Sabbatical

For a few years now, I’ve been stifled creatively. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to overcome it–perseverance with writing in hopes of pushing through the creative block; pursuing other creative outlets like knitting; getting more exercise; writing just for fun instead of publication; writing longhand with a fountain pen and a nice notebook instead of typing on the computer, etc.

Nothing has really helped.

Even the two books I published during this time–Glamours and Gunshots in the Whitney & Davies series, and Candles in the Dark as the start of a mystery novella series–felt forced, causing more stress than joy in the process of creating them (I had more fun researching Candles than writing it, which really isn’t how it’s supposed to go).

Moving to England was supposed to be a creative re-awakening for me. When we visited two years ago in March, I felt more alive than I had in ages. I was sure coming here to live would have the same effect, only more so. I was sure I would find my creative flow again.

I haven’t.

Since arriving, I have toyed with the idea of taking a month-long break from writing. Maybe longer, maybe six months. Maybe a year? But then I would have the idea for another story, and I would think that maybe I just had been tired. I would start to write the story … and everything would collapse on itself again, like an overdone soufflé. The story that had seemed so vibrant in my head would get stuck somewhere between my imagination and my fingers, and only something lifeless would appear on paper (or computer screen).

So last week, I made up my mind, and realized that I need to state it publicly or else I’ll be tempted to go back on it at some point. Accountability is important!

2019 is my sabbatical year for writing. I’ll still be doing my weekly journal posts and monthly flash fictions for Patreon–and at some point I will write a short story for the higher-level patrons–but aside from that, I am Not Writing. Maia and Len, Pauline, all the other stories I’ve been working on behind the scenes … they will wait until 2020.

It’s a little scary to think about. It’s also exciting. Taking a break from writing gives me a chance to pursue other interests for a change. I can study some of the subjects that fascinate me but I never have time for. I can finally finish all the knitting projects I have in the works! I can devote a proper amount of time to learning French (and Italian, in preparation for when we get around to visiting Rome). I can work on figuring out whether I’m a soprano still or if my voice really has changed to alto, and if the latter, how to sing harmony.

More importantly, I can stop feeling so torn between responsibilities and calling, and can try living a more whole life.

I will post occasional updates here throughout the year to keep you all informed as to how it’s going. Wish me–not luck, but a good journey!

Summer Doings

From the Shadows is on its last round of betas before being sent to my editor.

Rivers Wide is a complete first draft, and is simmering before I tackle the second.

I am 5 1/2 chapters in to Magic Most Deadly’s sequel, and the plot just clicked into place while I was preparing supper tonight, leading to a frantic scramble to jot down the outline and how everything connects together while simultaneously not letting the food burn. (The glamorous life of a writer!)

I also discovered Azalea’s Dolls the other day, and have been happily procrastinating whenever I hit a stone wall in my writing by creating dolls of my characters. The options are limited for creating outfits that look even remotely 1920s-ish, but …

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians' Ball

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians’ Ball

Maia's magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians' Ball

Maia’s magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians’ Ball

 

As you can see, I’m making do.

In other news, we recently spent two weeks visiting family, and one week recovering (i.e, sleeping), are doing our best to keep from melting in the heat, and are planning a fun getaway for next weekend, when Carl and I celebrate our 11th—11th!—anniversary. The kids will go to Grandma’s and pick raspberries and swim in her pool, and he and I shall go to a B&B in the White Mountains, and everybody will be happy, including Grandma. This will be Carl’s and my first time getting away without the kids since having kids. I think it’s time!

I’ve been doing Camp NaNoWriMo again this July, and while I really sputtered with getting started, I’m picking up steam now. I would love so much to get the first draft to MMD’s sequel completed this summer! But we’ll see. Of slightly more importance is making sure this summer is a time of rest for all of us, so that we can face the fall routine gladly when it comes.

Or if not gladly, at least without being so exhausted it makes us want to cry. (Which is what happened to me last year, and which I would really like to not repeat …)

How is your summer going, friends?

Creative Outlets

I was flipping through old photos the other day (sort of – browsing through them on my computer, but that doesn’t have as evocative a sound), and found myself missing my big camera, and the time when I took photos regularly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ease of my camera phone (even if the pictures do tend to have crappy quality), but there is something about seeing the world through my viewfinder that I miss. I’m hoping to do a photo shoot with the girls around Easter, maybe jump start my photography hobby again.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

I play around with a number of creative hobbies, without getting super serious about any of them. I quilt, but not brilliantly. Sewing clothing, same. I used to scrapbook, but haven’t in about … well, I think the last time was when Joy was a baby. And occasionally I like to stick my toe in the waters of sketching, though I usually pull it back out again at once because that water is cold. I like baking and cooking, though having to do them every day or else we don’t eat does tend to diminish their appeal. Knitting I pick up at the start of every winter and lay down at the end and consequently never finish anything that takes longer to complete than a scarf. I adore music, and one of my goals is to someday take piano and voice lessons again, because without them my voice has turned to a rusty squawk and the piano winces every time I get near it.

