October 2017 Mid-Month Update
It feels colder this time of year than last. It could be my imagination since I’m dreading winter so much this time around. The leaves are gilding, and the autumn rains have come. Thus begins the prep for hibernation.
I’m shipping out the beta drafts for Scold of Jays, then I’ll take two weeks to catch up on everything I fell behind on during the final hard push. Two weeks to catch up on house tasks, spend time with my peeps, and cooking large freezer meals to prepare for Nanowrimo. Those two weeks also include the planning and storyboarding for the next book.
This will be my fifteenth year doing Nanowrimo. During Nano this year I’ll be breaking through the manuscript for book three of the Pillars of Dawn. (working title to be released to Patrons this month)
It’s my goal to have book three in beta by the end of winter, then release Scold of Jays, and book three six months apart in 2018. This will depend entirely on funding, so I’ll likely be doing a kickstart to raise funds for the editor to do both books, and the layout design for two novels. Without a funding drive, I’ll be sitting on the manuscripts until I can afford to produce them, which could be a while out.
As I settle in for an autumn and winter of creative work, I hope to emerge in spring with two completed books, and a chance to kick the series into high gear. Once I have four books of the ten completed and on shelf, I’ll start a marketing campaign. Why wait?
I’ve been doing small batch campaigns, and testing the waters, but the constant feedback I got was that people wanted to be able to binge read a whole series, or have the faith the series would be completed. I knew that with the gaps in publications because I was working full time, I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with reader needs. I also didn’t want the constant pressure to produce at the possible loss of story quality.
My hope was to have at least four or five books done on the series before a large marketing push, for my own sanity as a writer, and for readers to want to engage in the large-scale storyline.
The small releases allow me to build audience slowly, and to socialize my concept, validate the production process and test quality. When it’s time for the big market plan, I’ll refurbish the first novels, clean up the typos that surfaced, and box them in a set for easy distribution. (Hence the desire to keep the 5×8 size uniform for all the books)
Anywhoo, that’s all planning and plotting for another time. Eye on the long goal. For now, I just need to build, and get a little more sleep. Baby steps.
In other news, my classes and workshops are wrapping up. I have a monthly creative session on the books for each month, but my schedule is loosening up, finally. Hopefully, this means I’ll be in touch more with folks.
I did manage a couple hours of mushroom hunting last week, and gathered about six pounds of golden chanterelles. They dried down to about a quart, which I plan to make soup with. Tis the mushrooming season, so I hope there will be more to come. This month’s Patron recipe will likely be a stew or soup to complement the season.
All in all the summer and early autumn have been good. I barely looked up from the computer screen last month, but the completed manuscript was worth it.
For what it’s worth as a writer:
I’ve been writing for twenty years, and self-publishing for five. After four books, this is the first year, the first manuscript that I’m happy with in draft process. It’s the first time I feel like I’m getting close to the marks I planned to hit, and the meter I hoped to establish. There are still six more drafts to go; prose to weave in, world to flesh out, character to develop, continuity to tighten, and sensory layers needed—but this is the first time I’ve hit print on a beta draft and been okay with what a beta draft represents. The first time I’ve burned through three reams of paper and a laser cartridge and slept soundly after. The first time, I can’t wait to keep going on the next one. This is also the first part of the Pillars of Dawn series that begins to show the full scope of the conflict and the other worlds and characters interwoven.
It finally feels like sitting on the verge of having the practice I’ve needed to be able to successfully blow the whole series wide open. On the verge of storytelling comprehension.
I’ve waited twenty years for that feeling.
There’s still so much learning and practice to go. I realize you never really stop developing as an artist, but it’s beautiful to finally get the sense that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that the process is making sense at last.
Here’s to two weeks of catchup and prep, and a winter of creation. See you all on the flip side.
I’ve talked before about the logistical challenges of wilderness living, but I haven’t been prepared to talk about the emotional and mental challenges. Mostly because the first year was really about surviving the physical, the day to day.
After a year in this cottage in the woods, four months of those as a work from home publishing entrepreneur, there’s a lot to say about solitude, community, and resilience.
I’ve been living out of cell phone, and satellite range for the last year. I have access to a landline only, and no-dial up internet capabilities at the moment (cable and DSL are no-go for bandwidth this far out). The forest is too dense for any internet satellite provider, and all cable companies in the area have declined my address.
I’m on a well for water and have access to a creek. I have public utility power, which goes down regularly—the longest two and a half days last winter. My landline is consistently failing. Three times in the last year it’s been down for several days at a time.
Mind you, I grew up in Alaska. A-Las-Ka. And In the seven years I lived there my phone, and electricity never went down as often as it has in one year in Tillamook County alone. It’s embarrassing.
That’s all a framework to understanding the severity of my choice to live in relative isolation. It was an extreme decision, I understand that. Unreliable roads, wild animals (mostly cougars, bears, and coyote) lost hunters, etc. all lead to a combination of dangers that make many people uncomfortable when I tell them I’m a forest dweller.
Why did I make the choice?
Sanity. Beauty. Peace. Focus. Creativity.
Sanity: I’m too far off grid to be able to check my email, news, messages, and other chaos, unless by effort, choice, or planning. The limited access to social media, news reports, world chaos, and overall strain, has lowered my blood pressure, and stress levels significantly. (Also lowered in part due to leaving a toxic corporate job). When I go to town for supplies, internet access, and socializing, I have to prioritize what I focus on…so getting caught up in FB arguments, political fights online, or other snags—I just simply don’t have time for. All unnecessary drama is out of priority, and the recipe is reclaimed sanity.
Beauty: What’s not to love about the beauty of the forest? I’m surrounded by trees, mountains, wild animals, the sights and sounds of nature. I sleep to the sound of running water, and wake up to the sun filtering through the canopy. It’s serene. Don’t think that I’m unaware of the dangers because of the beauty, I’m fully aware. But the beauty and serenity offers a kind of peace I haven’t known in years.
Peace. So much peace.
Focus: As my stress levels lowered, my creativity surged. My ability to focus, hear my own voice, hear myself think, process emotional backlogs and needs, has all increased. My writing time is uninterrupted by the passersby, the phone rarely rings, and I can’t lose myself to social media or Pinterest for hours at a time. When I sit down to write, it’s actual writing time. Development and creative time is also super productive. Should I have been able to block everything out and find my center point of focus in town? In the city? Sure, maybe. Focus is focus, I should be able to rein it in anywhere, but the truth is, I wasn’t able to get a good grip on it until I removed myself from the worst distractions.
Creativity: The above positive points have done wonders to my creative energy and productivity.
Emotional and Mental Challenges:
With isolation comes the gift of inner voice. Unfortunately, too much inner voice and you start talking to yourself.
Perhaps it’s just with writers, but after a while, with little access to other humans or social rigor, it’s easy to blur the line between fantasy and reality. This is awesome, when you’re a fantasy writer. It makes the fantasy world real, immersive, and easy to capture in storytelling format. The difficulty is in remembering which side of reality you’re on when you close your laptop.
Isolation also breeds a stronger lack of interest in unnecessary melodrama and the pettiness of others. Which means, knowing your idea of peace means not engaging in dreck because there’s a calm, serene place in the woods waiting for you to retreat to—it’s tough to listen with compassion to people as they recycle their issues, unable to get clarity, unwilling to make the hard choices, when they’re willing to living in their self-induced, redundant victimology.
Living in the city and in regular social environments, listening to people recycle themselves becomes part of the accepted interactive dynamic. Community, and support expects compassionate commiseration with each other’s emotional needs, and complaints. When you start to hear your own voice again, let go of old injuries, heal old gaps, and find serenity—it’s literally exhausting, mentally and emotionally to listen to other people going through the rinse/repeat cycles of non-action.
Does it mean I won’t listen? Not at all. It only means, I’m aware my capacity to listen and sympathize is shortened, and my need to return to serenity will call me back home early.
People are always surprised to find out I classify on the scale as an extrovert. While I find the scale to be incomplete, as most labelling structures are—there’s something to be said about an extrovert who chooses the life of a hermit. Chooses, as in, on purpose.
It’s not unheard of. Many forms of study and reflection require solitude. I’ve been considering my time in this sanctuary as a form of study and healing.
Transitioning back and forth from woods to city, quiet to loud, slow to fast-paced can take some adjustment. Sometimes my trip to town leave me ragged and flinchy. Noises get to me, strong smells, colognes, and aftershaves, the reek of diesel, and so on can make me irritable and over aware.
My voice gets rusty sometimes from not talking much, then I’m raspy over coffee with a friend.
Most notably, touch can get to be a problem. I realize that when I’m alone too long, I can get flinchy about people touching me. I’ve tried to make a point to hug my friends often, when I see them, to keep myself familiar with their energy, and touching people I know. It helps ground me, but at the same time, makes me more aware of loneliness.
“I couldn’t live that far out. Don’t you get lonely?” It’s the most asked question, when people learn what part of the woods I live in.
The truth is, I’m in town three days a week, and on the phone with friends and family daily…so I rarely feel lonely. I wander the woods, the creek, and talk with my imaginary characters. I have a dog and a cat, and a shelf of books…how can one possibly get lonely?
Well, it does happen. Not often, but when it does it strikes hard and surprising.
Two types of loneliness:
- Not having others around, as in same space and energy. This type of loneliness hardly ever happens.
- Not having people in your circle to connect with on a mental or emotional level: happens regularly, even when I lived in the city, and was surrounded by people all day every day.
To combat the feeling when it does surface, I decide which of the two types of loneliness it is and make a plan. For the first type, I plan a trip to the local pub, restaurant or hangout. Sometimes I just need a loud, packed place to sit, and sometimes I need strangers to interact with. Depending on the mood, I’ll play it by ear.
For the second kind of loneliness, the moment I realize what it is, I call a friend and book a lunch, chat, or phone date. Schedule a visit, or an adventure. Sometimes just scheduling it does the trick. But when a deeper emotional or mental connection is needed, I go right to my long-standing community.
Living in isolation, the worst thing I could do as an extrovert, is ignore the ping when it happens. It doesn’t happen often, so it’s important to keep the balance and respect the emotional request when I notice it. This is also why I searched for a customer service position at part time status. Something to put me around humans on a semi-regular schedule so I don’t forget how to people.
Peopling can be hard, but it would be a whole lot harder if I lose the habit, and start avoiding it. It’s a muscle, and a need. So, I work hard to keep the balance.
Canning and pantry projects with summer produce and delights.
“I’d be too afraid to live that far out. Do you have a gun?” This is the second most common response to my living situation.
Fear is an emotional reality of living outside communication and access of your regular community. Fear happens. Fear also happens when I’m on a crowded Portland freeway surrounded by California license plates.
I’m not unafraid. There are nights when I can’t sleep through a storm, or the phone has been down for two days and I imagine the worst-case scenarios. But I’m not afraid of the separation, the distance, or the unknowable forest.
