Way More Ideas Then Time

Creepy Tree

Creepy Tree in Northern Minnesota

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I tell people that I write stories is:

Do you ever run out of ideas?

The answer is an emphatic “NO.”

My biggest obstacle over the last three and a half years since I started self-publishing is finding time to write everything that I want to write. Even though I consider myself still fairly ‘young’ in my publishing career, most people, including those who write themselves, would consider me prolific.

Since November 2011 when I first published Edge of Shadows, I’ve released somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 titles under three different pen names. (So when you don’t see a Cege Smith release for awhile, it’s likely because I’m working on stories under my other pen names.) I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I don’t know the definitive number simply because there are so many that I can’t keep track of them. It’s not the worst problem to have.

Since I’ve finished out all of the projects that I had planned here, I’m going to do something a little bit different. I want to spend more time bringing in my readers and fans into my writing process because I think that makes all of us feel more invested in it.

So this summer will be the summer that my fans get to help me decide which stories to write. That will focus my ideas- and I will find the time. I found a photo list of some of the creepiest places in the world, and readers get to vote on which location will form the basis for the story that I ultimately write and publish. This is something that I’m offering exclusively to readers who have said they want to hear from me, either by liking my Facebook page or joining my fan club. (If you haven’t done either of those things yet, backtrack one sentence for the links. 🙂 )

All my best,

Cege

What To Do When Stories Haunt You

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In the three years since I first published Edge of Shadows, I’ve pretty much finished every story that I’ve started with the exception of one: Step To My Bones. I have no idea why this story has been the monkey on my back for as long as it has (2 years and counting). Perhaps it’s because of what inspired the story, or the subject material, or the fact that I just knew this little story was something special, and I didn’t feel ready to tell it yet.

Last summer, I started on this story again and made decent progress before I realized that it was derailing into a different kind of story than what I wanted. It had a strong paranormal element, but suddenly there was a romance subplot that was unexpected and, quite frankly, very wrong for the story. This story has always been about the heroine coming face to face with the man who changed the course of her life when she was a young teen and battling her inner demons. It was supposed to be dark, slightly twisted, and very uncomfortable for not just her but the reader as well. To throw in a love interest threw off it’s mojo.

So I quit the story. Again. Put it away and went on to other pursuits. But as I entered 2015, I said to myself “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”. I needed to sit down and write the damn story already. Last weekend, I gleefully typed the last words of the final chapter, and I know it is the story that it was always meant to be.

So what changed?

I think I’ve undergone yet another maturation phase in my writing journey. After hearing some great anecdotes from other authors in early December where they talked about how they outlined their plots and fleshed out their characters well before the first sentence was written,  I innately felt the pull of that kind of discipline. For the first time, I started drafting lengthy outlines that carefully constructed the scenes of the story so that as I sat down to write, I didn’t have to wonder where the story was going. Instead of feeling constricted, I felt liberated. I willingly let go of my pantser ways, and I haven’t looked back since.

It was forcing myself to write down the entire plot from beginning to end that allowed me to finally write Step to My Bones the way that I always envisioned it. I will admit, the end turned itself on its end when I got there, but that was a small modification in my mind given that I had set up everything else the way that I had. And the best part was that it worked! Finally, the words are committed to the page, and in less than a week when it goes on sale, I will have officially removed this monkey from my back.

With this story, I also am going back to my horror roots. There was something utterly refreshing about it. There is a strong psychological element to this tale, and it’s dark, gritty, and uncomfortable. I love it. 🙂

On Jan. 31st, I’ll be popping the bubbly and enjoying the end of this journey. Hopefully, fans will feel like the story was worth the wait.

Sleep is Overrated (Step To My Bones, Day Two)

Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

It doesn’t take long before life attempts to intervene with whatever schedule you’ve set out on to reach your goals. There are a multitude of things that compete for your time and attention at any given moment. Even with a time management strategy that works 90% of the time, you have those days where you feel underwater from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall back into bed.

When I add attainment of a daily word count into the mix, things seem to get really hectic really fast. So that’s when the to-do list comes out and things have to be prioritized down to a more granular level then before. And what moves to the bottom of that list?

Sleep.

There’s never enough time in the day, or enough time for sleep, in my humble opinion. I LOVE sleep. I enjoy taking a nap on a quiet weekend afternoon. I’ll sleep in late whenever I have the opportunity. It’s truly one of my favorite things.

Unfortunately for me, it’s also the one thing that takes up a big chunk of my precious time so, like my Netflix addiction, it goes out the window when I’m in the throes of writing a new book.

I was really hoping that I’d make it further in than Day Two before I had to sacrifice some Zzzzz’s, but yesterday got me. The day job, followed by a kid’s lacrosse game, followed by the lacrosse team pizza party meant that I didn’t sit down in front of my computer until 9:30pm. Then there’s the requisite “unwind” time that’s necessary before I could settle back into the story, so I didn’t start on my word count until almost 10:15pm. During the week for the last six months, that has been my bedtime. But- I can’t complain because I got ‘er done.

75 minutes of sacrificed sleep = 2183 words = Chapter Two draft complete

So long sleep. I’ll miss you.

(Photo credit: Moyan Brenn)

When You Want to Quit, Do This Instead

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There’s nothing quite like setting out to do something amazingly big and exciting, and then promptly falling on your butt. All of that enthusiasm you initially had evaporates in an instant, and you feel a myriad of emotions that range from chagrin to outright nausea.

