Year in Review: 2016

I decided to write one more blog post for 2016.

This year has been marked by the loss of several really cool people in this world. It has been tumultuous politically, and just really, a big awful mess in so many ways. In some ways, 2016 has SUCKED. Yes.

However…I would be remiss amidst my fretting and complaining by not acknowledging how great this year has been for my work. I am truly humbled, grateful and damn it all, I am proud of myself.

In 2016 my debut novel (Penner Publishing, 2015) became a bestseller in FOUR different categories on Amazon, and I earned out my small advance.

In 2016 I completed a kick-ass novel (which I am now trying to get published) and I really feel that 2017 will be the year I get an agent for it.

In 2016 I self-published my first short story, The Peony and the Sun. I followed that up with another five short stories. That was all done within a span of about three months.

In 2016 I came into my own as a writer. I learned many important things about myself. I had an explosion of ideas and creativity.

In 2016 I wrote a few more (unpublished) short stories besides the ones I released as an indie author.

In 2016 I gained hundreds of new Facebook and Twitter followers. I got several new book reviews. I blogged more.

In 2016 I began revising my MG fairytale retelling.

In 2016 I wrote notes and got sparks of ideas (and maybe even a starting sentence or two) for some short stories, novellas, and novels.

In 2016 I became a part of an author collaboration Book Besties, which will publish a collection of short stories next year.

In 2016 I decided to self-publish my short story collection in 2017, and began compiling and editing all the stories.

In 2016 I read some great books, and listened to several audiobooks that I loved.

2016 was a banging year for me as an author and a creator. I learned a lot about publishing. I learned even more about myself.

Thank you for being along with me this year, to read my posts, to comment, to share my content. Thank you for reading my book and stories, and for reviewing them. Thank you for telling your mom, or your sister, or your neighbor, about this cool new author you found (moi!). Thank you for sharing my triumphs and being patient as I sometimes fumble on this journey.

2017, get ready. I have a lot I want to accomplish. Let’s blow 2016 out of the water.

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Background Noise & Writing

I think writers fall into two camps when it comes to background noise. Those who are adamantly for it. And those who are just as adamantly against it. I fall into the former category. I’m also the type of person who prefers falling asleep with a fan, or the sound of rain, or white noise (connection? I think perhaps). When things are too quiet, I tend to overthink, or my mind wanders places it really doesn’t need to go (thank you, Anxiety).

Pre-kid-crazy-life, I used to write in coffee shops, because I loved the hustle and bustle, the clamor of coffee machines, spoons, and chit-chat from strangers. Nowadays, I write from home and I usually have music playing quietly in the background as I write. Sometimes I have a movie playing, which connects somehow to the story I’m writing. When I work on fantasy, I like to have something like Harry Potter on, for example. I don’t necessarily watch it other than to drift my eyes up every now and again if I’m stuck. It’s just there for comfort. To set the mood.

Back to music, though. When I was writing Ditch Flowers I made a playlist that would help get me into the mindset I needed to be in, and would help me to keep my mind on task. If I would get distracted from the story, there was the music going on to help pull me back in. My brain was going, “Oh, right. I hear music. This song. It is here to set the scene. Of the novel I’m trying to write. Back to it!”

When I wrote Ditch Flowers, I had a thoughtful, emotional soundtrack of songs, including “Grey Street” by Dave Matthews Band, and “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles. My current favorite playlist is for when I write fantasy and fabulism. It’s got F.K.A. Twigs, Solange, tons of Florence + the Machine (also on my Ditch Flowers list), Alessia Cara, Ryn Weaver, and more. My Witch Lessons playlist contains 50% groovy songs, as part of the story takes place in 1971, and the other half sexy, moody, witchy music. Rod Stewart? Check. The Doors? Check. Gladys Knight & The Pips? Check. There’s also Mazzy Star, Annie Lennox, Sia, Odessa, Grace, The Weeknd, and Amy Winehouse on the list. Hey, I never said my music taste wasn’t eclectic.

If you’re a writer who enjoys background noise, consider making a soundtrack to set the mood to your story. Sometimes if you’re stuck, and/or not even writing, just playing it while you’re doing other activities can help to spark some inspiration. A fun bonus? You could burn copies onto CDs and give them out as prizes for your book launch or other giveaways! (Am I stuck in the 90’s a bit, or is this still a sweet idea?)

Weigh in- are you pro-noise or no-noise when you write?

 

 

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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One day at work I was walking past a cart of new BCD (Books on CD) and saw Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’d read Eat, Pray, Love probably around the time it came out and became a huge Bestseller, and I also read The Signature of All Things. Since I’d enjoyed both of those books (Eat, Pray, Love more so than the other) and I loved the description of Big Magic, I picked it up right away, and listened to it every day during my commute until it was through. Being only 4 discs long, and taking just 5 hours of time, it was a fast listen!

