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.

Project Gene Assist Book 2, The Watch & Wand – You always have a choice. Make the right one

The Watch and Wand, the latest in the Project Gene Assist #Book Series Launches December 5th www.alliepottswrites.comBarring acts of God or radioactive slime beast hellbent on scaling the largest tower in my city while simultaneously leaving a swart of destruction in its wake, by this time next week, my book children will officially outnumber my human children.

I am going to level with you – it hasn’t been easy.

An Uncertain Faith - www.alliepottswrites.comWhen my first bookborn arrived, I didn’t have a clue what to expect. I did whatever any new bookparent would. First I converted a small underused space on the internet into a cozy little site where my bookbaby and my author platform might grow side by side. I overbought supplies (many of which I hadn’t the first clue how to effectively use) so I might be ready for any occasion. I sent out cards alerting the friends and family. I hung up bright shiny pictures of its cover positioned in various poses and dreamed about all the things I thought it might one day be.

I nested. I sanitized my words. I reached out to other new bookmoms and bookdads for sympathy, tips or other advice.

But I was overwhelmed and no matter how much attention I bestowed, my bookbaby still always demanded more.

I consulted the experts who all agreed that the best thing I could do, for us both, was to give my bookbaby a sibling.

I made a choice.

Project Gene Assist Book 1: The Fair & Foul - www.alliepottswrites.comSo after a lengthy labor of love, culminating on one cold rainy night, my second bookbaby made its grand first appearance. After the launch, I wanted nothing more than to get some rest and enjoy the benefit of my expanded catalog. Only things didn’t work between the two quite as smoothly as I imagined.

For one, the newest edition was a completely different genre, meaning, as I learned in short order, I wouldn’t be able to utilize most any marketing hand-me-downs. Nor did either book’s temperament allow me to bundle them together. Well… shoot.

I consulted the experts once again on what to do. The answer was the same.

Write more books (preferably this time in the same genre).

But at this point, my other children, my human children were no longer going to bed early or taking mid-day naps, nor was the day job getting any less demanding.

Then, to make matters worse, the words stopped flowing. Not all at once, but bit by bit until one day I realized that somewhere along the line, I’d let my story slip.

I found myself at the base of a mountain – a mountain of a goal – a goal I’d created.

I thought about quitting. I thought about it a lot.

I thought about quitting.

But I didn’t.

You didn’t. You could have. You didn’t let me.

I made a choice.

So now I’ve scaled a mountain – a mountain of a goal – a goal I created, only to see another mountain on the other side.

With your continued patience and more than a little of your support, I’ll scale that one too.

Thanks to you all.

I’d never have come this far without you.

Project Gene Assist Book Two: The Watch & Wand officially goes on sale Tuesday, December 5th. (Kindle Pre-order now available). You can read an excerpt here.

Breathe in and breathe out

We were swimming at a local pool featuring a pair of water slides which were accessible from a single tower. After watching a series of children enjoy the ride, I asked my eldest, “What do you think? Do you want to give it a try?”

“Do you think I can?”

Funny fish meme
Click images for attribution

Kiddo swims like a fish. By that I mean he can paddle quite effectively with his whole body underwater, but flops and flails about if he attempts to swim with his head above the surface. While delaying answering, I noticed that the pool depth at the slide area wasn’t any deeper than where we were. My eldest favors his father in personality, but even more so in appearance. No one will mistake him for one of Santa’s elves. Standing in the pool next to me, his head and shoulders were well above the water.

“Sure honey. When you get to the bottom, all you have to do is put your feet down.”

“I don’t know…” I could tell he was nervous about the slide’s height.

“I’ll go with you!” I said.

That was all the convincing it took. Splash. After struggling for a few moments to escape the water slide’s current, Kiddo took a breath, planted his feet, and smiled as he said, “let’s do it again!”

Kiddo saw his brother watching and asked, “Can LT go down the slide too?”

I try to limit my quasi-endangering of offspring to less than one child per day (most days). “LT has to learn how to swim first.” LT isn’t tall enough for the slide either, but it got the hubby and I thinking. It was probably time to enroll LT in swim class, and Kiddo could likely use a refresher as well.

The day of their first class, Kiddo went with his instructor to one end of the pool while his brother followed me to another. By coincidence, LT and his teacher share the same name, but rather than this endearing the teacher to LT, LT went the way of TV’s Highlander (“in the end, there can be only one!”) From the moment he stepped on the swim platform, it was clear he did not trust this person who dared assume his name. He began screaming as I tried to sneak away, “I scared! I scared!” and LT’s voice carries (so now you know what that sound was on Monday).

Stewie Griffin

I froze, looking at his instructor in alarm, but his teacher hadn’t flinched. I guess when you teach pre-schoolers you get used to stranger danger (now scratching off children’s swim coach from my list of career opportunities). He asked LT to put his face in the water and blow bubbles. LT could do that! Splash. Bubble. Bubble. Spit. Splash. “Okay, LT, try again. This time without getting the water in your mouth.”

