Back Burner

Recently, I finished a speculative fiction short I’ve shown to no one yet (except hubby). I haven’t even looked at it myself in almost two weeks. I wrote, finished and set it aside.

On purpose.

I’d heard of this tactic before, but never tried it. Then several short stories were rejected months after I’d submitted and I re-read them only to discover the experts had been right all along.

You have to let a story sit.

It makes sense, really. In cooking, a simmer brings out subtle textures and flavors that take time to develop. Brewing requires time for fermentation to convert sugars in the mix to alcohol. With writing, a bit of distance between first draft and second allows the idea to coalesce and mature. In my case, I came back to my rejected pages with renewed clarity. I found it easier to see themes and identify what needed cutting or keeping, editing or polishing.

Since this is the first time I’ve set an unsubmitted story aside to percolate, it was hard in the beginning. I had to dig my head into something else, so I’m fleshing out other ideas, reviewing my novel manuscript (again), getting ready for vacation with my beloved Bobness and family. When I re-read the simmering short in a couple of weeks, the story should feel fresh. Almost like someone else wrote it. By the time I complete a second draft, I hope it will be ready to submit.

But Drema, you ask, how can you be sure? The truth is, I’m not.

Someone asked me recently when my novel would be finished. I laughed and said, “Never.” It’s a fact. My skill is always (hopefully) growing so that every time I read it, I find parts that can be improved. I could edit it and tweak it and refine it for the rest of my life, but if I ever want to see it in print, I have to take a chance. I must make it shine as best I can, then send it off into the world and cross my fingers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll be accepted. My skin’s much thicker on the rejection front than it used to be. It’s still tough sometimes, especially since letters with “This isn’t a good fit for us,” or “I don’t think I’d be a good advocate for your work” aren’t very helpful. Of course, it’s a matter of numbers; agencies and publishers receive thousands—tens of thousands—of submissions every year. They can’t possibly offer individualized responses for each one.

Even so, that leaves the writer guessing. Every time, I can’t help but ask myself—is it my manuscript? Did I flesh out my characters enough? Did I lose it on follow-through? Was the story too wordy? Where did I go wrong?

I’m sure it’s normal to think that way, but it’s entirely possible that the story really is a bad fit for the agency (though this is less likely if you did your homework). The problem could even be simple bad timing, something you can’t always anticipate, even if you’re watching the market to see who’s accepting what. Maybe your target agency just signed on with a novel that is similar in scope, or focused on the same readership. Maybe that agent just wasn’t your audience.

On the down side, once you submit a piece to a particular agency or magazine, they ask you not to submit the same piece to them again unless they specifically request it. Since you get only get that one chance, it’s important for your submission to shine as brightly as possible before you hit the “send” button.

So I’m simmering. Rather, my stories are, while I continue to produce. And think. And plot. And scheme.

What about you? Are your back burners full of drafts awaiting fullness?

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King
Pocket Books © 1999, 2002
ISBN 9780743455961
Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages, $11.19

The “King” of horror fiction got his start just like most other writers: trial and error and a lot of persistence. Growing up in Maine, surviving high school, thriving in college, then working a day job, raising a family, and writing in his office-slash-laundry room, he nonetheless found time to pen and submit numerous tales. For years, he worked limited success until Carrie stormed the wall of rejections and came away victorious. Since then, he has made quite a name for himself and, after decades of roaring success, he has a few tips to offer up-and-coming writers.

King’s own writing process is almost pure “pantser”. He eschews plotting. In fact, he feels plotting interferes with the creative process and kills the excitement a writer feels for the story when it’s fresh and new in her mind. Oddly, reading this bit struck home for me. About a month before reading On Writing, I’d had a great idea for a literary tale of an old, old man, shortly before his death, remembering his life in a full-circle way. But I wanted to make it as realistic as possible, so I spent a whole month creating his family tree, lining up his ancestors and where they all lived and what life was like there, so that the “history” could ring true even for people who today live in that small town. By the time I read King’s book, my enthusiasm for the old man’s tale had waned somewhat. I’ll still write it, but I’m wishing now I’d done it when it was still a bright flame in my imagination.

