The Trap of ‘Busyness’

hanging laundreyIt’s far too easy — for most indie writers these days — to rely on the general public’s apparent understanding of the phrase “I’ve been busy” in order to put off serious work on one’s manuscript.

Every writer I know is busy with days jobs, family and practical hobbies, usually in that order, and the rest of the world seems to accept and respect this state of being, one which pushes back on the established expectation that “serious” writers must produce a novel at least once a year.

Writers of old were considered to be “writers”,and often nothing more; they could hole up in a room for days on end, working feverishly or disappear on writing trips to far-flung corners of the earth. They might not produce anything for years, eschewing phrases like: “I’m in a funk”, “I’m blocked”, “I’m taking some times for me as an artist to recharge” etc. and then be properly censured for such notions by their harder-working peers. The average indie writer of today is a different animal.

It’s been two years since I finished a novel, going on three. I have three partially-finished ones, the longest of which is the third novel in my husband’s and mine Epic Fantasy series. We hashed out the plot in note form nearly a year and a half ago, and fans of the series have been clamoring for news of it’s completion for months. I type rather lame replies to the queries on our WordPress series blog, talking about how my husband and I write in-between our day jobs, our four young children and our organic vegetable garden, answers which have been — thus far — taken (as they are meant to be) at face value, and so with a surprising amount of understanding on the part of the public… and the trap of ‘busyness’ is sprung.

I am honestly a busy person. My family, household and garden take precedence over every other inkling in my life, and I am unapologetic about it. I hang my laundry outside to save both money and the planet. I grow organic veg to feed my family with and for bartering with the neighbors for lemons & honey. I scrub my house with natural ingredients for both healthy and lesser-footprint reasons. And then comes my various freelance jobs — that pay surprisingly well — from re-wording corporate brochures to writing advertisement pieces. When my children are out of school, its time for us to dive into extra-curricular learning, whether cooking, gardening, literature or just outside exercise.

Unlike many of my peers, the internet does not steal away much of my time these days. use it for the promotion of my husband’s and my books, to look up a recipe or research stock charts (a rather recent development) but little else. Anyone in my near social circle, including family members, would gladly testify to how little time I spend on social media; I only go on Facebook once a month, if that. I hardly have time to write a monthly blog or tweet. Months go by where I don’t interact at all with the smattering of indie writing communities across the Internet, and when I do I delete about 300 read requests — maybe getting to one or two of my fellow’s novels to remark on — and then try to reply to polite inquiries on the various pieces posted there. I left off doing book reviews at all two years ago, as there simply wasn’t time.

All that being said, the one and only problem with being busy — as an indie writer — is that I tend to lean on my various daily accomplishments as ample reasons why I don’t have to write as much as I could. In all honesty, I could write more often and for greater lengths of time, but that would require a little thing called discipline… a word that has already inserted itself into every other part of my life. The rigors and echoes of time-management are present in my home, my finances, my chores, my children and even my garden, which is as it should be. Tasks get accomplished that way: laundry is finished and folded, floors are cleaned in time for meals, food is prepared properly, plants are watered fully, errands are run on time and things just fall into place.

For a long time I looked at writing as the last bastion of free-spirited creativity that I possessed, at least until I began to sell books. Now, it’s a business, and a profitable business but one I rather tinker at verses working on in a dedicated fashion. One can make all the viable excuses in the world, but the truth is that I do have more spare time in which to write… I just don’t always do it. I’d much rather spend my free time writing poetry, or knitting in my backyard, enjoying the beauty of the tree and flowers verses slogging away on the less-inspiring sections of my novels, but that’s just my writing side being lazy. And the world is full of folks that can attest that the road to ruin is paved with “I’d rather do anything than work.”

Thank goodness for folks gifted with frankness for situations like these, who give advice that can be recalled, even now, with fondness. In this situation, my grandfather would have said:

“So, you’d rather starve than work?” “No.” “Then get off your ass and get workin’.”

Or, my personal favorite: “If you say you want to do it, then do it… or you’re just lyin’ to yourself.”

It boils down to me asking myself: How much do I really want to finish this book?

Answer: if I really want it done, then I will make time to do it.

Well, after stalling most of the morning, getting all my other chores out of the way, I left myself with little alternative but to do exactly that, and get several pages under the proverbial belt before vegetables must be found, picked and prepared for dinner.

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L. R. Styles is a writer with Belator Books

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The Death of a Cup

1 fZOmYVoxSftlIbFQscFhKQA few minutes ago, I dropped my favorite cup on the driveway.

I could easily blame it on the particularly strong gust of wind that bandied my front yard at that moment (indeed, is still doing so outside) or, that my grip was weakened because my knuckles really wanted to be cracked and weren’t. I’d resisted the urge to do so, in order to prove I could. For this I silently congratulated myself as I stood in the wind outside, seeing my husband off to work.

