I’ve Moved! Won’t you join me?

If you missed my last blog post, I wanted to let you know that I’ve moved to a brand new website with a brand new blog. Unfortunately, this also means that if you subscribe to this blog and want to keep receiving my tasty snacks of writing goodness, then you’ll need to subscribe over at my new place.

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Here’s what you’ve missed if you haven’t crossed over:

Using Pinterest as a Writer

The New Benefits of Kickstarter

Building a Writer’s Website

Won’t you join me in my new place? I miss your face.

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

New Website (and new blogspace)

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I have a new website! I hope you like it — I created it as a way to showcase the new directions that my writing career has gone, and it includes lots of goodies about upcoming books, the game that I’ve been working on, how to get ahold of me, and more. You can access it at shannagermain.com or vorpalblonde.com 

It also means my blog is moving. If you subscribe to my blog here and want to continue receiving it, please consider subscribing to the new blog here.

Hope you like the new site!

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

~

Reflections on Quiet

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I lead a solitary life.

By which I mean I spend 99 percent of my time alone. Even when I have a loving partner. Even though I have friends for whom I would give my life. Even when I’m been surrounded by family.

This has been true most of my life.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with this in various ways. When I was younger, and didn’t yet know that I was an introvert (“I have good social skills; how can I be an introvert?”), I thought I was just a boring and horrible person. I didn’t like parties. Group events freaked me out. My friends complained that I didn’t spend enough time with them. Many people who met me thought I was a snob or that I didn’t like them.

When I turned down social events or activities, I tried to explain my actions away by saying I was too busy, or that I had other plans. I said that I needed a lot of time alone in order to write. None of those things were untrue, but they weren’t really getting to the heart of the matter either.

At 40, I am coming to have a better understanding of myself. I now know that I’m an extreme introvert, that I’m very shy, and that I’m easily overstimulated. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately for two reasons: One, I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Two, I’ve been at a writing retreat this week where my solitary nature is in direct conflict with my desire to spend time with other interesting, creative people.

One of the things that Cain touches on in Quiet are studies that have shown that very young babies who are easily overstimulated (responding a certain way to loud noises or unexpected movements) often grow up to be introverts. She also postulates that introverts are deeper, more creative thinkers. While I don’t know that I believe the latter, I do know that I have a harder time connecting to deep thoughts when there is stimulation around me. As a writer, this is an absolutely vital thing to know about myself.

Here is what else I know about myself:

  • I know how to be “on” and social when it is required of me. If I have a “role” in a public event (even if that role is to set the table at a dinner party), I am much more at ease. I’ve taught classes, hosted events, and given presentations to hundreds of people and none of that makes me the least bit nervous.
  • Loud conversations where people are jostling for speaking time easily overwhelm me and cause me to clam up and grow very quiet. Even if I think I have something interesting or useful to add, I am not likely to say anything if there isn’t space for me to do so (unless I’m teaching or leading something, in which case that’s part of my job). 
  • I am always grateful to the person who helps make space for me in a boisterous group, usually by asking me a question. (Even if I get flustered at the sudden attention and trip over my words).
  • I’m much better in one-on-one conversations or small groups, especially ones where people listen well, take turns talking, and ask questions. 
  • I am genuinely interested in people, but find myself bored by (and am very bad at) small talk (This is a typical introvert trait, as it turns out). Tell me something that sits light or heavy in your heart, something that makes your brain pop, or even a well-told and organized story, and I am all yours.
  • I am shy, which means that instant connections are difficult for me. It often takes me a few days to warm up and be comfortable with someone.
  • In group events, I spend a lot of time worrying that others will find me standoffish or that they will think I don’t like them (I’ve had a number of current friends say they felt this way when they first met me). I also often feel like I’m missing out on interesting conversations with smart, creative people that I would like to get to know better.

There is a lot of interest right now in introverts, and a lot of books and articles geared toward the concept of “the care and feeding of introverts.” Most of these seem to be directed at teaching extroverts about introverts — it’s that whole “extroverts have been the majority culture for so long that now we’re rah-rahing introverts like mad” thing. Which is fine, but I also want to know more about extroverts: What drives them to be social? What benefits do they gain from being around people and leading the charge? Are there ways that introverts and extroverts can help each other in solitary and social situations?

