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February 2017

Calling It Quits

Recently, I did something that was incredibly difficult for me. I pulled the plug. I gave up. I walked away from something I’d put a lot of time and effort into.

That’s right. I trashed a work in progress.

To give you a little bit of background, I’m a (very, very) slightly reformed pantser who used to trash manuscripts all the time. I’d get excited about the premise for a project, pound out twenty thousand words or so, then realize there was no conflict and no point and get distracted by the next shiny idea dangling in front of my face.

That all changed a few years ago when I finally threw up my hands and recognized that I needed at least a liiiiitle bit of a plan in place before I started a project. Beginning to do some very basic outlining helped me ensure that a plot bunny had some depth to it—enough to get me to the end of it, at any rate.

The difference was immediate and dramatic. I started six projects and finished six projects. Everything was going great.

Then I had a kid.

My little bundle of joy is the light of my life, and for a few months there, she was also the destroyer of productivity and concentration. Desperate to get my writing career back on track in her wake, I started a new document. Something short and light. Something sexy and fun.

Something with no plan.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well. As will probably surprise absolutely no one, I pounded out about twenty thousand words and started to stall out. There wasn’t enough there there. The short, light, sexy, fun story wasn’t a great match for my brand.

In short, the project just wasn’t going anywhere.

The moment I realized this, naturally, I panicked. I’d been slogging away at this thing for a month, killing myself to try to write a few hundred words a day during my daughter’s naps and after her bedtime. This was blood, sweat and tears we were talking about here. And yet. I had to face facts. It wasn’t working out.

Resigning that manuscript to the dumpster pile was one of the harder things I’ve done in my writing career. I won’t say that it was a total loss. After a few months of self-imposed maternity leave, I probably needed to warm up a little before getting back up to speed with my writing, and working on a one-off project wasn’t a terrible way to get in the saddle again. Still, I’d been doing so well. I’d been staying focused. I’d been finishing things.

But in the end, I had to remember – there’s no point throwing good time after bad. I closed the file. I mourned.

And after a few days’ reflection, I went back to the drawing board, this time with a plot bunny I hope is a better fit for my brand, my voice, and my readers’ expectations. With characters that make a little more sense to me. Probably without as much of a plan as I should have, but with at least enough of one that I’m pretty sure I can make it to the top of the hill before my engine putters out.

When’s the last time you scrapped a manuscript? What made you decide to pull the plug? And in the end, looking back, do you think you made the right call?

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Burn Out is Real…and it’s Scary

I’m a burn out. Wait, wait! Let me rephrase that. I am burnt out.

I am in the process of writing my fourth book in a year and a half… During that time, four other books released. I know there are some amazing authors who can kick out a book every two months — or one month. I wish! But that’s not me, and I know that.

Let me be clear…I’m not complaining. NOT ONE BIT.

But I am admitting…
I’m burnt out.

As a debut author who had never signed a contract before, I didn’t realize how grueling a publishing schedule would be. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to just put my head down and write as I did for years before I even tried to get a book deal.

Sure, I knew all about the other things that go into being an author—the editing and editing and editing, social media, marketing, conferences and continuing education workshops, author events and signings and more editing…and, of course, writing.

I signed my first contract in February 2015 and I haven’t been able to catch up yet. As soon as I signed that contract and put myself under a real deadline: Reality happened. Exhaustion and stress and life unraveling happened.

Real life doesn’t stop when you get a deal. And for me, it got a whole lot more complicated.

An entire re-write of my fifth book is staring me in the face. Minutes click quickly toward the date that it’s due (again). So how do I get my mojo back? How do I muster up the strength and energy to write the best damn book I possibly can?

I went back to my favorite place to write. A local French bakery in the “Noda” neighborhood of Charlotte called Amelie’s. It’s got such an eclectic vibe. There are always people there. Creative people. Business people. (Not that those two can’t be the same,) All ages from toddler to Betty White.

I settled into a seat and put my head down. No Internet. No writing companions. Just me, the music (because you guys know I need the music) and my laptop. And I wrote my ass off. I was there from 6pm to 2:30 in the morning. The next morning, I jumped out of bed and was back at a cozy table with black coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich (eggs, spinach and asiago on a croissant—in case you want to get the full picture) by 8am.

The words were flowing. The ideas kept popping. It’s almost as if I had to get out of that pocket of life that was stifling my creativity and go back to this vibrant, happy coffee shop where I’d written so many words previously—before the contract.

Life. Moving. Jobs. Deadlines. Marketing. Motherhood. Social Media. Events. Separation. Moving. Kids. Time. Love. Loss.

There’s always going to be something. Find your happy place and get back on track. If that doesn’t work—mix it up. Try something you’ve never tried before (I just started yoga again after 9 years). Go where creative people are. Find meet up. Be in the presence of individuals who like the same things you do. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Find yourself. <3

After a few more sessions at Amelie’s, I’ve almost finished re-plotting and restructuring my current work in progress. And I’m going back tonight.