It must have happened quickly—Sir Isaac Newton (I am certain) would assure it me that it did— but the event, itself, seemed inexplicably slow. As a gust of wind ratcheted up—sounding like a small jet engine chewing a million dry leaves—the cup simply leaped from my fingers. I felt its loss instantly, for the cup took the warmth of my hand with it. My fingers tingled with a puzzled sort of alarm. I watched my cup fall down in an elegant spiral motion, the last bits of its coffee splayed outward with the centrifugal force. And then it stopped. The cup was whole and then it exploded, sending shards of itself about and coming to rest in the most tragic kind of heap possible for ceramic to attain.

I have connected with few objects in my life. Influenced as a youngster, by a practical Scottish grandmother, I regard most material things as resources to be either used or passed on to those who can. But, no ordinary cup was this. It found me… rather than I finding it.

In browsing the aisles of a local thrift store—a half decade ago—I brushed up against a slightly rickety display rack of ceramics. The cup in question fell from a higher shelf and—in a highly unusual display of dexterity on my part—I reached out and caught it.

It was a pale blue latte coffee cup that some hobbyist potter had crafted to mimic a fashionable ceramic plate design popular in the 90’s. One of the cup’s sides featured a delicate stem of cherry blossoms; its handle seemed to fit my slender fingers perfectly. I liked the weight in my hand at once; the matte, powder-like glaze appealed to me, seemingly unassuming compared to its glossier peers. Turning it over I saw no date nor maker’s mark. I looked for more such cups and found the unknown potter had made twins, along with two bowls and two small plates. Purchasing the lot for less than $20, I helped the check-stand girl wrap them in newspaper and took them home to use. That night I made my own version of Tom Ka Gai—a delicate and delicious Thai soup—not in homage to the maker’s continent, but because I felt like the new dining items deserved to serve it.

Those with children know how much they assist one in getting over attachments to material objects. In less than two years all the cherry blossom pottery was broken beyond repair… except for the cup that had leaped from its shelf to join my hand. It sported a small chip on one side by the handle—a parting gift from a near brush with a garden trowel—which, in my mind, merely added to the cup’s character. When full of steaming coffee or tea, my cup held just the right amount of stimulating liquid to get through an op-ed article, or four pages of fiction, or a poem, or a phone call to a relative.

As I stood over the cup’s remains this morning, staring down at the pieces on my driveway, I felt dazed both by my own clumsiness and the surreal nature of its fall.

“Aw… that was your favorite cup, wasn’t it?” my husband called, from the driver side window of our car. I nodded and looked over, giving him a quick ‘don’t worry, I’ll clean it up smile,’ one he’s seen many times since children were introduced into our household. Knowing instinctively that words in such a case are useless, my husband gave me a sympathetic half-smile before backing down the driveway.

Kneeling down on the wet surface of the porous cement, I picked up the tiny shards with care, feeling a ridiculous wave of sadness wash over me. I silently mocked myself for feeling bad about it, knowing full well how much real cause for grief is present in our world. Carrying the cup’s remains to the trash bin, I dropped them in without ceremony, letting go of yet one more thing.

Inside the house, a row of other such vessels met my eye in the cupboard. Briefly, I searched for a particular shape before I caught myself. The last of the coffee was poured in another object; it felt different in my hand but adequately conveyed the warm liquid to my mouth as it was designed to do.

The death of a cup, however endearing, did not dampen the sounds of wind outside, nor cause the steady sounds of typing to halt. Yet, it did inspire me to write—one last time—with prose leaping to mind as readily as the cup fell into and out of my hand.

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L. R. Styles is an author for Belator Books

Amazon VS Hachette, Round 7

prime parry~ August 9th, 2014 ~

Like many a KDP author, my husband and I checked our emails over a Saturday morning cup of coffee. A lengthy email from the Amazon Books Team took center stage among the others and we dove in. Impromptu messages from our global distribution partner are rare, unless something is amiss or some new program has been launched. A “reader” version of this email can be viewed here.

The email began with a well-worded history lesson, harkening back to the birth of the paperback and likening its poor reception to today’s ongoing issue with Hachette. Apparently, the traditional publishing industry has prior offenses in marshaling authors to exclude a particular reading medium which it views as a threat. The paperback–now the bread-and-butter darling of the paper book industry–was once painted with leper-like status and bookstores refused to sell them, saying that it would cheapen literature as a whole. Several independent publishers, however, rejected that idea and printed them anyway–as they were very cheap to produce–and sold them at news-stands and drug stores. A huge demand for the humble paperback ensued and–contrary to the book industry’s dire predictions–literacy rates exploded. Yes, garbage was printed along with the good stuff, but the point Amazon’s email extrapolated from its mini-history-lecture was that the price of the paperbacks was in proportion to its production cost.

