A Writer’s Day Off

One of the things I struggle with as a writer, is knowing when to take a break. Or, more accurately, I have a hard time giving myself permission to take time off from writing, guilt-free.

Not that I write everyday. I’d LOVE to have a daily writing routine (and maybe someday I will…you know, when my children are grown and the only schedule I’m keeping is my own), but life gets in the way. In many very good ways, of course. But still, in the way of getting words down on the page.

A Day Off

I get into these grooves of writing, when I want to spend hours everyday enmeshed in my creative world. When I’ll choose to let the kids play on computers or watch movies while I write, write, write. Which means my kids are spending all day on screens several days each week. (Yeah, I don’t feel good about that. But I feel so good about the progress I make on those days—progress I don’t make when I only get an hour or two to work on any other day—that it’s hard to give them up. It’s a vicious circle—I feel guilty if I don’t get the words down, and guilty if I do.)

These grooves make me want to write every available moment, planning ahead for the next day…whether I will spend it neglecting my children again (though, of course, it’s not like they’re suffering—they thoroughly enjoy those screen-filled days) or forgo the writing for a day (or two or five) and spend it with them. This shouldn’t be a difficult choice, right? But it often is.

I’m in one of these grooves right now, and allowing myself a day off without guilt is hard. Even when I’m mentally exhausted from all the writing. Even when I’m so worn out that all I want to do is spend the day knitting and watching movies with the kids or go sledding all afternoon on the local, massive sledding hill, it is so difficult to give myself permission to do it.

snowday

Permission granted…and it was totally worth it. (Of course it was. It always is.)

Because there’s a fine line between being kind to yourself and just being a complete slacker.

And I feel like I tiptoe along that line every time I tell myself it’s okay to not get any words down today, that I can do it tomorrow or later in the week or I’ll get more writing done on the weekend (which never happens, I don’t know why I keep thinking it might).

As difficult as it is to give myself permission to take a break, it’s just as easy to fill my days with other things because writing takes a serious commitment. Even when I’m in a groove, there are a thousand things trying to distract me from the page, and I have to keep the writing blinders on, keep myself firmly planted in my chair, fingers on the keyboard, reminding myself to focus, focus, focus. All the other stuff that needs doing can wait. Just one more hour. And then perhaps just one more after that.

And maybe—just maybe—if I get enough words down, I can take tomorrow off without feeling like a slacker. (But probably not. ;-))

img_2359_1Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.

The Writing Life: Making Art

A friend of mine posted a video of Jake Gyllenhaal singing “Finishing a Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George, which is one of my favorite shows and is on Broadway for a short run right now.

One of the reasons I love this show is it’s about the process of making art as shown through the work of Georges Seurat. Of course the music is gorgeous and the lyrics brilliant because it’s by Stephen Sondheim. This song from the show, “Finishing a Hat,” means more to me now than it did the first time I heard it twenty-some-odd years ago because it speaks to what I’ve personally experienced as a writer.

If you don’t know it (and even if you do) take a moment to watch the video below. And once you get over the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal can sing (!!) listen closely to the lyrics.

This is perhaps the best song about making art that I know of, and it absolutely applies to writers and the writing life.

Why? Because it’s about how, at times, your art takes over your life. That you can spend so much of your day with your mind on your story, no matter what else you’re doing, regardless of who is around. You’re thinking about characters, back stories, story lines, trying to figure out plot twists or solve plot problems. You hear your characters talking (sometimes instead of the people around you) and you often have to “just finish this part—please wait, don’t talk to me, I gotta get this down.”

making-art

How you miss out on life when you’re really ensconced in a story of your own making, choosing to stay in and write rather than go out to dinner with friends or go for a hike with your family. How you weigh those things—I really want to write, but I’d also like to go—and then have to make a choice. And you don’t always choose the people, very often you choose the writing.

When you recognize that you’re choosing work over relationships, that’s a hard thing to swallow. And the impulse to choose writing first is something you’ve got to tame in yourself if you want to keep those relationships healthy—if you want to stay happily married, want to actually be present in your children’s childhoods, want to keep your friendships. Which, in turn, means less writing gets done. That’s a hard thing to swallow, as well.