 

P.S. Photo: A scrumptious berry tart and dark chocolate covered strawberries. Happy Valentine’s Day to me. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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Find Your Focus

Perhaps you’ve seen the concept of a Word of the Year around the interwebs. The idea is to pick one word that resonates with you, something you want to really strive toward for the year.

The last couple months I’ve struggled to find my focus. I’ve fallen behind on multiple projects, hadn’t read a book in two months, and felt checked out from life, to be honest. It was like I was in a complete brain fog all the time. So it should really come as no surprise that for my word of the year, I chose FOCUS.

I picked this for so many reasons, but one of the key things for me was that it fit into all the different parts of my life. In my professional life, the word will serve to ground me and remind me of the goals I’m striving toward. I need to buckle down and focus if I expect to get anything done, because, uh, it’s just me. If I don’t do the work, mama don’t get paid.

In my personal life, the word will serve as a reminder to be present. So often my kids will tell me a story, and I find myself zoning out, thinking about the bathroom that needs to be cleaned/the groceries that need to be picked up/that appointment that needs to be made, and I totally miss what they’re saying. That kills me. Because before long, my twelve-year-old is going to be a fifteen-year-old who doesn’t want to talk to his mom.

FOCUS, as a WOTY, has proven to be incredibly inclusive of all aspects of my life. And while I haven’t been 100% successful with it thus far, I will say that having the word has helped me, well, focus.

Some key steps I’ve done to help implement my word:

  1. Limiting social media and/or phone time. I’m allowed 30 minutes a day of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. And let me tell you, those thirty minutes fly by. Some exceptions are made if I’m learning something on SM. For instance, if one of my FB groups is having a discussion on productivity hacks, I take the time and read the responses. But if it’s just me screwing around and liking posts, that’s got a time limit. Likewise, if I’m having a conversation with a human being, the phone is down and I turn my attention to the person speaking so I’m completely present.
  1. Meditating. Of course I’ve known about meditating for a long time. True story, when I was in seventh grade, it was the “cool” thing to do, so I did it one night. And by did it, I mean I fell asleep while pretending to meditate. As an adult, I meditated for the first time several months ago, thanks to the suggestion of Marie Forleo. It didn’t stick with me then, but I picked it back up in November, and it’s been a saving grace ever since. I like the Stop, Breathe & Think app (it’s free!) because it’s easy to use, has customized-to-your-mood meditation, and offers both guided (with non-annoying voices!) and free-form where you can set a timer and background noise and go to town. I like to do this before I settle in to write for the day, as it helps clear all the other stuff I seem to have floating around in my head lately.
  1. Planning. True, this might not work for everyone. In fact, if you are normally a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person, having a plan—or even having to do a plan—might make you lose focus. For me, it’s the opposite. I like having that task list that I can easily reference to see what needs to be done next or what I can do when I find myself with some free time. That’s helped me work toward my goals—especially business—more than anything.

We’re only a month into the year, but I’ve found these three things have really helped me stick to my word of the year and be more present in my daily life, whether that be personal or professional.

Did you do a word of the year? If so, what did you choose?

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Writers Who Lunch

Writing is a pretty solitary pursuit and, mostly, I enjoy this part of “authoring.” At my day job, people are constantly asking me for this, emailing me for that – tons of communication for 8 hours a day. I enjoy the not talking-ness of writing. However, if you attempt to author alone, you’ll quickly go crazy from the pressure, confusion, millions of questions that arise, and the stumbling in the dark that comes with publishing. In short, you need people. Writer people. But sometimes this is tricky.

I attend ~one conference a year, but one conference isn’t enough interaction. My chapter meetings mean more than 4 hours of drive time, and I have a child at that, “I will participate in a variety of activities that require my attendance every Saturday” age. Thus, I can’t make most meetings.

The solutions to this issue aren’t ground breaking, but they are worth recognizing in case anyone out there is in a similar boat. Allow me to present:

Writers Who Lunch

No matter where you are, geographically or in your career, you too can be a writer who lunches. All you need is another writer within about a 20 mile radius and a place to eat. Then, you get together every 4 to 6 weeks, share all that you’ve learned lately, solve the world’s problems, or just vent for an hour. It’s up to you.

Just last week, I met up with Laura Trentham and Fran Fowlkes for our January lunch. I think we’ve been doing this for 2 years now. (Two years?!?! How has it been two years?) Topics included everything from deadlines to deodorant, agents to ad campaigns. Lunch lasts about an hour and a half, and that little stretch of time is vital.

The Quarterly Meet Up

I have these writer friends who insist on living either far away from me or way far away from me. It takes more planning and effort, but we do our best to get together in a variety of ways. In February, some of us will attend When The Heart Dreams in Charlotte, NC. (Are you going? You should go!) In the spring, we’ll either meet up for shopping or a trip to the salt mines (not even kidding).

This summer, there’s the RWA National Conference in Orlando, Florida, where I hope to see my way far away from me friends (*pointed look at way far away from me friends*), and this fall there’s…well I don’t know. I’m not that organized. But there will be something!

How do you and your writer people stay in touch? Any fun suggestions for the at-large, super busy writers out there?

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