Writing around a day job

I knew from a very early age that I would need a day job if I wanted to be a writer. I mean really early — I was five or six when I came to the practical realization that fiction might not be lucrative and I’d need to do something else to pay the bills.

These days, I’m a little older and a little wiser, plus a lot busier. My day job is incredible, but it’s also exhausting, and I often find my energy sapped entirely by the time my workday comes to a close. Thankfully, I have the most supportive husband, plus no kids to vie for my attention… but even so it can be a struggle to make time to write.

Not only that, but most of the writing experts agree that the best way to create and retain a productivity habit is to do it at the same time every day.

Ha! Slim chance of that if you have a day job with any inconsistencies, whether that’s parenting, software development, or steaming milk!

Though I’ve never been able to create a “one consistent time” habit in my life — it’s something I still hope I can do someday — over the years I’ve developed some strategies that work well for me when it comes to getting in the words. In case you find even one of them helpful as well, here’s my list…

  • This one’s new for me, but dictation is something you can do anywhere you’ve got your phone. (I’m using this app called Just Press Record on my iPhone, but the native voice recording app will work as well.) I prefer to jot down “on the go” notes by hand, because I remember them better if I do, but I’ll record a voice memo in a pinch. It doesn’t feel like progress that’s as tangible as if I’ve actually written, but it’s still progress! Bonus if your app (like JPR) also transcribes what you say.
  • Make sure to put your latest work into OneNote or a similar cloud-based program that you can access on your phone, so you can pick up where you left off at all times. Instead of opening your browser or your favorite mobile game, open your latest work instead and add at least a few words!
  • Set aside time every day. Even if it’s only five minutes. Even if that five minutes is somewhere totally different depending on the day. If you can, try to get in your writing time before your job starts — my creative motivation often starts high and declines over the course of the day, despite my being a night owl.
  • Track your progress so you can watch how much better and faster you get by putting in the time. It’s a great motivator!
  • Timebox your writing. As a promise to yourself and your loved ones that you won’t spend forever writing (or simply staring at the page), put your writing time in a box. Pledge to write for an hour — no more, no less. Stand up and stop typing when the timer goes off.
  • Do writing sprints, meaning set a timer and type furiously until it goes off. Track how many words you get and how many minutes it took you to write them, and you’ll see massive progress almost immediately.
  • Use a habit app like Habitica, if you’re motivated by gamifying your life. My daily habit is set as “Write something!” because I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself — even writing ten words counts, as long as the spirit of the habit is met.
  • Set tangible goals and deadlines for yourself. I use NaNoWriMo as a very convenient goal (50,000 words) and deadline (November 30), but you don’t have to start with such lofty goals and tight timelines. Here’s a reasonable sample goal: 10,000 words by the end of the year — that’s less than 30 words per day.
  • If you’re really struggling to move forward, try Write or Die. It’s a desperation measure, but it’s very effective!

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Studiolog: Week of September 2

It’s been a month… or three… since the last one of these. So of course the Shames have been up to some ish!

…like what?

Acquiring new vehicles, for starters! Jake and I got ourselves a fantastic Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, while Josh acquired himself a Toyota Corolla hatchback in blue. Really blue.

A black Toyota Tacoma from the front.
The truck in the wild!

This means, of course, that we have to start making media content based on our new babies. Jake and I grabbed some footage while on vacation last week and I’m going to compose some music for Josh to edit to. I’ll share what we come up with as it gets finished!

Oh, did I mentioned I’m publishing another book?!

Patrick created an AMAZING cover, as per usual. This took him approximately three hours.

Yes indeed! It’s the long-overdue “Promptly: Write Fast, Write Now!” You can order your copy now and you’ll receive it on publication day, which is September 16th. The basic premise is: I have always wanted a prompt book that not only gave me the random inspiration of prompts, but a structured way to use that random inspiration. That’s what I’ve striven to do with “Promptly” and I can’t wait to hear from my readers if I managed to do so.

We’ve continued making progress on our albums – the Not Bad EP in the key of E minor, and my own personal album, which also doesn’t have a title yet… nor a theme, for that matter. I kinda figured this would take longer than I was hoping it would, but I’ve been learning so much from JUNO in the meantime that it just doesn’t matter if it’s stretched out a while… the results are going to be awesome.

Jake and Josh continue their work on the guitars, and now they’re even staining bodies for the shop where Jake works part-time. This is kind of a huge milestone, and I am going to brag the heck out of it as soon as we get official pics…

Julie and I have brainstormed ourselves a new project: a crime-thriller-scifi-horror podcast called //Reload. We want to fully voice it and write weird-ass stories about mysterious happenings, kinda like Bedtime Stories on YouTube but fictional. We have two concepts so far and are looking for people to help us fully voice our scripts!

