I had high hopes for revived word count production this month. In the past, magic happened for me in November. A group of friends and I make an annual effort for NaNoWriMo, meeting every Sunday to split our time between writing and talking. We take turns participating in a running conversation, putting on headphones and typing furiously when we have nothing to add to a topic only to jump back in later. Somehow, it works for us.
Alas, this is the first year I fell on my face during NaNoWriMo. The typical mojo escaped me. Unfortunately, I'm far from the only person in my group to experience creative abandonment. The last few weeks have rarely involved writing, and when I do write, it's somehow wrong. Between struggles at work and concerns born of our current climate, I can no longer wander through the dark worlds I have created. At least not right now.
While my words evade me, I have taken comfort in worlds created by others.
The All Souls Trilogy
Deborah Harkness can certainly write. I set down her books several times, impressed by how quickly I fall into the world she created. Her descriptions and pacing are spot on. The second book in the series, Shadow of Night, is a combination of historical fiction and the fantastic. I can't imagine how much research went into the piece and found the details fascinating. I often find an excess of description tedious, but she struck a balance.
I do struggle with a large element of her work. The relationship between Diana and Matthew is fraught with violence. Matthew is persistently on the verge of giving in to the blood rage that boils beneath the surface. His love for Diana brings out every protective instinct him, diminishing his control. He's even destroyed at least one woman in his past. The character, Diana, devotes a large portion of page time to rationalizing her true love's behavior, trading control for passion. All at once she loves and fears him--for good reason. In typical vampire fashion, he broods and attempts to scare her away for her own good, which only stokes her urge to fix what's broken in him.
Sure, Diana's own temper is fiery. My problem is that her superhuman lover teeters on the razor's edge between loving and destroying her. The dynamic is very typical of the genre, and I wonder why we accept it so readily. A supernatural monster devoted to a woman to the point of destroying everything around her seems to be okay as long as he also protects her from an external physical threat. The mounting violence he feels towards the heroine is channeled into fighting others. The main character even fears him, knows that if she runs he will hunt and hurt her. His instincts are too strong for him to be predictable if she caves into her fear and flees.
The romantic relationship is very reminiscent of Twilight, but the writing is stronger. Despite my issues with the trope, I enjoyed the series.
I have been known to read everything from literary fiction to erotica, but when I saw the title and cover for Lady Pirate, I suspected I would find it rather ridiculous. I was pleasantly surprised! This book is witty and smart. Laughing out loud happened several times. I enjoyed the main characters, and there were mysteries and mishaps to balance out the miscommunications between the love interests that are typical in romance. I finished the book in a day and highly recommend it despite a questionable scene on a beach...
Big Little Lies
Liane Moriarty is my new favorite author. She captured my attention from the outset with an Audrey Hepburn/Elvis Presley costume party, an old woman who converses with her cat, and a murder. That's just the first chapter! I simply adored the ending. I can't wait to see how HBO handles the content (plus Alexander Skarsgård #TeamEric). If you enjoy Gillian Flynn but wished for a little humor to balance things out, you'll love this book.
Movies and Books continued
If you haven't seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I highly recommend it. My husband and I went with the nieces, and I fell in love with the character Jacob Kowalski. Because I found the movie delightful, I've finally caved in and purchased the Harry Potter series. I know, I know. Every time I confess I've never bothered to read the series I get a chorus of horrified proclamations (my favorite being my niece's reaction: "HOW COULD YOU???"). I'm halfway through book two, and I'm beginning to see why so many people fell in love with Rowling's world.
I'm always looking for new books to check out. Let me know in the comments what you thought of any of the books above or if you have a recommendation of your own.
I have a confession to make.
I hadn't written anything of substance for months. MONTHS.
The occasional idea percolated. My ability to throw ideas around during dialogue with friends hadn't declined. But when it came to putting my butt in a seat and cranking out word volume, I sucked. Rather than staring at a blinking cursor, I dove into the wormhole that is YouTube as a distraction. Somehow writing had become a chore. I no longer needed it. Hell, I didn't even want to.
I didn't have writer's block. I had writer's abandonment.
It's normal for me to slip into a rut after releasing a book. It takes months to write a first draft and then turn it into something consumable. The back and forth with beta readers, the editor, and the proof reader also takes months-- culminating in a feverish sprint of marketing activity. My typical pattern involves finishing the first draft at the the end of November and launching in May. I use the summer to recover and plot the next book (sometimes I crank out a book for fun that will likely never be published).
This year was different for a lot of reasons. I switched gears with my career and took on more challenging work. Somewhere around March I realized that I had trouble reaching people at my publisher. I knew something was off, but I was still surprised to receive official notice that Booktrope had decided to shut its doors. Instead of launching a new book, I spent the month of May negotiating contracts with the people who helped produce my finished novels and readying the content for relaunch. I pushed my team to complete work on my new novel, Visions and Bones, in June and launched in early July. Another month passed before I realized my typical malaise had morphed into something heavier.
A lot of factors fed into my decision to disconnect from social media, blogging, and the news (without risking a polarizing comment, I think it's safe for me to say this election year has been particularly vitriolic and damaging). In my darker moments I've considered pulling the cord and removing my books from sale altogether. I allowed my insecurity to overshadow the tremendous accomplishments I had achieved.
Now that I've had a couple months of recovery, my temptation to blow up what I've created seems silly. I don't regret withdrawing from writing and focusing on self care. I'm back to running every other day and lifting weights on days I don't run. Physically I feel better than I have in a couple of years. I still struggle with finding balance at my day job and come home with just enough energy to eat and decompress. I don't know how I used to come home and spend hours writing after a full day of work, but a few hours a week seems reasonable. I finally feel ready to participate in a scaled down version of NaNoWriMo.
The minute I pulled into the parking lot of Third Place Books, I knew meeting up with my writing group had been the right decision. Eliana West, our resident ambiance official, pulled out all of the stops. The table in the middle of the food court was a thing of beauty. Six women showed up to encourage one another and discuss the issues we perceive in our projects.
There's a kind of magic that happens in a really good writing group. People committed to cheering one another on doesn't happen often. Perhaps the collective creative energy also fuels word count. The thing that blew me away today was the realization that each of us has benefited from one another's experience. My writing has improved because a member of our group challenged my way of thinking or called me out for relying on tropes.
In the corporate environment, the best bosses realize that diversity provides tremendous strength. People from varied backgrounds tend to approach problems from different angles and offer unique insights critical to strengthening a product. Our writing group is no different. We have writers from romance, sci fi, fantasy, horror, and thriller genres. Our religions and lifestyles vary just as much as our genres. As a result, I can offer my friends plot devices to increase tension and conflict. At that same table, I receive advice on upping the romance between characters (which I need!). While I don't like hearing my fellow authors are also struggling, it is a bit of a comfort to know I'm not the only one dealing with insecurity.
Perhaps joining up with my writing group sooner would have sped up my recovery, but I think I needed the time away. The words flowed today, albeit slowly. It may take me a few more months to finish book four in The Hunted series than usual, but I no longer doubt my ability to keep going.
How do you get out of a writing rut? Do you have a writing group that works for you?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.