How I’m Reigniting My Creative Spark During the Time of COVID

What has it been like to launch a post-apocalyptic book that takes place following a period of economic collapse and mysterious pandemic during an actual economic downward tailspin, series of stay at home orders, and side of civil unrest to boot? Well, let me be the first to tell you it’s been as rewarding as you would expect it to be.

In short, my book launch flopped.

Don’t worry. I’m not asking for you to send me a slew of sympathy notes. It’s okay. If you are reading these words, I already assume you are an empathetic soul who appreciates the arts or at least a supportive friend. Also, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected this outcome. I made my peace with it before I hit the publish button.

Lies and LegacyI could have waited for market conditions to improve. That’s what a number of traditional publishers have done. I didn’t, though, because who knows when that time will be and the series had already gone on long enough between volumes. I decided, if nothing else, I owed the readers who’d kindly given me a chance, closure. I owed myself closure too.

However, what I didn’t expect was the absolute loss of my creative spark following this decision. I’d written before that Lies & Legacy was the book that almost broke me. In the weeks following its publication, I found myself wondering if perhaps there was no ‘almost’ about it.

I’ve been seriously considering giving up the dream of achieving literary success to free up my time to focus more on my commercial non-fiction writing. It would be the sensible thing to do. Not only does my non-fiction efforts pay more reliably (and better), but it is also exponentially less stressful to produce. There is no lying awake dwelling on a one-star review or agonizing over how to address a stubborn plot hole. However, between you and me, it is not nearly as satisfying.

I found I couldn’t do it.

Still, it is one thing to say you eventually want to return to writing novels. You have to have the overwhelming determination and desire to create in you too, and mine was gone—just gone—and there was no telling when it might come back. And so, instead of writing, I spent the first half of the year doing what so many other people have done during this time. I baked (I now make a great soft pretzel). I gardened (I recently harvested my first potato). I pretended I was okay with everything when I was in front of my kids. I randomly burst into tears at the slightest provocation when I wasn’t. I did what I thought I had to do.

However, I realized one day, if I didn’t force myself back into the chair, then I might as well admit giving up the dream was no longer my choice to make. I could no longer wait for inspiration to strike—it was clearly practicing safe social distancing. Instead, if I wanted to return to fiction, I had to reignite my creative spark myself.

I returned to the basics. I cracked open one of the first craft books I’d ever purchased: the 90-day Novel (affiliate link) and followed instructions. I wrote for five minutes that first day. Five minutes was enough. I did it again the second day and the day after that. I was on a roll. Until I wasn’t. Days went by. However, a funny thing happened during this time. I wasn’t writing, but I’d planted a seed and it seemed the smallest fragment of a story had taken root in my brain.

I tried again—much to my other half’s chagrin as he’d rather enjoyed me not waking up with the sun for a pre-dawn writing sprint. Before I knew it, I had 1000 words on the page. Then 2000.

I now have over 20,000 words on the page of my latest WIP, and the start of a brand new series, which, one day in a not too distant and brighter future, I hope to share with you. It’s far from a steady blaze, but my creative spark is once again breaking up the night, and for the first time, in a long time, the dream doesn’t seem nearly as far away.

How am I reigniting my creative spark?

Simple—one word at a time.

Lies and Legacy is go for launch

I’ve hummed the refrain from It’s My Party by Lesley Gore more than once over the last few days. You see, I had every reason to celebrate this week. After seven years of work and over a quarter-million words, I’d finally added the phrase ‘The End,’ to my science fiction trilogy, Project Gene Assist.

Unfortunately, the universe has a funny sense of humor. My series, which, I repeat, germinated in my brain seven years ago, set before and after a perfect storm of abusive technology, economic collapse, and a mysterious illness. The first book is the events leading up to the panic and societal upheaval, the second and third take place in the aftermath.

It was supposed to be thought-provoking, cautionary, and/or escapism.

It was supposed to be set in the future.

Most importantly, it was supposed to be fiction.

My book’s launch was supposed to include a number of things like:

Lies and Legacy

  • Signed paperback copies: sadly, orders of non-essential products that weren’t currently on the shelves have been delayed by major retail outlets. By all means, please order a paperback if interested—just understand it just might not reach you for a few weeks.
  • Light hors d’oeuvres & finger foods: bread and flour are in short supply around here, but that’s not the worst of all. According to my co-workers, there’s even been a run on dinosaur-shaped frozen chicken nuggets in some places.
  • A full house of close friends: if groups weren’t already limited, my current paper product inventory would have required me to ask guests to bring their own roll of toilet paper as an entrance fee.
  • More than one glass of wine: okay, this is still part of the plan—it’s just now happens to be a major part of the plan and the reason hosting a Facebook live event is unlikely to be the best idea for me this week.

So, yeah, the timing stinks. However, while it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to (but I’ll try not to because there are a lot of people out there suffering more than me), I’m going to launch this book and celebrate its release anyway. In fact, I’m making an even more conscious effort during these times to celebrate all my daily wins—big and small.

