life

My new side-gig.

Although I’m a published author, I’m still a long way off being able to write full-time. Since quitting my job as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, most of my income comes from freelance jobs, anything from ghost-writing to editing to travel-writing. I also babysit, and this month I added another side-gig to my repertoire—and I think you’ll agree I really lucked out here.

Dog-walking.

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This is my new boss, and although she works me hard, I have to say I enjoy every minute of it. She’s always happy to see me when I arrive, gives loads of positive feedback, and is totally up for taking an untried route. If we get a little lost or walk farther than we intended, it’s all good! She’s not one to watch the clock. All in all, I really enjoy her positive attitude and look forward to many future walks.

August Done/September To-Do

I am happy to say that I am feeling much, much better than I was my last goal-setting post. That cold lingered on but met its match in Rotorua. I don’t know when I noticed I wasn’t coughing as much, but I do know that ever since I got back to Christchurch I have been feeling more like my usual self than I have been in months.

There are a couple of possibilities.

1. I have an allergy to something in Christchurch.

2. Rotorua’s geothermal waters boiled my cold germs out of my system.

3. I’ve been back in New Zealand long enough that my body has adjusted to all the local germs and now I’m good.

Really hoping that it is not the first option! Of course it is early days yet, but it will be interesting to see how September develops. And on that note–goals!

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August Goals:

  • Freelance project #1  Done!
  • Get to work on Gentlemen Don’t Murder Not just done—the first draft is complete!
  • Return Life After Humanity edits. Done! 
  • Attend RWNZ Conference 2017 Done!
  • Get organised for Dead Wrong. Done!

Not on my list: keeping my blog up to date. I let this slide because I needed to concentrate on getting prepared for conference and then working on Gentlemen Don’t Murder. I don’t feel bad because the results speak for themselves. Also, I’ve made up for neglecting the blog since!

September Goals: 

  • Edit Gentlemen Don’t Murder.
  • Complete Dead Wrong.
  • Freelance Project #3
  • Regular blog updates
  • Submit work to agent
  • Work on craft

Pretty straightforward…except for that last one. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’m going to put that into action, but I know what it’s something I want to do. I own a ton of writing advice books, so I might search them for suggestions, or go-over the notes I took at RWNZ to try to come up with a to-do list or a checklist.

If anyone has suggestions, I would love to hear them! My weakest areas are creating dynamic scenes, hooking readers and investing characters with emotion—or more accurately bringing that emotion out in the writing because I know they’ve got emotions and they know they’ve got emotions, it’s just communicating that. Thanks in advance!

A Year of Fear: Writing Full Time

August last year was a big month for me. I left behind eleven years of teaching English in Japan and came back to New Zealand. I had limited savings, no job lined up, and was entirely dependant on public transport/the generosity of my family for getting myself places. I gave myself one year to write full time, and then I would look for a real job. The one year limit was my way of dealing with my fear of the unknown, and of failing. A year was a really long time, and it made me sound as if I had a plan. And if it didn’t work out, well, it was only an experiment. A year’s sabbatical.

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I have no idea what I’m doing. Whee!

A year later, I can say that returning to New Zealand was the right decision. Only when I was away from did I realise just how much the stressful situation at my base school was affecting at me. I’ve got my full driver’s licence and my own car. I’ve made a ton of new writing friends and attended two incredible RWNZ conferences. But the biggest most important change has been how I live with fear.

This is the journal entry I wrote when leaving Japan last year:

August 9th, 2016. 

On flight to Auckland, leaving Japan after eight years with [company], six years in [town]. I am writing this not so much to mark the occasion as I am because I need to document my emotions. It has been an interesting week and as I keep going between sadness at saying goodbyes/wrapping up a big part of my life, and excitement for what is ahead, I have noticed that I keep hitting terror, especially when I try to sleep. Last night on the train, I realised I was scared and shying away from the why. I made myself look at what I was afraid of—not knowing what is going to happen when I get back to New Zealand—and felt better, but waiting for the plane to board this evening and talking to Mum via Skype, I realise the fear had snuck back. I need to acknowledge the fear and document it because I suspect this is not the first time I will be making a life choice that scares me and being able to put things in perspective will help. 

Fear was on my mind then, and that’s really interesting because I kept running into fear a lot, those first months in New Zealand especially. My biggest problem was sleeping. I was lying awake, night after night, while my mind cycled through an endless series of worries. My health and energy levels tanked. My usual coping methods weren’t working, so I consulted a professional counsellor about ways I could reduce my stress.

