Back at the end of February I had a major mental shift: an upswing, where suddenly the fog cleared and I felt like I could function. I worked to do a LOT in that last weekend of February, at home, at work, and personally with my writing, etc. I got a tenuous handle on my ‘adult’ things: appointments, catching up with things I need to reply to, scheduling, that sort of thing. And one of the major things I wanted to do was speak with my doctor at my mid-March appointment about the potential for adult ADHD.
I’m very fortunate to have a doctor who truly listens and doesn’t dismiss concerns. She understands that her patients know themselves best. She’s empathetic. She’s sympathetic. She’s not bent on getting patients in and out–she wants to listen and treat them, and for that I’m grateful. When I moved eight years ago, I still kept her and drive an hour to see her because it’s worth it. I felt comfortable raising my concerns.
We talked, and because I don’t have a history (because I always did really well in school–never mind the all-nighters and procrastination and daydreaming and scattered thoughts) my teachers never raised a concern. I figured that’s just how I operated, that I worked well under pressure. Lately I’ve started to realize that working well under pressure is just a great cover for my anxiety. I shared this with her, and an actual diagnosis would take a workup with a psychiatrist if I wanted to try a stimulant-based prescription. However, before that, she suggested I try Wellbutrin in addition to my other depression medication.
I’ve gone from
No, I didn’t dye my hair–that’s not the difference. The difference is in three weeks I haven’t been as scattered. I don’t lose swathes of time staring or scrolling. I get things done around the house more efficiently. I balance my work tasks, reading, writing, gaming, parenting, etc. I don’t get as irritable as quickly, and I don’t dwell on what’s irritating me. Most importantly, the other night husband looked at me and said, “You’ve been a lot happier these last two weeks.”
My brain has stopped fighting itself. It lets me focus on what’s important, on what I want to be doing. I’ve read some books; I’ve connected with friends; I’ve gotten appointments scheduled and kept. I haven’t been impulse buying. I’m not stressed over my writing, and feel like I can be creative when I want and need to be. I can use my planner, rather than having it stare at me accusingly! Checklists work again. As for the side effects, so far all I’ve noticed was yesterday I was dizzy from it for the first time (I knew it could happen). The best way I can describe it is all the spinny-spin without any of the drinky-drink!
I’m excited about things again. There’s promise. The fog has lifted, and it’s going to be a beautiful day.
Writing is often considered a solitary task. We hear “writer” and think of the lonely author, pale and skinny in their attic garret, candle burning low, fingers stained with ink (or, Jo in Little Women whenever she starts writing a book). Some people do like the solitary aspect of it, and find that going away from it all to work on writing is peaceful… unless you end up like the guy in The Shining. But in reality, most writers really need other writers. We need eyes that haven’t stared at the same paragraphs and pages for hours on end. We need feedback about what’s not working… and feedback about what is. We need other people who struggle the same way we do, who understand it, who can support us… and whom we can support. In short, we need friends.
The other night I was privileged to have the opportunity to have a buddy writing session with Yolandie Horak, author of The Fall of the Mantle series. Her first two books, A Study of Ash and Smoke and A Trial of Sparks and Kindling are both really well crafted with memorable characters and intricate plots. We’re both fans of the Dragon Age series, and both members of Skolion; we’ve chatted quite a bit via Messenger, and we’ve both had a lot going on lately, so we thought, “why not?”
There is absolutely no answer to that question! It was a fantastic night. Once I got my tech issues sorted with my headset (I usually use my headset so there’s no background noise from my space heater or my obscenely loud typing!), we were off and running! Yolandie is a wonderful individual, and we were able to bounce from discussing writing, to art, to fandom, to Dragon Age, back to writing, back to Dragon Age. We discussed the rough parts we were having with our current works in progress. We chatted about sources of inspiration and favorite characters, and even our favorite characters in our own work. We confessed our anxieties about setting it up in the first place!
