The Mid-point Post

Here I am.

This is a place that I have been only one other time. I have reached the mid-way point of Camp NaNoWriMo. I am on track, and have remained on track.

The last time I did this well, I was so squirrely by this point that the ‘week two weepies’ as other NaNo participants have put it, felt like a week two ‘neverending flood of tears and lack of sleep’. I was completely burnt out. This time, I can’t say I’m 100% energized and fresh, but I’m definitely feeling good, with a lot more fight left in me.

I guess it’s true; If you’re going to run a marathon of any kind, even if it’s only straining your carpal tunnels, you have to prepare. The daily work and word count that I have been putting in for the last few months has made a huge difference. In fact, it has made all the difference because I have never been so well-situated to win before.

My secret weapon is consistency. Butt in seat time. Practice and steady care for myself, my craft and my professionalism, which for me, means achieving a significant word count per day. Want to achieve it? Then live it, every day, and then the main event will be a breeze.

I could still burn out, and if I do, I won’t be too hard on myself. At this point, I have the pride of knowing that no matter where I end up in this, I will be doing better than I ever have.

Everybody Needs a Strategy…

…at least if they’re going to get through NaNowriMo.

In defiance of the gremlins in my head that tell me that writing about the process of doing NaNoWriMo will jinx things, I thought I would at least share that I plan on doing Camp NanoWriMo this July. I’ve got some delightful buddies to take the journey with: the unconventional and ever-magnetic M.D. Dragon, and Victoria Feistner, myth crafter extraordinaire, who I have published and, God willing, will publish again. M.D. and I have even made our own little cabin– the Creepy Campers.

If there is one thing that past NaNos have taught me, however, it is that cameraderie and public postings in the name of ‘staying accountable’ are not terribly great motivators for me. In fact, extrinsic motivation gets me nowhere fast. The funny thing is, I have definitely written 50k words in a month before. It was just never during NaNo. Now, that’s easy enough to write off in November because Christmas is coming and things are getting busy. But July is nothing but time and sun and watching people’s dogs while they go on vacation. It’s prime writing season.

The good news is that I have figured out a strategy that works for me. Over the past six months or so, I have been working really hard at reclaiming my professional work ethic and getting consistent daily word count in. That has meant a lot of trial and error, listening to myself and my motivations, and learning how I actually work best rather than how I tell myself I work best. And the answer I came to, is that

I work best in a total vaccuum.

That’s right. No critique. No discussion of how things are going. No comparison, and absolutely no scrutinizing my word count every two seconds to figure out if I have made the goalpost for the day. I set down a time to write, and then I put my butt in the seat and write until that time is done. I do not criticize what I write. I do not compare how I write or how much I write. I get totally short circuited by comparison with others and outside opinions. I have to set aside a time, be quiet, and listen to the little voice that sings in my heart.

In my life, often listening to my own heart was let’s say, heavily de-incentivized by those around me. I think a lot of people have the same experience growing up. In my case, I responded by becoming a perfectionist and an approval addict. But my inner writer cannot be an approval addict. She has a voice to speak with, and because I have not always given her the time and attention she needs, she cannot yet compete with other voices speaking over her.

For me, writer’s block is the paralysis of ‘everyone is doing better than you so why try’ and ‘if you write this people will see how terrible you really are’ and ‘nobody really wants to listen to someone like you anyway’. I kick the butts of those overly loud voices in my head by cultivating quiet. I play flowing, meditative music to carry all of those thoughts away so I can focus. I ground myself and remember that no matter what gets done or remains undone, no matter whether I am a success or failure, I am enough.

Because I am enough. And this month, I am going to kick NaNo’s butt. I’ve already done the rehearsals, and now it’s time for opening night.

All the News That’s Fit To… Keep in a Drawer and Submit to Agents.

In my previous post, about what’s going on with me and Pop Seagull, I alluded to something else. If you were wondering, the answer is yes, I have temporarily returned to the ‘dark side’ (said with a healthy dose of humor). I am trying the traditional publishing route again for my own work.

I think my post on the parts of this decision that have to do with Pop Seagull were elaborated quite well, so I won’t go into them again here. But, I think another post about my decision to return to traditional publishing is in order. I was a very staunch member of the indie camp for a long time, but I now feel, after all of the experiences I have had, that I have a foot in both camps. I thought it might be helpful for other people to hear my story, as I have found a balance between the two that is quite wonderful.

