Finding Balance

Or: Why It’s Taking Me So Long to Finish Book 3

I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for an update on Stuck (Stitch Trilogy, Book 3).  I was really hoping I’d have a completed manuscript (or, at least, a firm release date) to share with you this fall.  But I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m not even close.

That’s not to say I haven’t been working diligently toward that goal whenever I can – I have – or that I’m any less dedicated to getting the final installment of this trilogy into your hands as soon as possible – believe me, I’m as excited as you are!  It’s just that, I’ve had to readjust my expectations for what “whenever I can” and “as soon as possible” means during this season of my life.  And as a result, it’s looking like it’s going to be a while yet until Stuck is ready for public consumption.

And my instinct now is for the next thing out of my mouth to be “I’m sorry.”  But I have to tell you: I’m sorry, and I’m not.  Because the reason I’ve been struggling to find time to write is that my son is at a very precious and fleeting stage in his life right now, and I just can’t bring myself to miss any of it.

As you may know, I’m the work-at-home parent in my family.  And I know lots of awesome work-at-home parents who hire a regular babysitter or utilize daycare to give themselves more time to be productive (or just recuperate), and when I see them doing this, I say, “Right on! Good for you!”  And I see how they benefit, and I see how their kids benefit, and I understand where they’re coming from when they encourage me to do the same.  But the thing is, I’m just coming from a different place.

As a mother who’s had the singular and heartwrenching experience of burying my only child, I’m coming from the same place as my friend, Kelly, whose beautiful toddler son, Kevin, was tragically taken from her too soon by Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  Kelly posted this heartfelt reminder to other parents on Facebook the other day as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month:

“I know I only had 2 1/2 years. I know 95% was spent on a roller coaster. I know that he’s not here now. I regret every break I took, every time I picked up my phone in front of him, and it wasn’t to take his picture. I regret every time I went to the sleep room and took a nap. I regret every time I went to the bathroom, and he couldn’t come with me. Some days it eats me alive. […] Forget cellphones on Saturdays! Forget cellphones as much as you can! Set alarms if you have to. Go out! Go play! Give them your TIME. It is all they will ever need or want and it won’t last for long. […] I just urge all of you to treasure EVERY second. […] Treasure the time.”

Of course, no one would ever begrudge Kelly – or any parent, especially one dealing with something as inconceivably stressful and horrific as childhood cancer – those naps and bathroom breaks and occasional zone-outs on the phone. That’s just survival.

But I felt the same way after my daughter, Alana, was stillborn.  I regretted (regret) every moment that I spent doing anything other than soaking her in, and basking in the miracle of her pregnancy.  I thought I had the rest of her life to really pay attention to her – I never realized just how short that life would be.  And this is where my mind goes when I need to decide now where to spend my time.

Should I take a couple hours this afternoon to go upstairs and write, or should I just stay here and let him and his glorious imagination cook me yet another “gourmet meal” from his play kitchen?  Should I pull my phone out and try to sneak some work on my outline, or just marvel as he so intently and purposefully pours water back and forth between cups for the next ten minutes?  Should I get on my computer while my mom reads him his book-of-the-moment for the 8000th time today, or should I stay here and do it myself so I don’t miss it if he suddenly looks up and busts out a newly mastered word with the biggest, proudest smile on his face?  More often than not, my son wins out.

And is devoting so much of myself to my child the “right” choice, or the healthiest or most sustainable, for either me or him?  I’m the first to admit that it’s probably not.  Any of my family or friends will readily tell you that Kiran and I suffer from a (mutual) separation anxiety which is hugely inconvenient to anyone and everyone who wants to spend time with either of us.  Some days (luckily, usually only a couple days a month when my nerves are raw from hormones or lack of sleep or what have you), I am burnt out and not the mother I know I could be – and I second guess my choices then, and wish I made more time for myself, and I strongly consider hiring regular help (or depending even more heavily on my mom than I already do – thank you, Mom, I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you!) so I can finally finish this book.