I think one of the best parts was speaking with someone so like-minded about so much, and feeling at ease discussing my writing and writing journey. She and other Skolion writers and friends have blazed the trail ahead, so I’m not walking alone. I could have been intimidated knowing I was about to spend some time chatting with a published author whose work I admire, but Yolandie made it super easy, and at the end, I think we both had accomplished something we were trying to work on. She got some work done on a chapter she wanted to finish, and I got a short story set in the Ungifted world completed (just the first draft. Stay tuned for more info on that). And when I had to turn in for the night, we planned to do it again. I’m so excited!
If you’re thinking of getting down some words with friends, here are some recommendations:
Don’t be nervous! If you and the other writer are agreeing to have an online writing session, chances are good that you both want to do it, so don’t be super nervous.
Discuss and agree upon time and platform (Zoom, Meet, Skype, etc).
You can chat about how you want it to go ahead of time, or when you start the session. Will it be just silent writing, with accountability on the other end? Or are you open to conversation? Yolandie and I just sort of went for it, and were both relatively relaxed enough to let things happen organically. Once we got over the initial anxiety!
If you’re not sure how to have things go, try sprints! Set an agreed upon time, then just write as much as you can as fast as you can until it’s over.
Consider what else you may have going on. I definitely needed to wait until Smol Human was asleep because he’s SO curious and loves seeing himself on camera!
Our writing session the other night provided me with encouragement and accountability, plus it was just really nice to speak with someone beyond typing over Messenger! Yolandie was so gracious and really encouraging, and I felt really energized about my work after we spoke. Looking forward to doing it again!
I don’t really remember the last time I posted; it may have been December, for Dragon Age Day. Time has gotten away from me; it tends to do that anyway, but in the strange hellscape that was 2020, it happened even more. Changing the year to 2021 did not magically reset everything. Not that I expected it to! But at least it meant that even 2020 could end (and could be–wait for it–hindsight!) and that a new year could mean new hope.
I’m not one for resolutions; I don’t like setting myself up for failure. The best year was the year I decided I was going to resolve not to do things, because then I wouldn’t feel like I’d failed when I didn’t do something. Reverse psychology, right? But that gets me to thinking. The pandemic has been tough in a lot of ways, and the mental health toll is just one. This past year, working from home with a special needs pre-schooler turned kindergartner, who was also home for a lot of it, had me seriously evaluating some of my mental health more than usual.
Major changes tend to bring out my depression/anxiety more. Starting full-time teaching when I was in my mid-twenties triggered constant panic attacks that eventually led me to being diagnosed with depression/anxiety disorder. I managed pretty well with medication, and have for the most part. I still have some trouble with focus and procrastination though. I love a planner… if I can remember to use it. I love project management theories and tools… if I can remember to use and apply them. Organizational hacks? Fun! If I can recall where I put things or why I set it up in the first place.
I liken my mind this past year to an Internet Explorer window with about 25 tabs open; one is playing music. Another is trying to play a video. I’m not sure which tab is doing which, and I’m trying to catch up all the time. I have a dozen projects I want to start and a dozen more I have started, but haven’t finished. What’s for dinner? Did I make that appointment? I had a list somewhere. What was that? Sorry, I was daydreaming, missed that!
Looking back this isn’t new; it’s a pattern I can trace back to grade school. And I was a horrible procrastinator in high school. I managed decently in college, but took on so much that I kept myself constantly busy, coped by pushing myself and not giving myself the opportunity to fall into some of those patterns. For the most part. Keeping up that coping strategy for the first three years of college took a toll, which I realized when I discovered Lord of the Rings my senior year of college, and that was that for the rest of my undergrad career.
Which brought me to my other pattern: hyperfixation. I can also look back and track obsessive periods: original Legend of Zelda, Edward Scissorhands, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dragon Age, MCU Captain America and especially Bucky/Winter Soldier (and still Dragon Age)… things that captivated me and demanded my attention. And then in 2018 I started writing Sneakthief, and had many hyper phases on that. And there was that time in 2011 when I was SO into Mass Effect 2 that I played all weekend and forgot to do progress report grades. Oops.
So while I’m thinking of it I’m going to speak more with my PCP about the likelihood of something else besides my depression/anxiety–something that plays well with the two. Medication helps the depression part of it, but that hyperfixation tendency is still there, the fractured thinking is still there, feeling of just KNOWING I need to do a thing, but just. Can’t. MAKE MYSELF do it is still there. Like I said, I love a good checklist… when I remember to make it.
