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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Making the Time to Write by: Yasmine Galenorn

Here’s a little story I’ve told at several discussion groups and workshops on writing that I’ve led. It’s just as valid now as every time I’ve told it. Remember it—because it’s one of the few lessons I can teach you that I consider absolutely vital for aspiring writers. Or for anybody pursuing a career that takes practice, talent, and skill.

On December 17th, 1993, I was recuperating from pneumonia when I made the mistake of eating some popcorn. I coughed, inhaled an un-popped kernel, and couldn't breathe. My husband was at work and I was home alone.

Within seconds, everything started going fuzzy as I realized I couldn’t dislodge the kernel. Somehow, I managed to stand up and the moment I did, I promptly fainted. Luckily, when I hit the floor the popcorn dislodged and I started breathing again. A few minutes later, I regained consciousness.

I was okay, I hadn’t suffered any permanent damage. The only thing different about my life was that it had almost ended within the past five minutes. And that fact made all the difference in my world.

Shaking and crying, I sat at my desk, thinking about what had happened. I wasn’t afraid of dying, per se—years before I’d made my peace with the concept of mortality. What bothered me was that I began to think about what I would have regretted if I’d actually died that night.

And the one regret that cropped up—besides missing my wonderful new husband and my cats more than I could imagine—would have been that I hadn’t published a book yet. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was three. I had a number of novels in my closet that I’d written but never managed to get more than a nibble on from agents and publishers. And I goofed off more than I wrote, and made excuses for why I wasn't trying harder.

Right then, my priorities shifted. I strengthened my resolve that, damn it, I was going to get published and I’d do what it took to achieve my goal. I was at a crossroads in my writing and I knew it. At that moment, I decided that—no matter how many rejections I received—I had to persevere and to work toward my goal on a daily basis. That night was a turning point. It led me to realize this simple truth: if I wanted to make it as a writer, I had to develop professional writing habits and self-discipline.

I used to say, “Someday, when I publish a book—” but the truth of the matter is that someday almost never came. Someday might never come. People die every day. People get hit by buses, have car wrecks because of deer, drunk drivers, black ice. People have heart attacks, are random targets for road rage. People have accidents, get killed, people do choke to death. And I was almost one of the statistics. There’s no guarantee that any of us will be alive tonight.

A near-death experience or a loved one’s sudden demise triggers an awareness of just how quickly life can be snuffed out. It changes our perception. We no longer look at life the same again when we understand how fragile it can be. And suddenly, taking life for granted seems like a colossal sin. Wasted time is the one thing we can’t recover.

And so I began to live deliberately. No, I don’t treat each moment like it’s my last, but I make sure that I’m doing what I want to be doing, even if it’s sitting there, watching TV.

In the months following my near-death experience, I tried to become more flexible in what I wrote, I tried out new approaches, I quit saying “I should be writing this” and experimented with other forms, other subjects. I began to study the editing and revision process with renewed enthusiasm.

It took another three years but in April 1996, I sat in the car, hugging my first book contract to my chest, crying. My dream had been realized, I’d achieved a lifelong goal. A legitimate publisher wanted to publish my book. The fact that it was nonfiction didn’t matter. I’d moved from ‘aspiring writer’ to ‘author’ and there would be a book with my name on it, sitting on the bookshelves, and a publisher was going to pay me to write it.

I had manifested my dream. I also realized, in that moment, that I would never have achieved my goal if I had slacked off or made excuses for why I couldn’t write this or that day, or if I’d spent my time partying or shopping or goofing around rather than knuckling down to do the actual work.

Now, sixteen years after almost dying, and thirteen years since I received my first contract, I have fourteen novels, one anthology, and eight nonfiction books on the bookstore shelves and many more coming out.

I’m a New York Times bestselling author. I’m writing three books a year for Berkley. I've spoken at a number of conventions and groups. I’ve also discovered that the other side of publishing—the professional one—is a lot harder work than most aspiring writers ever want to believe it is. But it’s worth it because it’s what I love to do.

Nothing is more satisfying than sitting back, holding a new book or another contract in my hands, knowing that I put my heart, soul, and sweat into making the story the best I could at the time I wrote it. Or knowing that now, after all the years of writing midlist, I can support us if something happens to my husband’s job.

I receive letters from readers who love my work and they always make me smile because I love my career and communication is what it’s all about. I work 60-80 hours a week because it's part of the job, and while I bitch and moan now and then, the truth is: I love it. I love it all. The worst day writing is better than the best day at an office job. Well, maybe not, but hey, every career has it's downsides. ~grins~

But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t organized my priorities, if I hadn’t sat there that dark night, touching my throat where it was raw from the coughing and choking, and thought, “What can I do to make sure I don’t regret my life when my time really does come? I don’t want to regret things undone.” And then, I followed through.

