The Artist’s Way – Week Two

I’m late with this post this weekend, but I have an excuse. (Ha!) Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. Like so many other Canucks, we celebrated early, then had leftovers for the rest of the weekend. That’s one difference I’ve noticed between US and Cdn Thanksgivings, other than the different dates – Americans are more intent on celebrating on the exact day, while we gather sometime on that particular weekend. Many of us save the actual holiday (Monday) for travelling.

So, are you doing TAW with me? Getting those morning pages done? I find the morning pages quite easy to do and to remember to do. I also find them very effective. They’re a great way to get the clutter out of my mind. I never think there’s that much of it in there until I do pages – and discover just how much more prolific and effective I can be in my day once that clutter is gone.

The weekly artist dates are tougher for me. I wriggle out of that commitment in all of the ways documented in the book as excuses – I say I don’t have time, or I nest the artist’s date together with something else (even call the other errand an artist’s date), or I take someone else along. Meeting a friend for lunch is good, but not an artist’s date! I know all that, and I know how effective the artist date can be, but still I wriggle. My goal this week is to have a real artist date.

How about you? Any challenges, realizations or breakthroughs?

Resonance

Stories that are complete and coherent have a resonance, at least to me. There is something wonderful about a book that leaves no loose ends, a story in which every detail adds up. Every character acts in character in these books, yet their actions aren’t entirely predictable. The plot makes sense, but twists in surprising directions. The style of storytelling is elegant, with the flourishes of a master storyteller. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

This is what I mean by resonance. These carefully crafted stories don’t strike any false notes. In fact, they seem to chime in a perfect tone that indicates everything within them is exactly as it should be. They are the best possible recounting of their particular story.

Over the years, I’ve developed an inner ear for story resonance. Of course, I’d like every single book I write to have this kind of coherence. The problem is that the last perfect idea, the one that pulls everything together and creates resonance, doesn’t always pop into my head on time. Ideas can’t be scheduled. They turn up when they want to – or not. And the ideas that create resonance are particularly evasive. Creative thinking and problem solving dislikes stress – like that created by deadlines – or interference – like that caused by real life. The creative part of the brain likes to play, and find solutions sideways.

This is why the strategies in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way are so helpful. She not only understands sideways thinking, but knows how to encourage it. You need lots of sideways thinking to create books with resonance, so I’m always looking to improve my strategies.

In the past year, I’ve realized that I came up with an adaptive strategy – a compromise, really – to deal with the evasiveness of the ideas that create resonance and the realities of print publishing schedules. When working with a traditional publisher, delivering to deadline is a very important measure of the author’s reliability. Authors who don’t deliver on time might not be offered new contracts. They might have their books rescheduled, or they might be assigned to a more junior editor (who has more time to juggle the author’s perceived unreliability). Because publishers work with so many books and need to keep their production costs down across the board, keeping the schedule in Production is more important than most (if not all) other concerns. There’s a big potential downside to being late, so I’ve always been  very driven to meet deadline.

But what about those evasive ideas? The good thing about traditional publishing schedules is that the delivery for the book is usually twelve months or so before its publication date. The editorial process can easily take six months, albeit at 45 to 60 day intervals. At my most recent publishing house, there was always a revision requested to the ms. That was new to me – at other publishers, revisions were only requested if the delivered book had a serious issue. This house revised everything. So, previously, I had been late once in a while or worked very intensely to deliver a resonant book on time. For this house, once I recognized that this pattern was the rule not the exception, it was easier to deliver on time. I knew there would be the expectation that I’d do a major revision in 45 – 60 days. I would keep thinking about the story and making notes on it while it was on my editor’s desk. In the revision phase, I could make the changes required by all the ideas that had come to me in that waiting period. This was all good.

One of the joys of indie-publishing for me is that I can hold off on publishing a book if it isn’t resonant enough to make me happy. One of the challenges is that I’d forgotten about that compromise solution. I was thinking that I still always delivered a resonant book on time, and that the idea fairies were more biddable than they are.

