life

November Done: December To-do

I feel like I’m finally shaking off a funk, and coming back into the light. Nothing’s wrong. I haven’t been down, or at least, I haven’t had a reason to be sad. I just wasn’t my usual self. I think this is the result of finishing Big Freelance Project (the first draft anyway) on Tuesday and spending the afternoon getting my flamingos in a row. Having some relaxed time without feeling that there was work I should be doing was clearly necessary!

December is going to be a very busy month, even without taking on any new freelance project. Big Freelance project will need a tidy up, and I want to finish not one, but two drafts–but I’m getting ahead of myself.

23 October 2019 • 9_00 pmThe Cable Yacht Club

November Goals:

  • Morgen Prince Complete First Draft. (45,499/75,000 words)-Nope! Currently 55,421/75,000 words, but that is 55,000 more words than I had at the start of November.
  • Freelance Project 9/12 chapters  Done! Waiting client feedback.
  • Get back into blogging  I’m going to mark this as a success!
  • Return Edits of Dead Wrong (1200 em-dashes). Well, I talked about this…Did not actually do it.

Note to self: Next time you decide to do NaNoWriMo… do not take on a freelance project requiring you to write 40,000 words in a month at the same time. It just doesn’t work.

December Goals:

  • Morgen Prince Complete first draft, tidy and send to editor!
  • Dead Wrong edits and cover request
  • Tweak plot to Murder Isn’t Art
  • Outline The Case of the Very Forthright Letter that Peregrine Should Not Have Written and think of a better title
  • Look at Over Familiar and sigh a lot, and then think about an outline
  • Finish drafting one of the above
  • blog
  • Have a birthday
  • Release The Charity Shop Rejects Live in Concert
  • Read 11 books to reach my goal of reading 100 books in 2017

December hasn’t even properly started, and I feel like I need a nap…

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.

July Recap, August Goals!

I’m writing this update with decidedly mixed feelings. I’m all about goal-setting, and I love the high that comes with getting all my ducks lined up for the coming month. However, yesterday Monica Leonelle announced she’s retiring the Prose of Fire series of writing advice books.

Monica is one of my writing heroes, and I come back to her books again and again. While I’m really happy that she’s reached a new stage in her writing journey and can definitely get behind the philosophy driving her new project, it’s not a direction I see myself going in right now. So that’s a bit of sad news.

The other thing that’s on my mind is my health. Since June 24th, there have only been two days were I truly felt my usual self—and even those two days, I still had a cough. The rest of the time, I’ve been dealing with either two particularly vicious colds and a chest infection, or stealth tuberculosis (I should get the test results back this month). While I’m not the sickest person in the world by any means, this is having a cumulative effect. I’m tired, and spending more time resting, meaning I have less time to spend on projects, which means that I feel like I’m constantly battling to get anything done. A lot of my happiness is tied to being productive and achieving goals, so this has been frustrating on many levels. Despite all this, I actually achieved a fair amount in July.

July Goals:

  • Edit and Release More Than Coffee (new title needed!)  Done! The Wing Commander’s Curse came out on Monday after a few false starts. Overall, I’m really happy with it.
  • Get back to work on Mystery 1. Not done! Change of plans.
  • Continue work on Dead Wrong Change of plans.
  • Get my writing mindset back in the right place. Yes! I have productivity and positivity for days. I’m credited The Journalling Superpower Secret for this.
  • Take care of myself, and tackle scary health thing. Ha. I’m trying! 

Overall, I feel good. I completed a project not on this list. When I set my July goals, I didn’t realise Ninestar had moved the submission deadline for seasonal stories earlier this year. Obviously, that took priority! And I have great news. Not only did I manage to write, edit and submit a seasonal story by the deadline, but I’ve already completed the first editing pass. That’s right—The Op-Shop Rejects Live in Concert was accepted by NineStar! I also got a big freelance project that has been taking a lot of time and energy, which isn’t great, but it pays so, that is a good thing!

Anne and I also launched New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers, so that was a definite bonus!

August Goals:

  • Freelance project #1
  • Get to work on Gentlemen Don’t Murder
  • Return Life After Humanity edits.
  • Attend RWNZ Conference 2017
  • Get organised for Dead Wrong. I’m also planning to write-up the Marlborough Book Festival, and pitch to agents at the Romance Writers conference. August is going to be a busy month!

