The Creativity Corner: Winter 2017

It feels weird to post a wrap-up of a winter’s worth writing, reading, and other creative happenings on the second day of spring. (This is the new “writing monthly update” series I had mentioned last month, btw.) But the truth is, I’ve procrastinated on this post for a couple weeks now, and not due to lack of time. Instead, I’ve been feeling anything but enthusiastic or confident about writing lately.

(Btw, my latest DIY MFA post went live last week. Something funky happened with the blog post announcement, so click here to read the article at DIY MFA.)

The good news is, I’m now taking steps that can hopefully help me regain that confidence and lead to a better, more productive spring. I’ll touch on that, as well as the progress I’ve made so far with The Novella (my new writing project) and the books I’ve read so far this year. Also, since this is the first Creative Corner, any feedback on the content and/or setup will be greatly appreciated. 🙂

What’s Been Going On, and Why It Disrupted My Creativity

To be honest but brief, I’ve been dealing with anxiety for the past three weeks. It’s due to multiple sources of stress, but a lot of it is my own fault. One of my worst habits is worrying about the future or things outside my control – sometimes to the point of obsession. So, my brain has been on overdrive, hyper-focusing on fears, mistakes, and weaknesses until I get so tense and nervous that it takes hours for me to relax. This has also wrecked havoc on my confidence in my writing and worldbuilding skills. So on some days, I feel like I’m incompetent at the one thing I love doing most.

Yeah. It’s been discouraging. But at least I recognize what’s going on. So I’ve been taking measures to calm my system (yoga, meditation, Reiki) and change my thought patterns so they’re more positive and rational (journaling, positive affirmations). I’ve also been spending time away from social media, and took a 10-day break from writing. That’s what you have to do to take care of yourself sometimes, though. Because as important as writing is to me, health and well-being need to come first.

In short, I’m writing again, and I’m doing my best to resume a normal routine. Changing the way you think isn’t easy, even if it’s for the better; and I’m aware I’ll be working on this for a while. What has surprised me the most, though, is that these challenges have inspired a new story idea. So now I’m torn. Half of me tells me I should continue working on The Novella… but the other half of me can’t stop thinking about this new idea.

If you’re a writer, have you ever been in a similar situation (i.e., deciding between two very different story ideas)? What helped you make your decision in the end?

What I’ve Been Writing

I started Draft #1 of The Novella in January and wrote 17,770 words before my 10-day break. This word count both stuns me and makes me squirm. Why? According to my status sheet for The Keeper’s Curse’s first draft, it took me almost 6 months to reach the same word count. 😮 So, The Novella’s first draft is already further along than TKC’s was during the same amount of time.

The only hiccup? I’m only on Chapter 5 out of a projected total of 18 chapters, with bits of Chapters 6 and 7 written. This means the first draft will be well over novella-length (probably close to 60k, instead of 40 to 45k) when it’s done (and if I ever finish it).

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

But you know what I learned when I was drafting TKC? I overwrite my first drafts. In other words, I use too many words to describe or explain things. Draft #1 of TKC was almost 132,000 words when I finished it. But through two more drafts of revisions and heavy editing, I brought it down to its current length of 98k. So it’s OK if I go long on other first drafts, because I can cut it to a more reasonable length later on.

In the meantime, I’ve been receiving feedback from beta-readers on TKC. I’m still waiting for feedback from a couple readers, but for the most part people seem to like the story. Several worldbuilding issues need to be addressed, though, among other things; and many of these changes will affect The Novella. And while I already know of ways to improve the story, my recent anxiety has made it almost impossible to think about either project clearly.

So, what’s my plan going forward for TKC? I’m not sure. Originally I was planning to finish the first draft of The Novella. But with my ongoing anxiety, and now the tug-of-war between The Novella and the new idea, I’m having trouble deciding the best path for me writing-wise. Maybe my upcoming trip to the Iceland Writers Retreat will give me a chance to clear my head and find some answers.