There is so much to recommend this book I can’t begin to share it all. If you’ve ever read anything by King, you know his style is distinct. Personally I find it comfortable, accessible, believable, and this one is no exception. There is a clear theme throughout the narrative, which is full of applicable anecdotes. My favorite bit was perhaps his treatment of rejections. As a young writer, he put a nail in the wall of his bedroom, onto which he impaled each “no thanks” form letter. So many accumulated over time that the nail would no longer support their weight, and he had to move the whole setup to his desktop. I loved the idea so much I may adopt it for myself!

King does make a handful of very helpful suggestions, but for the most part he does not tell the writer “how to do it.” Instead, he encourages her to find her own process. I found this very refreshing, especially since I’ve tried others’ processes and find that they don’t always work as I’d hoped. Of his few “mandates,” one is that an aspiring writer must use (or at least know and understand) proper grammar. He even recommends excellent sources for reference.

Part memoire and part craft book, this is King’s own story. From childhood all the way through the auto-pedestrian accident that nearly took his life, he talks about the obstacles he overcame, the weak points he had to work through, and how writing enriched his life. To get a peek inside this creative master’s mindset on writing, to see where his ideas came from or what sparked breakthroughs during writer’s block or even how he edits his own work was truly inspiring. I first read On Writing as a library loan. Long before I finished it, I knew I wanted—no, needed—my own copy; I purchased it before the loan even ran out.

This is a book I will read again and again, not just because I enjoy King’s style, but because as an aspiring writer, it will serve as an excellent learning tool.

The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

Pan Publishing © 2014
ISBN 1101988649
Mass Market Paperback, 354 pages,
$36.99 hardcover

Imagine a reality where librarians live forever (or near enough), a truly magical place that intersects with other worlds and other timelines through hidden doors and a secret language. This is the world of The Library, an enormous secret world where agents collect books from all the other worlds—stealing them, where necessary—in order to preserve their knowledge. The Library is top secret, a place that must be protected from outsiders lest their treasury of the written word be spoilt or the secrets hidden within the tomes used to evil purposes.

Enter Irene, a secret-agent type librarian, who is sent on what seems to be a boringly routine job, until someone else beats her to the book she’s after, and unknown enemies begin trying to kill her and her assistant. Irene must dig deep to find the resources for survival as the job goes more and more wrong.

The Invisible Library is the first in a series, and features magic, fairies, werewolves, vampires and more in a twisty, fast-paced fantasy. Cogman does a good job with the tale. Irene’s adventure is anything but boring, with plot twists ‘round every corner.

Although I believe Cogman intended the tale for adults, I felt it was rather more suited to the YA crowd. There’s plenty to attract a younger reader—interpersonal drama between competing librarians, repartee, possible love interest with a mystery guy, and the kind of ever-present fluctuation between self-doubt and bravado that goes along with approaching adulthood. It’s a good, clean, inspiring read.

Personally, I prefer my fiction a little more mature; however, I’m not sorry I read The Invisible Library. If you enjoy a quick, light read, or if a young adult in your life does, I recommend this book.

Like Minds and Other Sounding Boards

Earlier this year I signed up for fiction classes at my local writer’s center (The Muse Center – the-muse.org). Two were one-time workshops: one to focus on finding and querying an agent, and one to discuss the importance of the first 1000 words in a manuscript. Both were excellent, and gave me a lot to think about. The third one broke up into six sessions on writing fiction. For each class, three students submitted up to 15 pages of a work in progress, while we all critiqued each other’s work.

Critiquing is new to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having gone through it a few times now, I can tell you this. It’s sometimes a challenge to listen to critical input without defending what you wrote. Our workshop mediator, Lamar Giles (www.lrgiles.com), set up a “cone of silence” rule. When others in the class are commenting on your work, you may not speak. At all. Afterward, you may only ask questions for clarification. You may not, under any circumstances, defend your work.

I didn’t expect it to be so hard.

But from what I understand, this is typical of critique groups, and it makes sense, if you think about it. Once your novel is on the shelf, you can’t be there to defend or explain unclear plot points or character actions to your readers. If they can’t figure it out for themselves, you’ve lost your chance to win them over.

A writer spends an enormous amount of time with her characters and plots and devised worlds. Between their initial creation, early drafts, revisions and subsequent rewrites, she understands her stories intimately, so it’s impossible to see problems that lurk within the narrative. That’s where fresh eyes come in. Believe me, it goes way beyond picking nits. A new reader can easily pick out overused words or plot flaws or character weakness. As the writer, I’m grateful for the feedback. I always have the option to disregard any of the input offered to me and sometimes, if it goes against the grain of my intent for the story, I do. Far more often, though, my critics’ words hold water and I make changes accordingly.

