Writing During COVID-19

I’m sure you’ve heard about COVID-19, unless you were on a 12-Day silent retreat like Jared Leto, you can’t miss it. It is everywhere, and it is all the time, and it is time-consuming. Where I live, we’ve recently been asked to all work and stay at home. Try not to leave, use social distancing, oh, and kids have no school so watch them too.

It sounds like a writer’s dream, but I’m struggling. My writing has been on major pause for at least a full week now. There is so much information coming at me, so many changes day after day, but I think the biggest change is the complete alteration of my routine.

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Currently, I’m a writer with a day job, but for the past seven months or so I’ve found pleasure in taking a morning coffee break from my day job at a cute little café across the street. A half-hour might not be a lot of time, but it was enough to get a page or two of writing done. And at a page a day, that’s a novel a year. I felt like I was making good progress. Now, I haven’t even been writing that one page a day.

So this afternoon I had to sit down and have a talk with myself. I needed to plan, to work out what I will work on during this lockdown so that I use this time at home to the best of my ability.

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Part of what I find hard about writing when stuck at home is that I’m a people watcher. I love watching people, observing them (not in a creepy way), but in order to see what makes us human, what makes us tick. I like to try to understand people and the choices we make. And I can’t do that anymore.

Sure, there’s social media. I’ve been on Twitter more than I have in a long time, but that is a black hole that’s easy to not come back from, and some of the news I read on there sets me so off-kilter that writing is even more difficult afterward. Social media just isn’t where I need my head to be at these days. So my first decision was easy: less social media, less news (I was checking at least once an hour), and more time with PAPER that won’t tempt me to check for the latest update or fake news headline. This is why paper is great, another reason why I will always love paper books, and writing in paper journals because when you’re focused on them, you aren’t sidetracked by a blinking light or a ping or low-power warning.

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My second decision was more difficult. I need a project that will consume my attention, that I am so tempted to be with that it is easy to write. I have many projects. I’m always working on more than one thing. And while I want to finish absolutely everything I start (I’m that kind of person I guess), some things take a lot more effort to get through than others. So, for a while, I’m going to switch focus. I’m going to continuing finishing my first edit of BY SAPPHIRE LIGHT, my young-adult fantasy steampunk novel that I love, but I’m going to press pause on the second edit because editing is WORK. In order to keep myself happy and writing while this whole COVID-19 thing is going on, I’m going to let myself go back to drafting, and I’m going to draft by hand a fantasy novel that I started a few years back and haven’t spent much time on, mostly because I promised myself I would write the entire thing by hand, and I haven’t had that kind of time. But now I do, so this project is perfect these times.

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And lastly, I’m going to continue journalling because journalling makes me feel good, it helps lighten my anxieties and sorts out my thoughts and my plans and my head in general.

So starting today, that’s my plan. Did you make a writing plan for COVID-19 and lockdown/voluntary isolation? What are you doing to keep working?

JEH

 

The Five Benefits of a Writing Retreat

Being a writer these days isn’t easy. The majority of writers have day jobs, especially those writers  just starting out, but even those who have been writing for many years often have day jobs to cover their bills. So with the stress of the day-to-day pressing in on you, it can be difficult to find time—or even the desire—to write.

Most days when I get home, all I want to do is cook supper and spend time with my loved ones. Maybe read a book. The last thing I want to do is often sit down and look at a computer yet again (my day job consists of looking at a screen almost 8 hours a day). Some days I push through, but other days it’s impossible. Sometimes, the best way to get writing done is to do it all in one large chunk of time.

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Which is why I love writing retreats. A couple weekends back, I had the opportunity to go on a quick two-and-a-half day retreat with my writing group. We’re lucky enough here in Saskatchewan that there are a few places built for retreats. Which means simple rooms with no distractions (just a bed and a desk), and three cooked meals a day (very time saving), all at an affordable price. Below are my top 5 benefits of a writing retreat, whether it be for two days or twenty.

1    Uninterrupted Time to Get Work Done

I’ve tried before to lock myself up in my house to get work done, but the fact remains that home has many distractions, from family members, to cute cats who demand attention, to the TV, the floor that needs sweeping and the bathroom that needs cleaning, and those distractions all seem pretty fun when compared to spending twelve hours a day rewriting that one pesky chapter. Going on a retreat removes all those temptations, especially if you pick a retreat out in the country, far away from the interesting hustle and bustle of the city.

2    New Sights, New Thoughts

This point slightly contradicts point 1 above, but sometimes what us writers need to inspire new work is a change of surrounding. A new place, new visual cues around you (or a lack of them), can spark the imagination in a different way.