Though we’ve slowed our roll a bit, Amy and I still published two episodes of The Writers in the Room: Breaking the bad habit, about cutting ourselves off from our writer-slackin’, and our spoilerful review of Good Omens, Part I.

Though I haven’t published any finished fiction recently, I (and everyone else) have continued to participate in Bloodcraft, and I’ve made progress on my sci-fi epic sequel… I’ve taken the number of brackets down to around 200! I also published a novella under a pen name last month, which was a triumph!

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Throwaway concepts

I’m a big proponent of throwaway concepts.

They’re how I actually got to the publication stage for my first novel. They’re also how I decompress between Serious Novels™.

I should define my terms! A throwaway concept:

  • …is an idea you’ve invested a minimal amount of time in.
  • …doesn’t (necessarily) tie into any of your existing worlds or series.
  • ..is more likely to be fun and light than dark and serious (even if you’re writing horror).
  • …allows you to focus on pure invention, not following preset rules.

Daugment was a throwaway concept. I started with the very fundamental idea that for NaNoWriMo 2014, I wanted to write about talking animals, and I wanted to have fun with it. That was it. It became clear to me that I couldn’t start with an idea that I already cared deeply about, or I’d lose the fun aspect. (I take my serious ideas very seriously, you see.)

Portent was also a throwaway concept… which I then ruined by turning it into a trilogy of trilogies, with a set of necessary plot points and world rules that I have to follow for any subsequent book. Whoops.

Point is, once you’re done with a draft of your throwaway novel, you can do whatever you want with it. You can start taking it seriously. You can stick with the fun and games. You can throw it out into the world and see what happens.

But the reason you choose a throwaway concept is so that you can loosen up. Try new things! Getting it done is far more important than getting it right. And with a throwaway concept, you can actually lean into this and make it true, because you won’t care about getting it right. There is no right with a throwaway concept.

Does this mean you can’t care about your concept?

Not at all. Love it hard. Invest your entire being. All voices and stories are stronger when they have heart and soul behind them.

Just don’t care if you get it right.

Care if you have fun along the way.

Oh, and on the subject of outlines for throwaway concepts: do what feels comfortable. You can choose to sketch out the beats of the story ahead of time or not; if you’re a pantser, I imagine throwaway concepts inherently appeal to you. But if you’re a plotter, you can still give yourself a sense of direction and a series of destinations without ruining all the joy of creative discovery.

Ode to meditation

I’m learning how to meditate using a game called PLAYNE – a really amazing resource for me, because it uses metaphors my brain can wrap itself around. Plus, there’s a fox named Wolf. It’s wonderful.

This was my post-meditation quote last night, and I found myself dribbling words onto the page the way I used to, a decade of summers ago.

here is my stillness
it never came with the
prayer,
praise,
private practice.

here, brought in by the fox,
kept willing captive by the voice,
I hear the music,
and in the music,
the quiet.

the fire, a reason to return;
the story, reaching me through
metaphor,
quote,
previous life.

here, I feel understood:
you and me,
the distance,
the closeness,
the past,
the future,
the present, most of all.

Studiolog: Week of June 24

This week marked something that the Shames, Jake in particular, have been working towards for six years now: the successful wiring up of the studio. It all functions! There’s a recording studio in our living room! IT JUST WORKS!

We got a big buddy mixing desk that makes it so we can plug in mics and instruments and get right down to jamming. Plug and play, seriously! It’s a dream!

I couldn’t be more proud of Jake and his endurance and perseverance through this seemingly impossible multi-year quest. It’s the coolest thing we’ve ever built together and it’s all off his blood, sweat, and tears.

I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING.

Now. Ahem. What else have the Shames been up to?

That new show I mentioned last time? It’s called The Music Show, and we’ve broadcast two episodes of it already! You can check out the archived episodes on Mixer for now; we’re working on getting the social media ready – the cabling had to come first.

Amy and I have continued The Writers in the Room, putting out three more episodes since last studiolog:

  • Naming – we ramble about how we choose names for characters, projects, and stories.
  • Our favorite childhood stories – an incredibly short episode where we read some beloved picture books aloud.
  • Know your audience – this is a topic all of the Shames could go on and on about, but instead it’s just August and Amy going on and on about it. This one features a wide array of pop culture references.

JUNO continues to teach us in her incredible way! Just this Saturday, I learned the number system for the key of G, which unlocks basically every pop song possible with a capo and the first five frets of dear ol’ Miley (that’s my white and gold acoustic).

We put up a couple more videos for Not Bad. They’re still just musical sketches, but it’s been cool to chart our progress.

https://www.instagram.com/p/By3qLD4HGGu/

It was finally time to pick up my manuscript from last year’s NaNoWriMo and start editing in earnest. I’ve taken the number of curly braces in the Word document down from the 600 range to somewhere in the 350 range. Progress!