This calls for a different kind of revision, one to my work schedule!

It’s quite common for a work to be technically complete, but not quite resonant. This happened with KISS OF DARKNESS in March. It was done, but I knew it was missing something. It wasn’t quite right. Because everything in our life was at sixes and sevens, the idea fairies made themselves scarce. I couldn’t focus on the story enough to figure out what it needed, not when my husband was commuting to the hospital to visit his dad. My spring fever binge late last week made a tremendous difference in coaxing the fairies back to work. While I focused on flowers and colour and plants, the creative part of my brain was thinking sideways. Now *ping* Damien’s story has the resonance it needed.

Kiss of Darkness by Deborah Cooke, #9B in her Dragonfire series of paranormal romances

The second Dragon Legion Novella is at the formatter today. Damien’s story will be published very very soon, maybe even later today. 🙂

The revision is to my announcement schedule. I’m needing to leave a little more buffer in my plans to allow the idea fairies to play and resonance to develop. In future, I’m going to give you publication dates when works are much much closer to publication. I’ll still set out a schedule, but that will give me a little wiggle room and keep you from being disappointed that I’m late.

Spring Fever

It’s been looking like spring, finally, around here. (Ironically, this morning, it looks like winter – we had a dusting of fresh snow last night, but I’ve decided it WILL melt. Soon.) It’s been a very dark winter and has felt particularly long to me. There’s also been a lot going on in our lives that has been stressful, so spring is very welcome this year.

The snowdrops are up in the garden and I can see the tips of the hyacinth leaves. The hellebores are sending up flower heads – they’re dark purple when they first come up. They had hellebores on sale at the nursery this past weekend and I bought two new beauties, only to get home and realize that the ground where I want to put them is still frozen. They’ll living on the porch for the moment and don’t seem to mind. The lilacs and the magnolia are in bud, too, and the birds are very chatty.

The poppies have appeared, just small leaves now but enough to relieve me that they’re coming back. We have a zone of self-seeding annual poppies that have bright orange flowers. They don’t look real, actually, but more like those crepe paper poppies people used to make. Each year, they come up, bloom, and die. Each year, I break up the mature seed heads and cast seeds all over the bed. The bed is usually as dry as dust by this point – that’s what they like about it – but each year, I worry that there won’t be any poppies the next year. This is, of course, ridiculous. There are thousands of them out there, and they expand their territory each year. They’re back again, even growing in the paths, so this is very exciting to me.

Because it’s been such a long dark winter, writing has been difficult. All creative endeavors have been difficult. So, spring this year really does offer a burst of energy and opportunity, and I’ve been making the most of it. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron talks about tempting your inner artist with visual and sensory treats. This is a technique which I find very effective. For me, colour is inspiring, so I’ve taken the opportunity to fill the house with colour. There is a bouquet of pink tulips and pink lilies on the kitchen table (they smell heavenly!) and those pink hellebores are sitting patiently on the porch. While at the nursery, I also bought some pansies and primroses. It’s still a bit chilly for them outside, so they’re sitting on a tray on the counter, blooming away. The pansies are all shades of purple and white, while the primroses are yellow, deep blue or cherry red. Mr. Math brought the planter back to the patio and I planted it with some of the pansies and primroses, as well as two orange ranunculus. It’s had to be covered each night, but by the weekend, I’m hoping it will be fine. I’m also knitting a very bright vest. It’s in bulky yarn, so I might be able to show it to you by the end of this week. Next winter, it’ll be my burst of colour and warmth. And because of all of these things, the writing is now flowing along beautifully. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

For now, here’s a self-seeding annual poppy to celebrate spring.

poppy2

Happy Anniversary

This week, one of my assigned exercises in The Artist’s Way is to create a list of creative accomplishments. (This is a variation of a wonderful exercise that Julia Cameron calls the Ta DA! List. Not many of us instinctively make this list – we go with the To Do list – but we should do it.) The timing of this is quite interesting as April is an anniversary for me.