Big surprise! A lot of his recommendations were things I was already doing–goal setting, keeping a journal, making a list of things that I could do to address the things that were worrying me. But he introduced me to progressive muscle relaxation. Turns out that despite no longer being at my school in Japan, just the thought of a certain colleague was enough to make my entire body tense and trigger an angry reaction. By purposefully relaxing my muscles before going to bed I was able to go to sleep—and stay asleep.

I took steps to regain my independence. I started house-sitting and, when I realised that I was afraid of learning to drive, took lessons with a professional driving instructor whose car had a dual brake system (another really, really good decision. I’m sure that gave me the confidence I needed so I could concentrate on the driving). Driving itself was really good for me. It did not come easily at all, and after the first few lessons I felt like I was no longer improving and became frustrated. I’m the sort of person who takes failure personally and quits when things don’t come easily-but I needed that licence. This is where my teaching career came in handy! Having encouraged students to persist learning a foreign language with often contradictory rules, I knew it’s not how easily you pick it up that measures learning. I knew that if I persisted I would get there. And I did. In November I got my restricted licence, in March my full.

But fear is insidious. It found new ground in legitimate worries. The biggest one was money. Learning to drive was expensive, as was paying for fuel and insurance and servicing on my car. The royalties I was earning for my stories were just enough to cover my phone bill, but they wouldn’t stretch to groceries and fuel. Things like replacing tyres and repairs came out of my very depleted savings. I had started working as a freelancer, but my income fluctuated wildly month to month. I wanted to build myself a safety net but my emergency money disappeared as quickly as I could save it. I started stressing over finances and spent a lot of time seeking out new clients. My editing/proof-reading/ghost-writing work took priority over my writing time and left me too tired to write on my own projects, while I struggled to set prices low enough to compete with other freelancers that would still allow me to get by.

It wasn’t until June when I looked back at the first six months of 2017 that I realised how much my financial stress was holding me back. I had plans to write eight stories in 2017. Half the year was gone and I’d written two stories. I made the decision that from now on freelancing would fit in around my writing, not the other way round. Using the journalling methods outlined in The Journal Writing Superpower Secret I’ve kept myself focused and reminded of why my writing needs to be a priority. I’ve also used mindfulness techniques to combat stress, and between the two methods it seems to be working. I wrote a novella in July and a novel in August, and am planning one story a month until the end of the year. I’ve also started applying for jobs. I’m hoping that removing finances from the list of things I need to worry about while make up for time lost with mental energy reserved for writing.

Then there were old worries in new shapes. In Japan, I was very conscious of needing to conduct myself well even outside of school hours, knowing I was viewed as a representative of my company/New Zealanders in a town where everyone knew who I was. I still care a lot about making people happy/not disappointing expectations people have of me. Once I was back home, I spent a lot of time worrying that my relatives looked down on me because I wasn’t earning a big salary, that I had disappointed them. I discovered how deep this fear when when I signed up for the Shave for a Cure fundraising challenge. I was terrified my family would disapprove. Instead, they blew me away with their generous support. I still miss my hair, but knowing that I don’t need to conform to have the support of my family means so, so much more.

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The final fear is tied up with writing. Last year at the RWNZ conference, Michael Hauge who led seminar’s on story structure and the hero’s journey challenged us to take our own journey by identifying the thing which we were most afraid of–and doing it. For me this was really easy. Just the thought of pitching to an agent or hearing my work read aloud and critiqued gave me an immediate fear reaction. Which was odd. I had a few stories published and they were getting positive and negative views, both of which I was handling. I couldn’t be afraid of critique, could I?

Actually, yes! I felt safe writing about my fail!vampires and Morgen train wrecks for an audience that felt more like friends…and  the idea of putting my work before a larger audience scared the heck out of me. I was afraid that once my work was put in front of people who didn’t know me from the DRitC events or Facebook or wherever, that they’d see me for what I was: a clueless wannabe author with literary pretensions and clumsy prose, no idea of what she was doing and over complicated plots. That if I wrote something more mainstream, I’d find out I wasn’t ready for leaving my safety zone. I’d fail–and this time I wouldn’t have the comforting excuse of a really niche genre to hide behind. So I decided in August last year that this year I was going to conference and I was going to pitch a story that would appeal to a bigger audience.