The things that actually do scare the crap out of me, are not the things that you’d think would give me sleepless nights and sweaty dreams. The dumbest shit terrifies me.
Adam Copeland recently came out for a visit and as we chatted, he asked: “What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?”
“As in the one that scared me the most?” I asked, then without pausing for breath I said. “The Dark Crystal. I actually peed myself in second grade, because I was too scared to go the bathroom, alone afterward.”
“Wait,” he looked surprised. “The puppet movie?”
Are you kidding me? Those creatures were brilliantly created, and were horrifying! I loved it. Then pissed myself… literally. Hey, I was eight.
Anywhoo, the things that scare me out here are related to what gets trapped in my head, my imagination, only myself to listen to. Worries about money, being able to make house repairs on time, my car not starting so far from town, the power being out longer than my gas supply, etc. etc. These are all normal, human fears and worries. I’d have the same sets of concerns if I lived in town, in a city, and so on. The forest, and the distance doesn’t take away the fear, or make it worse—fear just is. Isolated or not, you just deal with it.
I’m happy to report, thirty years later, I can make it to the bathroom by myself after watching The Dark Crystal. See? Progress.
September Sweet Dreams Apple Butter Recipe for Patrons
Mental challenges really range around the concept of fortitude. The constant self-assurance that when something isn’t going to plan, or an emergency happens, I can rally, or fix it.
Can I handle this? I can handle this. Have I got this? I’ve got this.
The mental challenge can look a lot like someone bobbing in choppy water. Head above the line, below the waterline, above, below.
Mental challenges also take place when I’m prioritizing needs. I’m one person, sporadic income, few skills—so I have to do mental gymnastics around the tasks and projects I can and want to do, what can I afford, and what is a critical emergency. The result is that it seems like nothing gets done. Dozens of half-done projects linger, and my need for order and organization is bothered by the constant state of incompletion. I scratch at them all like so many annoying mosquito bites. Slowly, like molasses in January, they begin to close out, take shape and in that they help me define capabilities, confidence, and the much-needed reassurance that there is some kind of progress being made, and that I’m doing the best I can with what I have.
All in all, I’m still deeply, madly in love with this place. Someday, I’ll actually finish the interior painting. Someday I’ll get the laundry room finished, and the carpet replaced, the deck sealed, and the leaning trees removed. Someday I’ll have a flourishing garden, and a guest treehouse.
Until then, I’m reclaiming my creativity and space. I’m rooting my serenity and peace. I’m writing like my fingers are on fire. I’m picking easy to finish projects to boost a sense of completion victory, and making plans to keep seeing people and maintaining balanced relationships.
Wilderness living is not without its challenges, but the rewards still vastly outweigh the difficulties.
Here’s to one year in the Alder Glade.
It’s the middle of September already. I don’t know where the summer went. The leaves are changing at my house, and the temperatures have already dropped significantly. The apples are almost ready, and my thoughts are turning to winter preparations.
The last few weeks have been a hard push to reach the end of Scold of Jays. This last week I wrote about 75 pages, 37, in the last two days.
Thursday and Friday this week, I woke up at 7 and started my coffee, and was writing by 7:15. I didn’t stop until about 8 pm. Two twelve-hour days of typing left my hands sore and my eyes burning with computer screen spots.
I finished draft one of Scold of Jays!!
At about 9:30 last night I finished a glass of wine and shut my laptop, and stared at the wall, delirious, hungry, and exhausted. Only then did I realize I hadn’t showered, and I was still in my clothes from the day before. It’s not a novel yet, there are still a couple of pickup chapters to write and back-weave to smooth out the pacing and flow.
I fell into bed too tired to brush my teeth, then was wide awake at 2am making notes for things that need to be stitched in, pulled together, and tightened up as I prep for a beta read. I think I fell back to sleep around 4am, still worrying about all the details that need to be tagged and plugged in.
Pacing is important. I don’t claim to know all the pacing tricks in the book, but I’m aware that pacing can make or break a story, so I’ll be working on tuning the timing before the manuscript is handed out for beta. The next few weeks will be all about tuning, and cleaning it all up.
I’m also struggling with some basic logistics. I could have made this book several chapters longer, and it wouldn’t have upset the structure, in fact, I would have really liked to keep going on the manuscript without breaking at a hook—but I am a little worried about the girth of the binding when it comes to being a self-publisher. There are a few points to consider when thinking about size of the spine; price point, shelf space, uniformity, and story length.
I’m working on a series, so I’d hoped to keep the books all a 5×8, and low price point so people will continue to be able to afford the books. Also, the mass market size allows for easy uniformity for collecting, and for being set up later to be able to box the set. If I make the books longer, more chapters, I’ll need to graduate to a 6×9, which means I’ll need to re-do the other books, or have uneven releases, and mismatched price points. Not a huge deal, but something I need to think about when I’m plotting out the long-term future of the series.
I could easily write a set of thousand pages novels and not run out of material, then not be able to afford to produce them, and they’d be priced out of a range of average affordability.
Fabric I picked to cover my dragon journals and notebooks.
For Scold of Jays, I’m still within a range I can work with in size and scope, but I’d rather be thinking of the issues now, than halfway through the series if I have to remodel and re-release the set.
Since I’m still only in draft, it’s a question that can wait until I add my pick-up chapters, and tweak the pacing. Some content will be edited out, some replaced or boosted, and so on. I won’t know where I sit with this book until about draft four or five—then I’ll know if I will have to bump up to a 6×9 to fit the binding, and if that’s the case by just a short margin…. I may as well go ahead and add a few more chapters to draw the length past the hook to a better settling point.
Something that’s on my radar.
Anywhoo, it’s a current small victory. Four months of hard writing produced a draft, and for that, I’m grateful to patrons and friends, and family who have been so supportive and helpful. When people ask me why it took five years between novels, I have to remind them, gently, that life happens. Mostly, I was working a full time plus job, trying to run a label, and have a small social life while writing full time. I kept burning out. So it took literally five years of writing as I had time and energy to finish Sinnet of Dragons.
Leaving full-time work and being backed by patrons, and supporters allowed me to finish a much longer book in just a few months. Uninterrupted, undivided focus was priceless. It would have taken another five years to get through this chunk.
To be sure there’s still production: editing, formatting, etc. And that can only happen as I have the funds. So part of the bottleneck now for Scold of Jays to release, is saving up the funds to be able to produce. That may take some time.
Here’s the cover for Scold of Jays, another beautiful piece of art by AM Sartor. Please check out her work at www.amsartor.com. She’s a brilliant artist, and a fabulous human being. I hope we’ll be able to make some lovely books together for a long time.
Note to my Patrons:
In other mid-month news, I’m behind on patron monthly content as I pushed so hard on the manuscript, but I’ll be catching up in the next two weeks. My plans for recipes include apple butters, and some autumn inspired flavors. I’m working on a new crafting video, and scheduling time to read the next chapter in Sinnet of Dragons to podcast. Please stay tuned! Though the content isn’t always writing or publishing related, I hope to keep providing small pieces of interest to Patrons to keep creative juices flowing and show my appreciation for all the support.
Dear Patrons, I could not have made it through Scold of Jays this fast without you.
My last appearance at the Tillamook Farmer’s Market is on September 23rd.
I’ll be teaching Beginning Self-Publishing at the Manzanita Library on September 28th from: 3-5
Beginning Self-Publishing at the Pacific City Library on September 30th from: 12-2
Advanced Self-Publishing at the Manzanita Library on October 5th from: 5-7
Here’s to a wonderful September!
A walk along Rockaway Beach, Oregon.
Your creative challenge, should you choose to accept it:
Visit a local second-hand store. Browse the trinket and knickknacks, shoes, or dishes.
Find an item that sticks out to you; something you’d like, or something that’s just plain weird.
Write an origin story for the object. Who owned it? Where did it come from? Does it have magical properties? Historical relevance? How did it come to end up in a Goodwill or Salvation Army?
It’s been a strange two weeks. While I’ve been productive in the sense of book plotting, I’ve been too exhausted and busy to get to my other creative outlets. I’m behind on everything. Emails piled up, and the to-do list is overflowing. Self-employment is a 24/7 peddling job that never really ends, but some of the backlog will clear and I’ll be back to normal by the end of the month.
I knew this part of the curve would happen, there’s a little discouragement and frustration, and a dent in the optimism.
While I realize its temporary and has a lot to do with the shift in scheduling, creative timing, and summer needs, it’s still tiring. The last two weeks have also been quite hot for the area, so I’ve tried to shift up my writing window to earlier mornings and evenings, then siesta in the middle of the day with low energy work so I don’t overheat.
Me and my farmer’s market partner, Mabelyn of MB Botanicals, have signed up to do the Manzanita farmers market a few times before the season ends to test it out. The Tillamook market has been so good to us, that it’s worth taking the show in the road. This is great news, but also a lot of prep and extra energy. Still, it’s temporary as the season ends at the end of September. Then I’ll need to find a different venue through the winter.
On the writing note, I’m making satisfying progress. In the realm of website upkeep, business marketing, and creativity, there’s a lot to get done. I need to transfer my web hosting service and refurbish the site, but it’s tough to do when I have access to internet an hour at a time only a few days a week.
Some upward notes are that my plans for sustainability before my 40th birthday are well under way. You can read more about that in the 39th note to self.
I’m also happy to announce that I booked three more classes through the Tillamook Library system. I’ll be teaching Beginning Self-Publishing, and Advanced Self-Publishing in Pacific City, and Manzanita. I’ll post the dates soon.
Also on the workshop plans is a day conference in Manzanita at the Hoffman Center with Jessica Morrell at the end of September. More on that to come as well. I hope when my website transfer is completed, I’ll be able to have a calendar of events on the main page.
August has felt baked, a little overcooked and stagnant. It will break up and get moving again soon, but until then, I’m hunkered down to finish act two of Scold of Jays, so I can bust into Act 3 come September. That will keep me on track to get Scold of Jays out for beta by then of September, so I can start prepping for Nanowrimo, and the next book in the series! This year’s Nanowrimo will be all about book 4 and a chance to super-charge the story arc. I’m so excited!!
How excited you ask? Well, I’m so excited about Nanowrimo this year that I’m already prepping the cook and freeze menu to work on through October. I’m currently cleaning out my freezer, rotating through the old stuff and making room for frozen nano meals. I’m funneling development notes, pin boards, and glossary info as I write Scold of Jays, to be able to pick up a development package for book 4 November 1st, and start burning through 50K words in count for a 30-day writing binge.
If I schedule it correctly, I’ll have Scold of Jays in developmental editing while I’m writing and blocking book 4, so that December-May, the manuscripts can alternate through beta, developmental, and polish and hopefully publish about six months apart. Crossing fingers. It will all depend on cash flow and timing, so hoping for the best.
The title of book 4 will be release to my Patrons in December! Patrons will get the first glimpses of development and plotting, as well as two early release chapters from Scold of Jays.
