Category Archives: Stacey’s Posts

Sprints Aren’t Just for Running

Stacey Kite

To me, writing and running have a lot in common. For the most part, they are solo endeavors. Listening to music is a must for me when doing either one, and I do both very slowly. And above all, the key to both is persistence.

I first got interested in running when I saw a man at the gym get on a treadmill and just go. He ran forever, effortlessly—no panting, no wheezing, no dropping dead. It was amazing. I was envious because I figured there was no way in the world that I could ever do anything like that. But then one morning, when the gym was deserted except for my husband, Fred, and I, I sheepishly got on a treadmill. After walking for a few minutes to figure out how to keep from face planting, I started to run. Seven minutes later, I was panting and wheezing with a killer stitch in my side. Obviously, I didn’t die, but it felt like a near thing. I could have given up right then. I can’t remember why I didn’t, but for some reason, I became more determined instead.

My first running goal was modest: to run one mile without feeling like Fred would have to call 911. Because I was so pathetic at it, I didn’t want anyone other than Fred to see me trying. (For safety’s sake, someone had to be there in case I really did need paramedics at some point.) So we started going to the gym at o’god-thirty in the morning when we knew it would be empty. (Fred is fabulous!)

At first, I’d run for three minutes, then walk for seven to recover, then rinse and repeat for an hour. Every week or two I’d increase the running intervals by 15 seconds and decrease the walk times by the same amount. Here and there I backslid, and it was always painful for a few days when I shifted times. There were plenty of mornings when I really didn’t want to go to the gym, but Fred got me through those days. If he was up and ready to go when the dog was still blissfully snoring and the bats were out, I couldn’t very well pass. With his help, I persisted and was eventually running for an hour straight without wheezing, gasping or dying of embarrassment. And there were even days when it just. Felt. Great!

Writing is the same for me in the sense that though there are times when it’s a joy, there are plenty of other times when I just don’t want to do it because I know it’s going to be frustrating and painful. But I also know I’ll never reach my writing goals without consistently working at it.

That’s where my writing buddy comes in. Though we live in different time zones, every morning we text each other to coordinate a time for a 30-minute writing sprint. (See—sprints aren’t just for running.) It’s like going to the gym together, only different. At the appointed time, when we both have a cup of tea, our respective computers fired up and our timers set, one of us texts go and we both start writing.

When times up, we text each other our results—how many words we wrote, net and/or gross, whether we flew or flailed or if we wasted 15 minutes trying to come up with a middle grade appropriate synonym for torpor. I normally score in the double digits while she is usually in the 150 to 200 range, but once I got 288 words! Which felt great, though I’ve also wound up with a net negative word count on my write-and-delete days.

If we both have a decent session and time permits, we’ll do one or two more follow-up sprints. If one of us is has a truly crappy session—like one of those net negative days—we’ll call and try to talk through the problem. Sometimes the other person has a perfect, simple solution. Sometimes the mere act of having to explain the issue is enough to spark inspiration. Even if we can’t find a good answer right then, it just helps to commiserate with someone who understands how frustrating writing can be.

Of course, the final word count really isn’t the point of the exercise. It’s putting in the time and working at it day after day that matters. That’s the only reliable way to make progress. And it’s a lot harder for me to procrastinate when I know my sprint buddy is counting on me to show up each day.

So, if you find yourself procrastinating instead of writing, try doing some writing sprints with a friend. It doesn’t matter if you live 2000 miles away from each other, you can still keep each other on track.

Read Your Manuscript on Your Kindle

Stacey Kite

When I volunteered to be a beta reader for one of my writing friends, I wanted to evaluate her novel not as a hopeful manuscript, but as a published book. After all, that’s her goal. So instead of reading a double-spaced manuscript printed on 8” X 11” paper or off a standard computer screen—I hate reading on my computer, by the way—I emailed the file to my kindle account so I could read it the same way I read most books nowadays.

Looking at a manuscript, whether it’s on paper or a computer, normally sends me into knit-picky edit mode rather than reader mode. I can fixate on word choice and phrasing in a way I don’t with published works, but that all goes away when the ms looks like a published novel. Only important things like slow sections, pacing problems, plot or character inconsistencies kick me out of the flow of the story. Reading the ms on my kindle lets me evaluate and compare it to the published books I’ve read in a way that other reading methods don’t.

So, after reading her manuscript (which is really good), I decided to read my own work-in-progress on my Kindle to get more of a reader’s perspective.

