In The Writer’s Studio – August, The Dead Month

Just about every writer who submits their work to agents knows that there is one month every year when nothing happens.

Don’t prep a manuscript, write a query letter, reach out on Twitter, or check in with an agent who has your partial. It’s not gonna work out for you because everyone is at least pretending to lounge on a New England beach.

The rest of the year is stupid crazy busy. August means time for a bit of radio silence.

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For me, it has traditionally proven the month to hunker down and log big hours in the writer’s studio, plotting and crafting.

This year, however, my brain took a break along with everyone else. You can read about my angst surrounding this unplanned standstill HERE.

Today, after a long chat with an editor who just returned from vacation herself, I found myself breathing a bit easier. The conversation revealed her own startling loss of an entire month and her shock at how often lately this similar chat has played out. Apparently, August was a wash for at least half the known universe, and we are all scrambling to realign priorities, carve out time, and make tangible progress on writing projects.

For me, this is all about removal of external distractions.

I’ve planned the hell out of my research trip to France and refuse to plan even a minute more.

Classes and curriculum, mapped out.

Coaching training, done.

Schedules, made.

Now, to snuggle in and get the love letters between Francesco and Aesmeh mapped out.

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Then, to make sure my modern-era antagonist is fully formed and well-rounded. I actually quite love him, such a provocative character motivated by what he is convinced is the only possible road to truth.

Finally, before I get on the plane to start the research and writing marathon in France, I’m going to nail the sequence of the story down and finish the plotting. That way I can move through my time there with exceptionally focused purpose instead of scrambling to figure out story foundations.

I’m coming out of the Augustine black hole, people.

Finally.

On Writing When You Are “Too Busy”

I swear I will take my night-sweaty peri-menopausal level of rage out on the next person who tells me, “You just have to commit yourself to write every day.”

Stop already, writing gurus.

Those of us working our faces off at trying to live our authentic selves through a devotion to writing get it. The getting-words-down part is crucial to literary success.

Dayjob.jpgHowever, I’m quite committed to attaining success at a few other elements of life as well:

  • Raising woke, healthy kids
  • Investing in my relationship with my husband
  • Nurturing and discovering fulfilling friend and colleague relationships
  • Paying my bills

Let’s be real, paying the bills is probably the top of that list. A lack of financial security puts a real damper on creative genius and that whole zen vibe most of us long to achieve in our personal lives.

We are busy, sometimes too busy, paying those bills to want to come home and write.

While my DH and I have attempted the “You go pursue your creative bliss. No worries about working a day job” thing at different points in our lives, money is a real thing.

We live in Vancouver, Canada—one of the most expensive cities in the world. Leisurely creative genius either comes at a tremendous personal price or is the exclusive purview of the already-wealthy.

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Photo by Harshil Shah via Flickr

 

Since the kids want to go to university, we want to live in Vancouver proper, and staying married is a life goal, we both need to work.

Being busy isn’t going away.

I teach creative writing, which is a true personal investment and labor of love for me because I adore bearing witness to creativity emerging from young people. To me, I have the perfect job, where I never actually stop writing.

I love it.

I’m an introvert who forced herself to become comfortable in extroverted situations. In a perfect universe, I’d roam the Earth searching for stories and bits of information, coaxing people into offering up their family tales and cultural tellings, consulting with elders on how to best share those pieces, alternately hiding away to write and then emerging to learn more before returning to hide again. With teaching, I get to do that.

However, when I settle into my writer’s studio after the week of coaching young people through their own storytelling, I find myself a bit unmotivated to work on my own stuff.

I’m exhausted. Plus, there’s so much to do: book research, website maintenance, social media, querying, working with editors, learning how to write better myself through webinars and sessions with my own coaches.

The list grows.

Balancing that with kids, mundane chores such as laundry, and just catching up with my own energy leaves me struggling to get more than a word or two on a page some days.

I want to give you a peek inside how I organize myself, but efore I lay down my process for staying in the writing flow let me just say this:

Some days, writing just doesn’t happen—and that is OK. My theory is that one lost day is self-care. When it starts to turn into multiple lost days, considering a reset of priorities may be in order. 

Here’s how I keep myself from swirling down the lack-of-progress hole, even when I juggle a billion to-dos and know that reaching for another cup of coffee at 9 p.m. involves dire next-day consequences.

1. Plan Ahead.

Oh crap, here she goes telling us to plan, plan, plan.  I agree this tip is annoying. However, I find nothing more satisfying and empowering than mapping out my days ahead of time, waking up in the morning with clear goals, and getting it all done.

This suits my writing style, as I am a Plotter with a capital P. If I don’t plan, I am unfocused and aimless. This is my devotion to leading a purposeful life. It definitely doesn’t work for everyone.  You’ll also see I don’t really “write” every day in terms of novel work. I will blog, work on short stories, edit. Creating silos for work makes it less overwhelming.

 

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My planning calendar is broken down into purposeful days

2. To-do lists.

Make me a list and I will go slay a day. I’ve even started writing little “Yay!” notes or “You kick ass!” comments when I check things off to remind myself how satisfying it is to take care of my business. A big thing here is that I often have one or two things that just don’t get done. I make it a habit to transfer those to-dos to the next day’s list. No excuses.

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Today’s to-do list

3. Plan for breaks.

I break my day up into the following:

5:30-7:30 a.m. – Me time. Catch up with my brother, my friends, my Instagram, my meditation, my cat, my need to sit in silence.

7:30-8:45 a.m. – the epic chaos of getting the kids off to school.

9:15-10:45 a.m. – Yoga or blogging depending on how much my back and spirit hurt, and whether I can interact with humans on any given day. Today, it’s blogging even though I wanted to go to my fave yoga class because, well, humanity is not happening. 😉

11 a.m.-3 p.m. – Kill that to-do list.

3 p.m.-7p.m. – Kids, non-writing bits of life, and dinner on days I don’t work. Teaching on days I do.

4-8 p.m. – Some days I have long editing sessions.

8-10 p.m. – editing, reading, wishing I had the energy to edit or read.

10 p.m.-5:30 a.m. – I am religious about my sleep. Only if I am moved by serious inspiration or Ken wants to talk do I ever violate the 10 p.m. rule.

4. Set goals and be OK with hitting most of them.

Like I said, I aim high and get most of the way there some days. I’ve had to become comfortable with the ebb and flow of making a good life rather than achieving at all costs.

5. Be OK with pieces of your writing life taking time.

We are such an instant-gratification culture. It’s an epic challenge to understand that creativity must bubble and simmer and set. Pieces take time, and you must commit to the long game. Understanding that this sort of life cannot be conjured, but more chipped away at, gives you the drive to keep going.

However, don’t take so much time that you get lazy. Remain driven and go chase those creative dreams.

6.  Understand there will be sacrifices.

Another UGH in my book of advice, and I think you’ll be surprised by what I recommend sacrificing in this quest for creative living.

Creativity takes energy and time. It requires you to clear yourself out and open up to intuition, imagination, ideas, and perspective. You may think the Hunter S. Thompson facade of hard living makes an amazing writer and is the epic life goal. However, HST shot himself. I’m not down with that sort of end.

It was this year in particular that I realized getting clear with writing also meant getting clear with myself.

I stopped drinking. I don’t eat meat. I exercise every day and am working toward dropping all the weight I put on as a result of sitting and ruminating about writing.

I got into meditation, which is incredible.

I rearranged my work situation for balance.

I quit people who’d I’d allowed too much access to me.

My DH and I made big lifestyle choices that allow both of us to partition off work and creative pursuits despite the wonderful reality that both of our jobs are creative.

I am busier than ever. However, this “sacrifice” and push toward self-care has opened up a crazy ton of creative space I never had access to before.

Do I recommend you take my path? Not really. Go do your own thing that works for you. These are simply ways of doing to consider. My only words of remaining wisdom are to not use the “too busy” excuse for not writing, but consider how writing can find its important place on your daily to-do list.

 

Day 36 – Scouting Locations

I’ve spent the last few days building out the beats for a larger project about the Sibylline. One of the big holes was an ancient, mystical location in Ukraine.

