Thanks so much to Stephanie Kelley for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour! Go read her blog post for the tour. It was fun to get to know her better.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Thanks so much to Stephanie Kelley for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour! Go read her blog post for the tour. It was fun to get to know her better.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
This is not a formal review. I don't do those. I just read books, and then I think about them a lot and then, sometimes, if I'm feeling bloggerly, I tell you the takeaway.
1. Don't read this book if you're one of those angry, hostile writers Anne is always talking about who just want to get published, and want her to tell you how to do this. She will not tell you how. She will tell you that you most likely won't succeed in gaining this dream, and that if you do, you will most likely not enjoy it once you get there.
How's that for an upper?
2. Anne Lamott is a real person. Her voice and her experience are dripping with down-in-the-trenches-beside-you-my-sista kind of wisdom. She's been there. She's suffered that. She's a human being with all her battle-wounds, and she is going to tell it to you straight. Which is what she wants from you. She wants you to write who you are, with no gloss and no candy-coating. I get the impression that Anne and I could sit down for a four-hour heart-to-heart therapy session, and I'd come away feeling like nothing I said could really surprise her.
3. Anne says that writers need to be present. They need to really live, observe, listen, experience. They need to live life to its fullest. She says that writer's block is a misnomer, because nothing is blocked, in reality we're empty, when we're stuck like that. That we need to fill back up. Live our lives, be with people, view the minutiae, and express it.
I was on a family camping trip with strep throat this weekend while I devoured her book, along with Natalie Whipple's Transparent, and Robison Wells' Variant. (It's amazing what being away from all my responsibilities can do for my reading speed. Good night, I love to lose myself in a good book.) Anyhoo, I was on this camping trip with all these amazing people who I love, and I found myself settling into the moments, noticing things, really noticing them. Seeing the magic in the people and the beauty of the world around me, and writing about it.
4. Anne Lamott is all about the art. She is not about the money or the fame or the idea of being published, although she admits to struggling with all of those demons. But at the heart of it, this book is for people who love to express life honestly through the written word, and want to do more of that in little pieces every day.
5. This book is humane, humble, hilarious, pessimistic, realistic, and delightful. *Go read it, my darlings.
*Go read it with the caveat that her language is a mite salty. She is not too reverent to toss around a few "colorful metaphors." (Thank you Spock in Star Trek IV for that expression.)
6. I am done now. What are you still doing here? If I had been planning on this review, I'd have quotes for you and a format for this blog post. I'm going to bed. But not before brushing off the gross pizza breath from my teeth. Hooray for Colgate.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Writing along. Loving every minute. Delighted by my characters, my story, my dialog. So excited to finish my novel on May 6th. 80,000 word deadline set.
80,000 word deadline met.
Only trouble is...
I'm just at the midpoint, story-wise.
And I'm pretty sure my agent and her editor friends would tell me that a 160,000 word YA contemporary is... ahem... unpublishable.
Grandiose? Self-indulgent? Not. Happening.
So, new goal for the month of May.
Every day instead of producing 1000 words minimum, I have to produce 500 new words minimum, and then delete their equivalent from somewhere earlier in the story. I'll be working on the story from two different places, and that may make me unproductive, or less efficient. I'll have to see. If it's problematic, maybe I'll rotate days. Cutting day and writing day. But I kind of like the idea of earning my new words by cutting old ones.
My only problem is that if I stop producing new content, I lose the momentum, and I find myself paralyzed for a few days when I come back to writing prose. Which is bad for my arbitrary and totally self-imposed deadlines.
My husband and I have a smallish house and a large wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Awhile ago I told him that until we have a bigger house, once the shelves are totally full, we either have to get rid of books or stop buying new ones. Thank heaven for him the e-reader came along. Whew! Dilemma solved.
I'm viewing my novel like those beastly shelves. You want new words? You want your MC to ever get to find out the meaning of her life, make the tough choices, and get the guy? Then sacrifice her ten paragraph rant about how rough her life is in chapter 2. (I kid. If there is such a rant, may I be barred from my keyboard. Although if it does exist, that might make cutting 20,000 words a little les torturous!)
Nikki, seriously, you're not going to take the axe to my story for me? Caryn? Anyone?
I tremble in fear of today's writing session, but I thought stating the truth here might help keep me honest about the tough love this novel needs.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The first few writing years were filled with... I love writing. I want to write. I love having written. I hate writing. I can't write. I'm PARALYZED. I'm taking a break from writing... for oh, a year or so.