It is all a classic story of age and experience, really. I came into my twenties, all full of piss and vinegar and ready to start my career NOW. I had a lot of ideas, a lot of confidence (most of it warranted, some of it not so much) and some newfound professional writing experience under my belt that had proven to me that yeah, I was actually that good. I am also a very entrepreneurial sort, and not the type to let conventional thinking or the fact that something hasn’t been done much get in my way.

I was also, truth be told, a little frustrated with the traditional publishing industry. Despite it being the late aughts, most submissions were still snail mail, and it seemed like venues for publishing were shrinking all the time and becoming more and more dependent on the kind of ‘platform’ that no normal broke person has any chance of amassing. Furthermore, I had a strong feeling that most publishers, especially the big ones, were just not releasing or buying the kind of work that I wanted to read and write. I have always had a driving interest in seeing my place in the world represented, and encouraging works that are essentially fun and interesting before they are literary or preachy. I have a very punk rock sensibility about things that not everyone gets.

Enter a perfect storm of summer unemployment, a wonderful grant program looking to give money to young entrepreneurs employing new technology, and a lot of ambition, and I found myself in the shoes of a publisher. I had so many teachable moments and setbacks in those first one to two years as I navigated an industry that, at the time, was very opaque and hard to learn. Most of those adventures are documented on the Pop Seagull blog. There were so many times that I thought I could not go on, and then did. I begged and borrowed, never stole. But the most important experience for me personally was when I began releasing anthologies and put on my editor hat.

You see, a side effect of ambition and drive and outside-the-box thinking is often the propensity to be extraordinarily hard on yourself. When you see everything as your responsibility and within your control, rejection is especially hard. You see a rejection and think ‘I should have been so good they couldn’t say no. I didn’t do this well enough and that is why I failed.’ The equation of rejection with failure is a mental morass worthy of its own blog post, but I digress. It is also really easy to think ‘I know this was good. Good=Acceptance and Bad=Rejection, therefore they just don’t know what the reader wants’.

I know now that this thinking was absolutely wrong, and I want to tell every writer out there that is dealing with rejection: It may be about you. But it is far likelier that it’s not. Reasons I rejected things included:

  1. There was something just like it that I had already accepted, and the other story was only very slightly better for a very aesthetic reason
  2. I really really reeeeally liked it, but it did not fit with the theme
  3. I saw the merit in it and hoped someone else would buy it, but the style was not for me
  4. It was too long and I couldn’t afford it
  5. It was too short and I was trying to limit the number of authors and vary the pacing in the overall book
  6. The message did not resonate with me as a person
  7. It verged too far into a sub-genre that I’m not a fan of
  8. There just wasn’t any more space or budget, and the rejected story was #16 of a possible 15.

As an editor, I finally saw what the submissions process looked like from the other side, and the empathy and knowledge I gained finally killed my fear of rejection. I finally got the message that it is just part of the business. Suddenly, going back to traditional publishing did not seem so scary anymore, if it ever suited me to do so.

With this new revelation in mind, I picked up my manuscript for Distant Early Warning, my super Canadian, scary/emotional/adventurous ride through the wilderness with monsters at every turn, and submitted it to the Gollancz open submission contest last year. I waited a very long time, until I almost forgot about it. And then, two months ago, I got something incredible in the mail that I intend to frame.

It was a hand written rejection from the editorial team. I had been in the final 20 or so submissions, out of many thousands. Maybe, I thought, it might just be time to start producing more manuscripts, and getting those manuscripts out to some agents.

I guess, in the end, I’m still a little punk rock at heart. I encourage anyone to take the indie route if they feel it would be best for them, because I learned so much, and it was so good for me in so many ways as an artistic professional, that I could never tell someone not to do it. Hell, I built a business that I fully intend to turn into a phenomenon in good time. People learn and grow in different ways, and sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns. But I would also say that if you ever change your mind, it doesn’t mean it was all a mistake. Both indie and traditional publishing can live in harmony and be fruitful parts of someone’s career, and sometimes, as in my case, one even turns into the other.

*Walks Back In, Takes Off Shoes*

Well, it’s been a while for this blog.