I’ve also joined a local critique group in the hope of ongoing support from other like minds. So many published authors I’ve met say this is helpful—not only to polish a story or manuscript, but to improve your writing skills. Of course it would; when you aren’t listening to feedback on your own work, you’re providing feedback to other writers on their work. Believe me, when you’re spotting glitches and weaknesses in another person’s writing, it’s a natural next step to see the same sorts of mistakes in your own work.

It took me a while to find a local critique group, so as I mentioned in a prior post, I enlisted beta readers, people who (hopefully) haven’t heard me yak ad nauseum about the story or its plot and characters before they read it. They don’t need to know the essentials of story structure or what the industry will buy. They only need to provide input you, as the writer, need to know. Did they enjoy the story? Was the plot clear or confusing? How did they feel about the characters? I always give my beta readers a set of questions to answer, so I can have targeted input to help me polish my work. With their help, it’s easier to spot flaws on the pages, especially if every single reader makes the same or similar observations.

But here’s the thing—and pay attention: this is important—regardless of how well it’s done, not everyone will love what you’ve written. In my own admittedly limited experience, I’ve had beta readers (and critiquers, too) comment with completely opposite feedback on the exact same point in my manuscript. One reader will love the characters, find them well-fleshed-out and engaging. She’ll love the protagonist and root for her. She’ll despise the villain and cheer when they fall. Another reader will say the characters are flat and uninspiring. One reader will fall into the settings and imagined worlds, while another will be confused and bored, or feel that there is too much description. Same characters. Same exposition. Same settings. Same manuscript. Wildly differing opinions. Even the best of bestsellers doesn’t appeal to everyone, so take all feedback with a grain of salt. Use what makes sense, and discard the rest.

It’s a challenge, sometimes, to listen to people—even well-meaning people—tear down your baby, especially when you’ve worked so hard to write it in the first place. But whether you plan to take a traditional route to publishing, or self-publish your best-seller, you only get one chance to wow your reader. It seems the better option, to me, to take a few figurative gut punches before your manuscript sees the light of day. I keep reminding myself that none of the comments are personal; they are about my work, not about me. That helps (some).

All that said, I still sweat a little when handing over my current work-in-progress. What’s your experience with critique groups or beta readers? Any advice or helpful tidbits to offer?

Idea Storm

For some reason, lately my head is full of ideas for stories.

No, seriously. It’s always been full of ideas for a single story, one that had many parts and threads. Now, the ideas are independent of that tale, branching out into a number of different directions and genres. Two new novels are simmering amongst the other clutter in my brain – a crime/detective story, and a tale of dystopian society where everything is not as perfect it seems. A number of short story ideas also clamored for attention until I finally wrote them, including a ghost story, a tale of what happens when you get what you wish for, and an inspirational piece based on an interesting real-life encounter with a street person in my city. I’m still working on a literary story about an elderly man’s life as it comes full circle. (I’ve gotten a lot of help on this one from the Island Pond, Vermont historical society. Use your resources, people.)

Maybe these ideas were sparked when my friend Chris sent me an e-mail with a contest challenge. Sponsored by the American Philosophical Association, entries required a limited word count (naturally) and had to include some sort of philosophical thread. The deadline for submission was only about a month away, and at first I thought I couldn’t possibly make up a whole new story, much less write and finalize it by that date. I shoved the idea to the back of my brain and left it to simmer.

About a week later, just as I was drifting off to sleep (told you!), an idea for the story exploded into my mind almost fully fleshed out. I dragged myself out of the warm bed to make notes, started plotting it the next day, and submitted it more than a week early. I’m actually pretty proud of this little tale. The contest offers a $500 first prize, plus publication in Sci Phi Journal, and of course I hope to win. But the money is secondary to publication. So far, I have no credits on that score, and a published short story would be a notch in my belt, so to speak, something I can mention in my queries for a novel. Better still, it’s encouragement, better than any carrot on any stick. Also? Short stories are, well, shorter than a full manuscript. I can finish and submit multiple stories in the time it would take to finish one novel. It feels oh-so-good to finish a project that quickly, especially when I put so much of myself into every piece!