Other notable wins:

  • Maybe it’s the quarantine/social-distance enforced cooking or maybe it’s the six months of dedicated meal tracking & step counting using the Noom app (affiliate link) but I’ve officially lost all the weight I put on bringing my non-book babies to life.
  • The local paper interviewed me about life as a reluctant homeschool mom & remote full-time worker (my advice to other parents: let things go—like housework or expectations that your kids will quietly sit in the background looking charming and well-behaved while your world is being filmed for strangers to see) – https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article241329721.html
  • I KNOW what my kids did all day at school instead of just hearing a grunt or ‘I forget,’ when asked, and have been enjoying a lively discussion of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (affiliate link) with my 8yo.
  • My kids actually WANT to go back to school (though tell me they are glad I’ve been home with them).
  • I’ve gotten most of my garden planted

Speaking of gardening, the leaves on the trees are budding, which reminds me that just like winter gives way to spring, this time too will someday become a distant memory. While that day can’t get here soon enough, at least I can take some small comfort knowing I controlled what I could. I did my best. I released a book.

You can order Lies & Legacy or start at the beginning with The Fair & Foul

 

 

Empty Chairs

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Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

There will be two empty chairs at our table this year.

One, left just as the party was really getting underway. While the other wouldn’t have surprised me had he stayed well past closing time.

Someone new will have to carve the turkey this year. Another to be among the first to nurse a glass of holiday wine.

No one will worry this year if I take too long in the shower. No one will judge if I go back for another slice of pie.

Two empty chairs, once filled by two very different people.

We’ll be raising our glasses in remembrance this year. However, I’ll try not to dwell on all the reasons to be sad.

In between courses, I’ll gaze out the window. I’ll see the waves on the lake ebb and flow. And like those waters, I know other guests will join us as the years go by. My family will continue to grow.

I am thankful there is room still at our table.

Even if today, it also means there are two empty chairs.

Getting back into shape

I make no secret of the fact that I have a day job in addition to writing my novels. Some in the publishing community say it means I don’t take my dreams seriously enough. My children, however, have told me once or twice that they enjoy eating. As their voices are typically loudest in my ear, I tend to listen to them more than faceless critics. That said, it also helps that I enjoy my day job too.

While my day job has a corporate headquarters, its staff are scattered across North America. This has allowed me to meet and interact with people coming from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, which has been an even bigger plus. I’ve also since learned that I am one of many who have chosen to give a new career a chance.

For example, I learned the other day that one of our most recent hires was a spin instructor in her once-upon-a-time past professional life. It came up in conversation when she mentioned she was stiff and was shocked by how out of shape she’d become. She also mentioned how difficult it was to get back into a workout routine after taking an extended absence.

It occurred to me that I could say the same about my blog writing habits.

I’d been incredibly disciplined for several years. I’d written even when I could barely summon the energy to get out of bed thanks to a fever. I’d strung words together in between birthday parties and bedtimes. I’d filled page after page time and time again. I’d told myself once the manuscript was done getting back into the blogging habit would be easy.

It is not. It’s not that I’ve forgotten the formula. If anything, I know what needs to be done better than I did before. However, I’ve forgotten how to properly warm-up. That said, I’m here today. I showed up. I followed my own former instructions.

I might not be fit enough to teach a class at the moment, but I’ve taken my first step toward getting back into shape. And when it comes to writing, or pretty much anything else for that matter, there is a lot more you can accomplish by trying than by giving in to all the many excuses to hold it off another day.

The Book That Almost Broke Me

I did it.

I wrote another book.

Ok, in fairness, I wrote another manuscript. The book part will be a few weeks longer yet as it still needs to go through early reads, professional edits, and formatting. But I wrote another book. (Update – the book is done and scheduled for launch on March 26, 2020)

So what, you might be saying. You’re a writer — a novelist — that’s what you’re supposed to do. I thought so too until I tried to write this one.

However, this time was different from the rest.

Perhaps it was the fact that it is the final book in my science fiction trilogy. It was as if my characters refused to share their story with me, knowing it likely was their last.

Perhaps it was the new house or the new job. Maybe my brain needed its old combination of background and routine to get into its groove.

Perhaps it was my family. The kids are getting older now. I am unfortunately finding they aren’t as willing to go to bed before the sun completely sets, just because their mom needs to hit her daily word count. Nor have our weekend become any less full.

Perhaps it was simply me.

amuse yourself with more writer problem memes at https://writerblueprint.com/writing-memes/

I should have finished this manuscript in February. That was my intent. I would take a break from the blog for the holidays and focus, instead, entirely on it. When February passed, I said, eh, it’s a short month anyway, I’m not that far behind.

Weeks stretched into months and still the most glorious words in the writer’s language, ‘the end’ continued to elude me.

I wrote during this time. Don’t get me wrong, but it was a steaming pile of word turd mixed with verbal vomit left behind to fill a blank page and little more. Thanks for that imagery, you might be thinking. Just be glad you weren’t the one expected to clean it up.

This is all to say, I might be late, but I’m still here.

I set a goal — I missed it — but I didn’t let a self-imposed deadline stop me.

Instead, I found a way to finish what I started.

I wrote a book.


Update: Lies & Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book Three is available for pre-order at books2read.com/u/bMpYAv

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