Please visit Meganlindholm.com on May 22 for a very special announcement!
Robin Hobb's Infrequent and Off Topic Blog
The 'Stay Home, Stay Safe' order has given many of us a lot of time to reflect on our pasts, our presents and our futures.
One question writers are often asked is, "What advice would you give to a young person who wants to write professionally?" And over the years, how I responded to that question has varied.
But answering it today, I'd give the advice I wish had been given to me. Not just for writing, but for all of life. And that would be, "Start today to be the person you intend to be."
It sounds obvious, doesn't it? And almost easy, but it hasn't proven so for me. I wanted to be a professional writer who made a living from selling my writing. But I didn't initially act like that!
I'll start by telling you the things I did right from the beginning. I was writing a lot of stories for children. As I finished a story, I paid for a good Xerox copy. (This was typewriter days!) That went into a folder. Also in the file folder was a list of markets for the story, from best paying to free. I also had a page that was a log. It showed the date I'd sent out a story, the title, the editor and magazine I'd sent it to, and columns for 'reject' or 'sold'. If it sold, I put down the date and how much. If it was rejected, I put a tick in the box, and made sure the manuscript looked presentable still. And if it did, it went back into an envelope that day, along with a Stamped Self-Addressed Envelope, and off it went again.
Now for the money. Fred and I were both self employed. Fisherman and Writer. We used to joke that our income depended on fish and editors, and both of them were unpredictable. So, when Fred got a check for his crew share, or I got a much smaller check for a story, we put 50% into our checking account and 50% into the 'pay the taxes' account. It wasn't that we were technically at such a high level of taxation. But our taxes included not just income tax, but self employment tax for each of us, and each of us paying 100% of our social security tax. By setting aside 50%, we usually had enough to cover taxes. If there was any 'extra' left over, we used it to tide us over until the next herring season or book advance. And after a number of years of urging by knowledgeable people, we began to put the 'extra' into Individual Retirement Accounts. This was a good move, as neither of us had employers offering a 401K or a pension.
I will mention that we did the 50% thing from the very beginning. Even when my writing income was in the hundreds per year rather than the thousands. Begin as you mean to go on.
Things changed when I went from short works to novels. Unfortunately, it took several years for me to realize I needed better record keeping! The submission log and the 'save the money' stuff still worked. But with a longer work, there were more characters to keep track of, let alone the geography! And the passing of time!
I'm not talking about world building here. I will mention briefly: coinage or money value, major religions, calendar with seasonal names and year dates, names of countries and bodies of water, etc.
But what I'm discussing here is the writer keeping the story straight. I soon realized I needed a time line so that all characters would age at the same rate. And I needed my own glossary. By this stage of my career, writers had begun to have computers. My time line remained a hand written document, but it was wonderful to open an extra file on my computer and insert the proper name of a character or a river, alphabetically, with a brief description. I also found it handy to include when that character first appeared. Not with a page number or even a chapter, as those always change in the construction of a book, but the incident. As in, "Joe is met in the tavern shortly before the disastrous river crossing."
With book sales come contracts, and eventually royalty statements, earned and unearned. Now, I was a writer! Just stuff those things in a folder somewhere. Who can undetstand a royalty statement anyway? I'm an artist and . . . . and an idiot. Don't be like me. Don't have to sit down with a disorganized filing cabinet several years into your professional career, and try to remember if you sold Hungarian rights to that novel, and if so, when did the contract expire? I like to file things both on paper and digitally now. And I like to have the digital file in at least two places, as in, on the desktop and on the exterior hard drive, or in the cloud if you prefer.
There's a lot more to say on this topic, but my allotted time for this kind of writing has run out today. And yes, I think a writer should have a time budget just as one has a money budget. So I may write more of this tomorrow, unless I've used up the time elsewhere!
I was chatting with Shawn Speakman, and he mentioned that he has to get in his order of the Illustrated Edition of Royal Assassin by the end of this month. Which means that only the 29th and the 30th are left in April for orders!
Why is that important? Well, Shawn runs The Signed Page, a site where readers can obtain pristine signed copies of first edition hardbacks.
If you already own Assassin's Apprentice in the Illustrated Edition, this is your opportunity to get the second matching volume. And of course Assassin's Quest will not be far behind, creating the first set of matching US hardbacks of The Farseer Trilogy.
The illustrations are by Magali Villenueve and she has done an extraordinary job of capturing the characters and settings for this tale. You may be familiar with her work from her art on cards for Magic the Gathering.
If you desire to own pristine, first editions of the Illustrated Farseer Trilogy, now is the time!
Today, as I got into my car, I had a couple extra sets of 'disposable' gloves with me. I decided to store some in the car, and found the perfect place for them. The glove box. It struck me as mildly humorous that it was probably the first time in my life that I'd used the glove box to store actual gloves.