All of my earring inventory for Corvid Charms is posted and available on Etsy. If you see something you kind of like, and want to see it in other colors or a different shape, hit me up! I love commissions.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Studiolog: Week of April 29

W O W has it been a long time since the last one of these! Sorry about that, life ran us in circles and it was much more important to spend the time building relationships, our skills, and the studio than it was stopping to write it down.

That said… what have the Shames been up to?!

Jake hard at work on a seeeecret project.

In a word: MUSIC. Ahhhh! Something happened, and every one of us is suddenly excited about music: MIDI, analog synths (that’s mine!), guitars, basses, ukuleles… Each of us has our own interests and angles, but we’re going to bring it all together for an EP in the near future (🤞). Stay tuned, and so will we. 🤖

How did we get there, though?! First and foremost: JUNO. She’s amazing. Jake and I take Skype lessons from her – he takes guitar, and I take songwriting. Talking with her has totally changed how we each approach music and has inspired us beyond belief. We are so pumped to keep working with JUNO!

We’ve been focused on getting the studio up and running for music, which means new gear. My personal new favorite is my KORG synth “Korgi,” while Jake is really loving his Les Paul “Grimace” and Amy enjoys a Breedlove ukulele. We’re able to practically plug in and play any time now (thanks for all the constant wiring, Jake!!)… Jamming has started to sound pretty darn good.

Speaking of gear: There’s a new show on the horizon! Taking their guitar shop show to the next level (and, let’s be real, translating our podcast format to streaming), Josh and Jake will be streaming about all things music gear. They’re going to start with a show about pedals thanks to our good friend Jalop!

And, the old show goes on. Though life has tried its darndest to get in the way, Amy and I have managed to publish six more episodes of The Writers in the Room:

Thanks to our newest studio participant Julie, the gang is all participating in a writing project together! She has organized a turn-based narrative RPG called “Bloodcraft” based on World of Warcraft, and it’s gotten not only myself and Amy to write, but Jake and Josh too. Soon enough I imagine you’ll be able to follow along, but the website we’re using is currently private.

And of course, a few more items of note:

  • I dropped another short story for The Accidental Magic Project called “The Instinct.” I haven’t dabbled in fanfiction outside of my personal experience in a while, but it was very fun getting to know this particular world for a while.
  • I’ve continued modest growth of my jewelry business, Corvid Charms: I sold my first pair of earrings to a dear friend at work, and Amy commissioned me to create a pair for one of her colleagues. I’ve also expanded to designing necklaces.
  • We’ve been watching a lot of Masterclass – Neil Gaiman, Timbaland, Deadmau5, Penn and Teller… Highly recommended viewing instead of another trash TV show.
  • We’ve got a tentative name for the studio/business, but we’re going to wait to debut it until branding is a bit more baked in.
  • Julie set up a very cool photoshoot in which I got to be a forest witch.
Photo credit to Josh, concept credit to Julie.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Studiolog: Week of February 11

The Shames officially survived the snow. What else have they been up to?

First off, huge congrats to Jake, who has two guitars up for sale at Thunder Road Guitars. It’s a huge step for someone who only started refinishing guitars a year ago! 👏

I published “Read-Write,” my February story for The Accidental Magic Project. Alex drew a stunning illustration for my tale of one fairy’s organic computer and its astonishing powers.

Today I revamped the description on our Patreon page, which really needed a facelift since we’ve lessened our focus on Star Citizen content for a bit. Next I need to edit the goals and the branding, but that’s for another weekend…

Unfortunately, the last few episodes of The Writers in the Room had… surprise surprise… terrible sound. So bad, I refused to subject an audience to it. That means no episode this week! We think we have a solution, though, so stay tuned for more on Soundcloud.

Jake had a great week – he and his team Arts & Crafts won another Star Citizen spaceship commercial contest!

I have officially opened up Corvid Charms on Etsy. Please reach out if you have a special request!

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Everyone’s a songwriter

Going from a musical collective to a group of musicians who can put out a finished song takes some hard work and practice, as we here at Not Bad are learning every day. Turns out that songwriting – good songwriting, anyway – is challenging too. Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean it sounds good.

Plus, just because it sounds good as a song, does not mean it will look good on paper.

Personally, I find it tough to shut up my inner editor when I’m staring at my attempts to pen pop songs. But Amy and I recently discovered a wonderful exercise to generate starting-place material. It makes you laugh and gets you past the hump of “where do I even start, hasn’t every single topic been done to death?” (Well, yeah.)