So even though August feels a bit down, things are happening, life is trucking along, and rhythms are adjusting. Knowing this was part of the curve makes it a little easier. Knowing it will pick back up and smooth out makes all the hopeful difference.
In the meantime, please be patient with my slow updates, and direction shifts. Hopefully, everything will be back on track by September.
39th Note to Self
Dear Athena, all that can be said about this year is “wow”. Just wow.
To recap the last year, you bought a cottage in the middle of the woods, survived one of the hardest winters in the last twenty years on record, then quit your job with no security net, published a book, and relaunched your creativity business.
This last year was a reckoning; a choice between someday, and the way it’s always been.
Going back through the last few years of Notes to Self: 38th was about “home” and then you made your own. 37th was about re-discovering your personal north star and recovering your direction after a set of cruel disappointments, 32nd – 36th were all about survival, keeping your chin up and plodding along trying to find joy where you could. Lots of “hang in there” tropes and such. Over and over your told yourself in your notes, “hang in there, your someday will come.”
This year you went off script with a giant, “fuck this broken pattern”. This year you picked a side, yours, then burned your ships, bridges, and maps. Then you put your war paint on, and picked up a pen.
Think back to the day you were lying in the hospital, bleeding out, hooked up for emergency transfusion and you made yourself a deal. “This is not how it ends.” Remember? That was the day the 40th birthday goal was sown, self-sustainable, profitable, and ready to support a new paradigm. You gave yourself eight years to set it up.
Way to cut it down to the wire, sister.
You saw this house last year before you left for Alaska and your 20 year reunion. It was love at first sight. You knew. You knew it then but didn’t realize it, this would be where you’d make your stand. You made the offer the same day, and prepared your schedule for a two-year remodel and long-term sustainability plan to be off-grid and producing small batches of cottage goods. During that window, your plan was to write, build a creative community and re-imagine ways to get your fair-trade publishing house funded.
Ambitious? Why the hell not?
But what you didn’t expect was an immediate set of new house emergencies that drained your savings, and a brutal winter with two car accidents and a scramble to stay afloat. Nor did you expect your job to become an unsafe dance around a toxic leadership structure and a petty set of retaliations.
All the while you kept telling yourself, “Someday. Someday I’ll start my real life when I’m better situated. I’ll focus on my creative work when I’m better prepared and the timing is right.”
But you know better. The timing is never right, and you’re the kind of person to whom circumstances always seem to be never quite situated enough. There will always be an excuse, reason, a cause to put your true desires on hold—and then grow bitter and resentful. It doesn’t need to be that way, but the last decade of notes to self have shown, near misses, almost-there, not-quite-but-close, better luck next time tries.
If someday is just code for never, break the cycle, break the code.
Then you did the math, at the rate you’re able to get writing done, you wouldn’t finish your series until your first social security check came in. You knew you had to make a choice.
Time, time is precious, remember? Remember how fast the drive to the hospital went, how fast you bled out? Remember you gave yourself eight years to complete the goal, and you only have a year left.
You used the “someday” excuse for years. But someday doesn’t just show up, you have to invite it in. You have to be the one who says, someday is today.
The choice had to be made, and it took all of a minute. You took a flying leap toward the future you’ve always wanted, with no net. Way off script. You got tired of feeling like a victim of circumstances and poor leadership. You realized in a blink you’d only be victimizing yourself if you stayed in a dysfunctional paradigm. You realized if you want true leadership and a chance at success, you would have to give it to yourself.
You realized you’ve spent too much of your life waiting for fairness, waiting for a truth to come, waiting to be granted permission to do better for yourself.
Permission granted, Athena.
Someday arrived the minute you handed in your resignation. It arrived the second you knew you were leaving and you had no security plan. Someday made its bold appearance when you decided you were angry enough with the faulty system to rebuild it and make it better for yourself. Someday became a reality when you resolved to find a way to make your own business work now, not when it was better timing, not when it was safer, or smarter, or better situated. Someday stopped being a vague outline in the distance, an excuse.
Someday happened, because you made a choice.
You drove toward an uncertain financial future, and the liberating awareness that you were 100% on your own steam. Three weeks later you were booking clients, workshops and classes, and a week after that your new novel hit the shelves.
Like a whirlwind, you were leagues closer to your plan than you’d ever been before. You put your house, and your healthcare on the line to risk the leap.
Athena, you have 365 days to become self-sustainable according to the goal. You need to be building your body of work, your books, your creativity business, your brand for BQP. You need to get your house prepared for another tough winter. All this you already know and you’re on it; those plans are in action.
Enjoy it. Remember to sit by the creek and soak in the forest sounds. Pause during your morning writing sessions on the deck and be grateful to be in the moment doing what you love.
The beautiful thing about getting older is that you begin to really understand and accept the things you are, and the things you’re not. You can accept that you’re not built to be employed by poor leadership, unjust management, and hierarchy with poor ethical judgement. Just accept that you’re never going to be okay with it, and stop accepting employment offers from such people and organizations. You’ll have more peace when you stop rubbing up against such toxin.
You’re a creative, a high functioning-high output creative. Stop fighting it and just know that whatever you do from this point forward is under that label and banner and there’s liberation and joy in that declaration.
Paint your house weird, bright colors! When you’re done renovating I hope people say, “An artist must have lived here.”
Thank your family, friends, patrons and donors regularly, they made it possible for you to leap. They gave you the courage and support to lunge in the direction of your dream. You are not alone.
Most of all, this year is about writing and creativity. For the next twelve months produce story like you’ve got a chance to really indulge in the wonder of it, because finally you do. Spend this year revving the engine, building the world, stretching the muscles of imagination. You have a safe, uninterrupted place to work for the first time in decades. Have fun with it.
I hope as you sit down to write your 40th note to self, your home is producing farmed fish, fresh honey, eggs, and more. I hope by then you’ll have two new books on the shelf and an option on your series. I hope when you sit down to write next year you’ll say to yourself, “Holy shit, that was unreal in the best possibly way.”
Dear Athena, the hardest part is over, breaking free of fear and pattern. Now comes the fun part; create the life you want, the life you’ll be proud of, the life that will eventually support others, the life that will be your best story. You’re creative enough to make that happen.
Someday is here because you asked it to be so. Make the best of it.
P.S. So you got a few more gray hairs this year, and a few extra stress pounds. You know what’s cool? After all these terrifying leaps and fierce decisions to survive emotionally, mentally, and creatively, you’ve never felt more beautiful. Maybe it brought out the fight in you after years of slumbering, but after this year… beauty doesn’t feel like a dress size or nail polish shade…it feels like resolve.
P.P.S. After 21 years of someday, you should buy that ticket to Scotland this year and go for your 40th birthday. You’ve earned it.
Why I Depend on Patronage to Continue Writing
Patrons are amazing. They truly are. They’re generous and supportive, and having patrons is a built-in audience and community.
Why does my work need patronage?
The two primary reasons I depend on patrons are:
- I cannot afford to produce literature and art on my own yet.
- Because I’m not self-sustainable yet, I see patrons as a type of Universal validation that I shouldn’t give up, that I’m not alone on this journey. I see it as connective community while I work through the tangles of artistry and self-sustainability.
Patrons are the ones I think about when I’m tired and think I can’t possibly do one more paragraph before bed. They’re the ones I think about then I dream about putting up a permanent storyboard, or commissioning art for a new cover; because I want those supporters to enjoy the journey with me, to have as much fun as I’m having, to be a part of something adventurous even if it’s only through the Patreon updates and the books that result.
With that in mind, I’m adjusting the milestone markers and goals.
When I set up this account I imagined a $500 a month goal as being a big stretch. And it was, perhaps too much. In a year and a half, patrons have held on, supporting and participating and being along for the journey. I built the milestone packages and prepared to send them out, but after a year and a half we haven’t hit the mark.
I cannot send the packages out (thank you notes, and such) until we hit the milestone, or the Patreon service will not be thrilled with me jumping the gun, and I’ll also be on the hook to repeat the rewards if we suddenly make the goal.
I’ve been able to send out little gifts here and there off the record, a copy of the book, a starbucks card and a thing or two to long term supporters without violating the milestone metric in the system. But I just don’t feel like it’s enough and I want to be able to send out these gift packages to those who have so long been encouraging, supportive, and have helped make the last book a reality.
So, I’m adjusting the milestones to put us in range of being able to send those packages out. It’s also good timing in that now I can redirect the goals between milestones, and give a better explanation of what I use the funds for and how patrons can participate in the long-term process of my work.
Between the new milestones, I will still be writing, sending out beta packages, hiring editors, layout designers, and publishing my books. The milestones are just added bonus content between novels to keep my patrons and readers engaged in the adventure.
By restructuring the milestones I’m building in a way that I can also support other artists by commissioning art and audio recordings. This restructure will also allow patrons to be involved in the building and release of the on-line world building guide for The Pillars of Dawn series; chat forums, art and glossaries, and a searchable database of definitions.
In the higher levels of the milestone goals I’ll be able to produce postcards and collectable pieces for patrons to add to their own smash albums, and or scrapbooks and watch the progress of the build out happen with each milestone gift.
I’m also building in a way that I can begin to spread out my book distribution, and aim for the long-term goal of a small west coast book tour, and a fixed point at when I can begin producing other writers under the BQP label.
The first milestone will be cut to $300. That means for our first goal, we’re only 11$ a month away from that marker.
With that achievement, I’ll be able to send out the reward packages (smash albums, thank you notes, postcards and such) and cross that goal off the list! BAM!
Then I will lower the next goal to $500. That way if Patrons have been holding on for the reward they can opt out after the first milestone is met, and we can start on the next one with a clean slate.
When we do hit the $500 a month milestone, I’ll commission a piece of art from AM Sartor, that supports the world of Aria and the books. We’ve discussed the possibility of a character sketch, a map, or an image of something from the series glossary. When we hit this goal, I’ll reveal the sketch plans and commission the art, then add a postcard print to all the milestone packages.
At this marker, I will purchase the website that will later allow me to build a forum, community discussion board and an interactive library, glossary and The Pillars of Dawn Compendium online.
When we hit the $750 dollar a month milestone I will commission and release the full audio book of Sinnet of Dragons to my patrons. Then publish it online for sale.
When we hit a $750 a month marker I’ll also be able to invest in a better video setup. With this I’ll begin adding videos about writing craft, story structure, world building and character development. I’ll add these videos to the middle tiers and make them available to Patrons a month before they go live to the public.
At this goal, I’ll be able to say I am halfway sustainable. With this goal I will commission new art from AM Sartor, and launch the online glossary for the Pillars of Dawn series, and worlds. I’ll also begin including some of my own sketches and album imagery. I’ll begin building out the world with a Wikipedia style dictionary on the website, and adding character bios, backgrounds and images will allow readers to search for histories, links and information on what’s happening to the books, and the storylines therein.
This goal excites me more than any of the other goals, because I’ll finally be able to begin putting the matrix of ten books into a reader-interactive database and chat forum before the books are even finished. Huzzah!!