The murder mystery (first draft finished yesterday) is that story. And it’s really funny. Before conference, I really had to fight the story to write it. I was constantly second guessing myself as I wrote. I eventually abandoned it in January. But then we had a family event and for reasons I don’t want to go into, it became really important to have the murder mystery finished as quickly as possible. In the lead up to conference, I wrote 23000 words over eighteen days. After conference, I wrote 49,000 words in six days. What made the difference? I went to conference. I pitched the murder mystery to agents. I heard it read aloud and critiqued in front of a group of writers who I respect myself. And instead of devastating me, it made me wonder what on earth I’d been afraid of.

Disclaimer: I’m sure that there will be all the panic when Gentlemen Don’t Murder comes out. But something really interesting happened to me when I decided that in 2017 I was going to pitch.

I had a year of knowing I was going to introduce myself to agents and pitch a story to them. And somewhere in that year, I stopped introducing myself as ‘a writer, but you don’t want to read what I write.’ When I met people at conference this year, I said ‘Hi, I’m Gillian. I write gay paranormal romance.’ This wasn’t a conscious decision either. It just happened–but it would not have happened if I hadn’t already decided that I was no longer afraid of being a small writer in a big pond. All the fears that I faced were stepping stones to growth.

Was my growth because of the fear or despite the fear? I don’t know, but I do know that acknowledging and addressing my fears then coming up with a strategy is the biggest reason I’m not on a plane heading back to Japan right now. Managing my fear is the best thing I could have done for myself–and I hope you’re encouraged to look at your fear in a different way.

Books that helped me address my fear (links go directly to Amazon):

The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey by Joanna Penn.

The Journal Writing Superpower Secret: Get Productivity Superpowers, Kill Procrastination and Stop Self-Sabotage, and Then Take Over the World by Michael Forest

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Prosperous Creation: Make Art and Make Money at the Same Time (Growth Hacking For Storytellers 5) by Monica Leonelle

Fear and Loathing in Roto-vegas (not really, but come on–I couldn’t not use the title)

As I write this, I am on a very bumpy plane somewhere above the North Island on my way to Rotorua and the annual Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. I am terrified—and it’s nothing to do with the intermittent turbulence, or the fact that my computer is rapidly running out of battery. No, I’ve been low key anxious even before I got on the plane. Since Saturday, at least. I’m worried about the conference.

It took me until today to realise I was worrying about it. After all, this is my second year at conference. There’s a contingent of locals coming up, and I have friends I’ve made over the last year to catch up with. There is absolutely no reason I should feel nervous—but I do. And I realised that my fears are two-pronged.

Firstly, I’ve been stressing about all the little things building up. I had an ambitious to-do list of things to do before conference, and that has been added to with freelance clients popping up with last minute requests. My writing projects have been left to slide as I focused on the freelance stuff or worse—was so paralyzed by everything I had to do that I did nothing.

My major source of worry, however, is that I’m putting myself outside my comfort zone this conference. I’m participating in the cold reads—where the first two pages of your story are read out loud to an audience including an editor or agent, who stops the reader where they would put the manuscript down and gives feedback on what works and what doesn’t. I’ve also signed up to pitch to two agents and an editor, and that is really starting to intimidate me—which is a sure sign that I need to do this.

At last years conference in Auckland, the keynote speaker was Michael Hauge who is an incredible speaker. After speaking for two days on story structure and how to create emotional resonance using the three act structure, he turned things around on Sunday, challenging us to see how the hero’s journey applied in our own lives. As writers we know that if a character has a cannot-face fear, then we must force them to face it. Michael asked us if there was anything that gave us an immediate gut reaction of fear, and then asked us to come up with a way to challenge that fear.

I discovered that just the thought of putting my work in front of any of the experts at conference gave me that immediate gut twisting fear reaction. Why should that be? After all, even then I had two stories published with NineStar Press, and three stories published through the M/M Romance group. I was used to getting feedback positive and negative through Goodreads and Amazon. Why would this scare me so much?

I think it’s because the M/M Community has been a really supportive group for me. I knew the staff I worked with at NineStar before I submitted my work to them, and I know that my audience shares a lot of my beliefs and attitudes. Basically, the M/M romance reading audience is my safe place.

Once you go beyond that, however, it’s totally unknown territory. And I think that’s what is making pitching to the agents and editors so scary.

What’s really interesting though is how this fear has played out. I’m scared of pitching to agents and editors because they might criticize my work. So my brain has been concentrating and stressing about the small stuff. This means that I haven’t been able to work on pitches for two of the three editors/agents that I made appointments with. ‘Never mind!’ my brain consoles me. ‘You can just cancel them. It’d be terrible to turn up unprepared after all.’ I think this was my brain’s subconscious plan after all. If I cancel the appointments, I’m protected from criticism because I ‘didn’t have time to prepare.’ Which is really insidious, and a great example of the sort of self-sabotage we’re capable of—and further proof that I’m on the right track. I don’t know whether I will have time to work on the last two pitches as I’ve just got one day before conference starts, but I’m going to keep those appointments, even if it’s just to ask questions about what they’re looking for.

