Kelly Maher
Finding your tribe

At the WRW meeting this past weekend, I talked with some friends afterwards as we usually do. As this was our first meeting of the year, we had a number of new members join us. One of my friends said of a few of them, and this is paraphrased, “their faces lit up as they realized they’d found their tribe.” I know this feeling well. I can pinpoint almost every single time where I’ve had that realization. The power behind it helped give me a center. Grounded me. Made me feel understood.

I’m very close with my family, but few of them are readers of fiction, let alone heavy readers. Every time I made a friend who read a lot, and, even better, read romance, I wanted grab hold tight and never let them go. Both of my careers, the day one and the writing one, have grown out of my love of reading and story. Publishing people are my tribe. Librarians are my tribe. Authors are my tribe. READERS are my tribe. I thank you all for giving me a place where I feel welcomed and loved and cherished. I hope you have been able to find a tribe of your own, whether in person or online. If you haven’t, reach out. There are people who love what you love and want to share the joy of the experience with you.

Travels

My September weekends are filled with travels both local and not-so-local. Next weekend I’m heading to New Hampshire for a family wedding. While there, my mom’s set up a day for her and me and one of my aunts to take a class at the kitchens of a favorite food brand of ours. My family is big on the experiences you can have while traveling. In my latest writing session, I drew inspiration from a family trip many years ago to Rocky Mountain National Park as well as day trip I made last fall. I adore traveling and am currently plotting a train trip up to Quebec for a long weekend. In addition to the planning of the trip and what to do while there, I’m also playing with ideas of how I can possibly use it in a story setting. Which means I could then write the trip off my taxes as research ๐Ÿ˜€ Obviously, more plotting is needed.

In the past, I’ve also made some trips based on what I read in novels–or places I knew were settings in unreleased, but upcoming novels. Have you ever traveled somewhere you read about in fiction? Where was it and what did you think about it?

A word, or many, on word counts

I’ve been very lucky in the guise of alter ego to make friends with a lot of authors. There are quite a few I admire from a business standpoint as well as from a storytelling standpoint. I pick their brains for how they conduct the business of writing. I’m very lucky that they’re so willing to share their experiences. A number of my friends are also high-producing writers. From the outside, this appears to be a part of their success. Because they produce so much, they get that much more practice in the craft of writing. Because they get so much more practice in the craft of writing, they produce better quality work with every new project they tackle. Because they produce better quality work, they are recognized by readers as creating well-crafted stories. Because readers recognize they create well-crafted stories, readers buy lots of their books. Because readers buy lots of their books, they presumably make a very nice living for themselves. And because they produce so much, they also have large backlists for readers to purchase ๐Ÿ™‚

Do I believe if I imitate my friends to the letter in how they work, I’ll magically become a “famous” and best-selling author like they are? Hell no.

The primary thing I as a writer can control is producing the best possible story I can write. That’s it. I would like to produce a lot of best-possible-stories-I-can-write. I can control that, too. Were I to choose the self-publishing route, I could control the availability of the stories, but as I’ve mentioned before, that’s not a task I’m willing to take on at this time. What I cannot control is reader response to my stories. I cannot control the purchase of my stories. I could write a story worthy of the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, but if no one wants to buy them, what am I doing with my valuable time? I’m a commercial writer which means I write for money. While it would be cool to say I won the Pulitzer and Nobel (and yes, I’m perfectly aware the Nobel is generally awarded for body of work rather than one item of work), and the award would provide me with some greater name recognition with the public in the year I received the award, I also don’t write the type of story which is generally recognized by those award committees.

In the pursuit of producing both better quality work, and more of it, I made the decision earlier this year to give myself a production word goal. I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed this before in various places, so I hope I don’t retread too badly. From June 1st when I started actively writing Project Ulna until August 31st which was the original date I had as the deadline for Project Ulna, I produced 105,422 words. That encompassed the first draft of PU, the first 40% of Project Occipital, and the start of Project Maxilla. My goal for the year was to produce 100,000 words. Done. As I’ve previously noted, halfway through PU, I hit a wall. I changed my methods. That change resulted me in producing more words at a faster rate. Part of my decision process was this article on “Changing Your Process” by Ann Aguirre. That post grew out of conversations I had with Ann, and I know I was one of many people discussing the topic with her.

