Discover more from Kate J. Armstrong
Tinsel on Deadline
Holiday hustling, a bookish end-of-year roundup, and tour dates galore
Hello, friends. I hope your holidays have been merry and bright, no matter how you celebrate them. I hope you've found some quiet time in the chaos of Christmas to rest and reflect.
I love the IDEA of a restful end-of-year holiday season. Nothing sounds better to me that spending days cutting out paper snowflakes, walking on the beach (ah, the perks of Christmas in Australia), writing in my journal, baking cookies, and reading for lavish hours on end. Alas, not this year.
I’m becoming notorious for working over the holidays. It seems I’m always being hit with a big January deadline: as an editor, I frequently had big edits due the first week in January. This year, of course, I’m finishing the draft of NIGHTBIRDS’ sequel before I fly off to Mexico to celebrate my brother’s wedding, then up to the USA for a wee vacation and, at last, the book’s launch.
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To be fair, January 12th wasn’t supposed to be my deadline for this draft. That came and went months ago, and I had to get it extended. Writing this book has been a tough road, I won’t lie.
Everyone told me that writing your first book on deadline is hard, and they weren’t wrong. It’s been challenging in all the ways they said it would be. I had years to draft NIGHTBIRDS, then polish it up to my satisfaction before it went to an editor. And now I have to write a draft in just a handful of months, knowing that someone is waiting on it and expecting it to be certain things. Add to that I’ve drafted this book more swiftly than I ever have before, and most of it is, shall we say, a rough-cut diamond. I trust my editor, but that doesn’t mean handing her a messy, sprawling, everything-but-the-kitchen sink sort of a draft doesn’t scare me.
It’s also been hard in ways I never imagined. I’m very fortunate to be writing full-time right now: it’s a gift. No more writing around the margins of my work day, frustrating that I can’t dedicate more time to my craft. But I foolishly imagined that more time would mean much faster drafting. I mean, I have all day: surely that means I can pop out books much faster! That’s not how it works, though, I’m learning. There are always other jobs popping up: pass pages to proof, marketing questions to answer, publicity tasks to get done. Even if none of that existed, I can’t write for eight hours a day: the muse will go on strike if I try it, and I have tried it. Some days the muse doesn’t want to show up at all.
All that said, I’ve learned some things along the way, however painful, that I know I will take with me into 2023 and well beyond it. I’m going to share a few, in case any of you are struggling with big projects and finding balance. I hope they help you keep despair and burnout at bay.
Focus on the next bend rather than the entirety of the mountain.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you know you have 100,000+ words to write and only a handful of months to do it in. Big projects can feel crippling when you look at them all at once. That’s why I like to break my goals in bite-sized chunks and focus on just one at a time, knowing they will add up to the mountain eventually. These change throughout my drafting process: sometimes it’s a word goal, sometimes it’s a time goal. But I always try to keep them maneagble. There is nothing worse than working hard all day and thinking, “I didn’t even get close to what I set out to accomplish.” Which is how every day ends when I’ve bitten off more words than I can chew.
Rest is part of the process.
No, really. It is! If you’re at all like me, then you have a tendency to look at breaks and rest as distraction or procrastination, or just plain laziness. You shouldn’t be readying or going for that extra long walk! You should be drafting! Mush, Kate, MUSH! But proper breaks are vital for creativity. They allow you time to mull over problems - I can’t tell you how many thorny plot issues have gotten solved while I was doing something else and not consciously noodling on them. But they also allow you to recharge and refill that well. The creative well DOES run dry if you refuse to slow down and fill it. That can lead to burnout, and that’s not a place from which anyone does good or efficient work.
This is one of those things that I know intellectually, but am still working on taking into my heart. An important work in progress.
Let go of perfection.
