February Done/March To-do

I feel like I’m floating—and not in a good way. I’m sitting at my Thursday writer’s group, feeling really disconnected from what is going on around me. A few big deal things have happened recently—Dead Wrong released, I got print copies of Thorns and Fangs and Uprooted—and none of it really seems to sink in.

I also coughed for an hour last night, barely slept and woke up this morning completely congested, so this is not a life crisis, it’s a cold. But it’s still something of a wake-up call.

I’ve been really busy chasing volunteer experience, job interviews—everything except writing. I don’t multi-task well, and so I just need to remove these distractions so I can focus fully on writing. It’s a bit unnerving, stepping away from the safety net of steady employment, but ultimately I think I need to focus on meeting my writing goals. The uncertainty and interruptions of February (and December and January) have meant that I haven’t made the progress I want to. The really good news is that my family is one hundred percent behind me in this, so I’ve got that safety net.

February Goals:

Write Murder Isn’t Art. Added 31,500 words. Not great!

Unfortunately, I can’t get straight down to work in March. I have two freelancing commitments that need to be finished ASAP plus I have a YA story I need to outline and write in March to make editor deadlines. I just have to get my head down and get to work. I’m going to do what I can to get back into a regular writing habit. I’m also going to do what I did last year with my Mindful March, and work at getting myself into a healthier space: walking everyday, eating more fruit and veges, taking my vitamins (lost between move from house to house), and practicing Mindfulness again.

March Goals:

-Outline YA and submit to editor.

-Write YA superheroes

-Freelance #1

-Freelance #2

-Weekly Freelance articles 1-5

-Edit Morgen Prince

Wish me luck!

Going Backwards to Go Forwards: 2018 Goals and Life After Humanity

LifeAfterHumanity-SliderI’ve been in a really weird headspace for about the last month. It started with the lead up to Christmas, and continued, with a few brief breaks, over New Year’s. I seemed to shake it off for a little while, but it would sneak back, insidious and subtle, and before I knew it, I’d spent another day unable to do anything.

I’m still not exactly sure what the cause of it was, but I suspect I let myself get overworked and overwhelmed in December, and by fussing when I should have surrendered, inadvertently prolonged the mood. Yesterday, I had an afternoon of forced doing nothing. I showed up too early for an appointment, and had nothing to do but sit and read. It was glorious. Today, despite having had a busy morning and a full on afternoon babysitting, I feel full of light and energy, and I’m finally ready to face my last years goals.

I’ve been putting it off and putting it off because I have a really hard time admitting failure. And I knew that I’d fallen short of my goals. Luckily, I’d forgotten what those goals were so when I was stewing in my bad mood, I wasn’t beating myself up as much as I might have otherwise.

2017 Goals.
▪ 8 books published.
▪ 1 year entirely supported by writing.
▪ Investing in my work (marketing/learning)

How did I do? Well…

  • 3 books published —Uprooted, Wing Commander’s Curse and The Charity Shop Rejects Live in Concert.

So not great! However, I remembered this goal as ‘8 books written’ and I did slightly better on that front—Life After Humanity, Dead Wrong, Wing Commander’s Curse, The Charity Shop Rejects, Gentlemen Don’t Murder, and Morgen Prince. I also revised Banging the Supernatural, which I think gives me a total of seven books written—and if you count freelance projects I ghost wrote for clients, I can add four more.

I realised in November/December how difficult I was finding balancing my freelance work with my own writing and family commitments. I made the decision that once I’d completed my current freelance projects, I wouldn’t be looking for more. In fact, I’ve launched a serious job hunt. I think having a regular schedule and taking some of the financial pressure off, will mean I stress less and have more mental energy to give to writing. Unfortunately, job hunt is practically synonymous with stress and uncertainty. Here’s hoping that the short term uncertainty pays off with long term productivity!

  • 1 year entirely supported by writing.

Success! I did expand into dog-walking and babysitting, but I supported myself throughout all of 2017 primarily by writing, mostly freelance work. I find it really reassuring to know that if necessary, I’ve got this as a fallback.

  • Investing in my work (marketing/training).

Actually, I did make headway in this direction, too. Not as much as I’d like, of course, but overall, I didn’t really need to beat myself up as much as I did.

2018 goals.

I’ve only got one 2018 goal, and I’ve already mentioned it—publish a book or story a month throughout 2018. I’ve got January and February covered, but I’m already behind. I’ve only just started on the story I intended to write in December, but I’ve suddenly realised that’s okay.

In 2017, I struggled to write in January. I started the new year enthusiastic but tired, and my creative project quickly got overwhelmed by doubt and a freelance project I was working on.

In 2016, my January got taken over by school and cold and being sick. Can’t remember January 2015 either, but I’d be surprised if I got anything done. And I know that January 2014 I struggled to write anything at all.

