Where has she been? Turns out I have a stellar answer...
Right now I don't just mildly dislike my current WIP, I loathe it with every fibre of my being. I'm about two-thirds through the second (big) round of edits on My Grape Wedding. Every word I have written sounds trite. The dialogue is lifeless. The scenes are pointless. The description (even my beloved food porn) is repetitive. Why did I ever think I could write a book?
My inner critic tells me a million times a day that I should save myself and my readers the agony and just bin the entire project. I have so many other things I want to write besides this tired old WIP. I hear their siren's song...More brilliant things. Easier things. Effortless things.
My writing ship has run aground the Isle of Loathing.
I've been here before. In fact, in the past three and a half years I've been here THREE TIMES before. When I begin a new writing project I always think I can avoid this place, but in fact I had to do my penance here with every book I wrote and published.
I can almost set my watch by it now. I always end up here between half and two thirds of my way through the second edit.
For a decade before I published my first book I never explored what was on or beyond the Isle of Loathing. In those ten years I began eight manuscripts and shortly after being shipwrecked on this ghastly place, I would always alight to a new, shiny story idea, only to be surprised and dismayed when I hit I inevitably hit the Isle of Loathing once again. As a result, despite a regular writing practice I didn't finish or publish anything for ten long years.
Being a finisher, as it turns out, means getting out and exploring the Island and figuring out how to get off.
Surviving and escaping the Isle of Loathing isn't complicated. It is comprised of two steps:
- Embracing the Suck
- Finishing your current project
Embracing the Suck means that you accept the Isle of Loathing as part of your writing journey, and almost learn to relish its fetid air and polluted beaches. This is the point in your writing when you get up close and personal with one of a writer's most valuable assets - grit. You will have to dig deep, but you will also begin to take a perverse pleasure in knowing that you can dig deep. The Isle of Loathing is going to suck, but it is not going to stop you from writing. No sir.
Finishing your current project is also pretty simple. It means you continue writing, but do not jump ship to another project until you have completely finished (for me this means hitting that "publish" button) your current WIP.
If you just keep doing this every day you will find eventually a kind tide will wash in and free your boat. You will escape (at least until your next WIP). Then, you'll begin to find some bits in your MS that make you laugh out loud. You'll discover that you actually handled a scene quite effectively. Readers will thank you for writing your book.
All of that will make your temporary purgatory on the Isle of Loathing worth it. Feel the loathing, but finish anyway.
I had a humdinger of a panic attack last Wednesday. Many readers ask me after reading My Grape Escape and My Grape Village whether I still get them. Short and honest answer - yes, as last Wednesday proves, I certainly do.
I no longer waste precious time and energy trying to eliminate panic attacks from my life. I have been having them, after all, at random intervals since my mid-teens. They come. They go. They are always epically unpleasant and unwelcome.
I no longer believe they happen for a reason. I have come to the conclusion that searching for triggers or reasons for my panic attacks is a colossal waste of time.
On Wednesday, I was just sitting on the couch talking to a friend on the phone when my heart started beating faster than usual. The anxious part of my brain seized on this and started going, "Why is your heart beating faster? Something must be wrong! Redalertredalertredalert!!!"
Within three minutes my hands were shaking and my mind was spinning in that hellish anxiety vortex, making note of every uncomfortable physical sensation, amplifying it by approximately a million, and creating a logical case for my imminent demise (or worse yet, being trapped in a situation I can't control aka Just Kill Me Now).
Even though I consider myself a writer, I find myself at a loss for words when I try to describe the intensity and sheer terror of a panic attack to anyone who has not experienced one before. Conversely, when I talk about panic attacks with people who have experienced them, words are not necessary. I can just tell by looking in their eyes that they get it.
Even though I hate them I have come to a place of acceptance that they stem from a glitch in the way my brain is wired. I think we ALL have glitches in how our brain is wired. Some people have the depression glitch, some people have the jealousy glitch, some people have the fear-of-intimacy glitch...as for my brain, I suspect my panic attack glitch is the same or closely related to the part of my brain that allows me to imagine and write.
I am no longer ashamed of my anxiety. Indeed I think the stigma around mental health is one of the most corrosive forces in existence. However, I certainly don't want to feed my anxiety by treating it like the most exotic, fascinating animal in my own personal zoo either. I think my creativity, love for Star Wars, and humour are all vastly more interesting than my anxiety. Still, panic attacks are part of my emotional hard-wiring and chances are I will most likely have to co-exist with them for the rest of my life.