But then I have weeks, like I have had most of this past month, where the days – slogging and repetitive and interminable as they may be – are somehow also just brimming with delight.  Where I watch with wonder as my toddler discovers a boundless love of merry-go-rounds and waves with pure joy at every pass around the carousel.  Where I might be overtaken at any moment by an unexpected bear hug and chubby little hands yanking me in close (by the hair!) for an open-mouthed kiss on the cheek that fills my heart to bursting.  Where I lay down each night with my son in one arm and my cat in the other (my poor husband curled up in the remaining seven inches of mattress…), exhausted to the bone, but so, so full of love.

How can I bring myself to miss any of this, when I know so viscerally that it could be over at any moment?  I just can’t.

And please, please, please, don’t mistake me – the last thing I want is to send anyone off on a guilt trip for making choices that are different than mine.  Every family and every parent is different, and this is not a critique of anyone’s choices, or the completely valid reasons and experiences behind those choices.  I’m also painfully aware of the enormous and glaring amount of privilege I’ve been blessed with to even be able to have choices in this arena.

So this is just me trying to explain where my head is at, and why I’m finding it so hard to find the time to actually write, as much as I find meaning and enjoyment for myself in doing that – and as much as I absolutely hate feeling like I’m letting anyone down or failing to accomplish something I set out to do.  It’s just that, I know I can’t get any of this time back.  And when it comes down to it, I’m just not willing to give it up.

So what that means for me – and for you, dear readers – in a real-world, practical sense, is that I pretty much only get to write when Kiran is napping.  And he’s never been a big napper.  And half the time he falls asleep while driving somewhere, and then that’s it for the day.  And I wish I could just stay up late after he goes to bed or get up early in the morning to write before he wakes, but… I am tired, people!  And just like my friend Kelly, and all parents, I need that time at the end of the day to watch some TV or zone out on my phone or just talk to my husband – regular people-stuff, you know?  So basically, that doesn’t leave me with very much time to actually write.

The good news, though – for those of you waiting for Stuck – is that I have really been putting those few hours I get each week to good use.  Truthfully, I have not made too much progress on Stuck itself just yet, but I have been working on a secret little get-myself-back-on-the-horse project, which involves a good amount of brand new content within the Stitch universe. :-D And I’m planning to release that soon (hopefully before the end of the year, though again don’t hold me to it, as you now understand that I am beholden to the fickle whims of a toddler’s erratic sleep schedule!).

So, that’s where I’m at.  Trying to find the balance, and doing my best to love my life as it is, for as long as this season may last.

Thank you, as always, for sticking with me as I work to figure it all out.  And may you also, always, treasure the time.

Quick Announcement – I’m BAACCKKK!

Hey Stitch Fans!

ImBackI am **so** excited to announce that… I am OFFICIALLY working on the series again.  !!!  :-D

No release dates or anything just yet (I’m still trying to figure out how to get back in the productivity groove now that I have a toddler running around here!!), but I just wanted you all to know that it is REALLY happening.  And it feels so good. 

Planning is underway, writing will commence shortly, and I can guarantee that there’s a conclusion to this trilogy on its way… with maybe another surprise in the works as well!  (Haha, I KNOW, I’m being very short on details here… but I just don’t want to publicly commit to any dates/projects that I’m not 100% sure I can deliver, so keeping things vague for now!)

Will post another update as soon as I’ve got some progress to report…

In the meantime, hope you’re all doing well and looking forward to getting back in touch once I can leave my writing cave!!

All the best!
Samantha

Finding Your Voice

Finding Your VoiceAnyone can put words down on paper, but just because the words are there doesn’t mean they’re anything anyone wants to read.  That’s because the hardest thing about writing is finding your voice.  It’s the writer’s unique style – their voice – that shines through to make any writing engaging.

I see this problem all the time with my business writing clients.  They’ve certainly got plenty to say – they’re experts in their fields, business owners with decades of experience and tons of valuable information to impart.  But I find that as a communications consultant (my day job outside of writing fiction), my clients tend to fall into one of two buckets: either they’re pretty decent writers but need help organizing their writing, or – more commonly – they’re struggling with their voice.

In the case of the under-developed voice, the writing just sounds… off.  Despite making good points and imparting valuable wisdom, whatever piece my client is trying to write is just not hitting the right notes of professionalism and personality.  Instead it sounds immature, dry, flat – not at all how they come across when you speak to them, but they just aren’t as compelling on paper as they are in person. What’s missing in their writing?  Their voice.