It was after that story began to come together that other ideas began popping up here and there at odd moments. (Friends and family, I hope that explains the distant, somewhat loopy look that comes over my face at unpredictable moments during our chats.) Now they’re coming so fast it’s hard to know which one I should write first.

I’ve only done very basic research into short-story markets, so I can’t offer much input on those yet. Still, common sense says “Do your homework.” Before I submit to anyone, it’s smart to check out any fine print on their website, specifically:

  • Do they allow simultaneous submissions? In other words, can you submit the same piece to other forums while waiting for their decision?
  • Do they pay? If so, how much? How long after acceptance/publication before you can expect payment? Sometimes, as I mentioned above, payment in cashy money isn’t the only (or even best) benefit to exposure in this market.
  • Do they require exclusive first print rights for a specified period of time? If so, how long must you wait before submitting it elsewhere?
  • Does it need to be previously unpublished? (The APA contest mentioned above fit this requirement.)
  • Other than first printing, do they make any exclusive claim on your rights to the story? (This is important! Don’t give up your rights to your work!)
  • What requirements are placed on you, the writer? For example, Sci Phi Journal’s normal pay rate is a percentage of subscription sales. They ask their writers to promote the journal on their social media, websites, or any other online platform since it can’t continue to exist unless the issues sell. Also, SPJ requires that fiction submissions be accompanied by a “Food for Thought” paragraph, touching on or explaining the main Deep Thought from the story.

Look for other details, like word count, submission format, content focus, readership, and be smart—don’t submit a sci-fi story to a romance magazine. (Duh.) Read reviews of the forum. What do readers have to say about its content? Do you want to be associated with it?

I must say, I’m excited at the thought of forays into this new market. The APA contest results will be announced at the end of April (we hope), so I’ll let you know what happens. Now I just have to decide which story I’ll write next.

(An afternote: I wrote this blog post a couple of months ago. I know now that I did not win the contest, but I have gone on to submit it elsewhere. I’ll keep you posted.)

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

Tor Books, © May 2016
ISBN 9780765378002
Hardcover, 432 pages, $11.42

Several hundred years in the future, Earth—and human civilization—is completely unrecognizable. Religion has been outlawed. Gender pronouns are eradicated, as is a binary gender system. Select criminals are no longer imprisoned. Instead, they are put to work as Servicers in whatever capacity best benefits society. Cars fly. In fact so many cars fly at breakneck speed through Earth’s skies that they have to be controlled by overarching tracker systems to eliminate the crashes; but this technology allows humans to live in one land and work in another even halfway around the world, and commute every day. Countries and nationalities are gone, replaced by Hives. People’s homes are communal. In this global culture, royalty has returned, and politics reign supreme.

But there’s one individual in this setting that doesn’t fit the mold, a young child who possesses the ability to bring things to life—toys, pictures, the dead. His very presence holds the potential to upset the precarious balance of culture and society. Only a few know of his existence, and they intend to keep it that way for as long as possible.

The worldbuilding in Lightning is extraordinary, the prose outstanding, the characterizations compelling. Palmer has woven a mighty, complex web here and absolutely deserves the Hugo nomination her tale received.

However, I did not finish the book. There are a number of issues that confused me as a reader (such as the fact that the narrator adds back in gender associations in random fashion, even though the rest of the story does not use them). But I think it was the political convolutions that did me in on the plot. Which is weird. I adored Dune and all the books that followed in that saga (at least the eight or ten I read). However, I couldn’t follow Lightning’s Gordian thread. At 51% of the way through the novel, I still had no clue what the heck was going on. I wanted to understand it. I tried to understand it. But in the end, I have a very limited amount of time to dedicate to reading, and this just wasn’t worth it to me—especially when I read in another review (trying to find out if was just me) that this is book one in The Terra Ignota series, and that nothing really gets resolved in Lightning. It’s all set-up.

So at slightly more than half-way through, I set it aside and moved on to something else. I am clearly not a member of its intended audience, but that takes nothing away from its merit.

Now. All that said, please please don’t give this book a pass based solely on my opinion. Look at other reviews before you decide (here’s one; here’s another) or, better yet, borrow it from the library and try it out yourself. Plenty of other readers rave about this story, although not one I’ve seen will say it’s an easy read. It’s work. This is a heavy story, laden with meaning that is building to something massive. Hence the weighty narrative. And if that’s your thing, Lightning might be right up your alley.