OMG, it makes such a difference! It’s allowing me to view my story in a more professional light while resisting the urge to tweak every little phrase. Some of the things I thought were terrible turned out to be pretty good. Some of the things I thought were great weren’t. And boy, does it ever make typos stand out!

Overall, it’s just a lot of fun, and it’s pretty easy to do.   

If you have a kindle and want to give it a try with your own work, here’s how you do it. (Don’t worry, emailing a document to your own Kindle does NOT make it accessible to other Kindles. You won’t be inadvertently sharing your unpolished draft with the world.)

1. Make sure the email address you’re going to be sending your document from is on your Amazon accounts approved email list.

Go to https://www.amazon.com/myk#manageDevices. If you aren’t signed into your Amazon.com account already, the link will take you to the Amazon sign in page first. Once you are signed in, or if you’re already signed in, it will take you to the manage devices page.

Click on Preferences, then scroll down until you get to Personal Document Settings.

Click on Personal Document Settings and scroll down until you get to Approved Personal Document E-mail list. At the bottom of the Approved Personal Document E-mail list, click on the link that reads Add a new approved email address. Then simply add the address you’ll be emailing your manuscript from.

2. Find out what your Kindle’s email address is. (Amazon gives every registered Kindle its own email address.)  

Go to Manage Devices (https://www.amazon.com/myk#manageDevices ). Again, Amazon will send you to the sign in page first if you aren’t already signed into your account.

Click on Devices, this time. Then click on the specific Kindle you want to read your manuscript on and copy down the email address for that Kindle. (We have a couple of different Kindles. Personally, I prefer reading books on the older, paper-white version rather than the Kindle fire.) Once you know the email address—

3. Save your ms in a Kindle-friendly format.

If your document is a Word file (.doc or .docx), it’s already good to go.

If you write in Scrivener or some other program, you’ll need to export the file first and either convert it to a Word file or another compatible format: mobi, pdf, rtf, html etc. (Click here for a list of formats.)

 4. Now simply attach your manuscript document to an email and send it to your kindle’s email address and the document will show up on your kindle’s home screen.

Once you have your manuscript on your Kindle, you can read it like a real book! Though using the Kindle will help you curb your editing zeal, you will still be able to add notes and highlight sections that need work. And it’s just fun!

Grieving the Loss of a Car

Stacey Kite

Yesterday, I was sitting down to finish up my February WBM blog post when my husband, who had just left the house to take the hound on her walk, came back in.

With a look of irritated bewilderment on his face he asked, “Where’s my car?”

Like an idiot, I said, “What?”

“My car’s gone. It’s not in the driveway.”

I had to go out and look which just shows that I was already in the grips of the first and perhaps nuttiest stage of grief—denial. I mean, it may be easy to misplace a set of car keys, but to lose track of an entire Honda? That’s not something that happens all that often. But Fred was right. There was no shiny, silver Accord next to my ancient, orange car, just a big, empty stretch of concrete and a sad, little wad of Kleenex by my car’s passenger door. Of course, we had to look in the garage even though we knew we hadn’t parked it in there. Then we looked up and down street, as if the car could have gotten restless in the middle of the night and gone walkabout on its own.

It wasn’t until I really looked at my car—Kleenex on the ground, passenger door ajar, glove-box hanging open with the bulk of its contents strewn on the passenger seat—that it donned on me that someone had rifled my car and stolen Fred’s! (It’s amazing what it takes to burst the little denial bubble.)

While I, ping-ponging between stunned disbelief and anger (note the second stage of grief kicking in here), took the hound for a perfunctory walk, in the rain—the girl still needed to potty, after all—Fred called the police.

Officer Martin arrived just as the Piebald Princess and I were coming back to the house. So, after toweling her off, I sat down at the dining table with Fred. Baffled and stunned, we answered the policeman’s questions.

After we’d gone through all of them—yes, the car was in the driveway when we went to bed; yes, the car was locked, but no, mine hadn’t been; no, the keys weren’t in it; yes, the car was paid off, etc.—I asked, “Can you give us an idea of how many stolen cars are ever recovered? Is it like twenty percent, thirty?” (Is this the bargaining stage?)

“Most of them. About ninety percent, actually.”

At my enthusiastic, “Really? That’s fantastic!” Officer Martin gave me a look that spoke volumes, and it said, Oh, you poor, pathetic, naïve, little bunny rabbit. You have no idea how trashed your car is going to be when we find it.