But now, I write. In January I was 25,000 words into my current WIP. Today, I'm almost to 80,000 words.
In the past four years, I've done two seriously vomitacious pregnancies, given birth to my second and third babies, kept two newborns alive through the grueling first six months, and completed the first draft of Novel #1, co-written Novel #2 with my husband, re-written and revised Novel #1 extensively, nearly completed draft 1 of Novel #3, queried, entered contests, attended writing conventions, gotten an agent, revised for her, and said farewell to Novel #1 as it went out on submission. And I've done it while running my photography business and serving in church callings and canning fruit and managing to sleep, eat, and exercise.
Because why? What has made this craziness possible?
Fifteen minutes a day.
If I'm consistent, and I write fifteen minutes a day, I can produce a chapter every one to two weeks.
Now, granted, at this point, I write more like 1-2 hours a day. And I brainstorm and think and talk writing with all of my friends.
But on days when I'm paralyzed and I think I'm awful and I question this whole exercise in frustration, I sit my butt in my chair, and I pound on the keyboard for fifteen minutes.
Don't tell me you can't do it. Because you can. Fifteen minutes every single day will either become more, become rewarding, and start to create magic, or it won't.
But either way, lots of really smart people have been telling me since I got the itch as a teenager that real writers write.
We can be friends either way, but wouldn't you rather be writing friends?
Friday, April 19, 2013
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
I said it.
I need it, but it ties me up in knots.
I'm about 40,000 words into my WIP and I'm still taking off a few days every week or so to toy with the outline. A suggestion from my genius sister finally helped make this outline into something I can hold on to. She told me to put it in the voice of my main character, from her perspective. Then, she said, "If your character spits the line of text back in your face, you'll know if wasn't really something she would think, say, or do." This worked amazingly for me.
Want a peak at what I wrote tonight?
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Writing fiction is interesting. You want to tell a satisfying story. You can only do this if you can create a satisfying arc for your main character. Which means taking them from one point to a different point where they have learned an important lesson or grown in some meaningful way, and demonstrated their growth through their actions. Essentially, along the way you need to teach your main character the secrets of the universe. Yesterday I was teaching my main character that love is unselfish. That when you truly love, you are willing to sacrifice for the people you care about.
You don't spend that kind of time considering these kinds of moral values without being changed. It's one of the things I love most about writing. Yesterday night I was sick. I felt miserable. And I wanted to go to bed. But my husband had worked late and the house was a wreck. Remembering the lessons I'm trying to teach my main character, I spent an hour sacrificing sleep, and cleaning so Cody could come home to a peaceful house.
And it was satisfying.
Like a character arc that really works!
Thursday, February 7, 2013
I've since thought about this comment. It says a lot about my new way of looking at writing. For years, I've been an on-again-off-again writer. If I don't write for three or four days, I'm done. The very thought of opening my manuscript is paralyzing to me. But the minute I actually force myself to start writing again, the other me takes over. The one who wanted to become a writer in the first place.
Consistency, for me, is the key.
And if I stop to think too much about the big picture, I get overwhelmed and freak out and stop for two or three days, which can become two or three months without even trying.
My point is, if I'm a writer, I write. Every day. But it doesn't have to consume every thought, every relationship, every interaction.
So, for me, learning to turn it on and off is important. And learning that as a writer, every day I do my time, and then I also live my life. And then the next day, I write again. It doesn't matter which piece of the puzzle I'm working on if I don't think so hard about the whole picture. I can navigate between projects, focusing on whatever is most pressing. I can switch to revising for my agent, and back to working on my WIP without initiating a writer's block breakdown
And I'm not planning to ever finish. The goal is not to be done. The goal is to write.
(Responsible, Real-World Heather chiming in here: Obviously we have to finish certain manuscripts and revisions on deadlines... but like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about that tomorrow. Nothing kills my creative flow like the demand that I be funny, poignant, and articulate on a schedule. If I think about it in a pressure-free way, I am my most productive.)
And we're writers. So we'll run out of things to write about when we're dead. And even in heaven, I hope I can spend a little time each day with the heavenly equivalent of my laptop and characters and glorious, delicious words.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
This started out as a guest post for Monica, my awesome coach from The Writer’s Voice—the contest responsible for helping me find my agent—and turned into a history of my life, at least as pertains to writing. Monica got the edited version. I got to keep the beast. Aaaaand, here goes.
