Being busy happens when life makes plans for you

I reject the idea that being busy is a badge of honour. If anything, being too busy may be a sign that we’re not being kind enough to ourselves, giving ourselves time to rest, which is hardly something to brag about even if it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

We may not mean to be busy, yet life happens and we end up that way. Maybe in our pursuit of meaning and happiness, we took on one too many enjoyable things and overdid it a little—or a lot. Or maybe we got caught up in the hidden tasks, the unpaid labour, the little extras that project managers need Gantt charts for.

That’s certainly how my last few years materialised, anyway. My rearview looks like a long, dark tunnel, stretching so far back that I can barely see the pinprick of light at the entrance. But the road ahead looks brighter. April has been a raging nonce of a month. A heap of big, demanding long-term projects converged at once, which was intense but came with the silver lining of getting them all out the door.

Actually, no, they’re not quite out the door. At the moment, they’re still in the foyer putting their shoes on, but it’s progress and I feel better for it. I’ve caught up on a huge backlog of filing and admin as well, and am now getting closer to catching up properly on email, unsubscribing from ancient spam, et cetera. It’s been a productive time, even with all the recent pandemic business that’s been going on in Western Australia. Looks like when things go awry, I deal with it by buckling down, focusing local, and taking comfort in things I can control. It’s left me with room to rediscover things I love that I’d let fall by the wayside.

This week, I’m working on “Sunset”; I’m working on a novella release of About Henry; I’m working on maintaining work-life balance as we head towards the light.

And it feels good.

Reviewing books is a bastard of a thing

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

And many thanks to Nomad Authors for letting me share some musings on it.

Navigating the at-times murky waters of reviewing books has forced me to look more critically at the value of reviews.

I love getting a great review, and yet only rarely consider reviews when deciding whether or not to read a book. Perhaps it’s this ambivalence that feeds my anxiety about writing them.

Anyway, here’s the post. Any of this sound like your experience too?

Hobbies that feed my fiction

Throughout my life, I’ve been prone to minor obsessions (and many not so minor), some of which have been finding their way into my writing. I think the best part about being a bit of a hobby junkie is how much one can learn without it feeling like work.

It is work, of course. As they say, we never get to skip eating the shit sandwich, we can only choose the flavour it comes in. But if that sandwich happens to be a flavour we enjoy, then it seems appropriate to count our blessings.

So, here are a few of mine 💜💜💜💜

Birdwatching 🐦

Did you know that birdwatching is such a serious pursuit, they have a different name for the truly committed enthusiast? I’m definitely more on the casual end of the spectrum, though I do own a pair of binoculars bought specifically for this hobby. In our home, it’s not about snapping photos or filling out a catalogue. We just try to say hello to as many birds as possible when we’re out on a walk. Bonus points if we can identify the species, imitate the bird call, or whip out a fun fact on the spot.

We’ve had odd encounters with our local birds. They can be real friendly once they get to know you, and some just aren’t afraid at all as long as you seem non-threatening. We found an owl in our driveway a couple summers ago, staring at us like we were the weirdos out of place. Once, I sat for ages next to a cormorant who pretty much snubbed me the whole time (tbf he was probably asleep). And then there was that well-orchestrated bird heist

Anyway, even as just a casual hobbyist, this interest popped up in an early writing exercise. Birdwatchers, an erotic short story, ensued.

Book cover for Birdwatchers by JL Peridot

Martial arts 🥋

Up until a couple years ago, I studied a shōtōkan-based martial art with my partner and some friends. I originally got into it as mental-health management and body awareness practice, but ended up going as far as a brown-belt grading. Really, it was a “just for fun” grading, as I’d recently graded and was rocking a sprained ankle from something unrelated. A proper brown-belt grading would have flattened me.

I had a love-hate relationship with this sport, but learned so much from doing it. The experience of sparring was especially useful to the work I do now. It’s not the same as a real-life fight situation, and I only ever did it at a beginner level, but it gave me a taste of those on-your-feet things your brain thinks and registers when you’re in the moment.

Most importantly, it showed me the things you don’t take notice of. This dramatically changed my approach to writing action scenes, culminating in the fights that appear in Chasing Sisyphus.