Lastly, I wonder about other introverts and if there are ways that we can help each other. One of my favorite people (and a fantastic extrovert) taught me this wonderful trick at conventions: Find the person who is alone at an event and introduce yourself. Not only does this make the person feel warm and welcomed, it allows you to connect with someone in a quiet way (and often, the person who’s sitting by themselves turns out to be either shy or introverted or both).

It’s always going to be a trade-off and a struggle for me, this need for solitude combined with this desire to connect with the people that I care about. Right now, as I write this, I’m sitting in a quiet, sunny room surrounded by the soft sound of other writers tapping their keyboards. It just might be the best of all possible worlds for a solitary introvert like me.

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

~

Why I Love Building the Ninth World

Wave_1_Half_CharacterLineUp_Final 2 Deep in the Black Riage, tucked away as if by accident, like a cheap ring fallen from a finger into the depths of a pocket, rests Hidden Naresh. With around 1,000 inhabitants, Hidden Naresh is a toadstool of a city, growing away in the dark, sucking the nutrients from the world around it, poisoning the air and the minds of its inhabitants with every passing moment of its existence.    

Here the light is low, and the morale moreso. Yet in order to pass through the mountains, at least on this route, one must also pass through the morass that is Hidden Naresh.  

This is how Hidden Naresh eats you alive: Enter from the West, that land of the Steadfast, where most is clean and kind and light, where there is some set of rule and law that can be grasped by even the simplest of minds. Leave behind the light, the law, the living.

Enter the world of the dark, the destroyed, the dead.  

For the past few months, this is the kind of writing that’s coming out of my keyboard. I’m helping game designer Monte Cook with his upcoming tabletop roleplaying game, Numenera, and right now we’re working pretty hard at building a beautiful, dangerous, discoverable and weird world.

(By the way, if you haven’t heard of Numenera or the Ninth World yet, and don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, not to worry — you can check it out here and get the rundown on the project).

Of course, my creative brain loves working on a project like this just for its own pleasure. Making up worlds and people, coming up with scary monsters and weird scenarios, combining futuristic materials and technology with biology and geology  – these are all things that make my writer’s brain go squee.

But there’s something else that I’m really proud of about this project, about this world that we’re building, something that will probably go unnoticed by a large percentage of players (and that’s as it should be). This is our desire to get things “right.”

In this case, “right” has two meanings for me:

1. The first right is that things in the world are scientifically correct and accurate. This is everything to what the earth might really be like a billion years from now (and why it might be like that) to making sure that if we have a picture of someone with armor, then that armor is functional for the activity of the person wearing it.

2. The second right is a less tangible right, a “do the right thing” type of right. This is a real-world kind of right, a social footprint kind of right, where things like gender and race are depicted with careful attention and honesty. The goal isn’t to make a point about topics like gender or race in and of themselves. The goal is, in fact, almost the opposite: to make a fair and thoughtful treatment of these topics such an inherent part of the game that they combine with all of the other fair and thoughtful elements to create a better world and better gameplay.

It’s funny how often those two things go together, right? If you give a female the proper protective armor, you’re killing two wrongs with one outfit, as it were. Not only will she be accurately able to defend herself in the game world, she’ll also become a symbol of something larger in the real world: the idea that women are not in games merely as eye candy, but as well-rounded, complex, ass-kicking characters (Of course, choice is paramount. If someone wants to play a character who kicks ass and takes names in nothing more than a pair of pneumatic high heels and a strip of metallic body-melding tape, that’s absolutely his or her prerogative. Alternatively, if someone wants to play a character who’s perpetually in need of rescue, the door is open to that too.).

So, how does one go about creating elements that are both right (correct and accurate) and right (socially responsible)? Here are some of the things we’re working on behind the scenes.

Human depiction: Humas of the Ninth World are not, in all likelihood, our direct descendants. While that would be possible (if, for example the humans of our current time traveled into space, continued to reproduce there (or elsewhere) for a billion years and then returned to the planet), it’s not very probable. So where did the humans of the Ninth World come from? That’s up for in-game speculation and research.

What we do know is that the humans of OUR future are likely to move toward a genetic melding — one prediction about the future of the human species is that most people will be multi-ethnic, carrying a blend of features from their various genetic lines. Some scientists postulate that we’ll see less genetic variation as recessive genes find less of a foothold. That would mean less natural redheads and blondes, fewer people with naturally blue eyes, and a larger percentage of the population with darker skin, darker eyes and darker hair.