Something interesting, though, has been happening in the midst of my panic attacks since I began taking my writing and creativity seriously. In the middle of my Wednesday anxiety roller coaster ride, in the midst of my shaking hands and my pounding heart and my spinning head full of thoughts of certain and imminent doom, another little voice popped up. I like to think of this particular voice as the voice of my creative self.
"Remember Tillly?" it whispered to me (Tilly is the protagonist in my paranormal romance - she doesn't suffer from anxiety disorder but she does experience plenty of well-warranted fear). "You have to remember how you are feeling right now. How exactly is your heart pounding? What muscles are contracting in your chest so it feels like you cannot take a full breath? What is making you so viscerally uncomfortable right now? You have to make note and remember so that you can depict Tilly's fear more effectively."
One of the things that I am trying to learn through my mediation practice is to create some distance between myself and my thoughts and physical sensations that are always, even though they never feel like it at the time, transitory. Meditation encourages us to be curious about our thoughts and feelings without judging them.
Creativity does the same thing. By looking at my panic attack-y feelings and thoughts as a potential writer hoping to harvest them for future use, I create some much-needed space between myself and the deeply uncomfortable sensations my crocodile brain is creating for me.
The sensations are still wretched, but having curiosity about them brings a glimmer of transcendence. And then, when I actually use the material, which I always do sooner or later, the circle is complete. I have used my own misery to do a better job of writing and to hopefully make others who have felt profound visceral fear (and who hasn't?) feel less alone.
In other words, for people who have managed to carve out a creative outlet for themselves, even the really, really bad stuff is useful. Through our creativity we make even the unwanted and the uninvited serve a purpose. As I have said before, IT'S ALL MATERIAL.
I am not a subscriber to the belief that bad things happen for a reason, but I DO believe that we can choose to give even the yuckiest things meaning. This ability, in fact, is one of the things that makes us uniquely human.
Creativity won't make my panic attacks disappear for good (godammit), but it does make them slightly easier to cope with, and remains one of the most best ways for me to render useful something that is inherently useless.
How did we find ourselves in December already?
No matter. December is the month for giving things away and I LOVE giving things away to my readers. I especially love giving them the opportunity to travel to Burgundy and experience for themselves its special magic that I try to convey in my Grape books.
So, my Noel Grape Books Giveaway will have the prize of a free week at La Maison des Chaumes - our home in Villers-la-Faye, Burgundy, France. This three bedroom house with a huge deck and garden is located in the same village where Franck's family live, where he grew up, and where we fell in love, as I write about in My Grape Year.
My Grape Year has hit #1 on the Amazon "France" bestseller list several times since I self-published it in late September. I have all of you to thank for that and I am so grateful to have such an amazing community of Francophiles and book loving people who support my writing.
Without further ado, here are the rules & regs:
- the week at La Maison des Chaumes can be redeemed whenever, subject only to availability, and can also be gifted to another person if you wish
- all you need to do to enter is write a review for My Grape Year on either Amazon.com (or any of its affiliate websites (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, etc.) or Goodreads and then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know where the review has been posted (I need this because I often can't contact people via their Amazon or Goodreads screen names). If you post on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Goodreads, for example, you'll receive three entries.
- if you have already written one or more review(s) for My Grape Year just let me know via email as above - that counts too (and MERCI for posting a review so promptly)
- it doesn't matter if your review is one star or five stars - they all count and I am grateful for them all. The only thing is that you do have to have read the book in order to write a valid review - just common sense and good ethics
- entries will be accepted until midnight on December 25th and the draw will happen and the winner will be announced the day after Boxing Day (December 27th)
Bonne chance to tout le monde! I hope you all have a merry, sparkling, and joyous December filled with lost of delicious cheese.
I was busy getting in some words for the upcoming My Grape Wedding memoir-ette and before logging off the computer I checked Amazon and - le voila! - the MY GRAPE YEAR paperback is now available!
It is three dollars more than my previous books because it is *ahem* rather large (366 pages to be exact) and consequently production and shipping costs are more. However, it should provide you with a long, lovely, escapist, cozy, and romantic read. Just click here to go and check it out on Amazon.com .
Also, you should be able to share this blog post with the newly-added buttons below. If someone could test drive those for me I would be extremely appreciative!
I received my two paperback proofs for My Grape Year last night, which means I will be able to put the lovely paperback version up for sale on the Amazon website in the next 24 hours.