In April 1991, I sold my first book, a medieval romance called The Romance of the Rose to Harlequin Historicals. So, this month is the twentieth anniversary of my first sale.

Just typing those words is astonishing. Twenty years!

And what’s happened in those twenty years? Well, a lot. The most obvious accomplishment is that I’ve written and published forty-five books. There are three more in production for publication this year. (We won’t count the ones that I wrote but which were never sold or published.) I have no idea how many short stories and novellas I’ve written, sold and published. More than a dozen. (Maybe two dozen.)

I’ve written those books under a number of names and in a number of subgenres of romance – medieval, paranormal, contemporary, time travel, fantasy, apocalyptic – as well as paranormal young adult. I’ve written for eight different publishers and have worked with at least fifteen editors, some of them several times. I’ve been with my agent for fourteen years and still think he’s the best in the business.

I’ve been published in trade paperback, mass market paperback and hard cover. I’ve seen my work published in many different languages – German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, and others – as well as in separate UK editions. I have an entire bookcase dedicated to print copies of my books and it’s full. (That, in itself, is astonishing. There are four full shelves of my books in there. Wow.)

I’ve won numerous awards and honours, been nominated for even more awards, routinely made the USA Today bestseller list and have been on the New York Times list of bestselling books. I have seen my books in bookstores and airport kiosks and convenience stores. I have met strangers reading my books (gah! the classic airplane encounter!), and I have heard from readers and fans from all over the world. (That’s good stuff.) I’ve participated in some incredible booksignings and had a lot of great reviews (as well as the inevitable crummy ones). I stopped keeping scrapbooks after filling the fourth one – there’s a whole carton of clippings in the closet in case I ever get around to organizing scrapbooks again. Right now, I have writing to do.

I’ve taught workshops by the bucketful, met hundreds – if not thousands – of other writers, belonged to numerous writing groups, given keynote speeches and attended so many wonderful conferences. In 2009, I was the writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library, which was an awesome experience.

I’ve made good friends in this business, as well as learning a great deal about writing, publishing and storytelling.

It’s quite amazing to look back on these past twenty years, because in many ways, the time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. In another way, I can’t remember ever doing anything else. There certainly is nothing else that I want to do.

And so, please raise your cup of coffee of tea (or whatever!) with me, and salute those books, writers, editors and years. Here’s to the next twenty years! (I’m going to buy another bookcase just to be ready…)

The Artists’ Way – Week Six

I haven’t been posting much about my journey through TAW this time, mostly because I’m not loving it as much as usual. It seems that my being in a happy upbeat place is affecting results – TAW has worked better for me when I’ve been in a creative doldrums. Also, this particular book (Finding Water) focuses on working through a rough spot creatively and follows such a period in the author, Julia Cameron’s, world. I can see that theoretically it could be uplifting to read that her use of the TAW tools helped her to get through this phase, but it’s not working out that way for me. Instead, I find it a bit depressing to discover that those periods never completely vanish from the artist’s life – or at least not from JC’s life. So, I haven’t been quite so diligent about my exercises this time through.

I have, however, been going on my Artist Dates, and this week, we made a roadtrip to visit the goats.

It was time to go to Wellington Fibres, where they raise mohair goats and make yarn out of their fleece. (And yes, I forgot to take my camera. Argh!) This is a trip I like to make each year, but we’ve never been to the farm when the kids were so very young. They were soooooooooo cute! Some were as much as ten days old, and they were bouncing around, climbing on whatever they could (including their moms), and just as curious as could be. They’re almost like puppies, white and clumsy, with little short tails that wag when they’re happy. They also liked to escape from the pens in the barn – the resident dog has the job of cornering them so they can be put back into the pen with their moms.

