You don’t have to

You don’t have to write fast
You don’t have to write slow
You don’t have to go in with a plan
You don’t have to outline
You don’t have to wait
     for the story to say where it wants to go

You don’t have to write what they tell you to write
You don’t have to learn all the rules
You don’t have to be commercial
You don’t have to be literary
You don’t have to get five star reviews

You don’t need a platform
You don’t need a brand
You don’t need a social media presence
You don’t need to be silent
     or keep your opinions to yourself

You don’t have to be like everyone else
You don’t have to be like that bestselling, award-winning author you admire
You don’t have to write short
You don’t have to write long
You don’t have to write blog posts
     that claim to claim to have all the answers

You don’t have to be perfect
You don’t have to do all the things
You don’t have to do any one thing

You just have to tell your stories
     your stories
     your stories
The ones no else can
The way no one else can
That’s all
That’s all
That’s all

Two Free Things–a Game and a Workshop

The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse

The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is now available on PC and Mac–and the first chapter is free! I worked as scriptwriter on this game with Desert Owl Games. Download your copy of Book 1 here and give it a try.

The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is set in the universe of NBCUniversal’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War, which hit theaters this week.


Finding Your Sense of Place–Bringing Your Characters to Life

When: Saturday, May 14, 1-3 p.m.
Where: Children’s Meeting Room, Joel D. Valdez Main Library, Tucson
(Although this workshop meets in the children’s room, it is aimed at adults and teens.)

Use setting and description to bring your characters to life and increase the emotional impact of your stories! Setting is about much more than providing a few scene-setting details and moving on. Discover why the descriptions that seem to get in the way of your stories are actually the most powerful tools you have to bring characters to life and make readers care about their stories.

This workshop is available free for the first time thanks to the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records’ Writer-in-Residence program and the Pima County Public Library.

The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse

What I’ve been doing these past months: working on the script for Desert Owl Games’ new release–The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse, a game set in the expanded universe of the forthcoming The Huntsman: Winter’s War!

Winter is fast approaching as Queen Freya’s army marches relentlessly on the White Lands. Beneath the shadow of that deadly war Elisabeth’s quiet life on her family’s farm in Vardhelm comes to an abrupt end as she embarks on a journey of her own. Join her on a quest to find her missing brothers as you explore an expanded Huntsman universe, one where you’ll encounter both familiar faces and new dangers, all while discovering the secret Elisabeth herself unknowingly carries.

The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse debuts April 20 on Windows and Mac, with a PlayStation 4 release to follow later in the year. The first chapter is free to play–find out more at the official website.

Intensity, burnout, and regrouping

Jaye Wells and Tiffany Trent both have posts up this week about writers and burnout. (I totally agree with Jaye Wells on the importance of writers having hobbies, once writing ceases to be one. Writing professionally is one of the things that led me to become a serial hobbyist.)

This got me to thinking about one of the cycles I’ve noticed in writing careers, one that we don’t talk much about–the cycle of intensity and burnout.

I’ve come to believe, watching countless writers go through this–and having gone through it myself–that writers often spend the first three or four years of their careers talking about how important it is to be intense and productive, sharing strategies for getting more done and being more efficient, talking about how a professional writer has no choice but to write two, three, four books a year.

Somewhere in the middle of the first decade, though, many writers go quiet–until somewhere around years six to nine writers often admit they’ve been coping with burnout, possibly alongside other career challenges, and they share those struggles. I think it’s hugely useful to do so. It’s all that sharing through the years that’s made me realize how common this is.

The first few years of the first decade of a writing career are often about intensity. The last few years of that decade are often about dealing with burnout in various ways. In between, writers often struggle with either despair or denial, as they realize this writing career thing is a less simple (even less simple) than it first seemed.

Sometime after the first decade, a sort of settling in and settling down happens. An acceptance of both the ongoing cycles and the shifting ground of a writing career. A developing of personal coping strategies for doing this for the long haul.

Well, either that, or the writer stops writing. I don’t mean that lightly–moving on to do something else is a reasonable response to burnout, too.

But one way or another, by roughly the end of the first decade, something often has to give, and something often has to change. That early intensity often can’t be maintained forever, not without, at the very least, allowing for downtime, as well as allowing for the unpredictability of a writing career.

I’ve used the word often a lot, above. Careers vary so much that none of this is going to be true for everyone.

But if this isn’t the only possible cycle for a writing career to follow, it is a common one. And I think that’s worth talking about, so that those who do go through this cycle know they’re not alone with it.

Intensity, burnout, regrouping. Sometimes the cycle repeats after that. Sometimes the strategies developed keep it from repeating. That varies too.