I Sat in Dame Ngaio Marsh’s chair!

Dame Ngaio Marsh was—along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers—one of the Queens of Crime, a group of women writing during the Golden Age of the Detective story. In addition, she was an artist and an enthusiast for the theatre, becoming recognised as much for her services to New Zealand theatre as she was for her detective novels. And yes-she was a New Zealander. In fact, she lived in Christchurch most of her life. And it never occurred to me that her house might still be here and that you can visit it.

Turns out her house is here in Christchurch and you can visit it. You simply need to arrange a time and date with one of the tour guides and off you go (http://www.ngaio-marsh.org.nz)! I e-mailed and have been binge-reading Ngaio Marsh any free moment I got since.

I was lucky enough to join an already booked group, and visit on a day when a guide was being trained, so there were five of us Ngaio Marsh enthusiasts in the same place. This never happens! It was hugely exciting–as exciting as her house.

By modern standards it’s small–but full of treasures. Ngaio was an only child, so she inherited a few family heirlooms from both sides of her family, as well as those she collected herself in her travels. Some of her dresses still hang in her wardrobe, and her the furnishing are just as they were when she lived in the house–with a few exceptions (there were some breakages because of the earthquake and a few repairs).

What I found most interesting is how the rooms were used. There was no spare room, no office. In this lovely dining room, Ngaio Marsh entertained visiting celebrities including Laurence Olivier. This room is the least altered from the house’s original appearance. Marsh’s parents built it, and originally the entire house was this dark wood.

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Her kitchen was practical, small (despite being enlarged from its original size), and an amazing collection of seventies style. Our guide was not a fan. I thought it looked neat–but then, I didn’t have to try and cook in it!

Ngaio’s bedroom was fantastic. It blended her theatrical and artistic sides. Her passport is there, along with her travelling trunk and there were hatboxes stacked on top of the wardrobe. I was happy to spot some Japanese woodcuts in one corner, but my favourite discovery was the copy of Lord of the Rings on the shelf.

The long room. It was a combination living room and office. I gravitated to an impressive looking typewriter, but it turns out Ngaio wrote longhand sitting in her green armchair. Later her secretary typed things up for her.

Towards the end of her life, Ngaio had her basement converted into an office/bedroom/bathroom/studio so that she wouldn’t have to climb the stairs to her house.

The tour takes an hour, but after it finished, we must have spent a good thirty minutes just talking with our guide. The gentleman visiting with his wife seems to know a lot about New Zealand theatre, going to school with a few of the successful actors that Ngaio promoted, and he and our guide reminisced about people they knew connected with Ngaio. I felt really glad that I timed my visit to coincide with another group, as I feel I got more of an insight into that side of her life.

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I took a lot of photos, but I feel hesitant about sharing all of them. Instead, here is my highlight—the moment I got to sit in the chair where Ngaio Marsh wrote her mystery novels. The bookcase directly in front of me had all of her first editions. Actually, she had bookcases in every room we visited. It was definitely my kind of house. Any Christchurch visitors (M. Caspian, what do you think?): Just so you know, I will totally return to this house and tour with you anytime.

 

 

Hair Today … gone March 24th.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a personal update, nothing to do with writing or writing promo at all. In real life, I’m fundraising to support leukaemia and blood cancer patients in New Zealand, a cause that I really want to help–and not one that I want tainted by the suggestion of self-promo. At the same time, I believe I have a lot of writing friends who will want to support me–and I need all the support I can get. I’ve made the decision to reach out to my writing and reading friends twice only–once in this post, and once again in the aftermath. This is a fine line to walk, and I’m going to do my best not to cross it, but if this strikes you as inappropriate in anyway, do let me know.


 

Okay. Important note out of the way, I am freaking out. I’ve committed to participating in the 2017 fundraising campaign organised by Shave for a Cure by–you guessed it–shaving my head.

As far back as I can remember, people have been complimenting me on my hair. Hairdressers tell me how lovely and thick it is, people in the street tell me how nice my curls are, almost every time I see her my grandma says ‘how nice your hair looks,’–and that’s not even getting into the incredulous reactions from my students in Japan when I told them it was natural.