Most of the humans we’re creating for the Ninth World fall into that genetic blending. While you’ll see a lot of dyed hair, unusual markings and fake eye colors, the majority of Ninth World humans will be multi-ethnic in their genetic background. Why? Because it’s theoretically possible. Because it creates an interesting world. Because it creates a culture where people are divided by things other than race.

Humans, also, as we know, come in many shapes and sizes. In Numenera, you’ll find people with “perfect bodies” (yes, they exist now; they’ll exist a billion years in the future), but they are few and far between. Most people are “normal” — and by normal, I mean short and tall, small and large, healthy and diseased, differently abled, and with differing levels of strength, agility, health and speed.

Gender depiction: In the Ninth World, gender is not irrelevant (gender is never irrelevant), but it is variable and malleable. Some characters are clearly male or female, others are gender-neutral, some are elastic in their gender orientation. It just makes sense to depict gender as we know it to be in the real world. Thus, sometimes gender IS an issue, just as it is in modern society. People will react to males and females (or those in between or beyond the gender scope) with varying levels of intelligence, respect and open-mindedness.

Additionally, you won’t find chainmail bikinis on either gender (unless, of course, a player makes the choice to dress their character that way for a reason or because some odd situation calls for it) because it just isn’t practical.

What I’m discovering is that small changes can make such a huge difference in situations like this. Take the awesome art at the top of this post by Kieran Yanner. Here, he depicts the three classes in Numenera — glaive, jack and nano. The characters have various body types and their own personalities with dyed hair, unusual weapons and armor that works for their situation and class. In the original image, the female jack had boots with thin high heels, a common depiction in fantasy and game art. We asked Kieran to give the heels some width instead (essentially making them wedged heels), so that our jack could sneak and run more easily. Now, there are some who would argue that’s not enough — why does the female character have high heels at all? And my argument would be: because it’s her choice. With her all-red outfit and her shiny, cool weapons, she seems like a woman who does just as much damage with her presence as with her skills. And that’s awesome.

Other characters of both genders will have flat heels or no heels (after all, we know that historically men wore heeled shoes — the heels allowed them to stand in the stirrups in order to shoot arrows and guns from horseback with more ease), show more or less skin, wear robes and dresses and scale armor and outfits with no given names, play their gender up or down. Again, it’s all about variety and choice.

Nano Forceblast

Sex, of course, is another matter all to itself. The sexuality of Ninth World humans is as varied as you might expect. Same-sex couples are a seamless part of the world, as are those with a wide range of sexual interests. Yet, not all sexuality is portrayed in a positive light, because again, that wouldn’t be true to the human sexuality as we know it. Sometimes sex is used for nefarious purposes, and you can expect some of that in the game as well.

Other things: There are other small things, too, unnoticeable things that make me happy to be working on this project. One of those is that our core team of artists, editors and graphic designers is a diverse group. In gaming, a field that’s still headed by a mostly white, mostly male core group, I appreciate the fact that we are breaking that mold. Talent, dedication, skill and creativity always comes first, but we have worked to dig deep into the wide range of talent that is available in the roleplaying industry and choose people who understand Numenera’s vision and goals.

There is much more to love — and much more to come — as Numenera takes shape and  comes alive. This is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on, and with one of the most talented, forward-thinking teams. Building a world is paramount to playing god. The goal is to create a world that is so beautiful, complicated, dangerous and fun that most players don’t even realize that it’s also “right.”

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

~

Do The Words: On (Writing) Productivity

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A few months ago, while writing at the coffee shop, I tweeted this:

People at next table spent 2 hrs kvetching about writer’s block. In that time, I wrote 827 words, edited 2 stories. Shut up. Do the words.

It was a spur-of-the-moment tweet, dredged up from a combination of feeling productive for the work I’d just finished and being grumpy due to listening to the people at the next table loudly lamenting about their writer’s block for hours on end.

People’s responses to my tweets were varied. A few people felt like I was making light of writer’s block. Others suggested I should have helped the writers next by me with advice. But most said they were inspired by concept, by the idea that they could just “do the words.”