Whether we want to admit it or not, failure at any level hurts. The idyllic shine of the unknown that we found so intoxicating gets a little bit tarnished. We grow a bit more jaded. Worse yet, we might swing toward taking the conservative approach the next time we face the same challenge. Nobody likes getting knocked down twice.

Although it’s hard to see in the heat (or despair) of the moment, making a rash decision and quitting is the exact opposite thing you should do in these types of situations.

The best way that I’ve found to work through the emotional rollercoaster of failure is to take swift and immediate action. Any action is better than no action at all, but hopefully the action is guided by what I learned in my spectacular fall. I truly believe that it takes a lot more guts to dust yourself off and start again, and I consider myself up to the challenge (most days anyway). The sooner I do it, the sooner I find that my focus shifts back in a positive and productive direction.

In my writing, I’ve set deadlines and missed them. I’ve gotten less than favorable (and sometimes brutal) feedback about my books. I’ve been positive that certain stories would resonate with readers and then released the work to the resounding sound of crickets. Nonetheless, I continue to write, and I continue to publish. That’s because the act of writing itself is cathartic to me, and adding to the growing bookshelf of work available to purchase is a unique and heady rush. I love it and hate it all at the same time, and I’ve learned that sometimes the story works for readers and sometimes it doesn’t. But those readers who love my books and my characters rave about them, and hearing that kind of feedback never gets old for me, and I don’t take it for granted. Putting myself and my work out there the way I do is a risk, but the reward has a huge upside.

When it comes to my life and my day job, I’ve had some epic failures- some of them painfully visible to family, friends, and colleagues. What I can’t do is crawl into bed and try to forget that life exists. Pity and self-loathing gets me nowhere. At some point, I have to stop feeling sorry for myself, pull my chin up, and face the world. And you know what I find? People are usually gracious, and second chances come easier when the other person sees that you aren’t willing to give up. In fact, moving forward and learning from a failure like that will often earn you respect that you couldn’t have found otherwise.

It’s hard to take action in the face of failure, no doubt about it. But at the end of the day, it’s easier to look at yourself in the mirror when you know that you’ve given it your all, and you’re still willing to get back in the ring and fight another day. With that kind of attitude in your life, you’ll be unstoppable.

(photo credit Krissy Venosdale)

Give Me Balance, Or Give Me…Death? Another Resolution Post

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Five days into 2014, I have to admit I’m feeling pretty good about my New Year’s resolutions. I know, I know. It’s only been five days, but you have to start somewhere. As I reviewed my list of potential resolutions during the last few weeks of December, I realized that I could easily drive myself bonkers trying to be “Cege v2.0” in 2014. But if I’ve learned anything about myself over the last thirty-eight years, it’s that I latch onto goals, have a short burst of energy, and then burn out, and crash 2-3 weeks later.

Then I ran across this meme which completely changed my perspective on approaching my resolutions:

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It was time to pull out the KISS method to create my resolutions (Keep It Simple, Stupid if you’ve never run into the expression before.) Hence I refocused my resolutions on changing engrained behaviors, which should lead to the results that I want.

So let’s start here:

BALANCE

2013 felt lopsided to me for many reasons. I started out the beginning of the year with an extremely aggressive production schedule for my writing that included rolling out a new pen name. I actually did pretty well on that front through the first quarter, but that output wasn’t sustainable when my personal life fell apart in a way that dramatically altered many aspects of my life.

By the time I recovered, I felt so derailed that I slowed down even more. The result of that? The delay of the conclusion to both the Twisted Souls and Bloodtruth series.

Careful examination of every diet and weight loss program I’ve ever attempted yields an interesting thing. After finding initial success, things fizzle out because I never spend the time to change the behaviors that caused me to overeat to begin with. I went into it every time full force, but then burned out, and was right back where I started from.

I’m an extremist. I’ve learned over the years that I get short-term results by immersing myself into whatever activity I’m doing, and that works. But it never sticks long-term. I need to learn patience, celebrate small milestones, and keep an unwavering focus on keeping my feet on the balance beam of life, and that includes not acting like a crazy person when the newest diet fad comes around.

It applies to my work, my play, my diet, and my mental health. Achieving BALANCE will push me higher and further than any short-term burst of productivity.

WRITING IT DOWN

This probably sounds silly coming from a writer. I put words to paper and computer screen all day long every day. But that’s my stories and messing around on Facebook and Twitter. That’s not outlining a life plan that clearly spells out what I want to accomplish and how I’m going to measure if I’m successful.

We’ve all probably hear about the Harvard (or Yale) class study that studied the effects of writing down goals. The problem with that study is that is never actually happened. But, an educator at Dominican University did her own study and was able to confirm the results of the supposed Harvard/Yale study. When you write down your goals and hold yourself accountable (in collaboration with a partner), you have a greater chance of achieving your goals.

To keep things organized and keep myself from being distracted, I plan to write down short and long-term goals in a place where I see them daily, and reassess them often to adjust as needed. That will keep the goals and action plans fresh and relevant.

No doubt about it. Sometimes not making New Year’s resolutions seems like the path of least resistance. But I’m still optimistic, and I’m going implement the tweaks to behavior that I mentioned above.

That’s it. Two things, but two things that if I stick with them can mean a tremendous difference in my life for many reasons.

What about you? What are your 2014 resolutions?

Photo Credit: dleell