Want to talk to other readers about what you’re experiencing with the books? Want to look up the image of Xabien’s dragon, Scorn? Or a map of the city of Barriette? Want to connect to other team Fable or team Maya readers?
All these new interactive active parts will begin to unlock for every $200 we add to the monthly Patreon site from here forward. As we build on the Patreon service, the webtools, information and art will begin to unlock and fill in. This will allow for more interactive experiences and reader conversations.
New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.
Commission and publish the full audio book of ‘Murder of Crows. Release to Patrons first.
New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.
New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.
New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.
At this milestone goal, I will be 100% covered as an artist and can begin to truly throw myself into the development of the publishing house so I can begin to publish other artists under the BlissQuest Publishing label. What does this mean?
BlissQuest Publishing is the world’s first fair trade publishing model. Once established we will be able to offer healthcare, retirement planning, and shared royalties to artists.
I’ll be able to begin wrangling financing, searching for and applying for grants, and networking with writers and storytellers.
Why wait until the $2000 a month goal?
As many know, I’m picking up odd jobs, teaching gigs, and contractor positions while I work on my books. At the $2000 dollar a month goal, I’ll be able to let those energy and time drains go, and re-direct those hours toward BQP. In the grand scheme of support and long-term sustainability, I’ll be able to focus on bigger plans when my basic needs are covered.
At this milestone, I will be able to begin plotting distribution to larger bookstores, and schedule a tour on the west coast. A very small book tour from Southern California, to Alaska will be put on the map and built into a plan to attempt the tour near a new book launch, to promote the newest book in the Pillars of Dawn series, and gather support for the next books in the queue.
New stretch goals to come!!
Become my patron at Patreon.
A dollar a month, or twelve bucks a year is helpful. Everything helps, because it builds community and lets us all connect. Plus, you’ll get monthly updates on what’s happening!
Opt-in for as long as you want and quit anytime. Accounts are charged on the first of the month, so if you want to opt out, do it before your card is charged. No questions asked.
All support is appreciated.
Not everyone can afford to be a financial patron. I totally understand this.
But everyone can be a supporter by spreading the word, putting up reviews, sharing the links, and telling their friends. It costs nothing but a moment, and it makes all the difference in the world. This keeps me writing. This makes the long-term dream viable.
If you like my work, please spread the good. That alone is so powerful and so much appreciated.
Thank you again for everything. For your support and encouragement and all the well wishes. Not a day goes by that I’m not steeped in gratitude and wonderment that I have such a mighty community and supportive net.
The summer has been blessedly mild so far. There have been a couple of scorcher days but not as many for the time of year as I was expecting. My area in the woods is well shaded, but the nearness to the creek, and the leaves keeping in air flow means my humidity can get pretty high. Just weeding in the garden at 75 degrees can leave me drenched in sweat.
The raspberries are ripening. The potato plants are up to my knees. I had to break down and purchase established tomatoes since none of my seeds sprouted. The first year garden test is proving that there are plenty of flowers and vegetables I can grow in this new environment. Next year, I plan to change the layout to maximize light. I also plan to amend the soil.
Writing has been taking up the bulk of my time, and happily so. Scold of Jays hit the halfway mark this week, and I’m thrilled with the progress.
It’s a strange adaptation to go from a harried forty-hour week of busywork, frustrated politics, poor management, and unnecessary redundancies to being self-managed. The stress level is so much lower, and the productivity so much higher. It’s a sad realization as to how much work was actually about doing the work, versus running in circles burning energy around preventable issues. I could have worked a ten hour week and been more productive at my last job if the management had been more efficient and aware.
The gem in going solo and starting my own creative business and publishing house is understanding the power of less is more. My first paid creativity workshop was in Manzanita this month. The Tillamook Country Library hired me to teach a Creativity Boosting Session for Artists. Most of the attendees were retired women who are finally able to pursue their arts, and rhythm seems to be a common sticking point to most re-adjusting full-time artists.
I can relate. Oh, man. I can relate.
Creativity is its own engine. It doesn’t need a 9 to 5 designation. But once you’ve worked a corporate schedule long enough, you adapt your energy around those time frames, pocketing time for yourself where you can. Just like your stomach might growl at noon and five thirty because you’ve taught your body to eat at those times, your creativity might be conditioned to feel “ready” after 6pm and on weekends. It’s still a struggle for people to un-condition their energy and re-master their time.
I’m working on it, too. The beauty is that once those old frameworks are removed, the creativity can flow when and where you need and want. I’m learning to re-build my day to use my power cycles, and most effective time windows. This means I’m more productive than I’ve ever been, but I’m sitting at my desk half as long. Being able to be more creatively productive in less time allows me to work on the business management aspect of the solo adventure without feeling like I’m taking time away from the creative objective. It all fits comfortably in my day.
I’m two months into being a creative entrepreneur and the lessons are blowing my mind.
It might not seem like a big deal to most, but reclaiming the time, reclaiming the energy, and redirecting it all to a purpose I’ve dreamt about for years means I’m also enjoying more satisfaction and wholeness in general.
It truly does feel like living the dream. Now to publish more, and teach more workshops. The ends will come together, after the startup rockiness subsides.
In other news, I’ve been selling well at the Tillamook Farmer’s Market. There are no other books, so the competition is low. I’ve been considering signing up for all the local markets next year and doing the rounds every other week from Manzanita, Tillamook, Rockaway Beach, and Pacific City. Readers have been every age and demographic, and they’re all excited to talk about the books they love. It’s been a real treat to be at the market this summer.
All in all, July has been busy with business building, and creative works. I’m blessed to feel like I’m finally on the right path, and even more blessed to have the support of friends, family, and patrons. Thank you for being on this journey with me.
The July mid-month creative mission, should you choose to accept it:
Create a collage with the found materials from a walk or hike. Suggested materials may include: bottle caps, moss, pine cones, leaves, scrap paper, trash, or pebbles.
Objective: To capture the story of your walk or hike and observe your surroundings. What story are you telling with the location you chose, and the objects your noticed?
Please feel free to send pictures! I’ll post them!
Have a wonderful summer!
One of the strangest parts of being a full-time creative, is shaking the old rhythms off and embracing energy in its natural flow.
For the years I’ve been working a forty for someone else, I’ve tried to wrap my creative efforts and writing around someone else’s schedule. That meant if I was in a great writing groove late in the evening, and ten thirty rolled around, I’d start to get irritable, worried that I’d need to get some sleep before being at work the next day. The tension would build, I didn’t want to give up my chapter momentum, but I also didn’t want to try and make it through a shift on three hours of sleep every time.
I’d strain, and stress, and finally cut my chapter short, then lay in bed being pissed about it, and potentially crabby the next day at work.
Now I get to follow the rhythm where it goes. Minor interruptions and needs still surface. Schedules still need to happen, but the tempo is more natural which allows more creative flow and more satisfaction in the creative process. If I’m in a groove, I keep going until the chapter is done, even if that’s two or three in the morning.
Because I don’t have an income from creative works yet, I also wobble on the “what’s worth the time” issue. Being self-sustainable is the ultimate goal, but that means putting time and energy into things that will ultimately have a return. This isn’t always easy to gauge.
Sometimes, I struggle with WHAT to put my energy into so I have longevity in the efforts. How do I know what will pay off and what will support me? For now, I’m leaning heavily on Patrons to keep me in a space of creative freedom, but the ultimate goal is to be under the drive of my own creative income.
The other day I was writing by the creek. I had a fire in the pit nearby where I was frying blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. I had a glass of wine while I was puzzling out a pivotal chapter in Scold of Jays. It was lovely…too lovely. And then I started feeling guilty. I started putting my notebook down and thinking, “I should be doing something more. This feels too unprofessional.” Then out of nowhere, I wondered, “I feel like I’m going to get written up for this?”
Written up? Seriously, Athena? You’re expecting a corporate punishment for your own brand of productivity? Because you’re having fun AND getting your word count in?
But it’s true. I still don’t have my psychological autonomy in my creative rhythms yet. I still don’t trust that I can be productive, profitable, and do it in a way that’s fun and fulfilling. I’ll get to that belief, but apparently it will take more time.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep following the current and see where the productivity takes me. I’ll keep testing the rhythms that create output, and keep my fingers crossed that output will be sustainable.
As these things pop up it raises new questions and old blockages that need to be worked through. I’ll figure it out. I’m happy to figure it out. For all the world, it’s a great problem to be having, the discovery of being self-propelled, and doing what I love. The balance will come. Until then, there’s bacon wrapped dates and wine, and reckless writing abandon.
Why Leave Reviews?
As an indie writer and publisher, my longevity and sustainability is determined by audience. If I don’t have an audience buying books, I don’t have a future as a writer. Sure, there are a million other things I can do to earn a living, but it won’t be writing if it can’t support my basic needs.
Leaving a review, even a bad one, helps me build audience—and that allows me to continue writing.
Why does it help?
Since digital publishing became a viable option, writing and publishing became a democratized adventure. This allows anyone to play in the field and eek out what living they can based on their talents and skills. It also means it’s difficult to find vetted work in the deluge of new material that’s hitting the market almost weekly. With thousands of books hitting the shelves, readers don’t know what’s good or bad or worth the purchase.
Leaving a review helps potential readers know the piece has been vetted by you, and you’re giving a go or no go on the product.
Many readers will only purchase a book if it has a certain number of reviews already, showing that’s it’s been thoroughly read and is worth the investment in time and money.
Why is a bad review still good for me?
A bad review isn’t always a deal breaker. Sharing what you didn’t like about a book or product might be exactly what a different reader is looking for. You might not like certain content, but another reader is looking for that exact type of story. You might find typos (and you will, even in professionally published books) and sharing that allows people who are upset by a few missed typos to skip the purchase. It’s better on their blood pressure, and saves me the trouble of their hate mail.
Statistically, neutral or negative reviews make up some percentage of the overall review process simply because of taste differences, mood, preference, and mismatched expectations. It simply cannot be avoided.
As a writer, I appreciate all reviews. Even the ones that are sometimes tough to hear. It reminds me of our constant and beautiful human diversity and keeps me from getting a big head. It doesn’t change my writing either way, but what it does change is my audience, and my long-term ability to focus on my passion for telling stories.
Just clicking stars on Goodreads, or Amazon makes a world of difference to my future, and I’m super grateful to you for taking the time to read my book, and leave a remark or star rating. It means a great deal to me.
I’ve been enjoying the Apothic wine lines. My favorite is the Apothic Dark, but they haven’t standardized their process yet, so it’s hit or miss if you’ll get one of the good bottles. The good bottles are plummy, with a hint of dark roasted coffee, dark cherry, and a little blackberry. It’s such a delight to drink, so luscious and full… it feels mildly immoral. But the bad bottles have a sour note that’s unpleasant. Until the make process is nailed down, I’m still purchasing the Apothic Dark, but needed to find a way to use the “off” bottles.