The Queen of Blood: Book One of the Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst
HarperCollins Publishers, L.L.C. © 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-241334-5
Print length 368 pages, $19.99

Renthia’s spirits want to create, according to their nature. Earth spirits wish to make things grow. Wood spirits build. Water spirits flow, and so on. But more than anything else, they long to destroy. Not just each other. Not just the very things they’ve built. Renthia’s spirits want to kill the humans. Every single one.

Humans can—and sometimes do—fight back in self-defense. But they can’t destroy all spirits, for life in Renthia cannot continue without them. No fire spirits means no way to cook or warm oneself. Take away the water spirits and there’ll be no clean water to drink. Without earth spirits, the forests and plants and all manner of growing things on which the humans feed would die.

And yet for centuries, the Queen maintains a delicate balance through her magical ability to sense and control the world’s spirits, and enforce the Queen’s law: Do No Harm. In every generation, girls who can sense the spirits are trained as potential heirs to the throne, for without a powerful queen, all of Renthia would surely perish.

But power can fade with age. And too much power can corrupt. And sometimes, power comes in strange and unexpected packages. Faith and tradition drive Renthian society, where balance between human and spirit teeters on the razor’s edge. One false step, and the whole will collapse.

The character of Daleina, who starts out as a young child and finishes as an adult, is believable and relatable. I enjoyed watching her grow into a strong, sensible young woman. The changes that take place in the heroine make perfect sense, given the experiences that befall her, and I had no trouble buying into the ending Durst writes for her. Ven, Daleina’s champion, works well as a somewhat tragic character who works tirelessly through his exile to serve the Queen, the people, and the land. I liked their pairing—not in a sexual or romantic way, but as a working team. I bought Ven’s sincerity, why he needed a rough style.

The setting was interesting; most of the land of Aratay, one of five regions in Renthia, is set in the boughs of trees. Humans don’t live on the ground; it’s too dangerous. Instead, wood spirits grow houses from the branches, and the people string ladders and bridges between them. Whole villages sit high above the tree roots, sometimes all in a single enormous tree. It took me a few chapters to really grasp that, and a few more to get accustomed to the fact that they didn’t do much of anything on the ground.

I started reading Queen of Blood believing it was written for young adults. It is not. Between ethical dilemmas, moral quandaries, vicious battle scenes and the occasional hint of sex, this is clearly an adult fantasy. Not every problem is resolved happily, and not every character you meet is safe. That said, I think the tale is more believable because of these less-than-ideal details. Life doesn’t always take the high road, and stories that insist it does seem less believable to me. Queen of Blood has a lot of fantasy sparkle, but underneath is a gritty foundation that I found immensely satisfying.

The only drawback I found with this book is that toward the end, I felt like Daleina’s modesty went a little overboard. While she is a humble character throughout the story, she’s also deeply pragmatic. Her overweening humility near the denouement felt false, forced.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and can’t wait for book two of the series, The Reluctant Queen to be released this summer. If you’re a fantasy fan, this series should be on your list of must-reads.

It’s Been How Long?

Wow … I just realized it’s been a whole month since I posted – Sorry y’all! It’s been a crazy few weeks and the time just got away from me. (Read “Finding Time to Write,” also posted today.)

Truth is, in the last month, I finished a tiny revision on my novel and sent it out to Beta Readers (thanks to those dear, loving souls!). I finished one short story, revised another, and am writing two new ones (yes, both at the same time). I’m querying three short stories to various magazines, as well as preparing my novel to submit to yet another querying process.

In the meantime, I read every chance I get. I tried my best to read Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer, but at 52% of the way through, I still had little or no idea what the heck was going on. (Look for a partial review coming soon.) So I cut my losses and started Stephen King’s On Writing, which is one of the most excellent books on writing I’ve ever read. I subscribed to Ploughshares magazine, a publication to which I’d dearly love to submit (and be accepted), and read every single word of my first issue. I also subscribe to Analog, and have read most of the May issue. I’ve read online ‘zines, too. In the beginning, it was an effort to find out what sorts of stories they’d print. But there are so many good e-zines out there! It was hard to stop reading! I’ll add their links to my links page ASAP.

In the meantime, I finished out the last two sessions of my Fiction Workshop at The Muse Center, both of which involved homework that filled an evening (or two). And those are just the writing activities.