Scouting story locations is one of the most fun parts of writing despite the fact that it inevitably leads me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of spooky, weird, and mystical places, until I look up and realize I’ve been swallowed up by ancient sites of power for like eight hours straight and really have to pee.

Anyway, welcome to my afternoon.

The following sites ended up in my top three. One is dramatic. One is a remote pile of rocks giving off meditation-level radio pulses. The last is a witch forest in the middle of Kiev.  Check them out and tell me which location you’d like to see as the setting for a story about the ancient oracular race of the Sibylline.

Here is the blurb from The Ukranian Week that drove me to this location:

Alim’s Ravine stretches along the Kacha Canyon shaped by the turbulent stream Kacha in the soft substance of the inner ridge of the Crimean Mountains. The Kacha Canyon is believed to be one of the most difficult places to reach in Ukraine. The rocky slopes of the marlstone and limestone canyon are dotted with stone capes hanging over numerous natural grottos. Many thousand years ago, these caves sheltered primitive humans. Another ancient site in the Kacha Canyon is a medieval cave monastery town called Kachi-Calyon founded in the 5th century by monks who fled from Byzantium.

Alim’s Ravine stole the spotlight in the 1950-1980s after researchers discovered a human settlement from the Middle Stone Age and unique petroglyphs created there over 5,000 years ago.

Despite its numerous natural, historical and archeological attractions, Alim’s Ravine has long been quite infamous due to the large number of people who get lost there, even though the route is a piece of cake for novice hikers. According to numerous tourists who have lost their way there, some unknown force made them wander for hours around one spot. There is a cave in the ravine called Alim’s cave that, according to legend, is home to the spirit of Alim, a Crimean Tatar version of Robin Hood. A few decades ago, people began to disappear there. As a result, the entrance to the infamous cave was closed down. 

Today, Alim’s Ravine is extremely popular among mystery hunters. Psychics claim the ravine is a center of powerful energy that can do both good and harm to an unprepared tourist.

The Stone Tomb near Melitopol is a bit less dramatic in looks but read on to learn about the history behind this place of extreme magic.

This extremely mystical place is an ancient site that is part of the world cultural heritage located on the right bank of the Molochna river near the village of Terpinnia (“patience”) in Melitopol County, Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

The Stone Tomb covers nearly three hectares and features rocks reaching up to 12 meters in height. This large and mysterious stone hill was a cult location for many ancient peoples and tribes who lived or crossed what is now Southern Ukraine. The Stone Tomb was used as a temple by hunters during the Bronze Age, as well as by Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Goths, Pechenegs, Khazars and the Cumans (called Polovtsi in Ukrainian). Years of research have revealed several thousand petroglyphs in the site’s many grottos and caves. They are unique samples of primitive art, some dated to the Stone Age by researchers. Some Ukrainian and foreign archeologists have interpreted the petroglyphs as proto-Sumerian writing, which has helped the place to attract so much interest. Debates about the samples of the oldest writing in the world at the Stone Tomb still continue.

The Nazis considered the Stone Tomb to be the oldest site of the Aryans.From 1942-1943, the site was studied by the founder and leader of Ahnenerbe, a mystical Nazi organization focused on unearthing the occult experience of past civilizations. According to some data, the Nazis did not leave the place empty-handed, taking a few dozen tablets containing the oldest writing ever found on Earth. In addition to this, the Stone Tomb possesses a special energy. The area around it radiates pulses at a radio frequency of 5Hz! Energy bursts this powerful appear on aerial photographs of the Earth’s surface as circles. Geologists and physicists refer to them as mantle canals “drilled through” by what look like small tornados in the gravitational field radiating out to the planets from the Sun. Numerous electric devices have detected a super-powerful energy field there. Video devices often break and turn on and off on their own in the area of the Stone Tomb. All this is only a small portion of the mysteries hidden there.

According to an ancient Slavic legend, a serpent is twined around the earth and Lysa Hora, or Bald Mountain, is the spot where the serpent bites its tail.

