Doing What You Love: An Ebook

I’m thrilled to announce the release of the second book in my Writing Life series, Doing What You Love. Based on one of my most popular talks, this inspiring ebook takes a look at the things I’ve learned through the years about living a creative life. While the focus is writing, it also applies to other creative fields. Here are the details!


Write More and Worry Less

Write more and worry less! Move your writing and your passion from the edges to the center of your life as you discover:

• Why writing isn’t all about “talent”

• The value of taking creative risks

• How to embrace imperfection

• Ways to manage doubts and put setbacks in perspective

• Reasons to let your fear—and your joy—take the lead

• The myth of that one big break

• How to choose which advice to listen to—and which to discard

• The power of writing without apologies

• Why following your creative passion may be the most practical thing you can do

Acclaimed author Janni Lee Simner has spent the past quarter century writing books, short stories, interactive fiction, and nonfiction for teens, children, and adults. In Doing What You Love she shares down-to-earth strategies for how to get started—and how to keep going—living a creative life.

Doing What You Love is available wherever ebooks are sold! Order your copy now from:

Kobo and their independent bookstore partners
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Apple
Smashwords


New to the Writing Life Series? Order Doing What You Love and Finding Your Sense of Place together and I’ll send you a free e-copy of my creepy short story “Drawing the Moon!” Just forward a screenshot or copy of your receipt to janni@simner.com before the end of July.

A Creative Conversation about Career Cycles

I had an amazing Creative Conversation with Janet Lee Carey about Career Cycles this week, where we talked about many of the things we often hesitate to discuss as writers:

At some point, it also hit me that there were no guarantees as a writer and that success wasn’t as simple as just being intense enough or doing any other one right thing. Anything I wrote could ultimately sell or not sell, find its audience or not find it. I had less control than I’d thought—and that was oddly freeing. If there were no guarantees anyway, I realized I might as well just write what I loved.

And:

Support, just knowing we’re not alone with the ups and downs, that we’re not the only ones to invent and reinvent ourselves, is huge. We’re so afraid of admitting to struggles, of being seen as less than perfect. Again, it’s like if others detect weakness, they’ll realize we don’t belong, and somehow magically kick us out of this writing world. But no one can make us stop writing, and no one person controls the whole writing-verse anyway. It doesn’t work that way.

There’s a lot more–check out the conversation here! (And, along the way, enter to win a copy of the Bones of Faerie trilogy.)


Want to talk about writing in person? I’ll be at the Pima County Public Library’s Megamania event Saturday, July 9.

Kidlit for Kidlits panel
With Aprilynne Pike, Adam Rex, and Janni Lee Simner

When: Saturday, July 9, 3:45-4:45 p.m.
Where: Pima Community College Downtown Campus,
1255 North Stone Avenue
Tucson, Arizona

Megamania is essentially a mini-comicon run by the library. The full event runs from 1-6 p.m. and is completely free

Catch me at the Tucson Eastside Barnes and Noble Saturday, plus Library and Huntsman game news

Hope you’re all having a good summer!

I finished my residency at the Pima County Public Library at the end of May. Before leaving entirely, I blogged about my time there: Libraries remain a place of refuge.

Some writers came to me nervous about sharing their work and writing hopes. Others brimmed over with enthusiasm and the desire to discuss their projects. But every writer who came to me felt they had something precious inside them that they wanted to share …

If you missed me at the library, this Saturday (June 11) I’ll be at the B-Fest Teen Book Festival at Tucson’s eastside Barnes and Noble. Catch me there for a signing at 4:30 and a panel discussion on getting your book published at 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, the final two chapters of The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse are out, and the game has been getting good reviews. Here’s an article about the game in the Arizona Daily Star: ‘Huntsman’ tie-in a hit for Tucson game studio.

“I enjoyed how we were all working at the same time. I’d be there writing the story as the art is being created and the game design is being worked on and the programing is happening, and all those pieces would influence each other,” she [Simner] said.

Until next time, stay cool, keep writing, keep reading, and keep dreaming!

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

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.

Writer’s block: short answers and long ones

“What do you do about writers block?” It’s a question writers get asked often.

It’s also a subject on which writers are tempted to go the hard truths route on when they answer.

When I was asked this question, I used to say something like, “Well, I don’t really get writer’s block. I just keep writing.” Maybe I’d throw in some helpful words about how it’s okay to write a crappy rough draft, as if all that stood between a–any writer–and writing was the fear of producing some bad words that they’d need to figure out how to revise later. The truth was, in my earliest writing days, I didn’t believe in writers block, and I did believe in simple truths. Writers write, right?

As time went on, I began to allow as how I did at least know what burnout was–both as a writer and in other fields–and that maybe that was what writers really meant, when they talked about writers block.