The big secret here is that there really is no secret to bringing your own unique style to your writing. It’s simply about having confidence in what you have to say – and in the act of writing itself.

The reason many of my business clients’ writing sounds shaky is because they don’t believe they can be good writers.  They are certainly confident in the information they’re sharing – after all, they’ve spent 20+ years amassing that knowledge in the field – but for most of these individuals, they stopped getting coached on their writing back in high school, or perhaps well before then.

Think about it – when the last thing anyone told you that you could write successfully was a 4th grade book report, it kind of makes sense that you’d continue to write that way.  It’s easy for a smart person to give up on writing – and their writer’s voice – when all they’ve ever seen since is a B or C or D in red ink on their papers.  Pretty soon writing gets put in that box of “things I don’t do well” and they leave it there, because no one ever pushed them to do better.  Positive reinforcement is a powerful thing.  The thing is, positive reinforcement is also very hard to come by.

In my own case, I found my voice in high school, writing under the guidance of a few very engaged and very encouraging teachers.  I’d always been a good writer (at least according to my mom, haha) but when I look back at my early writing, I see myself falling into the very common trap of trying to write in someone else’s voice, the way I thought writing should sound since that’s how it sounded to me when I read.  Even with engaging subject matter, my early writing felt forced, awkward, unnatural – and that’s because I wasn’t writing like me.

I’m forever in debt to my high school teachers because they saw something in my writing – the potential for something more – and they took the time to push me to develop it further.  My junior year English teacher founded a two-week summer camp specifically designed to help a handful of flourishing writers from our school develop their creative writing skills and invited me to join.  She then managed to foster an environment at the camp where we felt uninhibited and free to experiment without judgment (or grades!) getting in the way.

My senior year English teacher was well-known for teaching to rigorous standards in preparation for the upcoming AP exams, but seeing my potential, he held me to even higher standards than the rest of my peers.  I still have many of my papers from that class, and his meticulous notes scrawled in the margins of the page helped me to recognize and develop stylistic traits that I’d been doing unconsciously – parallelisms and unexpected personification, playfulness with words, a love of vocabulary and a more formal tone.  He helped me to realize that I had a voice, and that it was okay to use it.

I even had a fabulous math/computer science teacher both of those years who was an admittedly terrible writer himself – but he recognized my own talents in that area, and actually asked me to help him write/edit pieces that he knew needed to come across as professional and credible, including college recommendation letters for other students.  Can you imagine at 17 years old how much confidence that gave me in my own abilities as a writer?

What these experiences all had in common was that they made it clear that not only did I have a voice, but it was one that other people were interested in hearingThat set me on the right path of knowing who I was as a writer and having the confidence to develop my own unique voice further.

But not all writers have been lucky enough to have had that kind of support early on.  So my advice?  Seek it out.  Join a writers group – whether online, in your city, or through a local college – and just write.  Get people to read your writing, listen to their feedback, and just keep writing until it feels natural.  Eventually, you should start to hear your own voice in your head when reading your writing.  Practice until it’s authentic.

And, most importantly, don’t worry about writing something perfect – after all, I still cringe reading certain parts of Stitch.  Nothing you write will ever be perfect.  The important thing is that you’re always improving, and always being real in your writing, doing what comes naturally to you even if it means breaking a few rules.  After all, writers are people too – we’re individuals, we have unique personalities and quirks, and we’re not perfect!  Our writing should reflect that.

The fact of the matter is, the sooner you believe in your abilities as a writer, the sooner your voice will ring loud and clear.  You just have to give yourself permission to be heard.

DIY Editing Tips

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because typos are the bane of my existence!  (Sponsored post.)

You may think that soaring sales numbers or rave reviews are any writer’s crowning achievements, but in my case, one of the greatest satisfactions of my writing career to date has been something far less glamorous: protestations that my writing is well-edited.

After all, one of the main reasons self-published work gets a bad rap is because it’s often known to be riddled with typos, misspellings, and incorrect grammar.  When I first set out to publish Stitch, one of my biggest fears was that mechanical errors in the text would make me come off as unprofessional and, worse, amateur.  (Granted, I was – and probably still am – an amateur… but the reader didn’t need to know this!)