Book cover for Chasing Sisyphus by JL Peridot

Partying 👯‍♀️

I spent my twenties as “one of the bad kids”, frantically making up for a youth squandered amidst strait-laced negativity and toxic conformity. I partied with a variety of goodies, sometimes every night, and today thank my lucky stars that a) it never hindered my ability to work and function, and b) I’m not biologically or psychologically predisposed to addiction.

Ironically, that lifestyle ended up being good for me at the time. It helped me unwind in ways I never knew how to before and helped me think about things with a different perspective. It let me develop some artistic confidence and practice self-awareness under unusual circumstances—both early-days skills I could take back with me to Sobriety City. It’s for this reason that I feel certain illicit substances shouldn’t be outlawed, but studied and regulated with care and pragmatism, and with a body of education developed around them.

I wouldn’t recommend this hobby for everyone—even a short stint of deep research will come with risks—but well, it was certainly a time in my life, and the experiences from it factor a lot into my writing today.

Arduino programming 🤖

For a brief period, I was very into microcontrollers. Arduino, to be specific. I’ve always regretted skipping the hardware units at school, thinking stuff like logic gates and resistance calculations would never come up in my work. Getting into this hobby filled a huge gap in my computer science education, which I’d never missed in my web development career, but definitely ended up yearning for in life.

The obsessive phase for this hobby was short, but I learned just enough of the concepts, principles and vocabulary to develop Celeste’s character for It Starts with a Kiss. Even though it’s a soft sci-fi romance that’s light on the tech, I’m glad I got to write an MC who talks nerdy like it’s normal, not too unlike many of the beloved nerds in my life.


How about you? What hobbies scratch your itch right now? How do you feel when you see one of your interests appear in the books you read? If you write as well, what hobbies have played into your work? Leave a comment. Let’s chat ☺️

Status Update — Jan 2021

It was SO warm last week. With temps in the high 30s—even cracking 40 a couple of times—my homebody self has been uncharacteristically eager to go out just to enjoy 15 minutes of air-conditioning in the car. We had a little reprieve over the weekend, and despite predictions of the days climbing back up to 40, we seem to be back in the gorgeous Celsius bracket of first summer 🥵 According to the Noongar calendar, this is Birak.

Warm days generally adds an extra struggle factor to writing. This is the kind of weather to spend being restless, agitated, out and about instead of sweating away at a desk. But I do love it. And I’m trying to work better with the seasons. For example, we just started keeping our water filter jug in the fridge.

I know. Genius, right? 💁🏻‍♀️

This month, I’ve committed to getting just one WIP past the post. Surely focusing on just one thing means it’ll get done, because that’s exactly how life works 😅😅😅 It’s a sci-fi romance short story that’s been bouncing around in the ol’ coconut since November. And in case you’re curious, I’ll leave off with a wee snippet from Instagram:

A subroutine pours a drink for Roxy. Tanith studies the arc trajectories of particles as they slosh and swirl against the glass. So realistic. The latest patch to the Garden has all but eliminated the uncanny valley that reminds her she belongs to a different world.

Red wine spills into a glass

The pain you choose

There are only 26 days left until the new year. I don’t know about you, but this winds me up a bit, especially when I think about all the things I meant to do since January, but haven’t done yet 😬

Self-pressure is not the greatest thing, but I saw this quote yesterday:

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.”

— Jim Rohn

It makes me question which kind of pain I’ve embraced this year, and which kind I’m now facing as we count down our sleeps to the end of the month.

I have many regrets about this year. Like the unfinished WIPs I need both hands to count. I regret the times I stressed over how many there are—to the point where I couldn’t muster the energy to just start working on one. I regret taking on so much work and letting everything get unmanageable. I regret neglecting self-care and mental health matters. I regret worrying so much about stuff that just wasn’t that important in the end.

I know I have workaholic tendencies. But doing more work isn’t the same as being disciplined about work. So, lesson learned, hey?

I’d like to be able to say, “Next year, I choose the pain of discipline,” but it’s never that easy. This isn’t the sort of choice you make once and live happily ever after. It’s a choice you have to make, over and over again, every time you hit that fork in the road between The Thing You Gotta Do and Some Other Thing.