Balance—it doesn’t exist in an artist’s life. At least not in my experience. Instead, you’re maintaining a juggling act in which you keep dropping balls. Choosing not to keep dropping the same ball every time (or even most of the time) is the real trick.

When you’re in the thick of writing, there’s truly “nothing but sky.” Nothing but your world, your characters, your imaginary friends speaking to each other in whispers and shouts, images flashing through your mind, ideas and phrases coming in a rush or a dribble, and you can do nothing but pay attention and write it all down as quickly as you can so you don’t lose it. Your thoughts are consumed by all the little things that make up the whole, every detail, every turn of phrase, every word. That even while you’re spending time in the company of others (your spouse, children, friends), your mind is often wandering the lands of your imaginary world.

And even though sometimes you’re watching life through a window as you write, it feels amazing to create something from nothing—stories about people who feel real enough to be, well, REAL. You create worlds—things, places, events, people who have never existed before—that are fully unique to you. No one else could have imagined or told the story in the exact same way.

And I guess that’s what keeps me coming back to the page—juggling the things I love most in this world—for the chance to create. It’s what keeps all artists coming back to their work, to finish the hat or plan a sky, and get lost in their art again and again.
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img_2359_1Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.

The Magic of Collaboration

Two years ago I started collaborating on a novel series with someone I’d never met in real life. We became friends online about five years ago, not long after our debut novels were released (both contemporary fantasies). We were always talking business and trends via direct message or email, and ended up following freakishly identical publishing paths (after she wrote two fantasies in a series, she wrote a New Adult romance—so did I).

Deciding to write novels together was just about the scariest decision I’ve ever made as a writer (though the scariest, by far, is deciding to hit Publish—each and every time). She and I were both worried that it would be a terrible experience, that it would ruin our friendship, that it would be the biggest mistake we’d ever made. Because you’re giving up total creative control when you’re writing with someone else, and you’re tangling together two creative forces. What if you can’t agree? What if you don’t like the other person’s ideas or the chapters they wrote?

It took an incredible leap of faith, but we had a great story idea, a new style we wanted to try out (a serial novel series, laid out much like a TV drama), and we trusted each other.

And so we grasped hands and leapt into the Great Collaborative Unknown.

collaboration-magic

You know what? It was magical—the flow of ideas; the solving of plot problems (if I didn’t know how to solve it, she did, and vice versa); the motivation to keep writing, to finish the scene or chapter because I knew she was waiting for it; the speed at which we were able to complete each book. Even better than all that, it was FUN—the most fun I’ve ever had writing.

If your interest is piqued and there’s someone you’d like to write with…do it! But be sure to keep these three things in mind:

1. It has to be with the right person.

Now, I say this having written fiction with only one other person at this point, but I know authors who’ve collaborated with several people (I’m looking at you, Jolene Perry), and I don’t think collaborating can work with just anyone. To have a successful partnership, the two people need to be well-suited to each other. The two of you need to be in sync, have similar styles, ideas, and tastes. You have to share professional standards, skills, and desires. And you have to be open to someone else’s ideas.

2. You have to edit/revise the whole book as if you wrote the whole book yourself.

And that’s not easy to do. I didn’t realize how difficult that would be until we got to the first round of edits with our first book, and I remember being so worried about how she’d take my revisions. But the thing is, you can’t just edit your own chapters with a harsh red pen and go light on your partner’s. The whole book—not just your chapters—has your name on it, and has to be its best. You both have to agree to check your egos at the door and not take editorial suggestions personally. You have to be able to speak up when something means a lot to you—whether it’s something that you feel needs to change or something your partner cut that you want back in. And you have to be willing to give in when something means a lot to your partner. All decisions are made together, and while your name is on the book, her/his name is, too. Both partners must be happy with the end product.

3. Two brains are SO MUCH better than one.

Bouncing ideas off of someone who is just as invested in the project and knows the story and characters as well as you do is so much more productive—even more so than with your favorite critique partner. Story lines get worked out in a matter of minutes, outlines get completed in just a few hours. You can go from idea to writing within days when you have two creative brains spinning a story around and around. Plot problems can be solved with a phone call, Skype, a few texts or emails. If you can’t finish a scene or don’t know where to take it next, the other person will. (I can’t tell you how liberating it is to leave holes in the manuscript for someone else to fill! Makes it easy to keep moving forward.)

