Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Thoughts'

Flailing About

I have finished the rough draft of the current novel-in-progress. It’s not done by any means, but now I have the whole of the story in my head and I can see so many places that need fixing. However, I haven’t started fixing the novel yet. I’m in that in-between phase that few authors ever speak of.

It’s the “Flailing About” Phase.

My experience is that I have just spent the last 4-6 weeks on “deadline mode.” This mode includes things like “no internet before word count” and “2000 words a day” and “hard core focus on the novel” and nothing else. Lots of creative people know what that’s like.

But, just like post-con blues are a thing, so is the post-novel flap. You’ve known what you were to do everyday for a month without exception. You’ve gotten into the groove. But now the groove is gone. It’s almost like discovering you have hands and discovering your pants have no pockets. What the heck to you do with your hands now?

If you are a regular writer, I recommend a quick once-over, adding all the things you know you need to add RIGHT NOW. Then putting the manuscript away for three months while you write something (anything) else. But, as I am a media tie-in writer, too, I don’t have time for that. I need to turn in the polished manuscript within 3 weeks. That’s my deadline.

But I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna work on the novel. I don’t wanna do the work I know I need to do. What do I want to do? I don’t know and I don’t wanna figure it out. See: flailing about.

Usually I have a bunch of interviews lined up to work on. Which I did this time, too. But they are done. And I polish-edited a short story and turned it in already. I have 3 more short stories to write but I’m not anywhere near doing them. I haven’t even outlined them on paper. Maybe I have in my head, but I don’t want to face the tyranny of the blank page. It is so much easier to fix what’s on the page than to create it wholesale.

Which leads me back to…start the next pass on the novel…and I don’t wanna.

Thus, I’m writing a blog post about the situation. I’m sure other authors have written about this phase of the novel writing process, but I figured it couldn’t hurt if other authors (and readers) understood a little more of what some authors (at least me) sometimes go through. The process of writing and editing novels is always changing, but I think the general phases of the process remain the same.

See? That’s about 500 words of verbal flailing and “productive procrastination” to help me avoid the edits I will begin next. Or tomorrow. It all depends on whether or not I figure out something else to do to avoid what I don’t want to do now.

But still, by tomorrow, I will roll up my sleeves and dive into fixing the novel because this is the “post” part of my mantra of “fix it in post.”

Have a cat picture. Here's Mena in her tower.

50 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years, Part 5

Being in my fifties now, I thought it would be a good thing to think about some thoughts I’ve learned that I’ve incorporated into my life—or try to. I’m not perfect. I’ve broken these 50 things in to five groups: Emotions, Habits, Love, Career, and Perspective. I will post one section a week for five weeks. This week’s section is: Perspective.

The thing about perspective is that its wisdom only comes in retrospect. It is experience from the past that allows you to manage the present and mitigate future problems before they can become problems. It is this ability to compare and contrast situations while extrapolating the possible outcomes before they happen. At the same time, it is an ability to think and act instead of merely reacting.

Perspective is when a younger person goes to an older person for advice and there is a look of recognition in that older person’s eyes, but their words are tempered with the knowledge that how it happened to them, the details of how it could happen for another are different. The devil is in the details, but human nature has its commonalities.

These bits of perspective are based on my experiences, but I think they hold wisdom for those who recognize the situations.

  1. Perspective: When someone tells you who they are by their jokes, actions, or words…believe them. It will be better for you in the long run. Especially if their “jokes” are mean or punch down. This is what they will do to you when they no longer feel the need to impress.
  2. Perspective: When I learned to lose (or fail) with grace, life got a lot more pleasant. A non-success is not the end of the world. Sometimes, it’s the only way we learn.
  3. Perspective: Food is weirdly personal. Don’t tell anyone about the diet you follow unless you want to hear (from mostly non-professionals) why you are wrong. I mean both diet as in “what you eat on a regular basis” and “what you eat for X health reason.”
  4. Perspective: There is nothing more enticing that belonging to an exclusive group; to be chosen. Be sure that the group you are joining is worthy of you and your values before you join. If you discover they are not after you have joined, do everything in your power to leave.
  5. Perspective: If someone gossips about everyone around them to you, you can bet they are gossiping about you to everyone else.
  6. Perspective: Once you figure out ultimatums are all about what you control, the better you will be at drawing lines in the sand—personally and professionally. If they do X, you will do Y. You cannot control what other people do. All you can do is inform them how you will act if they cross your line. Sometimes, they don’t deserve even that much information.
  7. Perspective: You are never too old to learn (or relearn) the basics. I finally learned how to properly blow-dry my hair at the age of fifty. I had my hairdresser show me how she would do it.
  8. Perspective: If you can travel, do it. Get out of your comfort zone. Experience a different culture. It will expand your world in more ways than one.
  9. Perspective: When you learn how to say “no” your life will be so much better for it.
  10. Perspective: When things get rough, ask yourself “Will this matter in a day, a week, a month, a year, 5 years from now?” It helps you get perspective on what is happening in the immediate. If that is too abstract, think about where you were 1, 5, 10 years ago and how your life has changed.

50 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years, Part 4

Being in my fifties now, I thought it would be a good thing to think about some thoughts I’ve learned that I’ve incorporated into my life—or try to. I’m not perfect. I’ve broken these 50 things in to five groups: Emotions, Habits, Love, Career, and Perspective. I will post one section a week for five weeks. This week’s section is: Career.

A “career” is officially defined as “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life and with opportunities for progress.” This used to mean you picked a job and a company and you did the same thing for the same company, progressing up a defined ladder of success for the rest of your life. It does not mean this anymore. A career is what you make of it. A career now means (to me) a general topic of industry you work in for yourself and others that changes over time.

I, myself, am in the third part of my third career. The first was everything I did before and during college to support myself (retail, server, TA, computer center tech). The second was as a Software QA engineer (Game tester, black box tester, Test lead, QA Manager). The third is as a publishing industry professional. First as solely an author, then author and editor, then author, editor, and publisher. The rest (twitch streaming, podcasting, blogging, etc…) are incidentals in my publishing career. They are not the mainstay. Nor do they pay the bills. But they enhance my publishing career and give me other opportunities.

These lessons are just ten of the many lessons I have learned over time. I think the more I learn about my chosen career, the more I understand what I don’t actually know about it. That realization, in and of itself, is priceless.

  1. Career: Learn when you work best, then build your schedule around that.
  2. Career: You get determine what equals “Success” for you. No one else. Don’t compare your success to another because they have not lived the life you have lived nor have the same values you have.
  3. Career: Learning to use the word “No” is both vital and a privilege. Sometimes you cannot say “no” when you want to. Sometimes you must say “no” in order to protect yourself, your time, your (chosen) family, and your sanity. “No, thank you.” is such a powerful phrase.
  4. Career: It is important to volunteer to teach your expert knowledge to schools and libraries. The more you teach, the more you learn. More importantly, you impart your knowledge to people who have a different perspective than you and can use that information in their future.
  5. Career: Never be afraid to ask an expert about something. Experts usually love to talk about the thing they are good at. They have a wealth of knowledge and are happy to share.
  6. Career: Knowing what you are worth is everything. Figure out what your time is worth then charge that much plus 10%. If the person hiring you is an asshole, add 30%.
  7. Career: Be willing to let jobs go. Figure out what your time is worth. At the same time, figure out how much you will actually accept for that job based on the circumstances. Set that boundary and don’t move it for anyone.
  8. Career: Never be the smartest person in the room. You always want to be learning from someone.
  9. Career: Leveling up to a “better class of problem” doesn’t mean it is any less of a problem to be dealt with.
  10. Career: Remember, unsolicited advice is always a critique. This goes both ways—offering or receiving unsolicited advice.

50 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years, Part 3

Being in my fifties now, I thought it would be a good thing to think about some thoughts I’ve learned that I’ve incorporated into my life—or try to. I’m not perfect. I’ve broken these 50 things in to five groups: Emotions, Habits, Love, Career, and Perspective. I will post one section a week for five weeks. This week’s section is: Love.

Love, in all its myriad forms, is complex, messy, beautiful, life-giving, soul-rending, and a thousand-thousand other adjectives, metaphors, and thoughts. I think, in essence, love is what makes us human. Family love, platonic love, ardent love, self-love (can’t forget that last one even though so many of us do for so much of our lives). I think love is one of the most important things we can recognize. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

  1. Love: Love that one thing. I mean, really love it. Unabashedly. Wholeheartedly. That hobby, that fandom, that sport, that craft. Love it with all of yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not okay.
  2. Love: Tell your beloveds that you love them. Use your words and your actions.
  3. Love: Love does not solve all problems, but it does help facilitate patience, empathy, compassion, understanding, and a host of other emotions and feelings between people.
  4. Love: In all relationships, manners matter. Especially with those closest to you, the ones you love the most. “Please.” and “Thank you.” go a long way.
  5. Love: Learning to declutter what you do not absolutely love/want in your life is such a valuable skill. I mean this physically, emotionally, and mentally. That way you surround yourself with only those things you appreciate.
  6. Love: Sometimes the best way to love someone is to listen to them with an open heart and a closed mouth.
  7. Love: When you are comfortable enough to discuss body fluid issues with someone, that is love—be it platonic, familial, or eros. Love includes all the disgusting stuff we go through, too. It’s part of what makes us human.
  8. Love: Loving yourself in all shapes, sizes, and ages is an act of rebellion tempered with the need to keep yourself healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally in a culture designed to gaslight you into buying things you don’t really want or need so that corporations can turn a profit.
  9. Love: If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself. You are worth that much love.
  10. Love: Use pet names for yourself (Dearheart, Sweetie, Hunkaluv, etc…) and not insults. Especially when self-correcting. “No, Dearheart, today is Tuesday, not Friday.”

50 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years, Part 2

Being in my fifties now, I thought it would be a good thing to think about some thoughts I’ve learned that I’ve incorporated into my life—or try to. I’m not perfect. I’ve broken these 50 things in to five groups: Emotions, Habits, Love, Career, and Perspective. I will post one section a week for five weeks. This week’s section is: Habits.

Habits. These are the buttons that we (and other people) program into ourselves so we do things without thinking too hard about it. It’s a little like driving on autopilot. Get up and brush your teeth. Make coffee before going to work. Brush your hair before you go out the door. Wash clothing on Wednesday. The list of mundanity goes on. They keep life moving. These are all habits.

Most of these habits start out as accidental or something that our parents drilled into us as children. As adults, after we have learned just how useful healthy habits are, we need to force them into being. It’s not as easy as when we were children. As adults, when we want to establish a new habit, we need to work at it, plan it, and take deliberate action to plant the seeds. It takes time and mental energy to create these new patterns. Here are some of my most important habits.

  1. Habit: Don’t put it down, put it away. This will save you so much time in the long run.
  2. Habit: Do the hardest thing first. Especially if you really don’t want to do it. (This is the "eat the frog first" thought.)
  3. Habit: If you shouldn’t have it, don’t have it in the house. Life is so much easier that way.
  4. Habit: Get a fifteen minute timer. You can survive anything for fifteen minutes. Use for cleaning/tidying, writing, decluttering, meditating. Anything you have resistance to. Fifteen minutes is such a doable timeframe.
  5. Habit: If it’s really important, note it down somewhere (handwritten or typed) where you regularly look for what you have forgotten. Otherwise, you will forget it. Trust me.
  6. Habit: Pill sorters and phone/computer alarms/calendars will save you a lot of pain and sometimes save you embarrassment. These tools aren’t just for old people. Use the tools at your disposal and make life easier.
  7. Habit: Keep a five year journal at least once in your life. This habit will give you snapshots of memory to look back on as well as perspective.
  8. Habit: At least once a day, when eating, focus on the meal and do nothing else except listen to music or have a good conversation. Not only will your body be fed, your mind will be rested and you will remember what you ate.
  9. Habit: Understand the difference between doing something because you enjoy it versus doing something because you “always” do that thing—whether it is your morning routine, a hobby, or date night activities.
  10. Habit: Once a day, remind yourself three things you are grateful for. It’s a good way to start a day. It’s a good way to end a day. You don't have to write it down if you don't want to. You just have to bring it to mind.

Next up: Love.

50 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years, Part 1

Being in my fifties now, I thought it would be a good thing to think about some thoughts I’ve learned that I’ve incorporated into my life—or try to. I’m not perfect. I’ve broken these 50 things in to five groups: Emotions, Habits, Love, Career, and Perspective. I will post one section a week for five weeks. This week’s section is: Emotions.

Emotions. These things are intrinsic to all of us but are sometimes unfathomable. Many times we react rather than hold and contemplate then act. That’s because some of these emotions were programmed into us through interactions with others. Other emotions have been hard earned through experience.

  1. Emotions: You will survive. You may not enjoy it, but you will survive. I think this was the first personal rule I put in place in my life in my tweens.
  2. Emotions: Learn when to thank someone for their understanding of a thing instead of apologizing. Especially apologizing for existing.
  3. Emotions: Sometimes it’s better to sit with a feeling (even if it isn’t good) to understand and process it than to ignore or suppress it. Sit with it as if it were a young child who is hurting and there is nothing to do to help except to be there and validate their emotions.
  4. Emotions: No one is a mind reader. If you want or need something, use your words. It will go better for you and for the ones around you. Hinting at things you want or need tends to lead to disappointment and resentment.
  5. Emotions: Don’t just save your best stuff for everyone else. Treat yourself to your best. At least once a week, use the “good” dishes, wear the expensive cologne, dress up, and/or primp. Just for you. Doesn’t matter if you are staying in to watch videos or going out to run errands. Gift yourself with things you value/prize. You are allowed to feel wonderful just for yourself.
  6. Emotions: Tattoos are “forever.” When getting a tattoo (especially the first couple)…if you can think about having the same tattoo on the same part of your body for a full year, no deviations, you’re ready for a tattoo. If not, you’re not ready.
  7. Emotions: Be aware that tattoos are addictive. It’s hard to get just one. Thus, be picky and be specific.
  8. Emotions: Watch how the people in your life talk about, or treat, their family, their ex-friends/ex-lovers, and waitstaff at restaurants. That’s how they will treat you when they no longer want to impress you.
  9. Emotions: Living in “interesting times” is both a boon and a curse. Sometimes your attitude is the difference between one or the other.
  10. Emotions: Understand when you are venting if you need a blanket (comfort) or a sword (help) and ask for that in specific. Sometimes the person you are asking will be yourself.

Next up: Habits.

Wrap-up and Looking Forward All in One

Each year, I wrap up what I’ve done and how I feel about the year. I have the urge to give caveats and excuses for the “lack of work” I did in 2023. I’m not going to do that. I deliberately took the first half of 2023 off and I don’t regret it. Still, when you are a full-time freelancer in the publishing industry, you often feel like you live and die by the cold hard numbers. I’ve been doing this for 17 years now and I think I’ve almost learned that my self-worth is not wrapped up in these yearly report cards.

2023 Numbers

  • New words written: 91,000 (2 novellas, 5 short stories, beginning a new novel)
  • Words edited (for others): 307,400
  • Works submitted: 10
    • Acceptances: 5 (50%)
    • Rejections: 4 (40%)
    • Still out: 1 (10%)
  • New works published: 2 omnibuses: 1 new, 1 re-release (Tears of Perseus and Never Let Me respectively, 1 novella, 1 collection, 1 anthology, 1 short story.
  • Works that got pushed to 2024: 2 anthologies, 3 short stories

This is a respectable amount of work no matter what my inner critic says. I don’t mind it as long as I remember that I didn’t start writing in earnest until July 2023. Also, a number of projects that were supposed to be released this year didn’t happen. So, there’s that. There are the numbers. Do with them what you will.


Looking Forward to 2024

Of course, taking it easy in the beginning of 2023 means that I’m already deep into the weeds of things for 2024. I’m working on a new Shadowrun novel that is the end of my YA Shadowrun series. It has a tight deadline. I have four contracted short stories due in the first half of the year that I need to write in and around the novel. I also have two anthologies in the works for publication in 2024. Both are in the end stages. So, yes, there’s already a lot going on.