Sometimes writing can be frustrating—a conversation with no one talking on the other end. You spend your days creating drama and solving problems for pretend people. This particular brand of nerdery can leave you lonely.
In junior high school in Canada, the majority of my social life happened in my head, with characters whose dramas were so much more life-and-death than mine. They were going to die in childbirth, or crossing the plains, or of a broken heart. They rode in buggies, or walked the halls of castles.
Meanwhile, back in real life teenagerville, I was just wondering what to wear, who I’d eat lunch with, and if any boy would ever acknowledge my existence.
I owe a lot of my early writerly journey to my best friend through junior high. She was unique, imaginative, and a ton more fun than the popular kids who were obsessed with Guess and Esprit and Beaver Canoe. Yes, indeed… I lived in Canada. And Beaver Canoe was a seriously coveted brand. The cliché blows my mind, too.
Anyhoo, Christy and I shared the wonderful writerly world of make believe. And she made it okay for me to enjoy it. In a way, she was my first writing group. We hung out at Heritage Park, a pioneer theme park where you could go and pretend for a few hours that you were in another world. We even dressed up a few times, and people thought we were park employees. I remember eating lunches from Christy’s picnic basket on the lawn of the manor house, wandering out to the lighthouse, and watching the ferry departing. I populated our stories with characters and dialog, while Christy made sure their wardrobe was well-designed and their houses impeccably decorated. I hope she went on to be a fashion designer or an architect.
I never lost the need to tell stories. From childhood when I’d narrate my sister Kathryn off to sleep every night with the plots of my novels, my scribbling in notebooks has kept me marvelous company.
I took a brief break from writing and reading for pleasure in college and in my first years of teaching, although my French major and English minor kept me immersed in classic literature.
It wasn’t until my first two years as a stay-at-home mom that I finally wanted to write again. I spent my days with a delightful toddler, but she didn’t talk to me much, and I needed more than just my relationship with her to sustain me. Enter my good buddy, NaNoWriMo.
I’ll admit straight out that I have never once succeeded in making the full 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo, but I owe the rest of my career as a writer to setting the goal and working to meet it. And to learning that writing is more than planning and outlining and imagining. Writing is more like… actually… writing. Moving your fingers on the keyboard as words come to life under your fingers. Experimenting with voice and description and dialogue. Creation, pure and simple. Exhilarating, thrilling, compulsive, and exasperating.
My first NaNoWriMo netted me 25,000 words of an epic fantasy novel. I didn’t do much outlining. I just wrote until I got bored or frustrated, which was when I skipped to the most thrilling scenes. I never went back and did the drudgery of writing the boring parts. (It didn’t occur to me until later that if there are boring parts, you shouldn’t ever go back and write them. If there is some empty space in a book, you should definitely fill it with something that makes your arm hair stand on end.) Eventually, figuring out court intrigues, battle scenes, and what to feed my medieval princess for breakfast forced me to try to write what I know.
NaNoWrimo #2 yielded a very rough 25,000 words of JUST THIS ONCE—A book about a perfectionist teen working to get into Yale from her broken-down trailer while she tutors a rich, popular sports hero who is the perfect person to help her embrace her fears, open her heart, and learn to accept her life.
(See following approximate though exaggerated passage from NaNoWriMo#2)
Whew, thought Main Character. That was a raucous good time we all had doing that hilarious project for history class. Everyone was laughing so hard at jokes that the author is too lazy to think up or write here. My goodness, I’m still blushing when I think of all the serious chemistry I felt with Romantic Hero. He was so intense. Seriously. We felt something magical. Guess you had to be there.
Four years and almost no writing later, I found myself commiserating with my friend Juliana that we were writers who didn’t write—a sad waste of our talents and interests. And we decided then and there to form a weekly writing group. During the two-and-a-half years that followed, I finished my contemporary manuscript, co-wrote a middle grade mystery with my husband, revised my contemporary manuscript, had another baby, and started a new YA novel. Without my writing group, I doubt I would have finished my first draft of my first book.
Last year I queried my MG mystery to 20 agents. I received 12 form rejections, one personal rejection, and seven no responses. I felt like no one would ever care what I was saying from my solitary living room on my little laptop. I also queried JUST THIS ONCE to several small publishers, who all rejected it. One told me that they loved it, but were no longer marketing this genre to their readers. One told me thanks, but no thanks. My favorite rejection letter said that my writing was exceptional but that they felt that my story had no hook, was not unique, and that I should limit my MC’s internal musings and learn to write authentic dialogue.
