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Writing Organization: Early Days with Reminders

One of the drawbacks of how my brain functions is that complex organizational schemes only last for a short period of time, generally. Some things remain relatively intact—my use of the 8 ½” x 11” Moleskine weekly planner, for one, which is just an extension of the complicated DayRunner scheme I used in the ‘90s—but others end up working for about six months.

I’ve tried both electronic and paper organizing methods and where things usually fall down is in the complexity of the system I devise. Last year’s attempt to do weekly/monthly assessments of the writing week, then blogging about it, just about wrecked me. Yes, it was supposed to be providing accountability.

No, it didn’t work.

What that method did was load about an hour’s worth of time-dependent extra work on me, more if you count the blogging piece. At the end, before I dropped doing it, I struggled with rising sensations of feeling overwhelmed and behind, racing along trying to keep up with my organizing structures rather than the organizing structures making things easier. Fewer things got done on my daily to-do list. I still needed to keep day and time-dependent reminders in my working memory. Not the best method for someone with ADHD issues.

Besides, the old method was too dependent upon paper tracking. Which is great if you can break down the tasks when first planning or scheduling, but if you need to add or subtract a task as your work on the primary task unfolds, then it becomes a time suck because you have to recreate the outlines on paper, juggle more 3×5 cards, or whatever to document the expansion. Not to speak of “where on earth is the outline for the more detailed breakdown of this task, damn it, I can’t find it now!”

It also seemed that I had more and more tasks coming my way where I had to go through “if this happens, then I need to take this step next.” But I didn’t always know what that next step would be until the task unfolded—deadlines, a step that needed to happen before I took the next action, etc, etc. An optimal organizing system required the ability to add subtask breakdown steps as part of my planning.

Having some sort of organization also became crucial because I’m juggling multiple volunteer responsibilities as well as preparing for a trilogy book launch this fall. Promotion has changed a lot over the past year and I needed to have some sort of organized strategy that worked for me. I looked at a book-oriented organizing program, but right off the bat it started giving me deadlines based on a slightly different sales model than the one I use. The promotion organizing program assumed I was using Kindle Unlimited and…I don’t sell well on KU, never have been able to get it to work for me. Examining things further it became clear that the program just wasn’t gonna work for me. Oh, I learned a little bit from it, but…it wasn’t the electronic organization I required for the book launch process.

More than that, I needed something to help coordinate my volunteer work.

An electronic planner seemed to be the answer—but was it?

Previous attempts to use electronic planners had failed because at the time I was trying to use them, the ability to nest those subtasks easily didn’t exist, much less being able to network my planner across devices. Oh, I could organize subtasks by date and time, but…arrrgh, it was simply frustrating because I couldn’t sort by specific organizations and major tasks. I got a taste of possibilities with Evernote, but alas, that ended up with issues in the long run. I forget what they were but they were enough for me to stop using the program.

I took a look at what came with my iPhone. One thing I wanted was the ability to go beyond simple calendar tracking. I already had that. I needed the ability to break up my assorted multistep tasks into separate lists. Ideally, it would show up not just on my phone but on my computer. Was there something?

Yes.

On the iPhone it’s called Reminders. I started poking at it and playing with it—aha. Works across devices. I could organize my to-dos by specific groups or tasks, into individual lists. But the program also brought together ALL of my lists that I could check with one screen on my phone. I could break individual to-dos into assorted subtasks so that step-by-step planning, complete with the date and time, could happen WITHOUT having to do a lot of workarounds and cobbling up strategies. It just…happened. Built into the app.

Even better, instead of being tied into extensive data entry on my phone, I could organize and do data entry on my computer. I’m not a heavy user of my phone for anything but the basics—don’t do email or social media on it, so I needed something that crossed devices.

Is it a perfect solution?

Not entirely. There are times when Reminders is a bit wonky.

However, I love being able to set up subtasks, add a date and time, then set times for when specific steps need to be completed. The lists work visually for me.

Plus there’s the satisfaction of tapping that little round button, and seeing the task go away.

Even more satisfying is the reduction of stress on my cognitive load. I don’t have all of my to-dos loaded on the app. Not all of them require that degree of complex tracking. But for the tasks that require that sort of tracking—I’m hopeful that this will make things easier, especially as my responsibilities pick up again during the fall, along with entering the drafting stage of a new book while promoting the new release.

We shall see how things go in the long run.

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State of the Horses, July 2024

 

There’s been a lot of quiet progress on the equine front. Mocha and Marker moved to summer pasture in May. Mocha immediately began establishing her rule not just over Marker but the neighboring gelding, Blue. In past years, when it’s been just Mocha, Blue could get away with wandering off to his shed and ignoring Mocha when she called for him. She would come quickly when he called, but he didn’t necessarily respond when she called, which led to a lot of fretting and frustration on her part.

Things changed now that she has Her Own Gelding. I shut them in a smaller corner pasture because I wanted it to get grazed down first. Didn’t want to do it when Mocha was alone because she’d fret and fuss at not being near other horses. Marker hangs out with Mocha. She doesn’t need Blue for company, except when Marker leaves to go for a ride. She’s very attached to Marker now and calls both when he leaves and when he returns. In return, he hangs out with her and, while being pushy by nature, has become less so the longer he stays with her. If she’s pulled out, he fusses. There hasn’t been a lot of pinned ears, squealing, or popped-up hind end kicking threats from her, either. From past experience I know that if she’s unhappy with field partners I’d be seeing a lot of that behavior. Now, she moves into his space when I’m booting him up and saddling, anticipating shared cookies before I put her back in the field.