My husband and I glanced at each other over our coffee cups. My raised eyebrow was answered by his sage nod. A familiar scenario, indeed. As authors we, naturally, don’t want to see eBooks get so cheap that it doesn’t make business sense to keep writing them. To us, charging less than $2.99 would not just be insulting, it wouldn’t be worth the effort considering the amount of time the average writer spends on the actual writing (6 months-1 year per title) let alone the expensive editing services ($900-$1200 per title) and artwork/formatting services, as well as the subsequent website/marketing.

Our books are on the lower end of the scale simply because we self-market and utilize high-quality software for formatting; if we hired those services out we’d have to charge a little more per book. Though we like the control aspect of setting our own prices, we agree that prices should not be raised or lowered across the board, as if they are all alike. Books, like every other commodity is subject to supply and demand. We also strongly feel that $.99 for a full-length novel is just too low, unless used on a temporary promotional basis… which is another thing consumers seem to like, so it stays.

Whether or not you agree with Hachette’s argument or Amazon’s–or have a foot in both camps–most folks agree that the eBook revolution came about because of one industry’s blatant refusal to evolve. The demand for eBooks is there because consumers want them. End of story. Consumers also don’t want to pay paper prices for digital books. Folks are smart, publishers… they know eBooks are far, far cheaper to produce than paperbacks. Consumer knew this long before Amazon’s Saturday email… and yet Hachette seems to be insistent that consumers pay $9.99-$14.99 for their eBooks.

I admit I let out a rather mocking snort upon reading that bit of information, knowing full well I could walk into any bookstore right now and purchase a tangible, paper book for that same price. Having made and formatted my own eBooks for some time, I know that the cost of self-publishing an eBook–for us–is about $2. For Hachette to charge such ridiculously high prices for eBooks brooks of greed.. and arrogance; even worse, it is the kind of arrogance that appears deliberately ignorant of the lessons other companies were able to learn over the last ten years: 1. eBooks are here to stay, 2. publishers must evolve or go extinct… and 3. the customer is always right.

The entire argument boils down to this: in the past traditional publishers refused to give consumers what they wanted… so, they migrated. Amazon was more than wiling to extend a hand to self-published writers in order to meet demand, and then went a step further in letting said writers control what prices they wanted to set their books at. Consumers responded in droves, and still do… and are likely to continue to flock to the mega-online retailer for some time to come, despite its rather mysterious PR system and cloaked industry data.

Dislike or like Amazon as you will. Agree or disagree with Hachette’s many gripes. From the perspective of actual writers, however, my husband and I love getting 70% royalties from our own work, something I bet a Hachette author would just love to have for themselves, and this despite pressure from their contracts/agents forcing them to voice a feeble opposition.

I admire Amazon Book Team’s endeavor to garner the ire of its vast array of indie writers by pointing out anti-trust-like collusion between companies and encouraging both writers and readers alike write to Hachette’s CEO and voice said feelings. I doubt it will do any good. History shows us that most mega-publishers have an ingrained habit of not listening to consumers until its almost too late.

I am certain many self-published writers view the entire Amazon VS Hachette debate with a ponderous grimace. They give a rueful shake of the head, let out a half-sighed remark on the stubbornness of human nature and then move on to check their latest hourly sales figures… whereupon the smiles return once more.

slender floral divider

L. R. Styles is an author of The Road to the King series, On the Way to America & The Inheritance

Write. Now.

Pen in HandMetaphors, similes and analogies–many will tell you–are useful teaching devices, a statement which (for the most part) is true. Said devices do not, however, help a writer to finish their book.

I googled the words “help with writing” the other day, just to see what my fellow writers had to say on the subject. Upon pressing the enter key I was hit with a plethora of meaningful metaphors, writing-is-like sentences and analogies from construction similarities to comparing writing to rowing a boat…. whoops, that last one was mine. As well-intentioned as most of these various phrases are, the only thing that will help the book/ piece/ article/ epic get written is to actually write it. “Pen to paper!” as my favorite English teacher would exuberantly instruct… or, for today’s writer, fingertips to keys.

Why is it so difficult for many writers (myself included) to get a lengthy piece completed?

The writer has the plot in hand; the characters are fully formed; the scenes are scripted, set and arranged; the action is waiting in the wings to be harkened forth; the emotions are balanced to play along with the mood of the moment… and yet, the enthusiasm with which the piece was begun has all but drained away. The writer is left forcing themselves to turn away from an endless number of distractions—all of which are suddenly imbued with the utmost importance (and will you look at all those weeds)–literally having to drag themselves back to the laptop in order to hammer out the scenes that they once started with undeniable energy.