Before I talk about how and why to do the words, I’d like to comment on writer’s block for a moment. In my opinion there are two kinds of experiences that are sometimes termed writer’s block: The first is the kind that experienced, professional writers occasionally come up against, where they’re struggling with their current work or with their career. The second is the kind that beginning writers struggle with, where they don’t actually have a block; what they do have is a lot of fear and uncertainty and lack of knowledge about how to begin writing. The first is an expected part of a life-long career and will be overcome by the majority of writers. The second is a time-waster and procrastination technique that hopeful writers employ instead of writing. This can be overcome as well. How? By writing.

When I teach classes on being productive as a writer, I do what I call my writing infomercial, which sounds exactly like this: “You too can become an amazing writer in just 20 minutes a day!”

Scoff, right? Certainly that can’t be true. It isn’t true of exercise. Why would it be true of writing? Actually it is true of exercise in some ways. If your goal is to be healthier, then working out for 20 minutes a day will make you healthier over your lifetime than not working out. If your goal is to be a better writer, then writing for 20 minutes a day every day will make you a better writer over your lifetime than not writing.

What isn’t true in either case is the implication that this process is fast. If you work out for 20 minutes a day for a week, you’re not going to see much of an improvement at the end of that week. If you work out for 20 minutes a day for your whole life, the long-term benefits will be clear.

Ditto with writing. Twenty minutes a day for a week will net you some words. Twenty minutes a day for a year will net you some more words, and they will be better. Twenty minutes a day for 10 years, and you’re going to be an amazing writer, as promised.

Where do you want to be in ten years? Lamenting your inability to write? Or writing? Those, in my opinion, are your only two choices.

So I give you permission to write every day for 20 minutes. Write anything. Write everything. Just sit down and do the words. Do them for a whole year. Every time you don’t want to write, imagine yourself at a coffee shop at the end of the year. There are two tables. One where everyone’s complaining about not writing all year. The other where everyone’s tapping away on the keyboard, as they’ve been doing every day for the last year. Which table do you want to be sitting at? Choose.

Because this is what it takes to make a career as writer. There is no secret code that you’ll crack, no other way to level up or increase your skill, no diet-pill solution to becoming a better writer. You just have to do the words. Every day. Over time, they add up to a story, a book, two books, a career. And most importantly, they add up to you becoming the writer you always wanted to be.

Tips on Doing the Words

  • Set yourself a very doable goal. It’s better to succeed at a smaller goal than to fail at a larger one and give up completely. Twenty minutes is achievable for almost everyone, even with busy lives. You might also try using word counts as a goal.
  • If you’re just beginning, don’t worry about getting feedback, building a career or selling your work. Focus on writing.
  • If you’re in the middle of your career and are stuck or struggling to get the words down, go back to the 20 minute-a-day goal. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel once you set an achievable goal and accomplish it. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the words flowing again.
  • Make it easy to meet your goals. Find a place to write that’s fun for you. Use a word processing program that you like, keep your writing space pretty and inspirational. I don’t have a desk, because I like to write in various places, but I keep my laptop loaded with images that I like.
  • Reward yourself for achieving your goals. If there’s something particularly sticky for me, and I’m avoiding it, I’ll promise myself a reward if I’ll just sit down and tackle said thing. Usually the thing isn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, and I get a goody afterward. Now I feel doubly good, which provides further encouragement for me to do the words in the future.

Kiss kiss bang bang, s. 

~

Saying Yes, Saying No: Planning a Writer’s Year

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Last year, around my birthday, I spent a few days mulling over what kind of writing I was going to do in 2012. The final list looked like: Write and submit a lot of short stories (mostly spec-fic, sci-fi and fantasy, with a few erotic pieces thrown in); write and blog a poem a day; finish the urban fantasy novel I’d been working on; write and publish a few essays; and possibly edit a book of geeky erotica that I’d been thinking about called Geek Love.

The only one of those that came to pass was Geek Love (although the poem-a-day project came close).

Why? Was I a lazy writer? Did I have writer’s block? Did things fall through? Did life intervene and tear me away from writing?

Nope.

What happened was that my writing life took a new turn (well, truly, a whole bunch of new turns) and I was willing to follow along with each bend in the path. The things that I expected to do got set aside so that I could do something else instead. Because of my choice to set aside some goals, I got to be part of some really wonderful and amazing new opportunities and projects.