The pairing and the weather this year meant that I could rotate them between pasture sections, too, something we used to do with our horses when I was a kid. Unfortunately I think this week’s hot spell probably finished that management for the summer. They still have plenty to graze in that upper field for another week or two. But we shall see—depending on when the fall rains come, I might do it again.

She is having more issues with the steeper upper field, and some of the rocky paths she used to choose. However, Marker keeps her moving, more than she would if she was alone or with the mare herd. She is a stay in one place and graze type where he likes to move around while grazing. But she still trots and canters quite a bit. It’s good to see, and she’s putting weight on while still maintaining muscle.

Marker’s come quite a ways this summer. I took him to our first big event together at the end of June, the Ranch Rodeo trail ride that winds its way through Joseph and up to the top of the moraine. He had to handle being around 40-50 horses and mules; being in the front, middle, and end of the line; having a lot of horses moving in and out of his space; having stock dogs trotting behind him; and negotiating both town obstacles and rocky hillsides with a rider. Plus a big, wide ditch with water, about two feet deep.

He got a little worried when we were crowded going on our way out of town, but didn’t squeal, kick, or even pin his ears. Whenever he got nervous, I talked to him, then eventually circled back to put him in a less-crowded space. He did get worried about road markings (that bicycle path marker was eeevvvill, I tell you, EEEEVVILL) and cement retaining walls, but that was really the worst of it. We had a couple of slippery moments with his boots going downhill, but he cooperated with me and we did fine. Boy horse has that invisible fifth leg to catch himself that Mocha didn’t. She opted for precision and slow placement in those situations, while he marches through. But he’s a bigger horse so that makes a difference.

By the time we rode down Joseph’s Main Street, he was DONE, however. Not being a jerk or spooky, just letting me know by the speed of his pace and his overall behavior that he had gone through enough. He was a good boy as we rode near the head of the line through town, and whinnied at his trailer when we came within sight of it. I don’t know if he expected Mocha to be in it or if he was just happy to see the trailer.

Another thing that’s happening is that he is apparently gaited. I don’t know if this is natural or something I’ve done—I got Mocha to do much the same thing on the road, except that it didn’t feel as natural for her as it does him. Don’t ask me what gait it is that he’s doing—it covers ground nicely on the roads, is very comfortable and smooth, and eats up the miles. Might be singlefoot; might be running walk. Or even an amble. That points to a likely Morgan background in addition to the Arabian because while Quarter Horses do have some gaiting in them, it’s not as common as it is in Morgans. It’s easy enough to feel why horses with that sort of gait were prized back in the day when horseback riding was a dominant transportation mode.

Or it could be me—my first horse mentor, Carol Suit, got just about every horse that passed through her hands to gait. I was too young to realize that was a good skill to develop but I must have picked it up somewhere.

In any case, we’re making progress in horse world. I can direct Marker somewhat with hand signals and the use of the lunge whip as a guide. I can open the wire gate, tell him back and whoa, and he stays there until I halter him. He still gets anxious and pushy after I’ve been gone a day or two, but even that is improving.

Progress in small steps.

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Writing Process–Scene Matrix for The Cost of Power

Over the past few days I’ve been working my way through nearly a thousand pages of manuscript to whip The Cost of Power into some sort of continuity shape. After running all three books through a line edit, my next step was to sit down with paper and a felt-tipped pen to create a rough scene matrix intended to help me identify holes in the story as well as places where I contradict myself. I addressed some issues in the line edit pass, but this is laying the foundation for the big revision.

After two years of working on this trilogy, I needed to do this intensive review to get all of the pieces into my head as a coherent whole.

I’ve used this tool before, primarily when working with more than two points-of-view in books with a complicated geography. The last two books of The Netwalk Sequence required this treatment because not only were there four character viewpoints, but the characters were scattered across the Earth and in space. The same was true for the last two books of Goddess’s Honor, except in that case I was coordinating magical battles across two continents, plus dealing with less technological means of transportation.

The matrix this time wasn’t as complicated as either of those series, thankfully, just longer because it covers three books for nearly a thousand pages total. I only had two POVs to coordinate, and distance wasn’t a factor. So I didn’t need to figure out where everyone was in each scene and whether offstage characters were doing something important that needed to be covered.

For The Cost of Power, the biggest reason for resorting to the scene matrix (besides length and time spent writing it) was that the last third of the third book came up with some big surprises that needed to be addressed earlier in the trilogy. Otherwise these ending events read like a deus ex machina and that doesn’t work. They’re also the sort of worldbuilding pieces that enrich and deepen the story. I needed to identify holes in the story, plus figure out where to put this backstory earlier in the trilogy.

Is it going to make the trilogy significantly longer? Not really. For one thing, during the line edit pass, I got rather aggressive about cutting words. Those first drafts had a lot of repetition in them. For another, in this pass, the scene matrix identified spots where the characters were just blathering. It was interesting blather, but it didn’t advance the story or give much depth to the characters or the world.

Which is one reason why I really like using a scene matrix to analyze a book in revisions. All I needed to do was identify pages, characters in the scene, scene events, and scene purpose/notes (which became more notes than purpose as I worked through the piles of paper). Unlike Netwalk or Goddess’s Honor, I didn’t need to figure out what the other characters were doing and where they were.