So tell me, what do you want out of life? What are your priorities? Are you working to achieve your goals, or are you just daydreaming about someday? Because friend, sometimes “someday” never comes. You have today—this moment—it’s the only one you can be sure about.

If you don’t take control and make the time to write, then forget about it and go find something that’s more important to you. Because I guarantee you: You’ll never just ‘find’ the time. You have to make the time. You have to carve it out. You have to say, “I’m going to go write now and stop blogging about it, stop talking about it, stop whining about not being published. I’m going to: Make. It. Happen.”

So will this be a pep talk for you? Only if it works. I’ve told this to some people and watched a few of them take it to heart, take up the challenge and throw themselves into the work.

And some—some continue to make excuses for why they can’t write today…why they can’t write this week…why they can’t finish the story they’re on or can’t think of a new story or maybe their dog ate their manuscript or the clothes need washed or gee, time to polish the silverware that’s been sitting around for ten years unused.

Which side of the fence are you on? Are you willing to give up thirty minutes of TV or reading or solitaire a day so you can write? Are you willing to take charge or your life? Or are you going to let your life take charge of you?

Brightest Blessings, and go sit down and write. ~grins~


New York Times bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn writes urban fantasy for Berkley: both the bestselling Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon Series for Berkley and the upcoming Indigo Court urban fantasy series. In the past, she wrote mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, and nonfiction metaphysical books. Her books have hit the New York Times and USA Today extended bestseller lists numerous times.

Yasmine has been in the Craft for over 29 years, is a shamanic witch, and describes her life as a blend of teacups and tattoos. She lives in Bellevue WA with her husband Samwise and their cats.

Yasmine can be reached via her website, via MySpace and Twitter.

Bone Magic (Book 7 in the Otherworld Series)

Available Jan 5th from Berkley Publishing

We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy--and sexy--operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. But being half-human, half-Fae short-circuits our talents at all the wrong times. My sister Delilah is a two-faced Were who turns into a golden tabby when she's stressed. And Menolly's a vampire who's still trying to get the hang of being undead. As for me? I'm Camille D'Artigo, a wicked-good witch who's learning death magic with my youkai-kitsune husband. Until now, the Moon Mother's pretty much ignored me, but she's about to take me on the Hunt of my life...

Another equinox is here, and life's getting more dangerous for all of us. The past is catching up to our friends, Iris and Chase. Smoky--the dragon of my dreams--is forced to choose between his family and me. To top it off, there's a new demon general in town and we can't locate her. And when the Moon Mother and the Black Beast summon me to Otherworld. I think I'm just going to reunite with my long lost soulmate. But once there, I'm forced to undergo a drastic ritual that will forever change my life, and the lives of those around me.

Etched in Silver by Yasmine Galenorn

In the Anthology Inked by: Marjorie Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, Elaine Wilks, & Karen Chance

Available Jan 5th from Berkley/Jove

Camille D'Artigo, an agent for the Y'Elestrial Intelligence Agency, is on the hunt for a sadistic serial killer. Trouble is: her boss is betting on her failure. She must find the killer by the deadline, or her only choices will be to either resign from her job or succumb to her boss's lecherous intentions. But she didn't count on help from an unexpected source. Trillian, a Svartan--one of the dark, Charming Fae, comes into her life. Everyone warns her against him but as her search for the killer intensifies, Trillian becomes her only ally--and potentially, a man who could break her heart as a magnetic, passionate force draws them together


Anonymous said...

Brilliantly said.

Writing is my business AND my passion, so I'm willing to do what it takes to achieve my goals and my dreams.

Linda Wisdom said...

Hey Chick!

Fantastic post and you were meant to write about the sisters.

I'm just stubborn and do what it takes. But then you already know that. :}


Marie Andreas said...

Thank you so much for this amazing post Yasmine. It really struck home for me. Hopefully I can keep the lesson alive in my heart without the whole popcorn incident :). There is only one person responsible for my path- and as you so wonderfully reminded me- it's me. And I'd best stop letting fear and other issues slow me down and get my act together.

Thank you again so much- this was just what I needed :)


Anonymous said...

Great post! A couple of years ago, I decided no more screwing around. Since then, I've written more than all the years prior. (I also convinced myself "commercial" is not a dirty word.) Not published yet, but a hell of a lot closer than I was.