While I’m thinking of it I’m going to do as much as I can during this current mental upswing. I already finished the Sneakthief 5.0 edit, already sent it to a friend for editing. I did groceries, and some frozen meal prep. I booked a vet appointment for my geriatric cat (17.5 years!) and made a note to call for another appointment at another doc for myself. I completed a beta read, and remembered to get cash to repay a friend, and finally wrote out those postcards from an exchange I’d joined up with back at Christmas. I’m taking tomorrow off (it’s my birthday!) and planning a few errands, as well as creating some backlog of content so I can have stuff when I’m not quite so “up” in the future–and I know that will happen.
I don’t post this to be proud of all I got done, but so I can remember the circumstances around it all. That I was in a downward trend as far as focus, productivity, etc. went, and then something clicked and I was able to think (also did not feel the urge to make any crazy impulse purchases recently, another thing that I find myself doing when I’m down). I post to remind myself to take advantage of these moments ‘while I’m thinking of it’. And because I know I’m not alone, and if it hadn’t been for a friend blogging about her strategies for working with her brain rather than against it, I don’t think this weekend could have happened the way it did.
With everything I hope to do with Sneakthief and The Ungifted Series as a whole, I’m going to need to take advantage of these moments of clarity. At least I’m starting to recognize them for what they are, so, while I’m thinking of it, I’m going to go try and get some more stuff done.
In many ways, my life started over in the spring of 2011.
I was three years out of an emotionally abusive relationship that left me questioning my worth, abilities, talents… everything. I was two years out from finishing my MFA, and the two years of that program, while amazing, were intensive and overwhelming and left me feeling burned out creatively. I was one year out from having purchased my XBox 360, and starting to rediscover my love of gaming. And it was that spring I was loaned a copy of BioWare’s Mass Effect.
Mass Effect engaged me in a way Halo and Left4Dead had not. While I loved the world and character of Halo, and quickly learned what it was to be in fandom again, the storytelling, characters, and world of Mass Effect engaged me completely. That particular semester, I had an end of day study hall duty that happened to be comprised mostly of gamers. We had great discussions about gaming, and at one point, a student, knowing my love of fantasy, suggested I’d like Dragon Age, since it had a lot of the same elements as Mass Effect. So I borrowed it. And it was just medieval Mass Effect.
Except… NOPE. It was so much more.
In very little time I was fully immersed in the Blight-stricken land of Ferelden, and terms such as “The Maker”, “Ostagar”, “Orzammar”, “Circle of Magi”, “Andraste”, and “Tevinter” (eventually the most important of those!) became familiar. I fell into the plight of Ferelden and got to know Fianna Cousland, my Grey Warden, better than any character I’d ever worked with before. Her romance with Alistair (the first time I ever played) happened slowly, but also suddenly. It came unexpectedly, as did the relationships she forged with her companions. I was shocked when Zevran betrayed her in a back alley later in the game because I didn’t understand approval ratings. I struggled through the endlessness that was the Fade because I didn’t yet understand BioWare’s penchant for puzzles. I slogged through the Deep Roads because I didn’t yet know how much BioWare loves tormenting us (it’s okay, BioWare, I still love you).
I initially told Morrigan no way in the void was she going to sleep with Alistair. And then watched Riordan fall from Fort Drakon and realized Alistair or Fianna would have to kill the Archdemon, and reset to an earlier save.
In subsequent playthroughs I learned more about the mechanics and how to spec characters and build rapport so my team stuck with me. But a funny thing happened. I’d been so burned out creatively, but Dragon Age woke something up in me. These realized characters in this amazing world with its deep lore fascinated me so much, that I wanted to write about them. I hadn’t wanted to write in years, and, having received my MFA, figured if I did ever write again, it would have to be serious original fiction.
Fuck that. I wrote my first Dragon Age fic, “Beautiful Prison”, in June of 2011. It was a short bit about Alistair waiting to be recruited by Duncan. He tells your Warden the story in conversation, but I wanted to see the scene through his eyes, feel the tension in his mind.