I’m sure you’ve been waiting, breath held in wordless anticipation for an explanation, so here goes.

I got busy. Busy with Pop Seagull Publishing, busy with trying to find a full time job, busy working on me. Blogging was not top priority during that time, especially as I was trying to get my personal writing word count up and could not justify writing 1000 words on non-paying material. Sometimes, I think we can all agree that you just have to re-focus on what’s important, and re-orient yourself in the right direction.

So, why am I back, and why this blog, instead of Pop Seagull?

I have been resisting putting this on the internet too much, because I don’t want people to see the company as ‘out of business’ (which it most certainly is not) but Pop Seagull is now on hiatus, possibly for a few years. We are not accepting submissions, we do not have any new publications on the docket, and all accounts are settled with our current authors. I am still planning on printing new runs of our existing titles for the benefit of those featured in them, and all titles are still available for sale online. I am simply choosing not to actively promote and build the company for the time being. I do fully plan on bringing Pop Seagull back, better than ever, when I have a few things in my own life in better order.

Before I go on, I want to clarify a few other points. Pop Seagull was never in financial trouble, and in fact was doing quite well for an arts business of its size. I have been honoured by the welcome that we were given in the Canadian publishing community, and I plan on being a part of that community for a very long time. There were a few reasons that I decided to slow things down a bit on a temporary basis.

  1. When I founded the company, I planned to make it a ‘hybrid’ publisher where I published myself and others. This can work for many people, and is not necessarily a bad model, but over time I found myself falling more and more in love with building other authors up and found that there was too much conflict of interest. I want to be in a position to put my all into the people I represent. I want the company to be eligible for grants and other forms of funding that will make it more sustainable for everyone, myself included. Which brings me to…
  2. Being a micro-publisher who wears many hats is a huge amount of work, especially when you have a full-time day job, and may experience job insecurity. I spent much of my time with Pop Seagull also working as a temp in offices, and although I now have a good full-time job, it was pretty rough there for a while and did not leave any time for my own work. I concluded that for now, I need to use what time I have to focus on getting good work out there and finding ways to market my work independently of Pop Seagull. I also need time to re-do my animation portfolio to get more work in that arena. Once money is flowing in for my artistic work, I will be able to focus on getting back to running the company.
  3. I run Pop Seagull as a business, first and foremost. I have that mindset, and I am willing to look practically at what is making money and what isn’t. I took a good long look at the finances for the business and realized that the only writer in the stable not being compensated for their time was me. That will not be the case when Pop Seagull starts up again. I have a plan, and it is going to bring the company back bigger and better than ever… eventually. Just bear with me.

So what am I doing now? Well, more about that in the next post. But in short, I am writing books like crazy, knocking on agents’ doors, and planning one hell of an animation project. Oh, and I bought a really sexy mouse. It is so sleek it’s making me want to clean my office. Because my current office is not classy enough for this mouse.

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Further Updates on all my Life Stuff

So, it’s been a little while since I posted an update on what’s been going on in my life. Actually, a lot of it is quite well summarized on The Hatchery, as I’ve been working my tail feathers off getting Love, Time, Space, Magic ready for release.

However, what I don’t tend to post on The Hatchery are my feelings about what goes on, or any projects I may have going that don’t relate to the company. There has been lots going on lately, and not all of it has been Pop Seagull related.

I’ve been spending weekends in St. Catharines since the new year, to carve out time to write the nonfiction book I’m working on with the Mayholme Foundation. The first draft is due May 1st, and with the launch of Love, Time, Space, Magic now in the rear view, I’m going to be forging ahead and finishing that draft off, as well as catching up with some web design that’s been on the back burner for way too long. My mini-retreats out of town are resulting in lots of work done, and a much-needed break from the daily grind, but I will be cutting back to every other week after the manuscript is done. I’m missing my church community, and I haven’t been to as many classic movie screenings lately, which is kind of a bummer.

After May 1st, I will be meeting with Mayholme stakeholders and working on the next steps for the book, and reading submissions for Robotica, Pop Seagull’s next anthology. After the riotous success of Love, Time, Space, Magic at the Ad Astra launch, we are well-positioned to continue with production on future titles and grow Pop Seagull to accommodate more outside authors. For more details on that, see my post on The Hatchery, and the upcoming con report series. I’m also planning a possible local Hamilton launch for the anthology since I have confirmed local interest, and the first one went so well.