LT was happy mimicking a drinking bird and forgot his fear until his instructor asked him to try something else. The screams resumed. We only made it through the class with our sanity intact by stopping and repeating the bubble/breathing exercise in between each new challenge (but where was the first place he wanted to go after class? Another pool).

This summer hasn’t just been trips to the pool or family vacations. I’ve also been querying. I enjoy being a member of the independent authors’ community, but the idea of becoming a hybrid author is appealing too. A cash advance or additional help in the form of a professional final edit and cover design would allow me a larger budget for promotion. I don’t mind reduced royalties provided it is with the right partner. I decided to test the waters by putting myself and this manuscript out there.

Pushing the send button on the first query was terrifying, but as time passed I found myself feeling rather zen about the whole process. I’ve published independently before and can do so again if that proves best for me and my work. I know I can choose not to move forward with them as easily as can with me. When the response arrived (which was very supportive, but a pass), I accepted it for what it was – a step in the process and a learning opportunity (que sera, sera). I took a breath and hit send on another query.

“A journey of one thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

“The first step is to just breathe.” – Bobby Umar


Consistency is more than a personal habit

Talk about getting hopes up. We weren’t allowed to even come close to a live launch pad. SpaceCamp Movie poster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to get to go to Space Camp, a summer camp option made even more exciting after seeing the movie, SpaceCamp. While neither of my ‘missions’ accidentally launched a rag-tag group of teenagers into outer space, the camp at least introduced me to several other nerds like minded individuals from across the country.

The internet wasn’t accessible to the masses for a few more years (yes, yes, I recognized that I just aged myself for my millennial audience.) We didn’t have unlimited nationwide calls or data either (It is a wonder I managed to graduate high school with such limitations). I wanted to stay in touch with my new-found friends which meant using old-fashioned pen and paper along with a roll of stamps (oh the horror!)

Some were better correspondents than others. Eventually the count of my pen pals dropped to one, but even though several weeks would pass in between letters, we were still writing each other two years later. Until one day the letters stopped arriving.

Considering the age difference, I’d like to think that she graduated and things like trading occasional hand written notes simply fell by the wayside as she took on more adult responsibilities (stamps can get expensive) or perhaps reading about the day-to-day happenings of a kid several states over gradually lost its appeal. Maybe my last letter caused some offense, or didn’t arrive at all. But on darker days I’ve wondered if something worse happened. My friend could have taken ill or been in an accident and I would have no way of knowing. (If you are reading this Tiff, please send me a note if only to say you are okay).

I am at the beach. The sun is shining. The waves are crashing, and it is now my son’s turn to enjoy his first summer break from school. I could have (should have) written something in advance or scheduled a guest author but I didn’t. Yes, I might be forgiven for missing a week. After all, everyone deserves a little vacation now and then, but I could no longer say that I was consistent.

Creative types will often scoff at consistency. Its inflexibility is counter to the process. Invention can’t be scheduled. Art can’t be forced. But writers want readers, artists want patrons, and business innovators want customers.

“People like consistency. Whether it’s a store or a restaurant, they want to come in and see what you are famous for.” – Millard Drexler

asilomar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consistency then isn’t a simply a personal habit. It’s about more than just you, just like the ocean is made up of more than a few waves. I appreciate everyday that you stumbled across my writing and found it worth reading. Therefore I have no intention of damaging your trust or causing unnecessary worry over something so slight as working on my tan.

“The force of waves is in their perseverance.” – Gila Guri.

I’m still in the game


NCSU versus Florida State
My ear made its way onto National Television. I’m a star!

It was the fourth and final quarter. The end zone was only a few yards away, and there was still a chance to retake the lead against the number one rated team in the nation. The fans were screaming as if their will could somehow help carry the play. All the quarterback had to do was find a way through the pain a little while longer.

It this scene had played out in a sports movie, my team would have succeeded. Instead, our quarterback’s muscles cramped up, sending him to the ground. He was spent. The entire team was. Though the team tried its best, the clock ran out, giving us our first (and unfortunately not last) loss  of the season.

Sometimes wanting something isn’t enough. Sometimes the opposition prevails.

As we waited among the line of cars departing the stadium, we listened to the head coach’s post game interview. He said the things I’ve grown to expect from any coach in a similar situation. The team tried its best, but had found themselves outmatched. The game was over, and there was nothing left to do but review the tapes and start planning for the next week’s game. They might have lost the game, but they weren’t defeated.

Success is going from failure to failureAt the office, my boss will often talk about how you don’t truly know the value of a project or a person (customer or supplier) until the relationship has been tested. It is easy to retain your enthusiasm when everything is going well. It’s when things go badly that you truly realize how committed you are to a relationship, a project, a company, or a dream.

Edison discovered 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. Henry Ford had two failed automotive companies on his resume before launching the model T.

A set back, even a major one, isn’t a failure until you stop trying. Instead it may just be a way of the universe telling to try a slightly different tactic before returning to the field. As I push forward with re-writes and modifications to my marketing plan, I am reminded that it is the rare individual who gets everything right on the first try.