Well, here’s to making better choices in 2021. It’s hard to feel too bummed when you still have the power to change.

Project 365

Follow my Project 365 on Instagram.

Back in September, when I was super stressed and anxious about a lot of things, I remembered an old social media photo challenge. It’s called “Project 365”, where you post a photo a day for a year. People still do it today, though it doesn’t seem to pop up as often as it used to.

When last I tried it, I found some much-needed perspective on the life I was living at the time. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it takes something big (like 365 photos) to finally bring the landscape into focus. I saw the traps I kept falling into. I discovered what was making me unhappy, and from there, I could make changes.

A 3x3 Instagram grid of miscellaneous photos
Follow my Project 365 on Instagram.

I’m on Day 68 now and it’s been great so far. I feel connected to my surroundings and a sense of ownership over my choices and activities, though if you’d asked me before if I felt disconnected, I probably would have said no. Maybe it’s a case of not realising what we’re missing until we find it.

Just under 300 days to go. I wonder what else will come up along the way.

If you’ve ever done a 365, I’d love to hear about it. How did you find it? What did you get out of it? How did you feel by the end? Leave a comment or send me an email if you feel like sharing!

On procrastinating better

Today’s world has plenty of distractions that can easily be shut out on a good day. But when your energy is low, even a single notification on a quiet afternoon can kick off a solid 20 minutes of farting around!

I’ve been procrastinating lately. Like, a lot. So much that people around me have begun to worry. This NYT article about procrastination belying hidden psychological problems rings way too true. Don’t worry, this isn’t a doom-post. I will be fine. However, I am fascinating by how easily a little innocuous procrastination can creep up and become a big, looming beast standing over one’s shoulder.

The question today is more about how we can procrastinate better. When we don’t have the luxury of putting life on hold while muddling through our psyches, how can we avoid missing important deadlines or stressing the hell out?

I asked a professional PA, Karisma Carpenter, to help me out. Here’s what she advised:

A dedicated workspace to avoid psychological contamination:

“Well for starters try to give yourself a designated space to get your work done that’s away from distractions like the TV and snack cabinets.”

A clear, easily reference-able organisation system:

“Set up something visual like a large calendar. This way you can put due dates and any other things you have going on in one central place. Try breaking up your task into sections so it’s easier to manage and not so daunting.”

Social accountability:

“Share your progress. Tell a friend or even post on Social Media what you plan to accomplish, so that you have someone or somewhere to check back in with about your progress.”

Hacking your brain’s reward circuits:

“Reward yourself! Everyone deserves rewards for doing things they need to, even you. However make sure you rewards are comparable, for example for 20 minutes of productive work give yourself 5 minutes to relax or do something fun.”

Mindful and deliberate self-care:

“Know when to call it quits! I know, I know, we’re talking about being productive here but, if you have been putting true effort into getting work done and nothing productive is coming out it’s time to take a time out. Trying to struggle through it will only make you frustrated and make your task at hand suffer. So do something relaxing like take a 10 minute walk, or grab a bite to eat and come back to your task. Sometimes being distractible means you need a break, so remember to look after yourself too.”


Karisma Carpenter is a full-time PA/VA I met on Facebook while struggling with some of my research. Based in USA, she’s a nerd of many fandoms who helps authors with things like design, administration, social media management, book promotion, project management, scheduling, and more.

Chasing that first book deal (the guide sheet)

My first book, Chasing Sisyphus, came out in 2017. It’s a suspenseful sci-fi romance and, well, there was nothing romantic about getting that book written. For years, I’d tried and failed to finish a decent story, let alone getting one published. If I wanted to achieve my goal of being a published author, I’d need to put the romance on hold until I sorted out the rest of my shit.

This post is a guide, based on the path I took, which will hopefully help new writers get their first book into the wild. You can read my full story here:

You don’t have to read it to understand this guide, but for context, it’s better if you do. So, grab a drink, pen and paper (or word processor and keyboard) and follow the prompts.

Mindset

Let’s look at the ideas, habits and obstacles that might be standing in your way…

What are some of your ideas about what it means to “be a published author”? Do you have any high expectations that could possibly be unrealistic? Do you have any prejudices that prevent you from acting on good opportunities? Given the resources available to you today, which of those ideas, expectations or prejudices could you tweak in order to get closer to your goal of getting published?