As hapless as that situation seems, it’s just part of the job. Once embarking on a journey of prose you cannot expect the waters of life to always remain calm… oh my stars, I almost fell headlong into a rambling naval analogy, for which I have but little real life experience. Dear reader, I beg your pardon. Instead, I shall provide a cure… not for defeating writers ‘block’ so much, but for re-infusing oneself with that initial creative inspiration, that sparkle-in-the-eye which seems to dawn upon those burdened gifted with the quest of penning literature.

I found this ‘cure’ quite by accident: repeatedly entering the strange and quaint poetry contests that crop up now and again on websites like writerscafe.org. These are free to enter and take up only a little time; they spur one on with that oddly-consuming blanket of Competition. I’ve won a few such contests, but entering was the point of the exercise. A remarkable thing happens in the wake of writing a bit of sentimental frippery (or the detailed account of a dream) for an off-the-cuff contest: the cogs and wheels of the connected creative portions of my brain begin functioning again. Slowly, I start typing on my books with renewed vigor, which snowballs into more and more work being completed.

I’ve been a poet since the early days of middle school but I soon learned that poetry does not sell like fiction… not even close. However, poetry proves its worth in steering me back towards the notion that I can write. It also reminds me that I like to write, and then it reminds me again, and again… returning to inspire as many times as it is needed. The act of writing itself is what inspires, perpetuates and completes the piece. It is not as simple as sitting and bleeding at the typewriter (and I suspect a goodly number of writer suicides were in the process of testing that theory out) but it is work… real make-yourself-do-it-even-though-you-don’t want-to work.

Another tip: try staring at the screen and thinking to yourself “how nice it is to be able to sit here and write.”

The reality that most writers don’t think about is that writing doesn’t produce sweat, bruises or callouses; sometimes it doesn’t produce tangible payment–like the kind adjacent to sweat and dirt–however writing is at times ‘fun.’ It is an expression that few enjoy as well as those that must do it. It is an outlet like no other. Remind yourself of these things as you lay awake wondering how to get your book finished.

And, when you wake… write.


 

L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

The Writing Couch

Where do you write?

For me, it is an antique wooden couch that once belonged to my great-uncle. I do not know exactly when it was made but taking in all the previous owners, it must be well over ninety years ago. In spite of its age it is very comfortable for sitting and napping alike… which a couch should be, if it possibly can.

It was given to my husband and I just after we arrived back from our honeymoon. Upon walking through the door of our apartment, it was sitting there with all our wedding gifts piled on top. Having no couch of our own, we were delighted with the unexpected surprise. The cushions, being well-used and rather garish in material, were covered over with a fluffy spare feather-bed and a linen duvet. Though it is most favored by myself, my man finds himself napping on it once in awhile. If any in the family is feeling ill they snuggle into it’s fluffy depths for comfort.

Besides it’s appeal as a pleasant piece of furniture, this couch is an unusual source of creative inspiration. This is no common bit of wood and cloth in my living room but a stalwart sailor, both experienced and sage. My great uncle was a sailing enthusiast and lived in Hawaii and Australia, sometimes simultaneously. The open sea was–to him–more home than any place else, especially in his latter years. He was so partial to this particular couch that he maneuvered it into the hull of his 40-foot yacht and took it with him each time he embarked. Couch abroad, he stopped at many of the ports most folks only read about or watch on the Travel channel.

Sailing along with the sunburnt white-haired adventurer, this couch of mine has been around the globe four times in all. Often my great uncle would wrestle it up onto the deck under the shade of a looped length of sail just so he could nap in comfort. Thus the couch sat in the air of many exotic places, soaking in salt and spices, fresh breezes and humid, fragrant zephyrs.

I was understandably pleased to get this piece of furniture from my cousins (now grown with couches of their own) and have cared for it well; it has graced the living room of every apartment we’ve lived in as well as our current home. My children babbled and played on it as babies, used it for stability as they toddled around on uncertain legs and jumped off it as they grew older. Now we crowd onto it to watch a documentary or use it as a ‘parliament bench’ when having our family meetings.

During the day, once all my work is mostly done (snickering at “done”) I take up my trusty laptop and sink into the deep depths of the couch with a sigh. Just sitting on it makes one reflect upon the scenes it has witnessed; the places I hear of or read about are all the more real knowing the couch has actually been there. I do not know why or how to explain it but when I am seated upon this particular couch, reclined back and typing away, ideas flow far better and with more literary flavor than in any other place I have ever written.

A couch that inspires is rare indeed and it shall be in our family a good, long while. Whichever of our children whom marries and leaves our home first will most likely get the couch, if I can be persuaded to part with it.

Until then, back to typing…

L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books