What I’ve Been Listening To While Writing

I’ve mentioned before that music is a big part of my writing process. It helps me concentrate and steeps me in the mood for the scene-in-progress. That’s  been the case with The Novella; and like with TKC, fantasy film scores have been my go-to backdrop during Draft #1. Interestingly enough, the songs I’ve listened to during The Novella weren’t songs that TKC had “asked for.” Here are a few of those tracks:

I also started working on a playlist for the Novella, which is also shaping up to be different from TKC’s. The “vision” I’ve had for it is similar to TKC’s in that it features symphonic rock and metal. But the personality of one of my POV characters is also calling for moodier, more atmospheric songs. Check out these tracks, and you’ll see what I mean:

What I’ve Been Reading

Apart from a slump-y January, 2017 has been a fantastic reading year so far. I’ve read 10 books since the year began, and out of those I’d like to highlight my five favorites, with links to my Goodreads reviews:

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman: My new favorite Gaiman novel. This modern fantasy epic combines an American Midwest road trip with a melting pot of religious deities, social commentary on power and consumerism, and touches of horror. It’s bizarre, but beautifully done and more profound than I expected it to be. Now I can’t wait for the STARZ series to begin next month!
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: A stunning debut novel inspired by Russian folklore. Everything about this story – its rustic setting, various demons and spirits, brave and free-spirited heroine Vasya, Arden’s gorgeous yet understated prose – took my breath away. It’s already a contender for my Favorite New Book of 2017.
  • A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, Book #2) by V.E. Schwab: I just finished this on Friday, so I might not get a review on Goodreads before this post goes live. However, A Gathering of Shadows was JUST as fantastic (if not better) than A Darker Shade of MagicIt expands on the worldbuilding, magic system, and character development while introducing new players and pumping the stakes to stratospheric levels. I’m now reading the series finale A Conjuring of Light and already loving it. (EDIT: You can now find my review of AGOS here.)
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, Book #1) by Rae Carson: Finally started Carson’s first YA fantasy series, and WOW! Between the Spanish-influenced world-building, her book-smart and courageous heroine, and a clever play on the “chosen one” trope, this was an enthralling read.
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: My new second-favorite Gaiman book! It’s a collection of Norse myths that arcs from the beginning of time to Ragnarok, following the Norse gods and goddesses (Odin, Thor, Loki, etc.) and the other races populating the Nine Worlds. It’s different from Gaiman’s other works, but his wit, prose, and deep respect for the Norse pantheon made this the perfect project for him and a delight to read.

I also read and wrote Goodreads reviews for Tamora Pierce’s Sandry’s Book, Garth Nix’s Lirael, and Jason Denzel’s Mystic. All three were good, but not as good as the books highlighted above.

Attending Writer’s Digest’s 3rd Annual Science Fiction & Fantasy Online Writing Conference

How cool is this?? Writer’s Digest is holding its third annual Science Fiction & Fantasy Online Writing Conference the weekend of April 1st and 2nd. (Attendees are encouraged to sign in on Friday, March 31st to preview any conference materials.) It includes six 1-hour webinars by SF&F authors such as Charlie N. Holmberg (Magic Bitter Magic Sweet, Paper Magician Trilogy), Max Gladstone (Craft Sequence series), and Joe Hart (The Last Girl, The River Is Dark); as well as an opportunity for attendees to submit a query letter for critique to one of three participating literary agents. I’m only doing the webinars, but that doesn’t change how super-excited I am for the event. Not to mention it’s taking place the weekend before the Iceland trip. YAY. 😀

If you’re interested, click here to read more about the Writer’s Digest Science Fiction & Fantasy Online Writing Conference. I’m not sure if there’s a deadline for signing up, so my advice would be to do it sooner rather than later. Also, since the conference is online, I’m planning to share tips real-time on Twitter with the hashtag #WDSFF17. So feel free to follow along if you’d like!

How are your writing projects going? What books have you read lately? And, have you ever dealt with anxiety or indecision that interfered with your craft? How did you overcome it or learn to manage it better so you could continue writing?

31 thoughts on “The Creativity Corner: Winter 2017

  1. I’ve often felt conflicted about my writing and have mixed feelings about editing my WIP at the moment, not helped by conflicting advice. Years ago I yearned for writing advice when little was available. Now we have too much at our fingertips!