I still think I was right that the phrase, “writer’s block,” might be problematic, if only because it carries a lot of almost-mystical weight among writers, and that naming the specific reasons for not writing–of which burnout is only one of many–can sometimes give being stuck a little less power. But beyond that, when asked what I do about writer’s block now, I no longer have a quick, simple answer. There are so many reasons writers stop writing, as many reasons as there are writers.

But if asked to break it down, and given the time for a long answer rather than a short one, now I’d say there are three main things I do when I get writer’s block–or whatever we want to call it–things that, like all writing advice, are right for me, but may or may not be right for anyone else.

1) Sometimes I need to push through.

Sometimes what feels like writer’s block really is just a case of the I-Don’t-Want-Tos or the I’m-Scared-Tos. And sometimes even something more complicated than a case of the I-Don’t-Want-Tos or I’m-Scared-Tos can be fought and pushed through. Sometimes, the advice my younger self gave still holds, and I just need to keep writing, keep my butt in my chair, and get those words on the page by brute force.

2) Sometimes I need to step back.

Sometimes when writing just isn’t happening, something in the story isn’t working, or I need to figure something out before I can move forward. When that’s true, going for a walk, going to a movie, even just taking a shower or grabbing lunch and giving myself some thinking time may be the break I need to figure out what that something is. Once I figure it out, often the words will start flowing again, no brute force required.

Sometimes taking a break just re-energizes me, too, even if it doesn’t lead to any profound story realizations, and that can help my words to flow more freely, too. Writers like to talk about how we can’t afford to take breaks, but sometimes, I think we can’t afford not to.

3) Sometimes I need to step away.

Sometimes there are real, legitimate stresses, positive and negative, that take away our focus or our writing time or our writing brain and leave us in a place where we can’t push through, for a short time or a long one, and a shower or a walk or all the writing pep talks in the world just aren’t going to change that. That’s when we need to forgive ourselves for not writing for a time, allow ourselves some grace, and stop beating ourselves up and making ourselves feel worse about something that just isn’t going to happen right now.

The truth is that I remain, really, really bad at this. And to be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever been wrong to try responses 1 and 2 first–more often than not, they do work. But not always, and that’s okay.

Or maybe it’s not okay. It’s terribly hard, actually, especially when one is also trying to make a living, especially when writing is part of one’s identity and one’s way of being and expressing and existing in the world. I don’t have easy answers to what to do about any of that. (Or even, as Terri Windling says, any difficult ones.) But it’s going to happen to many of us, maybe most of us, at one point or another, if we keep at this writing thing long enough.

Most of us will also, at one point or another, find our way back, though we may stop believing that and it may take longer than we expect. I now believe that if we can learn to treat ourselves with compassion during these times, rather than with anger and self-hate, if we can find a way to be gentle with ourselves, this can actually help us through and provide comfort–something that’s especially important at times when writing isn’t there to do these things for us.

On writing and so-called hard truths

Today, as sometimes happens, I’ve been stumbling, unbidden, on writing posts on a theme.

First, J.H. Moncrieff on the problems of writers telling one another that “Writers write”: “If nothing has ever stopped you from writing, you’re very, very lucky. You’re also a rarity.”

Then, Terri Windling on hard times and some of the reasons writers don’t write: “For those of us working professionally in the arts, the strictures of the marketplace require that work be produced in a regular manner. We spend years mastering the discipline required to create works of art and when that discipline fails us, when the fire’s been dampened and the work just will not come, what on earth does one do? I wish I had an easy answer to that question … or even a difficult one. But every artist is different, every journey is different, and each of us must discover our personal way of re-kindling the fire …”

Even though I’m writing consistently right now, I’ve been in both these places. I think most of us have, though I think most of us also hesitate to say so.

Then, after reading both those posts, I stumbled upon an old never-shared post of mine on the problems of ignoring all of the above when dispensing writing advice. So since the universe seems to be telling me to talk about this today (and was, perhaps, telling me to wait when I set this post aside months and months ago for reasons I no longer clearly remember), I’m adding this post to the conversation now.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Over on facebook, I recently (not so recently now) posted the following:

I used to think writing was entirely about being determined enough and wanting it badly enough to put one’s butt in the chair and do the work. Now I get that it’s also about sorting out both sleep and time, about keeping the creative well full, about so many complicated and intertwined and individual/personal things. While it may ultimately be true that in order to write we have to do the work, I regret all the times I put a “just” in front of that statement when giving writing advice, or went all “this is the hard truth” about it. It’s not that simple, not always, not for an entire long career. Don’t let anyone tell you it is, and don’t let yourself feel inferior when they do if their current truth isn’t your current truth.