So I’ve been a little busy. Still, bad Drema – no cookie! I promise to try and do better to keep up the pace here on my site, too. I’d like to post weekly, and will try to make Mondays my website night; stay tuned to see if I can make that work.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Finding Time to Write

If you aspire to write, you know the dream—quit the day job, write full time, make bucketloads of money doing it.

Yeah. I’m familiar with that one, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, at least not for most of us. Even published writers have said to break-out sessions at conferences, “Don’t quit your day job. Not yet.” (Read N.K. Jemisin’s blog post from 5/24/16, “Turn and Face the Strange,” at http://nkjemisin.com/; she talks about this, too.) This is a tough business. Every single agent and/or publisher is looking for that next Big Title, so they want to find you as much as you want to find them. But—and this is huge; pay attention—all of them are slammed with manuscripts from other writers who, like you and me, dream the dream. Every one of their desktops overflow (figuratively speaking) with what’s called a “slush pile,” unsolicited queries and/or manuscripts sent by hopeful writers looking to break out of the daily grind. It isn’t easy to get and hold an agent’s attention, unless you’re at a writers’ conference or pitch fest and have paid for their time.

But that’s another post.

What I want to point out here is that writing is apparently a full-time job; that’s what I’ve been told by agents, editors and other writers, and their warnings are consistent with what I’m seeing for myself. An author can’t just write and publish. Not anymore. In this digital age of social media and online networking, you need a social media presence and an Internet platform, especially if your work is non-fiction. That means You. Are. Always. Writing. (At least, I am.)

“What did you do over the weekend (or vacation, or holiday, or other fill-in-the-blank time), Drema?”

“I wrote.” Makes for a simpler discussion, doesn’t it?

Or how about this one?

“Hey, I’m having a party next Friday, and—“

But you can’t, because you’re on a deadline. Or you’re working on revisions. Or you’re working through a particularly sticky plot point. Or you’ve signed up for a writing conference/class/seminar that’s happening that same night. Or Fridays are one of the few times you have uninterrupted writing time.

I know some of my friends assume I’m avoiding them, or hermitizing. (It’s a word now.) But every one of those are actualities, not excuses. And if you’re a writer, you know this Truth, up close and personal.

Because practice makes perfect, or at least better writing, and if you have even a prayer of getting your manuscript read, it had better be the absolute best effort you can produce. That takes time, undivided focus, uninterrupted sessions at the computer, sometimes talking to yourself as you work out dialogue (what, I’m the only one who does that?). For me, everything else becomes secondary when I’m in that Zone. Sometimes I think that when I’m writing, the house could burn down around me and as long as it didn’t cut power or wi-fi, I’d never notice.

But you have to put it first, after the essentials of self-care, family and paying the bills. It takes some small amount of discipline and sacrifice, and very understanding family and friends. Mystery writer Brad Parks (if you haven’t checked him out, do yourself a favor – http://bradparksbooks.com/) said one time at a conference that his mantra is this: BIC HOK TAM, which stands for “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly.” I’ve adopted this mindset, myself, and it makes a difference. He also recommended setting a daily word count goal for yourself. BIC HOK TAM your way to your daily goal, then go to the party or chat with a friend, or attend an outing with your fellow bird-watchers.

The point is that if you want to be a writer, you have to commit. For me, that means my trilogy and short stories, my non-fiction book on spirituality that’s been simmering for years, regular blog posts and book reviews, writing classes, critique groups (I only just found one of these), even some poetry now and then. It also means editing, research and editing. (No, that was not a mistake.) It means waking up at 3:00 a.m. with an unbelievable story idea, and making myself get up and write it down. It means listening to that little voice in my head (and gut) that whispers new ideas and twists, warns me when something isn’t working, or points me in the right (write?) direction on research or contacts. That little voice is always there, too, even when I’m trying to sleep. No, especially when I’m trying to sleep.

So yeah, it’s a challenge. But if you want to write—or if you need to—you’ll do it and gladly. And those in your life who love you and want you to be happy and succeed at this dream will support you. And the ones who frown and say, “Why are you always writing? You never spend time with us anymore,” or “Why is it taking you so long to write this story? I’d have thought you’d be done by now,” yeah. Do your best not to laugh in their faces and carry on with your dream.

You can do it. And so can I.