Ouch! I wonder what they say to authors when they don’t feel their writing is exceptional.
If you never cry at all during the process of trying to find an audience for your work, you are a robot with a heart of stone. But you get tougher and more certain that what you are saying has value, even if you’re still locked in a one way conversation with only your MC to tell you how amazingly witty you are.
Last May my agented writer friend Caryn suggested that I enter The Writer’s Voice contest. I was hesitant to enter because I just didn’t think my manuscript was right for the competition. But my sister called and encouraged me, and I decided to go ahead. What could it hurt, right? I tried and failed to get entered on the first wave of entries, and that afternoon, I tried again. I remember sitting at my computer with my heart pounding and my finger on refresh waiting for the link widget to appear so I could type in my name. And this time, I made it.
Most of the coaches had picked their teams, and only Monica had waited to announce, choosing not to fight with the other coaches for some of the more popular entries. She picked some less obvious choices. When she emailed to say she wanted my query and first page on her team I couldn’t believe it. It was the first positive feedback I’d had about any of my queries. I was excited for her coaching to help me improve my query, but I never thought it would actually be the doorway to getting an agent. Her comments really improved my query and first page.
Near the end of the agent voting, Kevan Lyon and Louise Fury nearly gave me heart failure by voting for me. I sent off a partial manuscript to each of these women, and a third agent who asked for a full.
Two of the agents rejected the manuscript, saying it just wasn’t for them, and Louise never responded. No worries. All part of the process. I’m getting good at the whole not-holding-my-breath thing by now.
But at the end of December I got an alert that Louise Fury was now following me on Twitter. Um… why? Why would this agent who’s had my manuscript since May be suddenly following me? I almost never tweet. Authorial sacrilege, I know. Anyway, I told myself it was probably nothing.
But FIVE MINUTES LATER I got an email requesting the full manuscript. LOUISE FURY loved my voice and was excited to read more. Breathe. Must. Breathe.
So I calmed myself down and sent it off to her. And pretended to forget about it.
And… she’s an agent, and must have a finely tuned sense for drama, right? NEW YEAR’S DAY! That’s when I got her next email. Three days after receiving my full, she emailed. I was just heading to bed, and Louise thought she should make good and sure I didn’t sleep. Ever. Again.
She said that her team had read my book, and that they thought I was a “seriously talented writer,” (This phrase is burned forever into my brain, incidentally) and she wanted to talk to me on the phone the next day. It is a seriously good thing that I didn’t fall down and die.
The next day lives on in my memory as one of the most surreal experiences of my life. It was like a fairy tale. I told myself to keep my expectations low for her call. I let myself fantasize briefly about her offering to represent my novel.
Our conversation was better than anything I could have dreamed up.
For every question I asked Louise, her answer showed that she was the perfect agent for me. The way she thinks about my manuscript and respects my vision for my story, while helping me to improve it with clear, incisive feedback is amazing to me. I’ve only been working with her for a month, but we have already been through two full sets of revisions, and she has already helped me so much. Now I’m immersed in my WIP, and my book is in her capable hands while we prepare for the next step—submission.
It’s an exciting journey, though I have little control over where it goes next. I am writing, though, and that’s what matters, right? I have learned that for those of us pursuing the dream, we are closer than we know. The line between an agented writer and someone in the slush piles telling themselves not to give up is a fine one. It’s a matter of finding the right person at the right time who will look closer and see what they are looking for in your work. Simple? Maybe not. But achievable. I know. One month ago I had never had any requests for fulls or partials from any of my query letters. Today I have an amazing agent who is passionate about my manuscript.
As writers, we often downplay what we do until someone else validates our work. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve worried that I was wasting my time with something that would never benefit anyone but me. And I know many other writers who have felt the same. Don’t give up on your dreams. Just keep networking and querying and believing and WRITING! And don’t give up on yourself because no one is currently reading your work. If you write, you are a writer. You can do it! The one-way conversation is worth it. All the uncertainty and lack of control is worth it.
Heh… I’m telling you this as a writer who doesn’t have and may never have a book deal. I’m your friend, on my laptop frantically trying to help another MC out of this or that disaster. And hoping that someday someone besides my critique partners will ever know that she figured out the secrets of life and found love. Speaking of which… I’d better get back to work. Hasta!