Until that moment, I had had hope. (Rounding third base and heading for home plate—depression. I mean really, we’d just finished paying the car off last year.)

But evidently, Officer Martin mistakenly thought I was heading back to stage two, because he cautioned us not to act on our own should we spot the car anywhere. If we saw it, we were to call the police right away and not confront anyone or attempt to recover the car ourselves. Of course, doing something like that never would have occurred to me—until Officer Martin mentioned it. The little seed was planted.

The seed germinated while I spent an hour and a half on the phone with the insurance company, and started to crack open as I set about alerting the neighbors. Since it was raining, I just sent emails instead of going door-to-door. Another couple of hours went by while Fred and I belatedly researched home security cameras (I’m not sure what stage this falls into), but by 4:00 p.m. the seed had sprouted, and I asked Fred if he wanted to go drive around with me and casually look for his car.

After disabling the garage door opener, because of course, one of the remotes had been in Fred’s car, and thoroughly locking up the house, we set out. Obviously, we didn’t find the car and soon realized the futility of even looking. (Acceptance setting in.)

Now, perhaps you’re wondering what all this has to do with the February Write by Midnight challenge, and the answer is absolutely nothing! Someone stole Fred’s car! (Uh-oh, a little backsliding into stage two there. Sorry about that.)

But now that I think about it, this post actually does have something to do with WBM. The whole point of WBM is to write every day, after all, and I did write today. I got down 795 words—just not on my manuscript. Instead, I wrote a mini-short story about the stages of grief and the loss of a beloved car—that was completely paid for!

Complete acceptance may take a while.

Chore Days and Project Days

Stacey Kite

Since my husband retired a few months ago, we’ve come up with a new way to share the household tasks. It’s working really well and given both of us blocks of time to work on our individual projects. For me, that means more quality writing time, so I thought I’d share.

Here’s how it works. When it’s my chore day, I get up early—before the rest of the house—and write. Usually, I can get in an hour or two before Fred and the dog get up. After that, I’m usually done writing for the bulk of the day because it’s my chore day. At a minimum that means I empty the dishwasher, take the dog for her potty breaks and long walk, cook dinner and clean the kitchen up afterwards. I also pick one or more extra household tasks on the list, whether that’s laundry, coming up with a menu and putting in the pickup order, sweeping and vacuuming floors or cleaning the bathrooms. If I manage to get everything done with time to spare, I can go back to writing for a while, collapse or even read.

While I’m taking care of all the household stuff, Fred is free to spend the day working on his stuff. (Right now, his big project is building the closet organizer of my dreams, so that one’s a total win for me!)

Then the next day, Fred does all the chores while I have a project day. I still do my writing first thing in the morning, but then, if the words are flowing, I can keep writing because Fred’s the one who takes the dog out, empties the dishwasher and does all the chores. The dog’s long walk is especially great for writing because it gives me an extra one to two hours of distraction free time every other day, which is awesome!

Whether the writing is going well or not, I still have the rest of the day to work on my other projects. Since we just moved into a new house, I have a lot of other projects, especially in the yard.

Last month, for example, I built a raised garden bed—all by myself.

Though my brother, Larry—the king of retention walls—showed me how to build a rock wall and gave advice, I did all the work, from digging the trench for the foundation and packing in the gravel to cutting and gluing the cap blocks. It just about killed Fred not to take over or at least jump in and help, but I wouldn’t let him. It was my project, though I did ask his opinion, and let him show me how to make and use a water-level.

And I have to say, Fred has been fabulous about the chores. He even cleans windows and toilets and sterilizes bath mats! He doesn’t do everything the way I would, but then I don’t do everything the way he would, either, so that’s OK.

I know our situation is ideal, and far from most people’s norm—especially now during this *$&%! Pandemic—but even a mini version of chore day vs. project day on the weekends might buy you some extra, quality writing time.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to give it a try.

Under no circumstances should you split kitchen duty. The person who cooks must be the same person who cleans up after that meal. The clean-as-he/she/they-cooks person will resent the crap out of cleaning up after the just-boils-water-and-gets-flour-on-the-ceiling person. And there is always a just-boils-water-and-gets-flour-on-the-ceiling person.