Which of your writing habits might be stopping you from finishing your manuscript? Are you a perfectionist? Are you time-poor? Do you despise research? Are you dealing with chronic illness, injury, mental health issues, children, unsupportive friends…? You don’t have to feel bad about any of this, but you do have to be honest. None of this is your fault. Your habits are the way they are because they served you in the past, but you’re looking to the future now.

Finally, how willing are you to change your mindset to get your book published? And why do you feel this way? It’s OK if you’re not willing. The world is full of possibility and people just like you may be achieving that goal you want without having to change. But if you are willing, then great! Here’s what to do next:

  • List 5 things you can do/change/address/learn this week to make your goal more achievable.
  • Of those 5 things, pick 1 to start doing today.

Audience

All right, now let’s look at who’s gonna be reading your work…

What does “writing for yourself” mean to you? What do you love about writing? What factors matter most to you when it comes to telling stories? What kinds of stories are satisfying for you to tell? What feeling of reward will you personally get from telling this particular story?

Who do you want your book to appeal to? You don’t have to be clear about this yet—just “(insert genre) readers” and “(insert genre) publishers” will do—but you do have to pick a target audience that’s more specific than “everyone”. Reason being that when it comes to writing and publicising your book, you’ll burn yourself out trying to please everyone. Do yourself a favour and establish some boundaries at the start. You can always change this later if you want to.

What does your target audience (yay, you have one now!) want to read? What are the norms, expectations and tropes in the genre you’re aiming for (eg. epic space battles, happily ever after, graphic sex, particular prose styles)? Do the things you enjoy writing fit this framework, or do you need to pick a different framework? Or do you need to learn to enjoy writing in the framework you’ve chosen? What story elements do audiences appreciate today? What story elements are no longer enjoyable to read?

  • With all this in mind, make your list of things about your target audience and genre that you can go research.
  • From that list, pick 5 items that are most immediately relevant to you.
  • And now pick 2 that you can start researching today.

Publisher shortlisting

This section can come before or after the next section—it’s up to you and where your head’s at in terms of story and market awareness.

Here’s what to consider if, like me, you prefer to take the non-agented “direct submission” route.

  • Who are the publishers (or imprints) that play in your space (genre, audience, etc.)?
  • What sorts of content do they publish?
  • Do they have any specific requirements for story content?
  • How comfortable do you feel adhering to their submission guidelines?
  • What can you learn about them from their website and social media profiles?
  • What are people saying about them? (check online forums and social media)
  • How do they compensate their authors?
  • What would be expected of you if you become a signed author?
  • How do you feel about the other authors contracted to them?

Note that some considerations are worth caring a lot about (ie. don’t waste energy on a publisher who doesn’t do your genre), while others will be open to negotiation (eg. you don’t like a particular author signed to that publisher, but you might still be open to having your name next to theirs). This is totally up to you and will likely determine who makes it onto your shortlist.

Drafting your story

This is a huge rabbit hole, but this guide aims to get your idea out of your head and onto the page, in a format you can query with. So, with that in mind…

If you’re a pantser… Use what you know about storytelling, genre and any recommendations from your shortlisted publishers to determine the critical story elements you just can’t do without. List them in the order you’d like to see them happen and commit to writing your story down. Tell your Inner Editor and Inner Critic to take a recess while you sprint your way to The End. Promise them their time to shine during your revision process.

If you’re a plotter/planner… Choose the simplest and quickest planning system you can find. While the likes of Snowflake Method and StoryGrid will help you come up with an amazing piece of work, if you don’t already know how to use them, you can really get lost in the nuts and bolts of figuring them out. For your first draft of your first book, go quick and simple. You can always refer back to whatever system you adore once your first draft is done.

My very basic chapter-by-chapter outline template is available via Google Drive if you’d like to pinch it ☺️

Query checklist

This one’s straightforward—or at least, it should be.