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3   New People, New Conversations

While I went on my writing retreat with my writing group, there were other writers at the establishment as well that we shared meal time with. While conversations were saved for the dining table or the evening when most of us were wore out from working, there was still plenty of time for talking and sharing. We spoke about ourselves, our work, what inspires us, and even read a bit of what we were working on to get some feedback. All of this is much needed writer-therapy that I could probably use more of.

4   A Change in Habit

There are many tricks to try if you’re suffering writer’s block, however mild. Like changing the font set of your document, or writing with paper and pen instead of on the computer, changing your place of writing can also help you look at your work with new eyes. I often find that taking a piece I’m working on to a cafe will illuminate the manuscript in a unique way, and show me a new angle to take that will improve the work or help me just get on with it if I’m stuck. The change to regular habit that a writing retreat provides is a great kick in the pants.

5   A Lack of Connectivity

While there was internet at my writing retreat, it was slow. And if I didn’t put in the password when I arrived, it was non-existent. Even though I did end up connecting, the speed wasn’t the same as it was at home, which meant streaming endless cute cat vids on You Tube wasn’t the draw it sometimes is. Not only that, but being away meant if I wanted to use my cell phone, I would be chewing up data and paying more in the long run. Not to mention that since I’d announced I was going away and on a retreat that friends and family didn’t text me as much as they usually did. The decrease in interruptions meant and increase in productivity, and I got a lot of work completed during my time away.

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If you’ve never done a writing retreat, but have been thinking about it, I definitely recommend the experience.

Have you ever done a writing retreat?

JEH

This Writer’s Life In October 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update, so I figure it’s about time. I’ve been busy lately. I just finished a new book, a beautiful ghostly story about two sisters. I’m not planning to self-publish this one, but am hoping to find an agent or a press that will pick it up, which is a bit different for me.

Since I’ve now finished two literary projects, I’m taking a break by moving back into the comfortable world of Avalum. Artifacts of Avalum Book 3, The Chain, is moving along nicely and I plan to have a good draft done before NaNoWriMo begins in November, when I hope to write something new. Here’s a picture of the cover art for the The Chain, I just love it. As always, it was done by Leah Keeler.

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Other than writing, I’ve been working on being more environmentally responsible. I’m trying to switch to using only reusable coffee cups. While to-go cups are convenient, they create a lot of waste. I imagine there will be the occasion where I need to use a disposable cup, but I’m definitely trying to reuse where I can. Here are a couple pictures of some of my favorite travel cups.

I’ve been using these mugs to enjoy way too many pumpkin spice lattes, but it’s good to enjoy fall while it’s here,  because in Saskatchewan, it’s just way too short.

JEH

Writing for Teens: How to Keep it Real

A short essay on writing for teens, and how I keep my fiction real.

I’ve written a lot of Young Adult fiction, sure, it’s not as much as some people have written, but it’s enough that I’ve learned what to look for when crafting a young adult novel. Now that I’m in my thirties, high school feels distant and trivial. Did I really get that upset when my best friend didn’t invite me to a party? Things that upset me then, wouldn’t upset me now. The trick is remember how I acted in my teen years, and not force my adult learning on my characters.

The above mentioned party happened sometime in my senior year of high school. When I found out about the party late that night, or possibly the next day, I was in tears. Did my best friend at the time (we aren’t friends anymore, unless Facebook counts), mean to hurt my feelings? Probably not. She probably just wanted a break from me, wanted to have fun with someone else, or thought it wasn’t my thing. I don’t believe she was vindictive (she seems like she’s a nice person overall). But I do believe that she didn’t have the words to express why I wasn’t invited, or why she lied instead of telling me the truth.

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Thinking back on my teen years, and about the teens in my life now, it is very common at that age to ‘read too much into things’. By the time adulthood rolls around, most people have stopped taking every look and every word dished out personally. We’ve begun to accept our differences, our path, and our identity. But this is something teenagers struggle with.

One of the ways I stay in touch with my teen self is by keeping my teenage diaries and occasionally, when I feel strong enough, by reading the terrible, painful entries: here’s an example.

“I finally talked to Red. I don’t know how it is. We’re talking tomorrow after school. That’ll be hard. It was hard enough on the phone. I think she was crying. I’m not sure. I almost felt like it. But I don’t cry. It’s too hard. I almost said, “I can’t stand Blue”, when she said she couldn’t stand Green, but I couldn’t. This is hard. I mean, we have a circle. We work together and I told her we shouldn’t. That was hard. I don’t know what to say. Tomorrow we have to talk and I have to tell her my happenings and feelings….”

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See, everything is hard when you’re a teen. So hard in fact that I reused that word five times in that one short paragraph. And this was just about having a simple conversation with the friend about why she didn’t invite me to a party! Nowadays, I’d just go up to my friend and be like, Yo, You didn’t invite me b-! And my friend would either apologize and offer a reason that may or may not make sense, or we’d just laugh about it and move on. It wouldn’t be as difficult for me now that I’m older.