This also means, however, that there are only 48 hours or less to enter my contest to win a free week at any one of our four Grape Rentals in Burgundy. Here are all the ways you can earn one (or more - lots more!) entries in the "Race Me to La Fin" contest.
There is also an additional way to enter for those of you wonderful people who have already purchased and downloaded (and even read already, for a lot of you!) a digital copy of My Grape Year. Simply post a review of My Grape Year on Amazon to earn yet another entry.
Here is one of my earlier reviews:
I'm going to blog in the upcoming months about our last-minute trip to Burgundy this summer, but let me just say that Burgundy weaves a spell on me and so many of our guests that come and stay in our vacation rentals. There is an authenticity there, a devotion to the art of pleasure, a measuring of the days that takes place in humble rituals such as opening the shutters, buying bread, and going to the market that never fails to fill up my soul.
Also, my web designer has added some cool buttons at the bottom of all my blog posts so you can easily share them on Facebook, Twitter, and all those other fun places. Check them out and let me know if they work!
Sharing Burgundy's magic with others, both through my books and our vacation rentals, is one of the most rewarding parts of my life. Good luck, or should I say bonne chance!
My Grape Year invites readers back to the very beginning of the "Grape" story when I was sent to Burgundy for a year as a 17 year old exchange student. That year I learned French, developed a passion for Burgundy, and met my true love...the latter, much to the consternation of my hosts and in direct breach of the "No Dating" rule.
At the moment, I am juggling beta-reads, formatting, copy-edits, consulting over cover design, etc. etc. and basically just trying to put together the best possible book for my lovely readers.
It is not easy to estimate when I will be done, but it will be soon. My goal was to have My Grape Year published by the end of July, but realistically I think it may be more around the first week in August...however, you never know. Whenever I can hit that "publish" button - trust me - I do not hesitate!
Like I did when I was finishing up My Grape Village , I've decided to throw a little race for all of my readers, largely to motivate me to keep pushing on until My Grape Year is in your hands or on your Kindle, Ipad, etc....
The prize is a 7 day stay at your choice of any of our "Grape Rentals" - our four lovely vacation rentals in Burgundy, France (which has just been designated a UNESCO world heritage site!). This stay can be redeemed at any time, subject to availability and can also be gifted to the person of your choice if you cannot get to Burgundy.
To enter, this time you have a choice of things to do!
For any one of these tasks accomplished, you gain an entry, so if you do three things on this list, you get entered three times...Just click on the links below to be taken to where you need to go:
7. Post a photo of either or both My Grape Escape & My Grape Village on Instagram with the hashtag #amreading
8. Post a photo of either or both My Grape Escape & My Grape Village on Twitter with the hashtag #amreading
When you have accomplished as many of these tasks as you like, simply email me at email@example.com to let me know which actions you have taken and I will enter you as many times as applicable in the contest.
Don't wait, as it will be over as soon as I hit the "publish" button for My Grape Year! Bonne chance!
It's been a rough few weeks. After getting out of the hospital in March and finishing ten days of IV antibiotics for my liver infection I enjoyed five weeks of feeling like A Million Bucks. Well, not other people's version of a million bucks, but a significant improvement on the Varying Shades of Shite that had become my norm. Dammit, I'd take it!
I finished editing My Grape Year, arranged the photo shoot in France for its cover, planned a Creativity workshop for the end of May I am super stoked about, even wondered if I may be able to make it back to Burgundy in July. Then, about six weeks after my IV treatment, I started to slide slowly but inexorably downhill. Nausea, increased pain and discomfort in my liver area, fatigue, weakness, and random fevers. It basically feels like a combo of the stomach flu and the actual flu that waxes and wanes throughout my waking hours. There are no longer good days and bad days, but rather good hours and bad hours, or often, good minutes and bad minutes.
The whites of my eyes are no longer white but rather pale yellow and I'm sure the results of my last batch of bloodwork are going to be pretty horrific. I'm still waiting on the doctors to get back to me with A Plan but I know that sooner or later I am heading towards another all expenses paid stay at Club Med. On top of all that, I'm also nearing my yearly colonoscopy / gastroscopy and my 6 month MRI - always stressful as they look for all variety of nastiness that could disqualify me from a potential liver transplant.
So...yeah. Basically a shit sandwich.
I wake up every morning with a lead weight not only in my liver, but in my soul. A lot of that is physical pain and discomfort, but even worse, I think, is the mental anguish, particularly the intense, crushing anxiety.