That was the short version. This is the longer one:

I did once think writing was pretty simple. You just had to be determined enough and want it badly enough to put your butt in the chair and do the work. Nothing else mattered. If you didn’t put in the time, you simply weren’t going to be a writer because you weren’t committed enough to being one. End of story. Thinking this, I gave my share of tough love, “I’m sorry, but this is the hard and unassailable truth, no way around it” talks to my fellow writers.

As a beginning writer, I was so harsh–on others and on myself. I was incredibly intense about writing back then. I wanted this writing thing so badly I could taste it, I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way, and I had little empathy or understanding to spare for those who felt differently.

Over the next couple decades I mellowed, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve come to understand that that intensity is something you can maintain for a few years at a stretch, but not for a lifetime, not without burning out. There comes a point where we need to chill out, to relax a little, to remember to breathe if we’re going to keep doing this at all.

And we need to accept that not only do careers have ups and downs, lives have ups and downs. We’re in good and bad mental places and these things affect our work. We have higher and lower levels of non-writing obligations and these things affect our work.

None of this means we don’t want it badly enough. It means we’re human beings. It means not every day, year, or decade is going to be a perfect one, and that’s all right.

But here’s a thing: For every one of us who finally comes to this understanding and stops beating their fellow writers over the head with so-called tough truths, there’s another writer who’s still riding that first (or second, or third) wave of intensity, and so deliverting talks about all the things that they’re sure, so very sure, are hard-and-fast requirements for being a real writer and having a real career–with no time to stop, while being that intense, to wonder what that word, “real,” even means.

It may be true that we need to do at least some of the things, some of the time, to get our work out into the world and into the hands of readers–though it may also be true that it’s possible to do these things at a sustainable intensity instead of flinging our whole beings at the universe day after day to get them done. But that word, “true,” is as problematic as “real” is. Careers are long, time is long, people are individuals. None of us knows what will even work for us in a year or five, let alone for anyone else.

I’ve come to believe that when it comes to writing hard, necessary truths are neither as true nor as necessary nor as universal as we think. When we share our experiences–because there is value, immense value, in writers sharing their experiences, in connecting and knowing we’re not alone and finding common ground–we can share them with all of that in mind, and not only for others’ sake. Because when we become less harsh with others, we become less harsh with ourselves. This may be one of the writing truths–or one of my writing truths–that it’s taken me longest to learn–that time is long and careers are long, and in the end, no matter what anyone else needs, sooner or later we need our own self-kindness and self-compassion and self-understanding to see us through.

Diversity and the stories we tell

Recently, in my search for diverse picture books and especially for books where my child could see other children who look like her in the illustrations, I came upon Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. This beautifully written and illustrated book, for those who haven’t read it, introduces babies from around the world and of many races with the refrain:

And both of these babies—as everyone knows—had ten little fingers and ten little toes.

The strength of the writing and illustrations meant that it took two or three or maybe five readings (because no one reads any picture book only once to their child) for it to hit me that that well-crafted refrain … wasn’t actually true. That the very book I’d bought to help my child celebrate her diversity and the diversity of all children was not about all children.

Because somewhere out there–many somewheres out there–there’s a parent who saw this book that was trying to be about all babies and set it aside because it wasn’t about their baby. Maybe this parent’s perfect, beloved, amazing child was born with polydatyly, or with a limb difference–yet here’s this book about how perfect, beloved, amazing children all have one thing in common–that they aren’t anything like this parent’s child.

At first I thought I was overthinking things. And then I thought I wasn’t. Intersectionality is tricky. It’s easy to say that no one book can be about every child and move on, but really it’s so much more complicated than that.

And this post isn’t about this one (otherwise lovely) book, or about any other one book, though I fear it will be taken that way. It’s about how I then thought a little more deeply about what the stories I tell mean for my child, who I want to embrace diversity not only when it’s about who she is, but also when it’s about the wide world she lives in.

I tell my child hundreds of stories every day, and not all of them come out of books.

Shortly after we finished the second or third or fifth reading of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, my child handed me her stuffed bat, which had recently lost an eye. She pointed to the spot where the eye had once been, asking without words for an explanation.

I almost went for the obvious story–that yes, the toy was broken, and yes, I could fix it. Then I realized there was another, truer story I could choose instead.

“You’re right,” I told her matter-of-factly. “That bat has one eye. And you have two eyes.

“That’s because everybody’s different.”

Today’s dose of good feeling and general inspiration

I came upon this embedded into a five-year-old blog post of mine. Some things one doesn’t stop needing to hear:

If you want to cry as well as smile, this longer version ends with a Jim Henson tribute. How many years has it been? (25, says Wikipedia.) I still miss his work and his presence in this world:

And another bit of unrelated-yet-related inspiration, for those of us coming at all this from a when-creativity-meets-professional-life perspective: