Thoughts on Deadlines and Why I Can’t Meet Them

A personal accounting of one of the more complicated aspects of a self-publishing author’s life: deadlines.

Alright, here’s the deal.

I can’t meet my own deadlines.

“Oh, but because it’s your schedule you get to make the rules and you’re in charge!” (If my cats cared this is what they might say.)

No. I’m not in charge. Because the minute the second I think I can meet a deadline something happens and I can’t.

This time, for example, I wanted to self-publish a short story collection on Halloween this year. It was going to be full of creepy, speculative fiction and I was going to have an absolute fucking blast writing it.

I made the decision to do this back in August when neither Regina nor any of my faeries were being particularly talkative and I thought I needed a “fresh” project so that I would keep writing every day and still feel productive.

Can you guess what happened?

I didn’t write a damn thing. I only have 2 short stories. That is not acceptable. Because now I’m faced with two paths: 1) scramble like hell and write 4 new things now and maybe they won’t be good and maybe they won’t make sense but by G-O-D they’ll be there, some of my other responsibilities may fall to the wayside but I am determined. Or 2) scrap the deadline and let the stories happen when they happen.

I’ve tried to form thoughts about being a self-publishing person and keeping a schedule and so far, but it’s time to take a close look once again.

Back in December 2018 I published a novella called Dead Girl Moon. It was meant to be a front runner to Havoc’s Moon, which was supposed to be published in March or April of 2019. That didn’t happen. I rearranged my schedule and changed my deadlines. I wrote for April Camp Nanowrimo and July Camp Nanowrimo and the book still didn’t happen. Another other novellas happened but then it rebelled and split in two (magical literary mitosis y’all) and I ran out of brain power to edit them down and add plot filler to make them whole and not nonsensical (well…nonsense will still happen but you know what I mean).

And then I started school and my writing hit the brick wall of academia (not for the first time) and since no progress was being made I scrapped my schedule yet again. But I thought: surely I can write a short story a week still. Surely my brain can manage that much. If I have all of September and the first half of October to write one measly little short story a week I can still meet my deadline. 6 weeks=6 stories and I’ve surpassed my quota. I win!

Can you guess what happened?

I haven’t written a complete short story yet. I have 2 drafts of stories I worked on back in March and April that I didn’t finish then and haven’t finished now.

The goals are not being met.

More importantly, the writing isn’t happening.

And now I have to figure out why.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with.

1) I have to write something every day. 10 words. 100 words. A 3 word poem. 1000 words. Whatever. I have to write every day or else I go crazy.

This is different from putting your ass in the chair and turning out pages for your holy WORK IN PROGRESS every day.

This is about expression and practicing. Like meditation, do a little every day and you’ll feel better. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes, 3 minutes.

Because I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write I wasn’t writing at all. That is bad. That is harmful. That leads to insecurities like imposter syndrome and self-loathing.

So I need to write every day but I cannot compartmentalize myself and say, “Today I am going to write a poem.” Or, “Today I am going to catch up with Regina.”

When I get the urge to write or a little idea fragment pops into my head I need to stop what I’m doing and write it down even when I’m in class or talking to a friend or whatever. I need to pay attention to my inner writing voice and let the ideas flow.

If I go the rest of the year without writing Havoc’s Moon, I’ll be okay as long as I’m still writing.

2) Life shit gets in the way of writing. Family drama, Biology tests, Chemistry labs, whatever. All the things that are *gasp* more important than writing right now.

(Digression: It’s not that I want to make writing my “full-time” job or be a “professional” writer. I want writing to be THE MOST IMPORTANT in my life. I’ve had to come (by trial and error) to the realization that writing is not and never will be the most important thing in my life. It’s in the top 5 (…okay it’s #6 on the list…the cats are #5) but it’s not THE MOST important. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be dedicated or passionate about writing. There was a time when writing was the only thing that made me happy and I ate, breathed, and shat poetry. But then I changed my life, made my situation better and found things other than poetry that I could love. That’s when I thought proper time management would let me do the things I wanted to do. And when I couldn’t keep to a schedule I felt like I wasn’t dedicated enough. Especially when I was such a “strong” writer before. But those are incorrect thoughts because there’s no ONE right way to write. And people are allowed to change and evolve.)

So I need to not add writing to the list of things going “wrong.”

Writing has always been the healing factor, the savior. Not the stressor.

That means I need to get rid of deadlines completely. And schedules. And plans.

When I have a project finished, I will publish it. Beyond that I can’t plan anymore. I can’t predict when I will have time today to write let alone plan out Nanowrimo next month (which I still want to try even though I have Thanksgiving with my in-laws this year and studying for final exams).