    I’m reading a stack of books simultaneously, as usual, including much non-fiction about psychology and religion/spirituality. Novel-wise I’m reading Rusty Coats AVALON (SF), John Scalzi’s LOCK IN (also SF), Anne Rice’s PRINCE LESTAT AND THE REALM OF ATLANTIS (Vampires!), J. B. Rockwell’s SERENGETI (SF), and Nathan Bransford’s JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW (MG), among others, reading whichever one I trip over on my floor or which falls on my head when I open a cabinet!

    I could write a book about anxiety and indecision and possibly will one day. It interferes with everything, but I hope to completely overcome it and currently manage it using some of the methods you use, and walking, conversation face-to-face and online, and bibliotherapy, which is exactly what the name suggests and is an increasingly recognized therapy. I still find Facebook therapeutic, once I take it easy and avoid completism and overkill. I can though see how social media could bring out my inner obsessive!

    Music is a pleasure I’ve been neglecting for some time, a situation I intend to remedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed – there is a lot of writing advice out there, and sometimes it’s conflicting. With my beta feedback, it’s not so much the different input I’m getting from readers, but rather the widening extent of the changes that need to be made in order for TKC to work logically. And part of me isn’t sure I have what it takes to revise the story without messing it up further…

      Wow! I’m reading multiple books at the moment, but not nearly as many as you are! Typically I read one fiction, one nonfiction, and maybe a poetry volume / chapbook at the same time. And right now my choices are V.E. Schwab’s A CONJURING OF LIGHT (urban fantasy), Mary Oliver’s RED BIRD (poetry), and a workbook for people suffering from anxiety.

      Btw what’s your blog URL, John? When I hover the cursor over your name, it doesn’t show a clickable link.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That isn’t the full list of books I’m reading, Sara! I have read books in a single day, or over several years.

        And yes, fixing things in stories can bring new problems. I think a few Points Of Improbability are acceptable, particularly if they bring payoffs that cannot be achieved otherwise and do not jar the reader’s sensibilities.

        I actually don’t have a blog, Sara, yet anyway. My currently rather eclectic Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/john.shea.3914 and I’ve just started on Twitter, as you know.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I noticed you’ve shared one or two of my posts on Twitter. (Thank you for that, btw!) And I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook these days, but I sent you a friend request anyways. 😉

        Thanks again for stopping by, John!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry to hear you are feeling overwhelmed and very anxious – but I think that is also because of all the other pressures outside your writing life. As I keep telling my students – none of us are machines and we need to be kind to ourselves when we lurch to a halt as our writing muse flits off. There are normally solid reasons behind this kind of disruption (your upcoming trip, to name but one…). So I would give yourself a holiday from writing the novella and go with your gut. Something else has surfaced during the mayhem – why not give it daylight? I know you’ll return to the novella, but this might be the break you need from your world for a while just to gain a bit of perspective.
    As ever, an enlightening and helpful article, Sara:). Take care. Hugsx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Preparing for the trip hasn’t been too stressful, actually. I’ve been gradually checking things off on my to-do list, and at this point I don’t have much else left to do. If anything, I’m maybe a teeny bit nervous, but more excited. 🙂

      I agree, the pressures outside of writing have also contributed to how I’ve been feeling lately. (That, and the fact that it was still winter when my anxiety / lack of confidence was at its worst.) But like you said here and in your most recent email, the best thing might be to take some time off from The Novella and TKC to focus on the new project, especially since the pull of the new project is much stronger than the other two right now.

      Thank you, Sarah. *returns the hug*

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry to hear about your recent stress, I’ve been there and can sympathize. I also tend to work myself up over factors in my life that I can’t control – and being aware of that usually just causes even more anxiety 😛 My husband, the computer nerd, calls it my do-loop, lol. Anyway, I’ve found that deconstructing each problem and putting it into perspective has helped me in the past, asking myself, “what’s the worst that can happen?” and knowing that I have a contingency plan (no matter how tenuous) has had some calming effect. I know it’s not easy though, so I feel ya! Wishing you the best and I hope things get better soon!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Mogsy. 🙂 I think part of my issue is that I’ve had stress coming at me from multiple sources. So on some days, it’s difficult to relax or take my mind off of things, because it’s constantly going going going. Thank goodness for the timing of the Iceland trip, though. It’s going to be more welcome than I originally hoped it would be.