For each publisher you submit to:

  • Review their submission guidelines
  • Check that your story content aligns with any requirements
  • Check that your manuscript is formatted (fonts, margins, spacings, etc.) to their specifications
  • Prepare your synopsis according to any requirements
  • Write your query letter, addressing it to the acquisitions editor (if applicable)

Tl;dr: follow the publisher’s instructions.

Final thoughts…

  • Committing to your writing doesn’t mean you have to become a workaholic. It means engaging your Rider just a bit more, rather than waiting for your Elephant to stumble upon the path.
  • A good story is both satisfying for you to tell and satisfying for your readers to read. You’re not a sellout for writing what an audience wants to read.
  • Respect the people you’re querying, whether they’re agents, publishers, other writers, readers or critics.
  • You don’t need to be perfect on your first go. You just need to have a go.
  • You don’t have to be an amazing writer on your first go, but you must be willing to learn.
  • If you discover along the way you’re not enjoying this, it’s perfectly OK to stop ❤️

Status Update — May 2020

CampNaNoWriMo was a success. And by that, I mean The Dragon’s Den WIP is finally in a usable first draft state. It still needs so much research and revising before it’s even close to becoming a book, but I was very happy anyway and celebrated with a couple of new videogames (tell you about them in a tick).

The Basilica Conspiracy

The Dragon’s Den is book 2 of The Basilica Conspiracy, a sci-fi/retrofuture mini-series that follows the development of Rhys and Adria’s romantic relationship after they accidentally stumble on some business they weren’t supposed to see.

The first book, Chasing Sisyphus, came out in 2017 and while book 2 should have started as soon as book 1 was finished, now that I’ve reached this point in the WIP, I realise I just wasn’t ready to write The Dragon’s Den back then. The story was too complex, character motivations too intense, and my writing nowhere near strong enough to tell the story needing to be told.

But I’m ready now…I think. And after a short break, I’ll be starting the first proper revision of The Dragon’s Den as well as the first draft of book 3, Sins of the Other.

Sunset on a Distant World

…is back on the worktable after almost a year of sitting in a box. There are a lot of problems with the first draft, but a lot of interesting ways to fix them. There is a plan for this book and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you when it’s done.

Shop talk

I hope you enjoyed reading about the revision process for It Starts With A Kiss, as there’ll be more where that came from. “Shop talk” is a new category of content I’ll be sharing in my newsletter and on this blog, talking about writing craft, mindset and “the trade”. I know most of you also write, so I hope you’ll find the information useful in your own creative endeavours.

Short stories

So, the writing I started “for no reason” ended up as short story, Playing Trades. This 2000-word piece was sent out to my dear readers in the April/May issue of Dot Club, and has since been accepted into Crystal L. Kirkham‘s Where the Sun Always Shines Anthology, coming out soon.

There’s a new microstory going into next month’s newsletter. If you’d like to see it, you can subscribe on my website.

Oh, and I gave up on “MOAB”. About two-thirds of the way through, it stopped feeling right, so back in the box it goes.

Projects (still) on hold

  • Project H
  • Project D (yep, there’s another unnamed project floating around)

Self-care

There’s a lot I can’t control right now, but also a lot that I can. Getting at least 20 minutes of sunlight a day is one of them. Drinking 2L of water a day is another. I still slip sometimes, but for the most part, minding these two things sets me up to be able to do other things. Like exercising and catching myself before I get too emotionally invested in ignorant hot takes on Twitter. Everyone handles stress differently, and where I can help it, I’m trying not to let some stranger’s stress tantrum become the reason I have one too 😅

Other self-care activities that have helped a lot:

Moisturising my forearms… Maybe I have a sensory thing going on, but supple forearm skin seems to be a real mood lifter 🤔

Nice smells. I’ve burnt all my smelly candles, but found a tiny vial of peppermint oil on a cluttered shelf, so we’re all candy cane country this month!

Curating my feeds. Nuff said.

Reading

  • Forgotten Storm by A. R. Vagnetti, after longingly staring at the paperback on my shelf for months.
  • True Refuge by Annabelle McInnes—I had to stop this one, as the incredibly powerful first chapter moved me more than I was ready for. But I’m ready to come back now.
  • Also beta reading for some writer friends.

Recently finished: The Way Home by Stefanie Simpson. Night Life by B.K. Bass.