Two brains makes it so much more fun, too. Crazy fun. And crazy fast—we wrote, polished, and published five short novels (about 200,000 words) in five months—a speed we needed for the style of the series we were writing, and one which I never would have been able to achieve or maintain on my own.

Every book you write makes you a better writer, but every time you collaborate you get a bigger boost to your skills because you work harder, feel even more pressure to do your best (or go beyond your best) for your partner. You learn from each other. You have different strengths and weaknesses, and the things your partner does really well, you’ll naturally start to build those same skills yourself as you work together.

Since I have always loved working on my own, I never planned to collaborate on a novel. It was never something I wanted to do—I’m too much of a control freak and perfectionist. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Because what could be better than making your passion even more pleasurable than it already is?

Nothing.
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img_2359_1Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.

The Benefits of Being a Slow Writer

I write slow.

I don’t want to, mind you, and I’m not particularly proud of it, but it’s the truth. I’ve spent years marveling at those who can write 2000 words in an hour, who write 10,000 words (or more—gah!) in a day. I’ve read all the blog posts about upping your productivity, about how you, too, can write like the wind.

But still, I only ever seem to be able write like a faint breeze.

slow-writing

For me, a really good, focused hour nets about 1000 words. But those hours are few and far between—most end with 300-600 words at best. (Pardon me while I sob quietly in the corner for a moment.) One miraculous day I hit a total of 6000 words…and it only took me 12 hours of neglecting my family to do so. In the midst of my guilt over leaving the kids in front of screens for that entire day, I was deliriously happy at my productivity. Of course, it was a one-time thing that I’ve yet to be able to replicate.

Because I’m inherently slow at writing.

And while I do pine for the ability to get all the words down and write a novel in a week, I have come to realize there are actual benefits to writing slow.

1. A Good Story Takes Time.

Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but for me the more time the story has to stew in my imagination, the better and more complicated it gets. The better I am at solving plot problems in a more original way. The more creative the twists and turns become. The deeper and more interesting the story becomes. That’s because…

2. It’s the Little Things that Make ALL the Difference.

My absolute FAVORITE part of books are the little details. To me, that’s what makes a story—the set-ups that lay the foundation for what happens later, the little jokes between characters that get carried through the book. As a reader, those are my favorite touches—they’re what make a good book great. As a writer, coming up with them makes me ridiculously giddy and further fuels my excitement for my WIP.

But the thing is, those little fun aspects take time. You have to let the story sit with you for a while for the gems to rise up in the workings of your mind. In my experience, racing through a story, writing as fast as you can just to get the words down, the story in place quick, quick, quick, means you end up with mostly a surface story that lacks depth.

3. Every Word Counts.

My daily goal is usually 2000 words. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit I don’t usually meet it. So when I’ve written less than 500 words for the day, I have to remind myself it’s still progress. That it’s more than I had yesterday. That every word counts, every word gets you closer to The End. Even if it’s only 100 words. Even if it’s only 17.

It all adds up.

So even though I still get a little green when I see other writers racking up the words each day and wish I was doing the same, I’m (mostly) okay with being slow. It’s working for me. And, as a writer, that’s all that really matters.

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img_2359_1Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.

When You Write Fiction

When you write fiction, you are engaging in the art of empathy. Deep empathy. You wholly step into each character’s psyche and see the world from their perspective. You get into the minds of characters who are like you and characters who are not. Given the events of last week, that ability has never been so important.

write-fiction

When you write fiction, you make sense where there is none. You take existing chaos (or create your own) and then bring order to it bit by bit until, by the end of the story, the world makes sense again. You take the loose threads of an idea and weave them together into a tight technicolor tapestry. You fit together even the smallest pieces of the puzzle until everything is exactly where it needs to be.

When you write fiction, you can write your way through despair and into action. You can include all people in your books, making theOther familiar rather than foreign. Humanizing the Other. Normalizing the Other. Making the Other just like anyone else until there is no such thing as the Other anymore. Until we are All One Tribe.

When you write fiction, you create the world you want to live in, if only in your mind, if only for a while. You escape to that world every time you sit down at the keyboard or take pen to paper. Your readers revel in that same escape with every turn of the page.

That escape feels of utter importance right now. With so many people feeling uncertain and unsafe, giving readers that escape is one of the best things we can do as writers. Reimagine our world as a place that values all lives equally. A world that values kindness. A world that values the truth.