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  4. I am very familiar with this paralyzing anxiety you talk about, Sara. And specifically, letting it get in the way of writing. Shifting the way I view and or think about something has been the best way to work through it for me. And the other method I use, is putting on blinders and only focusing on one thing at a time.
    I am constantly bombarded with ideas for a new story. My strategy is to get something of the idea written down whether notes, a brief outline, or the first page or two of the story. But then, I force myself back to my original project. I find my excitement for the new story is always there when I am ready for it, and I have my notes to help me get back on track. But if I allowed myself to be derailed every time I was excited over a new idea, I would never finish anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m also a “one-project-at-a-time” writer, too. All sorts of story ideas are floating around in my head, but I only work on the one that I can visualize most clearly at the time. So believe me, I’m not going to bounce around from Brand New Idea to The Novella. In fact, Brand New Idea might be the best way for me to refresh myself creatively speaking…

      I also agree with what you said about shifting attitudes, though for some people (myself included) it’s easier said than done. A lot of it might be due to a lifetime of worrying and negative self-talk, and that kind of thinking takes time to change and heal. And I’m willing to work on that – but it’s going to take some time, since this isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with anxiety (and/or depression).

      Thanks for your support, Mandie. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re absolutely right. New projects are a way for the mind to work through something that you’re stuck on with a different project. It’s as if shifting your focus allows the subconscious freedom to work through a problem without pressure.
        I don’t really have an unwavering focus either. It’s more like stages of a project get my undivided attention and then it gets shelved for a while until I’m ready to tackle the next stage. I guess it’s the one thing at a time, but divided into more manageable sections tactic.
        I’m sure that you’ll find inspiration to get you through both projects. You really can’t go wrong when your decision keeps moving you forward with your writing. Not to mention, your upcoming conference and retreat are sure to provide tons of inspiration.
        Happy writing!

        Liked by 1 person

      • “New projects are a way for the mind to work through something that you’re stuck on with a different project. It’s as if shifting your focus allows the subconscious freedom to work through a problem without pressure.”

        Exactly. Thanks again for the well wishes and for stopping by, Mandie. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s so cool you’ve gotten TKC down to 98k! And all the way from 132k. O_O My WIP’s first draft was around 69k, and as I’ve been editing it’s slowly gone up to around 85k.

    I’m glad to hear you stepped back and took time to re-cooperate… that’s always a hard thing to do. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny how every writer works differently, huh? I have a couple other writer friends who, like you, tend to go short on their first drafts and then expand on later ones.

      Thanks for your encouragement and support, Jeneca. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So great reads you have going there. I need to get to American Gods. I think it’s a book I’ll really enjoy.
    Sorry to hear that it’s been a hard time with anxiety. I do hope your efforts to relax will help. I also get worked up when I think about the future (what needs to get done and if I will do whatever it is well) and obsess on it too. Whenever things get like that, it usually means I’m doing too much at once so I’d cut back on stuff or take a break from the stressful project, similar to your 10-day break. That usually helps and it seems that your break worked for you too. Hope it all gets better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • American Gods is fantastic. It’s definitely bizarre and a bit frightening in spots, but it blew my mind in the best possible way. 😉

      Thank you for your well wishes, Zezee. Some of the stress is still present, but I’m starting to take steps toward handling it better and taking better care of myself. It will be an ongoing process, but I’m willing to do what needs to be done for my own sake.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with anxiety. It really is a relentless damaging thing, anxiety, but as you know it can be overcome. I’m glad to hear that you’re taking the steps to manage it. If you ever need to talk, or just need some encouragement for the day, I’m here.

    I agree with the other comments here that taking a break from TKC and the novella is a good idea. I’ve run into the problem of having a new idea for a book suddenly come to me while working on Strayborn. What I did was write down notes and scenes for that new book idea in its own document, and I continue to add to it now, until the day comes when Strayborn is finished and I can finally focus on it. That’s been my strategy for dealing with that problem, so far. But it does sound like you need a break from writing to help you figure things out. After the Iceland trip, I’m sure you’ll know which story is speaking to you more and drawing your focus.
    Out of curiosity, is your new story idea a YA fantasy, or something entirely different?

