Tag Archive: goals

2016: The Debut Year

I think I filled my quota of Firsts puns long ago, but… this really was a year of many firsts! So I keep saying it anyway, because the firsts kept coming as the months went on. My first book came out. I got to travel to other cities to promote it. I spoke on panels and attended conferences. I met my critique partner, fellow authors, one of my lovely publicists, and my amazing editor. I had a launch party. I signed more books than I can count. I cheered for my fellow debut authors and read as many of their books as I could. I got to see my book on shelves, was able to call myself a published author. Family and friends bought my book. I heard from so many readers who told me Firsts had an impact on them.

But now that the year is almost over, I’m realizing 2016 was also a year of lasts. It’s the last time I’ll ever get to call myself a debut author, which is bittersweet, because I have had such an unforgettable time being a Sweet Sixteen and Sixteen to Read, and part of the debut community. At the same time, I’m so excited to move forward into what 2017 has in store… I happen to know some very exciting and wonderful things are on the horizon!

I don’t know what word I would use to describe 2016, if I had to sum it up in one word. (I’m an author… there are too many perfect words!) Thrilling. Intense. Full. Busy. Fun. Looking back, the year feels both extra long and super short– like it wasn’t that long ago I was celebrating my book birthday with flowers and champagne, but at the same time, that I have come so far and learned so much since that day. I feel like I’m able to put things in perspective more now than I ever was in the past. I learned from my mistakes, figured out what was working, and was able to achieve balance. I had my moments of stress and anxiety, but took away important lessons from the tough times.

Most importantly of all, I realized what keeps me happy and sustained, after the debut hype started to fade. And that was writing”The End” on three new books.(I amend my earlier statement. “The End” are the most beautiful words in an author’s vocabulary!) That’s what I’m taking into 2017, more than anything else. The knowledge that working on the new thing, the next thing, anything, is what keeps me happy and inspired. Because my heart and soul is being a writer, and that means writing.

I’m so very excited to ring in the new year and so ready for everything that comes with it. Happy New Year, everyone!

On falling short

We can probably all agree that meeting a goal is one of the most satisfying feelings imaginable. There’s a huge sense of inner pride, accompanied by the belief that you really can do anything you set your mind to. Rarely do I feel as invincible as I do after meeting a goal I set for myself. I’m Wonder Woman! Super Girl! I can take on the world!

Last month, I had a very specific and doable goal. I wanted to finish revising one of the YA contemporary drafts I had completed. I made an outline and broke it down by day, and I marked the big day on my calendar for March 31. FINISH REVISING. I imagined myself buoyed by that reminder, working away to achieve my goal, the same way I always do.

But then life got in the way. I got sick and when I’m sick, all I want to do is sleep or vegetate on the couch in front of a Sons of Anarchy marathon. Normally, I would push myself to write anyway, because I had a goal and hated the idea of letting myself down. But this time, I didn’t push myself. I let my brain be foggy, knowing any writing I attempted would feel forced and uninspired. I let myself rest. I let the calendar days pass unadorned and eyed the milestone that was March 31, knowing I had lost too much time to achieve it.

And I decided I was okay with that.

This is a new attitude for me. I’m usually incredibly hard on myself when it comes to goals and self-imposed deadlines. But I realized there was no point in punishing myself for being sick or chastising myself for losing progress. I knew I could come back stronger than ever if I gave myself time to rest.

I set a new goal for finishing those revisions, for a few days later. When I achieved it, I was proud of myself.

There will be other goals in the future, both big and small. But if I don’t reach them, the world isn’t going to end. Every day is a new opportunity for words, and a new chance to be kinder to ourselves. This year, I’m trying to measure progress less by numbers and days and more by how I feel mentally, creatively, artistically. And that’s the real goal to strive for.