Usually I get them at my local grocery and they’re on sale for about six bucks. The average range I like a wine for my dinners and evening deck drinking. It sucks to get one of the bad bottles when you’ve got your feet propped up and you’re ready to relax.
So, I started buying several at a time, then setting the not-so-great- bottles aside for sangria. Since sangria is a mixed, doctored wine, the sour note doesn’t surface. I make a large jar on a Friday and keep it through the weekend for visitors. It’s probably my favorite sangria recipe so far. It’s decadent, rich, full-bodied, sweet, and refreshing. As silly as it sounds, this sangria makes me feel like a mysterious writer living a debauched life in the woods…. Which is a total fiction, right?
The addition that makes this sangria so plush is the Chat Noir Myrtille. It’s a blueberry wine with grape spirits added, produced by the Buddha Kat Winery in Sandy, Oregon. I discovered them at the Tillamook Farmer’s Market. I liked the taster for sipping, but it’s not a sit and relax type of drinking wine. There’s an acidic bite if you just pour a glass, however, in the mixology of sangria, it blends beautifully with the already plummy, dark coffee and cherry notes of the Apothic Dark. I expect I’ll be using the Chat Noir Myrtille in many mixed drinks, and even some baked desserts and sauces. It’s a 17% alcohol, but I’m even thinking about frozen, or partially frozen summer drinks and ice creams to try with it. We’ll see.
Here’s the recipe for the Debauched Sangria. Please feel free to let me know what you think! If you’ve got alcohols or liqueurs you’d like me to try in some mix recipes, just hit me up via the webform and I’ll check them out! I’m happy to explore new products and recipes anytime.
I’ll be teaching the Creativity Boosting Session for Artists at the Manzanita Library this Thursday July 6, from 3-5pm.
It’s a free session. Stop in and get your creativity boost!!
The Sacred Boundary
Of all the tools in the artist’s toolbox, this may be one of the most important. The price is steep, requiring selfishness, and sacrifice, but the payout is the contract you make with yourself as a creator to own your creative space. Creative space is not just a place to work, but a time, a reserved energy, and a willingness to cut off connections (temporarily) from anything draining your juice. Yes, this includes Facebook. Please don’t shoot the messenger.
The sacred boundary is what protects you and your work from energetic drain and infringement. It’s the time, space, respect you pay to you and your own efforts. It’s the ticket price of entering the show.
The frustrated artists who come to my workshops say, “I could do more writing/ painting/art if only I had: fill in the blank.”
A workspace; spare time; a job that didn’t drain the life out of me; a room with a locking door; two hours away from my kids a week; a husband who could cook his own dinner; thirty minutes in the morning; a shorter commute to my day job; money.
Often when money is used as an answer to what stops someone from being creative, it’s because they can’t see a solution to the other needs and believe money is the solution. Sometimes it is, but most of the time the answer is within grasp, just unwilling to commit.
Often times, in fact most times, the answer is the difficult task of saying “no” to other people and their needs. Yep. That’s the ticket price. No.
It’s hard. I won’t lie. The day you tell your family “I’m not coming to Thanksgiving anymore because it falls during Nanowrimo, the only month of the year when I’m at peak productivity.” Bitter feelings and fights may occur. It may even break down the paradigm of how some family dynamics work, and you’ll have to be okay with that.
I even offered solutions to have them come to me so I wouldn’t lose three days of travel and productivity, I could stay home, write and cook and still make my deadline and see the family unit. There are solutions if you look for them. I staked the edges of the boundary, and held the ground. Am I saying my work is more important to me than my family is? A passive aggressive person might say yes, they might say I need to sacrifice every holiday, event, spare moment to be with my family – but there are many times throughout the year other concessions may be made for family time. And there are ways within November that my family and I can participate if the effort is made from both sides. I’m a pretty good cook, and happy to host.
The point of Sacred Boundary is you are choosing a side, and in that choosing, you are also saying to those people on the other side whom you’ve used as your excuse not to be productive:
“I’m not using you as my excuse to be creatively frustrated anymore.”
That seems harsh. It won’t make you popular. But isn’t that essentially what you’ve been doing? Putting off your creative work… and secretly blaming them for your failure to complete a novel, painting, poem, etc.?
You don’t have to feel like a failure if someone else stopped you from being your truest most creative self, right? It’s not your fault then, right?
Stop blaming them for your failure to commit to your work. It might be hard up front, they may take it personal, just like they’d take it personal if you told them the reason you’re unhappy is because you use them to block yourself. But sacred boundary requires the effort—and in doing so, you’ll see eventual adjustments occur. New dynamics will emerge, possibly even healthier ones, and they will begin to make efforts on their side to respect the sacred space. **Or, they will remove themselves from you completely (more on this later).
When you as an artist say, “This closet needs all the Christmas stuff moved to the garage or a storage unit, it’s going to be my new workspace.” Or “Don’t interrupt me between 7AM and 8AM unless you’re bleeding and need stitches.” Or “On Tuesday and Thursday nights, honey, you’re going to cook your own dinner or order takeout while I get caught up on my chapters.”
Only then, when you stake the claim on your space and energy will the investment in your efforts begin to materialize.
When you say, “I’m going to dump this toxic job, and pick up a lower paying, less frustrating gig so I can focus on my real work.” You may need to save up, or cut your budget, but the outcome is an investment in your total value as a creative.
The key to sacred boundary once you’ve staked your claim and placed your securities: USE IT.
Don’t sit in your space worrying what your kids are doing for an hour. Don’t stare at a blank screen and chew your lip because your husband ordered delivery pizza for the eighth time in a month. I swear to you, if he’s grown enough to place an order, he’s grown enough to make nutritional choices of his own. Let it be. Focus on your work.
The point is to generate a pocket of time, energy, space, and do the most you can with it. Only then will you know what you’re truly capable of, and how much you’ve left at the feet of others during your times of frustration.
**It’s hard to reconcile those who remove themselves from your sacred boundary or life with bitterness. It does happen, and it’s a risk you should be aware of up front. Staking a claim on your path to being a creative means you will inevitably push some people and events away.
Very few people in the world have more of a vested interest in your success than you do, and there are many who will be angry, cruel, or dismissive of your efforts to commit to yourself and your craft.
Julia Cameron has a great term for them in her work, The Artists Way. She calls them crazymakers.
I call them energy vampires or creative vampires. They are the ones who enjoy being around your energy, your creative expressions, your output, but the moment your work, efforts, energy isn’t directed toward their benefit or needs they can become outwardly manipulative and unkind.
Once you stop feeding them, they may decide to move along. It’ll be up to you to decide how much you need those relationships in your life. After years of struggling to own my creative power, I’ve become merciless in recognizing these characters and cutting them loose before they can cause damage. And if I’m unable to cut them loose, I walk away from them completely, even if it hurts.
There are those who would argue that staking a claim and owning space is just as selfish as the energy vampire who’s feeding on you. Who is more selfish?
I would like to point out that we are all selfish. Not a human among us is without the tendency to survive, or need, or want. The difference in owning space for your work, and someone being entitled to your efforts or energy.
A note on selfishness: “selfish” is a grossly overused term in our society. We are conditioned to be “selfless”, women especially, self-sacrificing, nurturing, tend to the needs of others first. It’s become a slander to personal and societal values to want something for yourself. To need for yourself.
There is no glory in false martyrdom. If sacrificing your creative fulfillment for the happiness of others who are completely capable of being self-realized themselves is part of your plan, so be it. But the odds are pretty good, that a closet workspace, a few order-in meals a month, and an hour of reserved time each day to yourself isn’t going to upset the balance of the Universe.
At the end of the day there are people in your life who have legitimate needs and claims on your energy; partners, children, lovers, family, and so on. It’s up to you to find the balance in those claims, and the courage to take what you need as well in a way that’s healthy for you. It will ultimately be healthy for them as well, even if it’s a struggle in the beginning. Relationship is a continuous improvement project, but it takes all parties to participate.
That commitment is what signals the gears, the imagination, to know it’s safe to grant the ideas and the manifestation of art into form. Once you make the sacred boundary contract…let the creativity begin.
The Method and the Channel
So, you’ve been filling up your warehouse, stocking sensory data, experiences, life and so forth.
As you fill up your warehouse, ideas will come. It’s up to you then to make sure those ideas start getting processed. Here’s just a glimpse of my average order for the creation phase of a project.
The Method is about the mechanics of the project, whereas the channel is a more difficult and non-tangible concept. However, the channel and the method are interdependent on one another.
Channel is almost always happening to a creative who’s prolific and open. While there’s not a scientific way to explain this intangible piece, I believe in it for my own creative output. I think of it as the pipeline between my creative warehouse and my fingers on the keyboard. Keeping this channel clear, fresh, and available is part of the active and ongoing practice of being a creative.
Depending on your belief system one might describe this channel as the connection between local and non-local self. However you refer to it, the viability and constant accessibility to the information stored in your warehouse is dependent on your relationship with the channel, and the strength of your connection to your creative potentiality. When an artist freezes up, burns out, or gets blocked, it’s almost always related to this particular connection point. The channel.
Method: The method will depend on your medium; paint, music, mathematics, etc. For this article, I’ll focus on writing.
My writing method is: idea, to concept, to draft, to beta, to revisions, to publication.
Idea comes into the channel. I puzzle over it, go for a drive, or sit in the bathtub with wine and think about the idea. What does it need? Is it ready to be worked – yes, go to concept, no-put it back in the warehouse to percolate.
Idea: romantic comedy
Setting: steampunk alternative wild west
Conflict: Bad guy interrupting trade routes of precious commodities
Character 1: Trader
Character 2: Hired muscle
Character 3: Archetype 3
Theme: Love conquers trade routes, and general prejudice….
Concept: Concept is when I do a mockup arc, a plot or story board, choose a template (generally the 3-act structure, but sometimes 6-act structure), pencil a broad arc point within the structure to see what it will look like.
Aside: The 3-act structure of a comedic romance is standardized thanks to Shakespeare,
(Boy meets girl – boy gets girl then boy loses girl – boy gets girl back.)
If this is the template I choose, I might set my idea into this template, then modify it to fit the story needs. A template is just that, mix and match and muddle to your artist’s heart contentment.
Girl meets girl (how) – girl gets girl (how/why) – girl loses girl (why)- girl gets girl back (how/why) and they decide to have an open relationship (because).
To create further interesting detail, pick a layout template.
simple order = chain of collapsing events
bookends = begin with the ending, and work back into the story
scrambled = out of order events (example: Memento)
The possibilities are endless. Also during this concept phase you’re choosing the POV, and the tense.
Final concept: Third person, present tense, comedic lesbian love story, bookend layout of 3-act structure.
- World building requirement: Advanced
- Character building requirement: Moderate
If I get to the end of a concept and I realize I don’t have enough in my warehouse for this project, or time, or energy, I’ll bundle it and shelve it for later. If I’ve concepted and don’t feel like it has enough potential to be interesting, I’ll put it back in the warehouse to percolate.