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie's Easter basket

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie’s Easter basket

And a pink skirt for Joy's Easter basket.

And a pink skirt for Joy’s Easter basket.

I used to feel kind of badly about myself, that I dabbled in so much without ever feeling the drive to become expert in any of it. Of late, though, I’ve come to think of it as a good thing. I think it’s good to have something, a creative something, one can do just for fun, just to relax, without ever feeling the need to perfect it. I work to perfect my writing. There’s my passion. The rest? They’re more like … palate cleansers.

Sometimes my mind needs a rest from writing. But it doesn’t want to veg, it just wants to relax a little. So picking up my niece’s baby quilt (yes I’m still working on that NO I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been it’s pretty well a standing joke by now OK?) as a chance to rest those creative muscles without letting them get all flabby? I’m pretty sure I’ve killed this metaphor dead, but you get the picture. IT’S A GOOD THING.

So yes, I will pull out my nice big camera soon and enjoy once more the creative effort of setting up and pulling off some great shots. And I won’t feel bad that I don’t feel so passionate over my photography that I could totally make it my life, yo. It’s a fun hobby, and it’s just fine if that’s all it ever is.

January Snippets

Joy is learning about atoms and molecules in science right now, and hardly a day passes when Carl and I don’t look at each other and say, “Huh. I didn’t know that.” Homeschooling can be pretty awesome, folks.

Gracie is finally starting to get the hang of sounding words out properly instead of looking at them as a collection of random letters and wildly guessing at how they’re supposed to go together. Which is also pretty awesome. I suspect, when she finally “gets” it down pat, she will be a reader exceeding even her sister. She loves stories, this girl.

~

I printed out From the Shadows a couple days ago to begin proper edits on it – all 161 pages. Granted, it’s still sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to begin, but it’s nice having it there, at least. Makes me feel a little more like a proper author.

~

Carl’s classes begin on Monday. This semester is going to be a bit tougher than the last – isn’t that the way of all spring semesters? – but he’s looking forward to it, and I am as well. To be perfectly honest, I’m just eager to get through this semester. Because then we’ll be halfway through, and that is tremendously exciting.

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I had suggested, back when we started reading through the Chronicles of Narnia, stopping after Voyage of the Dawn Treader (quick note: we read in published order, not chronological order, because both of us feel like you lose half the wonder of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe upon first read if you’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew, and once you start in published order, you might as well continue). I remembered The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle all being slightly dark/heavy/creepy in places. It might not be a problem for Joy, but Gracie tends to have problems with nightmares as is, and she is, after all, only five.

Carl was not convinced, and by the time they’d made it through Prince Caspian all three were gung-ho to go through the entire series all at once. I subsided. They are now almost finished with The Silver Chair, and Carl has decided that after The Horse and His Boy, they will wait a few months to a year to finish the series.

I only said “I told you so” once, which I think shows great restrain on my part.

~

I am not doing so great on my goal of reading one non-fiction book a month, but I have started reading a commentary on 1 Peter, which even if it takes me six months to finish will be well worth six shorter books. I also have the first collection of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters now sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to start perusing those (my parents gave me an Amazon gift card for Christmas, and that was top of my list to buy with it). The last few days, though, I confess to re-reading Tey, Marsh, and Christie. My brain’s been too worn out from school with the kids to tackle anything new, even light fiction. I’m starting to get annoyed with all the detectives, though – Grant, Alleyn, and Poirot alike – so it might be time to give them a break.

~

I have been getting in a good-ish walk once a week the last couple weeks, thanks to Joy’s violin lessons. We walk the 1/4 mile to her teacher’s apartment and then back, going at a good brisk clip. It’s lovely, and it’s encouraging me to try to get out more than just once a week for a walk. The tricky thing is finding the time, between school and housework and cooking and writing and simply needing to make sure the children don’t take a hundred years to do their basic chores. Ah well. I’ll get it figured out at some point. I’m just thankful for being forced to walk at least once a week. It’s so much better than nothing.

~

Also better than nothing is blogging little snippets here and there. If I go too long on here without writing anything, I start to get lonely. Even if the majority of my social media interactions are done on Twitter these days.

Happy approaching-the-end-of-January, friends!

Speaking of exploring Narnia ...

Speaking of exploring Narnia …

Already Booked (My Life, That Is)

Worked some on From the Shadows today and thought, “Boy, if I could just take one week where I did nothing but write (like I did when I wrote the initial novella), I could have this sucker done.”

