More on Corona, writing, and anything else…

So, it’s autumn now and things are sort of going OK. Yes, SARS-CoV-2 is still around (I didn’t expect anything else) but at least the kindergarten is not closed yet. I am working and working and working, trying to finish the latest rewrite of my fantasy novel before the shit hits the fan for the second time this year.

On the plus side, I attended (virtually of course) the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. It was marvelous. The masterclasses organized by Writing Excuses were indispensable while the conference sessions were a treasure trove.

I also got to know about a wonderful Canadian (but really, international) writing community called The Creative Academy for Writers. I so have a soft spot for Canada as I spent there some time as a child. So I joined. So far, that seems a very good decision.

And last but not least, I have a poem, “The mountain said,” out in Offshoots 15, a magazine published by the Geneva Writers’ Community of which I’m a member. So far so good. Let’s hope the winter will not bring a change for the worse.

Corona, writing, and everything else…

Oh, has it been a year since my last post? Yes, it has. Of course, it has. And this silence is, not surprisingly, SARS-CoV-2 related.

Things in my life were just starting to look better. I had a short story, “Bread and Iron,” published with Short Édition, my son finally adjusted to our new home, and my two girls were just starting in day care. I was looking forward to returning to a regular writing routine and a bit of time for myself after a year of being entirely focused on my twin daughters. I was tired. I was so tired. But I knew that now life would slowly return back to normal for me.

And then, the shit hit the fan.

They closed the kindergartens. It was no longer safe for my mom to come and help. My husband still had to keep working, somehow. And we were five at home. All. The. Time. Initially my husband and I tried to split working and taking care of the kids. But in the end, it just got messy and unproductive. And I felt like I was back to square one; to where writing was not a priority but something done in between. I felt so trapped.

Then the summer came, and we got a breather. Not a minute too soon. And what the summer brought was the SFWA Nebula Conference, which I was now for the first time able to attend and that without having to take a trans-Atlantic flight. Needless to say, I made full use of this opportunity. (At list one small consolation for the world having gone mad.)

I met lots of great people and was even accepted as a mentee, which was of a huge help as my mentor agreed to check my query letter. I also got to chat with an agent, which was extremely informative as I got an inkling of why my earlier querying was unsuccessful. Great to know, but now I need to do another huge rewrite of my novel.

I better get on with it. Because who knows what the winter will bring. I so hope that life will retain some semblance of normality.

My short story “Bread and Iron” has been published.

I wrote in my previous post that life got tough in the past few months. It hasn’t gotten easier. The girls are still a lot of work, my body still has its aches, I still wish I could write more. But there is a ray of light. My short story, “Bread and Iron,” just came out with Short Édition.

This publisher has a very cool concept. They have placed short story dispensers at numerous highly frequented public places like libraries or train stations (see a list here to check if there is one near you). You get a free story printed out at the touch of a button. But if you don’t have a dispenser near, Short Édition also publishes the stories online for free.

So, check out “Bread and Iron.” I wrote it with much love, and having it out there for others to read made a tough time in my life a little lighter.

On happiness, parenting, and ambition…and, of course, writing.

I’m six months into being a mother of three. My son is now four years old, and my twin baby girls are six months old. I won’t lie, it hasn’t been easy. Not only because of the amount of work (diapers, soiled clothes, spoon feeding etc.), but because I find it difficult to put my life on hold for a year until the girls start in the nursery.

I have written posts on how becoming a parent finally made me realize the value of time and that it pays off to work 15 min a day. And I still stand by what I said in these posts. The trouble is that this time around, I don’t need to relearn these lessons. I still remember them. I have learned not to procrastinate, and I value my time. These days, I’m trying my best to squeeze in a bit of querying and editing (writing is a luxury) in the little time between the kids being finally asleep and my brain switching off.

I’m writing this post in the car, for example. The babies are sleeping, and I have a little bit of time between the girls’ PEKiP course and having to pick up my son from the kindergarten. I’m writing in the cracks of time. Always in between.

I reminds me of how things were when I was working. I don’t like the feeling.

But perhaps, I am in a time of my life when I need to rather learn to go with the flow. Sometimes, learning to float gets you there faster, especially if one learns to navigate the current.