I have been thinking a lot about my lifelong struggles with anxiety and the lifelong struggles that so many of my fellow writers have with anxiety. Just for the record, not all writers are headcases - a minority are remarkably sane - but frankly, most of my favorite ones have a bit of the headcase in them.
I see some people deal with serious illness and am amazed at how they just power through and DO.NOT.WORRY.. They do not try to project the future, they do not second guess, they do not doubt...they just decide on an outcome and never mentally sway from that path. How I wish I could be like that.
Instead, I was born with the "what if?" gene. What if they run out of antibiotics that work on my liver infection? What if they find cancer? What if one of my varices ruptures? What if I am approved for transplant but my potential donors can't get vacation time off to be assessed? What if I get a fever when I am supposed to be getting the colonoscopy? What if I die? What if I live? What if, what if, what if, what if, WHAT IF?
Not only is my brain obsessively asking 'what if' all the time like a needle on a skipping record, but it also concocts and projects fully fleshed-out scenes of the various 'what if' scenarios - good and bad. Me being told by the doctor that my PSC has morphed into cancer, me waking up from transplant feeling like I've been reborn, me being counselled by the hospice people as I prepare to die, me on the stage at a TED talk after a successful transplant talking about how creativity saved me...it's all there in turns - the terrifying and the galvanizing, the wretched and the glorious.
Lately, I long to muzzle this overactive 'what if' drive on my brain, but no amount of meditation, gratitude journaling, sessions with spiritual healers, or reflexology seems to be doing the trick. The truth is nothing in my life (and I have tried pretty much everything) has ever changed that aspect of my mind. The 'what if' is as much an innate part of me as my brown hair or my love of the ocean or my fear of knives.
But that 'what if' has a flip side. Without the 'what if' I wouldn't remember my past in terms of scenes and stories and be able to write about it vividly in my memoirs. Without the 'what if' I wouldn't be able to concoct a paranormal romance between a winemaker and a mermaid, as I am doing right now for my first work of fiction. Without the 'what if' no writer would be able to write but because of the 'what if' so many of us writers live with anxiety.
My 'what if' gene is the perfect example of a human paradox; the worst part of me is also the best part of me.
Without 'what if' I would not be waking up every morning with that lead weight of anxiety in my soul, but without my 'what if' I would not have writing in my life as one of my strongest lifelines in these stormy seas.
My reflexologist gave me an interesting idea last week. She said, "how about you try writing down little scenes of your life after a successful transplant?"
I have done that in a little (turquoise) journal - a little snippet per day. I'm surprised at how it is the little things that capture my imagination - not the TED talks as much as being able to volunteer to take Clem's class to the beach, without worrying I may have to bail due to a fever or nausea or a hospitalization, gardening with Franck without needing to rest on the couch, not having to tell my girls I need to head to the hospital again...a normal life - god how I will treasure it if I am lucky enough to get it back.
I am tired of fighting against my essential self. My anxiety, for better or for worse, will probably always be a part of who I am. I am going to invite my 'what-ifitis' on this journey with me, instead of making it stow away in the life-raft. I'll let you know how it goes.
Definitely check out Jacqui's blog "French Village Diaries" if you need a recommendations (or twenty) for the best books about life in France. Jacqui is a voracious reader of this genre and a thoughful reviewer. I subscribe to her blog feed and reading her posts and book reviews are always a treat.
And today is a great day to check it out, as she reviews MY GRAPE VILLAGE. Just click here to travel to the French countryside without even buying a plane ticket!
If you are anything like me, you LOVE handouts. Here is the one I prepared and handed out at my workshop entitled "Could self-publishing be the perfect solution for you?" at SIWC 2014. If it can help you in any way, I am thrilled.
Let me preface my talk with explaining my stand on self-publishing. I do not believe that there needs to be such a conflict between the self-publishing and the traditional publishing communities, nor do I feel as though the division between the two needs to be as stark as it is so often depicted. Often, engaging in gratuitous conflict is just another form of procrastination.
I firmly believe that for some books and some writers traditional publishing is the right fit. For other books and other writers, self-publishing is the better solution. More and more I think that a hybridized version of publishing is going to start to occupy that middle ground between traditional and self-publishing, whereby an author may hold their ebook rights but work with an agent or publisher for things like paperback distribution, foreign rights, and film / TV rights.
I think there is room for everyone and I am just grateful that, as a writer, there are so many options now for sharing my work.
Reasons why Self-Publishing is the Right Solution for moi (any of these sound familiar?)