Depressive episodes are what often impede me. (I'm not talking about the occasional "blue day," either.) That and fear of failure, plus migraines. But I refuse to give in or give up. So even if it takes me a bit longer, I still push on. :-)

Lisa Kessler said...

Great Blog Yasmine!

I've been so crazy busy with in-laws in town for the holidays that although I was all set to start my new book, I hadn't done it...

Until today! I got just over 1,500 words down! YAY!

Thanks for the nudge...

Happy New Year!!!

Lisa :)

Unknown said...

Isn't amazing how an illness or near death experience can put you on the right track. I had emergency major surgery the beginning of September and it scared me, my husband, and my children. I might have died had I not been in so much pain I was willing to go to the hospital. As I laid in bed recovering, and reading your books and other authors I love, I realized it was time to get serious, to get a plan. So as soon as my health allowed I've been writing every day. Okay I did take off for Thanksgiving and a couple of Christmas days to enjoy my kids before they leave. My family is a major part of my life. It's not easy, I struggled yesterday all day with one blasted scene and thought about giving up. Then I remembered being sick and went back to writing. Love your post, love your writing.

Deborah Blake said...

And I, for one, am really glad you stuck around and wrote all those wonderful books!

Great post as always, Yasmine.

Jana Oliver said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Yasmine. Truly heartwarming and full of excellent advice. Note to self -- eat popcorn with someone nearby.

What you've described is "committed persistence" as one author put it. That intense laser-like focus on a goal (while remembering that you have to live fully while reaching that goal.)

I have friends who ask me to write their books for them and I always decline. They say they don't have time. Some of them are gamers, some of them watch a lot of television, but none of them finds the time to write their stories. Until that desire burns in their gut, it's just a wish. It's up to them to make it a goal and then a reality.

I do have specific goals -- hitting the NY Times is one of them and I've set a specific year in which I want that to happen. Will it? We'll see. But if I don't visualize my goals I can't take the proper steps to make them reality.

Committed persistence. Or in my case, committed stubbornness. If there is a "secret to success" this is it.

Christine said...

Thank you very much for sharing your story. I went through a similar transition about 5 years ago. I didn't experience a near death moment, but my father had died a year earlier and he told me "I'm sorry because it is too late for you to be a writer." Hmmm. Granted, he was sorry. Sorry for the way things had turned out due to a history too long to recount. And I appreciated his apology. I forgave him. But then a year later, I was told again, "I want you to do something serious" when I expressed my desire to write again.

That pretty much nailed it. I've been writing ever since that day. I AM A WRITER. I won't give up my dream. Just writing makes me happy. And every year I add to my list of goals as I pursue it on a professional basis.

Unknown said...

Your post struck home for me as well Yasmine. Thank you so much for telling that story. I decided after reading it to set aside at least one hour each night to write. In less than the hour I gave myself last night I put out over 620 words. It's not much..but it's more than I've gotten out in the last month so I'm good with it!

Once again, thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi Yazza,
Thank you for this story. I will pass it around. :)

I had a moment like that, when my daughter was diagnosed and my own disability was getting worse and dragging me down. I had to face that this was life and either you fight to accomplish your dreams or you weaken and fail. I decided I had to be strong for her and show her there were things well worth fighting for. That a bright vision of the future can get you through the darkest of times.

But it takes strength and determination, not just once. Sometimes a daily, or even an hourly renewal of focus is needed.

Inked looks gorgeous. :O)

Alyson Noel said...

Awesome post, Yasmine! For me, it was 9/11- I'd been working as a flight attendant in NYC and decided it was finally time to go after my dream instead of just talking about my dream-I'm so glad I did!

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Daisy Whitney said...

Wow. What a beautiful post and an inspiring story. I didn't have a near-death experience, but nearly four years ago I finally said "come hell or high water I'm going to write a book." Four novels later, three unpubbed, one about to be pubbed, I got a book deal!

Aven said...

Great blog! Would you mind if I posted a link to it in the Compuserve writer's forum? I think others could benefit from reading it.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Thanks all--for your comments. This event truly shaped my writing life and got me off my ass. If something that traumatic doesn't bring about a shift in priorities, then I don't think there's much hope for anything that will. :)

And I personally don't mind if anybody links to this. If FFP has objections, then I'll be glad to guest post it over in the CS forums if you contact me via my website. www.galenorn.com

Cris Anson said...

What a powerful kick in the pants! Thank you for telling your story. I'm writing, I'm writing!
Cris Anson

Christine Clemetson said...

What a wonderful, inspirational post. Thanks so much for sharing.

Happy New Year!


EmilyBryan said...

Brilliant, Yasmine! Thanks for sharing your story of perserverance.