My Cold Cure.

In a perfect world, this post would have gone out on Monday and the topic would be something entirely different. Since we do not live in a perfect world, this post is being made midday Thursday, for reasons you’ve probably guessed.

Colds are the worst, and this is a particularly awful specimen. It moved in Friday night, was at its worst on Monday, and has been slowly improving since then. I went to the doctor yesterday, and he agreed that it was just a cold and that I was on the mend. Then I had a really rough night last night sleep wise, and have had a headache all morning in addition to the cold nonsense.

That was the last straw. I’ve been taking it easy(ish), drinking lots of fluids and not over tiring myself, but clearly I needed to up the ante. I needed some Tom Kha. This Thai Soup, made with chicken broth, coconut, galangal, lemongrass and chilli, is supposed to be one of the most effective cold antidotes there is. Fortunately, there is a Thai restaurant walking distance of my current location. I walked.

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I almost choked on the first mouthful. It was so flavourful, that it caught me off guard. I’m not a huge fan of coconut, so this wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I have to admit it really blasted through my cold-numbed taste buds and this might be the most delicious thing I’ve eaten all week. I worked my way steadily through the soup, and I didn’t quite manage to finish it, but as I made my way to the supermarket for weapon #2, I could still feel the warmth of the Tom Kha in my chest, undoubtedly continuing the good fight.

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Weapon #2 was recommended by Mum. I was hoping to find straight ginger tea like they had in Japan, but the local supermarket’s International section let me down. Barkers, it is. Sadly, just about every flavour of cordial except this one was on sale–which is especially evil given that it is peak cold/flu season in Christchurch. Still, if it helps me kick this cold faster, I will not complain. Mum recommends it hot, but I’ve made it up in a 1 litre bottle and have returned to bed. That’s about all the battle I am capable of today.

 

 

 

Readers & Writers for LGBT Auction Results!

Sorry for the lack of updates! It’s odd. There’s no one reason I can put my finger on, but I’ve been exhausted for most of May. I feel like I’m coming down with something, but no symptoms ever eventuate. Still, I have some good news to share with you this morning, that more than makes up for my sleepiness!

The Readers & Writers for LGBT Chechens auction took place and raised, in total, 2709 US dollars. That is brilliant. While I’m very pleased with that amount, Chechens still need our help. If you can donate, the FAQ lists organisations that are supporting LGBT Chechens here. Many authors and publishers are donating May royalties to these organisations, so to support them, go here. There are some amazing books taking part.

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My contribution to the auction included an original story! I’ve been in touch with the auction winner, and her story request is absolutely awesome. For the last week, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself entertaining various possibilities. I’m in the last stages of hashing out the plot (have the basic outline, but need to do some research to iron down some details), and I have a really good feeling about this one. The working title is More Than Coffee, and as a taste of what I’m working on, head over to Pinterest to see my inspiration board. I’m hoping to have a teaser to share with you soon!

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Tank Top by Look Human: Check it out.

Shaved for a Cure!

On Friday I said goodbye to my hair–and the ability to go an hour without touching my head (it feels so weird! But in a good way!). I promised an update, and have been procrastinating, because I really don’t know what to say. So I finally decided to let the pictures speak for themselves!

 

Of course, the entire point of this was not how weird my head feels (when I pulled my hoodie on after the cut and the fabric just dragged across my skull–it was the oddest sensation and I was not expecting it all). The point of this was raising money for Shave for a Cure, who supports patients with leukaemia and blood cancer and their families. I was hoping to raise five hundred dollars, and I ended up raising eight hundred and thirty-five dollars with the chance of a little more.

I feel really good. The support I received was incredible, and I’m really pleased to be able to pass that on to the many New Zealanders battling blood cancer. I’m also really relieved. I confess, I actually waited until my niece had left for the UK before going in for the shave because I was really afraid that she wouldn’t recognise me without my hair. It sounds stupid, but it was probably the thing I was most afraid of doing this. However, my sister facetimed me from the UK and my niece looked at me, frowned, and then asked me where her kiwi toy that we’d been playing with before she left was, so I had to find the toy and do the kiwi voice for her, and that was that.

Thank you everyone who left me comments of support and/or made donations! I am really pleased that together we made this happen–I hope you are, too.