Outside of holiday madness and time spent with family, most of my December consisted of playing with a New Shiny. I haven't been so excited about a new book idea since I began drafting Vengeance Road in late 2013. (I started Contagion even earlier, which means that this is the first time I've been drafting something new—a fresh story idea and NOT a sequel—since that same date.)
I'd almost forgotten how magical it is to be in this phase. (Almost as magical as the White Christmas we had!) During this phase, nothing is broken and everything seems possible. I wake up itching to write. I carve out minutes to spend at my computer. I hear characters in my head and can see scenes unfolding when I close my eyes. The words are flowing and I don't want to jinx that. I wrote 12k in a single week, and for those of you who have followed this newsletter for awhile, you know that's extremely fast for me. (I mean, I brainstormed for about ten months before typing a single word, but still...)
I want to protect this New Shiny fiercely. Once something sells and becomes contracted, expectations begin to attach to the project and the creative process shifts. Even when we authors try our hardest to keep our creative process the same, it changes. It's inevitable. On a smaller scale (and for me personally), the same is true even when I delve into the details surrounding a new idea. So for now I'll just say that this book is a mashup of everything I love to read and write: part sci-fi, part western, part adventure and survival; with a morally gray lead thrust into a fish-out-of-water scenario; and a setting that is practically a character itself. I want to continue to write this book as though it exists just for me, and I want to keep that up for as long as possible. I hope you'll understand my secrecy.
Bringing Up Baby (Bowman)
The littlest Bowman had a wonderful holiday. Everything about this month was magic to her and I swear her eyes were literally shining on Christmas morning. She's now the proud owner for some new board games, a wooden train set, Lincoln Logs, and of course, a heap of new books.
Her book pick for this month is Red & Lulu written and illustrated by Matt Tavares. We have a tradition where she receives a Christmas book on Christmas Eve, and Red & Lulu was this year's selection. It's a story about the Rockefeller Christmas tree and two little cardinals who find themselves separated and learn that home is wherever you're together. It's a thoughtful, touching story with simply gorgeous illustrations.
I'll repeat what I said last newsletter: 2017 was a crazy year and I can't remember ever having to write under such intense anxiety. Just before Christmas, as the last-minute business of the holidays pulled be away from the internet, I began to feel lighter. Freer. Happier. At first this seemed strange, because I had so much to do (a bit of remaining shopping, presents to wrap, prep for the family that would be visiting throughout the week). I had plenty to be anxious about. But the more I thought about it, the clearer the truth became: A large part of my typical anxieties were caused by something I had previously been interacting with daily—Twitter.
As of last week, I am on an indefinite twitter hiatus. Will I be back? Probably. I think it will be especially hard to avoid when it comes time to promote a new release, but at the moment, I don't have any urge to return. I'm feeling healthier and happier by the minute. (I also don't think it's a coincidence that I wrote 12k of my New Shiny in a rush after pulling away from twitter.)
I talk more about my decision to go on a twitter hiatus here, but the gist is this: I need to protect my mental health. Twitter is working against that, so I'm stepping back.
A big part of this has to do with the news. I want (and need!) to be informed, but I was in the habit of checking twitter a dozen times a day, and that's just too much news for me, personally, to handle. I can read my newspaper once a day and be good. I don't need a constant barrage of by-the-minute updates, and that's what twitter was giving me. (If you need that, that's fine. Everyone is different. But I was feeling overwhelmed and constantly on high-alert. Twitter was making me unproductive—in my writing, in my ability to be present in moments with my family, in everything. So I'm stepping away.)
This all seems very obvious. If something is providing unnecessary stress, of course you should cut it out! But for so long, twitter has felt like part of my job. I promote my books there. I signal boost sales and bookish news for myself and others. I chat with my fellow authors. If I cut out a part of my work, how could I confidently feel like I was working my hardest and/or giving all my books their fair shake at success? This all fed into me lingering on twitter for far longer than I probably should have. The decision to start an indefinite hiatus wasn't easy to make, but it feels right.
Much of this realization has inspired my 2018 goals. Deep in my gut, I usually know what I need. I want to listen to that instinct more in 2018, and be sure to protect my mental health. When I'm stressed and anxious, my craft suffers. My family suffers. I suffer. So in 2018, I want to take control of what I can. I have a tradition of picking a 'word of the year' for each new calendar, and this year, CONTROL seems to fit the bill.
There are things I want, but can't control. For example, I'd love to sell another book, but that's out of my hands. I can, however, commit to drafting a new novel and writing a proposal so my agent can take the book on submission. I also want twitter to be a place that doesn't trigger anxiety for me, but I can't control that. I can, however, step away and see if a break brings me more balance. This year, I want all my goals to be feasible. That's not to say they'll be easy, just that they are goals whose outcomes I can actually control, rather than pie-in-the-sky dreams.
Some of my 2018 goals:
Take a twitter hiatus (for as long as feels appropriate)
Trust my gut / listen to what my body is telling me
Draft my New Shiny
Write a proposal for my New Shiny
Do more yoga
Be more present during family time (aka: stop checking my phone so much)
Promote CONTAGION with passion, then leave the book's performance up to fate. (It's out of my hands, truly, and there's no sense worrying about sales I can't control)
Eat more vegetables (Fruits are never an issue. But vegetables. I need more.)
Brainstorm future book ideas and start a new notebook for each that has potential
Make a serious effort to avoid the comparison game
Read more books
Use the library more often / stick to a book-buying budget
Go for more walks
It's been a wild year. A hard year, in many ways, and a wonderful year in others. Whatever your goals for 2018, I wish you the very best success with them. Happy New Year, friends!
Looking for a book recommendation to kick off 2018? Here are some of my favorite reads from the past year*:
*these are my favorite reads of 2017, not necessarily books published in 2017