A pair of twins had been born just several hours before we arrived and one was nipping at her mom’s throat and underside, looking for milk. She found the teat while we were in the barn, gave a bleat of joy and locked on, her tail wagging like crazy. Mom was busy cleaning the other kid. From what I understand, mohair goats tend to have twins, so at WF, there were kids everywhere.

These goats have the most amazing eyes – and they look right into your eyes, as if they can read your thoughts. They’re curious, too.

Their fleece is gorgeous too. Silky soft with a glorious sheen, and it takes colour brilliantly. The shop at WF is like an Aladdin’s Cave, filled with yarns of all different weights and blends of mohair, dyed to wonderful rich colours. Of course, I brought some home – even though I have no shortage of stash.

If ever I was going to have a farm, I’d have mohair goats. No contest.

Have you taken any wonderful field trips lately? Visited any baby goats?

If you had a farm, what kind of critters would you like to raise?

TAW – Week Two

This week’s exercises in my Artist’s Way volume focus on perfectionism. This builds on the concept presented in earlier volumes of TAW of the inner critic or censor, and the notion that the critic (by insisting that nothing is good enough) keeps writers from getting anything done at all. Julia Cameron presents techniques to manage that dissenting voice in your head so that you can actually write new work. The morning pages are one such tool, because many people find the writing of those pages possible because no one will ever read them. Another tool is identifying the voice of your censor – assuming it’s based upon a real critic in your life – and steadily diminishing the influence of some hurtful incident or pattern or person. A third is managing the people in your life, and ensuring that you are surrounded by a positive and supportive circle, instead of a group intent upon keeping you down. The idea here is that the inner critic is created when we are small and are criticized for creating, and that it can be fed by failure and rejection.

What JC doesn’t mention is how the editorial process for the publishing of a book can feed a writer’s inner critic. I see this all the time with the writers I know. The editorial process is supposed to improve a book and polish it a to gleam, but it’s an imperfect process. Sometimes it’s fabulous. Sometimes it’s hell. There’s no way to know for sure before embarking on the voyage.

There’s a good reason for this, and it’s not malice. Most people involved in the publishing of a book want the work to be the best it can be – but they might have different views of how to get there from here. Sometimes editors and authors disagree on the correct direction for the book or for a scene or even for a paragraph. Sometimes criticism is not presented constructively and dispassionately. Sometimes writers are very sensitive and cannot accept any criticism of their work, no matter how useful it might be. And there is always more to be learned, no matter how much we already know. I think it’s human nature to try to learn from the grammatical corrections to a copy edited manuscript, for example, in order to not repeat the error.

But what can happen is that over time, by following this process for book after book after book, an author can become more and more self-critical. That author writes new work at a slower and slower pace, until there is virtually nothing being created. If you allow yourself to stop to check the placement of every comma, for example, and to ensure that every word is spelled correctly, etc., it’s easy to see that progress will be less quick than otherwise. Imagine questioning everything, not just grammar but characterization, dialogue, pacing, setting, story, conflict etc. and doing it all simultaneously. It’s easier for that doubt-filled writer to go and do something else – maybe scale Mount Everest – than to write a single paragraph.

(It’s interesting that while bad reviews will upset a writer, they are less inclined to stop the flow of new work for most writers. Maybe editors at publishing houses are considered to be validated sources of criticism(?) I’m not sure why there’s a difference, but there is.)

The first time this happened to me, it terrified me. I had always written quickly and easily, so to sit at the keyboard and generate nothing was frightening. That was when I found THE ARTIST’S WAY for the first time and I’ve been a devotee ever since. I know a newer writer who is going through this for the first time right now. It’s heartbreaking to watch her question every choice – she probably questions every comma – but I and the others in our group can really only offer encouragement to her. She has to work through the crisis on her own in her own way, because only she can identify the obstacle that is tripping her up. I think that for her it’s the process of publishing which has affected her output, which is why I mention her predicament here. Well-intentioned industry people have tried to make her work more marketable and she has tried to comply. The problem is that the meddling has made her afraid to trust her own instincts in terms of what she wants to write.