Big Magic was eye-opening, brilliant at times, and very timely for me. As many of you know I’ve been having a wonderful creative surge the last couple of months, and I really feel in love with the art of writing. In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. She talks about how to be playful, joyful, how to not take yourself or your art so seriously, about how to put yourself and your words (or other art forms) out into the world, how to take risks, how to love what you do. One of my favorite things she said was that the universe hides jewels inside each of us. It is our job to unearth those jewels.

Another thing that stuck out was the idea that we should be putting our books, stories, and our work out there. That it does nobody any good to have it lying around hidden forever. A perpetual fear I have is of leaving this world behind with a computer full of things that nobody will ever read. I’m working harder to get things submitted traditionally, and published indie, in part because of this. We, as writers, or creators, can get so stuck on perfection, or fear, that we miss opportunities, and we deprive others of our joy. It doesn’t mean you have to send out subpar stuff, but let’s face it—the work will NEVER be published if you’re waiting for perfection. There will always be something to fix, or something you wish you’d done differently. Get proofreaders, find beta readers, edit, revise, and then for goodness sake, get out of your own way and let it be born. Are there things in my stories that even now make me cringe? Yes. But, a slightly imperfect novel is better than no novel at all, in Gilbert’s opinion, and now mine as well. You can, and should, always try to improve yourself, and your work. However, do not mistake improvement for perfection.

The most fascinating part of Big Magic, besides listening to Gilbert talk about her own process and evolution of success, was the idea that IDEAS just want to be made manifest. That they are actually things with energy, with will, and that if you choose not to make a project, it will move on to someone else. The part where she talks about how her Amazon jungle novel fell out of her head into her friend’s actually gave me chills. So neat. Ideas are looking for partners to collaborate with. They will find creators. Sometimes you will want the Idea that comes, and other times, it may not be the best fit. Gilbert suggests being polite, gracious, and even thanking your Ideas aloud, whether you accept their proposition or not. I love this idea. In fact, I’ve started doing it in my own life. “Thank you, for coming to me. Please, stick around for a while until I get this story figured out. I really appreciate it.”

If you’re looking for a quick read or listen, give Big Magic a try. Gilbert has a pleasant voice if you’re going with audiobook, and I think there would be something in there for everyone, writers or otherwise. This book got me thinking, it made me feel, and more than once, it made me say YES! 5 stars for this book. Check it out here.

 

 

Ideas Do Return

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I want to confess something:

In the last week, I began to fear I was done. I thought my well of ideas was all dried up. I thought I would never have another new idea.

Now, these were just glimpses of fear, just hints of anxiety. But still, they were there in the darkest corners of my mind. More than once, I had to shove these thoughts aside.

And it was ridiculous. It has only been a week since I wrote a new story (a story I really love, I might add). Only a week! Actually, it was less than a week. However, for some reason in the span of a few days, my mind went quiet. This could have been because I was hard at work in a different way—editing my witch novel—in fact, I’ll bet anything that the ideas coming toward me just slowed, to make room, to make time for me to work on the big editing project I’m in the midst of, so as not to overwhelm me.

You see, I’m trying something new. To backtrack just a bit, I’ll explain that I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on audiobook last week, and I think it is brilliant so far. You might know Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, or The Signature of All Things, but Big Magic is all about the process of creativity, and living a creative, fulfilled life. And it is fabulous, and makes so much sense. One thing she talks about is that we should try to think of ideas as actual forces, as beings, almost like people. When they come to us, we should thank them (if we are so inclined to accept their proposition) and so that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been thinking of my ideas as separate beings, with energy, with thought. Sound kooky? I don’t care. It’s been liberating. I am welcoming the ideas to me, and thanking for being in my life. It’s similar to thanking God, or the Universe, or whatever, for your blessings. Being grateful, and having gratitude is a huge factor for having a positive experience in this life. Simply the act of writing down a few postives each day makes you happier, so they say.

If ya’ll recall I had an epiphany recently, about the kind of stories I want to create, and the kind of writer I really am, and since that epiphany, I was almost overwhelmed with new ideas, writing several new short stories in a very small amount of time. Instead of thinking of it as a muse nowadays, I think of it as an Idea. Capital. A force that won’t leave me alone. Except, you know, when it leaves me alone.

And the last few days, that is what happened. The Ideas around me quieted, to allow me to focus on my revision. Thank goodness they did, because I really did get so much accomplished (in fact, I’ll be ready to query Witch Lessons soon!). But, it did leave me worried, and I admit even to myself that I briefly thought the Ideas would not return. What if I ran out of Ideas? What if I never had another Idea come to me again?

