I’m just about the most outlying example of balancing a home life and a writing career.
I have nine children. Rachel Huffmire, one of the founders of Writing Through Brambles, grew up in a situation of nine children and can probably tell you a lot about what that means for a family—it is not a small task managing the schedules, needs, and resources associated with a family of this size.
Add to it that I’ve chosen to publish independently. Any successful indie author will give you a long lecture about the importance of publishing fast. Fast releases are integral to the indie author’s marketing model. You keep an audience by making sure there are no more than 90 days between each release. Part of this has to do with the natural drop-off in audience interest and part of it has to do with Amazon algorithms. Because you are entirely on your own and your writing basically IS your marketing, this is important if you want to make a living. (Eventually. I’m not quite there yet. You don’t tend to get much for your work until you’ve got three books out in a series.)
Then, factor in the fact I’m publishing adult fantasy. Adult fantasy audiences want a high word count, 100,000 words or higher, or they feel a bit cheated. This makes sense. In order to have a satisfying experience with worldbuilding, plot, and character development, an adult audience wants a long book. This is a bit counter-intuitive for authors dealing with agents and traditional publishing houses. A long word count is a risk of investment for a big publisher, especially when dealing with a new author. So when you’re querying agents, you’re told to keep your word-count tightly around 90,000-100,000 for full-length, epic fantasy. And even then, expect to really sell it to have them take a risk on a word-count that high (printing costs).
It’s different in the indie world. More words in a book = a higher number of kindle unlimited page reads after an initial reading investment in your story and thus better profits. Like I said, what the epic fantasy audience actually wants is bigger books.
All this adds up to my task: trying to make it as an indie author in my chosen genre, with the natural workload I have as a mother of nine = nearly impossible.
How do I do it?
Simply put, it’s two things that often elicit groans and arguments from authors: outlines and word counts.
I know some will read this and say “nooooo”. No outlines. No word counts.
So, let me explain how this works for me. I’m actually the last person this should work for, because I’m a pantser extreme. I feel my writing. I’m not formulaic, I don’t stick easily to genre niches and I am an emotional writer.
Does it shock anyone else how deeply connected our mental and emotional health is to our writing productivity? I have loved the recent acknowledgement that writer's block is not a sign of failure, but of a potential imbalance in a writer's life that can be addressed. I discovered a writing practice a couple of years back in a book called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. This book focuses on embracing the inner creative and really nurturing it by putting yourself and your creative projects first, taking yourself on creative dates, and by using a Stream of Consciousness exercise to daily clear your mind. Though I have yet to follow her advice to its full extent, I have used her Stream of Consciousness exercise regularly. It is a wonderful tool to loosen up the brain, reveal and address emotional issues that clog your creative flow, and make room for your creativity to break through at it’s finest. I would suggest reading her book, and hearing it from her own words, but in this article I will break down how to do the exercise, and why it is so effective.
Have you ever finished a book and realized it was 2 AM? Then, spent the rest of your week playing out the character's happily-ever-after because you're just not willing to let them go yet? Finally, desperate to share your experience, you tried to tell someone the plot and felt like you just couldn't do it justice?
Yeah--me neither (*shifty eyes).
What is it about some books that transport us into an entirely new world? How do we write like that?
A few months ago, I wrote an article on writing beautifully, but today I'm going to go a step further. This mini workshop will help you see how to envelope your reader into your world so completely that they won't be tempted to use that cute new bookmark they bought between your pages. Whether your reader is looking for escape or experience, writing a transportive novel will ensure that they get what they're looking for.
Last week Bree talked about how plotting can help organize your thoughts into something you can run with, something that won’t leave you stuck with writer’s block as often as writing by the seat of your pants. I definitely think that’s true, but as a plotter I still get stuck an awful lot. I get stuck so often that when I went to LTUE last month and saw a class called “Obsessive Outlining” taught by M. A. Nichols in the program, I jumped at the chance to see what I could learn there.
I’m so glad I went.
Maybe it’s just because I’m an obsessive person when it comes to finding the right way to do things, but this class made so much sense to me! Before, I would plot as much as I thought I could, coming up with a basic outline and saying what had to happen where. I tried hard to get my thoughts in order before I started writing, but it never got me very far. I would write a story out to the end, wonder what was wrong, finally identify the problems, rewrite, make new problems, and start all over again, keeping only a little of what I had from the previous draft. So many words down the drain! But since Nichols started using this process, she says she’s had to cut out fewer and fewer words from her manuscripts, which sounds like a dream come true.
Laundry is pretty much the bane of every mother's existence. Doesn't seem to matter how many kids you have, clothes multiply like rabbits and pretty soon you're buried. The trick for laundry, I've found, is two-fold: minimize how many clothes you and your kids have (so you can't go much longer than a week without washing), and have a process or routine for getting it done.
You didn't come here for laundry tips, though. You came for writing tips! Lucky for you, laundry and writing have something in common: both are more efficient and a lot less painful when you get more organized! And one way to get more organized with your writing is to try plotting.
I used to be a hardcore pantser. A pantser is a writer that follows the whimsy of their muse to finish a story. Instead of planning everything out, they barrel (or wander) ahead, writing “by the seat of their pants.” Hence the term, “pantser.”
Pantsing was fun. I thought it was the best way to write, waiting for the muse to strike and writing in a fit of passion and emotion. I only wrote when conditions were perfect. When I scheduled writing time for myself, I often found my muse elusive and blamed the infamous condition known as writer's block for my lack of words.
Later, when I revised, I couldn't really tell the difference between times when I'd written full of passion and times when I had forced the words. Progress was slow. My plot meandered. My characters seemed unmotivated and disjointed. I became convinced there had to be a more efficient way to write without sacrificing quality or enjoyment, but I wasn't sure where to look.
Enter plotting. Plotters create an outline before they start writing. This often includes character arcs, the plot, world building, setting, etc. They name characters and do as much research as possible before diving in.
My realization of the magic of plotting was gradual. I heard about plotting at writing conferences I attended, but thought it would suck the joy from writing, so I avoided it as much as I could. Until I decided to use NaNoWriMo to write the sequel to Woven and realized I needed to try something different to succeed in writing 50,000+ words in a month.
As a homeschooling mom with five kids under seven and two businesses, my writing time is limited. I fight for most of the time I get. Those minutes are precious. I can't afford to spend them writing a sentence, thinking what I want to have happen next, and writing the next sentence, or being subject to my unreliable muse from day to day. I love it when a passage flies out of my fingers, but writing nirvana is rare. I needed to try something different: I needed a plan.
You see, Woven took me 3.5 years to write, edit, and publish. I had no outline until close to the end when things got really confusing and I had a deadline to finish by. I had an outline for maybe a third of the book. The book prior to that took me seven years, and I never had an outline.
I started the sequel to Woven during NaNoWriMo 2017. The two months prior I outlined the entire book. The first draft of Bound was finished by January 2018. Only three months! I revised, edited, and released Bound by September. Less than one year.
I'm currently writing a paranormal/urban fantasy trilogy, preparing to rapid release the entire trilogy later this year. I wrote the first book in two and a half months. Then I had a baby and got derailed, understandably. Still, the second book is halfway done. I'm well on my way to taking less than a year to finish THREE entire books. I had a full outline for the first book, a partial outline for the second, and I'm still working out the third. Writing the first book took far less time and went so much easier than writing the second has been, but I've learned my lesson and finally finished plotting the second book.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.