Writing that piece felt like waking up to a new world. Possibly coming out of Uthenera, to use another DA word from their Dalish Elvehn culture. The words didn’t stop flowing. I needed an outlet and found a Facebook group dedicated to Alistair. I started finding friends to talk about DA with. I started crafting Dragon Age-themed things: from painting canvas shoes, to a fun little alphabet scrapbook, to my first ever cosplay, for PAX East 2012, where I got to meet the Dragon Age creative team. I met my best friend, who invited me to play D&D with her family and some friends.
A lot of people may scoff at the idea that a video game could change my life, especially when I was already in my thirties when I stumbled up on it. But through Dragon Age I branched out. I found a new friend group. Luna (BFF) invited me to her group’s annual Christmas party, where I met extended friends who weren’t in our D&D campaign. It felt nice to branch out and be creative. It felt nice to be social in different ways (though I totally loved my cats and my apartment, and did really enjoy going out with my work friends). But at that party, in walked my husband.
He wasn’t my husband then. Of course. Bard was one of the first to arrive after me. He was tall with dark hair and wide brown eyes and an adorable smile. We hit it off immediately and spent the next week chatting on Facebook. By March we were dating. By that July, 2012, we were engaged. By July 2013, we were married. In that time I kept writing, producing DA fanfic and articles for a DA fan site. I kept learning new cosplay skills and developing new D&D characters. Luna and I hung out a lot, and how cool was it that I got to move down the street from my best friend?
Much has happened in those intervening years: several PAX Easts are in the book, I have a sprawling Dragon Age headcanon with a huge series of fanfiction following my Inquisitor (Inqusition’s 2014 release changed even more!). I live down the street from Luna, and have made more friends through DA. I’ve tapered off my cosplaying some, but retain the skills I learned through sewing for it. Oh, I have a kid! In 2015 Bard and I welcomed our Smol Human. He started kindergarten this month.
And I’m still writing. In 2018 I got the confidence to try writing original again, taking inspiration from Dragon Age, Skyrim, and other games. I’m working on my series and loving it. Though I don’t always have a lot of time to work on it, I’m not overwhelmed or feeling disappointed or burned out by it. I’m creating again, I’m working with fantastic authors, and I feel alive in a way I didn’t before picking up Dragon Age: Origins in 2011.
Earlier this month, BioWare released a teaser trailer confirming work on DA4 and the fandom went wild. It’s been six years since Inquisition, and to finally have more news (than just Solas’s voiceover with a graphic) sent us into an uproar. With that, I decided it was high time I booted up Origins once again and revisited Ferelden. Bard asked me if I’d play a different character and make different choices this time.
I see the appeal. But I wanted that feeling of coming home, of the Blight bringing people together, of waking up after a long sleep and coming to life again. I wanted to go back to where it started. Back not just to Origins, but the origin of where the last nearly 10 years have brought me, and that means playing Fianna’s story.
I’ve been at work on the Ungifted series since early 2018. In that time Sneakthief has gone through four drafts (I’m on the fifth) and I have three drafts of Turncoat and lots of ideas for the next two books. But one thing I’d never done was organize all my thoughts about the world. I’d never really built it.
In a sense, I felt like I was discovering a lot as I went, which is kind of the hallmark of a pantser, and I make no secret that I’m a pantser to the highest degree. That worked for general plot, and for the characters, as I got to know them, but didn’t work so well for actually building my world and making it a unique place. The problem I found was that I couldn’t settle on an organizational system.
I have friends who swear by Scrivener. I tried Scriv, and its free counterpart Y Writer, when I was using a primarily Windows-based PC laptop. I just couldn’t seem to figure it out, or make it work for me the way I needed it to. I have friends to use Excel or Google Sheets (and my husband swears by Excel. You could say he excels at it. I’ll see myself out). I got a small binder with dividers and pages, and tried organizing it that way. Helpful, but still not what I needed. Maybe I’d just keep it all in my head and hope for the best.