I also sat down and ran through a book a day, rather than taking this step slowly. Why? Well, I wanted the entire trilogy in my head, as I mentioned above. Because I’d just done the line edit of all three books, I still remembered mental notes I had made about things I needed to consider during the scene matrix creation.

It’s not quite time to dive into the rewrite, though. I have to make further notes about several issues I flagged as backstory that I need to flesh out, as well as figure out where I need to insert the backstory or fix holes that need me to create the framework for fixing them.

But at least this step is done. My arthritic thumb is swollen and a little achy, but that’s gotten better as I worked. I have ink stains from the old and failing felt-tipped pens I used to create the scene matrix—better to use felt-tips for long periods of handwriting than ball points, as I’ve sadly discovered. Even if the felt-tipped pens are messy and I can only write on one side of a sheet of paper due to bleedthrough. I have a lot of spirals hanging around still (leftovers from abandoned student spirals that I just pulled out sheets that had been written on and saved the clean paper).

I have no freaking idea if this story will sell at all, or if it just turns out to be a trilogy of the heart. Nonetheless, I’m committed to making it the best damn trilogy I can. It’s the conclusion of the Martiniere Saga, even though I do leave myself an opening to possibly write something about the next generation. Though I don’t think that will happen. As I’m learning from wrestling with the concept of the sequel series to Goddess’s Honor, even if there’s a possibility that the stories can go on…that doesn’t mean they necessarily will.

Onward.

Note: I seem to be on a blogging roll of late. Soon enough I’ll be slowing down, but it appears that I apparently am able to get back to posting again.

Meanwhile, don’t forget, if you like what you read, you can buy me a coffee here.

 

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Reorganizing the office

It’s amazing how inspired I can get from reorganizing my office. Starting the process always begins with me reaching a point of frustration, because whatever structure I have been using suddenly just doesn’t work. Brain fog tiptoes in and I end up feeling overwhelmed, blocked, and dull. Until I find a solution, I fumble around feeling like I’m trying to catch raindrops in a sieve and straining to make sure I’m not dropping a ball somewhere.

The chaos flows over into planner use. When my systems are working, the planner has nice neat outlines for what I need to do during the week. I make my deadlines without stressing. But when they aren’t…the planner devolves into blank pages, scribbled frantic notes, and half the time I can’t find either it or my phone so I don’t have a mental picture of my day, my week, my month and it all becomes a big AUUGGGH, especially when I need a piece of paper and I can’t find that one paper I really, really NEED.

Sometimes the fix is simply an issue of doing the damn filing.

Sometimes the fix requires more, like rearranging furniture because the current office layout isn’t working.

That’s what I was up against this time. I needed a quiet space to spread out and do editing and revision work on the trilogy. While I always keep saying I need to have space when I’m shuffling papers or working by hand, for some reason that setup rarely seems to happen in my writing office, for various reasons.

My chair doesn’t fit the surfaces in the office to use for handwriting so I don’t use them. Stuff then accumulates on the surfaces. Or I can’t access my filing setups if I do have the surface that works for handwriting and paper shuffling, so the paper piles grow taller and taller.

It’s always that. Always.

I’ve been slowly working on addressing this issue over the past year. During my teaching days, I had a solution of sorts. My computer desk formed the base of a U-shaped arrangement. On the right side, I had files and a space for quick writing notes. On the left side was a big old Steelcase desk where I did grading, planning, and longer-term work. My chair raised and lowered easily.

But replicating a setup like that in my writing office, has always been a challenge. Remembering that U-shaped setup helped. Finding the solution without spending money on new office equipment was the challenge. That, plus accommodating bookcases, the need to find a better mousing setup, and replacing my office chair were all pieces to fit together.

It’s been a slow process. I found a solution of sorts for the mouse. Then the chair. Horse trailer repairs required a visit to a (relatively) big city nearby that had a Staples. One of my office chair issues is that I needed to sit in the darn thing. I had read too many negative Amazon reviews of all sorts of office chairs to make me comfortable with buying one online. There were some I thought might work, but….

I found the chair that worked. Then it was coming up with that flat surface for shuffling papers. First, I tried an old typewriter desk that my much older brother had used during his college years. It’s pretty nice—‘60s era faux wood with two drop leafs. I had been using it for sewing, but it wasn’t ideal. Too shaky.

However…I had been using a card table when I wanted to work on big projects. It wasn’t an ideal fit in that room, but it was kinda okay. The spouse had one of those early model pressboard student computer desks. He was using the card table because it worked better for him. I did some measuring, and…it fit!

I just sat down and did the major scene matrix outline for the first book in The Cost of Power: Return on that setup. It was comfortable, I was able to get up and work on other things without worrying about my papers being disturbed, and best of all, I was able to put it all away on the typewriter table when I finished. Ah.

It’s a tight fit, but I can move the typewriter table to see the books behind it, the filing cabinet is clear, and…I can be productive. Yay.

And now it’s off to do the scene matrix outline for Book Two.

Just a reminder, if you like what you’re reading, please don’t forget to buy your writer a coffee! The link is here, and thanks to those of you who contribute.

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Well, I’m back

Image–roses at Arlington, Oregon, taken by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Well, I’m back.

I didn’t expect to be away from writing a blog post for so long, but I’ve had my head down writing madly so I could finish The Cost of Power trilogy.

