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12 Reasons Why I Haven’t Written Today

When you’re a writer who is also parent to rambunctious school-age children, planning your writing time on a weekend is everything. You see, I fully planned to devote today to writing. I even made all of the appropriate preparations for it yesterday. Without a hint of parental guilt, I signed both of my children up for a 1-month membership to National Geographic’s Animal Jam app so they could blow their minds out on electronics today. (Mom of the Year here!)

But all the planning in the world is a poor dam against the flood of reality. Like the hardworking North American beaver, I keep trying to halt the current that’s intent on taking me along for a ride. (But beavers are better at stopping the current than I am, certainly.)

beaver dam
No leaks here.  Photo credit: http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/beaver.htm

“I’m going to wake up early,” I said as I went to bed at midnight last night, “I’ll be refreshed and ready to go!”

Yet when the dogs whine at 7 a.m., I move from my bed like a zombie to feed and let them out. A crick in my neck and back had me sleeping so poorly all night long that I decide sleep is more important than getting up early to write.

I finally get out of bed at 11 a.m., with more sleep maybe, but the same pain radiating down my neck and right side of my back. I eat breakfast and pull out the laptop after a chorus of “Thank you, Mommy!” has been sung at least a dozen times. My kids have discovered their new memberships and predictably, they’ve zoned out on their tablets. (And this is why we don’t do memberships to apps very often.) I look at my WIP and decide that perhaps a hot shower will ease the pain in my neck, so I put the computer back down and head for the bath.

It’s noon. I kick the kids upstairs to get dressed and ready for the day like normal people do. Okay, time to write. But first, I’d better check the status on that disgusting Senate “tax” bill that also included yanking 13 million off healthcare, approving arctic drilling, and cutting the corporate tax rate while bleeding the middle and working classes dry. Scrolling through my newsfeed, now I’ve stirred my anger. Who can write while angry?

So I text a friend and blow off some steam. Keep in mind that I’ve got my current WIP open on the computer and I’ve reread the last few paragraphs at least half a dozen times. I may have even added a sentence.

At 12:15, older child begs for a friend to come over. Can she come over at 12:30? I agree to 2 p.m. which leads to chronic nagging over the next fifteen minutes. Finally, I relent—1:30.

Between 12:30 and 1:30, I write approximately 300 words while scanning social media for urgent news I might miss and texting same friend about current WIP.

“I feel good about this one,” I tell her. “It’s darker than most of my stuff. I think this one will make the cut.” She agrees with me cheerily while we both ignore the fact that I haven’t yet written more than 6 chapters so far and I haven’t written more than a page today. We both know I’m stalling, but she’s a good friend and she doesn’t call me out.

At 1:30, I’m up for my own lunch, sitting back down to work at 2. At 2:15, husband asks for help tying his shoes. That really sounds bad until you know the context. This guy still can’t bend over without a lot of pain and discomfort.

At 2:30, the dogs jump off their positions on the couches and whine and bark because they know it’s now close to their afternoon meal. Husband happens to be downstairs where their bowls are, so I manage to sneak out of the responsibility by asking him to feed them. But then they want to go out. I get up again.

At 2:45, younger child is upset because older child and friend aren’t including her in their games. A quick lecture about inclusivity steals five minutes from my productivity. And hey, that’s a precious five minutes. Clearly, I’ve been really productive today.

At 3, younger child bounds down the stairs again requesting lunch that I (in my Mom of the Year status) didn’t realize she never had. Up again, I make lunch and get it to her, sitting down in front of my computer again at 3:10.

It’s now 3:45 and instead of writing WIP, I have written a blog post about all the reasons why I haven’t been very productive today.

But, hey, I’ve now written over 1,000 words between WIP and this blog post, so—whew, what a day. I think it’s time to call it quits, no?

2017: A Poem

Hi, all! If you are family (or easy offended) please stop reading here.

For everyone else, it’s nearly December! If you know me, you know I don’t write poetry, but 2017 is a ‘special’ sort of year, isn’t it? Therefore, I have written a poem. Without further ado…

2017: A Poem

2017, you came,
shining and new
whispering sweet promises
of a better year,
a better life.

2017, you liar.
Fuck off.
And good riddance.

Falling Down

It’s Saturday. More specifically, it’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I’m supposed to be happy. We are full-fledged into the Christmas season. I should be baking Christmas cookies (and eating half of them) while my husband strings the lights outside and I watch from the warmth of our living room. The kids should be bouncing off the walls and playing Christmas music. Instead, we’re doing nothing we should be doing and it hardly feels like Christmas at all.

In fact, Thanksgiving, with the exception that we got to spend it with my family and my mom made another fabulous meal for the books, pretty much sucked. Older child had the stomach virus two weeks ago and now quite suddenly has severe panic attacks (most likely due to her father’s prolonged physical illness whether she recognizes it or not). She couldn’t enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and didn’t even manage a bite of dessert. Younger child had lice three weeks ago (that was fun) and we’re still vigilant with our checks to make sure we’ve taken care of the issue. And husband now seems to have a stomach virus on top of all else. It’s 11 a.m. and he’s still sleeping. My guess is that he was up all night. I couldn’t tell you for sure because older daughter has taken his place in our bed the last three nights so that I could make sure she got real sleep.

I have so much to be thankful for, but it’s really difficult to remember when everything around you seems to be falling apart, falling down.

Falling Down. I might be showing my age here, but remember that Michael Douglas movie from the early 1990’s? The main character essentially has a nervous breakdown and starts randomly killing people before ultimately taking his own life. I was 15 or 16 when I watched it with my brother on t.v. one night and I remember being utterly disenchanted. I had just wasted two hours of my life to watch a guy go crazy and shoot people up before killing himself? What was this crap? What was the point?

falling-down

Let me just say: I get it.

I get it. I get it. I get it. (No, no need to call anyone to have me psychiatrically examined. I won’t take that route.)

Watching the outside world tank over the last couple of years has been depressing enough and being part of the #resistance movement has been taxing (especially as a major introvert who just wants a blanket and a good book, dammit!), but when you’ve got life also screwing you over on a personal level at the same time, it’s almost too much to take.

Remember when I thought seven weeks with a drain tube was a long time? Well, my husband has had one in for 19 now. His next appointment is December 7th, so that will bring our total to at least 21 weeks. Short-term disability runs out on December 2nd. He’s trying to figure out if he is able to go back to work, even with his drain in, and I’m not sure he’s at that point yet. His sleep is miserable (as a result, cognitive function isn’t always top-notch), he’s frequently in pain, and he’s irritable (which might not be the best state for the customer-service aspects of his job). We were supposed to talk it over last night, but talking it over wasn’t a possibility when he ended up battling a stomach virus all night, because a tube in his abdomen apparently wasn’t enough misery. Because he needed another hurdle.

Because apparently the universe isn’t done throwing shit at us yet. I keep wondering how much more it could possibly have in store, but I’ve learned it’s not good to ask the question aloud.

Despite it all, I am still thankful. I am. I am thankful for medicine, for incredible doctors who have brought us through the most difficult times and quite literally saved his life. I’m thankful that, by some miracle, we managed to discover the cancer early. I’m thankful for others’ stories who help us get through. I’m thankful for friends, old and new, who continue to offer support of every kind. I’m thankful that he didn’t need to follow his surgery with radiation or chemotherapy. I’m thankful that a miserable drain tube can prevent the need for another surgery.

I am thankful. And nothing the universe throws at me will ever change that.

pancreatic symposium
He’s in the third row, second one in from the left. Two thumbs up because even with a drain still in, he attended the 12th Annual Pancreatic Symposium at Thomas Jefferson.

The Weight of Doubt and Exhaustion

It’s been a long time since I blogged. Then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything, truth be told.

There’s a complete and utter exhaustion that comes with caring for someone with a long-term illness and until recently, I was really good at pretending it didn’t exist.

Enter wall.

See that wall? I’ve hit it. No lie—it hurts.

We are, I hope, at the end of this long medical journey (at least the immediate journey), but since I never seem to be able to say that with any degree of certainty, it’s really hard to believe it even now.

And after five months, I’m mentally depleted. So, no new rambling blogs, no new pages in my current manuscript, no edits on the last one, and no queries on my old one. I’ve been thinking (a *lot*) about writing and editing, but honestly, it just scares me right now. I’m 100% positive that it’s due to my mental state from playing home-care nurse for so long, but I’ve reached an awkward position as a writer that I haven’t been in for quite some time, the place where I begin to contemplate if it’s worth pursuing publishing at all. The stage where my brain whispers that I’m not good enough, that my stories aren’t interesting, that my plot lines are too predictable, that my characters aren’t worth following.

I know this voice in my head and I usually tell it to shut the hell up and sit in a corner to think about what it’s done. Then I tell it that it’s going to stay in that corner until it figures out how to play nicely with the other voices. (Okay, that just sounds creepy…but you get the point.)

But lately? Lately I don’t have the energy to police what my children are eating for dinner (Frozen packaged pierogies? Again? Sure, whatever keeps you alive, kids!), let alone to police my self-deprecating internal writer’s doubt.

I know this will pass. So in the mean time, hey—I wrote something. It’s a blog post about absolutely nothing, but it’s 365 more words than I’ve written in a very long time.

Fresh Paint

Egads, has it really been over three weeks since my last blog post? How does time slip away so quickly? (Also, who actually says egads?)

Oh, let me count the ways…

  1. We had more hospital time recently. After his initial surgery, my husband ended up with an infection which necessitated a drain. “Drains are great fun,” said no one ever! It’s been an issue on and off for seven weeks. Read that again. He’s had a drain in his body for seven weeks. Seven. (And we were told at the beginning that it would be two weeks and gone.) Complications made it necessary to change drains repeatedly and we’ve been back and forth to Philadelphia six times since mid-July to keep tabs on the progress. Supposedly, we’re looking at having the drain removed next week, but I’m still waiting for someone to rip the rug out from beneath our feet once again. It seems to be par for the course.
  2. Remember my post about PitchWars—the contest that’s kind of like The Voice for writers? I didn’t get in. This is no surprise to me as there were nearly 3,000 writers vying for mentee positions and only 150 mentors. (I’ll let you do the math on that one.) While disappointing because PitchWars would have been a great opportunity to get extra eyes on my manuscript, not getting chosen as a mentee hasn’t deterred me in the least. I’ll keep querying this manuscript (as I have for the last couple of years) while I revise my most recently finished manuscript and work on my newest WIP. It’s all part of the job.
  3. Critique Partners. While I didn’t get into PitchWars to get mentor eyes on my manuscript, I did manage to hook up with hundreds of other amazing writers. I now have not one, not two, but three new possible critique partners. (That’s a lot of reading!) Right now, we’re in that crazy “first date” stage. We’ve exchanged first chapters and are determining our compatibility as critique partners. In a CP, it’s really important to find someone who recognizes the flaws in your writing, but who also recognizes the potential. You want someone who will cheer you on while also letting you know why a particular paragraph isn’t working or a character isn’t reacting the way it seems they logically should. Furthermore, it’s a must to have a critique partner who actually enjoys your writing and doesn’t feel it’s a chore to read your work. But perhaps most importantly, you want someone who is encouraging in every way. The last thing a writer needs is someone who will pull them down and stomp on their heart. (Really. Writers do enough of that to themselves.)
  4. School. School has been so quickly approaching that it’s taken everything I’ve got not to fight against it. I’m going to refer to the last three months as The Summer That Never Was. Because that’s how it feels. Between the rollercoaster of medical visits the past four months, all of our summer plans went out the window. (2018 had better make it up to us!) And so this last month I’ve been busy preparing for the kids to go back to school. School supply and clothing shopping completed, my kids were ready and excited for their first week back. So far, so good. (We’re three days in and no one has complained yet, but give it time. I’m betting they will by next Tuesday.)

Anyway, my point with all of this ramble? Life gets in the way. The unexpected (which really should be expected at this point) has kept me from doing the things I thought I would be doing throughout this summer.

IMG_1801And that brings me to a new point (and, consequently, the title of this post). Fresh paint. I first saw this sign when my husband was just out of his initial surgery and was being moved from the Surgical ICU wing to a regular hospital room. Six weeks later, when we came back for an emergency visit and ended up admitted because of an abscess, guess what sign was still there? Two weeks after that, when we came back because the drain had stopped working, he was in extreme pain from the abscess, and had a fever once again, it was still hanging. Three days later, and then another two weeks later still, it was there. I’d bet money that when we visit next week, that sign will still be in the same place on the same door at the end of the same hall we’ve been seeing all summer long.

Fresh paint. I’m fairly certain that the new coat of ‘fresh’ paint dried long ago. (I wonder how long the sign was up before our first visit.) The last time I saw that sign, I laughed. Somehow, in some obscure way, that sign is a metaphor for my life at this moment. That sign is the universe speaking directly to me.

There are times when it’s necessary to take on new challenges under new circumstances. And after you’ve done so, you’ll need to refrain from ‘touching’ no matter how much you want to. You’ll have to ride it out until that paint is dry. But just as importantly, you need to know when the paint is dry and learn to take control again. Otherwise, you could spend your whole life waiting for someone to tell you when it’s okay to start ‘touching’ again.

Or something like that.

Next week. Next week we go back to the hospital again. And dammit, that paint had better be dry because it’s time to start moving forward.

Misery Loves Company

So I haven’t had much of a chance to write lately between our crazy number of hospital visits in the past two weeks. Complications from husband’s original surgery have led to not much free time. Plus, there’s that pesky PitchWars thing I’ve been tweeting about.

In preparation for PitchWars, I have slaughtered my pages over the past few weeks, tearing them apart, reordering, rewriting, revising, and generally pulling out my hair until I positively manuscript-blinded myself.

Seriously.

I have no idea whether or not I’ve made my story better or worse at this point. None. Not a single clue. Because I can no longer see what I have written nor judge the quality of the words on the page.

But in blinding myself with a manuscript, at least I can take some solace in the fact that there are not just dozens, but hundreds and hundreds (perhaps thousands) of writers who are in the same boat and feeling the same way right now.

You know what they say. Misery loves company. And nothing is more miserable than a writer in waiting. (Miserable in an entirely good way, of course!)

But don’t take my word for it.

Querying (Part IV)

Hooray! This is the last installment of my querying series.

(Read: I think this is the last installment of my querying series, unless, of course, the person who is critiquing it as I type comes back with drastic changes that need to be made… Never done, people. It’s never truly done.)

I used to read about authors who said that they would have kept working on a particular book of theirs had it not been for their agent telling them quite forcefully that they were done. And I would think, “How??? But it’s perfect! How could they have worked longer on it? How could they possibly have made it better?” As a reader, it’s so easy to believe in perfection. As a writer? Never.

So, without further ado, my query as it currently stands:

 

Dear (Agent),

At eighteen, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina agrees to allow two determined escorts to accompany her on her journey for truth, but each comes with a mysterious past of his own. Her estranged childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, left their village years ago and only recently returned, harboring dark secrets behind a solemn exterior. And despite his status as a perfect stranger, a dashing captain by the name of Niles Ingram is quick to fight by Reina’s side at whatever the cost.

There’s just one problem with Reina’s two companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy and as potential suitors no less! But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s tasked with defeating a usurping general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne? For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her.

A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT is a 100,000 word YA quest-based fantasy featuring a headstrong heroine who discovers that magic runs far deeper than even a prophecy could have foretold. It would best be suited for readers who enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and White Hart by Sarah Dalton. Thank you for your time and consideration. I very much hope we can work together soon.

Best Regards,

L. Ryan Storms

 

The things to note:

I’ve eliminated the reason why I’m contacting an agent. That doesn’t mean I won’t add it back in. Undoubtedly I will. But, I am using this query for PitchWars, so that means I’m not contacting an agent directly. I’m looking to work with a mentor and mentors aren’t interested in why you chose them. (At least, not up front!)

That being said, I began my query with the hook, with the story. I want to make a strong case early on. I want to make a reader say, “Hmm, intriguing. Tell me more!” You might notice that I still have a bit of a “When X, then Y” thing going on. (“So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.”) I wouldn’t use this formula more than once in a query, but if it works (and it’s proven that it does), I think using it is just fine. (Trust me, though, if I could find a way to get rid of this formula, I still would.) I’ve also used specifics for the Y part of my formula. The key to a successful “When X, then Y”  is staying away from general blanket statements. The more specific you can be, the better. (Within reason, of course. It wouldn’t be any good for me to say, “When a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must figure out how the talisman works, use abilities only she possesses, and devastate an army without any backup.” That’s a little too specific.)

At the recommendation of an industry professional, I’ve also opted to add more detail about both of Reina’s suitors and I’ve given a little more of detail on how they are included in the prophecy.

Additionally, I’ve added the stakes. I thought that by sharing the tone of the novel (Hey, there’s a war going on, an evil general to defeat, and a true king that needs to be found!) that I had given enough info to make it seem obvious, but it was brought to my attention that I’d never really named the stakes. So, “For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her,” makes it pretty clear to me. The stakes? Reina needs to figure out what the heck is going on before she’s killed for her role in trying to uncover the truth. I think that about does it. (But I’ll certainly let you know if my latest critique goes over well or not!)

And lastly – my comp titles are reined in a bit (only two this time) and I’ve changed the type of fantasy I’m pitching. Is it still a “chosen one” tale? Yeah, it kind of is, but (without giving away the plot) there’s a catch and so I don’t want to pitch it just as a “chosen one” fantasy. There’s far more going on behind the scenes. For me, a quest-based fantasy definitely seemed to be a better fit over all. So make sure you know exactly where your book fits in because it makes a big difference in who will want to read it.

So that’s it! Now you have seen the 3+ year history of my querying progress. I hope that this helps you in your querying and that you see more than just form rejections in your inbox! Thanks for following!

A Thousand Years to Wait

(A little novel aesthetic I included for A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT for my PitchWars family. You know, in case you’re a visual kind of person!)