I’ve burned myself out before by ramping up my writing targets too quickly. I worried I was doing the same as I upped my goal after only a month and a half of working at a pace of 1000 words per day, every day. The new pace was 2000 words, but only for five of seven days a week. I’m positive I succeeded because of changing the time of day I was writing in addition to the amount of words. If I had continued writing after the day job and increased the word count, I would have failed utterly and been back in the mental cycle of cursing myself for reaching too high, too quickly. I am in no way a morning person, but I am a morning writer. I’m not bogged down by thoughts of what happened at the day job. Part of my brain is still asleep and is not telling the more creative side to tweak this or that. I also write crap first drafts. I vomit words onto the page with the expectation I’ll be changing, cutting, or adding as part of the edit process. What also works for me is having a very rough outline of where I see the story going in the space of the words I’m trying to achieve that day. Very often I diverge from that plan, but it gives me something to center on when I begin a writing session.

Yesterday, Labor Day in the US (ie. off from the day job), my pre-assigned word count goal was 4500 words. In the last month of working on PU, and confirmed by the first week of working on PO, I realized that I can average 500 words per 15 minute session. I use the timer on my phone. When obtaining words feel like pulling teeth, I can usually get at least 400 words in that time frame. When it flows, I’ve hit around 650 words. One time I came close to 700. I will sometimes write an extra minute or two to finish out a thought. I try to limit myself to 5 minute breaks between writing sessions so I can do three full sessions in a one hour period. This means I can get around 1500 words per hour of writing. Yesterday morning, my first session netted me just over 1700 words, the second just over 1800, and the last just under 1600. I hit exactly 5100 words for the day. In three hours of dedicated writing. I scheduled out my day via a to do list rather than specific times. I started with twelve points, but added two more. I had twelve of them, eleven of the original (number twelve was dinner) checked off by 6 pm. I started working on the list around 9 am. Those points included writing sessions, exercise sessions (I often walk laps in my apartment for thirty minute intervals), and household chores. I was able to do all of this because I know myself, and I know my writing process.

If you’re only beginning your writing career, beware of burnout. Writing is exercise for your brain. Starting small and gradually increasing generally means you’ll be able to sustain a faster pace. Only a blessed few can run a marathon with no prior experience and no training. The same goes for writing a novel. It is a marathon, make no mistake about it. Part of why I’m currently working on novellas is because I crave the high of getting to “The End” faster. It also means that I’m going to have two to three different items available for sale as opposed to one were I to write a novel of comparable combined length. According to the word count on WordPress, between this post and one for alter ego, I’ve written an additional 1600 words for the day (I generally write these posts the day before for scheduling purposes). 6700 words for the day not including emails and tweets. Maybe I can give Maya Banks a run for her money one day ๐Ÿ˜‰

Making time for yourself

Every night I’ve tried to get a little reading in. I’ve missed it too much, and that TBR mountain was getting a wee bit too high. I miss being able to spend hours upon hours reading, but even when I do have that kind of time, I feel like I need to be spending it doing something more productive. Then I remind myself that reading *is* productive. It provides for my mental health. It helps stir my creativity. It lets me see what the market is currently doing! I’m already a pretty quick reader, but I sometimes wish I could read faster. And then I’m glad I read at the speed I do so I can wallow in the story.

Another aspect of taking care of myself is ensuring I give myself the breaks I need to from writing. I’ve hit my stretch goal every day this week so far. I’ve been doing it by writing at least 1500 words in the morning before I go to work, and then working on what’s left to hit 2000 after work. I should easily be able to hit the stretch goal when I get home today, and then again tomorrow and Saturday. Which means, I can take Sunday off from writing. I know I’m going to need the break since my goal for Monday is to write 4500 words. I could just reduce my Monday goal, but I think the refreshment period of no writing on Sunday will be better for me.

What do you do to give yourself mental health breaks?