DIY Editing TipsDespite lacking an agent, publisher, and editor, I wanted desperately for my book to look and feel and read like a “real” book.  To that end, I hired a talented cover designer, I spent hours tweaking the print/e-book formatting, and most importantly, I put a LOT of effort into editing my writing.

And guess what?  It worked!  Many readers and reviewers have commented on the quality of my writing, and were even surprised to learn that my books were published independently.  In fact, after publishing Stitch and Shudder, I’ve only learned of a combined 3 true typos across both books (2 of which I fixed in the Stitch update released last April).  And while I’m sure there are more hidden in there (if you know of any, I’d love to know about them!), they’re subtle enough that the vast majority of readers will never even notice – and after all, even professionally published books have a typo or two in them, so I can deal.

Given my success in this particular arena, I thought I’d take a few moments to share my top 3 tips and tricks for other writers who are editing their own work:

1. Get more eyes on it! Seriously, this is the number one tip and by far the most effective thing you can do – get at least 10 people to read your work before you publish it, and make sure they know you want to hear about any typos, misspellings, or potential grammar issues.  (Sometimes people are afraid to insult you otherwise!)  The unfortunate reality is that you just can’t see your own writing clearly – you know what it’s *supposed* to say, so your mind just reads that instead of what’s actually on the page (thanks, brain!).

The good news is that you’re already getting people to give you feedback on the story, right?  Well, why not get some free editing while you’re at it?  Some readers are excellent at picking up on mechanical errors, others less so, so it’s essential to cast a wide net.  If you have the cash, you can even hire a professional – but so far, I’ve gotten by on the generous help of friends and family.  And be sure to THANK THEM for their time and input, even if you don’t always take their advice.  (After all, as I’m constantly telling my husband, there is such thing as “writer’s license!”)

2. Read it in print.  I don’t understand why, but for some reason, typos are easier to catch in print than on-screen.  I HATE wasting paper (I guess all those “save the rainforest” PSAs from when I was a kid made an impression…), but you have to review at least one printed version of your work before you hit the publish button.

In my case, I use the print proof from Createspace to do this, but if you’re just publishing an e-book, you can print it out at home (hey, you can always use a really tiny font, small margins, and double-sided printing to save paper!).  And again, refer to #1 – if you can get other people to read it in print as well, that’s even better.

3. Pay attention to grammar check.  Okay, I’m not going to lie – automated grammar checks have proven completely useless to me 99.9% of the time.  I don’t know what it is about the English language, but computers just don’t seem to get it.  BUT whenever I do a thorough automated grammar check on my books (which usually turns up what feels like about 3000 “issues” and takes 1-2 hours to go through), I almost always find one or two actual errors that I would have overlooked.

Yes, it’s a pain in the butt, but if you want your writing to look professional, you need to catch as many issues as possible – so save this one ’til the end and do it once, but make sure to do it!  You can use the built-in Word grammar check or any number of online tools (e.g., Grammarly), but use something.  You’ll have to sift through a lot of garbage, but you just might find a gem or two.

Good luck and good grammar to all!  If you have any other tips or tricks that have worked for you, I’d love to hear them!

Reminder – Shudder ARC Giveaway Ends Saturday!

Shudder by Samantha Durante

It’s almost here! Squeeee!!  (Okay, I’m really not a squee-er, but you get the point.)

So I know my blogging has been a little slow lately (sorry!), and that’s because I’ve been working diligently on finishing up the revisions to Shudder and getting this publishing/promotion train MOOOVIN’!

I’ve now got an almost-final ARC manuscript ready to send to the printer (and to myself for e-book formatting, ughhhh), 80+ bloggers signed up for the tour (and more on the way!), and a looooong list of fun guest post ideas for once the tour begins on June 15th!  So we’re making progress, people!

Excited yet??  I know I am!

What can you do to make sure you don’t miss the boat?  Here’s a short list of ideas:

Oh, and don’t forget…  Doing any of the above will earn you entries into the GIVEAWAY for a SIGNED ARC of SHUDDER!!!  I’m not gonna lie – there are already over 4,300 entries into the giveaway and only ONE prize up for grabs, so your chances aren’t exactly great… but miracles happen, right??  Someone’s gotta win this baby!  Who says it won’t be you?