‘Twas The Night Before Pub Day…

‘Twas the night before pub day, and all through the house
I wouldn’t know what’s stirring, because I’m sprawled on the couch

The work has been done, the words strung in lines
The effort put in, so I’m drinking some wine

We’ve come a long way, me and this book
A lot of my time and patience it took

A rapid first draft, rounds of edits that followed
Crushing self-doubt within which I wallowed

An agent, an editor, a dream team of stars
Giving me faith that I could go far

A cover design that I loved at first sight
First pass pages that tried to put up a fight

Writing acknowledgments gave me the feels
And made me realize that all of this was real

That I’m no longer a fourth-grader penning big schemes
That my real life is as grand as any of my dreams

That I did what I always most wanted to do
I took an idea that came to me out of the blue

And made it a story people want to read
A story I’m incredibly proud of indeed

Tomorrow morning might look the same
I’ll likely be tired, and my hair won’t be tame

But I’ll get to do something I haven’t before
Go and find the book I wrote in a store

So on my book birthday eve, I’m reminding myself
That tomorrow, happiness will be on a shelf

That it really happens– dreams really come true
That you really can accomplish what you set out to do

No matter what you want, how big or how small
I’m living proof that you can do it all.

‘Twas the night before pub day, and I’m going to bed
With old and new stories swirling through my head

When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be able to say
“Hey world, my debut novel came out today!”

(But I’ll start the day with a coffee—some things never change.)

xoxo, A Very Grateful Almost-Author

On 2015: The Year Of Firsts

I was just planning on writing my regular monthly recap post, but that somehow didn’t feel right. I wanted to put down more words to commemorate the amazing year 2015 has been. It has been a year of many firsts for me and when I look back at it, I’m in awe of how quickly the time passed. It seems like just yesterday I was jumping up and down in the halls at work after getting the call from my agent that we had an offer on FIRSTS. But less than a week from today, I’ll be able to walk into a bookstore and pick up a copy of the book I wrote. I’ll be able to pose beside it and strategically place it on the front of the shelf. I’ll be able to call myself a published author.

When I was a kid, I used to roll my eyes when I heard an adult complain about time going by too quickly. But now I get it. Now I understand why it’s important to savor a moment and not be in a rush to move on to the next. I have done my best to enjoy each milestone, each first that happened over the past year. First edits. First pass pages. First ARCs. First time meeting fellow authors. First giveaways. First trade reviews. First book trailer. And two weeks ago, first finished copies. 2016 will be a year of more firsts. First book birthday. First bookstore panel (coming up soon)! First conference. First time seeing my book in the wild. First launch party. First book signing.

The thing is, you only get one first time of everything. If you’re lucky, you get seconds and thirds later. But nothing compares to that first time, the thrill of the unknown, the fear and excitement and sheer joy. So if you need me, I’ll be over here with a glass bottle of champagne, taking it all in.

And since I’m almost out of words, here’s a photo version of my year in Firsts! (Clumsy happy dancing, excessive pajama wearing, and tears not included.)

One month out, three years later

The other day, I told someone that my book comes out next month. Then I had to wrap my brain around the fact that I’ll be a published author one month from today. That I’ll be able to step into a bookstore and buy my own book. That people who aren’t related to me can step into bookstores and buy FIRSTS.

(I’m still working on wrapping my brain around that.)

Some things change but look remarkably the same.

Some things change but look remarkably the same.

I like to think that I’ve accomplished some pretty cool things in my life, but nothing else I’ve done has been close to this important to me. Being an author is something I’ve thought about since I was a kid, something that has seemed both close enough to touch and so completely far out of reach over the years. Even when I wasn’t writing, even when I was busy doing other things and chasing other dreams, writing never left me. Getting published was at once my most farfetched goal, the one ambition simmering just beneath my skin, the something pressing against my brain, never letting me forget about it. Writing has always been my second pulse.

I used to be scared to call myself a writer. Until a year ago, most of my friends and family members didn’t even know I wrote. I spent a good chunk of two years working away in secret on my lunch break at work and at home, snuggled on my couch with my dog. I had notebooks full of my nearly indecipherable handwriting and a computer filled with Word documents, and I had no idea if any of it was worth my time.

Today holds even more significance for me than being one month from publication. It’s the anniversary of the day I sent my first-ever query letter, for a New Adult contemporary book, on December 5, 2012. That realization made me think about what I’d tell that version of me, the one from three years ago, the one psyching herself up to hit “send.” This is what I came up with:

Dear Three-Years-Ago Laurie:

I know you worked really hard on this book and agents will have to know that, right? They’ll definitely be clamoring to represent you. But here’s a hard truth: They won’t. This book isn’t it. You’ll have to write two more and learn a lot with each one before you get an agent. That third book—the one that pours out of you, the one you don’t plot at all—that’s the one.