Project Occipital

I decided to start dedicated work on Project Occipital even earlier than I’d planned. Part of this was due to my plotting out my writing schedule for it on a calendar. To put it politely, my September schedule is a bit insane. With the exception of Labor Day weekend, I’ve got a major event scheduled every weekend of the month. And even Labor Day weekend includes a birthday bash for two friends.

Since this is Labor Day weekend, I’ve decided that I’m going to burn through the first draft of PO as fast as I can. After taking a little over a week off of writing, I’ll be spending this last week of August slowly ramping back up my writing speed and am shooting for 1500 words each weekday and Saturday. Sunday, providing I don’t kill multitudes of brain cells at the birthday party, I’m shooting for 3000 words. Monday, that glorious day off of the day job, has a target word count of 4500. If I can work in an extra 500 words Monday through Saturday, I’ll take Sunday off of direct writing, but will spend the time detail plotting the rest of the story. That should put me at a total word count of 18,000, which means six days of writing at my regular daily goal of 2000 to hit the upper limit of story length for the market I’m targeting with this story. Taking the first full weekend of the month off (especially since that Saturday is the monthly WRW meeting) puts me at finishing on the 10th. This is perfect as I’ll be spending the weekend after that at my cousin’s wedding. I can then spend the week after the wedding editing PO and then send it out to a couple of beta readers. If they give it the thumbs up, I can have it out the door on submission before October 1st. Woot!

What things have you excited about these days?

Reading and Goodreads

With the first draft of Project Ulna done, I decided to dive into my TBR pile during this break before starting up with Project Occipital. I’m focusing on finishing books I’ve started and then let fall by the wayside for whatever reason, but knew I wanted to go back to one day. The first of the completed books was Sarah Morgan’s An Invitation to Sin (A|K|BN|ARE). Alter ego got a complimentary copy of it from Sarah, and both of us are grateful she feeds our addiction to her stories! As a writer, I love how Sarah does a fantabulous job of showing her characters’ personalities. I make notes to myself of “THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT!!!” As a reader, I enjoy how both of her main characters are strong individuals and don’t angst longer than seems reasonable over their issues. Right now I’m working my way through Sinner’s Heart (A|K|BN|ARE), the last in Zoรซ Archer’s Hellraisers trilogy. Zoรซ’s another author who I admire for her character development skills. She also tells a hell of a great adventure tale.

With this increase in finished reads, I decided to put my dormant Goodreads account to use. Alter ego already uses LibraryThing for official recording of read books, but since I know a lot of you who read romance also use Goodreads, I figured I’d make an author profile there. I actually created my GR account back in 2007 according to my profile. I’ve been leery of GR in the past, partially because for the recording of what I read, LT made more sense to alter ego. The flare-ups of spats I’ve seen originating from GR also sent up red flags for me. For this reason, I’m going to restrict my presence there to updating my profile as appropriate and noting what books I’m reading. If I finish the books, I’ll give a rating. And since I tend to only finish books I like, the rating will probably range between three to five stars. So, if you’re interested in following me on GR, check out my profile.

Career planning as a writer

First, the first first draft of Project Ulna is done! Yay!! I finished on Friday with a final word count of 90,488.

Back in late-March/early-April, I worked out a rudimentary career plan for myself. If we take April 1st as a start date, my six month plan was to write and revise Project Ulna. That was it. I didn’t actually start Project Ulna until June 1st, two months later. This was due to the fact I had the WRW Retreat in April and alter ego attended RT and Book Expo America in May. There was also a lot of stuff happening at the day job. Obviously, I’ve finished the first draft in time for the original due date of October 1st. I don’t think I’ll finish the revision, however. In last Thursday’s post, I went into this a little bit.

The other near-term career goal I set for myself was to write 100,000 words of material in one year. I didn’t qualify it as “publishable” as my intention was only to produce and get into the habit of producing. For production goals of over one year out, I did add the publishable qualifier. Of the new material I’ve produced since the first of this year, and really, since the first of March as I’d started the file for Short Story B on March 10th, I’ve produced 101,195 words. 2,270 of those words are for two stories which are not yet complete. I expect to add another 90-120,000 words to that count by the end of this year with the novellas. I have greatly exceeded my expectations for myself in terms of production.