Here’s the exercise (it works best with partners, who can choose for you!):

  • Choose a common song topic. Yes, it’s supposed to be cliché! Pop songs are cliché as hell! Here are a few to get your ideas flowing: first love, a broken heart, loss, dancing, the club, true love, revenge, rivalry…
  • Choose an artist you’re familiar with. Again, popular is good here – you want their style and “tells” to be obvious and easy to emulate.
  • Choose something entirely random. If you’re totally stuck, look around the room and pick something you see. We’ve done “the Pyramids,” “bacon,” “walnuts,” and “Big Ben” before.
  • Set yourself a timer. Don’t give yourself more than 10 minutes… You’re supposed to have to move quickly enough to run right past your inner critic.
  • In the duration of your timer, try to write as much as you can of a song about the topic you chose, mentioning or featuring the random thing you chose, as if the artist you chose would perform it.

Ta-da! When you’re done, you’ll have something resembling a song. If it’s anything like mine, most of it will be crap, but you’ll have a line or two that sparks an idea for a full original song of your own.

Or, at least, the mental capacity to tell yourself, “OK, maybe I can do this.” Some days, that’s all you need.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Studiolog: Week of February 4

The Shames are snowed in!

https://www.instagram.com/p/Btp1aH9FBIH/
Gizmo is the happiest of all of us…

What else have the Shames been up to?

I’m SUPER pleased to announce that I finished my NaNoWriMo 2018 manuscript! Draft 1 is finally complete! This means it’s time to put it in a drawer for at least a few months, and pick up something else, so I’m back to working on Portent.

We’re getting back on the streaming game – the boys are on their second shop stream of the week as I write this, and Amy and I will be streaming live tonight for the first time in several weeks.

Jill posted her second story of the year for The Accidental Magic Project, “When It Rains.” I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will, and I encourage you to do the same because Jill’s short stories are always a nice twenty minutes of your day.

As you’ve probably started to expect, a new episode of The Writers in the Room is up. In this one, Amy and I chat about long-distance writer relationships (something we’re thankfully on the other side of now).

We also… made a promo video. Sort of. Anyone who knows me knows I’m willing to make a fool out of myself, even on the internet. Here is further proof:

One last note: I’ve created a Corvid Charms Instagram page. That’s what I’m calling my earring “line” for now. How long will this last? WHO KNOWS. Nonetheless, if anything you see on there interests you and you’d like to possess it for your very own, get in touch.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Trusting your voice

One of my earliest fandom characters was Rufus Hemmingway the golden retriever, who I wrote to be an original creation set in John R. Erickson’s Hank the Cowdog universe.

Here’s a little excerpt from “The Case of the Missing Beef Bone,” circa 2002:

…my story begins on a breezy fall evening in November, right on the day humans call Thanksgiving. Leaves were fluttering down from the trees, signaling the change between summer and winter. My humans were all excited about the holiday and about their family supper…so excited, in fact, that little Joseph snuck me a whole luscious beef bone at dinner.

If you go hunt down one of Erickson’s books, you can compare and see my clumsy attempt to steal his style. That’s because I had no idea what I was doing when I was 14. And I didn’t trust my voice.

For good reason! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I should have been cockier at the time about my writing quality. But you can clearly see me fumbling with the conventions of someone else’s voice. I was sort of picking up on what Erickson was doing; I just wasn’t laying it back down in a coherent fashion.

These days, my close friends and family can spot something I’ve written in a lineup. (I won’t talk about which of my stories have been arrested.) That’s because I found my voice, and I trust it enough to let it do its thing, at least a good portion of the time.

How did I find my voice? I read a lot of books about how writers I admire found theirs, and gained a lot of small exercises that helped, but the real key was practice writing what I wanted to write. Sitting down and doing it. Over and over.

That meant that when writing lost its joy, I went back to exercises like Cool Things to Write About ™ again and again, and revisited old characters that I still love. I wrote meaningless fluff about my current obsessions; I wrote fan-fiction; I wrote stories for other people.

Did I mention that Cool Things exercise? Because it’s really important, and here’s why: besides practice, the other way to build trust in your voice is to believe you know what you’re doing.

And that’s tricky for a lot of writer-types. If you’re a writer, you’re an egomaniac or you’re a self-flagellating masochist or you’re both. If you’re the masochist type, then you’ll probably never really believe in yourself. Which is why you have to devote yourself to practicing with subjects you adore. It’s the only way you’ll have a modicum of faith that you, of all writers, can do those subjects justice.

Make lists of stuff you enjoy writing about, and then

I’m sorry I don’t have a “get good quick” road map for you. All the good books on writing are true: to write well, you have to put in the time, both in reading and writing. But focus on practicing writing what you want to write (and reading what you want to read, for that matter, so long as you keep your genres and sources diverse enough to let you develop a non-derivative voice), and on believing you know what you’re doing, and… well… you’ll get there.

I believe in you.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

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