But don’t for a second feel like you wasted your time. None of your words have been a waste. Not a single deleted chapter, not a single page of notebook paper or that napkin you scribbled on at the bar at last call. Let me tell you, you’re in for a serious roller coaster the second you hit send. You’re in for a loop of highs and lows that wreak havoc with your emotions. You’ll jump on the couch, Tom Cruise style, and shriek when you get your first full request. You’ll spend a lot of time refreshing your email. (And I hate to break it to you, but you still do.) You’ll feel totally worthless when you enter contests and don’t get picked. You’ll get rejections—lots of them. Each one stings, but you wisely file them in a separate email folder so that you don’t have to see them. You make decisions and learn how to trust your gut, because it’s your compass in this industry.

You feel a little buzz, a jolt of electricity, each time you send a query. But it takes a particular brand of courage to hit “send” for that very first time. It takes a half an hour and a glass of wine. You don’t see it as a huge accomplishment at the time, but it is.

It’s the best thing you’ll ever do. Because you don’t know it yet, but you hitting that “send” button is what a dream coming true looks like.

Love,

Almost-Published You

Oh, and December 5 is also special because it’s my dad’s birthday. Happy birthday, Dad! You’re still my hero and always will be.

#SixteensBlogAbout: Gratitude

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about gratitude. Any time is a great time to think of all the things you appreciate, but for me, no time is better than right now. With FIRSTS coming out in less than two months, gratitude is something that has taken on a greater meaning than ever to me. The truth is, it can be hard to get off the roller coaster, to stop and put things in perspective. But it’s also extremely important.

I’m not grateful that winter is coming, but I do love mornings like this.

I’m grateful for so much this year. I’m grateful to be in this position, one I dreamed about for years. I’m about to be a published author. My book will be on actual bookshelves in actual stores and actual people will read it who aren’t just my mom (love you, Mom)! I’m grateful to be working with such a dedicated team of rock-star people who believe in me and this book.

I’m grateful for my fellow debut authors, with whom I’ve grown close. They’re confidantes and friends and some of the most wonderful people I know. I’m grateful for their brilliant minds and generous spirits and listening ears and creative brains and most of all, their huge hearts.

I’m grateful for the whole kidlit community. The authors I admire who have said such wonderful things about FIRSTS. The bloggers who have shown so much love for FIRSTS, who have shared their support with insurmountable enthusiasm and kindness. I’m beyond grateful for this letter, which moved me to tears. (Thank you, Jamie Victoria!)

I’m grateful to my friends and family for putting up with me. For my parents, for always being proud of me and doing so much to make my life easier (thank you for all the leftovers… I swear, I’ll learn to cook one of these years). I’m grateful to have a sister who’s also my best friend and loves wine as much as I do, and a soon-to-be brother-in-law whose positive attitude is infectious. I’m grateful for a certain sister-in-law who may be more excited for FIRSTS to be out than I am (hi, Suzanne!) I’m eternally grateful for my husband, who gives me the space I need to create and loves me no matter how grumpy I am before my morning coffee. (And that’s a high level of grump, folks.) I’m grateful to my dog for sharing her lap space with my computer and making me laugh with her crazy antics.

Yes, I have a lot for which to be grateful. I’m grateful for creating new words and revising old ones. Most of all, I’m grateful for this journey—what has already happened and what’s to come. Because I honestly wouldn’t trade a single misstep, a single bump in the road, for anything.

“I’ll do it later:” On procrastination

One of the funny things about being a writer is the great lengths we’ll sometimes go to in order to avoid writing altogether. These are the times when procrastination knocks on the door and makes itself comfortable. I thought I ditched procrastination back in university, when I spent far too many nights pulling off an essay at the eleventh hour, fueled by a disgusting amount of Red Bull. But after I started taking writing seriously, I realized that I never really broke up with procrastination. It’s still there, tempting me at my weakest moments, the bad-news older brother of motivation, my regular companion.

Procrastination

“Come on, ditch that book. We’re much more appealing today!”

I consider myself to be pretty efficient with time management. Like many writers, I have a full-time day job, so I have to be disciplined with my time to get my words in each day. I like to write for a couple hours before work every day, and sometimes tinker around in the evening too, depending on what projects I have on the go. When I have days off with no plans, I generally plan to write for most of them. All that glorious free time… what better way to fill it than with words?