I do have plans for projects to work on through about June of next year. At this point, other than the novellas and revising Project Ulna, I don’t want to pin down absolutely any particular project. At the same time, I do want to start planning on how many stories I’d like to produce next year. I plan on submitting the novellas starting in December or so, with the hope of finishing the fourth by the end of December. While those are out on submission, I’m going to commit at least January, and probably part if not all of February, to revising and rewriting Project Ulna. I want it ready for submission by March 1st–even if I decide to stick it in a drawer due to the market at that point.

The most frustrating thing about career planning as a writer–especially if you choose the traditional publishing path for even part of your work as I have–is the uncontrollable factors. The most I can do is produce a story I’m passionate about, and make it an entertaining and well-told story. How others respond to it, be they agents, editors, or readers, is completely out of my hands. If I were to go the self-publishing route, certain factors would be back within my control, but I still cannot control reader response, and therefore sales. This is a very risky business, but if lighting strikes, you can do very well. Part of that means getting yourself into a position for lightning to strike. Which goes back to producing entertaining and well-told stories ๐Ÿ˜€

Dear Author’s August Extravaganza!

Today I’m sponsoring one of the featured giveaways! You’ll have a shot at a signed copy of Duty & Desire and a $25 gift certificate to your choice of bookstore if they sell gift certificates. Enter over at the Dear Author website. Comments are closed for this post.

Prioritizing life

One of the life skills I’m constantly relearning is how to balance what I choose to do with my life and not feel bad for the decisions I choose. This past long weekend was spent with my family. I chose to spend my time with them rather than making sure I got my daily word count. On my writing days I did spend some time writing, but I didn’t push to hit the goal. I felt bad that I didn’t push harder, but I then spent more time with my family who I have to fly to in order to see them for a long weekend. In the balance of the things, family is more important. Now, if I saw them on a more frequent basis, I could more easily say “hey, I’ve got to spend this time writing so I’ll meet up with you in a little bit.” The other thing is that every day is a new day. So I only hit half of my goal on Friday and Monday. First, I had built up a buffer of a thousand words. That took care of the “deficit” from Friday. Tuesday, I wrote almost an extra thousand words on top of the daily goal. Every day is a new day. If you missed your goal one day, shoot for making your goal the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

The other thing I realized last night is that more work needs to be done on Project Ulna than I currently have scheduled. I also need to give it more time to marinate. September is going to be crazy busy for me as every weekend is spoken for with events. In talking with a friend, I realized I needed to rearrange my writing schedule. Instead of spending September doing edits on Project Ulna, I’ll instead be working on the first draft, and hopefully edits, of Project Occipital. This is a project I’m itching to finish as I’ve got a very specific plan for it once it’s completed where I have ideas for Project Ulna, but I’m also cognizant that PU isn’t as “on market” as the other projects I have planned. I prioritized writing PU this summer because I wanted to get the ideas down as they’ve been knocking around in my mind for over two years now and I wanted to see if I could write the first draft of a novel in three months or less. Well, experiment *almost* accomplished! It’s time to focus on the more “on market” ideas and get to selling them. I’m in no way abandoning PU, but I first want to get PO written and then the trilogy of novellas. My goal is to have PO and at least the first novella out on submission by the first of the new year. When the new year starts, I’ll take a break from writing new things to see how PO and the trilogy do. I’ll use that time to edit PU and whip it into shape. This is definitely a luxury of not being on contract, and I’ll take it while I can get it ๐Ÿ˜€

Vacation brain

As expected, I got very little writing done while at home visiting my family. I’m a wee bit behind in where I hoped to be by this point, but enh. I did write while I was away, so it’s not like I’m completely in the hole. I’ll also spend this weekend finishing off whatever doesn’t get written this week, so there’s that. I’m also tentatively planning an extra hour of writing almost every night to ensure I’m done with the first draft by Sunday night as my brother and his family will be in town visiting next week.

I also wanted to highlight a rarely done story style a friend of mine wrote which released last week. Christine d’Abo’s Choose Your Shot is an erotic “choose your own adventure” novel. If you loved CYOAs as much as I did as a kid, I think you’ll enjoy this new story from Christine ๐Ÿ˜€