    *HUGS*

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, E. *hugs back* I actually bought a workbook that’s designed to help people who suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias manage their symptoms better and look at things from a different perspective. I’m not that far into it (the first couple chapters explain the book’s approach, different types of anxiety disorders, etc., which is pretty fascinating), but I already think it’s going to be a big help.

      Taking a break from TKC and The Novella feels like the only path forward right now. It’s so hard to look at either project objectively without getting overwhelmed… But at least I know what mistakes I made, and with the new project (which inspires me more and more every day, tbh) I’m going to do my best to avoid making them again. The point is, I’m still writing. I’m not giving into the monsters of doubt and fear. That’s what counts most.

      Without saying too much about the new idea… It’s definitely fantasy, but not epic. I still love that type of fantasy and will keep reading it, but I’m going to try a different subgenre, with a story set in our world and with a much smaller scope. (I see this being a standalone novel.) That’s all I’ll say for now. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m glad you’ve had good progress! That’s great to hear! Here’s hoping that the trip clears your mind. I get that feeling. 😄 My writing progress has been going well. I’ve reached 10K in my rewrite of Starbloods yesterday. ^ ^

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m sorry that you’ve been struggling so much with this anxiety Sara! *BIG HUGS* I went through something very similar when I was working on Pirate Eyes a few years back, except my writing drought didn’t last ten days. More like ten months 😛 One thing that actually helped me was writing a new story which you might have heard me mention. It’s called Heritage 😉
    I like to believe that the universe conspires to help us and sends us signs every now and then. Perhaps this new story is such a gift. Of course, the decision is yours and only you know what is best for yourself, but sometimes chasing a new idea might be a refreshing change.
    Also, I’ve been on the fence lately about signing up for the SFF online conference. I almost attended last year, but didn’t for the same reason… My pocket book keeps yanking me away from it ;P
    Keep your head up, my dear! And keep doing what you need to do to get yourself back to writing form ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awwww, thank you, Faith. *hugs back* And yes, the new story idea has already proven to be a refreshing (and welcome) change. I actually started drafting its potential first scene yesterday, and realized how much I enjoy the particular writing style this story needs. And I agree with what you said about the Universe conspiring to help us and sending signs now and then. Maybe… just maybe… 😉

      Gosh, 10 months? I don’t know if I could go without writing for that long. Was that how long you spent away from Pirate Eyes so you could focus on Heritage? Or was the writing break itself that long?

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  10. I know exactly how you feel, Sara, and can only send huge amounts of virtual hugs. I hope the Writing Retreat will help you. Also, even if you’re committed to one project, starting something new might actually help you to get over that feeling: distancing yourself from your world for a while, so when you go back to it, free of burden, you can re-discover all the reasons you love it. It does require discipline: only one new project allowed ;).
    I really hope things will get better for you soon and you get to enjoy writing again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Joanna. *hugs back*

      “It does require discipline: only one new project allowed ;).”

      Ha ha, you don’t have to worry about me hopping back and forth between multiple projects. When I work on a story, I give it my undivided attention and devoted creative energy. 😉

      It’s funny, I was tinkering with a scene for New Story Idea yesterday afternoon… and I realized how “at home” I feel with its writing style. (It’s more literary than TKC or The Novella, though it’s still fantasy.) So I already feel like I’ve made the right decision by trying something different in the genre I love. We’ll see where it goes from here. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Anxiety is a pain in the ass. I deal with it on a daily basis and it really does get in the way of a lot -__-

    I’ve heard so many fantastic things about American Gods! I really want to try to read it before the show starts (but let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen).

    Pretty much all of the books you mention are books I want to read. I need to start ADSOM sooner rather than later and I just bought The Bear and the Nightingale

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does, doesn’t it? :/ Do you do anything to help yourself manage your anxiety?

      Yes, absolutely read American Gods when you have a chance (though don’t feel obligated to do so before the show begins). I can’t recommend it enough. Same goes for ADSOM (I though you’d read it – or was that Alise?) and The Bear & The Nightingale.

      And as always, thanks for stopping by, Bec. 🙂

      Like

  12. Pingback: Writing Links 3/27/17 – Where Genres Collide

  13. Pingback: What’s Making Me Happy: March 2017 (Plus, I’m on Hiatus Until April 18th) | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  14. Pingback: Back from Iceland! (a.k.a. A Quick Update) | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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