But funnily enough, it’s on those days off when I struggle the most with motivation. And it’s on these days when procrastination decides to settle in and show me what else I could be doing with my time. Every so often, I give in to the temptation. On those days, my inner dialogue goes a lot like this:

A Dexter marathon on Netflix? I suppose I could watch *one* episode, then get back to my writing. (Six episodes later, my tablet has been abandoned and I’ve condemned myself to weird serial killer nightmares.)

That coffee table looks a bit dusty. Maybe I should clean the whole house. I can’t work in a pigsty!

I think my perfume collection needs to be rearranged. And might as well go through all of my makeup while I’m at it. And while I’m here, now’s a great time to clean my makeup brushes, too…

Look at that mountain of laundry! I should probably get around to that today.

My TBR list is out of control. Better make a dent in it before it gets any longer…

I need to check the mail. And it’s so nice outside, it would be a waste not to go for a walk.

I really should go grocery shopping, we’re almost out of _______ (insert any random product name here).

Gee, I hate cooking, but maybe this is the perfect time to pull out one of the cookbooks collecting dust in a drawer and master that roast recipe I dog-eared back in 2003.

This is a nice nail polish color. Why have I never worn it? Maybe I’ll give myself a manicure. Oh, but I can’t type with wet nails, so while they’re drying, I’ll watch *one* more Dexter.

Usually, I can combat procrastination by telling myself that if I can finish the work I want to accomplish, I’ll spend the rest of the day doing something non-writing related. And most times, that works. But when it doesn’t—when I waste a whole day in front of Netflix attempting some intricate nail art—I try not to be too hard on myself. I let procrastination sit down on the couch beside me and tell myself that I will finish that chapter.

Later.

March, briefly

March has been a pretty awesome month. For one thing, the weather has improved considerably, so I have been able to get outside for walks with my husband and dog and enjoy some long overdue sunshine. And to make things even better, this will go down the month I finally managed to find a happy medium behind plotting and pantsing.

champagne

Not just for special occasions.

Working on: For the most part, I have adhered to a schedule of at least 2K each day to get a first draft of my current YA contemporary WIP done. And I’m happy to say that I met my goal! Since this was the hardest first draft I’ve ever written, it’s also the one I’m the most proud of. I couldn’t just fly by the seat of my pants with this WIP, and learning to reconcile a plot with my pantsing tendencies has challenged me and pushed me to new limits as a writer. I now have 85K to reread, play with, and revise the heck out of. As much as I love the exhilarating freedom of a first draft, I also enjoy the deconstructive element of revising—breaking everything down, figuring out what isn’t working, and putting it back together as something even better.

Reading: I read two books that I absolutely loved this month, and both were 2015 releases. (This is shaping up to be a totally killer for reading!) The first was ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven, which is equal parts touching, heartbreaking, and hopeful. I love that we get into the heads of both main characters, Finch and Violet. Finch, especially, is one of the most memorable characters I have read in a long time. I really enjoyed Jennifer Niven’s writing style, and I’ll definitely be picking up her other books.

I also binge-read Jasmine Warga’s debut novel, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. Binge-read because I could not put it down. This is a hugely moving, beautifully written debut that tackles very difficult subject matter with grace and humor. Aysel and Roman (aka FrozenRobot), the two main characters, feel very real: their personalities, struggles with depression, and the tragedies they have had to endure. Their relationship is unlike any other I have seen in other books, and I enjoyed seeing it develop and change as they start to break down each other’s walls.

Listening to: I’m an easily distracted person. (Evidenced by my many failed attempts to be one of those people who can write while a TV show plays in the background.) I’m finding out that I can’t write very effectively to music with lyrics either because the lyrics end up drowning out my thought process. So I have been listening to a lot of movie soundtracks lately. My very favorite soundtrack is AMERICAN BEAUTY, which has basically been on repeat for the past few weeks.

Well, that’s March in a nutshell! I’m really looking forward to taking this WIP and making it shine as April progresses. And speaking of shine, a bit more sunshine would be nice, too…

My NaNoWriMo experience

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year. In fact, I had firmly decided to sit this one out.

I’m invested in another WIP, one I wrote very quickly after Pitch Wars. A story that I have put together, pulled apart, ripped open, and dissected. A story that has been through one full draft and a bunch of false starts at rewriting. A story currently existing in half a dozen Word documents and scribbled on countless Post-It notes. Starting a new project would just complicate things. The timing was wrong. Right?