This is a really obvious trend. So obvious that I really need to acknowledge it, take some pressure off, and celebrate what I have managed to achieve. Even if it doesn’t feel like much. Even if it’s a step backwards.

And speaking of backwards…

Life After Humanity (Thorns and Fangs #3) releases in one week!

Life After Humanity came about in a really backwards way. I wrote it as the second book in the Thorns and Fangs series, learned a hell of a lot while editing Thorns and Fangs, pretty much rewrote it a second time, submitted it to NineStar, and was in the early stages of reworking it when a writing friend helpfully pointed out the series was missing something, and I realised Life After Humanity was book three, not book two. It was on hold while I wrote Uprooted, and the ways that Ben and Nate developed in Uprooted meant that I had to rewrite Life After Humanity a third time (or possibly fourth time)—and it became something entirely different. There are things I miss from the earlier drafts, but this story leads into Dead Wrong in a really powerful way, and makes the series really hold together, so I can’t regret the changes too much.

I do regret that I didn’t see what was missing sooner, or that I didn’t plan the entire series before jumping in and getting started writing. But I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just let that go. After all, a big part of Life After Humanity is Ben stepping back to get his life straightened out, even though that means putting his relationship with Nate on hold. I support sideways moves or even a step back to regroup when friends or family members need to figure out life stuff. Why is it so hard to give myself the same permission?

I am really nervous to see if readers are willing to allow Ben and Nate a step backwards. I think it’s necessary for their development individually and together, but it’s not something you see a lot of in typical romance. Luckily, I think my readers appreciate atypical romance…but we’ll see! In the meantime, stay turned for sneak previews, where the central plot of Life After Humanity came from, and more.

The Ugliest Sweater: Live

Not last weekend, the weekend before, I did something for the first time. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I decided I needed to challenge my fear of putting my work in front of others and really concentrate on getting it out there. I put three pieces into Cold Reads, and pitched and submitted my work to agents. I still haven’t successfully managed to react to someone saying ‘oh, I’d like to read [your story] without immediately telling them everything that is wrong with [my story], but hey. Baby steps.

Not baby steps: reading an excerpt from The Ugliest Sweater to a live audience at the NZSA December Book Buzz and Open Mic.


Oh this will be easy, I thought. I got up in front of classes of students how many times when I was an English teacher? Not to mention doing presentations at seminars! I’m used to public speaking. This will be a piece of cake.

Yeah, nah. My voice wobbled, and I did that nervous thing when you repeat yourself a lot. Whoops.

Still–I did it! And people laughed at the funny bits, and wow, that was a rush. In retrospect, I’m really glad I chose The Ugliest Sweater to read, because the humour is pretty much immediate. I’m also glad that I chose the NZSA Book Buzz to read at because the audience was primarily other authors and they were definitely a sympathetic audience. I’m definitely going to do this again–and other authors, I encourage you too as well.


Writing Update & ARC Team call.

Apparently I look like a writer. How do I know this? I showed up to a meeting of the Friends of Ngaio Marsh today, and someone said “[Gillian], you look like a writer–would you take notes?” Approximately two seconds later there was a motion passed to make me a committee member, followed immediately by a motion to promote me to secretary–and here I am—secretary!

Weird fact: I have taken the minutes at all but two meetings that I’ve attended. Apparently I exude good note-taking vibes. Which, I do, so…truth in advertising?

I could share the minutes of the meeting with you today, but I’m not sure that you really want to know all the details of the heritage house tour, so instead a writing update. I’ve mentioned that I’ve got three upcoming releases: The Charity Shop Rejects Live in Concert (For the Love of Christmas #3), Life After Humanity (Thorns and Fangs #3) and Dead Wrong (Thorns and Fangs #4). Gentlemen Don’t Murder is currently with an agent, awaiting feedback. And I’m on chapter ten of an expected fifteen chapters of Morgen Prince (Deep Magic #4). 

You may be thinking ‘That’s a lot of books.’ You’re not wrong.

I don’t know when I came up with the idea of releasing a book a month in 2018, but I did, and so that is the plan. I already regret it, but the point of goals is to challenge yourself and I am definitely feeling challenged. The big freelance project is the major cloud raining on my parade right now, but I’m going to try and avoid taking on any Freelance projects over December and instead try to enjoy the holiday season and my family, without making myself insanely busy.

This may be more of a challenge than releasing a book a month in 2018, but hey–dream big, right?

As I prepare to write more books, I’m going to need help making sure that the works I produce stay up to scratch. If you’re interested in donating your time as an Advance Review Copy (ARC) reader, please drop me an e-mail at gillian.stkevern at gmail dot com letting me know that you’re interested! I’d honestly really appreciate it. This would involve reader the book and leaving an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, and other online bookstores. If you’d like to help, but can’t commit to reading right now, then taking the time to leave a review on any of my other works would work just as well. Thanks in advance!

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.



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!


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.


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.


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