This leads me to the point about happiness. In this time of my life more than any other, I’m beginning to realize that happiness is a choice. The last six months have been a very intense blessing. Our family nearly doubled in size. That alone is quite the change. But also, we have been fortunate enough to be able to build a house. Now, we are starting to make a home out of it. I think many people would be like: So yeah, what are you complaining about?

Exactly.

I shouldn’t. Yes, it has been stressful; yes, my body takes its time to recover from growing two babies; yes, at the moment, being happy or being unhappy is balanced on the edge of a knife.

It is up to me to choose which way I go.

Happiness is, indeed, a choice. Letting go and letting the current take you is a good choice sometimes. Sometimes, one needs to choose the grass on one’s own side, green or not.

Is it worth it to write only 15 minutes a day?

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about time management. Like so many others, she too was struggling to carve out time for her creative work. She was wondering if she would make any progress with her novel if she only had 15 minutes a day to write.

This made me think back to the time when I had just had my son (now 4 years ago) and was afflicted by a sudden change in perspective on what it meant not to have time.

Before my son was born, I would find myself with half an hour on my hands and think: Shoot! I only have half an hour to write. What’s the point to even start? Or I would decide to write for the next two hours but would get distracted over and over again. So, all in all, I spent huge chunks of time either trying to write or deciding that time was insufficient to do so.

And then a tiny being was born who turned out to be an amazing time zapper. At first, I despaired but then got down to business because the only other option would have been to give up. Sometime later, I was surprised by how much I could accomplish in between changing diapers and laundry. Apparently, if self-discipline is lacking, no amount of time will get the job done.

Now, it’s been three months since my two girls were born and I’m applying the same philosophy. So, trust me, even if you have only a quarter of an hour a day to focus on your craft, do it. I’ll give you four good reason why this is the way to go:

  1. You will stay connected to your project. After long breaks, I lost a lot of time reviewing what I had already written instead of moving forward.
  2. My friend had the objection that when working only 15 min a day on her novel, she would not be able to keep an overview of the project. I didn’t find this to be the case. The plot and the feel of the story, the things that need fixing and what’s to come are all kept alive in the writer’s mind even if the fingers are occupied for only 15 min a day with the project.
  3. By working regularly on their creative dream, even if it’s only 15 minutes daily, a writer hones the self-discipline and focus they need to bring a project to completion. Like this, when circumstances finally allow a greater chunk of time to be allotted to the craft, one will be ready to utilize the time to the fullest.
  4. Let’s do the math. Even if one writes only 200 words a day, this will amount to about 70 000 words in a year. That’s almost a complete rough draft (depending on genre). There are some who write much slower than that (perhaps in bigger chunks, but slower). I used to be one of these people before I ran out of time.

In the end, there is no defeat in trying even if progress is slow. The real defeat is to give up. Another manifestation of giving up is waiting for a better time. There is no better time than the now to begin and then to keep going and keep going and keep going.

The Sinuous Nature of Life (and our twins will soon arrive).

I’m sure that I’m not the first to observe that life is sinuous like the graceful wave of the sine function. There are phases when nothing happens, and then circumstances tilt to fill our lives with more than we can handle.

In the past weeks, our life as a family took quite the turns, and since I’m pregnant with twins and soon to give birth, I imagine that all that has been happening until now (not always joyous) was just a preamble. But I’m glad to say that I managed to go through another substantial revision of my book plus the necessary editorial nit-picking that must follow.

Time is precious, but it is a perspective that often recedes to the background when we have an abundance of time. Before I gave birth to my son four years ago, I had plenty of time (at least in relative terms). But I got around to finishing the first draft of my trilogy only after I had a baby to take care of and still had a day job. Back then, I finally realized—truly realized—what it meant not to have time, and, consequently, how precious a commodity it is. So, I got on with the first draft. I was not as nearly as productive before I got so busy. Go figure…

Also, that’s when I started to seriously educate myself about time management. I wanted to use the low-key troughs of life’s sinuous nature as equally well as the peaks. I’ve tried to bring my writing tasks to a stage where I could keep on going, albeit at a much slower pace, once I’ve found my footing with two new babies at home. I have no illusions of being able to complete huge tasks, but hopefully, I won’t completely stop.

I’m now embarking on several adventures at ones. I finally started querying agents, we’ll grow as a family, and, soon, we’ll be moving to a new home. I’m excited and grateful, and, yes, a little scared. Will it all work out? But as Stephen King so succinctly put it in “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption:”

I hope.

