News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

Living the Dream

Well, I finally did it. I left the day job. For almost two months now, I have technically been a full-time writer.

Technically. As in, not 100% accurate. Besides the fact that I do still go in to the office a couple hours each week (hey, those accounts aren’t going to reconcile themselves), I also haven’t actually been…well, you know…writing.

At least, I wasn’t for the first several weeks. Instead of writing, I found myself sleeping in, watching films, reading (oh my gods, so much reading), playing games on my phone, and generally avoiding the world. If it hadn’t been for paying bills at the office and the desperate urge to hit the gym each night, I probably wouldn’t have left the house at all.

And I was depressed. SO FUCKING DEPRESSED. Which totally threw me off. I would sit on my couch, staring out the window, with absolutely no motivation to do anything whatsoever, and wonder, “What the hells is wrong with me? I’ve finally got what I wanted. I’m away from the day job. I’m home. I have all this time on my hands, and I could be writing, and I should be happy, but I’m not. WHY?!?!”

Quite simple, really. Change is a bitch.

Yeah, I got what I wanted, but even so, it was change. Pure and simple. And my brain does not like change.

I felt completely lost without the routine I’ve held for the past 17 years. Spend that many years getting up at 5 am, getting to work at 7, working straight through until at least 5 pm, then going home and doing it all over again the next day…yeah, it’s hard to train the mind out of needing that schedule. My brain and body expected one thing, and suddenly I’d thrown something else entirely at them, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

So I spent the first few weeks of full-time authorhood doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing.

And in some ways, it was GLORIOUS.

I’ve complained for years that I had no time to really live because I was always working. But now? Now I can do anything. I can go see things I’ve never seen. I can spend time with people I never had time for before. I can go to the market on a Tuesday! Not strictly on Sundays, but a Tuesday! I can walk down to my favorite restaurant and enjoy a plate of strawberry-and-cream-cheese French toast while I write…on any day of the week! I know this probably all sounds so simple and silly, but it absolutely blows my mind.

(Seriously. Don’t become a workaholic. It’s soooo bad for you.)

Still, that transition was rough, and I had a hard time understanding why. One of my CrossFit coaches put it best: “It’s like you’ve been deep-sea diving for the past 17 years, and now you’re coming up for air. Going through decompression is going to take time.”

Brilliant, that.

So, I rode out the transition, learned to stop hating myself for not getting anything done, and allowed myself to just enjoy the downtime. Now, I’m well into the next book. Not as far along as I’d hoped I’d be at this point in the year, but I’m finally making good progress, and having all these days stretched out in front of me that can be filled with nothing but writing — or whatever I want — is making the future look bright.

At this point, Addiction (Shifting Isles, Book 7) is about halfway done, and should be released within the next few months. After that, I’ll be diving into Blind Love (Book 8) and Libertas (Book 9) before taking another side-step like I did with the Matchmakers trilogy and throwing myself headlong into another m/m romance project, which will run alongside Shifting Isles books 8 and 9. Beyond those…well, too many other books to count. I swear, the ideas just won’t stop coming. (Speaking of which, I’ve also submitted a short story to the Agorist Writer’s Workshop 2017 fantasy anthology. Still waiting to hear if my story was accepted, but if it is, it’ll be one small part of the whole Shifting Isles experience. But more on that later…) And I finally have time to pursue them.

This can’t last forever. I know that. Unless the stars align and I somehow manage to become well-known enough that I can sell enough books to pay my bills, I know I’ll eventually have to go back to work. The money in my savings won’t just magically stay there. But, in the meantime, I’m going to embrace this chance I’ve given myself. I could have played it safe. Stayed at the day job. But then, I could die tomorrow and regret not having taken this chance while I could. And the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the idea that this was absolutely the right step for me.

Scary? Yes. Risky? Absolutely. But so worth it. I’m throwing everything on the line to pursue my dream, my passion. Will I succeed? Well, technically speaking, I already have.

I’m not a bestseller, and probably won’t ever be, but I’ve rearranged my life in order to be a full-time writer, and that in itself is the greatest gift I could have imagined.

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Inspiration

Make It Worse

I’ve been reading a lot of books on story craft lately, each of which presents basically the same information but in different ways, such that one topic might befuddle me, whereas another will drive the same concept home.

In one of these books (and I apologize, I cannot recall at the moment precisely which), the thing that stood out most to me was the concept of adding conflict.

The author put it basically like this: You know how when you’re having a nightmare, and you’re running away, but you keep hitting obstacles, and the bad guy is always right behind you, and you can never seem to get more than a step ahead? That’s building conflict in your stories.

That really struck home for me because that right there is my every nightmare. I rarely dream, but when I do, it’s usually some god-awful terror of being chased or hunted. It’s always dark and hard to see; there’s always some dangerous figure behind me (who is either my birth mother or some faceless person, oddly enough); and I find myself running for my life.

The pavement turns to quicksand, so I can’t get my footing. The doors get stuck and won’t open until the very last moment as I’m trying to get away. The tight spaces get tighter until I can barely breathe and can hardly move. I run and I run and I run, but the dark figure is always right behind me.

Sometimes I have this nightmare of being in some sort of underground labyrinth of tunnels that are barely large enough for me to fit through, and I’m climbing up or sliding down or crawling through, desperate for an open space so I can breathe, desperate to run, and the figure is always there, chasing me.

Sometimes I’m out in the open, but it’s so dark I can barely see what’s ahead of me, and I’m running as fast as I can possibly go, but the ground is slick beneath my feet, or the laws of physics suspend, making concrete shift like sand or motion change such that my normal stride only takes me half as far.