Please: I beg you. Especially if you’re working on a draft! Drafts are about discovering the story you want to tell, not about being pretty or anything like perfect. If you obsess about every little thing, the process becomes slow, painful, and torturous. And really, why are you polishing a scene that might ultimately have to get deleted in revisions? THAT is the place where the magic truly happens, but first you have to get words down and fumble your way through. Which, by the way, ALL authors do. Drafting is hard, and it’s a messy business. It helps if you do it boldly, without fear.
If a routine that worked in the past no longer serves, change it.
I was set on the idea that my best writing time was in the morning. I doggedly stuck to it while I drafted, even though I was finding it increasingly difficult for one reason or another. In desperation, when I wasn’t meeting my goals, I started doing hour-long writing bursts in the evening and realised that, actually, the words were flowing really well after the sun went down. If a routine isn’t working for you, let it go for a while. Try another. Granted, not everyone has the luxury of picking and choosing their own hours, but try to be flexible with your creative ebb and flow.
You can’t do it all.
Do you hear that, Past Kate? Future Kate, are you listening? YOU CANNOT DO IT ALL. You cannot be a whizz book marketer, a conscientious friend and family member, a good long-distance correspondent, super fit, a stellar wife, someone who makes dinners from scratch every night, produce two podcasts on a steady schedule, go out socialising, AND draft your first sequel all at once. Things have to give - things WILL give, whether or not I want them to. It’s always better to consciously choose what those things are rather than have them happen to you. Choose what’s most important this month, this week, today, right now. And don’t forget to check in with yourself. Ask: what do I need? and really listen to the answer.
Trust your gut.
I’m not a natural-born story outliner. I really struggled to plan out all of this sequel’s twists and turns in advance, but knew I had to in order to write to my deadline. There were whole sections and plot lines I didn’t know how to fill, and that scared me. But things got easier when I asked myself what excited me about this sequel. Forget about plot: what feels right for these characters? What events and moments do I want to see? I figured that if it felt good to me, it would feel good to the reader. If it felt right, it was unlikely to be wrong. This was also my guiding principle as I drafted fast. I so often felt the siren song of the editor, wanting to go back and comb over scenes I’d just written. But I didn’t have the time, and so I had to trust that what I wrote was good enough to give a solid foundation.
Trust your gut. Trust your gut. Trust your gut.
The NIGHTBIRDS preorder campaign
I’m thrilled to finally announce the beautiful goodies on offer for those of you who preorder your copy of Nightbirds. Can you believe it’s only two months until the book his shelves?!
First, we have Penguin’s preorder campaign, which is a real stunner.
They’re offering readers a beautiful enamel pin, the design of which is based on some cards you’ll find in the book’s Prologue, originally designed by my talented husband!
I’m also running a campaign through One More Page Books in Arlington, VA. If you order from them, you’ll get a signed and personalized copy of Nightbirds, and you’ll score yourself a set of beautiful character cards. One side features the Nightbirds in their masks, and then you flip them over and BOOM! They’re unmasked. If you haven’t checked out my last newsletter, there is a video showing them off tucked within it.
Got questions? I have answers.
Q: International Entries? Sadly, not for the pin, due to the varying legal rules of each country. But One More Page DOES ship internationally, so you can still get the signed copy and character cards if you’re okay to pay for international shipping.
Q: Can I claim BOTH prizes? Yes! Orders from One More Page are also eligible for the pin. You can also get the cards if you come to see me at one of my events (more below).
Q: What do I upload as proof of purchase for the pin? An image (jpg/png/tiff) of the receipt or confirmation email is perfect. Screenshots are fine too. As long as we can see that it is a receipt to pre-order Nightbirds! (PDFs are not valid entries).
Q: What retailers can I order from? For the pin? ANY OF THEM! Amazon, B&N, Bookshop, local indies, Target, Walmart, etc. – as long as you’re a resident in the US and you meet all the legal conditions of entry, your pre-order can be from any retailer. If you want a signed copy and the character cards, though, you will need to order from One More Page or come see me on tour.
Q: What formats are valid? Hardback, ebook, audio, any special retailer editions, and any subscription boxes that we can see the book is Nightbirds.