There’s also been life stuff going on. The sort of thing that comes along with aging and all that not-so-entertaining stuff involving doctors. Not life-threatening, and the health stuff wasn’t me, but the spouse. Thankfully, so far it seems to be settling down. However, it was a wakeup call. Add to that the news that the wife of our college roommate found him collapsed in their greenhouse without a pulse. He was revived, but…incidents like that happening to friends are the kind of thing that make you think once you hit that retirement age.

Especially when long-term household items decide it’s time to be replaced. The mattress. The tack room lock and the floor on the horse trailer. The old Subaru. Not fun when you’re driving up Cabbage Hill and the darn car won’t go over 45 mph even when floorboarded and in third gear. I’ve decided that I am never ever going to say “well I think that’s the last of THAT item I’ll ever buy” because…yeah. It doesn’t work that way.

So. A lot of life going on. Plus the realization that trying to write a trilogy, juggle several serial fiction pieces, and write Substack blogs just plain burned me out. It hasn’t been that I haven’t been thinking about writing blogs, it’s been more of a matter that I just haven’t had the energy to write them. Or work on fabric art. Or do much beyond basic housework plus horse training and maintenance.

Nonetheless, the last book of the trilogy is finished. Now the fun times begin. I have nearly a thousand pages of manuscript printed out and ready for the big continuity edit, after going through a preliminary line edit. I’ve been working on this trilogy for—let me think—something like a year and a half? Two years?

I don’t know if it’s finishing the trilogy at last or what, but all of a sudden it feels like I can actually get things done. While I attended the virtual side of the Nebulas last weekend, I didn’t feel as tired out as usual after a convention, and I actually have been accomplishing things this week, including a major office muckout and rearrangement. Now I feel ready to attack editing the trilogy.

That’s going to be a major job. While I plotted out The Cost of Power by writing chapter synopses, about halfway through the second book I started getting some twists I hadn’t expected. I anticipate that something like this will occur and usually account for it in my writing process, but by the time I got to the last third of the third book, I started realizing that the story had turned in an even bigger fashion. Therefore, the continuity edit. However, even with the last pieces, it’s not going to be a monster rewrite. More along the lines of dropping breadcrumbs so that the last part of the trilogy doesn’t come out of nowhere. All the same, I’m probably going to fall back on one of my tried-and-true editing processes, using a scene matrix to ensure that I haven’t left something out.

More than that, I may (yet again, damn it), have another piece to write about in this world. The Cost of Power is most definitely science fantasy contemporary western with a relationship. One of the backstory pieces that is now nagging at me to be written is a straightforward prequel involving high fantasy and a multiverse. But it might need to sit on the back burner and simmer for a while. I don’t think it’s going to be a big story—at most, a novella.

So things are pretty much plugging along. The first book of The Cost of Power will release on August 20th, the second three weeks later, and the third two weeks after that. I plan to issue an ebook omnibus edition in November which will include snippets that are currently only available to my newsletter subscribers (which if you want to subscribe and get access, the signup is here). Those of you getting this blog post by email will also have access to the first snippet, available here. But the process right now is that newsletter folx get the first chance at it, then the email blog recipients. We’ll see after that.

Whew. Getting back into the swing of things is…a challenge. But I’m up for it. There’s a lot of stuff I can write about the horses—Marker is proceeding right along in training. He and Mocha are currently on summer pasture, and he’s being indoctrinated into The Mocha Way. The old mare is enjoying her well-earned retirement and looks good this summer.

That’s it for now…hopefully I’ll be getting back to blathering on a more regular basis.

Oh, and if you’re interested in tossing a coin to your scribbler, the horses would like some cookies. Buy me a coffee here.

Until the next time…which I promise won’t be so long!

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Marker at six months together

This horse. This mystery of a horse.

Late winter and early spring have been a bit of a challenge because Mr. Boi is acting in a studly manner when he’s in turnout with the herd, and he’s been dropping his Male Appendage regularly when being handled, which is NOT good manners for a boy horse, whether intact or gelded (we have a couple of questions about how well the gelding process was–more further on). I’ve revised my mental estimate of his age to the younger side, because whether that’s true physically or not, it’s certainly true of him mentally. He acts like a seven-year-old to eight-year-old horse who hasn’t been handled consistently on the ground, and his attitude reminds me of a seventh grade boy. In other words, he can’t find his behind with both front feet, and he ranges from sweet as pie to absolute asshole, often within minutes of each other. The epitome of dorkitude. But it’s also how he’s built–even for a mostly-Arabian, he still looks to me like he needs to fill out and mature. Depending on the individual horse, that can happen from age seven to around ten. I’ve seen that degree of variance. Mocha hit physical maturity at age nine–there was one day when I looked at her and said “you’ve grown up.” But her neighbor in the stall row, Adam, a royally-bred Quarter Horse gelding from western pleasure bloodlines, didn’t hit that stage until he was ten. Which is why I’ve been cautious about distinguishing mental from physical age when talking about Marker. He reminds me a lot of Adam these days.