When you write fiction, you can reinstate Hope, fill the world with Light, eradicate Hate with every stroke of your computer keys. You can fight against the normalization of Hate by writing about it with outrage and keeping it abnormal, out of place, and unacceptable.

When you write fiction, you can normalize love, acceptance, diversity, and inclusiveness. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. You can change the world one story at a time, one book at a time, one reader at a time.

One writer at a time.

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img_2359_1Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.

Writing Makes You Question EVERYTHING

 

You’re a writer.

And there’s nothing like pouring your heart and mind onto the page, devoting hours, days, weeks, sometimes years to see a glimmering idea grow into a completed manuscript, and, if it’s good enough (please let it be good enough), polished into a finished book.

But this life, this Writing Life, this quiet, introspective life between the pages eventually makes you question EVERYTHING.

question-everything

You know…like your sanity. Your intelligence. Your ability to put one word in front of another in a meaningful, coherent way. Whether you remembered to eat lunch. (You didn’t.) Whether you remembered to feed the kids. (Nope. But they’re used to it by now.) What the hell you were thinking in the first place when you thought you should write a book, because you know (you just KNOW) that you’re sailing into unchartered waters here (every time, every book) and what if it sucks buckets of dead snails?

Maybe you shouldn’t keep writing. (But you should.)

I mean, if, at heart, you love it. If you keep coming back to it again and again. If it makes you happy (for the most part…you know, outside of the soul-crushing doubt that brings you to your knees every so often). If it fulfills you in a way that nothing else does. If you get high on a beautiful turn of phrase or a well-placed word. If you feel an Everest kind of triumph when you type the last word of a manuscript or send a finished book out into the world.

Of course, every time you finish a book, you find yourself in the crosshairs of a first draft again. Going from finished book to first draft feels brutal—plucked from the ecstatic throes of (near) perfection, you’re suddenly slogging through a sloppy, chaotic, flawed mess of words. When you’re not sure what the next word should be and you know (you just KNOW) that what you’re writing is complete crap and you were delusional to think you could write ONE book (which was obviously pure luck) and now here you are writing another as if you actually know what you’re doing. (You don’t.)

(And yet you DO.) Because when you come back to it the next day or week, you discover that what you wrote ISN’T total crap. That it’s actually halfway good (maybe even more than halfway, not that you’d admit that to yourself) and after several rounds of revision, it could, in fact, turn out to be kind of great. That these characters you’ve created are now living and breathing in your mind, they’re having conversations while you’re in the shower, when you’re stuck at a stoplight, or right before you drift off to sleep, telling you their life stories, fixing the plot problems simply by being who they really are, and you love love love them like no others before.

When you finish that first draft, you’re no longer questioning your ability to write (at least for the moment) but you ARE wondering who the hell thought it was a good idea to write a 90,000 word novel which you now have to go back to the beginning of and revise over and over again until it’s just right. (I mean, couldn’t you have written something shorter?)

Through the editing process you get to the point where you question how many more times you are going to have to read this thing before it’s perfect because it feels like you’ve already read it forty-seven thousand times and if you have to read it again you just might put out your own eyes with a red pen.

But the thing is, each revision is better than the last, and you (almost) stop questioning yourself. You have this shiny, gorgeous book that you’re pretty sure is the best thing you’ve written yet (please let that be true), and it’s at THAT moment, while you’re cresting the high of a beautifully polished, finished book, that a tempting new idea starts clamoring for your attention. You can’t shake it. Your mind sinks its hooks into the idea, turning it this way and that, observing it from different angles, poking at it during the day and at night, giving you what-ifs and maybes, getting you excited. And there’s nothing you can do but give in. You start thinking, I have to write this!

You’re sunk. Again. (In the best possible way, but, oh, the road ahead is a rollercoaster.)

And so you sit down to start writing, start fleshing out this idea, but you’ve forgotten that beginnings always feel daunting. With the entirety of the story looming ahead, you wonder what the hell you were thinking getting all excited about this new idea because you know (you just KNOW) that you have no clue how to actually write a book…the ones you’ve already written were clearly just flukes.

(They weren’t. You’ve got this.) After all, you’re a writer.

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img_2359_1Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.