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Work/School/Writing/Life Balance

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As a writer, one of my biggest struggles is finding time for everything. I already have a job that cuts into a lot of my writing time. In the fall, I’ll be starting on my Engineering degree, which will eliminate a lot of my writing time. Because of this, I’m trying to figure out what I cut back to make more time for writing (and marketing).

Unfortunately, there are certain things you always have to do in life. Dishes don’t wash themselves. Houses don’t stay clean without some help. Grass doesn’t stop growing because you don’t have time to cut it.

For some people, the answer would be to sleep less, but that doesn’t work for me. I’m on medication that makes it necessary for me to average about eight hours of sleep. Sure, I can cut back to seven or six hours for a night or two if I need to, but I can’t sustain those over long stretches of time.

So it comes down to being more productive with the time I do have. I’m still trying to figure out how I can find this productivity. I might not be able to meet my general writing goal of 3,000 words a day. There’s too much other stuff taking up my time.

The biggest place I’ll have to cut back is reading. Thankfully, I’ve already read a lot of book, and I have a good feel now for what makes good prose. I’ll miss reading as much as I normally do, but it’s a sacrifice I’ll have to make if I want to juggle all the responsibilities on my plate. I won’t stop reading. I could never do that. But I might have to cut down to a book or two a week rather than the three to four. After all, I can’t abandon reading altogether. It’s one of the most crucial aspects of being a writer, and my writing has improved tremendously since I’ve dedicated myself to reading a lot.

I’ll also need to cut back on non-essential internet time and video games. Sure, the internet is fun, but if I’m not doing something writing-related, it’s not really helping me, is it? I also love video games, but they’ll be there later when I have more time to play them.

This is part of being a writer. It’s not an easy path. You have to make some sacrifices. In the end, if the things you’re sacrificing are more important to you than writing, that’s a sign that you shouldn’t be a writer.

That being said, you shouldn’t cut leisure activities out altogether. Everyone needs a few chances to unwind with something fun and non-stressful. It’s part of staying sane, and for someone like me who has mental health issues, staying sane is an important consideration.

I’ll have to play this all by feel. I’m heading into uncharted territory. I’d love to have a plan for everything, but sometimes you can only develop a plan once you know what you’re getting into.

Self-Publishing and Fear

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I’ve had a busy work schedule recently, so I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing. In the next week, though, I have a lot of time off, and I’ll try to use that to get back to work on The Shadowed Land.

I have to admit that I also went through one of my frequent doubtful phases. Taking the self-publishing plunge is a very difficult thing, and I’ve had a lot of back and forth on it. Mostly, it’s fear. Fear that I’ll fail completely. Fear that I’ll put too much on my plate. Fear that I’ll ruin my chances of trade publishing in the future.

But this is what I have to ask myself. Which is worse: all these fears, or never taking the chance? I believe in my books. People who’ve read my books believe in them. It can be difficult, though. If I’ve written something that’s good and entertaining, why haven’t I gotten even the tiniest nibble from an agent? It’s easy to tell myself my stuff must actually suck, but I doubt that’s really the case. The fact is agents are bombarded with hundreds and hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of queries. Standing out among these can be very difficult.

I will also admit that I’m not very good at writing queries. A lot of the appeal of my books comes from the fact that I take the common tropes of fantasy and put some new twists on them. It can be difficult to get these twists across in a query, so my books end up looking like yet another cliched fantasy story.

Then there’s the question of word count. Sunweaver is short enough, but Empire of Chains is not. Empire of Chains is about 164,000 words, and agents are hesitant to look at anything that gets over about 120,000. I’ve done all I can to make the book as short as possible. I’ve already cut 40,000 words out of it. It’s tightly written now, but agents might not see that. They’re inundated with epic fantasy submissions that are way too long because the other can’t write concisely.

By no means am I bashing the agents and publishing industry in general. It’s a very difficult job they have. They have to identity books that they think will sell, and there’s no set formula to this. That’s part of the reason that some very successful books almost never got published. Publishing will never be a perfect industry.

