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.
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.
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
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
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).
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.
I’m part of a pretty badass local creative community called Spiderweb Salon (started by the talented Courtney Marie and Conor Wallace). Every year they put on various creative showcases for local writers, performance artists, musicians, visual artists, etc. They also host zine-making workshops and various other meet-ups. I’ve loved being part of something that aims to create a community where people can come together without judgement and share what’s near and dear to them. That community has been particularly important to me in times of darkness.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been struggling with depression. There’s been a lot of change going on–some good, some not-so-good–and, like many, I don’t handle change well. I was feeling pent-up and frustrated when Spiderweb’s last zine-making party came along. I went because I needed to write something, needed to finish something, needed to be part of something that wasn’t me in my room fighting my cats for use of the computer.
Spiderweb’s zine-making parties take place in a living room strewn with typewriters and pieces of pre-cut paper. You go in, type up your poem or story or draw your artwork, then leave it alone. I like going in and working with a total of two drafts: one hand-written on paper to make sure it’ll fit onto the page, the other typed. There’s something therapeutic about not revising for days, not workshopping.
The theme of the last Spiderweb zine was The Spell Book. Here’s the piece I came up with: first the scan from the printed zine, then the cleaned-up version below.
how to be happy: a spell for the sorrow-ridden witch
i. eat a tbsp. of cayenne every morning. mix with triple-filtered water (to ensure the ghosts are gone).
ii. repeat your mantra in the shower. the water knows when you are telling the truth, when you believe your straining voice. if you lie, you will feel a surge of burn. let that burn remove the first layer of your lying skin. rinse the dermis. repeat.
iii. eat one eye of roach. pop as you would one of those pills your dr. gave you, the ones you never took. bonus: your apartment will be one roach cleaner.
iv. sneak into your old lovers’ bedrooms. place both your hands on their cheeks and suck any last affection they have for you from their chapped lips. this is how you will love yourself again. get it all, every last whisper.
v. keep your fear and anger inside until your arms are hot to the touch. empty that fever into a cast-iron soup pot. cook the mixture until it is thick as glue. feed it to the barista who sold you shitty coffee in Arkansas.
vi. leave your apartment. walk down sidewalks and step on every crack. when you reach the woods, venture off the path. walk until your thighs burn. but not the burn of water and not the burn of anger. you need to get out more. you need to be a better person. when was the last time you went to the dr.? too long ago or too recently. get lost in these thought, until they make you shake. these thoughts will call the troll to you. offer him your hands, to smell but not to eat. you know him. you recognize his lips. you recognize his gait. you recognize your favorite shoes and favorite dress, the one you wore the last time you were happy. you recognize your chewed-off fingernails. face him head-on. call him every name you have ever called him, every name you have ever called yourself. let him swallow you whole. he will keep you bottled until his troll hands and arms grow hot. then he will let you go.
(witchy disclaimer: these are all terrible ideas. do not engage in troll-summoning w/o the expertise of a professional. do not eat that much cayenne without the expertise of a culinary sorcerer. make sure roaches are free from pesticide. get old lovers’ consent before sneaking in: they may be happy to be rid of old feelings. get help when you need it.)