My two best hair stories both involve students in Japan. Once after going from very long hair, to cutting it very short, I went to school to be greeted by various amusing double-takes. The best was a student I’d taught for five years who saw me from behind and asked his homeroom teacher ‘When did we get a new English teacher?’

The best story happened while I was still on my island. Deciding there was no point in having long hair if I never did anything wore it, I wore my hair loose to school. Unfortunately it was a windy day, and by the time I arrived at school my hair was somewhat worse for the trip. I walked into the third year classroom. One of my girl’s shrieked. ‘Sensei! You look like that character from Harry Potter. What’s her name? Harry’s friend.’ The boy beside her called out ‘Dumbledore!’ And for the rest of the week, that class called me ‘Dumbledore-sensei.’

Giving it up is a lot harder than I thought it would be. In fact, the closer it gets to shave-day, the less I want to do this–but the more I know I have to. I do invest a lot of my ego into my hair–it’s a big part of my identity. And I really hope that by taking part in the Shave for a Cure challenge, I’ll be able to raise money for a worthy cause.

If you want to support me in my challenge, please go to my personal page (yup, using my non-author name): Here

If you can donate, that is amazing and very gratefully received! Although this is an NZ charity, you don’t need to be in NZ to support this cause. If you’re unable to donate, please share this post, leave me a message of support (trust me, I will need those), or maybe even be inspired to consider something like this yourself.

Thanks for reading! And yeah, there will be an update, March 27th, with the after photos (gulp).

Mindful March

Time for the monthly recap! As you may have gathered from my January recap and Accelerated February posts, February was a busy month. The decision to track my writing, health and money made a big difference, not so much in keeping me on track, but making me aware of what is holding me back currently. Despite the lack of word count, I feel I am making really good progress towards my writing goals. I have a lot of work to do if I want to make my 2017 goals, but I feel confident that I can make it happen.

Quick and dirty recap: February Goals

  • finish Murder #1 – NOT AT ALL
  • re-plot TDL – Almost finished!
  • Freelance project 1 AND 2 – Finished project 1. 2 was not finished, but my client was dealing with IRL stuff, so I am counting this as a success.
  • Complete Freelance Project 3 (weekly)- Great Success.
  • regular blog posts- More or less!
  • read 9 books- YES!
  • establish a daily writing habit.-NO

I started February all fired up to write every day. Unfortunately, until I resolve the plot issues I’m having with Murder#1, working on this project is like pulling teeth. I managed for two days, before sinking into a depressed funk. Not writing also made me fall into a depressed funk, until I realised that I could count plotting as writing. Being able to check off time spent plotting as writing made me feel productive and happy, and that encouraged me to keep at it. I came to the conclusion that I have a lot more work to do with research on Murder#1, but that if I came up with a solid plot for Thorns and Fangs #3, then I could work on that while continuing to research Murder#1. All in all, I wrote 12 out of 28 days in February, which while far from the results I wanted, have meant that I am in a really good position to try again for a daily writing habit in March.

Balancing Freelance projects with everything else will continue to be an ongoing problem in March, as I’m finding it hard to say no to clients adding extra work onto existing projects. I’m going to have to be strategic in what projects I take on, and in protecting my creative and research time.

Now that I’m back in the habit of regular blogging, I’m really enjoying it. Travelling was great fun, but while it gave me a lot of interesting places to write about for the blog, I also returned from Auckland totally exhausted. It took me about a week to recover. What is interesting is that the exhaustion was all mental. Physically, I was tired but otherwise fine. I was not sick at all during February, which, for me, is a huge accomplishment! I think this is Accelerated February already positively impacting my health.

Although I didn’t manage to take my vitamins, eat 5 plus servings of fruit and veges a day or walk every day, I am doing all three more regularly and it is having a tremendous impact, not only  on my health but on how I feel about myself. Another new addition to my health routine is a daily guided meditation using the smiling mind app. This is something I want to continue–hence Mindful March! And that brings us to March Goals:

  • Daily Writing Habit (Currently 2/31)
  • Write Thorns and Fangs #3 (3,894/100,000)
  • Balance Freelance and Creative Work
  • Read 9 books (3/9)
  • Regular blog posts (1/9)
  • Edit and release Deep Magic boxset
  • Complete Defensive Driving Course
  • Sit Full Licence Test
  • SECRET PROJECT TBA later.