won’t be able to write helps me calculate how many words I need to write those other days.
4. The Magic Spreadsheet
I haven’t personally used this one for any length of time, but I have heard from many writers that it helped them immensely. The Magic Spreadsheet was created by my friend Tony Pisculli and exists in a series of massive Google Spreadsheets. To check it out, join the Google + group here or the Facebook group here, where they release a new sheet for each month.
Serving to gamify writing routine, the Magic Spreadsheet allows you to track the number of words that you write each day. You must write at least 300 in a day to earn any points. If you write more, you get more points. You level up as you earn points.
There are no external rewards in place here, but if you’re a competitive person, the points alone may do it for you. I’ve also heard of some people who reward themselves when they level up.
Mur Lafferty talked about the Magic Spreadsheet on her podcast I Should Be Writing in 2013.
It’s that time of year again, when people like me rush to catch up on all the fiction we’ve missed throughout the year in order to nominate them for various awards including the Nebula, the Hugo, the World Fantasy, the Tiptree, etc. Lots of great stories this year. I’d be honored if you’d consider one of mine.
Thus, the annual Awards Eligibility Post. There’s just one work I present for consideration for the year 2016:
In the Novelette Category
The Orangery (December 2016 | 8,700 words | Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Eligible for Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, etc.
In several myths, women turn into trees to escape unwanted sexual advance. I combined three of these stories to tell my own story, an exploration of the cruel treatment of women in mythology.
The Orangery is a haven for these women-turned-trees, watched over by the Guardian. When Apollo breaks into the Orangery looking for Daphne, the Guardian must fight him–and make sacrifices in the process.
This one’s received some great reviews, with the following nice things being said about it:
- “This is a neat story that to me tackles a lot of the tropes in mythology, the image of a woman transforming into a tree to escape the unwanted advances of a man, and draws out a story about desire and consent, violation and, ultimately, respect.”–Quick Sip Reviews
- Included on the 2016 Favorites lists of A.C. Wise, Jason Sanford, and Ada Hoffman
- “The Orangery by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies in December is another a story, like Takács’ “Standing on the Floodbanks,” which touches on the power of choice.”–Words for Thought at Apex Magazine
- “A Great Twist on the Apollo-Daphne Myth.”–Rocket Stack Rank
- Added to the Nebula Recommended Reading list
- Inclusion on the Tangent Recommended Reading List
Other People’s Work
Or: this is not an exhaustive list of everything I have loved this year, and I am still catching up on so much reading!, but here are some places you might start with if you are like me and working through All the Fictions
All the Birds in the Sky | Charlie Jane Anders | Tor | Novel
Anders combines sci-fi and fantasy to create a clever story of witches, AI, and apocalypse.
Summerlong | Peter S. Beagle | Tachyon | Novel
Well, we’ve established that I love retold myths, so Beagle’s retelling of the Persephone story is right up my alley.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison | Samantha Mabry | Algonquin | Norton YA
Beautiful magical realist YA novel about a boy who falls for a teenage girl rumored to be poisonous to the touch.
Sooner or Later Everything Falls into The Sea | Sarah Pinsker | Lightspeed | Novelette
I love Pinsker’s stories about musicians’ lives after the dissolution of society. This novelette is one of my favorites from the year.
Every Heart a Doorway | Seanan McGuire | Tor.com | Novella
This one explores what happens to children who, like Alice or the Pevensie kids from Chronicles of Narnia, have visited other worlds but are now not allowed to return; they’re sent to a home where they try to heal (and some try to go back any way they can).
This is Not a Wardrobe Door | A. Merc Rustad | Fireside | Short Story
I’ve been shirking on my short story reading this year, but this was one of the stories I read and loved, which, like the above, plays with portal fantasy tropes in a brilliant way.
Bogi Takács | Bogi Reads the World | Fan Writer
Love Takács’ reviews of works from marginalized authors and was excited to see their reviews given their very own space here.
Sarah Gailey | Women of Harry Potter | Tor.com | Fan Writer
Gailey’s series about the oft-underappreciated women in the Harry Potter world are brilliant–and part of my inspiration for re-watching the movies and re-reading the books.
Today my very first novelette publication released online for free reading! “The Orangery” is available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
This one comes from my fascination and repulsion with women-turning-into-trees narratives. I say fascination because I have always loved trees. For years I have taken photos of beautiful trees when I travel. In college I used to find patterns in bare branches: women’s faces, mostly, and when I felt a darkness creeping in each winter, I looked to these patterns for comfort. (When I told my mom about the women I saw in trees, she said, “You see them too?” I have inherited her strange world.)
The women in mythology who turn into trees often do so to escape unwanted sexual advance or assault. That is where the repulsion comes from. Although I have always loved trees, I never felt like these mythological women were being gifted this new form. Instead, I felt like they were being punished. As if they were being told, you can either accept every advance that comes your way or opt out of a human life altogether.
In “The Orangery,” I made a place for these women-turned-trees, the Orangery of the novelette’s title, a walled-in grove watched over by a Guardian who tend to the trees’ wishes and lives out her life within the woods. But when Apollo breaks through the wall to find and reclaim Daphne, the Guardian must fight him–and make sacrifices in the process.
Read it here.
Some Photos of Trees
to both prove my point and because maybe you love trees too, I don’t know
I took a trip to the Czech Republic and mostly came home with photos of trees; this one is in the village Český Krumlov
It may look like I was photographing this tiger, but I was probably most excited by the juxtaposition of tiger and tree
Tree with arm-like branches in Oklahoma
Crumbled tree on Wood Island on Lake Texoma