I’m not expecting to become a millionaire through self-publishing. That’s a foolish expectation, even with trade publishing. Many trade-published authors still have to keep their day jobs. Being an author is not a path to getting rich quick. We do it because we love it. I wouldn’t say no to becoming a mega bestseller, but I know it’s far from likely whatever route I take.

I’d be satisfied, for now, with making five to ten thousand dollars a year. That would allow me to make writing my part-time job while I’m going through school again. I know I’d like it a lot more than my current job in retail. But I’m not expecting this either, especially at first. Publishing of any kind is a long and difficult road. The challenges vary depending on which type of publishing you pursue.

But, once again, I don’t want to live my life wondering what might have happened.

Another update.

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Today, I wrote another 2,000 words in The Shadowed Land. I continue to surprise myself with this one. I deliberately wrote an outline that left a lot of wiggle room, and let’s just say I’m taking advantage of that wiggle room. It’s both exciting and a great challenge. How do I allow myself to improvise without undermining the plot I’ve developed?

I also had one of my characters say a great line today.

“I thought we were trying to avoid the dragon.”

Not much else to say. Everything’s coming along pretty well in my writing world. I’d like to get back up to 3,000 words a day when I have the day off from work.

I have to work eight-hour shifts the next three days, so we’ll see how much writing I can get done.

Update: Empire of Chains. Sunweaver, and The Shadowed Land

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Right now, Empire of Chains is getting close to ready. I still need to put it through another round of beta reading. Then I’ll probably wait a little bit to make sure I don’t get any requests on the queries I sent out.

Sunweaver is in the same general state. I might actually end up publishing it sooner because it’s been longer since I’ve sent out my most recent queries on it.

Right now, I’m writing The Shadowed Land. I’m currently about one third of the way through the first draft (though that may change depending on how many words I need to tell the story). The Shadowed Land has turned out to be kind of difficult to write because I’m balancing four separate stories at the moment.

To make this work, I’m actually writing it in four separate documents so that I’m not tempted to stretch out some of the stories to keep a roughly equal distribution between them. Instead, I’ll combine them later and figure out the order of my chapters.

Despite these difficulties, I’m quite happy so far with The Shadowed Land. I love the direction I’m taking my characters and their stories. At this point, I’m still not sure how many books there will be in the series. I’m hoping to avoid Wheel of Time length, but it could easily end up anywhere from five to ten books.

My Sunweaver series, on the other hand, almost certainly will be four books long.

I haven’t made any progress on my other series, The God War. The first book, Watersong, is in the revision process, but I haven’t touched it in quite a while.

Welcome

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I’ve finally come to the decision that it’s time to get my writing career going. At the moment, I still have a few queries out, but I’m leaning more and more toward self-publishing. I understand that it’s not a path to getting rich quick. There will be a lot of frustration involved, and a lot of time spent marketing. But the freedom involved appeals to me. I’m not ruling out trade publishing. That’s why I’ve still got some queries out. But if none of those queries pan out, I think I’ll begin the first steps toward self-publishing some of my novels as e-books (and maybe as print versions if they do well enough).

I’ve done research into what makes a successful self-published author, yet I know that it will be a learning experience if I try to do it. First and foremost, however, I believe the number one thing is writing a book people will love to read. All the marketing in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t provide a product people want.

I’ve been working a lot on my writing over the last few years. The Absolute Write Water Cooler has become an almost permanent hangout for me. Through critiquing, receiving critiques, and absorbing the great advice around there, my writing has improved dramatically. I finally feel that my books read like real, published books, and that’s the biggest reason I feel it’s time to get my work out there. If it sinks, I’ll learn from it and improve with my next projects. Thankfully, I have no shortage of ideas. In fact, I have many more than I’ll ever be able to write.

For me, writing is about fun. It would be nice to make a living doing it, but I write because these are the stories I’m passionate about and I want to share these stories with others.

I hope you’ll take a chance on my stories.