It's sort of like the cigarettle lighter plug that some cell phone chargers still have. I remember when that was an actual cigarette lighter in that hole. You pushed it in, the little coils heated to a glowing red, and the smoker in the car could light a cigarette with it. And of course use the ashtray, front or back seat, that all cars had then.
Inside the house, do you still 'turn on' your lights? With a switch that actually moves up and down, right. But our language remembers when it was a knob that you turned. And maybe you still turn up the volume on the tv, while actually pushing a button.
And when you cc someone on that email, I bet you don't make a carbon copy of the document at all!
I love words. I love how they evolve. The space shuttle goes back and forth between the space station and the earth. Just like the airport shuttle bus goes back and forth between the airport and your home. And that all started with a weaver's shuttle going back and forth as she wove.
Our cars and motorcycles have horsepower. Our windshields shield us from the wind.
Our computers use a network that has nothing to do with a net made of line and knots. We save our data in files and folders.
Words, words, words. My favorite toys.
It feels as if we are a tiny commune here on the little farm in Washington. Fred and I are here, with our younger daugther. In our guest cottage is our son and his family, for a total of six more people. Confined to the farm, we are finally doing many of the things we intended to do 'some day' and using up a lot of those things that we thought we might need 'someday.' The stack of odd lumber that every rural place collects is shrinking. One of my teen grand daughters has discovered that she enjoys splitting wood, and is turning a lot of log rounds into firewood. We don't have a fireplace, but one of Fred's judo friends does, and someday we will be able to drop off a truck load of dry split wood!
Our attempts at keeping up with schooling are a bit haphazard, but we have resolved that tomorrow we will do better, In the meantime, my 6 year old grandson goes walking with me on the lower acreage and is learning the names of the plants. Today he tried young dandelion leaves, and tomorrow we may make a very simple salad of dandelion leaves and watercress, two things growing in plenty right now. He has already chosen seeds for the raised bed he helped me assemble today. And he reads out loud to me for at least twenty minutes every day. So I think we can say we are covering botany and reading. My eldest grand daughter is working on completing an online ground school course, while my younger daughter has begun her online statistics class.
The more work we do on our little farm, the more work we discover to do. I think any farming/gardening experience is like that. Today we moved the chicken pen onto fresh grass. The chickens are only inside it for a few hours each day. The rest of the time they free range while hatching plots to break into my garden. My garden is doing well. We are still getting late night frosts here, so it's mostly things like onions, cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts. But the plum trees have begun to bloom, the strawberries are putting out new foliage and there are little buds on the blueberry bushes. So soon it will start to look like a real garden again.
Megan Lindholm has been doing a lot of writing. The book I had planned and begun work on was about Bee. But it centered around the recurrence of the blood plague, and I'm not sure anyone wants to read about a viral plague right now. Isnt' fantasy about escaping our day to day lives?
So one we go. Facemasks and gloves on the few occasions when I leave the farm. The danger is real. I have one friend in Olympia who is recovering, and another in Tacoma who is awaiting her test results. I hope everyone is being careful and staying safe.
I should admit that I expected to be getting a lot of writing done. And I'm not.
But I have cleared all my raised beds of weeds, and today I plnated carrots, beets and turnips.
I write a lot, inside my mind. But somehow the days on the calendar pass very slowly, but the hours of work go by quickly. And suddnely here it is, 10:43 at night, and these are the first words I've typed today.
I've mentioned elsewhere that the Bee story I was working on featured, guess what? A plague that had jumped species. It would have looped back to connect to the Blood Plague. But now is not the time to write something like that. Or even read something like that.
But I haven't been reading much either. I've been doing. Lots of doing, of things that I know I'll be glad I did four or five months from now. I've cleared and organized cabinets. Weeded the garden, planted food. It's satisfying work.
I know I will go back to putting words on the page. I did some yesterday. But for today, the writing was only inside my head.
Some days are like that.
I simply couldn't compete.
My son's family joined us here on the farm to 'shelter in place'. They have squeezed into the little guest cottage. My 14 days of self quarantine are nearly up, but his family is only about 4 days into theirs. So I am still 'no contact' with my grandkids. I can watch them running across the pasture. I can light the campfire they built, and then retreat so they can enjoy it. No touching. Talking to each other from 8 or 10 feet away. No sharing books or passing around cookies.
My dogs are both rescues. Ginger from the Humane Society, and Molly, the younger dog was from a Belgian Malinois Rescue group. Ginger is older now but Molly is still all bounce and go.
Molly saw that they had brought Foxy the Border Collie, and Foxy is RICH! She owns three teenagers and a six year old boy! And she offered to share. Five or six hikes down to the river a day! Numerous sticks and tennis balls thrown. Lots of chasing and rough housing.