- I am incurably impatient
- I like being my own boss and want to choose my collaborators
- Had several ideas re: how to launch / market my first book
- Enjoy marketing / social media
- Web presence already built up thanks to graperentals.com
- Aspects of my books (i.e. my struggles with panic attacks / anxiety) didn’t “fit” with mainstream publishing
- Wasn’t prolific when I began, but definitely writing more and faster was a goal (I felt I had far more than one book in me)
- Am happiest when working on projects from beginning to end. I’m definitely a “project person”
- Ongoing health issues meant I did not want / need stress of having to meet other people’s deadlines and expectations
- Lifelong allergy to authority in any form ;)
- Wanted to donate 10% of all my writing-related earnings to PSC Partners for researching PSC.
What I have learned (“DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT!” is my new motto)
This being said:
- Think strategically about what you are good at and what is a time suck for you. I am terrible at the technical / formatting side of things and it would take me forever (not to mention drive me insane) to try to learn this aspect of self-publishing. For this reason I hire a formatter to format my MSs for Kindle and Createspace. Same goes for graphic design (i.e. covers, etc.). DELEGATE EVERYTHING THAT YOU DO NOT ENJOY AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHICH TAKES PRECIOUS TIME AWAY FROM YOUR WRITING.
- If, like most of the human race, you never seem to have enough time, you will have to make strategic decisions about how to spend it. For example, I made a conscious decision than instead of making a push to get my first paperback book (MY GRAPE ESCAPE) distributed and in bookstores, I would first finish the second book in the series (MY GRAPE VILLAGE) so when I did turn my attentions to this I would get more bang for my time spent. If your time is limited you will have to make choices and stick to them.
- Spend the time and money on an EXCELLENT cover design. It makes a huge difference. There are far too many bad covers out there on self-published books. Like kitchens in home renovations, a great cover will give you powerful bang for your buck.
- Spend the time and money on at least 2 essential edits – a thorough content edit and a great final copy-edit. Even with these, errors will slip through!
- Find at least 2 people whose judgment you respect as beta-readers.
- I have always found the formatting stage just before publishing to be hellish and unbelievably nit-picky. I remind myself “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and that having that completed book in my hand will make it all worth it.
- Do not fear bad reviews. In fact, they do you a favour by legitimizing your good reviews (they are also occasionally hilarious). Make peace with the fact that you will never please everyone. Find and cultivate the tribe of people who love your writing. Write for yourself and for them.
- Keep writing and keep finishing what you start!
- Your writing and self-publishing muscles will grow stronger – guaranteed!
My process is still evolving, but this is roughly what it looks like now.
- Exploding with inspiration after SIWC, begin sh!tty rough draft in November for NaNoWriMo. Vomit atrocious writing and ideas in very crude form on Word document. Here quality and structure are ignored and word count is king!
- Do first big edit – arrange word barf into rough chapters of more or less equal size, make a note of what scenes / bits are missing and which bits need to be trashed. Go through and make it readable.
- Do second edit – here look at story structure and storytelling technique. Pay close attention to language. Trash any useless words (adverbs!) and tighten things up.
- Send to content editor. Get moving on cover design NOW.
- Get content edit back. Incorporate edits.
- Send edited MS to at least 2 carefully selected beta readers.
- Get beta readers comments back. Incorporate.
- Send MS off for copy-edit.
- Incorporate copy edits.
- Send edited MS to formatter.
- Make sure graphic designer has uploaded / sent graphic materials ready to be uploaded.
- When all of this is ready, hit the “Publish” button (this is REALLY fun)
- Ta Da! You have a published book!
SIWC! - Network with people here. I found my graphic designer, social media guru, and content editor here. Talk to people. You will find that many writers offer up excellent quality side services.
Elance.com - Great for having people bid for any of the techie stuff you need to get done. Super useful site.
Indies Unlimited - Wonderful articles on self-publishing and a unifying force in the self-pub world
Martin Crosbie - Local White Rock self-pub success. Martin always posts extremely useful articles for self-published authors, especially issues that affect Canadians (can we say withholding taxes?). Read his “How I sold 30,000 ebooks on Kindle”.
www.seancranbury.com - Sean Cranbury is a social media guru, especially helpful to self-pub authors.
Formatting - My formatters are Paul and Tammy Lechner of Kindilize and they are wonderful. To contact them for a quote email firstname.lastname@example.org
Graphic Design - The amazing Rebecca Sky did my covers and is crazily talented. She is also a successful self-pub writer in her own right. To get a quote from her, email AuthorRebeccaSky@gmail.com