This hasn’t always been the case for me. In the past, I’ve been so determined to stick to my writing goals that I’ve either overbooked myself or said no to new opportunities just so I could check something off my list. Leaving writing goals unaccomplished used to make me feel awful, unprofessional and unsuccessful.

Now I know that every day, and every writing project, is a choice. To keep one thing is to reject another. To say yes to a new opportunity means letting go of an existing goal. My goal is to constantly weigh those choices, and choose the one that is best for me. (Of course, this is for non-committed projects. If I have a contract/deadline/etc. for a project, then I consider myself to be locked into it until it’s completed).

Last year was a year where most of my writing commitments were to myself, and not to publishers. This year is very different for me. This year brings a lot of projects that I am locked into. Which means that I know what lies ahead. I’d like to think that I’ve left a little wiggle room, in case something amazing comes along, but I’m not sure that’s actually true.

Here is my list for 2013:

  • Geek Love: The print version of Geek Love will be completed this year, and needs to go out to all of the Kickstarter backers.
  • Leather Bound: This erotic novel full of books, bondage and desire will be out from the Harper Collins Mischief line later this year.
  • Numenera: As you may know, I’m the lead editor for Monte Cook’s upcoming RPG, Numenera. We’re producing half a dozen books for this tabletop game. In addition, it’s going to be developed into a computer game by InXile Entertainment. I’ll be writing, editing, helping with art orders, and anything else that’s necessary.
  • Sexy on the Page: This how-to book on erotic writing and publishing will be out later this year from Stone Box Press.
  • Serial Story for Pathfinder: This is one of the opportunities that came up last year and I’ll be working on this story in the spring.
  • Forbidden Flame: This erotic novella will be out later this year from Xcite Books.
  • As Kinky as You Wanna Be: This non-fiction book on having safe, sane and consensual kinky sex is due to the publisher (Cleis) this fall, and will be out in February 2014.
  • Fiction? My Urban Fantasy Novel? Something? I also like to imagine that I will get some creative downtime in which to write fiction that doesn’t already have a publisher and deadline attached, but that remains to be seen.

So that’s my year. I’ve got a lot to do and, considering that we’re nearly halfway through January already, not much time to do it. Sometimes the path is winding and full of choices. Sometimes it’s straight and narrow and without a speed limit.

2013 is an open road, windows down, music blaring, singing at the top of my lungs as I get from here to there. I hope, as always, that you’ll come along for this beautiful ride.

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

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  ~

Social Media: What is it Good For?

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Shanna as person, being dorky in bunny ears.

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Shanna as professional, during an author photo shoot.

Food for thought and a question: Earlier today I posted this status update to Facebook, which got some interesting and unexpected responses. All of which got me to thinking about my social media “brand” as a person, as a writer and as a business.

Typically, I treat the people who share my social media network as friends. I comment on things that are interesting to me; talk about my (and my friends’) creative process/goals/failures/successes; share images and dreams and personal hopes; discuss society and culture; ask for advice; and try to initiate conversation and discussion. I don’t have a “personal” page that only my close friends get. I don’t have an author page that’s only for my fans. I don’t use lists to separate my postings. What you get is what you get — and you pretty much get all of me. For a long time, this worked really well for me.

But lately, I find myself frustrated at social media. At the general lack of reading comprehension and inability to adjust responses appropriately based on the context of a specific post. At the pithiness and snarkiness that so often replaces actual interaction. It has begun to outweigh the joy I have at spending online time with people I adore, with sharing this creative space with other people. All of this makes me wonder if I’m misunderstanding the way that most people use (and want to use) social media. It also makes me wonder if I should be using social media differently myself. Coming to social media every day with an open heart and an open mind gets harder and harder for me.

So, here’s my question: As I move forward into the new year, I’m curious to know what draws you to social media? Why are you here? What do you hope to get from it? What frustrates you about it?

And, more specifically, what do you like and dislike about the way that I use social media? Do you want Shanna as a person, who talks about everything from erotica and gaming to cookies and spending time with loved ones? Or is that overkill? Do you want Shanna as a business, who keeps her posts professional and focused on writing and creating? Or is that boring? Do you want something in between, something else that I haven’t thought of?