I find that there’s a slow build in the power of my inner critic. The drive for perfectionism and the doubt in the work is fed by having to defend every single element of every single manuscript every single time. It’s not that industry don’t have credentials and that they’re always wrong. They quite frequently have a great deal of expertise and insight to share. The defense of the ms – probably like the defense of a thesis – can be an exhausting process and one that leaves the author wondering whether the book has any merit at all. When an author is prolific, or has an aggressive publishing schedule, there’s not enough time to silence the critic before beginning the process anew. Left unchecked, my inner critic would silence me at five year intervals, simply due to the demands of the publishing process.

That’s why I do my morning pages, and work through TAW’s exercises every 12 to 18 months one more time.

Another exercise that often works is similar to the morning pages in that it encourages the free flow of the work. Every author writes some kind of scene easily – murders, sex scenes, battles of wills, whatever. To let yourself write whatever you write best, with the assumption that it’s just an exercise to loosen you up again and will never be read by anyone, often starts the flow again. It sometimes also takes you as a writer into new territory, which is always invigorating to explore.

How well fed is your inner critic? Are you a perfectionist? How do you keep that voice or tendency in check so that you can continue to write?

The Artist’s Way

I’ve been thinking for a while that I was due for another twelve-week journey through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and this weekend, after a writers’ meeting, I pulled out the book and started. I’ve been doing my morning pages even since the last time I worked through the exercises, but lately had started to do my artist dates as well. This is kind of interesting, since I have always found them difficult to plan. I decided that my subconscious was nudging me onward.

The first time that I did TAW, I was blocked creatively and having a hard time putting anything on the page. The exercises opened the flow of my creativity again and made me a believer in Julia Cameron’s process. Since then, I’ve repeated the exercises at regular intervals, often when I feel some stress about my work or have a case of the winter blues. I’ve gotten used to using TAW as a kind of supervitamin for creativity – it’s always recharged me and given me new optimism and energy. This time is quite different – I’m feeling very optimistic both personally and professionally, so am curious to see what difference this attitude makes in my results.

This time, I’m following the exercises in her book FINDING WATER, which (I think) is the third in the series. Its focus is sustaining yourself as an artist for the long term. I’ve never worked through this one and am quite looking forward to it.

And so we begin week #1…feel free to join me, if you’d like!

 

Enough of Winter

Every year, around this time, I get fed up with winter. This year, the feeling seems to be a bit more intense. I’m not sure why as winter has been pretty much a non-event here this year. At any rate, I’m always ready for gardens and flowers and colour at the end of February, and this year is no different.

One of the things I did this year was to start on my Artist Dates again, right after Christmas. (I anticipated this mood!) As many of you know, one of the elements of the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is to take your inner artist on a play date once a week. I tend to fall out of the habit of this, so ensured that I got back to it after the holidays. It always helps, but I always have a lot of inertia about taking the time and getting to it.

A few weeks ago, I made a trek to a quilting store that carries fabrics designed by Kaffe Fassett and Amy Butler. I just love this store and am very glad that it’s not closer to me – I’d be signing over my royalty cheques in advance! It was a beautiful day and I got some wonderful yarn-dyed stripes by KF, which are some of my favorites to work with while quilting.(That’s a big ugly link. I hope it works. If not, go to Westminster Fibres, click on Designer, then Kaffe Fassett, then Wovens. There are more of Amy’s fabrics visible on the Westminster Fibres site, too.)

I have a quilt on the go that is all cheerful chaotic colour and working on that at this time of year is a good things too.