Then I looked at our school schedule calendar and saw that we don’t take a week off until mid-October. And that week is already booked for finishing sewing the kids’ Halloween costumes and, if there is any time left after that, making them some fall dresses.

Sigh. I guess pecking away at it here and there, during the evenings and in between math and grammar lessons, will have to suffice.

All Change

I finished the first round of revisions on the novella I mentioned a couple posts back. Which means, of course, that I am now firmly in the “This is terrible why do I even bother trying to write” stage of things.

Which, in turn, means it’s time to stop thinking about it (this is why I pawn it off onto beta readers, because I cannot be even remotely objective at this point in the game), which means I need to think about something else.

Ah-ha. Time to get back to Magic In Disguise! That’s been stuck at 20,000 words for way too long now. I claimed writer’s block when I first got stuck, decided to work on Wings of Song for a while, and when I hit a wall there (not a huge one: it’s Christmas in that story now, and I can’t bring myself to write winter when it’s so lovely outside and our winter was so long and miserable, so I’m waiting until my memory has faded a bit. I’ll probably get back to it in August when I’ve started to melt from heat) I took a break from writing all together until the novella demanded I write it.

The brick wall on Magic In Disguise hasn’t gotten any less solid, but I think I’m finally ready to bash away at it until it crumbles. (Don’t you like my elegant metaphors?) Plus I miss Maia and Len. And Becket. Every so often I feel guilty for not doing more to promote and market Magic Most Deadly, because I feel like I’m letting my characters down. Then I remind myself that the very best marketing/promotion plan is to just write more about them, and write well, and so I dive back once more into their world and determine to give them another chance to shine.

Come July or August or whenever, when I start to feel lonely for Julie &co. from Wings of Song, I’ll give Magic In Disguise a rest, and change once more.

I’m not sure it’s entirely healthy to be this attached to all my characters, but it certainly is the best motivation in the world.

Back Off

When the news about the Star Wars cast came out, I was beside myself with delight. Not that it was unexpected, but the thrill of knowing for certain that Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie were going to be back on the big screen, that these heroes of my youth were coming back, as much older as I was, but just as heroic? Thrilling.

I promptly went on Twitter to share my joy. Instead, I got barraged with innumerable tweets complaining about the lack of diversity, especially gender diversity, among the cast.

I get that. It’s a problem. As Michael A Stackpole put it so well, it’s a problem especially in Star Wars because the Empire was oppressive, misogynistic, xenophobic, elitist, and to not show a diversity in the cast now undermines much of what the Rebellion was fighting for.

Here’s the thing, though: at that moment, when I was nearly turning cartwheels over the thought of Princess Leia being back on the screen, I did not need to be overwhelmed with negativity. (Never mind the fact that I would be happier with ONE character with the depth of Leia than a dozen stereotyped “strong sexy women” on screen – I find those caricatures as offensive as the lack of women in general). I just wanted to share my thrill over my heroes.

And I do understand that for others, their need to share their disappointment was as strong as my need to share my joy. I’m not criticizing people for their honest reactions (although I am unhappy that negative reactions seem to shame positive ones – I felt like I couldn’t say anything happy about the Star Wars casting for fear of people throwing stones at me, as well). But for me, it illuminated a deeper problem.

I love social media for its ability to bring people together, and to allow us to connect with people we otherwise would never meet. I love that I have found other authors through it, people I can talk with about writing. I love discovering shared fandoms. And yes, I also like finding shared dislikes. But it’s getting to affect me too much.

The Star Wars tweets killed my joy. Slew it right in its tracks. And I don’t want that! I don’t want to be so tied in to social media that it can have that power over me.

Yesterday, I took almost the entire day off from the internet. I pulled out my old Gilmore Girls DVDs, and watched them while I made strawberry scones, washed a zillion loads of dishes, worked all afternoon on my niece’s quilt, made supper, and then worked on the quilt for the rest of the evening.

And it was great. It was exactly what I needed. Even Emily and Lorelai’s bickering seemed uplifting in comparison to the negative, swirling morass of Twitter and Facebook.

So, I’m stating this here, so you guys can keep me honest. I’m backing off social media. Not giving it up entirely, because I do have friends I don’t want to lose, and I do like to keep up on the world outside of seminary. But much, much less. Because it’s turning into an unhealthy relationship (okay, if I’m honest, it’s been unhealthy for a while because of how closely it hovers to an addiction, but now it’s becoming so obviously unhealthy I can’t ignore it any more), and because, of all the stress in my life, this is one I can most easily remove. I’ll still be on Twitter once in a while, still on FB occasionally, probably even still blog sometimes, but nothing like as pervasive as it all has been.

I am slowly untangling the death grip of social media’s tentacles around my throat, and I’m looking forward to being able to breathe unimpeded again.