Since ancient times, Lysa Hora has held great spiritual meaning for our ancestors, who had a pagan altar and shrine there. Even after Christianity was violently imposed on the Kyivan Rus, Lysa Hora remained a shrine for the followers of ancient beliefs. Later, part of it was annexed to the Pechersk Monastery to host the apiaries of Christian monks. Municipal authorities bought the land in the mid-19th century and began the construction of the Lysohirsky Fortress there in 1872. It was planned as part of a complex fortification system called the Kyiv Fortress. In the late 19th century, the Lysohirsky Fortress lost its defensive function and was turned into a prison where “state prisoners” would later be executed. In the 1930s, Lysa Hora became an underground military plant and a tank base during the German occupation. Retreating, the German army destroyed it. A missile unit was located here until the mid-1970s. In the early 1980s, the mount  was granted natural park status.

However, the park is a rarely visited part of town. The cautious Kyivites are afraid to venture far into the dense, dark forest, and with good reason. Those who dare to step foot on Lysa Hora claim that they feel extremely uncomfortable there. It feels like dozens of eyes are watching from beyond the park’s trees, and the stares are almost palpable. During the time of the Lysohirsky Fortress, the unit commander issued a strange instruction ordering officers “to warn the soldiers who go on guard to not be afraid of strange noises; they come from the wind and night birds.” Researchers claim they have found many reports from German soldiers describing abnormal and paranormal phenomena they witnessed. Soldiers would often go insane or commit suicides there. The infamous Lysa Hora deserves its evil reputation.

Day 26/27 – The Many Stages of Writing

This weekend was crazy busy, and I got all crazy trying to figure out Adobe Spark as well. It makes fun videos and is easy to use for novices such as myself.

I go through a lot of stages in my writing, especially when I am heads-down in the middle of big story dumping.  Trying to block off a huge chunk of time never works, and the full slate of distractions is constant in its torment of my distractable soul.

Here’s the odd, wee video that manifested as a result:

 

 

 

 

 

Day 23 – Submitting to Literary Journals

Submitting to literary journals is a new thing for me. I always figured I’ve got limited time, why would I spend time writing things other than my novels? However, this lets me try out new styles, test concepts, and just write.

Today, I’m working on a piece to submit to Luna Station at the end of this week.

I think it’s hard to get excited about short stories sometimes, yet that is exactly the skill I force my students to master. It’s all about telling the best story and learning how to do it well.

Finding journals is a bit of work, but I suspect this will allow me to up my writing game and expand in ways I never even expected.

Day 21 – In The Writer’s Studio

Day 21 in the writer’s studio – writing isn’t all about the actual act of writing.

Cultivation of creativity comes in lots of forms. For me, daily yoga practice means those hours sitting won’t collapse my spine, those hours thinking won’t send me off into unproductive feedback loops, and those hours imagining come constantly from the visions rising up inside my head when I’m quiet and still.

Bonus is I am less of a bitch too. ✊🏼✊🏼✊🏼

I actually get more out of yoga than I ever thought possible in terms of creative goodness. The whole meditation thing, which I have been practicing off and on for something like twenty years, is one of the best generators of ideas, ways to push past writing blocks, and to walk characters through scenes.

In fact, I was on the Sky Train this afternoon zoning out in a bit of a state listening to some crazy chanting music when the final scene of Woman On The Wall just appeared in front of me. Don’t laugh. That’s how writers roll. I swear, one day you will read the last scene in that novel and think, “that was from her subway ride. Must have been one hella ride.”

Day 20 – In The Writer’s Studio

More research. Where does it all get stored? (obvs, not my brain. That would be dangerous.)

First stop, Pinterest.

Go peek inside my Pinterest boards at https://www.pinterest.ca/robinmrivers/boards/

Watch the video on Insta. Be sure to like and comment. Tell me what you want to know about the writing process.

 

Day 19 – In The Writer’s Studio

When you procrastinate all day and still have to put the time in:

Day 18 – In The Writer’s Studio

Hey. Back again for another day in the Writer’s Studio. While I am always writing, it’s not always about the current novel.

My husband—a concept illustrator for film and television—and I have set up a multi-media production studio and we are working on developing properties for print, TV, and film

Today, I spent some time working on our largest property, which has been in the works for several years.

Here’s a quick snippet: