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Posts Tagged ‘The Writing Life’

Gasping for Words: The Pro Writer Life

As those of you who pre-ordered The Broken Heavens likely already know, the release date has been pushed back from October to January. I know that seems like a lot because that extra month there at the end pushes it into 2018. But I promise the book is coming along! Alas, my usual “write a book in a week in the woods” strategy didn’t work for this one, so I’m still slogging along every week. I’m also writing a little most days on it to try and keep the momentum going instead of just binge writing on weekends. I have another book backed up behind this one (which was pushed out to 2019 for internal publisher list reasons unrelated so yay I’m doing fine!), and then I’m free to write something on spec. What that thing will be, I don’t know, but I’m already looking forward to writing it.

While authors aren’t pleased to push back release dates either, the truth was I simply didn’t have a book. Like, if I’d had 100k or something, that would be something… but. I didn’t. I barely had enough words to count as a novella, let alone a novel.

Like a lot of folks, I lost a couple months last year adjusting to this new, very surreal timeline. My day job suffered in the same way, with me barely able to scrabble along. But even then, based on my writing schedule and the amount of words I can churn out when I need to, I still had time. When I spent my week in the woods between day jobs pounding out the words and assisting with the last transitional stuff for the old day job, I re-read Rachel Aaron’s “2k to 10k” trying to figure out why I wasn’t making word count like I usually did.

There were two big issues: the first was that I had no excitement whatsoever in the writing, scene by scene. Some of this is because my agent and I had to aggressively outline this one to keep all the timelines (and worlds!) straight. I’m a discovery writer, and I found myself plodding through the scenes going, “OK, this happens, then this happens, then this happens,” which was drudgery. The second was something that both Aaron touches on in the book and something my agent mentioned, which is that maybe there was something broken in the book that my subconscious knew but I didn’t. I’ve gone back already and painfully rewritten several scenes from different POV characters, because I’d broken the golden rule of telling a scene from the POV of the character who had the most at stake in the scene.

I write for a living at my day job, so I know I can crank out any old thing to deadline if I have to. But I don’t want my novel writing life to be like my day job. While writing will always be work, I want to at least feel some joy and excitement about the work sometimes, and frankly – I haven’t been feeling anything but panic for a couple years straight now. Even the money wasn’t super motivating this time. You start to wonder why you’re doing something you don’t love now that all your basic needs are met.

And, of course, the word that kept bubbling up whenever I’d talk about this with other writers was the one whispered often in writer circles, and that word was “Burnout.” This is the eighth book I’ve written since 2011. Since last year, I’ve also started putting out a short story every month. And I’ve done that all while holding down a job in marketing and advertising. While I don’t consider that to be super prolific compared to some of my peers putting out two, three, five(!) books a year, the writers who do that are generally fulltime authors. I’m not. Keeping up with all of this has been difficult, and I’ve known for some time that my pace just isn’t sustainable. In conversation with a colleague sometime back, they noted that I was showing all the classic signs of an imminent burnout.  “Something has to push,” they said. “Writers where you are either quit their day jobs or take a couple years off or drop out all together.” I, of course, didn’t want to do any of those things.

I recently read about a writer who took five years away from their day job while their spouse worked and wrote a novel that then broke out and hit the bestseller list. This story made me irrationally angry, because it’s the story of a lot of full-time writers I know, and it’s just not an option in my situation. I do like what I do at my day job, and I’m very good at it, and I’m compensated appropriately. For better or worse, I carry a lot of weight doing the money generation, and while it’s cool to have marketable skills, in practice it means you are working all the time. I was up at 5:30 a.m. again today to work on this post, and up at the same time yesterday, and last week, to review contracts, work on Patreon stuff, revise Broken Heavens chapters, etc. etc. You get really tired of working and all you want is to take six months off and go hike the PCT.

This was a big reason I pushed out The Broken Heavens the first time – I wanted to take a couple months away from the grind and recharge. Alas, those recharge months happened at the same time as the election, and of course, I was simply going from two full time jobs to one, not actually doing nothing. So much for recharging.

As I told my agent, I’ve been churning hard the last two or three years in particular because I kept feeling like a breakout book was just around the corner. I could feel it. The Geek Feminist Revolution had a ton of amazing buzz and huge reactions when I’d do events. It did OK! It even got nominated for a Hugo! But: not a breakout book. You hold your breath every time a novel is released, giving it everything you’ve got to get it to earn out, and hopefully break out. The Stars are Legion is selling well, getting great reviews, and yes, the audio book is now finally out! But again: it’s not likely to save me from having to work full time and have a simultaneous novel writing career either. I like money, I like health insurance, and our society – especially the current one – is not set up to support that long-term for novel writers. I can’t rely on health insurance that’s constantly in danger of getting yanked away by a regime change.

So here I am, writing 1100 words at 6am, now, that’s basically just, “Hey, sit tight, the book’s pushed a bit,” and “hey, audio book is out,” and “hey, I’m still making lots of great stories, including one that was just accepted by Apex Magazine!” and “hey keep writing, because we could all die in nuclear fire tomorrow!”

Living the dream, my friends.

Adjust your dreams accordingly.


POSTSCRIPT:

I realize that a lot of the reason I haven’t been blogging as much here is twofold (threefold): I just came off writing a lot of articles for the Stars are Legion tour, and do most blogging now on Patreon for $10+ backers. The second is that, frankly, the sorts of “problems” one has at this level as a pro writer are the sorts of “problems” that I WISHED I had as a n00b, and I’m fully aware of how it comes out to hear, “Boo hoo so many people want me to write books for them I can barely keep up!” and “Boo hoo I just want to sit on the porch and drink!” (doesn’t everyone? etc).

 

 

Writing Income: What I Made in 2016

Hello, folks! It’s that time of year again, when I say: don’t quit your day job!

Below is a breakdown of how much money I made writing in 2016. This is a very ROUGH estimation (take note, IRS!) which I’ll be finalizing here soon, but this is fairly comprehensive.

Note that this does NOT include the income from my day job. If you wonder how I afford health insurance and convention traveling expenses and rent, it’s because I have a decent-paying day job. And this is why:

 

  $25,400 Royalties, foreign sales, advances, audio
  $11,100 Patreon      
  $1275 Magazine articles and columns 
  $630.51 Story sales and reprints   
  $196.62 Self-pub sales     
TOTAL

     $38,602

 

And here’s how that looks visually:

 

If we had no debt and some other way to get reliable health insurance, I could probably go full time. That was the hope before the government started to repeal the ACA, that I was about 3 years out from being able to become a full time writer and just live nimbly instead of traveling all the time. Realistically, though, this isn’t going to happen anymore. So I consider my writing a big part of my retirement income.

This is also a good reminder that your favorite writers are not rich celebrities. We’re just people who are hustling like you are. So do please remember that. And keep on hustling.

Also: don’t quit that day job, because this varies incredibly from year to year. It wasn’t that long ago when I cleared a whopping $7,000 as a writer. You just can’t rely on income that’s this variable.

Christmas 2016 & Ruminations on the Future

I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday. I start listening to Christmas music in October. I decorate the house, whenever possible, the day after Thanksgiving (and only that late because my spouse insisted many years ago: No Decorations Until After Thanksgiving, which is fair). We like to get the tree the first week of December, so we can enjoy it through New Year’s week. It’s a lot of work to put up a tree that’s only up for a week.

But this year has been a tough one, as it has been for a lot of people. We both got sick just before Thanksgiving, and though we had a great trip out to see family and friends in Albuquerque, it meant it took us even longer to recover from being sick. Since this summer, my spouse has also been being treated for some health issues, which culminated in a lot of tests and doctor’s appointments and hospital visits in December (he is OK). Last week I realized I was just too tired to get a tree and decorate it this year, and neither of us had the energy to put up the Christmas lights. I managed to get up the Christmas village and hang some bulbs on the trees outside, but that was it.

We burned through all of our savings and too much credit earlier this year trying to save our dog, Drake, who finally died in July of an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. We had some checks we anticipated getting this month (including reimbursements from pet insurance) that haven’t arrived, so things are tight here, and it’s not the usual blow-out extravaganza of presents I like to do, but we do have cash flow, so it’s not like we’re poor, just… not the usual holiday. We cashed in our Chipotle Chiptopia reward of catering for 20 and ate that all last week because we were both too tired to cook and hey, it would save us on groceries! So that gives you an idea of our energy levels.

The exhaustion and political horror of the last couple of months can sometimes mask the fact that good things happened this year, too. The Geek Feminist Revolution came out in May (May! Feels like a lifetime ago, and a whole other world ago) and is selling OK. Reader reactions to that one have been amazing; it’s got the highest rating of any of my books on Goodreads. I also finished writing The Stars are Legion back in… March? And now that review copies have gone out, reader reactions are coming in, and it’s blowing people’s minds in just the right way (a lot of people didn’t believe it could possibly be a book with ALL WOMEN in it. Ha ha it’s a sci-fi world! There’s even a sci-fi reason! See, writers can do anything! Your own worldbuilding excuses are invalid!).

I continue to have a stable job that doesn’t eat my soul, provides health insurance for me and my spouse, and gives me the flexibility I need to stay sane. In 2016 and the years to come, this is pretty rare, and something to celebrate. Before the election my goal was to move to writing full time by the time I was forty. Now, without access to affordable health insurance through the ACA in the next few years, that’s not going to happen (“access” to health insurance is not “affordable” health insurance. I’m sure the new admin would be happy to let me pay $50k a year to get covered and call that “insurance access for everyone!”). The ACA was a cool dream. The dream is most likely over, so I’m adjusting my future goals accordingly.

As for my own health, a series of poor test results (increasing blood pressure, increased A1C, another weight jump) led my doctor to try a few different drugs this year to see if they could help. We seem to have hit on one that both helps my body process the insulin I have to inject for the rest of my life and reduces appetite dramatically. I no longer think about food all the time and I admit I keep wondering, “Is this how skinny people feel all the time?” After I dieted back in 2012 to drop the 30 lbs I gained after God’s War came out, my hunger came back with a raging vengeance, and it’s been nigh impossible to stop the uptick, to the point where I thought there was something seriously wrong with me, metabolically. Don’t crash diet, people. Seeing the scale number jump significantly backwards for the first time in many years, I find it ironic, once again, that weight gain or loss is still considered a moral matter in this country, like you’re somehow better if you can be thinner, when there are in fact all sorts of hidden bodily reasons that people stay thin or fat. Our Puritan idea that we must suffer hunger and toil, and that a slender body is the outward manifestation of this, is just bizarre. Let me tell you, with the raging hunger I’ve had for the last four years, it took some suffer and toil to be only this size. If this side effect to my meds continues, don’t think I’ve got some secret later this year when you see me and I’ve lost weight. There’s no secret. There’s no magic. It’s just that bodies are weird. I’m the same person at every weight. The dissonance I’ve felt inside my weirdly messed up body does bleed over into my fiction a lot. I am very aware of being a gooey sack of meat.

In other news, I’ve also joined the local YMCA, which is just $30 a month and which is just down the street from my day job, so I can swing by there a few times a week for some quick cardio (not suffering and toil. Quick cardio!). I’ve been writing a shitbrick of articles this year for the day job about health and wellness, and there are two things that all of the research agrees on: people who exercise 20 minutes a day and eat green leafy vegetables tend to live longer and in better health. Oh, and smoking is bad. But that should be a given, these days. That’s it. So I am getting back to moving again, for actual health as opposed to toil, and that should help solve the blood pressure issue, too. 2017 is no time to die of a heart attack. I mean, the Resistance will just be getting started…

As I look ahead to the next year, I see a lot of uncertainly, like many people. I have the final book due in my Worldbreaker Saga, The Broken Heavens, in April (wait until you see the cover! Squee!). I also have another stand-alone SF book due to Saga Press at the end of next year as well. Those are the last of my contracted books, so I’ll be working with my agent this year on a few other projects. We also have many other irons in the fire, some with the God’s War books/possible spin-offs, a possible story collection, and one pilot script project that’s spinning its wheels. We’ll see what happens.

My motto for this year and perhaps the next few is going to be “Survive.” That is my goal, really, to dig ourselves back out of dog medical debt, to write some great projects, to persevere, to survive. Thriving would be great! But sometimes you have to be OK with survival, and this year, of all years, I’m OK with survival. I admit this means I have no pithy hopeful statements about the future (though I find the idea that I’ll survive into the future pretty hopeful!). Instead, I have only the guarantee that I will do what I can to survive, and that I will stick it in here beside you as I always have.

As I’ve told some people, one of the tricks I’ve manufactured to get myself through the relenting badness that is the news these days (besides reducing time on Twitter) is to imagine myself looking back at this time from a point far in the future when things are much better. I had this striking dream of myself as an old woman on this timeline, living in an adobe house in the desert, opening the door to some young kids who’d brought copies of Geek Feminist Revolution and who thought I was some kind of ancient seer. They had come to talk about the past, about the world I lived in that spawned that book, and all the books that came before and after it.

That sort of dream may not seem very powerful to you, but to me it was. With my shitty health the last few years and all the political turmoil, I was honestly worried about my chances of making it to old age. That dream gave me the vision of some other timeline, a vision I could use to plot my way forward through the coming years, which may be rough in order to get me to wonderful. We all need a story to see us through the darkest times. Do you need a story of that hopeful future? Write yours, too, and cling to it tightly. We’ll need them.

NaNoNoNo

I’ve been largely absent from the noise and social hubbub of the world lately, and for good reason. I’ve been fairly burned out. This was clear to me in July when I went out to do a cabin writing retreat to get some work done and found I could barely squeeze out 500 words when my goal was to produce 20k over the long weekend. Talk about an epic brain freeze.

While writing hasn’t been all that fun in a couple of years, it was, at least, still flowing. But after I finished The Stars are Legion all in one epic race earlier this year, the words just sort of left (in fact, I worried a lot that I’d botched this book. I’ve never once read it all the way through in one go. Really. And it’s at the printer. But the reviews so far are amazing, so clearly I did something right that writing weekend).

Last night, though, I finished a SUPER rough Nyx short story for the Patreon, and felt like some of the old fun was coming back. Some of that has to do with simply revisiting these characters. Writing these stories is like writing my own fan fiction. I’ve known these people for so much of my life now that they feel like family. It was nice to do something fun and finish it, even if it’s rough and needs some work.

What it did do is kick loose the part of my brain that’s been seeing all writing as a deathless slog the last year and change, and that’s great. It felt like I’d shoved past some massive mountain that was standing in my way. Finally, I was able to sit at the keyboard, in the dark, with a beer and a skull candle, and just completely inhabit another world. In my mind’s eye I was surfacing back in Nasheen again, running around a contaminated desert, dodging bursts and bombs, and trying not to care about my companions too much because the world had already ended and living was so very glorious. That’s the sort of writing experience I crave, when you feel like you’re not making things up so much as dictating a story as you’re living it in your head.

As I’m finally feeling better, I decided to take advantage of the glorious madness that is November to knock out some word count on The Broken Heavens. Revisiting the Nyx gang made me realize I was ready to start putting down some serious word count with my other gang of outcasts and weirdos as they try and save the world(s). As everyone who read Empire Ascendant can attest, that was a dark, dark, book, and I needed a break before really settling in to finish.

Here’s to hoping for a good writing month for all.

 

5 Years a Novelist: A Retrospective on the Writing Life

In January of 2011, about five years ago now, my first book, God’s War, was finally published after being bought and sold and sold again, since about 2007. That was a long and exhausting time, that publishing carousel.

But God’s War will always have a special place in my heart, as selling that series twice enabled me to get out of the poverty hole I’d been in, pay off the three credit cards I’d been living on for a year, and move out of my friends’ spare bedroom into my own apartment.

Five years later I have published six books, with two more coming out next year. I own a house and make a decent salary, so decent I was able to pay an unimaginable amount of money in an attempt to save my dog. Which is… something I could not have ever imagined doing five years ago. Five years ago I couldn’t even pay my own medical expenses.

I have experienced the best and the worst that publishing has to offer, in those five years. I had a bankrupt publisher (that still owes me thousands!) sold to another crappy publisher, and another publisher sold off that stalled the reprint of another book. I have won some awards. Critical acclaim! Great reviews! Drinking with authors! Blurbs!

It’s a bit astonishing to look back and realize all that has happened in just five years. I mean, shit, no wonder people drop out after a decade. Just five years in the business feels like a thirty-year career.

Last year was the first year I made what I’d consider a living wage via novel writing and Patreon dollars alone. This year, I made much less, which is why I still have a day job. The writing life is, as ever, fickle. You never know what the year will bring.

It’s very strange to meet newer/younger writers who look up to me these days, or who think I’m an established pro. Because even tho, gosh, I guess I am, if you look at the year count here, I’ve only been publishing novels for five years. Hardly a lifetime. But maybe that IS a lifetime, in publishing? The thing is, I spent fifteen years prior to that just working on craft, writing other novels that didn’t sell, publishing short stories, trying to break in. So even if I only start the publishing clock at “novel published” I’m really twenty years in.

I know so many writers who don’t make it past a debut book, or a debut series. And I don’t blame them. There’s a lot of disappointment in this industry, mainly driven by flawed expectations. To be a novelist is to be a glorified freelancer, with all the benefits and drawbacks of that type of life. You write and license your content to third parties. If you’re lucky, the content makes you some money beyond the initial advance. If you’re really lucky, it takes off and becomes your lottery ticket. But most books do just well enough to get you the next deal. The next shot. The next step in your career.

Whenever I get frustrated at the grind, I remind myself that I’m just five years in, and it’s going to get tougher. Oh, certainly, some aspects are more fun, as well. Conventions are better, now that I know more people. My writing is better, even if it doesn’t come any easier. And I know myself and what I want much better, which makes negotiations and expectations better, too. I’m learning more about structure, and more about what a “Kameron Hurley” novel really is. I have a lot of ideas for future work.

When I was a teenager, I expected to be making a living writing by the time I was 24. Today I do make a living writing, and actually have been doing so, since 27. Just… not as a novel writer. As a marketing writer. It’s not a bad gig. But it’s certainly not what I expected. The novel money is the gravy. The novel money gets me to conventions. Helps pay off debt. Pays those vet bills. But it’s still not what covers the mortgage or the food.

And, you know, maybe that’s better, five years in. Five years in, I still get to write the books I want. I think about the market, but I don’t worry about it, because if I have a book that tanks, I won’t starve. Maybe that is the freedom one gets, freedom one doesn’t have later unless one has already written that one-book wonder that pays the bills forever.

For now, I am redoubling my efforts to focus on the writing itself. It’s easy to get discouraged by the business, far too easy, to the point that you forget about the work. When you realize that the money from the work saved me from a deep hole of poverty just five years ago, you can see how it can be hard for me not to worry about the money. But to worry over that is to give up one my true north, and what I’m here for. To worry about that is to worry about something I can control only marginally. Readers do the rest.

So here’s to the next five years of the writing life. I expect them to be just as exhilarating, horrifying, hilarious, disappointing, and hopeful as the first five.

And yes, I intend to be here for them. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke

This, from Merrit Tierce, has been making the rounds:

I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke

My first thought: yeah, well, welcome to the club.

Ha ha, just kidding: I kept my day job. I kept my day job – I keep my day job – even though some days it pains the hell out of me, because yeah, I’d be broke immediately if I quit. Like, no contest. And I’ve published five novels and an essay collection in the last 5 years, with two more novels coming out next year. So.

My straight talk about writing and finances is what I get the most pushback about. Everybody wants this to be the million-dollar Scalzi blog, but yanno: there is the 1% of writers, and then there is… everyone else. Not that I don’t intend to be the 1% at some point (DON’T WE ALL!) but you have got to be real in this business about where you are and where you’re headed and how you plan to get there. Because you are going to be spending a lot of time grinding your way up in this biz, and you need to be prepared.

A lot of aspiring writers call these finance posts “depressing” and “brutal,” and yes, it may be those things, but it’s also the truth. Seeing it get a lot of play at larger venues just makes me roll my eyes and go, “See, kids, I’m not making this shit up.” Yes, this is real. This is the hustle. Huge numbers of “acclaimed” books sell a few thousand copies. Selling 12,000 copies in your first year as a debut author, as Tierce did, is pretty good! I think my first novel, God’s War sold like 10,000 its first year, and was also nominated for and the winner of a couple awards. We can’t all be The Girl on the Train, mmmkay? That magical shit that sometimes happens to books is pretty out of our control. The most you can do with your own marketing push is stay afloat in the midlist.

But this isn’t what the media would lead us to think is pretty good, and from the sound of it, her advance was so great that she hasn’t earned it back on those numbers yet, so I dunno, I would not be boo-hooing about that. Sounds like a good advance for a debut novel. Next time, tho: snap up that two-book deal. You only get to be a debut, with debut-risk dollars, once.

But of course, Tierce isn’t complaining about this so much as she is marveling and noting upon the difference between public perception of what it is to be an “acclaimed” writer and the financial reality, a dissonance I’ve been struggling with myself for some time. It’s a weird place to be, where people scream with joy when you walk into a room and burst into tears at your signing and swoon when you give them a blurb, but you’re cashing a royalty check for $800, which you’re dumping into your dead dog’s old medical bills before heading into your day job. You often feel like you’re a hamster on a wheel, or a ditch digger who’s been employed to dig out and fill in the same hole day after day, book after book.

I have seen this sudden, shocking realization – that writing is a job, a hustle – destroy a lot of debut writers. Many of them, like Tierce, have trouble with that second book. I was lucky enough to have already completed my second book by the time my first came out. Yet I too have stared down the barrel of reality, and found it wanting. It gets to me sometimes, too, when it’s not just “Breaking in for a few years” but “Breaking in for a few decades.” Dedicating oneself to a singular purpose with that sort of passion and stamina is rare in any field. But in writing, as in any field, the longer you are in it, the harder you work, the more chances you have to break out, to get lucky. Writing a novel is still better odds than playing the lottery, but only just. If you are looking for your self-esteem in your sales numbers or the size of your royalty checks (if you get them) you are on a fast road to disappointment.

This is why I encourage folks to have writing goals that aren’t tied to bestsellerdom or advance numbers. Oh, sure, HAVE those goals, too, but look for goals that are things you can control. Stuff like: write a book every year, or every two years. Or write a comic book. Or write a screenplay. Something you can do on your own, not something that relies on the goodwill, opinion, or marketing dollars of someone else. You will go mad in this business if you tie your business success to your self-worth. Writers who have spouses with solid day jobs, or trust funds, or connections from rich parents, are always going to be better positioned to get opportunities than you. But again: it’s like that in any industry. All you have is your unique voice, and your ability to persist.

If you’re a fan, knowing how much even “acclaimed” authors make is good to know for you, too. Writers don’t want to be jerks about going to events, but if you can’t pay them to go, you know: a lot of us can’t make it. Hell, even if we’re making good day job money, we are often limited by how much time off we’re allowed to take. One of the things that will shock you when you start going up through the pro writer ranks is how little money everyone makes from writing. Many award-winning writers live in poverty, living hand to mouth on freelance projects and praying they don’t have a health disaster because they have shit health insurance (or none at all).

Making a living wage as a writer is not a given. It’s not the norm. The year you spend working on that novel might net you $5,000 if you’re lucky. Add up those hours at minimum wage and let’s be real, you’d make way more working a minimum wage job than writing a novel. That’s the reality. That’s the odds. You do it because you enjoy it, because you’re good at it, because you like it better than flipping burgers.

But don’t expect the world to coddle and support your inner artist any more than it would coddle and support your inner grillmaster. The hustle is the same. The grind is no prettier. Writing is not a get-rich quick scheme. Fans, media, and aspiring writers need to stop positioning it as one.

Going Dark ’til January 9th to Prep for EPIC 2017

I’ve cancelled the rest of my appearances for this year, which I know surprised and worried a lot of people, but frankly, there is a lot of writerly-shit on deck right now, and I keep falling further and further behind. You have to know when to cut off promo and shift into writing hermit mode, and this is that time. So: no more appearances til next year, and no more hours spent being chatty on Twitter until January, which I am announcing here so I will hold myself to this pledge. You may get the occasional post if I feel up to ranting about something, or if I have some announcements, but that’s it.

It’s HERMIT TIME.

Folks know that I pride myself on hitting my deadlines, but since we sold GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION last year and slipped it into our existing contracted publication schedule, I have just never been able to catch up. Dates keep sliding: a couple weeks, a couple months, and now four months for BROKEN HEAVENS. Note that we have pushed back this release to later in 2017 as well: it was running too close to the release date for THE STARS ARE LEGION and creeping deadlines for that book have interfered with my writing of tBH. I had to push that date way out or risk pushing it out again at the end of every month and then looking flighty. I want to get back to hitting my deadlines like a pro instead of doing that wishy-washy “artist” thing.

When I look out at the crazy that is my life in search of more hours in the day, I find them on social media, where I can easily waste 2-3 hours a day or more. That’s great during promo times, but right now in deadline mode, those are hours I should be writing or reading books.

Lots of folks are like, well, what else are you doing? And folks, you know: I have a day job on top of this wild publication schedule, which eats a lot of time and which I’ve also gotten behind on these last few months. I also have a pilot script I’m working on with a producer (don’t get excited. 99% of these never go anywhere, but it’s a good exercise). I have Patreon stories I need to produce so we can finish paying off Drake-the-dog’s vet bills by the end of the year and still have Christmas.

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If you want to help with the vet bill backlog, you can contribute here or via Paypal Donate button below:

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I’m also going to take some family trips with my spouse and the dogs and just enjoy life here during my favorite season, because shit, I need a real fucking vacation. I have been grinding hard for the last two years, figuring that a break out was just around the corner. But a novel career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you can’t full-out sprint for two years without injury. So less sprinting, more living.  I intend to take a week or two off through the end of the year for actual rest and vacation instead of my usual working-writing vacation, too.

A lot of folks don’t realize what kind of costs come with trying to build a novel career while holding down a full-time day job. I work constantly, no joke. People always want to know the secret, and working constantly is pretty much it. But you can’t get up at 5:30 a.m. to do promo projects and posts, go to a day job from 8-5, do a couple more writer-related hours in the evening with contracts or reprint markets, spend 10 hours writing on Saturday, and then write columns on Sunday and expect to keep that pace going for years on end without repercussions. I have heard of too many writers burning out, and doing that for years on end is a great way to court burn out. No thanks!

So, my next public appearance will be ConFusion in January of 2017, and that will kick off an epic year of traveling. I’ll be a Guest of Honor at Swecon in Uppsala, Sweden and am attending WorldCon in Helsinki, as well as Gencon. I also have TWO books out next year, so hey, wow, yeah. I need to prep the fuck up for what is going to be a wild 2017.

To sum up: 2017 IS GOING TO BE EPIC.

So I will be largely absent from Twitter and ye olde blog, but you may find me making appearances on Instagram or posting scheduled content. But I won’t be interacting as usual.

That said, if there are any GRAND NEWS REVEALS, or new Patreon stories, I’m sure I’ll pop in and let ya’ll know.

Now, to the word mines! See you in January, unless there’s some good news before then.

Need to contact me urgently? Well, you know where to go. 

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P.S. Also we have this new dog, Indiana! And who wouldn’t want to spend MOAR TIME with this cute hamface of a dog?

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Why Being a Writer is an Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

Being a writer is a weird thing. I guess any time you live publicly, it’s like living in an abusive relationship. You’ve got a bunch of people publicly and simultaneously declaring that you are the most talented and humane person in the world… and also the biggest jerk hack that ever lived.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to have a very firm internal compass. It helps to have good friends and colleagues to reach out to when you’re feeling low, sure, but if you don’t have a firm grasp on who you are and what you want to express, it can be really easy to lose yourself. This is one reason why I’m glad I’m seeing the success I am seeing now at 36 instead of 26, because I have a much better handle on who I am. I can stand taller and firmer in the onslaught.

There have been many times when my editors or agent made a suggestion that I decided not to go with and was happy about. Other times, I wished I would have taken their advice instead. But at every turn, I trusted myself to make the right decision… even when it was wrong. More often than not, having a firm internal compass ensured that I made the book I wanted to make. Better, it continues to ensure that I’m making the books I want to make even after the reviews come up and people even higher up on the food chain start asking for changes. I know when to bend, and when to pass.

Living publicly can be very strange, as you have people reacting to your work like they know you, and can Intuit All. For the most part, I just roll my eyes at this, but I can see how reading some of the things people say about you and your work in public can get to you if you don’t stay the course. When a bunch of people say you are a hack, it can be super easy to stop and wonder, “Gee, am I a hack?” and veer off course. I’ve been reading about some very interesting studies where people who check a box on a questionnaire that says, “I am altruistic” are more likely to do something altruistic in the days and weeks that follow. This is because our minds don’t like to live in a state of cognitive dissonance. Unless you are a sociopath, your brain really wants to align your actions so that they gel with who and what you say you are.

This is one reason why imbibing toxic images and statements is so very bad for us. The more we internalize negative statements about ourselves, the more likely we are to become those things. “I am a shit writer,” or “I am a bad human being,” are not good things to make a part of your internal litany. Instead, for instance, when I get rejections my internal monologue is, “FUCK YOU I AM A GENIUS YOU WILL RUE THE DAY YOU SLIGHTED ME.” And yanno, that’s worked pretty great for me so far.

If you’re a newer writer coming up through the field, or a pro struggling to keep up the slog, I urge you to formulate your career and ego compass as early as possible, and to stay your course. I’ve had a couple of opportunities recently that I had to weigh carefully against what I wanted my career to be, and whether or not it kept me on target. If I am here to do good, to change the world, to make it easier for those to come after me, to advance my original work to get the message to a broader audience, then knowing all those things makes it easier to decide which projects to pursue and which not to. It also keeps me grounded when angry people yell that I’m a hack, because I often see myself in them. I am The Machine, and they are the Rage, now. I have been the Rage. I have needed a Machine to rail against, to push at, to use as my guidepost and inspire my own work. I’m OK with folks who hate on me because it inspires them to do better. I’ve been there. Some of those writers I railed against are my favorite-ist colleagues now. Other haters, you know, the trolls: they don’t bug me at all. Again, not sure why, I just… I guess I know too many real life trolls. I know that it’s not me they hate, but their own place in the world. Some use hate to drive them to do better; those ones I get. But the ones who hate just to wallow in it, those I just throw out, because living successfully in public means not only drawing legitimate criticism, but drawing the ire of those afraid to get off the couch. Being able to tell the difference, and adjust or throw out accordingly, is a public person’s greatest skill. It’s one I encourage you to cultivate early.

Most importantly, though, is that no matter how many voices plague you – well-meaning or no – you have got to stick to your path. In this world, not everyone is going to love you. Nor should they. You aren’t here to be liked. You’re here to change the world. Adjust your internal monologue accordingly. At the end of the day, yours is the only one you have to live with.

Do Authors Check Out Those Business Cards New Writers Give Them at Cons?

At various conventions, I’ve had new(er) authors come up to my signing table or come up to me after a panel and basically just give me their cards. I’ve also had authors hand me their books or, in the case of a couple of very smart new authors, ask if they can swap one of my books for theirs, so it’s a win/win for both of us (this is how I met Myke Cole and the reason I read Run Time by S.B. Divya, which I enjoyed and tweeted about. That is A+ networking).

Yet the question I hear from folks is, generally, is this worth it? Like, to just give an author your card cold? Or will they think you’re a pushy jerk?

To which I respond, well, it depends.

At my level, this happens rarely enough that I still do, in fact, read your business card and check out your work. This goes for folks who just hand me one after a signing as well as those who hand me one after we’ve talked at the bar for awhile. I do actually go to your website and – if you have a book up on Amazon – I will read the first couple paragraphs of your book to see whether or not I like the prose style or not (truth be told, if you have a crappy website and crap covers, I will be less likely to take this step, though, as these things do signal that the books, too, may not be great. When you are quickly sifting through information after a con, you make snap judgments). What I generally find is that most authors aren’t writing in genres that interest me, but yes, I will take you more seriously next time if I read a few paragraphs of your book and you’re clearly very skilled. True story! (this is how I met my sister from another mister, Melissa F. Olsen, who is not only very funny, and great to hang out with, but super talented, even if the genre she generally works in isn’t up my alley).

That said, if I was going to a con every month and got handed forty business cards, I’m going to be less likely to do this. At the rate I do events, though, and based on the number of cards and books I get, I do still take the time to connect work with a face. This is one reason I don’t recommend networking a lot until your work has reached a certain level, because you want to put your best foot forward when you meet people. There are plenty of writers I will hang out with whose work I don’t read or don’t like or can’t get into, but if your goal is to connect with an author who might like your stuff and talk about it, it’s useful to find authors who will like it and ensure that it’s at a pro level.

If you’re an author without any work online – no short stories, no books – I’m not sure how useful it would be to try and connect in this way. I don’t read unpublished work (this is a general rule that most writers stick to), and while I might suggest you talk to my agent, I’m not going to recommend someone to my agent with a personal note or anything without having read any of their work (and though personal recommendations might surface you higher in a slush pile, again, it really comes down to the work). You should really just go to cons to have fun and forget just dropping business cards off to every. single. person. after a panel (pro tip: don’t do this. I’ve had several people go up to panelists after a panel and hand ALL of us a card. Yeah, spray and pray is not a great strategy, and signals that you are unprofessional).

To be honest, the most annoying cards I get handed are from people who clearly have no idea who I am and are just trying to generically “network.” If you’re a fan as well as a writer, or if you think our work is similar, or if we have a fun conversation at the bar, yes, by all means, approach me with a card! But, like, if you write funny stories about aliens and have no website and no idea who I am except that I write stuff on the internet and we’ve never talked before, why are you handing me your card after a panel? What do you hope to get out of that? Save your money.

Be strategic in who you approach, when, and for what reason. It’s perfectly appropriate to hand me a card at a signing after squeeing about my work, or after we’ve chatted in the bar about Pokemon, but just randomly shotgun spraying writers you have only tangentially heard of “from Twitter” wastes your time and ours.

 

The Author as a Busy, Busy Bee and Other Bee-Filled Nightmares

Over the last month or so I’ve become one of those writers with a Secret Project (I know – I hate those people too) on top of The Broken Heavens manuscript due at the end of the year, on top of The Stars Are Legion copyedits due the end of the month, on top of the Patreon to pay back our dog’s vet bills (I will not even put the number here, but suffice to say it’ll be year’s end before it’s all paid off), on top of the usual Locus column, and the day job, and planning for the next project my agent and I pitch since we’re out of contract after the next book for Saga, etc. etc.

I got behind on everything sometime last year when edits for Geek Feminist Revolution, drafting for The Stars are Legion, and promotion for Empire Ascendant were all happening at once. I just… could not do all those things at once, and as noted, had to get some help just to get through it.

Then, when it looked like I’d finally get a break there in November/December, our dog had surgery, and so began the long eight months of his rehab and eventual death, which was a long, slow, painful and agonizing thing across the board as his health got better, worse, better, worse, until there wasn’t anything left we could reasonably do for him. That process ate a lot of time and headspace for other projects. The more emotion I’m spending on life, the less emotion I have in reserve for the writing. Add onto that day job hijinks that led to another switch in jobs late last year, and yeah, I was burnt, and Legion ended up several months late, and I have never caught up.

Now suddenly it’s August, nearly a year after my blowout (I know, I know, “Kameron Hurley having a blowout” means I only wrote one book, released one book, wrote three short stories, pitched a novella project, and picked up a Secret Project. JUST THINK WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT A BLOWOUT), and I seem to finally be getting back into the groove of things. I read a bunch of books, did some low key events, and seem to be a little more idea-driven instead of slog-pushed the last couple weeks. Oh, I’m still epically behind on things like The Broken Heavens, but now at least when I think about them my brain doesn’t put up a big iron wall that I have to crawl up and hack at every time I need to get to work. The last three months in particular was really bad for this, and I recognize now that the emotional rollercoaster involved in Drake the Dog’s recovery-that-wasn’t really took its toll on the brainspace I need for writing. I’ve found in life that low emotional drama is very good for productivity, which is also why polyamory was never for me (I once dated two people at the same time for, like, a week, and it was so emotionally draining I vowed never to try that shit again, but I admire those who can make it work and still have a life) and why I started to drop out of high-drama and high-maintenance relationships. I also moved far, far away from my own family and that particular drama, which has helped me maintain my focus on what I want instead of getting dragged into doing what I feel like they want. It helps.

Low emotional expenditure outside of the writing is good for me because it means I can stay focused deeply on the work. I need that deep focus to stay as productive as I’d like to be while staying sane. The more distractions I have, the lower my productivity and the less likely I am to level up my own skill level. I had to make a lot of tradeoffs in life because of that, and it’s another reason I try hard these days to live within my means, as well. Financial stress can take just as much a toll as emotional stress. I’m certainly more productive here in my 30’s with a stable relationship, stable address, and stable finances (ok, once vet bills are paid!) than I was in my 20’s when I was careening around the world. While my life may be less exciting in the “Let me tell you a story” sense, it’s certainly a good mix for getting shit done.

One of the things I’ve had to acknowledge, though, is that I can’t run full-tilt here for years on end without hitting a wall of burn out. I needed to take a break, read some new stuff, and explore other projects. Paired with a more stress-free life, it does seem to be working again, so here’s to hoping that I ramp up my productivity and begin putting out some really great work in the next year and have some fun with it instead of just grinding my weary bones down for bread.  I understand that life is finite, and I remain dedicated to making the most of it, which I’m better able to do when I’m not slogging through every project.