If, however, my energy and curiosity are piqued, I’ll start drafting.
Draft: Drafting is when the writing begins. This is where channeling really happens. Channeling the inspirations, ideas, sensory data, and more from your warehouse into your work. You’re opening the pipeline from your writing desk to your warehouse and letting the stored data pour through.
Some writers describe it as someone else writing a book using their hands. Other say it’s like grabbing onto a lightning rod in a thunderstorm. It’s been both ways for me.
When a frustrated writer sits down to work and that channel doesn’t open, they say they have writer’s block or the idea is bad. Since I don’t believe in writer’s block, I tell them, go back to the warehouse. Go back to nurturing the connection you have with that space of imagination and possibility. Do something else for a while to take pressure off the valve – then try again later.
Drafting is opening the valve, and letting creative energy course through the channel. It’s the world building, character articulation, conflict manipulation, and a LOT of winging it.
There’s a great debate amongst Nanowrimo participants nearly every year on the boards. “Are you a plotter or a pantser?”
- A plotter lays out the whole story in detail through outlines and storyboards before beginning.
- A pantser flys by the seat of their pants.
There’s no right or wrong way. I tend to use one or the other depending on my mood or level of interest in a project. Usually, I split the difference between the two. While I hammer out the who, where, and why in concept—I generally don’t focus on the details, minutia, hooks, or leads during concept phase so that I can be pleasantly surprised and curios as my characters and events unfold.
Before I start a large project, such as a series or set of interconnected articles, I’ll plan out the big points and map the important revelations so I know where I’m driving the story from chapter to chapter. All of which would happen in concepting.
It just depends on the project.
Once the draft writing begins, problems will surface, issues in the concept will reveal themselves and I’ll have to work around or through them, or go back to the story board and start again. It might take a couple of drafts before I’m ready to beta.
Beta: Beta is the testing phase. How does it read to a fresh set of eyes? What story problems surface? What wasn’t connected in the text from my brain? Did I hit the targets for emotional resonance? World building? Did I make relatable dimensional characters?
Being able to accept critical feedback from a beta reader is important to getting you closer to your story and writing goals.
My caveat to that statement is: you need really reliable, well-tuned beta readers AND you need to know your story and your intentions well enough to know WHEN and WHAT to accept or disregard from the beta feedback. Beta involves a lot of judgement calls, and personal preferences.
For example: If I netted a beta reader for my lesbian comedic romance set in alternative steampunk wild west, and my beta reader is either homophobic, or only tends to read space opera – it’s likely much of the critical feedback will be skewed per their personal tastes, preferences, or bias. It’s a bummer to say it, but the most consistent negative feedback against story beta comes from subconscious prejudice.
This is why it’s especially important to have a beta reader who is story-versed, articulate, and able to separate their personal feelings from the feedback of a story or writing evaluation.
A good beta reader is priceless. The best beta readers are usually part of a writer or reader group that meets consistently, and works regularly to keep their skills sharp.
I like to have both a beta reader who is story versed, and beta readers who are not story-versed.
This is because the story-versed trained reader will grab writing details, inconsistencies, structural faults, and so on. But the readers who allow their own personal interests to impact the story will give details to where the trigger points are, and what lured them in or pushed them out of the story. This is important, because they’re reading the story as a reader would, as a person feeling and relating or not relating to what you’ve written. Their feedback is just as important as the story-versed reader.
Being able to breakdown unrefined beta feedback into helpful data can take a thick skin and a solid trust in your writing and process.
For example: “I’m getting bored.” “Started skipping ahead.” “I put the book down here.” “This part is kind of stupid.”
To some writers this can be hard feedback to receive. I love it! I love these pieces of feedback because they’re telling me something I couldn’t have seen on my own. These are beta indicators that the pacing, tension, and resonance of the story aren’t working for this reader. That doesn’t mean it’s broken, it means that point in the manuscript is in need of attention. If you make it through a revision and still can’t find the problem, compare the rest of the feedback from that reader to find the points that line up, and target the trends in their language.
Revisions: are based on beta feedback and notes I’ve been making while the manuscript was in the hands of test readers. Notes on issues I have suspicions about, but want to know if they’ll pop on the radar after beta.
I might note: I feel like character X is too agreeable to all the points that would have incited interesting tension. Missed opportunity to ratchet up conflict.
Then as I go through the beta notes, if that comment or something like it surfaces: bingo. Make the changes.
The true value of having beta readers cannot adequately be expressed. It’s fair to say about half of what a beta reader notes, I disregard out of hand. Another quarter I ponder and disregard. But the final twenty-five percent-ish that they note or comment on…almost always would have slipped under my radar, or had passed by my brain completely and it made all the difference in the revision process for making a story into a novel. Those choice observations from readers can make or break the story quality.
Publication: Publication is a rabbit hole of editing, polishing, and running the project management gauntlet of timelines, independent contractors, and marketing. As an indie, I do most or all of it myself. What I can’t do by myself, I hire out for, but it can be expensive and slow. This separate process deserves its own post.
Still, to get the idea from the warehouse to the bookshelf, it’s worth it.
So there we have it, my method and channel process tools from the toolbox. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone. It doesn’t mean I’ll stick to it the same every time. It currently works for me, so I use it, and when it stops working, I’ll revise.
Next in the toolbox: The Sacred Boundary
Each of my creative outlets draw from a central source, a creative pool of stimuli, experiences, curiosity, and research. Julia Cameron calls it the “artists’ well”; a term I used for a long time because it fit, but eventually it became more of a warehouse, a continuously stocked library of information I could rely on, become inspired by, have my interest or curiosity piqued, or a lexicon of sensory and emotional language and resonant anchors.
Formally trained actors and performers call this the “actor’s toolbox”. Isn’t it interesting that the language crossovers are not dissimilar from one craft to the next? This is because so many creative crafts are tied together through this central place of human experience, the story of humanity that we share and explore through creative outlets are all intimately rooted in having experienced something, whether positive, negative, or other–then transformed that experience into an artform, an output, an equation or a scientific explanation. What we learn through this tool, becomes the output in our theater performance, music, theorem, child rearing, community building, and consistently evolving cultural evolution.
Because my warehouse is fundamental to all my creative crafts and forms; writing, storytelling, photography, sculpting, and so on…it’s the tool I focus on the most, and the place I always return to when I’m stuck.
How do I prepare my warehouse and keep it stocked?
This requires continuous upkeep and maintenance. It’s harder at first, when you’re getting the hang of it, but over time, it becomes habit and it happens naturally. Information goes in, and is cataloged and stored for later.
I keep several folders and notebooks of questions I need answers to, things I’m curious about, adventures I’d like to have, places I’d like to go, people I’d love to meet and so on. I call these drivers. Piqued my curiosity? Drop it in the drivers bucket in the warehouse—I guarantee it will come up later, or I’ll stumble into a situation that allows me to experience the answer. Someone hands me a book on a topic I was thinking about, a friend posts link on my wall, a piece of information connects while watching a random movie, or I have time to spare and can surf the Wikipedia wonders of interconnected topics.
Drivers are my key to staying in fresh energy of information and experiences. This has led me to a personal understanding that to be a diverse artist, I need to live an interesting life. If I’m going to tell stories about adventures, I need to live adventures. If I’m going to tell stories about love, I need to live love, and have it in my warehouse of experiences to draw upon.
Creation is never stagnant. Stagnation is death to any living thing. Movement, kinetic energy, growth are all fundamental to evolution; art, stories and inspiration are all part of that evolutionary process. Drivers are really about movement. Tidbits that urge me down the next rabbit hole, or send me off the path of an uncharted discovery all begin with the investigative potential sparked by drivers.
Image & Sensory Files (A Lexicon)
Visualization is a powerful technique. I used to keep folders and drawers of photography, clippings and images that sparked my imagination. Now I have the wonder of Pinterest that allows me to surf, snag and pin unlimited delightful imagery and sensory inspirations to my heart’s content. Pins boards galore house the bulk of my imagery inspirations, and even many boards on my Drivers.
But storing the information on a cloud server isn’t enough. Sensory data demands experience. When I’m needing more sensory data for my Warehouse, I go to the fabric store, and touch EVERYTHING. I wander through craft markets, bazaars, and farmer’s markets. I walk through the forest and catalog the scents. I go to new restaurants and taste dishes I think sound interesting, odd, or delightful. I smell things.
I am often overheard asking, “Hey Liz, can I sniff your muffins?” No joke. But how else to catalog that amazing fresh-baked blueberry muffin scent?
I sniff things. I touch a lot. I put an enormous amount of food and drink in my mouth. I wear unusual textiles. Stare at pretty things, ugly things, confusing things…and make notes. I take a lot of pictures for reference on light, shadow, and drape. I lose time whilst running my fingers over strange surfaces, or rolling a new flavor around my palate.
Idiosyncrasies. The word used to describe artist types with odd or out of normal tendencies. But what most folks don’t know is that those artists are cataloging life, tastes, experiences, and so on—for use later, whether they’re aware of it consciously or not. Sure, some of us are just plain weird, and that’s cool, too. But when you see me glaze over after taking a bite of something amazing, it’s probable I’m cataloging a reference point to come back to the experience ten years down the road, while writing a story.
The Yes Factor
When I went through theatre training at the Portland Actor’s Conservatory, the most profound tool they taught me was yes. I was already doing it in my real life, and in storytelling—but I didn’t know it also applied to performance. What else is living and storytelling, but performance, really.
Anyway, the yes in theater performance is the willingness to try, experiment, interact with—and ACT. Yes, is always an action, even if that action is inaction.
In this section of my yes factor in the Warehouse is an aisle called, “Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.”
Walking down this aisle you’d think I have a master’s degree in failure. It’s like a screw-up’s hall of fame. It’s littered with plaques and trophies with labels such as, “Unemployable”, “You’re fired!”, “I quit”, “We need a divorce”, “bankruptcy”, “default”, and so on. I could list a half dozen more, but I’m sure you get the gist.
Other boxes and files on this aisle of the warehouse are labeled, “That was a close one” “Woohooo!” “Your book is done”, “Here are the keys to your house”.
Why would I call this section the Yes Factor?
Because as a human, an artist, I had to say yes to every one of the situations that led me through these events. Some I caused myself, others I had a hand in, and some had nothing to do with me except that I was in the wrong or right place, at the wrong or right time. They were all events that I participated in, even if only by association.
But I had to be open to the experience on some level, and learning from it. Yes is a door to information—it’s not always the information you want or ask for, but part of the yes journey is accepting that truth in any form. Part of the yes is saying, “I’m taking all the experience, even the painful, even the ugly, and especially the difficult. And if the experience is lovely, mind-blowing, or glorious—I’m grateful to have it. Then I’m going to store, catalog, and learn from said experiences so I can use it for my work.”