Watching

  • Family Guy
  • Parks & Recs
  • Luis Miguel: The Series—Diego Boneta is a snack, even with a mullet

Actor Diego Boneta holds a cigarette between his soft lips
Diego Boneta via IMDB

Recently watched: Devs (brilliant).

Playing

Recently on the socials…

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAEn942AIwS/

Status Update — Mar 2020

I haven’t been writing as much as I’d hoped. A week-long trip to Japan in the middle of February waylaid a lot of plans. In the days before flying out, I had my first major bout of pre-travel anxiety. Seriously my first since… say, childhood? Not even last year’s longer, less familiar UK trip did that.

It’s all this mania over COVID-19. I wasn’t scared of catching it, though. The WHO Situation Reports—just facts, nothing more—did a great job of curbing that stress. My fear was that I’d get caught up in some sort of racist panic on the way home and get sent to off-shore quarantine.

I mentioned this to a few of my friends, but I don’t know if many of them understood what that feeling is like. Heck, I never understood what that’s like until now. If I’ve ever had real actual racism levelled at me before, I sure wasn’t savvy enough to pick it. Live and learn, hey?

Getting home, having the customs officers be friendly and nice as I rolled straight through, and then seeing N waiting for me in Arrivals was such a relief. And this is me, a white-collar Australian person, having a smooth and comfy ride all the way back to my white-collar life in a multicultural city. I think about people who have it way worse; realise that no matter how anxious I get, I will never even begin to fathom how much more anxious they must be.

Well, I’ve been home a few weeks now. And despite the low word count, I’ve managed to get a lot done. Here’s what…

This blog looks different…

IT SURE DOES. In preparation for the new website, this blog now has its own home and a new theme that does what I tell it to. In case you fancied it for your blog, it’s called Uncode and was worth every penny.

The new website…

…is coming. The whole process reminded me why I love web and why I changed careers. But it’s coming, friends. jlperidot.com will look different soon.

The Dragon’s Den

After chipping away at this manuscript, I’ve finally hit that scene. Every manuscript has one—the one that’s been over-thought to oblivion and now I just can’t even. Focusing on web stuff has been a good break, but I’ve done my soul searching and am almost ready to come back to it.

Camp NaNoWriMo

April’s camp is only three weeks away. I was tempted to skip this one, because of how much still to do ahead of the big event in July. But I have some things I’d like to write. Short stories, manuscripts, other things… so hey, let’s go camping.

Short Stories

About Her, the follow-up to About Henry, is coming back from my editor this week, with plans to go live on 6 April 2020. Watch this space.

I’m also working on a new short story: “MOAB”. It’s not romantic and not erotic, though the protagonist does get to have a fling. It’s been a long time since I’ve written something that’s not a love story. I have doubts about this draft, but will give it my best shot and see what happens.

Projects (still) on hold

  • Sunset on a Distant World
  • Project H

Self-care

As of last week, I started working from home as a precaution, just in time for a minor COVID-19 scare upon finding out that a friend went to get tested.

We were only in our self-imposed lockdown for a day before she forwarded the all-clear, but it did bring to light a few significant concerns to be mindful of if lockdown becomes a thing in Perth. Getting enough sunlight, for one. And exercise. Checking in with friends. And playing games with friends, because it’s important to have fun.

I’ve started writing for no reason again. As in, writing without intent to publish. I may publish them if they turn out all right, but that’s not the goal at this point. Sometimes it’s fun just to see how things go.

Reading

Night Life by B.K. Bass. Heart Stuck by Laina Ruff. True Refuge by Annabelle McInnes. And The Way Home by Stefanie Simpson… hnnnng, I promised myself I wouldn’t buy her amazing-sounding new release until I finish all the Simpson books I already have (but there’s a very good chance I’ll cave and buy it anyway).

Recently finished: The Devil’s Work by Demelza Carlton. Dead Town by Anthony D. Redden 💀

Watching

Parks & Recs. You. Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City (again). Family Guy. Broad City.

Recently watched: The Naked Director (so good). Devilman Crybaby (awesome soundtrack).

Playing

Merchant RPG (pixel-art crack). Dead Cells (wonderful art style; try a turret build).

Recently on the socials…