That Didn’t Go Right

Hello, hello!  How is everyone doing this week?  I’m a bit annoyed at myself if I’m being honest.  I was going over my story’s timeline and looking at the revisions I’ve made when I realized I had made a stupid mistake.  There were two main plot points that I meant to reverse, but apparently in my zeal during my rewriting sessions, I forgot to switch them.  So, today, I’m going to ramble until I figure out some kind of solution for my dilemma.

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Me when I realized why something felt off with my story.

The more I think about it, I have a couple of solutions.  The easiest one would be to leave the story like it is and follow my original plotline.  I admit that I liked this section the way it was, but it drags a little in between scenes this way and there’s no good transition that will speed things up.  Slowness isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It gives the writer a chance to build up the setting or show the characters in different types of interactions.  All of that can give the story depth.  But, it can also cause the reader to put the book down and makes it easier for them not to want to pick it back up.  Which makes this option dangerous.

The other solution would be to go back and add the chapter I wanted to move in the first place.  This would require reading through what I’ve already rewritten and finding the best place to transition to the “new” material, then figuring out how to make that section flow into the old one.  Luckily, I haven’t gotten too far ahead of the switch, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to go back and find a place to insert the other plot point.  And it should speed up the pace of the story.  Plus, some of the scenes in that section would really benefit from appearing earlier in the novel anyway.  My main concern is that, while it sounds great in my head, it won’t work as well on the page and I’ll end up switching everything back to the original order in the next draft.

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Because I’m too lazy to think of any others right now.

Honestly, since my first instinct was to flip these two plot points when I was working out the timeline for the revision, that’s probably what I’ll end up doing.  It’ll be more difficult and time consuming because I’ll have to read through what I have thus far and find a good place to insert a chapter.  However, I think the potential benefits are worth the risk.  It’s not as if I’m on an official deadline or anything.  If it sucks, I have time to switch it back.

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Maybe not always, but enough to trust it.

Have you had any moments where you realized you made a stupid mistake in your creative work recently?  Did you decide to go back and do what you had originally planned or did you go with the flow?  Feel free to share your stories or comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages.

Writer’s Block AKA Stubborn Procrastination

Hello, hello!  I hope everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day or Singles Awareness Day or Excuse for Chocolate Day or whatever you want to call Thursday.  I have no plans, but I do have chocolate.  Huzzah!  Anyway, that’s tomorrow.  Today is about confessions of a writerly nature.  Namely, I haven’t done anything productive since January 20th (the day before the sickness of doom took over).  Yeah, I can blame the illness for about two weeks worth of laziness, but what about the last week and a half?  I had no excuse for vegging out.  So, I thought I would talk a little about what some people call writer’s block and my plan to deal with it.

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This is true.

First off, I want to say that I don’t particularly like the term “writer’s block.”  It sounds like something that just happens, something you have no control over.  For some people, that might be true.  Other people might enjoy having the excuse, being able to say that their lack of writing time is out of their control.  Not me.  I fully acknowledge that when I’m not writing, I’m usually procrastinating.  It’s rare for me to run out of words, at least on fictional things.  Motivation is my biggest issue.  And sometimes, I admit that the procrastination bug digs deep and stubbornly refuses to let go.  It’s what’s happening right now.  My motivation is low due to an influx of rejections I’ve been expecting (because of my year-end submissions that are just now being looked at).  It’s hard to want to write and revise when you keep getting told “it’s not for us, but good luck elsewhere.”  So, when the opportunity to procrastinate presented itself, I didn’t bother fighting it.

However, it’s about time for me to get over myself and get back to writing regularly.  Before the sickness decided to knock out all my will to work, I was actually struggling back into a decent rhythm.  How?  I joined a sprint group and one of the leaders happens to write around the same time I do during the week (early evening).  So, I have the support of checking in after each sprint and being held accountable.  Even if the leaders aren’t doing sprints, I can still create my own sprints and see if anyone wants to join me.  It’s a super helpful group for me and I plan to get back into it this week.

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I feel this on a deep level.

Aside from the sprint group, I need to find other forms of motivation as well, otherwise I know I’ll eventually fall back into the procrastination pit.  The problem is that I don’t respond well to self-appointed rewards.  Mostly because I usually forgo the rewards.  I promise myself anime or manga and by the time I get everything done, I’m either too lazy to find something to watch/read or it’s time for dinner and TV with Dad.  I guess all I can do is keep trying different things until I find something that works for me.

What about you?  How do you battle writer’s block or the procrastination bug?  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts on DEAD AS A DOOR KNOCKER

Howdy, howdy!  Since I missed last month’s book review, I figured I would go ahead and do it this week.  After all, I’m only a week late.  That’s not too bad, right?  For January, I picked up an advanced reader copy (ARC) of the first book in a new cozy mystery series.  Dead as a Door Knocker is the the first book in Diane Kelly’s House Flipper Mysteries.  As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for granting me access to this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, we might as well get to the review!

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Cover is relevant to the book, but the knocker is all wrong.  It’s supposed to be the Green Man.

Dead as a Door Knocker introduces us to Whitney Whitaker, a 28-year-old who enjoys helping her cousins remodel houses and harbors dreams of becoming a real estate guru.  She lives with her parents and her cat, Sawdust, in Nashville and works at a small mom-and-pop property management firm.  When the firm’s biggest client offers her a deal on a property that’s too good to be true, she jumps on it.  However, the guy is murdered on the site and everything goes haywire from there.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I didn’t like this book.  The story was the same as every other cozy, which could have been fine.  Combine it with the fact that the main character is extremely unlikable and not even the parts from the cat’s point of view could save it.  Why is Whitney unlikable?  First off, she’s 28 and acts like she’s 15.  If she doesn’t get her way, she pouts or throws a fit.  Second, she’s a bully.  She runs around questioning people like she’s a cop or something, ambushing people and even forcing her foot in doorways so people can’t close the door, then has the gall the get upset when she gets a glass of iced tea thrown in her face.  I had zero respect for her.

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My thoughts exactly.

The background characters were flat and only served to enable Whitney’s antics.  She dragged her cousin and her best friend around as bodyguards, neither of whom ever bothered pointing out when she was crossing boundaries.  The detective let her go based on weak arguments and tantrums.  I get that it’s a story and all, but it still needs to be believable.  None of these characters came across as actual people, especially the police.

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Basically.

As far as the writing goes, it was a tight, quick read.  Every other sentence seemed like a well-worn cliché or at least a play on one.  If the author was aiming to make Whitney sound like a 15-year-old, she was spot on.  But don’t go into it hoping for the 28-year-old we’re supposed to be getting.

Ultimately, I was super disappointed in this story.  I just couldn’t get past the characters.  It’s not a series I’ll be following.

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Overall, I gave Dead as a Door Knocker one star out of five.  Pretty sure this is a first for me.  I honestly feel bad.  I really wanted to like it, but nope.  If you’re okay with childish characters and unrealistic police officers, try it.  Otherwise, you’re not missing anything.

A Quick Explanation

Howdy, howdy!  Last week was a series of unfortunate events.  On Sunday (the 20th), I had a mishap and injured my knee.  Spent Monday in bed to baby it.  Got sick on Tuesday  with one of those illnesses no one wants to know about and have been struggling to recover ever since.  This past Monday, I got a shot and some amoxicillin.  I’m slowly on the mend.  But!  I haven’t been productive and I haven’t even finished reading my book that I was supposed to review this week.  Hopefully, I’ll be back next week to review that and get on track!  I think I’m going to go rest now.

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What’s Your Novel Really About?

Howdy, howdy!  Have you ever run into one of those people who asks what your novel-in-progress is about, but after you explain it to them, they’re all like “no, what is it really about…”?  They’re usually English majors or something along that line: people who can’t accept that sometimes, in writing, blue curtains are just blue curtains.  These are the deep thinkers, the over-analyzers.  And they’re usually pretty cool people.  But if you aren’t prepared for the question, it can be annoying and frustrating.  Especially if you’re like me and don’t consciously build underlying themes into your work.  So, I thought I would take a minute to ramble about hidden meanings and all that fun stuff.

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It’s the controversial meme of (writerly) doom!

Like I said, I don’t go into a writing session with the purpose of bringing a particular lesson to the page.  I don’t know many people who do.  The few I know who have tried doing this come across as preachy and, in all honesty, more than a little douchenozzly.  (This was a long time ago and in no way reflects my current circles.)  I like to let things happen naturally, especially in a first draft.  If the story is good, themes and hidden meanings will bury themselves into the story and eventually make themselves known.

How do I know this?  Because when I was doing exercises from Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision, one of the things I had to do was state the main vision of the novel I was preparing to revise.  I had no idea what LR was about in any deep sense.  I didn’t really care.  The story and characters were fun, so why did it need to be about anything other than dragons and war?  Then, I started reading through it and noticed a weird trend.  When everyone listened to each other and thought things through, there was forward momentum.  When everyone just argued and ignored things, everything stalled out.  So, I ended up with a sticky note on my computer that says “Vision: Looking at conflict from multiple angles (including the enemy’s) allows one greater access to the Truth and the ability to make difficult decisions.”

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At least he’s honest.

It turns out that listening and understanding are things I write about a lot.  I don’t know why.  It’s kind of like when Nancy Holder told me that young people getting dragged into new worlds was “classic Shawna.”  I had no idea.  Apparently, it’s what I gravitate towards without realizing it.  Granted, listening isn’t the only thing hidden in my stories, but I think it’s a lesson we all need to consider getting into the habit of, especially right now.  Maybe that’s why I notice it cropping up more and more in my stuff.

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Surprises are… fun?

Anyway, I suppose all of this just boils down to the fact that I think it’s kind of neat to see things I never intended to write about pop up in my stories.  So, while I may not know what my novel is about when you ask, I’ll eventually figure it out during revision.  What about you?  What themes pop up in your work?  Feel free to share your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Writing Stints: I Should Get Back to Those

Howdy, howdy!  How is everyone’s year going so far?  I’ve been fairly productive in getting ready to dive back into revisions in a serious manner.  I read through the revisions thus far, made sure I knew where I was going with things, and reviewed the plot to come.  But I admit that it’s a daunting task to sit down and seriously work on the story.  That’s why I’ve been looking into different variations of writing stints/time management methods.  I thought I would ramble on about a few of my options today, since I have nothing else to write about.

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This is not wrong.

For a while, a friend and I did a couple of hour long stints a day (or when we were both writing at the same time).  In other words, we’d check in with each other with our goals for our stints that day, write (or revise or blog or whatever we needed to do) for an hour, take a short break to check in and rest, then repeat the last two steps until we met our goals or were exhausted.  That method worked for me.  It helped me concentrate and reporting in with said friend helped hold me accountable.  Unfortunately, life gets in the way of these things and makes it impossible for us to do this at the moment.  And, honestly, I don’t know if I could keep up that kind of momentum on my own.  An hour is a long time.  That’s why I’ve been looking at other options.

One of the most popular options for time management seems to be the Pomodoro Technique.  Yes, it means tomato.  Supposedly, the guy who started it used a tomato shaped timer.  In this one, you select a task and work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and repeat 4 times, after which you take a 15 minute break then start all over again until you’re done.  It sounds useful and there are tons of apps to use that will help with my accountability issues.  I might try this.

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Apparently this is a thing.

Some of my other friends have recently started doing a 15 minute stint followed by two half hour stints and another 15 minute stint to finish up.  They take short breaks between each stint to check in with each other as well.  It’s a method they found on Twitter through Leigh Bardugo.  Our writing schedules just don’t mesh, so I haven’t been able to join them, but it seems like a helpful style.  Maybe live tweeting progress during breaks could even work for me.  Or at least posting progress on my private Facebook page.  I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to publicly announce how slow I am.

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Because cunning is better than speed.

Anyway, this is all to say that I need to start doing stints again.  I’ll probably try my old way on my own for a while.  If that fails, I’ll try the Pomodoro Technique.  What about you?  Do you have any time management tips?  What do you do to get yourself on track?  Feel free to share your thoughts, methods, or comments here or on my social media pages!

A Time For Goals

Hello, hello!  Welcome to 2019!  Since it’s only the 2nd day of the year, I thought I would share my goals.  I did this type of post for last year as well, but I failed pretty miserably.  In 2018, I finished the first draft of DS1, started revisions on LR1, wrote 3 new short stories/flash fiction pieces, submitted 2 short stories/flash pieces/poems a week (earning myself a publication and a handful of personal rejections), and I read 29 books.  I started out strong early in the year, but eventually lost steam.  Hopefully, I can find a steady pace that won’t wear out on me in 2019.  On to the goals!

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True.  Also, I guess 2016 just kind of disappeared into the aether.

1. Finish revising LR1.  I still have a lot of work to do on this book, but I adore the characters and the story line.  I’m shooting for a finish date of early April.  At least finishing the second draft, at which point I’ll have to find some trusty beta readers (always the hardest part in my experience).  I might even look into prices for professional editing, so I can get some expert feedback.  We’ll see how it goes.  First, I have to finish revising it.

2. Revise DS1.  My mind has been randomly drifting to this book for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been reading so many cozy mysteries that I really want to get back to working on my own.  It’s a series I’m considering using a pseudonym for, though that means I’m getting ahead of myself.  I have to revise it and get an agent or publisher interested, then I can worry about names and all that fancy stuff.  A woman can dream, though.

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Non-existent Jekyll. Has a nice ring to it.

3. Submit short stories/flash pieces (at least 2 subs a week).  I want to keep this habit going for as long as I can.  It’s sometimes really difficult to find at least semi-pro paying places to submit a story that’s been out in slush limbo on and off for over a year, but I keep looking.  I haven’t had to retire a piece because of that yet.  Hopefully this year will bring more acceptances and more awesome venues for submitting!

4. Write 5 short stories/flash pieces.  A break between revisions is always a good thing.  Last year, I aimed a little too high on my short story goals, so I decided to be more sensible.  I already have one short story brewing for a project with some friends.  Maybe getting that one written will help grease the wheels, so to speak.

5. Shop LR around to agents.  This is a goal that is a tad ambitious, which is good.  It all depends on how well the revisions on LR go and whether or not it requires another round of them.  It’ll give me something to strive for.

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Look at the cute puppy!

6. Read 30 books.  I didn’t include a reading goal last year, but my goal was 24 books.  I managed to read 29 books, so I thought I would try to one up that.  But I’m a slow reader.  Hopefully, I can get through 30 books.

What about you?  What are your goals for 2019?  Feel free to share them or your thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts on A SPELL OF MURDER

Howdy, howdy!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas (or whatever it is you happen to celebrate)!  It’s the last Wednesday of the month (and year), so it’s time for another book review.  I looked for something festive, but ended up going with another cozy mystery.  For December, I got a hold of an ARC (advanced reader copy) of A Spell of Murder by Clea Simon, which was released earlier this month.  As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, Polis Books, for granting me access to this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get to it!

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Cute cover.  And it actually refers to things in the story.

A Spell of Murder is the first in the new Witch Cats of Cambridge series.  It follows Clara, a calico cat, and her two sisters, Harriet and Laurel, all of whom happen to be witch cats (yes, they are cats who can do magic).  They do their best to keep their “owner,” Becca, out of trouble as she embarks on a new adventure in her life.  Recently single and newly unemployed, Becca is on a mission to find herself.  She researches her family history and even joins a local coven.  But when a covenmate is murdered, Becca is pulled down the rabbit hole of wanting to find out what happened.  Her cats must help keep her out of trouble.  Whether out of love or the desire for more food and treats depends on which cat you ask.

You might be wondering why I said it follows Clara instead of Becca.  That’s because the book is (mostly) told from Clara’s POV.  It’s part of the reason I wanted to check this book out.  A murder story from a cat’s POV?  Sounds neat.  And it was.  But it slips out of Clara’s POV at random moments, which is jarring and occasionally really confusing.  For the most part, Clara finds ways to be in each scene, but a couple of times the POV just flat out changes to Becca because Clara isn’t around.  If this was a braided narrative set up so we expected the POV shifts, that would be fine.  But it’s not, so the shifts feel lazy.  An easy out when putting a cat in the scene is too difficult.

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It’s random like this, except way less cute.

Other than that, the story is solid, if somewhat predictable.  I guessed at the murderer as soon as they showed up, but I also have a strong dislike of that type of person, so maybe it was just wishful thinking.  Correct wishful thinking, but still.  There’s a douchenozzle of a love interest, an actual love interest, an overzealous bestie, and a plethora of other characters you would expect in a story like this.  The most interesting characters are the cats.  Clara is all about loving and protecting Becca.  Harriet basically just wants food and treats and all the comforts she can get.  And Laurel simply likes drama, especially when it involves a man.  The humans are just kind of there.

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At least in this book.

The writing style is easy going and carries the reader along for the most part.  It tries to get you to follow it to awkward conclusions, instead of going with your gut.  That’s what cozy mysteries do.  The descriptions of the people in the book are pretty vague, which makes it a little difficult to separate them, but that’s how the cats see people.  It was interesting to see the world as a cat.  And it makes for a light, quick read.

Ultimately, it was an okay read.  I probably won’t go looking for future books in the series, but if I randomly run across them, I’ll flip through and see if anything has improved.

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Overall, I gave A Spell of Murder three stars.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.  If you like magical cats and Hallmark channel murder mysteries, you might like it.  If not, you’re not missing much.

2018: It Was A Year

Hello, hello!  First and foremost, I want to once again thank J. R. Dawson for her awesome guest post last week.  If you haven’t read it yet, go and do the thing.  Now, on to this week’s post!  Since December is speeding toward its end, I thought I would take a moment to look back on the year.  Don’t worry.  I don’t plan on getting all insightful and nostalgic.  But I do plan on sharing five memorable things that have occurred this year in no particular order.

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Before the year washes away completely…

1.  The great wheelchair debacle of 2018.  As many of you know, I recently got my new wheelchair after months (about 7 months) of fighting for it.  Technically, Dad did most of the fighting, I was just stubborn about what I wanted.  Instead of telling us up front that they didn’t normally deal with Quickie chairs, the company we were getting the chair through assured us they could get one, then proceeded to try pushing an Invacare chair on me.  They talked me into trying a molded seat despite the fact that I’ve always hated that type of seat.  All along they said it would work with a Quickie, but when they went to send it out, chair and all, they told us it was an Invacare chair.  They tried to convince us that’s what we agreed to, which went over like a lead balloon.  After much arguing and being punished by not getting a seat I didn’t want in the first place, I have my Quickie and it even has the motors I wanted (though we had to pay the extra for them out of pocket, which is fine).  I just don’t have any pictures of it to share yet.

2.  Getting published (and getting paid for it).  I know you’re probably tired of hearing about it, but it was an exciting part of my year.  We even went down to Port Neches for the book launch, which was a nice little vacation for us even though the seafood was severely disappointing.  And, of course, I can’t write about it without dropping a link where you can purchase the book.  So, if you haven’t read it yet, you can find my story “Lying Eyes” in Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers Vol. 3.  You can find purchase info at the bottom of the linked page.

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It would look good on your bookshelf!

3.  A new Thanksgiving tradition?  I don’t know if it’ll become a tradition or not (we’ll see what happens next year), but we had a lovely meal at Texas de Brazil this year.  After 32+ years, Dad wasn’t up for cooking the usual feast, so we took our neighbor to the Brazilian steakhouse.  They had a few Thanksgiving staples alongside their normal menu.  It was delicious as ever.  The only sad thing was there were no leftovers.

4.  Saw the Moody Blues live.  I admit that 2018 wasn’t the best year for concerts, but with everything going down in Deep Ellum, it didn’t feel like a good idea to go down there too often.  Plus, there weren’t many bands I actually wanted to see.  But back in January, Dad surprised me with a trip to the Toyota Music Factory to see the Moody Blues play.  They are an amazing band with some awesome music.  Seeing them live was a real treat!

5.  Dad’s hernia surgery.  Most of you already know, but Dad had hernia surgery on the 11th.  His primary doctor finally confirmed he had one last month even though Dad had been vocal about pain and swelling for the last 6 months.  The doctor acted like the swelling was something new.  Then again, this is the same doctor who forgot he put Dad on a diet.  So, Dad found a place called NTTC Surgery Center, which provides routine surgical procedures for a flat (affordable) rate.  It’s basically a collaborative effort from local doctors to provide affordable options for people without insurance.  The facility is nice and the staff was wonderful.  Though, it was a bit of a surprise when the surgeon required his portion in cash, which we weren’t warned about.  But other than that, the whole experience was smooth and everyone was very reassuring.  Dad just had his post-op check up and is healing well.  He’s getting a bit antsy to get back to his normal routine, but he has to take it easy for three more weeks.

How was your year?  Feel free to share some memories (good, bad, scary, exciting, or otherwise) here or on my social media pages!

Guest Post: Marriage and Writing

Hello, hello!  Welcome to the year’s final guest post.  This month, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, J. R. Dawson.  In the following post, she discusses the importance of support and being believed in.  It’s pretty awesome.  Read on!

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The lovely J. R. Dawson!

Marriage and Writing

When Shawna asked me to do a blog on her site, I didn’t know what I was going to write about. And then I got sick. And then the deadline came and I was sick and didn’t know what I was going to write about. I assumed I’d end up doing some kind of intro or motivational piece about how to keep on keepin’ on. But then I realized there was something I’d heard discussed a lot, had experienced myself, and had never really seen a blog post about.

I think it’s been simmering since I spoke to a beginning writer a year ago and he mentioned that his wife doesn’t believe in him. She bemuses the fact that he wants to write, but she doesn’t support him. It doesn’t pay the bills, it’s so hard to break through, and she didn’t think he was very good.

“Can you give me something to tell my wife so she won’t think I’m hopeless?” he said. “What can I tell her?”

And I said, “Tell her to support you.”

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Spouses or partners don’t have to be writers, they don’t even have to like your writing, but if writing is your jam and it’s what you do, then what sort of partner isn’t going to back you up?

It seems like such a superficial fact, or maybe it’s giving too much power to this dude’s wife. But for real, if she’s not supporting him in this, what exactly is she supporting him in? It’s total disrespect to look at the person you’re supposed to love and say, “I don’t believe in you.”

Do you absolutely need a partner to succeed? Absolutely not. One of the most successful writers I’ve gotten to work with is a single mother. Some people purposefully do not want a partner, let alone a spouse. But for those of us who do enter into a pair, that other person has got to be behind us.

My past relationships are riddled with non-writers who thought I should give up, or writers who were in constant and violent competition with me.

Then eight years ago, I met my spouse.

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He isn’t a writer (although he’s very talented and I think of him as one, he’s off doing other things). He didn’t necessarily love books when we met. And sometimes we argue over my descriptive style when he wants more active (and grammatically correct) scenes. But he has supported me emotionally the entire way.

Actually, the short story “Marley and Marley” came from him literally jumping into my writing room every ten minutes going, “Keep going! You can do it! This story is important!” My latest publication, “When We Flew Together Through the Ice,” was resurrected from an early grave because he believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.

If writing is my heart, and my partner is supposed to love the deepest parts of me, how would he not love my act of writing?

When he proposed, I literally said to him, “This is not going away. I will always have one foot in our life and one foot in whatever project I’m working on.”

And he wholeheartedly agreed. “And so will I,” he said.

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Could I still be a writer without him? Of course. But if I’m going to be with someone, that someone better damn well be with me. All of me.

And does that mean he has to be completely devoted to every move I make with pom poms ready at the go? No. But he can’t tell me, “I don’t believe you’re going to make it.”

My heart broke for the dude with the wife who said such a thing. I hope they figure out their business.

But I guess what I wanted to say, in this here blog, is that you as an artist need to surround yourself with people who will raise you up. And if someone is too close and is pulling you down, you deserve better.

We all deserve to be believed in.

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J.R. Dawson holds her MFA from Stonecoast. She is an Active Member of SFWA and Codex. Living in Omaha, NE, with her pupper and husband, she enjoys working as a freelance teaching artist, writing science fiction adventures, and traveling to Disney World. Her short story “Marley and Marley” was in Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, and her new story, “When We Flew Together Through the Ice,” is in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.