I should not have worried, and you shouldn’t either. When they come to you, thank your Ideas, as Elizabeth Gilbert suggests. When they leave, let them go willingly. They will be back. They will, if you work hard, and welcome them.

This morning, fresh from a good night’s sleep, and a successful night of editing, I was flooded with so many new Ideas I needed to grab a pen and paper so I wouldn’t forget what was coming to me—what was coming through me. I jotted the Ideas down as swiftly as I could, and then afterwards counted. Six. Six new Ideas. And these aren’t just six new titles, or six new images. These are six new stories that came to me almost fully formed. Of course, I’ll still have to work for them. Of course, I’ll still have to bust my butt for some of it. But the bones are there, the plot, the structure, the characters.

I am not lucky, in that this is not something that can’t happen to everyone. It is. I fully believe that. To create what wants to be created is not something that you have to reach for, at least not all the time. Sometimes, yes, the Ideas are stubborn, or you don’t pay them enough mind, and as Big Magic says, they get sick of waiting around for you, and move on to someone else. However, a lot of the time (and I mean, A LOT), they are there, and you just need to listen. Be grateful when they arrive, be grateful that they’ve come to visit. Know that it is fleeting, and someday, they’ll be gone. But there will always be new Ideas who come to you, if you have dedicated yourself to creative living. Gilbert is right (and I can’t wait to finish her book so I can hear more)—this is magic. Creating is the best magic there is.

Now, I’m off to re-read the new short story I just wrote. It is 1,500 rough words, of a story that wanted to be born so badly it stopped me in my steps this morning, forced me to find a pen and paper, and passed everything it wanted to be to me in just the title: Goldfish Wish. I was simply the conduit for this story, just as I was the conduit for The Peony and the Sun, and Witch Lessons, and Sonja Uncaged, and Briar Rose, and The Maiden and the Maple Tree, and so on, and so forth. I don’t say that to be braggy, and most of you haven’t even heard me mention the majority of those, but they are there, they are written, they are going to be shared with you sooner, rather than later. And they all started the same way: an Idea.

Thank you, Ideas, for visiting me. You’re welcome anytime, but if you hold off while I’m editing, that’s okay, too. I know you’ll come back a different time. And I look forward to it.

And thank you readers. I hope you create something today. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be important. It just has to make you feel.

Good night.

-Amanda

 

 

Your Words Matter (what are you waiting for?)

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I ripped the page above from a magazine many years ago, and framed it. It is on my wall to this day. The words touched me, particularly the last two lines. (It doesn’t even really matter that I am a firm believer in reincarnation, so the “one” life part might be debatable pour moi…the words make me feel something.) Beautiful sentiment, beautiful question.

I want to tell you, you writers, you artists, you photographers, you filmmakers, designers, and those pursuing every other creative endeavor, that your work matters. I especially want to address this post to my fellow writers, because I assume many who follow this blog are tied to the literary in some way. Your words matter.

You may be afraid to share your work. You may be hesitant to submit it to literary journals, or magazines. You may refuse to submit for publication, or even publish it on your own blog. You may not let your friends, family or critique groups read it. You may think you’re not good enough, that you haven’t anything worthwhile to say. You may not finish your work. You may not write a single word. Perhaps you feel unworthy. Perhaps you feel talentless. Perhaps you think it does not matter.

You’re wrong.

If you have the passion and drive to write (or paint, or sculpt, or whatever), then you have something worth saying, or you’ll manage to find it along the way. In a world of doubt, where creativity is sometimes stifled at the expense of happiness, or health, it is important you remind yourself again and again, that what you’re doing matters. Words have tremendous power. They are not “just words” as some people say. Words are important, books are important, art is important. Is it necessary for survival? Well, not exactly. Water, shelter, food, yes. But if you have a creative soul, you will be stifled trying to ignore it.

I used to live this way. Every weekday I went to work at a bank (nothing wrong with banks, just…not for me). Every Sunday evening I would cry. I called it the Sunday Blues. I dreaded going to work the next day. I even once, fantasized about falling down the stairs and breaking my leg to avoid going to work. Normal reaction to an upcoming work day? No. Not really. I was there over two years, aching for a life of something else. Anything else. I made good money there, but money was not enough. I’m privileged enough to acknowledge that, I realize. However, even if money is your number one focus in your reason to work, it doesn’t mean you can’t listen to your right-brained side in other areas of your life. You don’t have to love your job, or even like it. But you do have to listen to your heart at least a little bit.

Do not postpone your art. If you need to work 9-5 at the most boring, corporate job you can think of, well,  sometimes bringing home the (turkey) bacon means doing things you don’t always love to do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create in your other hours. Do what you can. Do the best that you can. Write on the weekends, or at night. Jot down notes on napkins, and receipts. Use voice-software to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Learn. Surprise yourself.

I want to dispel the notion that pursuing creativity is self-indulgent. If you choose to bust your ass working a job to pay the bills, or if you choose to be a “staving” artist to live the creative life you desire, it is no one’s business. What matters is your level of contentment with how well you are living your life. Being creative, and choosing creative work, or creative hobbies, is not indulging in childish fantasies. It is living authentically. If you are called to create, it is only doing a disservice to ignore that. It not only hurts you in the long run, it hurts others. You know why? Because you may deprive the world of your talent, your joy. So don’t do that. Don’t make the world sad. Don’t stifle your creative self.

Your words matter. You have one life, at least that you’re likely aware of. Do not waste it living a life of half-way there. Go for your dreams. Go for your goals. Beat the shit out of your fears, and prove to yourself, and everyone else that you have something to say. Ignore the naysayers, the people who doubt you, the emotional vampires, and the people who hurt you. It does not matter what they think.

Push yourself. There is no better time. There is no reason to wait. Think of how many people say they’ll “someday” write a novel, or “learn to paint” or anything else. Don’t wait. You will never regret starting.

Your life is wild. Precious. Ask yourself what you plan to do with it. And then, go out and do it.

 

When You’re on the Muse’s Good Side (cool stuff happens)

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There’s this really sweet thing that happens to me sometimes.

What happens is I get some love from the muse. Do I capitalize that? The Muse? Muse? I definitely don’t want to offend her (them?). Because right now I’m on her good side. Right now, I am drowning in ideas. And it’s a good drowning. It’s freaking cool. And I’ve learned to recognize it when it starts happening, and to appreciate it, however long it lasts.

Usually, and you writers, and creative-types will get this, usually you work your butt off for your ideas. You stretch, you reach, you push yourself, and then you push more. A lot of the time writing is hard work. You write one sentence, and then erase two others. You feel like everything you write is garbage. You read terrible reviews. You cringe internally at things you’ve written in the past. You wonder if you’re really cut out for this calling.

And then, sometimes, you are blessed with a wonderful burst of creativity. Don’t question it, is my advice. Take it and run. Jot down the ideas as fast as they come. Get your computer out, keep a notebook by your side. Scribble the words on a cocktail napkin or type them into our phone’s memos. Don’t overthink it, and don’t worry about what you’re doing with all these ideas THAT JUST WON’T LEAVE YOU ALONE. It’s wonderful. Let it happen. Let your brain do the work, without it actually feeling like work. Trust it.

When I’m in these phases, as I am now, I feel like I’m not even working. I am writing for the sheer joy. I’m writing because I must. I am a vehicle for these ideas. My mind, my hands, my fingers typing furiously, they are all working for these stories. These stories want to be born. I just need to get out of my own way, and birth them. When, and if, this happens to you, you will probably feel exhilarated, like I do now. You may love the ideas coming to you. You may be also be like, what the hell, brain. What are you doing to me? But, enjoy this creative energy. Creativity for me leads to productivity. And then I feel so good about myself, so inspired, I am more creative. And more productive. It’s a wonderful, messy, wild circle, and I love it.

If you’ve been “blocked” before, you know how awful it is. You stare at a blank page, a white screen. You stumble over the words, or worse yet, you have NO words to stumble over. You feel empty, stuck. And then you somehow manage to find something, to dig deep down inside, and grab a hold of a snippet of an idea. It’s not always good (usually, for me, it’s painfully pathetic), but it’s there. And then, like magic, other times you get on the Muse’s good side and the ideas fall like rain. A restorative, beautiful rain that makes all the flowers grow.

In the last month, I’ve been showered with ideas. If you consider five new short stories showered, then yeah, I’m keeping that metaphor. And I do consider five a lot. Five new stories in a month that I didn’t have to sweat, cry, and bleed for? Five stories I’m excited about, that just sort of fell into my brain? Yes, please.

So, I’m taking these stories, and running with them. The first, The Peony and the Sun, I self-published just last month. The others still need work, but I may self-publish again, or I may submit to journals or magazines. That really doesn’t matter to me right now, though. What I care about now is that I am thrilled to be writing. I have ideas to spare! I am jotting this down quickly (sorry for any typos!) and I am getting back to the short story I started writing this short story. I not only want to get back to it, I need to. The Muse will not leave me alone. Thank goodness for that. I’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts, whether it’s another month, a week, or gone in a day. I feel giddy with it. It’s the best high ever, writing often, and writing well.

Thanks, Muse. Really.

Writers, what is your experience with getting random, wonderful bursts of creativity? Aren’t they amazing? How long do you find they usually last?