Yes also leads to some pretty phenomenal things, right? It’s not always failure. Yes, can be a lifelong relationship. It can be a relationship that last a month, but still provides one of the best experiences in your lifetime. Yes can be a side trip down the scenic route. Yes can be the choice to book those tickets to Venice, or smile at the cute guy at the coffee shop.
Yes is simply the willingness to try. It’s the willingness to step beyond a definition, to cross a threshold.
In storytelling terms, Yes is answering the call to adventure. It’s the agreement to transitions your story on one particular subject to act two.
Yes, is the contract you make with your life to engage. To challenge your fear, to accept change, to move toward your own climax or destination.
The results of my yes factor are stored in my warehouse. A lovely benefit to this willingness to engage, is that I’m never without a shortage of stories to tell, weird careers to call upon, interesting facts to reference, and pleasant encounters to reminisce upon.
Putting it all together.
Having a fully stocked and organized warehouse is my most effective tool. It’s all-encompassing. It’s the data storage of life and living, dreams and aspirations, desires and fears. It’s the record center of success and failure, imagination, and curiosities.
Some people’s warehouses might look like a circus emporium; other’s a Fort Knox of ideas.
Mine’s a bit of a menagerie, fantasy creatures and stories that never happened mixed with true events no one would ever believe. I satisfy my storytelling by expressing all of it, and leaving the reality up to the imaginations of others. It’s not unlike an episode of Warehouse 13, actually. Sometimes I have no idea what’s going to get pulled out of storage while I’m in there looking for something else. Often hilarity ensues.
The point of the warehouse is to have wealth of information and inspiration to draw upon. When people ask me where I get my ideas or inspiration, I answer, “the warehouse”. Other artists might say, “from life”, or “I get my ideas from everything around me or in the world”.
It’s hard not to sigh when someone asks me where my ideas come from, because once you’ve habitualized living as an art form…you’re never out of ideas. You’re never short on concepts, never dry of plans, never empty of direction or desire, never not hungry for more experience and input.
And once you’ve reached a point of living like you’re constantly devouring the world data around you, building and creating, and manifesting from that state perpetually; then when someone asks where your ideas come from it’s hard not to say, “Pay attention, man! They’re everywhere. They’re lying on the sidewalk like glittering coins, and dripping from the trees.”
Taking the time to explain the answer to someone who is willfully blind to the inspiration around them is exhausting. It’s often draining and unfruitful.
If you have to ask where ideas come from, you’re announcing willful blindness, and asking someone to tell you how to see a world in color. You’re announcing a lack of general curiosity about the complex and wondrous diversity of life. By saying you’re out of ideas, you’re saying, “I’m indifferent to the magic in my immediate environment. I don’t understand gratitude. I don’t know how to recognize the gift of learning from drawing breath.”
Being in that state is not a bad thing if it works. For most people it doesn’t work. For most people they need “something more” and they don’t know what that is. They’re secretly bored, directionless, and depressed, so they go looking for someone to tell them how to get ideas. Their creative world has stagnated, and stagnation breeds a slow death.
There is an answer, there is a cure. There is a way to invigorate your creative center, to breathe life back into your day-to-day. There’s a way to turn your boredom into a rocket forge of creative potential with more ideas than you can manifest in a lifetime. There’s a way to charge your relationships, build your skills, and bring dimensionality back to your world.
But it begins with a willingness to see, to hear, to be affected. It begins with a deal you make with yourself to take the journey, even if you don’t know where the destination is, or who’s going with you. It begins with risk, with a yes, with a notebook and a desire to know, feel, witness, and learn.
And when you accept the call to adventure and you cross that threshold into act two of your creative story—you’ll be opening yourself up to information to catalog, store, and use for later. And you will, because once you take the risk, and truly open up to the wealth of creative energy around you, the movement will become a forward direction away from stagnation, and you won’t be able to hold back all the ideas.
For the next chapter on process and tools, Click to: The Method and the Channel
What’s Your Creative Process?
This question comes up at nearly every Q&A, and I always find it interesting because the funny thing about a “process” for artists and creatives is that its’ different for everyone. The truth about creative process is that every productive, prolific creator has one, even if they’re not aware of it. And every non-productive, frustrated creative, does not have one. There are very few exceptions to this rule.
The frustrated creative always asks, “What’s your process?” but what they’re really asking without knowing it is, “How do I make my creativity work for me, rather than the other way around?”
If you swap the word “process” for the phrase “key to productivity” it’s a completely different answer, an answer that yields much more in the way of helpful direction to a frustrated artist.
I’m a huge fan of process, but with this stipulation; use what works, discard the rest. The moment your process breaks down, needs reconfigured, or can be improved – refine your process, or dump it and get a new one. A creative cannot afford to have a faulty or non-productive creative pipeline.
Process is a tool. That’s all it is. When new writers ask me about my process, they’re really asking about my tool box.
What’s in my toolbox?
- The Warehouse: a storage space for experiences, interests, thought trains, image files (“artists well”), skills, practiced craft, curiosities, and failures. Yes, failures, your most valuable tool in the warehouse.
- The Method: choice of medium(s), collection of craft, and technique to apply to your channel
- The Channel: the opening from your warehouse through your method, into your medium. This is where you sit down and work, build, create.
- The Sacred Boundary: the time and space you set aside to do your work. This time and space is protected, from intrusion and judgement.
Different schools of thought and ways of practicing craft will inform new tools and processes. They are not limited, nor should they be. Having access to lots of methods and practices allows you to build what will ultimately work best for you individually.
Process should never own your productivity. Productivity is supported by process, not caged by it. I think this is where people/creatives tend to break out in hives at the thought of process, order or structure. They think of it like a dungeon, a place where new ideas go to die.
When in fact process is the means by which your idea comes to fruition. It’s the network of strengths, methods, and practices put into place to allow your idea to emerge into reality.
It’s counter-productive to imagine process as the bad guy, that’s like shooting the messenger because you’re afraid they’ll deliver news, any news.
“But, Athena, process kills creativity! It limits ideas!” Alas. Not true. Process only weeds out, the ideas that won’t survive the birthing pains. If your process killed an idea, think of it as culling the garden so other more valuable ideas have more opportunity for sunlight, water, and cultivation. Without this failsafe, you could fall into a perpetual creative energy expenditure and never see the end goal realized. Bitter frustration ensues.
The misconception that process kills ideas comes from a crossover of terms:
Creativity, and productive creativity.
Creativity is the space where anything is possible. It’s cart blanche. It’s the amniotic fluid wherein all outcomes are imaginable, all resolutions achievable, and all interests matter. It’s the think tank, the brainstorm, the ether of imagination. Creativity is the idea buffet table.
Productive creativity (process) us the space where the ether of imagination meets the physics of planet Earth, and let’s be honest, also the pocketbook.
Productive creativity is logistics. HOW, do you get your creativity into a reality-based format? How do you make it pay off? What do you have to invest in time, energy, and money?
Having a process allows productive creativity to flourish, to nip the false starts, prune the runaway branches, streamline your output, and ensure the idea you’ve been nurturing has a real chance to bloom.
So, in the event the process culls out an idea, it’s not killing creativity, it’s trimming off a dead branch. The idea is still there, but that route to fruition is no longer viable. You can trash the whole idea and blame the process to boot, OR you can understand the breaking point of that idea, and reconfigure.
My main character isn’t connecting well with my reader base. They think he’s difficult, and non-dimensional. Robotic, even.
I can trash the whole novel. Throw out months of imaginative work, OR I can realize the beta feedback has a valid point and adjust course.
Reconfigure main character to be an actual robot? Opens up world of sci-fi, or alternate reality steampunk?
Add dimensionality to current character actions: show empathic resonance (ie: “Save the Cat”), add in character historical wound, backstory explaining current state, tweak idiosyncrasies, add a phobia or weakness, etc.
Another way to think about the creativity vs. productive creativity is to remember the Edison quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Each time his lightbulb efforts failed to result in a productive outcome, he didn’t throw up his hands and say, “Damn you, process! You killed my creative dream of electric light!”
He simply said, “Well, this isn’t the one. Next?”
The idea remained vibrant and possible. It stayed present in his efforts. The process weeded out the ways the idea wouldn’t succeed, eventually leaving only one viable option.
Conversely, there are ideas that might not re-configure. There are ideas that have no map to fruition, or pathway to completion. Those routes have not been created yet, either by you, or others. There are ideas that hit a limitation of energetic resources, bandwidth, time, or money.
Does the process that reveals those limitations deserve slander? No. Reconfigure if possible, or store the idea for later if it’s a limitation that can be resolved, or bury the idea completely if it hits a wall and cannot be revived. Save energy for the ideas that light your fire, and keep you passionate – those are the ideas that bear fruit. Those are the ideas that will keep feeding your creative hunger and vigor long into your productive career.
- Process is just a tool.
- Creativity and productive creativity are two different states of creation.
- As a creative, fill your toolbox with what works for you individually.
For articles on what’s in my personal creative toolbox, please see:
The Channel (pipeline)
The Sacred Boundary
It’s been two months since I quit the corporate world. A few weeks ago, some friends who own a restaurant in Cloverdale suddenly lost one of their waitresses, so I offered to pick up a couple of shifts a week while they look for help. As soon as I offered, I began having second thoughts, but I guaranteed myself, it’s only a couple of days a week, and it won’t interfere with the creative life and work I’m doing.
Once assured, I started picking up shifts. It’s been twenty years since I waited tables. A whole lifetime ago. Some of it comes back quick, and some I’m remembering the hard way.
I was fifteen when I took my first waitressing gig at Oscar’s on the Waterfront in Valdez, Alaska. I wasn’t allowed to serve beer. If anyone ordered alcohol, I had to have the cook deliver it to the table. But I worked the after-school shift until closing, then in summers I worked the evening shift to midnight, then rollerbladed home to sleep for a few hours before rushing off to open Klondike Coffee for the morning shift as a barista, then rollerblading to the swimming pool to lifeguard for the midday swimmers.
It was only hairy like that four days a week, then I had three days a week of summer. And summers in Alaska are what it’s all about.
Anywhoo, I was one of those strange creatures who actually enjoyed food service. I loved slinging coffee, and talking to my regulars every day. I loved waiting on tables of travelers who came to Alaska for vacations and explorations. One evening a table of Germans came in on their bikes, and couldn’t read the menu. It was slow, so I sat at the table and drew pictures of the menu items. Between the pictures, some broken English, and secondhand high school German, they managed to get me their order, and then we spend the rest of my shift trying to communicate and tell stories. I rollerbladed home that night on a high, and couldn’t wait to visit Germany. When I was fifteen, waiting tables was the only way I could see the world.
Valdez is very isolated, and I took every opportunity to talk to strangers that wandered in. Ski bums, slimers (summer cannery workers), travelers, Alyeska Pipeline rotating crew, and so on. I also adored my seining patrons. Though I was only a kid, they came in on shifts from long fishing trips and would talk my ear off at the bar about the whales they’d seen, the nooks and cranny islands they saw, and the glaciers. It was because of those stories that I later joined the Stan Stephens Crew so I could visit the glaciers every day. Then the grizzled fishermen would sell me a five-gallon bucket of fresh shrimp or snow crab for 5$ in tips. One regular even tipped me with halibut. Those were the days. Nothing like rollerblading home from a midnight shift with a couple pounds of fresh halibut for the freezer.