Plotting vs pantsing: the eternal question.

I started on my fantasy trilogy as a complete pantser. I had no plan whatsoever. After an inspiring road trip in Ireland, I came back with a head full of something I could not quite articulate and just started writing. What this resulted in was a first draft that was plain scary. In fact, it took me a year to revise the first book in the trilogy because I had to rewrite half of it and fix extensively the other half. Thankfully, I was excited enough about my initial idea to have enough motivation to carry through this task.

The plot and structure of the book crystallized out over time, and, in the end, things ended up tidy enough. But, my, was it tough to get the project to that level. I know that there are vehement advocates of either pantsing or plotting, but I reached the conclusion that the truth, at least for me, lies midway.

Normally, what I do after the initial idea strikes, is write long, disorganized bullet point lists of plot points, characters, etc. It is a random but very inspired process. Then when I feel like the idea has a bit of shape, I would start writing. I often forget to look at my lists, let alone organize them. The result: scary first draft.

I think it is important to indulge into this first stage where the initial idea sparks and soak up as much as possible from this free energy (as I wrote in my previous post); but now I see that having a vague idea of what the story will be about is not enough to produce something coherent, which doesn’t need scary amounts of revision. I see that I need to first make better sense of the glowing debris from the primal idea blast.

It will need to be a balanced process. I’m a punster. That I can’t change. If I plot out a story too rigidly, I lose interest. But starting with no direction at all seems to also not be working for me.

The beginner’s mindset: so important in writing.

The good thing about long breaks (even if involuntary) from a regular routine is that they help us see the big picture of an activity, a life choice, a goal. They bring clarity. It’s been more than three months since I worked on my writing projects, and I have come to recognize a couple of things.

But first, let me explain the break in my writing. The reason is, in fact, lovely: I’m pregnant with twin girls and I can’t be happier. But I was also very morning (or rather all-day sick) for a good number of weeks. Looking at screens or even reading printed books made it even worse, so I had to take an involuntary break from all I was doing and spend some time on the couch meditating next to a bucket.

This break wasn’t crazy long, but it still brought novelty back to writing (and editing). And this has made me realize how precious the occasions when we experience something for the first time are. Do you remember, for example, the experience of listening to a new album by your favorite music artist for the very first time? Every new track is a little firework of pleasure (at least if the album is as good as the previous ones). It’s just not the same when listening to the album a second time. Same thing when rereading books or repeating roller coaster rides. The secondary buzz is different. Not that repetition is valueless, but it carries a different quality and depth.

Moments when we do something for the very first time deserve to be cherished and internalized to their fullest. It will never happen again, you know: that first kiss, writing that first page of a novel, getting that first spark of an idea.

There is energy to these moments that is worth harvesting, like the energy from the Big Bang that still pervading our universe. I’m talking about the openness and flexibility that often dissipates when one gets too deep into a project. The beginner’s creativity is a special brand of creativity, which I often need to remind myself to recall during the revision stage of a writing project. Structure and organization too have a place (and a very prominent one at that) in any workflow, but without that initial flexibility, I find it harder to accept the need for big overhauls or difficult changes. Not to mention that any kind of work is much more invigorating if our feet are not stuck in the rut.

Owning the baggage that trips us: when they told me I shouldn’t write.

A few weeks ago, I met Garth Greenwell at a reading of his book, “What belongs to you.” I was completely taken aback by his eloquence and uplifting ideas. During the discussion, he said one thing (among many other wonderful things) that stayed with me (I’m paraphrasing): The wrong or hurtful things we hear and are taught as children will always stay with us; we can never grow up to be as if we had never heard these things; but what we can try is to turn them into something useful.

Now, this might not sound very uplifting at first. But the effect it had on me was a sort of a release. I felt released from a felt obligation to make some parts of my past disappear, to make them heal without any scars. This is indeed impossible. We all bear within us our childhood traumas. Sometimes, parents, in an unhealthy combination of love and fear, say things to their children that are destructive rather than protective. I’m a parent now; I understand the mechanics of this and try to stay clear of these worry-ridden parental traps. But when I was a child, I did not understand where the hurtful things I heard or was made to believe came from.