Intensity, burnout, regrouping. If you’re somewhere in the middle of this cycle, you’re not alone. You’re just navigating a perfectly normal writing career.

Anniversaries

Katherine Lawrence, December 11 1954 – March 25 2004

This Isn’t a Story

I’m sorry, Katherine,
but dying isn’t a story.
I saw your careful outline,
your well-researched notes:
first the heroine died,
then her adventures began.
You knew every detail:
the ghost town by the river,
when the trains ran,
the reasons why bullets were
better than pills.
You wrote and rewrote
the opening scenes. Nothing more.
Because dying isn’t a story.

We argued about story. We argued
when you stopped writing.
No, edit that. I argued. You said
you’d keep your notes and walked away.
You understood pacing and tension.
You mailed your goodbyes as you drove out of town;
walked down to the river, leaned back, looked up at the sky—

But no. Dying isn’t a story.
The hikers who found you,
that was a story. The police officer
with the half-finished novel;
the county parks manager in cutoff jeans
who told us he was sorry,
who told us he’d done this before.
A story is a long drive home through the dark,
both my hands steady on the wheel.

Your empty apartment was a story,
at least once we opened the door:
The answering machine blinking its silence,
the solstice cards lining the hall.
The borrowed books set on the counter,
labeled with sticky notes, bearing our names.
Nothing left to the reader:
no loose ends, no unresolved threads.
But a story is messier than a body by a river,
a bullet to the head. A story is
your mother packing your dishes
and your silver and a fifth of Scotch,
filling out the paperwork
to transport your gun across state lines.

You had a promising start:
the opening lines, the rising tension,
the chilling sense of things
that couldn’t happen any other way.
But those things aren’t a story,
and dying doesn’t make them one.

You knew how to outline
and you knew how to plot.
So how could you not know
what all writers know,
I still don’t know.
I’m sorry, Katherine.
This poem isn’t a story,
but I’m not driving away.


I could rewrite this now, polish it a little–but I won’t. Sometimes, more polish doesn’t actually make a piece stronger, after all.

And another anniversary: Irvin Simner, August 11, 1936 – March 22, 2014.

Two years after losing my dad, I find I can see much more clearly both the gifts and the weaknesses he’s left to me.

Twelve years after losing Katherine, loss no longer seems a rare outrage. It seems a hard and terrible part of how the world works.

There’ve been other losses between these two, after these two. I’m coming up on the age Katherine had just turned the last time I saw her. That puts me a year out from the birthday she couldn’t bring herself to face.

It took less time to forgive my father than Katherine. I wouldn’t have expected that.

I don’t know how long it took to forgive Katherine, only that it was less than twelve years.

Find me at the Tucson Festival of Books

I’ll be at the Tucson Festival of Books from 1-5 Saturday (tomorrow!) at the Pima County Public Library’s Bookmobile near the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium on the UA Mall.

I’ll be talking about the Writer-in-Residence program and its upcoming workshops, and I’ll also be holding my office hours right there on the Mall–so come on by, and bring your writing questions with you!

Talk with a writer—my March office hours

As part of the new Writer-in-Residence program in Arizona’s libraries, I’ll have office hours at Tucson’s Main (Joel Valdez) library! In March those hours will be:

Tuesdays: 10 am – noon
Saturdays: 2 pm – 5 pm (no hours March 12/Book Festival weekend)

For now, signups will be on a drop-in basis.

I’m happy to talk about most writing subjects, whether craft or business related, whether at a beginner or advanced level or somewhere in between. I’m also happy to look at a few pages of a work-in-progress, though there won’t be time enough for in-depth critiques.

So come by! Let’s show that there’s a demand in Tucson for this program and help encourage Arizona to continue bringing writers into libraries throughout our state.

And if you’re up in Phoenix, check locally for writers holding office hours at libraries in Glendale, Mesa, and Avondale.

Where I’ll be for … the next three months!

I’m honored to announce that I’ll be the Pima County Library‘s first Writer-in-Residence this March through May! This means, among other things, that I’ll have regular office hours a couple days a week when you can come to me with your writing questions, that I’ll be offering several free workshops this spring, and that the downtown Joel D. Valdez Library will become one of my writing homes away from home for the next few months.

The Writer-in-Residence program is a project of the Arizona State Library and includes writers-in-residence in several locations in Phoenix as well, all of whom will also have office hours and be running workshops:

– Avondale Library: Susan Pohlman
– Glendale Library: Amy Nichols
– Mesa Library: Bill Konigsberg

More details and my specific schedule to come soon!