Then there is Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980.” This is a unique, middle grade-appropriate ghost story told through 24 physical letters, and is a passion project I conceived over five years ago. I finally got the ball rolling this year. The kickstarter for it is at the end of March 2024. Once it funds (dear universe, please), I’ll have 15 months of physical and digital rewards to send out. The Husband will be helping me, but it is still a lot of work. I am so excited about it. Won’t you be my penpal?

On the freelancing side of things, I’ll be taking on more editing for Catalyst Game Labs while writing for them. Shepherding the anthologies through their end stages. Writing contracted and other short stories. At this time, I have four in-person conventions planned: Norwescon, Origins Game Fair, Gen Con*, and Can-Con. I’m the Editor GoH of Can-Con. I’ll be a dealer at Norwescon and Origins as well as doing panels. (Gen Con isn’t confirmed but is hoped for.)

In general, after I get this first novel done, I plan on 2024 being a new, steady, busy (but not too busy) year for me. I’m hoping 2024 is the year I figure out how to keep work and life actually balanced and not the pretend stuff I’ve done for the last few years. I know there are some big changes coming up in my life and I’m looking forward to experiencing them.

I hope you have had a lovely holiday season and I wish you a bright new year. May you realize as many of your hopes and dreams as it is feasible within the laws of physics. (Me? I will never stop wishing for my own TARDIS.)

External Forces Can Be A Writer’s Best Friend

Once upon a time, almost three years ago to the day, I got the urge to write a near future SF mystery story set in a subaquatic city involving robotic pets. I had been inspired by a mini-documentary about the AIBO robotic dogs in Japan. It only took me a couple of weeks to write the novella. I knew it was good, but it wasn’t great. I needed another set of eyes on it.

Then, the awesome Marie Bilodeau offered to edit it. She did so in short order and had some insightful things to say about it. While she did love it, there were some definite, specific issues—some of which she outlined in her email to me. The rest she left as comments in the manuscript. I knew she was right about it all, but by that time, the shine had worn off the project, it was just a personal story I had written with no market in mind, and I had other contracted novels to write.

Thus, it languished in my email for three years.

It’s no secret that I’ve been taking the first quarter of this year easy. I’ve pushed myself hard for the last five years (five novels and six novellas and everything else), thus when this year’s contracts got delayed, I decided to relax a little. Until I remembered I had several personal projects I wanted to work on. Which I did…sorta. None of them had due dates or markets in mind. Still, I wanted to work on them while I waited.

Thus, I did—on one of them: Dear Penpal. But mostly I tinkered at it. What should have taken merely a month to write is only 1/3 written in the last four months. As a full-time writer, this won’t do. If I don’t have contracts or deadlines, I still need to write. I have an agent and cats to feed.

Coming to this conclusion, two things in the universe conspired to help me. First, another publishing professional like me (author/editor/RPG writer/media tie-in writer) asked for an accountability buddy on a discord we’re both on. As someone who never wants to be the smartest person in the room, I knew her by her considerable reputation and jumped at the chance.

(As an aside, I’ve discovered the perfect accountability buddy for me is someone I know in a professional capacity, am friendly with on acquaintance terms, and respect, but not someone I hang out with on a regular basis. We chat during our meetings, but it is all work related chat. There’s something about wanting to impress this familiar stranger that really pushes my “get it done” button. But I digress…)

The other thing that happened is that Uncanny Magazine opened up for novellas from May 1-15. At the time I read that, I had about two-to-four weeks to whip my languishing novella into shape and submit it. Suddenly, I had a deadline. Not only that, I had a professional author I was now meeting with weekly to talk about what I did that previous week—did I meet my goals? Why or why not and what’s next?

Long story short—I revised, edited, and polished that SF novella in just under three weeks and submitted it to Uncanny Magazine. Whether or not they accept it (and I hope they do), I’m pleased to have finally finished it. It’s a wonderful story. Thanks to Marie’s astute observations from three years ago, I think the novella turned out pretty good.  

Now, I have Dear Penpal to work on while I wait for the various (editing and writing) projects that are on my radar but haven’t landed yet. After all, I have an accountability buddy to answer to and time to do it. No excuses left.

Blanket or the Sword

Recently, I’ve been watching Quincy’s Tavern on Instagram. I find his bartender shorts amusing, soothing, and appropriately geeky. However, I did come across one of them that made me think. It’s called Blanket or Sword? It is a quicker, more fun way of asking: do you want comfort or a solution?