Q: When is my receipt valid for? Anytime before the book comes out on February 28th. See the dates on the entry form for giveaway open and close dates.
Q: My book has been delivered but it didn’t have the prize, help please? The prize will be delivered to all valid entries six to eight weeks after the release date and is not connected to the book delivery from the retailer.
I’m flying with Nightbirds out on the road! It’ll be my first book tour, and I can’t wait to meet some readers and booksellers. We writers spend so much time at our desks, so this is going to be a treat for me. Here are the details for my USA tour stops…
I’m planning on wearing a me-made flapper costume to the launch at One More Page (pictures to come, I promise) and I highly encourage you to dress up in your 1920s-inspired best if you come along. Gloves, headband, spangles: don’t be shy, now! I promise I’ll be the most dressed up person there.
If you come to see me at any of these events, I’ll very happily sign your copy of NIGHTBIRDS and give you some character cards. I might even have some other goodies on offer!
If you’re in Australia, never fear: I will be doing some events in March. Will at least one of these events involve Amie Kaufman and I turning up in flapper dresses? Probably. Will I have character cards on offer? Undoubtedly. Stay tuned for more details soon.
Meanwhile, on Pub Dates…
On this podcast, Amie Kaufman and I are taking readers on a behind-the-scenes journey to the publication of our latest novels. We’ve released two new episodes since last I wrote you, both of which were such a joy.
Mapping a World
This episode, Amie and I delved into one of my favorite things: maps. We shared how our fantasy maps came into existence in more detail than I have in this newsletter, and had a blast talking about all the details we love best.
Fun & Games
We asked listeners to give us some fun holiday challenges, and did you ever deliver! We told you what sorts of tails our characters would have, were they to wake up with some, and read several never-before-shared snippets from both our novels. If you want some serious sneak peeks into Nightbirds, I highly recommend you listen in.
Ps: Did you know I also have a history podcast?
This is particularly relevant to Nightbirds because the next season of The Exploress is going to take us time traveling back to the 1920s. I’ve wanted to do a season on this period forever, and what better time than when I’ve got a 1920s-tinted fantasy hitting shelves?
Here’s a little preview for you, word nerds. I’m going to give you five pieces of bonafide 1920s-era slang, which come courtesy of the July 1922 edition of Flapper. Can you guess what they mean? Scroll down when you’re ready to find out how you did…
Absent Treatment = Dancing with a bashful partner.
Alarm Clock = a chaperone.
Barneymugging = lovemaking.
Bell polisher = A young man addicted to lingering in vestibules at 1 a.m.
Hen coop = a beauty parlour.
Flour lover = a woman who uses face powder too freely.
stilts = legs.
wind sucker = someone who boasts.
Best Reads of 2022
It’s getting hard to remember what I’ve read this year as opposed to last, as I no longer use Goodreads as a reading tracker (for my own sanity. I don’t trust myself not to read Nightbirds’ reviews, and it’s going to do bad things for my digestion).
These all swept me away, wrapped me up in their worlds, and made me feel many feelings. (*FYI: spicy sex scenes included)
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Only a Monster by Vanessa Len
Anatomy by Dana Schwartz
The Isles of the Gods by Amie Kaufman (this isn’t out until May 2023. Sorry, team)
Greywaren by Maggie Stiefvater
The Whispering Dark by Kelly Andrew
A Marvellous Light* by Freya Marske
The Killing Code by Ellie Marney
The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper
Heartbreaker* by Sarah Maclean
The River King by Alice Hoffman (a re-read: I truly love Alice Hoffman)
The Will Darling Adventures* by KJ Charles
That’s it from me! What were some of your favorite books of this past year? Which ones are you looking forward to in 2023? And PS, if you want a list of all the amazing debuts coming out next year, check out this website. I hope you all have a happy new year and that 2023 starts out feeling hopeful. I can’t wait for everything the new year will bring!
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