The Essential Worldbuilding Blueprint and Workbook was exactly what I needed to answer the questions my beta reader had posed and the advice they’d given me. The first section of the book discusses the different elements of worlds and worldbuilding, and things that must be considered when doing so. It’s structured to work for most speculative genres, including high fantasy, sci-fi, and urban fantasy. It covers everything from how to develop a planet, down to the legal systems of your world. And the best part is, you can pick and choose what works for you. What do you need to develop?
This is where part two comes in: an extensive collection of worksheets that ask the questions I didn’t even consider, or thought might have obvious answers, but didn’t. Again, you can use the worksheets that you need for your particular project. I spent quite a bit of time going through the worksheet section and filling in the gaps of my world, down to means of production, travel, and trade. And again, the aim of the worksheets isn’t for you to complete everything, but to do what you need for your project.
“But Jay, if you did the worksheets, aren’t you going to have to buy a whole other book when your next project comes up?”
Scribe Forge offers the hard copy book, or digital download, or a combo of the two. In this way you have the ability to work with fresh worksheets for new projects. I personally need to physically write stuff out, and I don’t have printer capabilities right now, so having the book was really helpful. But, I have the digital copy in case I want to find a way to print up fresh sheets. I’m a fan of options, and I’m glad that Scribe Forge had them! Additionally, there was a disclaimer that it could take up to 4-6 weeks to ship, however I think I had my hard copy in a week and a half or so. The digital piece was ready at the time of purchase, however, which was great!
Overall, for me, building my world required having the right tools, and it took me some time to figure out what that meant. In the end, it took Scribe Forge’s product to help me organize the information my beta reader recommended I include. It may not be for everyone, but if you’ve been working on worldbuilding and struggling with where to start, or finding a system to organize your thoughts or even force you to dig deeper into your world, I’d recommend this.
This post is not sponsored by Scribe Forge in any way; I have just really enjoyed using their product and felt it to be extremely helpful, and want to pass on why it’s worked for me.
So I didn’t wake up this morning and go outside; I took some deep breaths, but didn’t get real high… but I thought I’d just take some time to say what’s going on in these parts!
Between COVID-19 and the the hard work that’s been going on for Black Lives Matter, there’s a lot that’s going on in the world. Our state has mostly opened up; life is starting to look simultaneously the same but very different. I’ve been spending more time educating myself on racism, listening to and reading Black voices, and looking at what I can and should be doing in myself and in my community to promote equality and squash racism.
I’ve been teaching two classes on top of my full-time day job; one of them is creative writing, and I’ve taken a very different approach to how it had previously been taught. It’s been really eye-opening and my students have impressed me with how eager they are to push outside of their comfort zone and learn to trust themselves and the process. I’m teaching it again come summer term, so I’m working on updating the class to be taught in 10 weeks, rather than 12.
Sneakthief is now with my beta team! I’m hoping just one more pass before I send it to my editor at SKOLION. I should be diving into edits on Turncoat, but that’s stalled a bit–which is fine! I’m kind of picking away at another Dragon Age fic that I started a while back, and my GreedFall fic needs updating and finishing; I’m about 2/3 through that one.
I commissioned a render of Nicholas!
And with that, I’ve learned about artbreeder.com, where you can merge images to create portraits! By combining many features, you can create portraits… and I have created my whole cast. Oops. I’m thinking of starting to post the images and short character bios in the Ungifted section of the site!
I’m enrolled in Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course, and am hoping to up my promotion game and improve my platform starting this summer. I mean, I know it’s summer as of today, but yeah. I want to finish up my work with my classes, organize myself a bit better, and then figure out my aims and what’s realistic for me.
I know newsletters are a good way to do things; if I were to do a newsletter, what might people like to see? I’m thinking just once a month, and providing content that my audience might enjoy. Drop a comment to let me know what sounds good!
Finally, I got a simple Kindle e-reader; Smol Human gets the Fire, and now I have a device just for reading–it’s great since I get easily distracted. I finished Yolandie Horak’s A Study of Ash and Smoke, and was blown away by how GOOD it is. You can read my Goodreads review here.
So that’s what’s going on in my corner of the world… what’s been occupying your time?