This is something I’ve come to lean on a lot recently. The world is tough right now. Friends are ill or their personhood is under attack. There is a lot to be sad or worried or angry about. The trick is not to get caught up in a doom spiral—either as the person speaking or the person listening.

When someone complains about (or explains) a problem, you have choices on how to respond. As I think most of us have realized that we aren’t telepathic, text is an imperfect medium, and sometimes you don’t actually know what the speaker is asking for, it is better to be direct and ask. Sometimes the person is venting and needs a listener. Sometimes the person is aggressively asking for help while venting. Sometimes…and this is the tricky point…the person is complaining just to hear themselves talk, and they have an answer on why every single suggestion you make just won’t work.

It is this third person who saps the life and empathy out of every sympathetic / well-meaning person. There is such a thing as empathy fatigue. It’s a sad place to be in. It’s the kind of place that allows you to listen to a loved one’s tale of woe and not respond or to respond badly. (Which, in my case, comes with a side helping of guilt later when I think about the interaction.)

I really think that more people need to be willing and able to ask “Blanket or the Sword?” or “Are you venting or asking for help?” I also think we, who need the blanket or the sword, must strive to be aware of our need at the time because there is nothing more frustrating than someone who either won’t listen or will turn away every single suggestion with an “it will never work” attitude.

Leeloo in a suitcase.
We all need a little help sometimes. Leeloo once trapped herself in my suitcase.

Thinking About Thinking as an Author

Here’s something I do as an author: I think. A lot. About pretty much everything in regards to writing any length of work. Admittedly, the shorter the work, the less I have to think about it unless it is something in a very, very specific format or is on something I am not super familiar with.

Right now, I’m thinking about my next YA Shadowrun novella, The Kilimanjaro Run. It is the fourth in the series (even though each novella is standalone, there is a throughput line). It’s taken me weeks to figure out what POV this novella should be written in. Partly because I’m not familiar with the physical location where the novella will be taking place. Partly because I couldn’t decide who would be the best point of view character. That difficulty has come down to not having the confidence/experience to write the story from the POV character I would like to write it from. Thus, after much internal debate (and my editor’s approval), I will write it from the POV character I am most comfortable with, and the one the readers would be most likely to forgive should I muck things up. I have already hired a sensitivity reader. Hopefully, that will help with the not-mucking-up part of things.

In the meantime, I’m thinking…about the story…about the characters…about specific scenes. Basically, thinking about everything I’m going to write. I haven’t written much yet. Art notes for the cover (talk about putting the cart before the horse). An nascent outline. Character names with 1-3 lines of background. Facts about hippopotamuses and Tanzania. The first paragraph in the story (which I’m sure I’m going to toss out and start over, but it’s easy to start with a brief edit than to stare at the tyranny of the blank page). Probably about 600 words in total.

What does thinking about writing look like? For me, it looks like playing PokemonGO, cleaning my house, folding laundry, or doing some other bit of busy work that keeps most of me occupied while my creative part churns. I’m making inspired butter out of creative cream (or is that creative butter out of inspired cream?). Today, thinking looks like updating every single one of my apple devices because I bought more music for the first time in forever. It also looks like processing author bios for my anthology 99 Fleeting Fantasies. And eating lunch. And staring off into space, occasionally having an argument with myself or with the characters in my head. Not to mention writing this blog post.

While it doesn’t look like much, it is hard work. It is mentally taxing. It can be physically tiring. But it’s not the “sexy” part of writing. It’s not really a thing you can show without being stereotypical—and what you “show” is what writer’s block looks like. It’s funny how a writer thinking looks like writer’s block to someone who doesn’t write. It shows the fundamental disconnect between the writer and the reader.

The best way I can describe an author thinking to a reader who is not a writer is an earworm. An earworm of the literary kind in the best, most distracting, way. You don’t know the complete tune, nor do you know all the words, but it is enticing. You know it. But you don’t really know it, yet. You will…but only after it is on the page and has been edited a half a dozen times. Then you will know what the song/story really was all along.

So, that’s what and how I’m doing. What about you?


Mena being adorable in the cat tower.