I’m also ready to get out in the garden, get some dirt under my nails, move perennials and rocks, and plant seeds. It’s time for flowers! Since it’s actually a bit early for flowers, I’ll take an artist date to visit a greenhouse somewhere and smell that wet earth. When I lived in Toronto, Allan Gardens was a favorite adventure – look, AG even has a Wiki! I was visiting Calgary once at this time of year and spent a wonderful afternoon at the Devonian Gardens there. (DG has a Wiki, too.) There tend to be a lot of garden shows in my area at this time of year, but I’m less of a fan of those. It seems like I’m paying admission to go shopping – and it’s too early to buy bulbs or plants. (Maybe I should look at the speaker schedule, but I never do.) This year, I’m going to have to hunt around for another greenhouse to visit. I’ll take another day to clean up my pots and sort my seeds, and daydream a bit about this year’s garden.

What about you? Are you ready for spring to arrive? What do you do to get yourself through the last bit of winter?

Happy 2011 – and the Ta DA! List

Happy 2011, everyone, and welcome back to Alive & Knitting. It’s going to be a busy year – many dragons on their way to you – so we should have lots to talk about.

One of the things many of us tend to do at this time of year is create a list of resolutions for the months ahead. Maybe you’ve done yours already. I’ll talk about some of mine tomorrow, but first, here’s something to think about.

Last fall, I did another Artist’s Way program by Julia Cameron, called Walking in the World. One of the exercises in this book that I really liked was the Ta DA! list. You make a list of what you have done, or have accomplished, no matter how small. The idea is that many of us tend to focus on what is not done – the outstanding items on the To DO list – instead of what we’ve accomplished. If you’re like me, and there are always far too many things demanding your attention, the Ta DA! list might be a good exercise for you to try. Mine always ends up much longer than I expect it to be and that tends to energize me to do more. To Do lists and Ta DA! lists seem to complement each other very well.

I suspect that the Ta DA! list might be a particularly good thing to do before making resolutions. So, I’ve taken a moment to make a list of everything I accomplished in the past year. I think this strategy will make me feel more positive than making resolutions usually does – as if I’m building on strengths instead of correcting weaknesses.

Here’s a sample.

My knitting Ta DA! list for 2010 looks like this:
• knit 10 shawls
• gave 4 shawls away
• knit 1 pullover
• knit 2 purses
• knit 2 hats
• knit 7 pairs of socks
• knit 1 cardigan
• knit 5 pairs of mittens or fingerless gloves
• knit 4 tea cozies
• knit and felt 1 messenger bag
• knit 1 starfish, 1 star and 1 beet (but no partridges in pear trees!)
• published four patterns on Ravelry

When I look at that, I can have an idea of how much I can expect to accomplish knitting-wise in the year ahead. Maybe I want to publish more patterns. Maybe I want to knit more sweaters. Maybe I want to manage my stash (ahem), by having a clearer idea of what I actually use. This list, in fact, makes it clear that I shouldn’t buy any yarn for about five years! I may have knit 7 pairs of socks over the year, but I have stash for at least 35 pair – not counting the stripey ones I could make with leftovers bits. So, I’m good on stash until at least 2015. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’ve done the same thing for my writing. I wrote three books and a novella last year, signed three new contracts (for 2 new Dragonfire books and 3 YA books and one digital novella), went to RWA National, taught at NJRWA etc. etc. Looking at what I have done can help me have a better idea of the possibilities.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Tomorrow we’ll talk a bit about resolutions…

A Little Something on the Side

This week I did an exercise from The Artist’s Way and I’ll tell you about that in a minute. First a bit of backstory, in case you aren’t that familiar with the mechanics of the publishing biz. In my zone of the publishing biz – writing fiction – authors are freelance workers who contract with publishers for a certain number of projects, of specified size. So, an author negotiates and signs a contract for – just for example – three linked books, and the deadlines are added into the contract. The author knows she has work for that period of time and knows what it will pay – at least in terms of advances.

A couple of things fall out of this:

1/ Proposals.