As an author, I constantly have images going through my mind: what my characters look like, how my world looks, how my characters look in that world… you get the idea. Mental images are cobbled together from the many references I’ve stored up in my mind over the years. For settings, that’s not really an issue. But for characters, it’s another story (no pun intended)
Sneakthief started with a character: the Sneakthief. I had a vague idea of him: his role, his talents, etc. It literally came from playing a sneaky archer thief in Skyrim (I know I know… but is there any other way to play?) and a guard said, “Hands to yourself, sneakthief.” And it all began to spiral from there.
Once I had the general idea of the character, more started falling into place: his background, his place in the world, his relationships, his desires, his fears, his looks.
Theodore Tolliver has lived in my head for over two years now, and I’ve always been able to generally describe him. I’ve had to, since I’m writing his stories! But I’m not an artist, and lack the abilities to craft a visual representation of the character.
Enter Verfallen. Also known as Schattenriss on Archive of Our Own, Verfallen is a talented author, as well as super talented with Photoshop and most recently, Daz 3D. He opened up a Ko-fi this week and has commissions open, so how could I pass up the opportunity to bring Theodore Tolliver, my Sneakthief, to life?
Theo, as he appears in Sneakthief. A little roguish, a little younger, longer hair, just doing the best he can.
Theo in Turncoat. He’s seen some shit by this point, chopped a lot of his hair off (though not all… but I saw a model of him with no hair and he looked pretty good, so we’ll see what happens!) He’s had enough of being controlled, and he’s about to start fighting back.
I can’t really explain what it’s like to see my character come to life like this. He’s not just a description anymore. And when I write him, I’ll have an even clearer picture of what he looks like in mind.
If you’re looking to get a render of your character(s), I really can’t say enough about working with Verfallen. He’s put a lot of time into getting models and renders of his own character, Kai, down perfectly, so he understands what it’s like to want to see your beloved character come to life.
Some years just stand out as being big years: transformative years, that mold you and shape you. 2001 was one such year: I went through what was, at the time, a traumatic break-up; I made the choice to live on campus over the summer, and work for a publishing company (it was data entry for EBSCO, so no visions of glamorous publishing internships in Boston, plz). 9/11 was months on the horizon. And in between working and figuring out who I was and what I wanted, I decided to go skydiving.
It was something I’d always wanted to do, and when the opportunity presented itself, I eagerly accepted. I won’t go into the whole day (which I remember so clearly). What’s important here is when I finally got up in the plane. I was doing a tandem jump. They’d assured us that if we got to the drop zone and didn’t want to jump, we didn’t have to. Everyone ahead of me slid up the bench to the doors. We slid up until I was staring into nothing but sky. My pro asked, “Are you ready?”
In that moment I could hold back. I could stay in a perfectly good airplane that would set me safely back on solid ground. I’d never know what clouds tasted like. There would be no refunds. I stared out at the infinite sky above and all around, and the ground, 14,000 feet below. “I’m ready.”
It still ranks as one of the best things I’ve ever done.
This weekend I had another ready moment. While it’s not quite as sweeping as jumping out of an airplane, it’s still a huge leap outside of my comfort zone and the next step of what has been a very transformative couple of years for me. This weekend I pressed ‘send’ on the first group of chapters for Sneakthief’s beta team.
And today I got back a first round of feedback, and I have to say, it’s all WONDERFUL. It doesn’t make me feel daunted, and afraid of going back. I’ve put a lot of work into the writing and rewriting, and feedback is only going to make it better. I’m super excited to delve into the next round of edits based on feedback… and this is just from one person.
That jump in 2001 showed me that I could do it. That risks were worth taking, and I was strong enough to take them. I took a huge leap of faith in 2019, and it turned into more than I could have expected, and it’s empowered me to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and publish a book. And with all the help I’m getting, it’s going to be a good book.
Maybe pressing ‘send’ isn’t jumping out of a plane, but it’s out of my comfort zone, and instead of being nervous or wracked with anxiety that makes me sick, I’m excited, because it can only improve my work. And that’s so worth it.