Anyway, be sure to enter below if you haven’t already.  The winner will be selected this weekend, so hold your breath until then (or maybe not – I definitely don’t need any lawsuits…)  I wish you all the best of luck!  :-D

Enter the Giveaway HERE!!!

“You are sick!” AKA Final Shudder-o-Meter Beta Reader Comments

When I finished the first draft of Shudder a few days ago, I promised I would follow up with some beta reader reactions after they’d had some time to read.  Well, here you go!  :-)

Yeah, the beta readers kinda looked a little like this…

“You are sick!”

“What is <name hidden to avoid spoilers> thinking??  Betraying the rebels?  Really??”

“AHHHH WHY DOESN’T SHE KILL HIM?”

“I’m actually experiencing a book hangover after finishing that, so I decided to re-read Stitch for a little hair-of-the-dog while I wait for the revised draft.” 

“Did you finish the third book yet?  B/c I need it, NOW.”

Muahahahaha – aren’t you just dying to know what they’re all talking about??  Well don’t feel bad, b/c I’m dying to share it – trust me, this whole waiting thing is as painful for me as it is for you!!

And with this post, I’m officially retiring the Shudder-o-Meter, since as of right now it looks like we’re on track for the June 15th release.  Shudder is now in the hands of the second round of beta readers, and then I’ll be moving into the heavy revision process, then formatting, and – finally! – publication.  BAM.

In the meantime, I’m also starting to get the Shudder Blog Tour set up so… posting might be a little slow around here for the next few weeks.  But don’t worry, b/c I’ve already got 97 blogs (!!) signed up for the tour, so there will be PLENTY of new content come June!  Can’t wait!

It’s finally here: Shudder-o-Meter reaches 100%!!!

Put on your party hats, people – I’ve got news!  As of about 15 minutes ago, the Shudder-o-Meter is 100% complete!!!

Ta-daaaaa!

Shudder-o-Meter: 100%

That’s right!  After a MARATHON weekend of writing, the first draft is finished, fini, finito, caput!

And I’m so, so excited about how it turned out.  No beta reader comments yet – I need to give them a few days to read the final chapters – but I’ll post some as soon I hear back from them.  Trust me, after the last chapter… they’re going to have some things to say.  <Evil grin.>

Update coming soon!  :-D

Update: Here’s a link to the beta reader reactions.

Shudder-o-Meter reaches 71%! “Racy!!!”

Update on the Shudder-o-Meter: it reached 71%!  That’s almost 3/4’s done!

Shudder-o-Meter: 71%

Here’s what the beta readers had to say about the latest set of chapters:

“I think they should have packed bigger guns…”

“I really loved these chapters.  Keep ’em coming!”

“Oooh, a bit racy!!!”

We’re about to get into some of the biggest reveals of the story, so I’m really excited to finish up!!  My goal is to complete the first draft by the end of the month, but I’ll be honest – I’m not sure if I’m going to make that goal, especially with Easter going on the last Sunday of the month (Sundays are usually big writing days for me).  But I’ll do my best!  Worst case, the draft should be done by the end of the first weekend in April.  Almost there!!!

Shudder-o-Meter hits 55%! “Firepower? < maniacal grin >“

As I’d hoped, the beta readers had a chance to catch up on the latest chapters over the weekend, so here’s your Shudder-o-Meter update: 55%!

Shudder-o-Meter: 55%

Here’s what they had to say:

“Whew – I’m relieved.  Almost cried in the last chapters!” (Coming from someone who doesn’t cry easily, that’s quite a compliment!)

“Looks like they found what they were looking for!!”

“Did they just stumble upon some… firepower? <maniacal grin>”

More updates coming next week!

Shudder-o-Meter 1/2 Done!! “He CAN’T actually be dying, right??”

Ah, I’m such a turd!  I totally forgot to post this week’s Shudder-o-Meter update, which is all the more a shame because I was SO excited to share that I’m JUST ABOUT HALF DONE!

See?  48%!

Shudder-o-Meter: 48%I’m sitting down now to start my chapters for this week, so I’m going to skip the beta reader comments and get to work!  …Okay, fine here’s one to hold you over:

“He CAN’T actually be dying, right???  You wouldn’t do that to Alessa!  PLEASE don’t do that to Alessa!!”