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

Free to Dangerous Home: The Lure of Dangerous Women

photo (2)“While the slinger sang, we waited. They don’t talk about that in the stories they tell – and someone, somewhere was going to be telling this story, although they wouldn’t tell it true. The fighting, the shooting, the magic-slinging – those are the easy parts. It’s the waiting that kills a woman.” ~excerpt from One-Woman Town

~

They’re here, they’re here! Paperback copies of The Lure of Dangerous Women have arrived, just in time for the new year!

The ebook version has gotten great reviews (Check them out here.), and I am so delighted to hold these beautiful paperback books in my hand. These stories are special to me for so many reasons — I talk about those reasons in the story notes (excerpt below for those who are interested) so I won’t go into them here.

What I do want to do here is offer a giveaway for the new year. I have two copies of The Lure of Dangerous Women to give away, which I will sign and ship to the winners.

How do you enter? Easy. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me about your favorite dangerous woman in fiction and why she’s dangerous/your favorite. (If it’s something written by a living author, please feel free to leave a link, so people can find the book — spread the wealth, I say!).

Deadline: January 5th. I’ll choose two winners and post the results here on January 6th.

STORY NOTES FOR “TRILL”:

When I came up with the idea for “Trill,” I was living in a friend’s flat on a nine-mile-long island in Scotland. It was spring, I could see the ocean from my bedroom, I was going through a divorce, and I had just been bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease. For more than two weeks, I lay in a brass bed next to the ocean and knew I was dying.

At the end of two weeks, I was pretty sure I wasn’t dying anymore, but I was sick and angry and scared. I couldn’t write because my wrists sang with glass shards every time I moved them. I couldn’t read because my eyes were not working properly. I couldn’t have sex or an orgasm because the antibiotics were wreaking such havoc on my body. So I lay beneath the covers in a fever dream and I wrote brainstories. In one of those stories, I called my body a “burnt-out house.” In another, I traced the origin of the werewolf race. And in “Trill,” I scared myself as hard as I could. Then I imagined an ending that scared me even more, an ending that I knew I would never write.

It was another two and a half months before I felt well enough to rise and venture down the circular stairs of my flat. I sat next to the ocean and wrote “Trill” in one sitting. Writing it, I scared myself again. And I put in the real, true ending, even though I knew it meant the story would probably never get published.

I sent the story to a contest by Anthology Builder, and to my shock, “Trill” won first place. Despite the judges’ comments that the ending made them so uncomfortable that they almost didn’t want to place it.

Every time I read “Trill,” I wonder where that horror came from. And then I remember those weeks, when I was sure I was dying, and I have my answer.

~~

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

2013: The Year of Magic


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2012 was my Year of YES. And it was a very good year. Writing, traveling, the world’s most incredible friends, health, joy, laughter. On top of everything, Love walked into my life, unexpectedly. And that changed everything. New city, new career, new desires and goals. A sense of hope and joy that I had lost in 2011. It was a beautiful, delicious, scary and wonderful year for me in so many ways, and I owe so much of that to the incredible people in my life.

Of course, nothing is perfect. That is always a balance. In learning to say YES to things, I also had to learn to say NO. It’s hard, that no bit. It always makes me feel like I’m choosing poorly, like I’m giving up, like I’m unable to do all the things I want to.  It’s part of growing older, isn’t it, that every joy is tinged with sadness, that every gain is weighted by a loss, that with every person or place we add to our life, we grieve the loss of another. Our lives get richer as we grow older, but some of that richness is bittersweet, that cinnamon and nutmeg trace that rests in the back of our throats and makes our eyes water. I wouldn’t want a life without it, but it seems I become more aware of it every year.

2013 is going to be the year of magic. Magic’s a tricky one, isn’t it? What does it mean? How does it happen?

The definition that I like best is: any mysterious or extraordinary quality or power.

It’s a wide definition, one that allows anything in and doesn’t offer explanation. And in this way, it’s perfect for a word like magic, which should, by its very nature, defy an easy definition.

I believe that magic is something you make. But I also believe that the world moves in ways we can’t understand, gives us things we didn’t know to ask for, and offers us moments that are inexplicable and greater than ourselves.

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I’ve also been thinking a lot about Arthur C. Clarke’s last two laws:

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

While number 3 is clearly about magic, I think that number 2 is also, in some ways. If something impossible is made possible, then that seems like magic to me.