Then I’m diving into some building with obstacles all around, and I’m trying to crawl through without making any noise, without knocking anything over, and trying to keep an eye out for the man with the gun, trying to get to the door before he does.

Running, running, running, always running, while I encounter shifting ground, closed doors, tight spaces, high fences, wild animals — one thing after another, building up the tension until I think my heart might burst and I wake up panting and shaking and practically in tears.

Building conflict. Ramping up tension. Adding stakes. All to answer the question: How can I make this scene worse for this character?

Phew! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a soothing cup of tea.

Because, of course, after the tension must come the release, but whether the release is victory or defeat — ah, that remains to be seen…

Inspiration, Publishing

Write To Live

A running theme in several conversations I’ve had lately is the overabundance of people who work at jobs they hate (but pay the bills) and would rather be working at something they love (but likely wouldn’t be able to make a living that way).

I know this very intimately.

When I first started working at the family auto repair shop (6 June 2000; I was 16 at the time), I absolutely loved my job. Loved it. I was excited for the new skills, the new responsibilities, the chance to prove myself and earn an income. As an introvert, I wasn’t too keen on the constant interaction with the general public, but as time went on I got to become acquainted with these people, learn their stories, share their hopes and woes — all the little things that get discussed in and around the process of writing up repair orders.

Time passed, and the more I continued at this job, the more I became frightfully aware of the big, looming monster always hiding in the shadowy corners of the room. The more I learned, and the more responsibilities I was given, the more I discovered all of the ever-present negative sides to my employment:

Taxes. Regulation. Taxes. Fees. Restrictions. More regulations. And did I mention taxes?

And, over time, these things only got worse. And worse. And worse.

Coming up on fourteen years at this job, I’m so completely burned-out and disgusted by the limitations that I find myself now operating on autopilot rather than being eager to come in to the office everyday. From the moment I walk in the door to the moment I leave, my coworkers and I are so hemmed-in by financial burdens (due to taxes, licenses, fees, etc.) and legal burdens (having to word a repair order just so, having to store items just so, having to constantly fill out any number of reports and forms for the State, etc.) that it just makes work a burden rather than a pleasure.

I now literally despise my job.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not ungrateful. I am very thankful to have a job. I know a lot of people today are out of work and would probably be eager to take my place. I know that, very well. I am exceedingly thankful for being employed and being able to (just barely) pay the mortgage that keeps my sanctuary intact. I am also exceedingly grateful that the conditions of my employment are such that I am permitted to write in my downtime. Still, because of all the governmental interference into my workplace, I just can’t stand being here.

Thus, writing — my love, my passion — is my solace, and keeps me sane when my paid work leaves me feeling empty and meaningless.

And it seems as though a lot of people are in the same boat. Work is not exciting and fulfilling. It’s no longer a chance to learn and grow. It’s just a paycheck — nothing more.

I look back on my high school years and recall all the constant pressure from teachers and counselors to figure out a career path, to determine a passion, to find a direction in life. Back then, I had absolutely no passions whatsoever. I had not a single clue what I wanted to do with my life. I had no direction, no desires, no goals except to go to college and continue getting straight A’s — but in what field, I couldn’t even begin to decide. Thus, like many of my peers, I took a job that paid the bills and kept waiting for inspiration to hit.

And waiting.

And waiting.

And still nothing struck me. I just kept going to work everyday, and waiting for a passion to strike me. My job didn’t inspire any ideas, nor did college. I found myself mechanically wandering through existence — not life, but mere existence — and wondering what was the point of it all.

Then came the best and worst thing to ever happen in my life: I was raped.

I know, right now you’re thinking, “Best and worst?!” Let me explain.

Obviously, rape is traumatic — in that sense, literally the worst thing that had ever happened in my life. Immediately after it happened, I slipped into an even more mindless existence, turning into an emotionless robot that simply went through the motions of working and feeding and bathing, but not actually feeling anything or engaging in life. I could go on for hours about the aftermath, though it’s not particularly relevant here (though, of course, I am writing a book about it all — surprise, surprise). The important part, though, is why this traumatic evil turned into the best thing in my life.

When medication and psychotherapy failed me, I sat down one evening and started writing about what happened to me. I’d never been prone to writing in journals or doing anything with the written word other than for school assignments, but once I got that first page down, describing the most vivid memory I had of being raped, suddenly I found that I couldn’t stop.

The words just wouldn’t stop coming.

In five weeks, I had a 300-page novel on my hands, and a couple months after that, I had a 600-page sequel, and a few hundred odd pages of scraps of ideas for a third. Then came ideas for another book, and another, and another, and before I knew it, I wound up with something like twenty novel ideas stored on my computer. The high school math wiz had suddenly turned into a wordsmith.

And I was happy. I’d found my passion. I’d found my purpose. Without even the slightest inkling of ever actually publishing anything, I kept writing, and kept getting story ideas. I just couldn’t stop.

Writing brought me back to life, gave me something to love, and gave me a reason to live. It’s all I want to do, and though it’ll probably never be an income source sufficient to pay the bills, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. In and around doing my day job, my mind is always on my stories, working out plot lines and figuring out characters. It’s darn near all I think about in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, and all I think about in the evenings while I’m exercising or having dinner. When I’m not reading someone else’s book, you can be sure my mind is on one of my own.

I feel free, and alive, and whole when I’m writing. The day job will have to stay, since I still have to pay the bills, but now I’ve got something more, something worthwhile.

I love to write. And I write to live.