But hearing Garth Greenwell speak about his own childhood and how he deals with the baggage he carried over into adulthood made me realize that I should rather own how I feel about my own baggage rather than try to fix it or forget it.

In my case, I was made to believe that pursuing writing was a bad life decision; that it would one day lead me to being poor and jobless. Who knows? That might have been true had I stayed in Bulgaria and studied literature. Life in Bulgaria was not easy then and is still not better now. But then, I moved away from Bulgaria, which cardinally changed my prospects, and the reasons for not supporting me in my passion for writing switched to that I would never be as good as a native speaker (I wish I had been aware of Nabokov or Conrad’s biographies back then). Cleary, these arguments came from some deep-seated fear: fear that, in all probability, stemmed from my parents having had to grow up in communist Bulgaria where realities were much different from my life today. I just wished they had explained their thoughts to me rather than tried to make me deny a part of myself. I understand now, but back then, damage was caused, and I was unable to share my writing for years and years to come.

So, this leads me to something else. Our childhood baggage would very often result in us carrying around unhelpful narratives about our aspirations and inclinations. And, until now, I was thinking that in being fully aware of my own narratives from the past, I was above them. But, no. I don’t think I ever came to fully own my writing aspirations. Often, I would trip myself, limit myself, would not dare write something because I thought it too grand for me to write. I didn’t become aware of this until the reading of, “What belongs to you.”

Several realizations hit me on the drive home: that I needed to own my past; that I needed to own the part of me that was suppressed and set it free; and that the two are connected. Owning the hurts of the past is what fuels turning trauma into something useful; it is what gives us ownership of our present.

So, own it.

Looking back on a year of full-time writing.

Attending the Geneva Writers Conference (2-4 March 2018) coincided with a personal anniversary of mine: a year ago, the last day of February marked the last day at my science job before quitting it to devote myself to writing. I couldn’t have celebrated this small milestone in a better way than going to Geneva: I met lovely people and encountered opportunities that might bring my writing further. I want to now take a little time to look back at what happened in the last 14 months and take stock of where I’m now.

So…

On 24 December 2016, I finished the rough draft of my fantasy trilogy. It so happened that this coincided with me finally having the guts and opportunity to quit my day job as a researcher, which I promptly did as soon as the holidays were over.

What followed were two months of having to go to work (because I had a two months’ notice), but in my head, I had already moved on. This felt awful and when 28 February 2017 arrived, I was beyond done. I actually needed a couple of months to recover. I guess I finally had the peace of mind to realize how awful I had been feeling before.

But then the darkness lifted, and I was ready to start on my writing journey. I embarked on revising Book 1 of my trilogy, but it took me almost until now to find my writing feet. What do I mean by that? Working from home was a huge change from having always had a boss or a supervisor to answer to and an office to go to. But suddenly, at home, I had a quadrillion distractions to resist. I’m very driven when it comes to writing, so motivating myself to write was not a problem. Staying focused, on the other hand, was. Now that I worked from home, the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink were constantly calling to me to end their suffering, and the myriad of toys strewn across the floor were each one a painful prick to my need for neatness. So I went through cycles and cycles of refining to-do lists, best practices, and schedules until I learned to accept entropy.

Hence, the past year was a year of a steep learning curve: learning about my inner workings as a writer and the ropes of working for one’s self. At times, it was grueling—it’s amazing how much pressure I can put on myself even without external stressors. But then, in the autumn of last year, a trickle of positive feedback started coming in: my short story, “Clara,” was published in Electric Spec and another story was accepted elsewhere. Also, the first 10 000 words of my novel were long-listed in this year’s IWC Novel Fair competition (I’m listed as Adriana K. Weinert). And the Geneva Writers Conference capped this amazing year.

So, to sum it up Bridget Jones’ style:

Polished novels: 1

Published short stories: 1

Competitions: longlisted for one

Interest in novel: some

Looking back, this has been one of the most gratifying years in my life. I started out thinking that I must be crazy wanting to do this. Now, I’m starting to think that it would have been madness not to and deny myself a much happier life.

This year wouldn’t have been possible without my husband who made space in our lives for the writer in me. If you have such a person at your side, cherish them! And, of course, my novel wouldn’t have gotten as far as it is now without my generous and sharp-eyed beta readers and without my fellow writer friends whose support and advice at crucial moments was invaluable. Thank you!

Let’s see what the next year of writing will bring…