Under saddle, however, progress has been moving right along. We’re still a ways off with canter, at least for my purposes. Most of the time he picks up the correct lead, but it takes him a while to get into it. Eh, fixing that comes with time and he’s getting there. Arena time this summer will help a lot with that. It took a year to start getting Mocha settled into canter and it may take that long with him as well–a question of strength in part, but also just plain an issue of footing in his case. I’m introducing counterbend a lot earlier than I did with Mocha, the same for two-tracking. From the very start he’s been doing both correctly–do I think he had been trained to it previously? Not sure, but if it was, it was very lightly done. We’ve gone down the road several times and I’ve been pleased with how he handles riding out. He’s on his toes, but not the coiled spring that was Mocha, especially in spring time. He startles but listens to me, and he’s less reactive than Mocha (doesn’t hurt that he’s not yet as powerful in the front end as she was, to the end of her riding days). I can easily talk him past things that worry him–which gets to the opening line.

This horse. I’m humbled by the degree to which he demonstrates trust in me–and started doing so early on in our relationship. He showed this yesterday when we took him to the vet. He has a large divot in his neck, about the size of my palm and a couple of inches deep. The vet was amazed by it, and called several assistants to take a look at the scar. I made the rational assumption that he would be at the minimum worried about a vet visit, and at the worst freaking out, based on how reactive he is to clippers trimming his mane close to his scar.

He was worried, but that was it. Calmer in the trailer than Mocha is, with less pawing, no kicking the wall, and no screaming. He trembled in the trailer at the vet’s, but unloaded, and…immediately looked to me and hubby for reassurance. His only indication of worry was a wider flare of his nostrils. Then he would turn his head, brush a nostril against one or the other of us and…that soothed him. I walked him around and showed him several things. He followed me confidently, with only a couple of his worried honking snorts. Whenever something bothered him, he turned to us. He entered the examination area willingly, and followed me into the stocks with no fuss. Well-behaved throughout dental and sheath cleaning procedures, even though the vet felt he hadn’t had much if any work done on his teeth previously, except for the removal of wolf teeth when he was gelded. The vet cut down his canines (they were long for a horse. I have the tips, and may combine them with a chunk of Mocha’s teeth for a piece of jewelry, perhaps in combination with tail hair from both).

He stood with a minimum of fuss for a blood draw to check his testosterone status, because he’s been behaving as if there might be problems with his gelding. Or he could just be a studdy gelding. It happens. Nonetheless, we need to know if he’s throwing off excess testosterone for a horse who isn’t supposed to possess those organs. If it’s a retained testicle (worst case), then for his health it’s a good idea that we do something. The vet had a story about one case he encountered where he found a partial testicle in one gelding, then…a complete retained testicle in the abdomen. Besides being an issue for pasturing him with mares, there can be long-term implications, so…we’ll know next week.

Otherwise? It appears that I got lucky and ended up with another horse who hopefully has a low-maintenance mouth for dental work (in horses that’s an issue of uneven levels in the molars, as well as sharp points and spurs that can rub the inside of their mouth and cause ulcers there. They don’t get cavities filled, in part because horse teeth keep growing until they’re older, and they wear down because of the grinding effect from grazing). His overall health is good. And now he has all his shots on board. That’s a relief.

But most of all, he demonstrated that he trusts me, and he trusts hubby. Even though he’s only been with us for six months. Mocha has always maintained an attitude of “I trust you but I’m checking details anyway,” and it took her longer to reach that point with me. Marker is generous with his trust, it appears, and he’ll follow me just about anywhere, it seems. Which is–humbling to consider.

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And…still dealing with the slump

Well, I got all ambitious and…nope, it’s not gonna work for being aggressive about blogging.

The first two months of 2024 have been somewhat of a coming to terms with myself about writing, letting go of ambitions, and accepting the fate of obscurity. Lemme tell you, letting go of a dream of making it big in a creative field is not an easy thing to do. Nonetheless, for the past few months I’ve been wrestling with this concept.

It was rather ironic that I read another newsletter about quitting Substack and getting off the hamster wheel of chasing subscription income and developing an influencer following just this morning. The person in question was pulling back to their Patreon, deleting their Substack, and just backing out entirely.

Which–I spent a lot of time thinking about this. Whether I could draft enough blog posts to maintain a weekly schedule. After all, I used to blog on LiveJournal just about daily. However, that felt different from Substack, or even what I’m doing now, which is posting on my WordPress blog, then to Dreamwidth, then sending it to a small list of subscribers via SendFox.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I just don’t want to obsess about my audience anymore. Seriously. One of the big issues with the Substack model is that there’s an almost constant pressure to keep putting out new work, and do what you can to remain visible. I ran into the same issue with my newsletter plans at the beginning of February when I realized that I wanted to spend some time wrapping up the conclusion of Crucible and moving on to Redemption, so that hopefully I can release the three volumes of The Cost of Power later this year, and move on to other work. Thinking about doing the bare minimum of posting made me flinch, and felt like a Sisyphean chore. I–just didn’t want to do it.

The other thing is that I am mourning the loss of a dream, and have been since December. I’ve dreamed about “making it big” as a writer for damned near sixty years now. I sent out short stories in high school. Never sold a one of them, and at times I wonder if I should have mentioned that I was a high school student. However, I’m not sure that would have mattered in the early ’70s, especially since I’m female. I’ve wondered if I should have started out under a pseudonym using initials, though the obvious one is already taken, and the number of Reynoldses out there is downright appalling.

I’ve been writing and submitting off and on since then. I had started to really push hard in the ’90s, but mistakenly listened to a so-called “friend” and tried to sell essays instead of fictions. Additionally, my spouse was working long hours which left me with the primary responsibility for raising our lovely but challenging son. As it was, I probably spent more time working at writing when I should have been parenting. But I had this dream. In retrospect, I should have been parenting more, writing less, especially considering what has happened to the dream.