So no schedule. No deadlines. No nothing beyond write something every day. Maybe after school or during the summer I can try to build a frame for my viscera but not right now. Right now I just need to ooze around on the table and try not to get dehydrated.

3) Grow as I writer.

But not get caught up in the world of the “side hustle” or the “authorpreneur.” That’s what got me in trouble in the first place. I would watch YouTube/AuthorTube videos of people who have fans and followers and newsletters and for some silly reason I thought, “Well, they’re successful. I need to be like them.”

No. I don’t need to be like them. Even though they’re really cool and shiny.

Writing is not my day job.

My day job was sticking people with needles. My future job will be sticking people with needles and then looking at what I pull out under a microscope. Right now my job is raking pine needles.

I will still eat if I don’t publish a book. They might not. They have to do the marketing and the newsletter writing and the promotions and all that stuff that makes my brain hurt.

I want to learn the marketing stuff because I find it interesting. I don’t want to spend hours on social media begging for people to read my books.

But when I say grow as a writer, I want to do things that make my writing better. Like with anything in academia, there’s this stigma/stereotype that once you “get” an MFA you’ve made it (and I’m going to talk a lot about all that later) or that you’ve learned all the things you possibly could about writing and you are now the best ever.

That’s not true. Some of my classmates’ writing sucked. Sometimes my writing sucks. I do my best not to show you the stuff that sucks but reading is SUBJECTIVE and you, the reader, can like or hate whatever you want. Some of my classmates who I think their writing sucks went on to get book deals. The chick who wrote 50 Shades of Grey is super rich now. Whatever.

Some of it is skill and artistry, some of it is personal preference, but the things that define what make writing “good” are not universal or quantifiable. I mean, spelling and grammar are kind of a necessity but beyond that it’s all up to the reader.

I’m going to stop getting off topic now.

What I want to make clear is: I’ve let myself get distracted by all the shiny things in the self-publishing world that are related to writing but are not writing. In my distracted state, coupled with all my other not-writing responsibilities, I’ve let my writing slip, and not just the word count. I’ve been writing shitty, unusable stuff. And that’s good because all that stuff needs to come out but I also want to get serious about writing again.

Just writing.

So I’m saying “fuck off” to everything else (except you, dear reader, you’re awesome) and only focusing on writing words. Showing up to the page and getting 10, 50, 500 words a day until I feel like I’m back on solid ground.

To anyone waiting for more of The Slaughter Chronicles: I love you and I’m sorry you have to wait longer.

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Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

While Writing The Echo of Something Hitting

I was waking up at 4:30 a.m., cursing my alarm clock. Awake before dawn, cold, sick/hungover, I’d trudge to the bus stop with frost crunching beneath my boots to get to work. It was an hour long bus ride if the traffic was good. I used that time on the bus to read and write poetry. I earned my MFA, start to finish, on that bus. Crossing the lines, riding over the river, circling the familiar pathways.

But before the bus was the dead kitten. My anchor.

See, while I was thinking about my graduating thesis, my “masterwork” of poems I was walking to the bus stop. A rooster crowed. There was fog, there was sleet, there was ice and the wet cold soaked into my marrow. My bag was too heavy with books and not heavy enough with food. I didn’t have enough alcohol/I had too much.

There was this image in my head of this ghost-woman under the foggy streetlight but that wasn’t reality. She was orange and I thought she was my speaker, the thread that would connect everything in my collection, but she wasn’t. I don’t know where she’s gone now. Maybe she wasn’t real to begin with.

I know she wasn’t real because the poems didn’t feel real. They weren’t working. I was stuck.

And then I was walking to the bus stop and there, in the grey concrete gutter at the edge of the dark, early morning road, was the dead kitten. Nothing ate it and its body was frozen. I walked by that little broken body for a MONTH and watched it get flatter and flatter, the fur and skin seemed to be dissolving into the road, the bones were sinking, slowly, into the concrete.

It was like the road was eating the body since none of the carrion feeders would touch it. It was too cold for the insects. Most insects.

And that made me think about borders and barriers and bodies dying on the road. Animal bodies, human bodies. There are borders between countries, borders between places within countries, borders between roads and rivers, roads and houses, roads and bodies.

I began to explore those places.

And then in the spring a flash flood killed my car. My most loyal, bestest friend in the world. We’d been on so many adventures together and I cried when I had to turn him (yes, him) in to the dealership. More debt, more stress. More mistakes made with the man who is now my ex-husband. I wrote the Echo of Something Hitting because I needed to tell myself specific things about the way I was living that I could not see. Rather, my sub-conscious/my reptilian brain needed to tell me. Go look back at your old poems and see if there’s something you might have realized sooner than you thought.

I began to explore those places too. The flood and transformation. Transformation from catastrophe. (As far as catastrophes go it was a small one but the water sloshing over my boots and then the firemen pushing my car out of the road, all of them wearing grey shirts and water up to their thighs, frolicking in the water like otters. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to put them into the book. If any of you are reading this now, all these years later, thank you.)

There’s lots of bird imagery, lots of water imagery, lots of grey. The kitten was grey.

(I tell people my favorite color is green but I think, secretly, it is grey. Grey and the weird pink/periwinkle/grey of some ballet slippers. Is it okay to have more than one favorite color? I don’t mean to imply in any way that green is inferior. I really like green.)

I’m running out of things to say about the book. It began as a collection of poems but as I wrote about the kitten and the road and the river the borders of the poems dissolved and it became what I like to think of as a “lyric essay.”

I got my degree in Cross-Genre and Hybrid Poetry. Hybrid is where prose and lines blend and mutate like sick proteins but they’re not sick. Things unfold and knot up. Things flow freely but they also flicker and disappear. Think deep sea fish and you’re good. The Cross-Genre is not merging “romance” and “fantasy.” Where I went to school, genres were prose and poetics. Genres were how you actually wrote, not what you wrote about.

So a lyric essay, to me, is formatted like an epic poem but has zero meter, too many long pauses, random chunks of prose that float like globules of crude oil in the ocean–they’re soft, not like plastic–

Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Review of Books about lyric essays…and how they can be…banal…(awesome selling point).

The Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville says, “Writing the lyric essay offers the author a frolic in the pool of memoir, biography, poetry and personal essay mixed with a sprinkling of experimental.

What is interesting?

What is over-the-top batshit crazy?

What is self-important pontification?

Maybe it’s all those things. But I feel that poetry is WAY more than just verse and form. Poetry is more than lines and stanzas, more than meter, rhyme, and syllable counts. I guess you could say that lyric essay is the ultimate free verse but free verse is already free verse so…I’m rambling now. I should end this post.

I wanted to say all that because I want to get back into poetry. I want to start working on another poetry collection, one that’s been hanging out in my head since 2007, like dust piling up in the corners.

You can find The Echo of Something Hitting for free download on iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and several other places that give good homes to free ebooks.

The Echo of Something Hitting is a hybrid, cross-genre, lyric essay that explores the transformative journey from disaster into survival; an imagined life after death. Becoming something new within the language of roads, rivers, and storms, the text decomposes and reforms to escape the boundaries of words.

Fans of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Labyrinth and Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters will enjoy this handful of words.

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Photo by Imthaz Ahamed on Unsplash

Waiting for Autumn

the cat is still alive and we are together, still breathing.

i want to delete everything and start over

make something waterproof

and strong as guitar strings

(not too strong)

bonds need to break

to make energy, the season needs

to turn

i am not waiting, i am running towards it. i’m so

pre-emptive i rush right past it

i can’t breathe

i want to buy a new purse, new

sinus cavities, new

allergens

i want to spend all my money on sleep

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Pretend You Don’t Know

When you’re editing your manuscript, read it though, at least once, as if you know NOTHING about your story.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own heads when we write, especially during the first draft. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to catch errors and inconsistencies you have to not only get critical, you have to suspend your own imagination and forget–temporarily–everything you know about your own story.

Crazy talk, I know.

But doing that changes your perspective and can give you insights you might not otherwise have.

But one of the hardest lessons I learned in my college poetry classes was not to make internal references or “inside jokes.” I might get the reference but someone who doesn’t know me sure as shit won’t.

The same thing applies to fiction. Readers can’t read minds. You might write something that makes total sense to you either because you get the joke or you know what’s going to happen three chapters or three books down the road.

Your readers don’t know these things. They might get confused. They might stop reading.

It also shows you things that you might take for granted. For example: does everyone know werewolves are bothered by silver? Does everyone know what necromancy is?

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to spell out every little detail, dumb your writing down, or waste pages with info dumps but it is important to be mindful of what expectations you are putting on your reader and if those expectations help or hinder your story.

Looking at your manuscript this way doesn’t just help fill plot holes. It can show you ways to enhance your narrative structure.

Here’s an example from my own experiences:

I love prologues.

I know AuthorTubers and many a podcast host tell you to avoid prologues like the plague. But I’m one of those weird people who love reading prologues so I thought, “Fuck it, I’m gonna write a prologue and it’s going to be my MC, Regina, reporting on the death of another character. And it’s going to be awesome.”

Well, I gave the manuscript to one of my beta readers and she didn’t like it. She has no idea who was talking and no idea who these characters were. Because there was no context. I knew what was going on because I have the WHOLE STORY in my head. She didn’t. And it didn’t work for her.

Then another beta reader said the same thing. And I was sad…because I made the thing and would have to change the thing.

If one beta reader has an opinion you can take it with a pinch of salt. But if more than one person has the same problem, the problem doesn’t come from their interpretations or expectations, it comes from your writing.

And I thought, “Well, what if I make it an INTERLUDE instead?”

And that works so much better because by the time this character needs to die you, the reader, know a little bit more about the world and can follow along with the MC and learn the WHY and HOW without getting confused.

So now, whenever I’m editing I always make a plan to read through whatever I’m working on as if I have no idea what’s going on. This helps me get into the mind of a reader and I can think about what kinds of things I, as a reader, would want to know.

I recommend that at least once you read through your manuscript and pretend you have no idea what’s going on. See what happens.

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In the Voice of My Poetry

My poetry is about finding lost things.

If drinking makes you sick, don’t drink.

Find a clean puddle and dip your cup in that; drink the moon on the water.

My grandmother never wanted my grandfather to leave (he was an alcoholic). She had one sister who thought she was prettier than everyone else. Her grave has dead plants on it. And pink marble.

My poetry is about falling across the road as a bloody smear and making a new boundary, a new border.

My poetry is about an imaginary map.

I was born alone.

Wild roses are my favorite.

My poetry is about rotting and returning to the earth.

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This post is inspired by Bhanu Kapil’s Blog

Photo by Felipe Santana on Unsplash

Always Double Check Yourself

This one is going to be short and sweet.

When you submit your work to a magazine and they ask you to write a cover letter…

DON’T

FORGET

TO

ADDRESS IT TO SOMEONE!

Don’t say “Dear editor”

or “To whom it may concern”

Go to the magazine’s website, find their masthead and PICK OUT A NAME.

And for the love of god don’t start your cover letter with “Dear, ____________”

and then forget to fill in the blank.

It makes you look like a fucking moron.

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Note: I just did that. I wrote “dear” and forgot to plug in someone’s actual name before I hit the submit button. Don’t be like me.

Photo by Cata on Unsplash

Writing On A Schedule

So my plan was to make fiction. One novella and three novels. Follow the recipe. Eat the cake.

All sweetness. The sweetest ever.

Well, the writing had other plans.

Instead of coming up with one novella and three novels I had two novels and two separate collections of short stories.

And I also had this SCHEDULE I was trying to keep because I had goals/delusions of professionalism.

Well, I threw the holy schedule away.

Because the creative process does not stop. It is a flood. And the flood said, “You will come with me or else.”

Throughout the course of writing The Slaughter Chronicles I have learned so much about how to write a continuing story line and a lot about myself as a writer. My character Regina came into my head in 2014 and in 2016 I put her on the page for the first time. It’s 2019 now and even though YOU only have one tiny novella about her, I have all the stories, and putting them on paper has been a challenge and a joy.

So now instead of one novella and three novels and instead of two novels and two short story collections, I have two novellas, one novel, and two short story collections.

This is what happens when I try to write. I make a thing (novel no. 1) and I let it sit. And then I find the plot holes and fill them.

And then the writing tells me, “No, I want to be something else.” And when I try to fix it and can’t, I don’t write for 10 days and feel bad about myself.

But then I have an idea. And then another idea. And then the story finally becomes something I like (not that I didn’t like it before, it just wasn’t enough).

The novel I wrote was fine. But that was all. It was competent. But there was something about it that bored me. So I tried to change it. But that didn’t work.

I tried again, that also didn’t work.

Third time’s the charm in this case.

Never settle with your writing. Never, ever think just because your final draft is ‘done’ that you have to keep it when your gut tells you something is wrong or something needs to be added/taken away.

I am very lucky, I don’t need to publish books to pay my bills. I am only accountable to myself. I haven’t sold my work to anyone and no one is waiting to buy it. I can change my deadlines whenever I want.

And I have. Again.

So what does that mean?

How do I write?

What is the plan for the writing?

Firstly, there will be no more Slaughter Chronicles publications until next year. This is not a bad thing. I’m going to give you a better product than what I had planned, I promise.

Secondly, since I want a Halloween book baby so badly, I am going to publish a collection of short stories on October 31 this year. And next year. And the year after that. Check out the info on this project here :)

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