Avoid giving unsolicited advice on your partner’s projects. If your partner asks for your opinion and/or help, great, but otherwise button it. It’s his/her/their project. Of course, this doesn’t apply if there is significant risk of loss of life, serious injury or ruinous financial structural damage to the house.

Be patient when your partner gives you unsolicited advice/criticism. It’s going to happen, so be prepared. And you’ll give them advice too, even though you know you shouldn’t. So acknowledge their point, consider it, then do what you feel is correct. This applies to everything from folding towels to building retaining walls.

Do not critique your partner’s domestic skills or go behind your partner’s back re-doing everything. There is no one right way to fold a towel. Your partner will develop his/her/their own method, thank you very much, and as long as clean towels and underwear are making it into the linen closet and the drawers instead of mounding up in heaps on the floors, keep your mouth shut.

When it’s your chore day, don’t shirk. This only works if both partners are willing. If you see something that needs cleaning, step up and do it.

Above all else, be patient and considerate. Everything has a learning curve, even ordering groceries online, so cut your partner slack, here. It’s not the end of the world if you get shredded cheese instead of block cheese, especially if having someone else do the shopping bought you some quality writing time.

Your Art Matters

Stacey Kite

A few decades ago, in the dark ages before the internet and cell phones, I did some freelance work for a role-playing game publisher and illustrated several cards for their game.

They gave me an insane schedule, but I worked my but off, going without sleep for days so I could finish the paintings in time for them dry enough to be mailed off. (Back then, I only worked in oil, and even with drying agents added, the paintings still took days to cure.) Though it nearly killed me, I got the work done on time.

But the company stiffed me. They didn’t even pay me the kill fee listed in the contract. Lots of phone calls ensued, with lots of excuses and promises on the publisher’s side, but no check ever arrived. (Though they did have the temerity to offer me more assignments later, which I declined.) Eventually, realizing the logistical and financial issues involved with trying to collect on a debt from a company a thousand miles away in a another state, I gave up any hopes of getting paid and simply did my best to forget about the whole episode.

Then a couple of years ago, someone from Europe started contacting me through my art website about the illustrations I’d done for the game. Since the company had long ago gone bust, I ignored the emails. It was a decades old bad decision that I’d made, and I didn’t want to be reminded of it.

The guy was persistent, though. Every few months, I’d get another note from him, asking if I was The Stacey Kite who’d illustrated for Iron Crown. I deleted the emails without answering them. They kept coming, and I kept ignoring them. (Like I said, it was a bad experience.) It was over and done with, and I’d moved on.

Fast forward to mid-July this year…

 I was packing for a cross-country move and binge listening to audio books, including The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Though the novel was a best-seller a few years ago, I’d avoided it. (Who wants to read a story about kids dying of cancer?) But the wry humor shaved the hard edges off the subject matter, and I loved the characters—except for one. There always has to be an antagonist in a story or there’s no story, and though cancer is the big enemy in The Fault in Our Stars, John Green added an additional human antagonist—a reclusive novelist. The man is a horrible jerk, and as a reader (really, a listener) I loved to hate him. He was rude and dismissive to the wonderful and funny kids who were fans of his book—and happened to be dying of cancer.

Two weeks after listening to John Green’s book, I received yet another email asking if I was the one who’d done the illustrations. My automatic reaction was to delete it, but then a horrible thought struck me, Am I acting like the jerk-writer?

Eek!

So, of course, I responded to the email, writing that yes, I was that Stacey Kite.

And I’m thrilled that I did.

The young man’s response was fabulous and made me feel great. He described how as a child he’d come from a place where that kind of fantastical art didn’t exist. Then he discovered the cards and his world opened.

They made a difference in his life. The paintings I had done years ago–the ones I’d tried desperately to forget about—had affected him. He wanted to mail the cards to me and have me autograph them and then ship them back to him. Evidently, he’s kept the deck all these years and has been on a quest to get every contributing artist to sign their cards. I’m one of the last ones, and I’m thrilled that I finally overcame my aversion and answered his email.

Sharing an emotion, affecting someone else—making someone feel—is what art is all about, and I achieved that. Though I didn’t know it until I answered that email. That’s why we paint and write, after all—especially those of us who write and illustrate for children. We want to share the magic we felt as kids when an illustration took our breath away, when a book changed our lives.

Art is a hard road. Sometimes it feels like slaving away in isolation for nothing, or less than nothing, but it’s not in vain. You’re not screaming into the void. Somebody will be changed by the art you create. I’m proof of that.