Authors “pitch” ideas and proposals to editors. Depending on the author’s track record (in terms of sales) and her relationship with a particular editor, she may have to put more or less of a proposal together. It can range from a synopsis and three chapters – more for a linked trilogy – to a verbal summary over lunch or over the phone. The thing is that editors and publishing houses have a great deal more market information than authors do – they also know what the house has bought recently but which hasn’t been printed yet (remember that the production cycle is roughly a year in duration); what the house is specifically looking for or niches that the house has identified to explore further; and how comparable books have sold in the market. They know what’s hot on a much more immediate basis than authors do. They also may have specific ideas of how an author’s career can be built, or see specific strengths in the author’s work that they’d like to emphasize.

The upshot of all of this is that not every idea an author pitches is sold. I’ve been at this for almost 19 years, and I have a file box – one of those ones the size of a box for 10 reams of paper – full of file folders with proposals that never sold. A lot of these were only ever pitched to one editor, the one I was working with at the time.

2/ End points.

Publishing contracts are finite deals, usually extending over a year or two. Although they have an option clause to leave the door open to the future, the author can always see the end point of the deal, which is when she/he will technically be out of work.

In an ideal universe, at the end of the contract, the publishing house is so excited about the books and has done such a good job of selling the ones that have already been printed, that they immediately offer to buy more similar books from the author, for a higher advance. But this isn’t a gimme. It’s also not a gimme that the author and editor will work well together, or that the market will stay the same, or that everyone at the publishing house will stay put, or that the house’s marketing focus will be the same, or that the author will want to continue to write these kinds of books. The fairly short term contract serves everyone in a rapidly changing business like publishing, even with its built-in uncertainty. Publishing is uncertain by its very nature – these contracts ensure that everyone is nimble.

One of the things I have learned to do is to keep one eye on that Out Of Work date, and plan for the unexpected. If all goes well, the plan is unnecessary, but it makes me feel as if I have a kind of insurance if I have a back-up plan.

And now we get to the exercise in The Artist’s Way. I guess that many businesses in which people earn a living with creative work are similar in terms of this short term commitment. For this exercise, Julia Cameron suggests going through all of one’s rejected projects – because the truth is that if the proposal didn’t sell, it was rejected, even if the rejection was very nicely done – and reconsider their merit. Often an idea has been filed away because one person didn’t find it appealing. That’s not exactly a consensus! Over the past two weeks, I pulled out that file box and went through all of the proposals neatly filed away there. I pulled out a couple that looked particularly promising, and this week I read them again. There was some good stuff in there, and I got quite excited about one partial in particular.

3/ The Spec Book.

This TAW exercise dovetails neatly into my own back-up plan. I always am working on a project that is not contracted to be published. I work on it on days when I’m stuck in terms of the manuscript in process, or when I’m waiting to hear back from my editor on something, or when I just want to play. My spec book is always in a different genre than what I am contracted to write. In a sense, it’s where I can play. This is healthy for writers, as the business of publishing can make you forget why you loved writing in the first place. A spec book helps me to keep connected to the joy. I don’t owe it to anyone. No one has any input on it. It might never be published so I can break whatever rules I want and do whatever I want with it. That’s very liberating.

It’s also provides that kind of insurance, in case the ideal doesn’t happen when my contract is fulfilled. If the market changes, as it can, and – for example – shapeshifter novels aren’t selling anymore, then I have another idea ready to go. Maybe I’ll even have an entire book ready to go if/when that happens. (This is where FALLEN came from, btw. It was an idea I was playing with, my spec book, when the historical market went flat.)

In going through these old proposals this week, I found that one which I liked a lot, and which has moved back into my office. I love the idea and the writing, and reading it again got me all excited about it one more time.

So, I have a new spec book to play with, on those in-between days. Who knows what will come of it? But I’m having fun writing it and I like knowing that it’s there, in the back of my mind and on the corner of my desk.