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The Escape Artist

I’d like to fancy myself a would-be magician with a couple of bar scam sleight-of-hand tricks and the inability to actually saw people in half.

The thing about writing for a living is needing new hobbies. Once you’re out of that first-draft honeymoon phase and it’s time to crack down on revisions, rewrites, and shaping up query letters, you need something other than writing to fill that creative void. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working on a new book while you and your precious first draft are taking some time apart, but there sadly comes a point where a new first draft can’t be your only escape.

If you’re like me, you will burn yourself out.

I started learning sleight of hand and bar scams from Scam School because I’ve always had an interest in magic and who doesn’t want sick wizard powers? I got the opportunity see Brian Brushwood perform at DragonCon last year, and he is very good at what he does. There’s nothing better than amazing and fooling friends and strangers. Ask me about the three coin trick and I might show you.

Three years ago, I took up fire spinning and contact juggling. Like magic, these were two things I’ve always wanted to learn. I don’t play poi much anymore, but I can manipulate crystals like the Goblin King, which is seriously awesome to break out during parties.

Most recently, as in last Friday, I’ve taken up swing dancing. I love it. The Electroswing Speakeasy is held every month at the Red Light Cafe in Atlanta, and I’ve got a standing appointment. It’s a simple to grasp the basics of 1940s East Coast Swing, and the spins and turns look more impressive than I can say. However, I don’t recommend you spin around the floor immediately after consuming an alcoholic beverage, lesson learned.

You don’t necessary need to leave your house though. I’ve also, accidentally, spent seven hours in one day playing Bioshock Infinite and I regret nothing. Paint, dance, sing along with the radio, take up fencing, take up yoga. Pick something you want and go after it!

The important thing about finding other passions is never forgetting your first one: writing. It’s not going to do you any good if you forget to work. And it IS work. There will be days when you don’t want to do it, when editing is hard or you think you suck.

Go learn something. Come back. Work a little more.

Know what you can do with all these new hobbies? Use them as character fodder. Real people have interests outside their careers. Take the history of 1940s Swing and create an underground dance mafia bent on eradicating Lindyhoppers.

In The Killing Type, Jonathan Gale’s hobby is sleight of hand.

Use your new skills, whether it be for good or evil.

Speaking of evil, I’ve got my Splicer mask to finish.


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It’s Sleeping with Roaches and Taking Best Guesses*

As you know, dear reader, I’ve been having a bit of a rough time. A few weeks ago, blogged over at Pen and Muse about writing and depression, and though I’ve come out of the darkness, I find myself stressed out and exhausted. The Day Job has been relentless (I’m just coming off of six days in a row, most 9 hour shifts), and even my days off aren’t truly days off. I finally, FINALLY realize what’s wrong.

I’ve fallen into the same pattern of neglecting myself, and this has thrown the metaphorical wrench into my writing life.

I slated writing as another line on the epic “to do” list that is my life. Once I finished the draft of my second MS, it was all about needing to fix the first. I sat down to this task and fried my wires before I’d even started. I tried drawing plot maps, outlining (that’s when I know I’m out of it), and though I could talk about the changes I wanted and why I wanted them, doing it was fucking impossible.

Kelly, my darling CP, suggested I take a break. Don’t think about it. Don’t open the document. Rest.

I need to listen to Kelly more often. For the last few days I’ve done nothing because I stopped berating myself over NOT doing it. Sometimes you need glut yourself on other things:

  • Plug in and rock out: I’ve listened to A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out by Panic! at the Disco so many times, it’s borderline obscene.
  • Read books that aren’t your own: I finally cracked open Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds. I cannot express to you in words how in love with this book I am. If you’re not reading him, get your ass to a bookstore or buy it off Amazon. Immediately.
  • Get out of the house: I have trouble with this one. It’s usually work-home-bed-work, but I was off by 2pm Saturday and I took my happy ass to the mall. Tax returns AND a 15% off coupon for Sephora? A deal I will not pass up. Nothing revives me like shiny new makeup and kickass lipstick.
  • Get out of your head! This, too, I struggle with. Recently, my friend Delilah hopped on her Twitter Soapbox about what it means to be a writer, which you can read here. You don’t need a fancy degree or a muse or a ritualistic blood sacrifice to Satan. If you write, you’re a writer. That doesn’t mean you’ll never feel insecure, even after getting an agent or getting published. Part of you will always wonder if you’re good enough, if your That’s okay. “Complacency is the enemy of growth.” I’m ridiculously lucky to have her as a friend.
  • Fuel something you enjoy: It’s no secret by now that I LOVE weird medical history and when I stumbled upon Sawbones podcast, it was like creep girl heaven! I listened to the episode on Reanimation (ok, I MAY have cheated on the not thinking about your own work rule with that one), and not only are Justin and Sydnee hilarious, I learned some amazing new things about 1700-1800 theory and practice, and what and WHOM may have inspired Mary Shelley to pen Frankenstein.

I feel SO MUCH BETTER. The narrative style of Blackbirds helped me realize the direction I’m going with The Killing Type is the right direction. I’m going to be fine. Feeding my mind with different writers, better writers, helps me better myself. Drink it up!

Effective immediately, writing is no longer relegated to the “to do” list. Writing needs to be what it always has been: my escape. I’m not on deadlines. I have no one to answer to. Sure, that’ll change when I’m agented, but for now, I’m not racing against a clock and shouldn’t make myself crazy over nothing.


You can find Delilah on Twitter @DelilahSDawson, and at WhimsyDark.com. I strongly suggest you follow her, and not just for her Labyrinth references.

You can find Chuck Wendig at @ChuckWendig, and at TerribleMinds.com, especially if you like profanity-laced advice.

I’ve got a book to revise, darlings, so let’s play a game. Let’s play… murder.

*Title taken from “Build God, Then We’ll Talk,” by Panic! at the Disco. I might just really love that song. Go listen to it.

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Writing Beginnings and Corpse Construction

Especially if you’re me.

It’s no secret that I’m terrible at writing beginnings to stories. Sure, sometimes I get a killer opening line, like the one for THE MORTALITY VICE:

“My name is Henry James William Hyde, and today I forfeit my life.”

But the whole… start of the story is usually beyond me. I cobble together something to get my through, then skip to the ending chapters. Writing is a weird process to begin with, and it’s even weirder when you struggle to write linearly.

I’ve used this simile before: writing a story is like reconstructing a body.

You’re taking an idea and giving it substance. There are many ways to set up your specimen: Some begin with the skeleton (outlining) and fill in the organs (major plot points) from there, connecting it with ligaments and muscles.

As a pantser, I have a planogram of a skeleton tacked to the wall, but I’ve dumped all the bones in a box and gone straight for the organs. Since I can’t write forward, write backward. It takes the pressure off having a perfect beginning and I get to feed my impatience for getting to all my favorite scenes.

This, of course, may panic those of you who love and need outlines. I frolic through my own narrative flinging horror like paint and stitching in veins as I go. I install the bones when I need to.

There is no wrong or right way to start reconstruction.

First drafts will always suck. Will starting from the end give you a perfect opener? Nope.
But it will take the pressure off and let you move past it. It’s skirting around the wall and helping you collect the tools you’ll need to break it down.

You get better with practice. I’ve rewritten the beginning of THE KILLING TYPE five times. I’m about to do it again. The trick with beginnings is you have to make those first few pages count. In my case, I lack clarity. Read your manuscript backward to pick up the tools again. Where do you want to start? What’s the most important thing you want to give the reader to make them want to invest in your story?

Not all skeletons are rebuilt from bones to skin; don’t be afraid to experiment. There will always be something you struggle with, whether it’s the beginning, the mushy middle, or knowing how to end it. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty or ask for advice. Stick your hand in that pan of organs and see what you pull out.


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VEDA Day Five: On Advice-Giving

In which I talk about giving advice:

Honestly, though, just stay away from the dog park.

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