I don’t know how this sense of magic will play out for the new year yet. This is the first year in a long time that I don’t have a long list of plans and goals. I don’t know what this year will bring, and maybe that too is part of the magic. Being willing to sit outside my comfort zone and see what happens. The magic of love. Of work. Of joy and laughter. And isn’t just being alive sometimes a kind of magic, this beautiful and inexplicable thing we do every day, without understanding why or how?

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Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

The 6 Best Gifts for the Writer in You (or for the Writer You Know)

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When you see those top ten gift lists for writers around this time of year, they often include six or seven journals (usually with butterflies and/or inspirational quotes), a “don’t bother me I’m writing” mug and a couple of “I’ll put you in my book,” shirts. (Note: Unless you’re looking at Chuck Wendig’s list, which does have some good suggestions for writers, namely: Caffeine, a gift card to an office supply store, and no more blank notebooks ever).

While those are valid and interesting gifts, they’re not that USEFUL for writers. Most of us have our favorite journals (this is mine) and we’ve bought a ton of them, just in case the company someday goes out of business or the world ends and we won’t be able to find them anymore. Ditto with mugs (write like a motherfucker) and shirts (write.).

So here is my list of the six best gifts you can give Yourself the Writer or Your Friend the Writer this holiday season:

  1. PREY: Theft Protection 
    Prey is a fantastic free open-source software program that lets you keep track of your computer if it’s stolen or missing. It tracks your computer via GPS, takes a photo of the thief who uses your laptop, locks your computer down AND allows you to take remote screenshots to help you identify what the thief’s email is. It’s easy to install. Makes sure your writing is safe and secure.
  2. SCRIVENER: Better than Word
    Download the free trial of Scrivener for your Mac or PC, try it out. If you like it, it’s just $45 and you may never use Word again. It has a lot of bells and whistles, but you don’t need to use all (or any) of them. I’ve talked a lot about how I used Scrivener to write and organize books, and many writers I know swear by this program for productivity, organization and creative joy.
  3. A BACKUP PROGRAM: I Don’t Care Which One
    Try Dropbox or SugarSync or any of the others out there. Make it so it backs up your writing automatically. I use both Dropbox and SugarSync, because I am anal and because I have a lot of stuff to back up.
    If you are skilled in doing this kind of set up, give the gift of doing this for one of your less tech-savvy writer friends. They will love you forever.
  4. GET YOUR SHIT ORGANIZED
    Okay, this doesn’t mean go back and organize the last 20 years of writing. That’s a time killer and a procrastination tool. Look forward instead. Make sure you have a way of labeling your documents (mine is: Title-Date, and I change the date on each version so I can sort them easily) and then have a good way of storing those labeled documents (I have BUSINESS and WRITING folders. BUSINESS has folders labeled 2012 Contracts, 2012 Receipts, etc., while WRITING has folders labeled by genre, so I can easily find stories. Inside each genre are folders labeled WORKINGON, SUBMITTED, ACCEPTED and NEEDSNEWHOME). Starting now, put every document where it belongs.
    Additionally, set up a submission tracker if you don’t have one. Starting today, put every submission in that tracker. This is what mine looks like:
    Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 2.25.49 PM
  5. BUY YOURSELF SOME TIME With a Professional
    Invest in a class, some one-on-one feedback or a professional editor. If you don’t have the money for this, set up a gift exchange with someone whose work you know and admire. I trade my work regularly with other writers; we read each other’s writing and provide feedback. Set this up for yourself — it’s a fantastic gift to you and to the writer you exchange with.
  6. BUY YOURSELF SOME TIME With Yourself
    Have kids? Have a full-time job? Have a million things to do and no time? Invest in your writing time. Buy yourself a coffee gift card to your favorite shop and go there to write. Add one hour to the babysitter’s time. Hire someone to clean the house. Again, if you don’t have the money, do a trade. Friends of writers: Yes, this one. Offer to do something for them (watch kids, get groceries, do laundry etc. etc.) so they can write.

Bonus Gift Ideas: If you want to go fun instead of useful (or fun AND useful), here are a few ideas for unique gifts: A signed copy of your new book to another writer (inspiration); Aquanotes (for notes in the shower); Cute word tights (okay, yeah, so maybe it’s just me that wants these); Nice words or a thank you card (means SO much).

What’s the best writer-like gift you’ve ever given or gotten? What do you wish someone would give you?

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

~

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