But at the same time, there was another idea percolating in my head, and a character who demanded my attention at the most inconvenient times. I was itching to fast-draft again, to let myself be free with my words. I wanted a ticket past the critical self-editing watchdog taking up residence in my brain. I wanted a magic formula to unstick the places I was stuck in with my WIP.

And while I’m pretty sure that magic formula doesn’t exist, NaNo does, and maybe that was exactly what I needed. Time away from my WIP. I wondered if absence really would make the heart grow fonder.

So I dove in. In the end, I only spent 16 days of November working on my NaNo novel for a total of 50,014 words, including a 15K sprint for the finish on November 30 that left me bleary-eyed and sore-wristed. It’s probably the loosest, most sparsely detailed first draft I have ever created. (I recently described it to my CP as a “hot mess.”) But that’s okay, because it’s a first draft, and that’s all it has to be for now.

And more importantly, that time away from my WIP was invaluable. It was different than just taking a break from writing entirely, which I have also done in the past when I felt burnt out. Because as I was typing those fresh words, the puzzle pieces of my WIP were also coming together inside my head. Shifting, interlocking. Taking shape.

Maybe that would have happened without NaNoWriMo. Maybe I would have figured things out without fast-drafting something new. But I think that by giving myself that freedom, by not treating my words like glass that would break if they weren’t placed in careful sentences, I helped shut that self-righteous editing watchdog up.

Does anyone else use this strategy, fast-drafting to stimulate creativity on other stalled projects? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!

On carrying out an idea

I think we writers can all agree: sometimes, writing feels like magic.

But the rest of the time, it feels an awful lot like hard work.

I have been ruminating on this blog post for awhile and thinking about the importance of carrying our ideas out– committing to finishing them, no matter how many challenges they throw in our way. Sometimes, coming up with an idea is the part that feels like magic. A beautiful, unsullied idea that hasn’t had the chance to be messed up or go awry. An idea holds so much potential. A fresh start, a clean slate.

For me, the challenge is carrying out that idea even when it starts to become something different than it was in my head. When it starts to tell me what direction to go, and I feel like I have lost all control. When it stops being perfect and starts being real. And this is where the hard work part comes in. Because as magical as writing can be when the going is easy, it’s that much more rewarding to plow through the hard times. To sit your butt in a desk chair and keep writing, even if your muse never shows up. To write through your inner critic, who is silently whispering that what you’re writing doesn’t live up to that unsullied idea you first conjured up.

I feel like there’s a lot of temptation at this point from new ideas– brand new shiny ones that pop into your head when you’re struggling to carry out what you’re currently working through. New ideas with the promise to become a new manuscript that hasn’t been messed up yet. They always come to me when I’m feeling the least inspired with a current project, and they do their best to tear me away from it. The fresh start sounds tempting. A new Word document that hasn’t been ruined yet. The chance for more magic.

But I think there’s so much more to be said for finishing what you start– to give your ideas a beginning, middle, and end, even if it’s not the middle or end you initially intended for, and even if it doesn’t end up looking anything like it did in your head. When it’s done, it might be something totally unlike what you imagined– but it might be even better. What I’m coming to realize is, if you don’t give it time and commit to it, that’s all it will ever be– an idea in your head. Any idea can feel magical, but carrying it out is where the true test happens. It’s something only writers can do.

And sure, some ideas might not make it to a finished product. There’s no shame in realizing you’re not passionate about a project anymore and putting it aside. But what I want to avoid is having a computer filled with half-finished manuscripts and abandoned projects that I quit just because they got too hard. I don’t want to give up on ideas when they turn into something else different from what I had envisioned.

The project I’m working on right now is one of the difficult ones. The first draft flowed out very quickly, but then I realized it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It needed big changes. It basically needed a total overhaul. I was intimidated and frustrated and didn’t even know where to begin. I had a series of false starts with it and wrote a bunch of scenes that probably won’t see the light of day. But now I’m slowly cobbling it back together, and I’m okay with that. Because I realized there’s no magic formula. There’s only one formula that’s guaranteed to work. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.

It might sound silly, but one particular motivational strategy has been working well for me this month. The sticker reward system. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how much pleasure I get from sticking a new one on when I reach my goal for each day. But it works for me, so I’m sticking (no pun intended!) to it.

And all those shiny new ideas that pop into my head at what I consider inopportune times? They’re typed up in a separate Word document, and they’ll get their turn.

My current motivational strategy.

My current motivational strategy.

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