First off, a confession: I’ve never seen a full episode of Spongebob Squarepants. It came out at that strange time of my life when I had just started college, and we didn’t have cable TV, let alone streaming (it was the dark times, the old times). But I’m familiar enough with it, and feel like I speak memes and gifs as another language. Still, if I don’t know the exact source material, does that make me a real fan of the meme?
Okay, so that was a bit of a stretch to get into this. But I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is to be a Real Writer. A real anything, really. Thinking back to Pinocchio, what did it mean for him to be a real boy? When he could talk, he wasn’t real; when he had no strings, he wasn’t real… what did that weird Blue Fairy do to make him Real? For the Velveteen Rabbit, only true love made it real, and it was Real only after it had been rubbed raw, hugged to pieces, stuffing coming out of burst seams. So it seems like there’s definitely something to say about experience (and not all of it pleasant) feeding into being this idea of Real.
The other night I found a tweet from someone who’d joined an area writers’ group. This was her tweet
Fifteen thousand words a month. Anything less than that means you’re not a real writer. You don’t take it seriously enough. If you can’t crunch out fifteen thousand words each month, you’re not a real writer and are unwelcome among this group of writerly paragons. I’ve done NaNoWriMo in years past, and that’s 50,000 words, but that’s one month, and those haven’t been the healthiest months to be honest. A lot of people plan very carefully to get those fifty thousand down. They clear schedules, make outlines, do sprints, set daily goals. And in non-NaNoWri-Mos, they probably do similar things, but at such a pace that’s more sustainable. The years I successfully completed NaNoWriMo were years when I was teaching, and when you’re teaching, November is full of days off that I totally used to maximize my word vomit. But those were the years I was single with cats. My time was my own to do with what I pleased, and I was pleased to stay up til all hours writing a novel.
I spent a lot of years wondering what it meant to be a real writer. I always enjoyed writing, and it was always a big part of me. When I finished college and came home I discovered the myriad ways the internet could connect me with fandom. I discovered fanfiction. I wrote fanfiction. It was an outlet with zero pressure.
But it also had a fair amount of derision directed at it. Arguments include that it’s derivative (as if Paradise Lost wasn’t?), it’s the mark of a weak writer, it’s lazy, there’s no quality control. It’s a waste of time. Fanfiction will always be a source of disagreement. Sure, there’s poor quality work out there, but there’s also really well-written work. There’s also the point that fanfiction should not be making money off of a pre-existing work, and if you can’t make money writing, are you even a Real Writer?
I really wanted to be a Real Writer, so I decided maybe I would get my MFA. I’d write a book. I’d learn more about the craft. I’d work with other writers. I’d be real.
Much like that strange time gap I experienced with Spongebob, I entered into my MFA when emphasis was still on traditional publishing, complete with querying agents nonstop and signing with houses. We were encouraged to query. Our advisory board was comprised of agents, editors, and publishers, and it was a great experience. But the metric for being a real writer still fell heavily in favor of the traditional route. Self-publishing existed, but there were no gates to ensure quality, so why would anyone go that route? Real writers queried until their fingers bled and read rejections until their eyes were raw and their hearts were stone.
Are you even a real writer if you don’t put that work in? If you can’t write 15,000 words a month, can’t query ad infinitum (wait–do those 15,000 words include the number of words in your queries and accompanying synopses?)… If you have a job that’s not writer? If you have a family? If you have shhh… other hobbies?
I spent a couple of years after finishing grad school just sort of… meh about writing. My thesis novel needed some more work, but I didn’t know what kind of work, wasn’t sure where to find another group of writers to work with, and was really just burned out on that particular story. But I had no other ideas for other stories, and that’s where I think I started feeling like maybe this idea that I could be a writer was a silly dream. And at least my school district considered my MFA and I got bumped up the pay scale. Or as bumped as you can get in that district. I drifted. People asked how my writing was going, and it just wasn’t. Forget 15,000 words a month, I wasn’t getting 1500. Or 15.
In the end, it was Dragon Age that saved me. Okay, that’s dramatic. But Dragon Age has done a lot of good for me, and in this case it was no different. In 2011, after two years of not writing, I finished Dragon Age: Origins and was so taken with the world and the characters and the story that I wrote. I wrote fanfiction. I posted it. I started writing more and posting more. And more than that? I stopped caring if I was a real writer or not. I was just writing, and that was all that mattered.