I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but I see it now, contact with strangers for an hour at a time while I’m serving them is my way of story surfing. Living through their adventures, connecting to countries, lives, expectations…humanity.
Food service is inglorious work. It’s sweaty, laborious, muscle-aching, and exhausting. It’s very rarely rewarded with praise, or positive feedback even if you’re doing a good job. You will always get negative feedback, even when you’re doing well, so the trick to food service is finding another reason to pass the shift… for me, it’s people watching.
I get some of my best character ideas, traits, and motivations from people watching, and food service is a perfect opportunity. Perfect opportunity because very few patrons will look past the veneer of “waitress” to see me, but I can see them. Their mood swings, hunger lows, sugar highs, relationship arguments, footsies under the table, bickering over the check, negotiations about what food to order and share. I get to see them in and out of context within an hour. Some volunteer information, others engage with me out of loneliness or boredom. They are individuals, and yet, they come from blueprints of archetypes, stereotypes, and paradigms. They treat me well or poorly depending on their expectations, and backgrounds.
The family of five gave me a twenty-three dollar tip for a forty-dollar meal, and said I was the best waitress they’d had in their travels on the west coast. I was flattered, since it was my fourth day on the floor after a twenty-year hiatus. Then a couple not an hour later tipped me a nickel (as in .05) for a thirty dollar check, and the same level of service. They were sure to tell me how unhappy they were that the coffee was weak and they waited too long for their food during the lunch rush. I wasn’t offended, the coffee is weak. It’s diner coffee, and they were the eighth table in the lunch crush. It happens. Nothing to take personal.
The point is, expectation and perception will always dictate the experience from their side. Serving means doing the best you can with the time and energy you have, then knowing, you’ll probably never see them again anyway. Food service is a blip in time.
Perhaps it helps now that I’m older to know, I’m only filling in for a friend’s business. It helps me connect with people better knowing my daily financial needs and personal validation are not defined by their perception of the experience. It gives me breathing room to enjoy the shift for what it is. Take the stories and interaction data home to do what I really love to do; write.
I’ve only been covering a couple days a week for a few weeks, and already I have more stories in the queue than I know what to do with. I’m sure I’ll post a few of them as I go.
I know it’s strange, but the thing I’m loving the most is that no one who comes in knows who I am. I’m just a waitress, someone who’s there to facilitate their food and beverage needs. I get a great deal of personal enjoyment from the comments they make about my function. The judgements about whether I’m good or bad at serving, because they had no other way to define me or the kismet of the time space of our paths crossing.
“You’re pretty aware for a waitress,” one fellow said as I filled his coffee again. We’d been talking between my rounds about politics, (a risky business to talk politics in a Cloverdale diner where most of the trucks have Trump bumper stickers). He’d been mansplaining healthcare to me, and why we need a better system.
Pretty aware for a waitress.
While I couldn’t agree more that we need a better system, I didn’t want to burst his bubble that I was already way ahead of the conversation by launching my publishing label and model with the world’s first healthcare plan for artists. But I didn’t mention BlissQuest Publishing to him. I also didn’t tell him my name.
Because I’m pretty aware for a waitress.
I just filled his coffee, nodded, said thank you and handed him a bill. It’s all good information. I go home beat, sweaty and sticky. I find syrup on my jeans, and dried egg yolk on my shirts. I drop tips in my publishing fund, then sit down with a bourbon and my latest manuscript. Small details surface from the day that I weave into my chapters; sensory information, facial expressions, errant phrases. The quirks of dealing with a humanity and their vulnerable moments around meal times.
I don’t know how long I’ll keep at it. While I do enjoy having access to travelers and regulars again, and it gives me a reason to leave my house a couple days a week, I can only keep it up so long at is doesn’t interfere with my real work. The point of leaving the working world was to carve out a creative enterprise.
But for now, it’s just a good source of story surfing.
I finally ordered the parts I need to complete my storyboard. I’ll do a video on storyboarding in the near future, but I can’t even begin to express how stoked I am to have a permanent storyboard.
I haven’t had a real spread in over a decade, and all the boards I’ve used since were temporary, often in very small spaces or locations I couldn’t freely put up all the notes because I was in a shared space. I’ve used walls covered in butcher paper for many years, now I finally have a room with a big enough wall to build the board out, make it the colors I want, and map the full arc of this series in one location. I got the first layers of paint on yesterday then just sat, staring and grinning.
Since making the choice to jump both feet and no net I’ve been able to enjoy some of the things I’ve always wanted to do as a writer for my craft and continuous learning. It’s silly, but I struggled to justify some of these needs while I was working full time for others because those immediate demands and unnecessary dramas superseded my energy.
So, why a storyboard?
Storyboarding is a visual and easy way to see the points and rhythm, the chain of collapsing events, and the pacing in your novel. (It’s a project management tool to help stay timely, organized, and story relevant) Not everyone needs a visual, but I find it incredibly helpful to monitoring pacing, reveals, snags, and hitch points. It’s a method that works for me. It helps me stay in tune with my theme so I don’t wander off track, and offers a place to collect visual elements for atmosphere and story details.
Now that my series is breaking into a wider scope, essentially, all hell is breaking loose and the character list is tripling, the conflicts are escalating and the pacing is erratic as I jump from Muse to Muse in the story: a storyboard is imperative for my work to continue without something getting lost in the shuffle of notes.
One or two books with temporary boards has worked, but now I have several storylines, several locations, and multiple arcs that need to pace in a way they weave in and out of each other with a story-logic pattern. As much as I like to think I can do a lot in my head, now that I have the space, I shouldn’t have to keep it in my head. I can let it stretch out, and breathe.
Even as I painted the wall yesterday, I began to think…maybe two walls?
It’s a work in progress, a gift to my craft after the Sinnet of Dragons launch, and a promise to keep working, keep writing, keep building. This storyboard has been made possible by donations from my Patrons. Thank you, Patrons, for giving me a tool I need to keep working!
Here’s the before picture. More to come when everything is completed.
Storyboard wall before.
In progress storyboard.
One bottle of sweet Riesling ( I used St. Chappelle’s Special Harvest)
½ cup Kirsch
1 cup ginger ale
1 cup strawberries
1 cup chopped mango
Combine your ingredients in a pitcher and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
Serve and enjoy!
Sinnet of Dragons launched June 1st, 2017. It’s been on the shelf for a couple of weeks and I’m already through the first third of the next book. I’m hoping to have Scold of Jays completed for beta by September, and full round edits by December.
The first two weeks on the Amazon charts SOD climbed halfway up the ranking, which isn’t bad for such a small marketing budget. I’ll keep pushing it and hope more reviews help boost sales and get some notice.
The Sinnet of Dragons official launch party at Another Read Through was a tremendous success! Many familiar faces turned up for the reading and launch. I can’t even begin to express the gratitude I feel for so much support and encouragement. I spoke for a while about creativity and the impetus for the series, The Pillars of Dawn. To my delight, there were many questions about creativity in general and several great conversations after the reading about the need for more creativity in our world. I drove home from Portland with a ridiculous smile I just couldn’t shed.
Along the same note, my first Creativity Boosting Session was more successful than I anticipated. With eight exercises, and three new recipes to promote, I have finally narrowed down the activities and most useful tools to start putting on the workshop and teaching circuit.
Another success this month was the seasonal launch of the Tillamook Farmer’s Market. Every other week I’ll be sharing a booth with MB Botanicals at the market. This last weekend was our first setup. I sold out of Sinnet of Dragons stock, and had only a couple of Murder of Crows left. The greatest surprise of the day was a visit from two people who seemed familiar who saw the signs and came over to tell me they’d read Murder of Crows and they loved it. They wanted a copy of Sinnet. When I asked who I should sign the book to, it turned out to be a couple I met five years earlier. They remembered that several years earlier I was considering giving up on writing altogether, and said they were happy I decided to continue.
I’m pretty sure I blushed and stammered, “Actually, I just quit my full-time job to become a full-time writer.” How things have changed in five years.
In other news: in the last few weeks I’ve been preparing the next rounds of deliverables for my patrons. This month I posted the recipes for Sangria; Blue Cheese Bacon Mac & Cheese; and Bruschetta. As well as a woodburning video of the first project I made as I start learning a new medium for a larger mural.
I’m working on uploading the articles and creative content for this month related to process, and still working on the first audio chapter for Sinnet of Dragons. And since we’re only $164 away from the next milestone on Patreon, I’ve begun putting the packages together so I ship them out as soon as we reach the $500 mark on my site. To bump us along further, please join here! (Become a patron and get rewards, project ideas, early book news, and other goodies!)
Aside from being in a fabulous creative zone these last few weeks, I’ve been exploring more of the forest around my house, enjoying the first garden I’ve had in several years, and spending time near the water. Here are a few photos of my exploration. I don’t mind admitting that on my hunt for wild mushrooms, I discovered a patch of salmonberries, and squealed with happiness! It seems early for salmonberries, and I didn’t even know they grew in the area. So delighted!
I keep waiting for the panic to strike, for the fear of having made such a wild leap to keep me up at night. But seven weeks into the creative life adventure and I’m still happy, excited, and full of energy. Sometimes I crawl into bed wiped out from a day of projects, but I can’t stop grinning. Which is likely one of the best signs that it was simply time.
Here’s to a lovely summer writing, building projects, setting up workshops, exploring, and cooking. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer.
Your monthly creativity exercise, should you choose to accept it:
Write a thank you note to your younger self. Make it fancy! Pick a nice paper or card, and write out your gratitude to a younger you. Five years younger, or ten years younger, what kudos would you give yourself?
The kickoff for the Creativity Boosting workshop series was a tremendous success! I had a small tester class, and we made it through all the exercises for beginner boosting, and creative invigoration.
I’ll check back with the students in a week or so to see what worked the best for them, and if they were able to get a charge from the exercises. The exercises with the most potential will become the core workshop pieces for my series that I’ll be offering around the coast and in Portland.
The best part about it for me was probably the week of cooking and testing recipes prior. The menu included food and drinks throughout the day, and I wanted at least one dish to have an unusual flavor and ingredient that we could talk about while discussing diversity of sensory cataloging and lexicons, and how we can break out of patterned production ruts.
The resulting recipe is available for my patrons: Blue Cheese & Bacon Macaroni & Cheese. If you’d like the recipe, please consider becoming a monthly patron! More recipes, articles and projects posted regularly for folks on my feed.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to what I hope is a long stretch of creative coaching. Getting back in I felt a little rusty, it’s been about ten years since I coached and taught, but it felt good to be getting back in the saddle.
Here’s to many more! Monthly immersion day workshops will be available starting next month. Stay tuned for more information.