A couple of times I called her back to me. But the last time she cried. I felt so mean. They were doing night walks with a flashlight, and I was sitting in front of a keyboard.
I let her out and she was off like a shot to join them.
As it should be.
This virus pandemic is a terrible thing. But even it has a silver lining for one dog.
Robin's Rules for Working at Home And Actually Getting Something Done
We have all worked at home. If you made your bed, cooked a meal or swept a floor, you've worked at home. But now, perhaps, you are trying to do a different sort of work at home. In addition to being a writer, I'm the agent for a couple of family LLC's. That means a fairly constant stream of paperwork and phone calls to deal with, in addition to writing, housework, pets and family. By trial and error, I've come up with some things that work for me. They may or may not be helpful to you, especially if you are in a new situation.
1. Start organized. I didn't, of course, but organization has evolved. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office. You may be coping with half the kitchen table or the coffee table. Whatever you have, organize that space. And Start With Ergonomics! Best situation: You are sitting in a chair that supports your lower back. Your feet are flat on the floor. Your hands are level with your keyboard. Your screen is at eye level. (If you have only a laptop, I know you can't do this. So be aware that youa re tipping your head down, and take frequent breaks to stretch your neck.) Lift your eyes often to refocus on infinity out of a window. If you can't do that, at least look around the room. Stand up and stretch when you can.
2. Set attainable goals. You are not going to write a book today. But you can write a scene, or a chapter, maybe even two. Make your goal a measurable one. So many words or pages. Or X number of social emails handled.
3. This one helps me a lot. Do something visible. White board or print out document work. Sometime in the day, clean a window, bake a loaf of bread, weed a corner of your garden. Any task that you can look at tomorrow morning and say, 'Well, I got that done. What's next?" It's great for my morale to have an accomplishment I can see.
4. Allow for family members. In our current situation, you may have a spouse or kids racketing around while you are trying to achieve what you used to do in a work situation. Accept that you cannot duplicate that. If you have kids, set a timer or choose an hour, and do something that focuses on them. Turn on the radio/stereo and rock out with all of them. Play a game, bake some cookies, read a story. If little kids know they are guaranteed a chunk of your time, it helps them to be more patient. You will get more done despite taking family breaks.
5. Do it now. Whatever 'it' is. Start with email, perhaps. Sort, discard, and answer what needs an answer. If bills came in, pay them now. Face the revisions and get them done. Process and file any mail that comes in. Don't let anything stack up. If there is anything you hate or dread, make yourself do it first and get it over with.
6. This is the Mom lecture part. You will need to take regular breaks. Don't let it be an alcohol/nicotine break every time. It becomes a ritual, and it can greatly increase your consumption. Have a lovely cup of tea. Have a stretching routine. Take the dog out into the yard.
7. I hope this is helpful to someone! As always, what works for me may not for you!
And the truth is, I've been getting a lot done. I think that work that busies my hands leaves my mind free to both compose part of books, or grasp the bigger picture of my life.
Today's busy work involved moving some onions that had survived the winter, and planting some experimental potatoes. I'm still getting hard frosts at night here, so they will either grow and be ready early, or freeze into mush. We will see.
I took my dogs for a walk on our acreage down to where I could trespass jsut a little and look at the Nisqually River. We had floods just a couple of months ago, and the river has shifted in its bed, leaving more bank on my side, and some interesting gravel bars. I saw deer tracks, what might have been elk, and the little handprints of a raccoon, but no wildlife in person. Except a frog.
I also paid all the bills today and changed my phone plan to include more data. My younger daughter has borrowed my little 'hot spot' and is also self isolating where there is no internet. According to my provider, her watching two movies consumed a gig of data! Really?
And that was pretty much my day. A much more pleasant day than most isolated seniors are having, I am sure.
While we are enduring the Covid pandemic here in Washington state, my new resolution is to post here once a day. Obviously, I won't have anything compelling to say that frequently, but I'll offer updates and possibly some little family stories.
Here, as you might expect, Fred and I have self isolated at the farm. I'm almost ashamed to say how much I'm enjoying this. I am writing, or rather, Megan Lindholm is. That part of me is pushing along an urban fantasy set in Tacoma.
I am doing things such as planning out where my native trees will go! Every year, I get native species from Pierce County's native plant sale. They are so inexpensive! So I have five Nootka roses, five oOrgeon oaks, five Sitka Spruce,and five mock orange bushes to plant. I've put my kinickinick in small pots. I did set out five little sorrell plants, which my free range chickens have already reduced to two. Rotten little dinosaurs.
Check back with me here if you'd like to see some updates. I will close with two things my mother used to say in times of stress:
Keep Calm and Carry On.
"When in danger or in doubt,
Run in Circles, scream and shout."
I'm going with the first one.