It was healing, in a way (as I discovered during a 3am chat with Schattenriss the other night when Smol Human decided we needed to get up and sit, screaming, on the living room couch from 3-5am, and we were discussing the Writers’ Group from Hell tweet). With DA fanfiction, for the first time in a very long time I was writing because I loved it. Because I enjoyed what I was doing. I was writing for the sake of writing. I was improving my craft and experimenting with style and voice and creating stories for characters I loved, and I was doing it because I wanted to. Maybe some months I churned out thousands of words, I don’t know; I didn’t really keep track, to be honest. There was freedom to write for the sake of it, and it was a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time.
It’s been over ten years since I finished my MFA, and I’m not published (yet). I’ve written copious amounts of Dragon Age fanfiction, and I have no regrets. I have a family, including a wild Smol Human who is a wonder to watch grow (and a handful and a half, but he’s still amazing). I have a job I love. I definitely don’t have the ability to commit to 15,000 words every single month. Some months I’m churning out the words, and others I’m revising and editing. Still others I have other things going on and am lucky if I get significant writing done at all. Am I any less of a real writer?
I don’t think so. Everyone has a different pace and different path toward reaching their goals. For some it may be 15,000 words a month, but to impose that upon everyone who wants to write with you, and worse, to insinuate that if they can’t or don’t want to do that, they’re less of a writer or don’t take writing seriously enough?
Well, that’s when I suppose Spongebob memes are going to have to suffice, because dignified responses just won’t cut it. They’ll also be less than 15,000 words long.
It’s been just over a week since I got word about Sneakthief, but it’s been a good several days nonetheless. I thought that the ultimate decision to reject the MS would kill my confidence, but if anything, I feel even better about my trajectory as a writer! Part of that is the support I’ve found in the writers’ group I belong to, another part of it is the support and encouragement of good friends and family. And another part of it is just… me! I feel like the experience helped me grow and develop, and I feel like what I have is on its way to being good enough to show the world.
The house I submitted to titles their open submission period “Open the Doors”, and overall, that’s what this did for me. Not only do I have an open door there now, for future potential projects outside of the Ungifted Series, but, and this is my super big exciting announcement…
I’ve joined the authors’ collaborative Skolion! Many of the members of Skolion are part of the Facebook group I joined a couple years back. Their founding member, the talented Nerine Dorman, encouraged me to take a step outside of fanfiction, join the FB group, and even submit to the Open the Doors submission call. Her writing is just gorgeous, and so is everything by everyone else that works through Skolion. Joining up gives me the opportunity to beta read, edit, and work with many talented authors and artists.
Other story ideas are starting to work their way into my brain as well! I’m considering overhauling and rewriting my contemporary fantasy that I worked on for my MFA thesis over ten years ago, and I have other ideas based on Romantic era poetry, which is some of my favorite material in all of literature. I’m connecting with Luna, my BFF, to do a little work with How I Nerd.
I’m over 12k words into Scapegoat’s first draft, and ready to start Sneakthief 4.0, which will, I think, be much better in how it connects the other books together. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise that it didn’t get picked up as-is, and start the revising/editing process for mass publishing. That’s an opportunity for which I’m grateful! I’m excited by the prospect of what it can become as a result; sometimes the thought of rewriting is dreadful. It’s like when you finish sewing something and realize it’s wrong, so you have to get the seam ripper out and start in on it, snapping the threads that are in the wrong places, while not damaging the pieces themselves, salvaging what you can. But in this case, it’s more altering what exists; adding trimming where necessary, maybe replacing one part with nicer materials (I like this analogy; maybe next I’ll write about remaking one of my favorite cosplays…)
But yes. Many opportunities are presenting themselves, and I feel excited about it all. I don’t feel anxious (about this anyway!), and I feel validated. I feel like part of something. I don’t feel like doors closed; they opened, and opened to more doors! So here’s to being open to opportunity, both in seeking it out, and accepting it when it presents itself. Here’s to opening the doors.