Look. I have a decent essayist’s voice. But I find writing essays to be a challenge. Yes, even this blather can be like pulling teeth. And it’s not my first love. I want to tell stories, not necessarily spend my time writing about the latest and greatest or coming up with clickbaity rants. I suppose I could spend more time writing about politics. However, while I’m still an occasional politics junkie at heart, I also really don’t have the desire to write political essays regularly. Political fiction…sure. Essays? Nah. Maybe I’d feel different if the essays actually sent people to my fiction, but they don’t. Not even if I write essays about my stories (look. I review my sales dashboards regularly. I know when something clicks and people try me out. I’ve had assorted peeps claim they’ve either bought the book or their reviews sold books for me–and I’m here to tell you, if it doesn’t show up on my dashboards, I have a hard time believing you. You can BS a tradpub author that way. You can’t do the same for a selfpub author.).

The other thing that went bad for me in the ’90s was a toxic writing group that killed my desire to write for a few years.

This latest block of mine hasn’t been that bad, thankfully. All the same, I’ve had to face some facts.

I’m never going to be a famous or well-known author.

I can count my known fans on the fingers of two hands and have fingers left over.

The last three attempts at entering self-published fiction contests have been disastrous. The reviewers echo my traditional publishing rejections–“well-written, an interesting and different take on the topic, and–we’re cutting it from the competition, along with the poorly-written and poorly-edited work.” Sounds an awful lot like “love your voice, love your work…can’t sell it.”

I’ve gained some perspective as to why this might be happening. I tend to find my characters and their ethical dilemmas more interesting than McGuffins or tech or high, gimmicky, trendy concepts. I mix genres freely, including using scene techniques more in line with literary than commercial work (as I learned from reading a recent guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog). The current fashion in fantasy and science fiction is for hard magic and hard science systems, with visible, known, and consistent rules for both.

I don’t write like that.

Furthermore, I don’t like the sales model of spending 9K in advertising to earn 10K.

But the other piece is that I’m downright lousy at networking, butt-kissing, and schmoozing. Success on platforms like Substack or the assorted self-published competitions requires a lot of networking and back-scratching, some of which is just plain old tit-for-tat “buy and review my stuff and I’ll buy and review yours.” A certain amount of that is to be expected. Some of the schemes, however, verge on unethical behavior and I’m just not going there. I don’t really have the time or money for the big-name workshops that would give me an insider’s support. That doesn’t mean I don’t have friends in the writing world–I do. But I’ve said “fuck you” to powerful and toxic people far too often, and, well, that’s the price I have to pay for being true to myself and what I believe.

In any case, I’ve spent several months wrestling with where I go with my writing. At this point, I’m out of the contest world. But the other piece–letting go of the dream of “making it big” as a writer–is a hard one to accept. There have been days of tears and sorrow. Lots of them. Questioning. Bargaining with myself.

Nonetheless, I have to deal with reality. I lack the temperament to market myself in the manner that will earn me more attention. I don’t want to spend large amounts of money to earn a small amount in sales. I’m not going to spend $15k on edits for a series that isn’t going to earn me even a fraction of that expense. Same for covers. I’m not an influencer sort. I’m sixty-six years old, and women my age just don’t start breaking out in my chosen genres, whether you’re talking self-pub or tradpub. Note the bold. I’ve been told otherwise, but the examples cited are either male or in another genre, and comments to that effect are likely to earn you some barbed snark because I’m sick of hearing non-matching examples.

It’s not easy to accept, however.

So yeah. Lots of blather about why you haven’t seen anything from me for a month. I do have some horse blogs written, and maybe some other stuff. But for now, this newsletter is gonna show up irregularly, when I feel like writing it, and that’s the way it’s gonna be.

If you want to subscribe so you don’t miss this blather, here’s the link: SendFox.

Or you could throw me some $$ at Ko-fi. Or not. Whatever. It’s up to you.

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Information doesn’t necessarily want to be free

Note: I should have probably posted this two weeks ago, but I was still working things out when it came to Substack alternatives. I may still have more to do, but…here we are, the promised response to Yann LeCun’s December 31st/January 1st tweets. Working now on some horse blogs, as well as writing blogs.

One of the not-so-delightful parts of New Year’s Day 2024 was a series of postings by Yann LeCun (chief AI scientist at Meta) on Xitter saying that most book authors should release their books for free, because…oh, here’s the screenshot.

Needless to say, that sentiment didn’t go over well with a number of authors, including me. And because it was New Year’s Day, many of us had some time to express our opinions. LeCun kept focusing on the low dollar amounts most authors make as a justification for making their books available for free downloads, and that if authors aren’t expecting to make a lot of money off of their work, then they are motivated more by intellectual impact. Ergo, they should release their work for free if that is the case.

Sigh. Yet another example of how low the “information wants to be free” argument has devolved. LeCun’s argument has a number of flaws, including the reality that no one in publishing, including publishers, can tell you in advance whether a book is going to be a hit with the public or not. Oh, there’s a certain amount of sales that can happen given the right amount of money spent on promotion.

However, there is no tried-and-true formula for discerning what books will sell well. If there is, New York has yet to discover it. The same holds for a number of ambitious and aggressive self-published writers.

Granted, one has to keep in mind that LeCun is coming from an academic perspective and he is most likely thinking of nonfiction. Even at that, however, it’s somewhat saddening to read the implied notion that one either writes for intellectual impact or money (and the manner in which he repeatedly frames the argument as either/or strongly suggests he’s operating from a nonfiction point of view). There’s no room for entertainment or education (which I suppose could loosely be defined as “intellectual impact”) in this framework.

However, most of us who write, especially fiction, are not doing so as part of a day job. LeCun comes from an academic background where publication, either for free or requiring the author to pay for it, is part of the job requirement. He can afford to give away his creations because he’s already receiving compensation for them through his work. LeCun’s bias shows up in his own words:

Those of us who write fiction, whether we’re submitting to traditional publishing or self-publication, start laughing bitterly at this statement, because we don’t know how much we’re going to make from it unless the book is already under contract. This current work-in-progress could manage to hit the popularity-go-round on release—catching the wave of what’s currently popular. Or a major influencer on BookTok or other online venue suddenly discovers the book and promotes the heck out of it. Or…lots of possibilities exist, including the possibility that this book becomes a sleeper hit months or years after initial release.

The reality is that unless you have an advance in hand before you start writing the book (more common in nonfiction than fiction) you just won’t know before publication whether the book is a hit or not. That’s just the reality of publishing.

But let’s also look at the other piece of LeCun’s argument…the “intellectual impact” and “benefits to society” side. Again, this is more of a nonfiction writer’s position. “Intellectual impact” might fall more to the literary side, where the author is engaged with dialogue about theme. “Benefits to society”—I suppose that depends on how one approaches the concept of entertainment as either a frill or necessity.

That said, most fiction writers are writing to tell a story, with the primary purpose of entertainment, whether that be for the author or for the author’s hoped readers.

Then the question becomes, how does society benefit from free entertainment? Oooh, that’s a monstrous can of worms to consider, especially after all the years of apparently “free” entertainment provided by broadcast television and radio. Only said entertainment was not exactly “free.” Those radio and television shows had/have sponsors, advertising, and product placements within the story framework. “Free” periodicals have donors, advertisers, and sponsors.

And shall we discuss pop-up ads on websites?

The reality is that there is no such thing as “free” information. Someone pays for the creation and the distribution of such information, and someone pays for the receipt of such information. The purpose for the existence of such information can range from any sort of combination of product advertising to sharing a cool idea to entertainment to promotion of particular ideologies.

No matter what the purpose, at some point payment happens for the creation of the concepts, images, and words, both by the creators in the form of the efforts they perform (for which they will receive some sort of compensation, either by an employer or by selling the result of their creative endeavor) and by the recipients in the form of paying for the product through purchase, subscription, or exposure to advertising/ideologies.

It’s not free, to either creator or recipient of information. It only seems as if it is free.

And so, to return to LeCun’s assertion that most books should be freely available for download, I assert that his conclusion is based on a flawed assumption that information wants to be free. That the spread of information, whether through fiction or nonfiction, is free.

I assert that all information is paid, whether through effort or money. LeCun and others who assert information wants to be free conveniently overlook the cost of the effort it takes to create something.

Information doesn’t want to be free. It just makes you believe that it wants to be free.

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Just another random post–digging out of a slump

Yeah, yeah, I know, this doesn’t fit the current fashion to have your blog posts all neatly organized and corralled because I’m drafting this just before posting, and it’s not on the list of things to post. And I am getting to that place…slowly. But I keep getting mugged by ideas that I want to write, especially when I’m out working with the horses, or that infamous “ideas popping into my head just as I start going to sleep” moment.

Arrgh. It’s frustrating.

One issue is that I’ve been slowly thrashing around trying to dig myself out of a slump with the fiction work and that’s bled over into these casual essays. At first I thought this feeling was due exclusively to working within the same series, with the same characters, for over four years. Then I started thinking about the other, non-series work I’ve been drafting during this period, especially when I was posting work on Kindle Vella as well as Substack and—oh.

More than one thing going on.

First, I’ve spent the past few years hustling to post on Medium, Substack, and Kindle Vella. While some of that has been a crossover with my published fiction, a lot of it hasn’t been that. All three venues require a certain amount of time dedicated to them and/or associated social media as a participant in order to gain any attention to your own work. That ends up being a time suck, especially since the writing that gets done on social media doesn’t go into creative work. Or, if I have multiple notions to post, I have to stop and think about whether I want to spam people’s inboxes.

Which, honestly, causes me to freeze up when I think about it. Then it becomes a case of “oh no, I can’t post that because I posted already today.”

The hustle culture around those venues also ends up being a time suck that doesn’t necessarily show results. So it’s not at all surprising that I started sliding into a slump from just plain old burnout. While all those posts last year about writing accountability really helped me at the beginning, they eventually became just another millstone around my neck that interfered with writing production and choked me up.

Second, I realized that yes, writing these blogs helps with my writing production. I don’t draft them with an eye toward eventual publication because in order to do that, I need to spend more time polishing them. These are meant to be reflections more than anything else—basically, the classic blog.

Third, I want to write these blogs about a lot of things. Not just about writing but about horses, current events, and even a little political history. One thing that is coming clear from my current activity on social media is that I remember a lot of political history that is relevant to current events. I recently started rereading a history of Democratic party organizing in Oregon during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and came away with the reaction that not only are there many similarities between the current situation and that era, but that wow, if we think things are rather chaotic now, um, the way third parties rose and fell, and coalitions frequently shifted during that era (and some of those hijinks)….

Things can get worse. But they can also get better. I want to share some of those insights, but mixed in with horses, blathering about the outdoors, writing, and who knows what else.

So. Drafting this post today and putting it up today, but I am working on building up a backlog of posts. I’d like to put things up two or three times a week, without swarming the inboxes but providing variety.

We’ll see how it goes.

My next post this week will be “Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free,” a reaction to some tweets by Yann LeCun that, well, rubbed me the wrong way because of his attitude toward fiction. I have one post drafted about winter horses, and will be working on another shortly about a recent realization that this past year makes it twenty-seven years since I went back to riding horses as an adult. I also have some writing process posts in mind, one about converting a villain to a protagonist (Philip Martiniere, for those of you who are curious) and musings about organization.

But no more accountability posts. Damn, that was enough to send me into burnout just on its own.

Meanwhile—housekeeping issues. I’m not sure just yet how SendFox handles responses. Feel free to send me a note at [email protected] if you want to respond and you aren’t sure if responding in email works.

For those of you reading this someplace other than your inbox, this is how you get this newsletter in your inbox: https://sendfox.com/lp/1rev2y

Hoping to see you around!

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Yay! I think things are resolved…and DUCKS!

Mallard ducks in snow-covered wheat stubblefield

This picture of mallard ducks in a snow-covered wheat stubblefield just amazes me. They moved in when subzero temperatures hit, creating these nests in the snow. The picture really doesn’t do it justice because I took it on the first day that temps rose above freezing and the ducks were starting to fly around rather than cluster in groups like the one I show here. There were hundreds of ducks in that field. Just…totally astonishing.

We’ve pretty much been riding through the winter weather here. Our little corner of the valley seems to keep avoiding the worst of the storms so far but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We got down to -18F one day and had multiple days where all I did with the horses was go out to the ranch, give them grain and treats, and look them over. Even with a young horse I’m reluctant to ask for much when the temps are less than 15F. Mocha got a neck hood added to her portable shed (aka the heaviest Weatherbeeta brand blanket on the market) and Marker got Ground Schooling With Cones. Which meant a lot of backing up with precise targeting* and lots of step, whoa, step, whoa.

*ahem, not-so-precise right now since he is a wiggly fidgety boy with ADHD elements and he’s not done this before. He’s better under saddle than on the ground so far. But it will come.

The resolution of things addresses not just this blog but my author newsletter. My monthly newsletter needed to find a new home since MailChimp was shutting down TinyLetter. I had considered moving to Substack because, well, it’s easier. I even started adding new subscriber lists to the Substack I made for the author newsletter. Then the whole kerfuffle over extremist content being monetized on Substack happened, and that was a big nope. I have newsletter subscribers who won’t use Substack. I started looking around at newsletter options, and started setup on Mailerlite only to realize that while the free program has a lot to offer, I could only run one thing from it. If I wanted to migrate my Substack blog subscribers there, I needed to run with a paid account.

Not gonna work.

I looked at other options, and either ran into list upload issues, or just didn’t have the room to grow, much less run two separate functions (blog and newsletter) from the same platform. Not unless I paid money, and given that I haven’t monetized any of this stuff, monthly payments didn’t seem like a great thing to do. However, I discovered that there was an option with a reasonable one-time payment, and started checking it out. I’m now working with SendFox. It’s not big but it has more tools than TinyLetter or Substack, really, without overwhelming me like Mailerlite did. If I ever make it big I’ll probably move the author letter to Mailerlite–or not. I have more tools to work with and figuring these tools out is going to take me some time.

I’m still tweaking and finalizing things. But how things stand right now is that content for the blog starts here, and is mirrored on SendFox and Dreamwidth.

Just creating the landing signup pages on SendFox this morning was a huge relief. I didn’t realize the degree to which worry about what I was going to do was piling up on me. Add that to the need to keep on top of the weather so I could react appropriately to what was happening and it’s been a wild start to 2024.

What can you expect to see from this blog coming up? Amongst other things, this is one of the few blogs where you’ll see me drafting directly in WordPress. I have several drafts in Word, some about horses, some about writing commentary, and I have a whole list of topics to work on. Upcoming blogs will include a reaction to statements by one of the bigwigs in A.I. about how authors should just upload our work for free, reflections on reforming a villain in one of my worlds, and as always, the occasional horse training and management update.

Meanwhile, if you want to follow me easily, here are a couple of links (note, if you are reading this in your email, you’re fine for the blog feed!):

Want to subscribe to my blog feed and read my musings about writing, life as a senior in the wide open spaces, and blathering about horses? Sign up here: https://sendfox.com/lp/1rev2y

Want to subscribe to my monthly newsletter for more information about what I’m writing, what I’m publishing, and links/announcements of sales, appearances, and special programs? Sign up here: https://sendfox.com/jreynoldsward

And if you want to contribute to the Fund for Horses with Boopable Noses and the Old Grouch…here’s my Ko-fi link! https://ko-fi.com/joycereynoldsward

(Yes, I know I should make the links into cute buttons or so on. Work in progress and all that.)

Oh yeah…the Ko-fi link also allows you to buy ebooks directly from me rather than from the big distributors. I’m running a sale on The Heritage of Michael Martiniere and A Different Life: What If?

Deep breath. I’m baaaack. Watch out, world.

 

 

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