Friday, August 19, 2016

When Hobby becomes Profession

Some of my early ceramics efforts. I'm better now. It's still a hobby.

When I started writing my first novel, it was August of 2004. I owned my own physical therapy practice and was parenting two school-aged children. Between the 25-30 hour a week practice, and the all-the-other-hours of being a mom, I was busy. Writing was my hobby. A passionate hobby, to be sure, but a hobby. It was something I fit into the rest of my life because it was something I enjoyed and it was fun to be able to say I was working on writing a novel.

I didn't have a schedule or a daily writing quota, but I did prioritize working on the story anytime I had some free moments.

But it was a hobby. And if I missed a day or three, or stopped writing altogether, it wasn't a big deal. I wrote for myself, primarily, though, sure, I dreamed about having my book published and all the lovely fantasies that go with it.

Sometime between finishing that manuscript in 2005 and starting what would become my first published novel several years later, the writing had started to shift away from pure hobby. I was still working as a physical therapist, but the writing had become more and more of a priority. I learned how to work faster and complete a first draft in under a year. I started writing more regularly.

When I retired from active PT practice several years after that, I started to see myself as a full-time writer and my my writing time turned into my job. My schedule included a goal of 1,000 words a day or an average of 5,000 words a week. I learned how to complete a first draft in under 6 months.

Now, 11 manuscripts and 6 published novels later, it is my job. I have deadlines and responsibilities that span from the daydreamy kind of creativity I used to imagine was the lot of the writer, to the grinding pressure of needing to write 30 blogposts over the course of a few weeks to support the release of one novel, while reviewing the audiofiles of another, while picking my way through the draft of something new.

There used to be a time when I waited for inspiration to strike so I could write. And what flowed from my hand was - of course - perfect the way it was because it was driven by the muse. (Go ahead, laugh. I certainly do.)

Now I go to work. My commute is far shorter than it was when I was a physical therapist, but my walk across the living room to my office is, in fact, heading to work. Even on days I don't feel the magic happening, I go to work. Even when it takes me six hours to write 1,000 words and most of them will be revised away, or I sketch out ideas for scenes that end up not working in the final analysis.
Today was such a day. And I sat down at the computer to work, regardless of a serious case of the 'donwannas'. I have a planned release date for this novel - July of 2017. That means getting it drafted, revised, to beta readers, revised again, and to my editor, all on a fairly tight schedule. My editing slot is for April. If I miss that opening in my editor's schedule, it means I will miss the publication date.

I do have another creative outlet. I am a ceramics artist. And I'm quite content for it to be my hobby. I've gotten fairly good at it and make things that people have actually chosen to buy. But it remains a hobby.

I don't want to be a production potter. There are several production potters at the studio where I work and I am awed by the sheer amount of ware they create, consistently, uniformly. That's not what I want. That would take the joy out of what I use as a break from my other responsibilities. There are weeks when I head to the studio every day. Because I feel like it. There are other times when I don't get there in several weeks. I don't have to go and play with clay when I'm feeling uninspired. I really enjoy it, but have very little pressure to produce.

There is nothing wrong with being a hobby potter. There is nothing wrong with being a hobby writer. It's all about what your goals are for the work.

To pursue a living through creativity, we have to safeguard our imaginations. This becomes even more essential as the writing moves from hobby to profession. Words don't roll out on a conveyor belt. Artists are not machines.*
A few final thoughts - this isn't about insisting that my process is the right process or that you can't be a professional writer if you don't write full time, or if you have a day job. Nor am I saying if you don't write every day you're not a 'serious enough' writer - whatever that means.

For any artist of any kind, the fallow time, the time to recharge is also an essential part of the work. The important distinction in my mind is to know why you are not writing. Is it avoidance? (Perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell you something.) Are you ill? (Take care of your meatsuit!) Is something wrong in the story? (Give yourself permission to make needed changes.) Are you at risk of burnout? (Take a break.)

After all, we take sick days from work, right? We plan vacations and play on the weekends. If writing is a job, all those things need to be part of the equation, too.

Just know there is a kind of pressure in looking at any creative endeavor as a job. There is the risk that it can rob the joy out of the process.

If you let it.

It doesn't have to, but it will also not always be rainbows and unicorns. For me, the writing needs to come full circle and be read to feel complete. That means not only finishing a project, but creating one that is saleable. Writing for the sake of writing, while satisfying in some ways, isn't enough for me now. It used to be.

It makes me glad to have my ceramics for the pure playtime it provides.

(*Though someday, machines may be artists. . . I do write Science Fiction, after all. . . )



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Friday, August 12, 2016

Overcast Night: Perseids

Night sky, sans meteors, Mont Tremblant, photo by N. Halin

Cicadas sing the moon bright. Clouds
skin the night, sealing stars
on the wrong side. Somewhere
meteors shed velocity for heat
in an unequal exchange that renders
distant travelers to dust. The last time
I saw the Perseids, I was as round
as a planet, believed that we
created our own gravity. The universe
describes a larger orbit than any
astronomer can trace and even
when streetlights pretend to outshine
meteors, it doesn't take my belief
in the perfect sky to make it so.

                   —LJ Cohen, 2016


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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Welcome to the Dark Underbelly of Social Media

I should have expected this. In fact, I'm pretty surprised I hadn't experienced anything like it before, given that I've been fairly active on social media and the internet for over a decade. But until this week, I've never experienced being targeted by strangers on the 'net because my beliefs disagree with theirs.

And I recognize I've been lucky. Most of the nasty tweets directed my way were scattershot, rather than personally targeted abuse or direct threats. Other women have been 'doxxed' and harassed and threatened for their mere existence.

But this week (among other things) I've been called 'retarded', 'brain dead', a communist, and outed as Jewish by a self-described anti-immigration, anti-islamic twitter account that bracketed my name in triple parentheses.  That last one is pretty bizzare. My last name is Cohen. It's not at all a secret that my heritage is Jewish. Which has nothing to do with my activity on twitter.

And what did I do and say to attract such nastiness? I retweeted some of Senator Elizabeth Warren's tweets and then made my own tweet to her appreciating that she was my senator.

Apparently that was the last straw.

Apparently hordes of anti-everything folks watch the public twitter timelines looking for anyone who uses Elizabeth Warren's name in a tweet and then start the rude message brigade.

I don't understand what these people hope to accomplish or why they targeted me this time. I'm not someone famous. I'm not a spokesman for anything other than my own mind. And I will say what I say because I have the right to say it. If someone doesn't like what I say publicly, they have the right to either block me, ignore me, or enter into dialogue with me about it.

I'm a grown up. I can disagree without denigrating someone or threatening them. I can even carry on a reasonable conversation with people I disagree with. Shocking! Right?

All the accounts that have sent rude tweets my way have been pseudonyms with either 'blue eggs' or logos as photos. I use my real name and my real photograph. (Hey Twitter! I'm actually a real person. Why won't you allow me to go through your verification process?)

And I still come back to the main question: What do they hope to accomplish? I'm not going to have some sudden epiphany and decide I support hatred, prejudice, and misogyny. I'm not going to delete my social media accounts and be silent. I'm also not going to attack or otherwise engage people who have already shown me they have no interest in dialogue.

What I will do is report and block, though I know it doesn't address the bigger problem. And then I'll move on, because I have better things to do than name-calling.


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Friday, July 29, 2016

Where I am now

First, the physical. As in where I am literally. That would be in Canada. In Mt. Tremblant to be precise. We've traveled up here for a few days so my husband can drive like a maniac on the racetrack while I enjoy the solitude and a rented house with wifi. And, of course, the croissants.

Original cover art, copyright 2016 Chris Howard

Next, an update as to the state of my publishing life. 3 years ago, I co-edited a passion project - an anthology of SF&F stories written by fellow graduates of Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner's Ultimate Science Fiction Writing Workshop. Pen-Ultimate was a wonderful collection to work on and we chose a workshop model to produce it and decided to donate the proceeds to the SFWA emergency medical fund.

About a year after it was published, we decided to produce a follow up. Pen-Ultimate II took longer than I had anticipated, partly because of some chaotic and stressful personal life events during its development, partly because I was so busy with my personal writing. But, at long last, my co-editor (Talib S. Hussain) was able to keep me on track and we completed the manuscript.

Pen-Ultimate II contains stories by 12 authors, spanning the gamut from fantasy to science fiction to the just plain weird and as with the prior volume, all proceeds will be donated to the SFWA emergency medical fund.

You can purchase it in any of these venues (BN, iBooks, and print forthcoming):
Google Play

The novels of Halcyone Space

And finally, an update on my own writing. Just about 2 months ago, DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE was released. Not only has it been selling well, sales of all three books in the series have been selling consistently as well - enough so that this latest book has earned back its production expenses in about 6 weeks and enough so that all three books have remained on the top 10 best sellers on one of Amazon's sub-categories of SF books.

As of this week, it's time to get some serious writing done on the as yet unnamed book 4 in the Halcyone Space series.

It is actually fitting that I am here in Mt. Tremblant, starting a new project. It was here, in 2004, where I started my first novel - also while on family holiday. While that one is (and will remain!) safely 'trunked', there is something comforting about the cycle of my writing life. Nearly all my novels have started in the summer. Last year, DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE came into being on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont at a dear friend's summer home.

As I type this, a cup of coffee is cooling next to my laptop. The house is silent. I have nothing to distract me. The last time I sat down to draft words on a shiny, new project was quite some months ago. I have been in editing and production mode for what feels like a long while. I feel 'out of writing shape.' My mind is far too cluttered.

Even as I crave the focus of new words and new story, I fear I have forgotten how to begin. I have to remind myself that this, too, is familiar. And I am not starting with nothing. The characters of Halcyone Space are old friends. Old friends who have been patiently (and not so patiently) waiting for me to return.



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