What about you? Did simple things seem more difficult for you when you were a teenager?

JEH

Trying to Commit to a Publishing Schedule

One of the hardest things about self-publishing (at least for me), is committing to a publishing schedule. I’m terrible at picking release dates for my books and achieving that date. Having a day job never helps, since something always comes up that slows down book development, but as I’m currently a full-time writer until July, I’m hoping I can make some big goals and stick to them. It’s been lovely going to cafés and drinking tea, and getting so much work done on projects that I love.

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In the works right now I have The Circlet: Artifacts of Avalum Book 2, which is off with my beta readers. After I get their comments, it will be another round of edits before sending the book to my editor. I’m hoping to have The Circlet released in May.

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This week I finally found the time to compile the Black Depths Boxed Set for the complete series. I whipped together an ebook cover and compiled all the books into one gigantic read. It’s live on Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords right now, and should be up on iBooks and Nook soon. If you like to read everything all in one go (or no someone who does), be sure to spread the word.

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I’m slowly picking away at The Chain: Artifacts of Avalum Book 3, and hope to release that in the fall, with a box set of that series to follow after a couple months. There are two books I wrote years ago that I’m planning to clean up, one of which I will release as a one off and the other that I hope to shop around to a small, literary press. Both of those should be complete by May.

What I’m trying to figure out now, is what story idea should I pursue next? I love self-publishing, and I want to write a series that is similar to both Black Depths and Artifacts of Avalum. I would like to get the outlining for this series done before I head back to my day job in July, but, as I’m also working on my short story collection, I’m not sure how much time I will have.

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But, here’s a chance for you to vote. My main debate right now is whether I should write another “Port-hole” fantasy, which means the characters start in this world and travel to a different, fantastical world, (similar to Artifacts), or whether I should write a 100% fantasy, where Earth does not exist (or at least the characters in the book don’t know about Earth, because they have magic, not space travel). Do you prefer fantasy that is connected to our world, or not? Let me know in the comments!

JEH

Becoming a Full-Time Writer: The Transition

So far I’ve had two full-time weeks of being a full time writer. I will admit, it hasn’t been the smooth transition I was hoping for, yet I also feel like it is going pretty well. Part of this is because halfway through last week I admitted to myself that transitioning will take time, and developing a new routine will take time (I think they say it takes 30 days to form a new habit).

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Working Hard in My Office

I’ve written myself up a few draft schedules, which go something like this:

8:30 AM: Do a quick writing exercise and read a non-fiction book about the writing craft while finishing coffee/tea.

9:00AM-12:00PM: Work diligently in the basement office on short stories.

12:00P-1PM: Lunch break with reading.

1PM-130PM: Yoga/Exercise Break

130PM-4PM: Odds and Ends (i.e. other writing projects, blogging, emailing, submissions, queries, other short stories, more reading, art, journalling, staring off into space etc.)

So far, this schedule has worked pretty well, if I stick to it. But last week I ended up going out on Wednesday night to meet my writing group and worked for an extra two hours and I completely burnt myself out by Friday. So on Friday, I mostly stared off into space and got nothing done until I decided to call it a day and just watch Downton Abbey. It turns out this was a good idea because this morning I feel refreshed and ready to think deeply about what I want to say again.

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Weekend Reading Break

I recently read, The Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which I loved. And this experience reminds me of the Hemingway quote:

“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

So this week, my focus is going to be stopping writing before the well is dry. There are a lot of other things I need to do daily, other than write, and this includes researching markets, submitting stories, reading up on craft, or just taking a break to refill my creative well by reading a fiction book, doing some painting, or visiting with a friends. 

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Weekend Painting Break (from a tutorial). I’m getting better at painting!

Here’s to a good week!

JEH

 

February Catch-Up

I know – I’ve been pretty quiet this month. Mostly, I’m busy getting ready for my time as a full time writer. The office is prepped, I’ve outlined stories and projects and books I may work on, in order of importance, and I’ve even tagged some educational reads. I can’t wait to spend the next four months as a full-time writer. I will have no distractions (hopefully), and no concerns (hopefully), other than to get my manuscripts finished.

I’ll be returning to my day job at the beginning of July, and by then I hope to have generated a bunch of amazing material.

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I also had a little blog blitz in January, and an associated giveaway of two copies of The Torc. Those copies are now in the mail, and the winners were notified. The first three letters of their emails were rjs and far, just in case anyone is wondering. I really hope these readers enjoy reading The Torc as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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Last weekend, I spent a lot of time re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I haven’t done much (if any) re-reading in the last couple years, so it great to spend some time with a favorite book. Do you regularly re-read your favorite books?

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JEH