So, how am I feeling about life, the universe and everything? Pretty good, actually. The success at Ad Astra was a watershed moment for the company, where we far surpassed any evidence-based estimate I had formed for our sales and the enthusiasm of con attendees. The hard work I have put into the company, and the ongoing research and development I have committed myself to have paid off in a big way, and I’m hoping that things will only get bigger. If things continue the way they are going, I can see a day when I might derive a modest income from the company and be able to accomplish many of the larger goals I’d always had in mind.

In my non-literary life, I’ve found some stability doing regular temp work, and I’m currently at a place that I enjoy very much. Since I don’t comment online about employers, generally, that’s all I’ll say. But, the stability in my work life has enabled me to better focus on the other things that I want to do, and I’m happy for that. Robin and I are making a modest savings per month now, and as a result we’re able to worry less about the future, should there be a break in employment, and we’re seeing the eventual light at the end of the student loans tunnel, although that’s still a few years off if I don’t find a permanent job. We’re even dreaming about the day, still a long way off but closer than ever before, that we might be able to afford a cute starter house.

So, where to go from here? Well, I’m looking at some new conventions for the 2015 season after a last-minute change in the lineup, and most of the summer is going to be spent selling, working The Day Job, and working on future books. Oh, and I’m going to go camping for at least one weekend, with or without anybody else. I’m determined.

Enjoy the sunshine, everyone!

Spring is Here!

Me, after conquering the Wentworth Stairs for the first time. I legitimately can't feel my anything in this photograph. But... I did it! And I'll do it again.

Me, after conquering the Wentworth Stairs for the first time. I legitimately can’t feel my anything in this photograph. But… I did it! And I’ll do it again.

Since my last post (ages ago, I apologize) was bemoaning the long stay of winter, I thought it might be appropriate to start in again with a post celebrating the arrival of spring.

The weather has gotten nice here in Southern Ontario, and the nasty flu and infections that have been plaguing everyone since Christmas seem to have finally cleared off. It was a terrible season for illnesses this year… absolutely everyone got sick at some point, and for an extended period of time. As I understand it, this was because of extreme weather conditions combined with a poor choice of flu vaccines.

But… that’s all behind us now, and I, for one, am finding ways to get out and enjoy the good weather while it’s here (and before it gets so hot and humid that it feels like you’re in a steam room). My friend at The Day Job and I, consequently, are attempting to walk to work every rainless day via the Wentworth Stairs.

For those of you who don’t live in Hamilton, the Wentworth stairs are a set of steel grate stairs built into the side of a kilometer-high sheer cliff called the Niagara Escarpment. The escarpment runs from nearly at the border with the US up into the hinterlands, and is a result of glacial activity. In ancient times, it was actually the shore of a vast, deep inland sea, and has lots of fossils embedded in the rock. It’s higher in some places, lower in others, but in Hamilton, it’s pretty high, and sheer, dividing the city almost in half between ‘The Mountain’ (on top of the escarpment) and ‘Downtown’ (the sea-level portion of the city leading down to the bay and the steel works).

My co-worker and I live on The Mountain, and work downtown. Thus, the only really practical way to walk to work is to take the stairs, over four hundred of them in total. We tried the walk last week, and I think it’s going to be really good for us, in the most painful sense of the word. The stairs require a lot of endurance, and more than a bit of courage. At one point, you descend down a sheer cement wall on mesh that you can see right through. It’s not the least vertigo-inducing thing I’ve ever done, and that’s for sure.

But, there is a beautiful smell of spring in the woods around the stairs, and I’m inspired by the people I see climbing daily, multiple times, who are honestly so fit that they should have trophies made in the likeness of their rippling abs. They’re not all young, either. Walking is also saving gas money, and the environment. It’s about time I started walking the walk when it comes to my belief in protecting the environment. And Hamilton really is a walkable city. Proper maintenance of sidewalks and access routes like the Wentworth stairs make what could be a very divided city quite accessible by foot.

Still, by the time I got up those steps, all I could keep repeating was, “I can’t feel my anything…”

It’s going to be a great adventure.