Tag Archive: writer

The time I almost quit

We give a lot of glory to the big milestones in this business. Finishing a draft, getting an agent, going on sub, announcing a book deal. The smaller wins get love too– things like writing each day, starting a new book on craft, or meeting a reading goal are celebrated. But sometimes what we fail to talk about as a community are those moments when we come close to giving up. The gritty underbelly of all of the good things tends to get glazed over with a pretty dollop of success. When you do see somebody’s good news, you rarely think about what happened for that person to get to that point. You don’t see the near-misses or the almosts, the messy drafts that go nowhere or the tears. I share a lot of my own good news on social media– book deal announcements, photos of my neat and organized writing space, snippets from what I’m working on. But today, I felt compelled to talk about the side I don’t show as often. My own gritty underbelly, in the form of the day I almost quit writing entirely.

Shelved, but not forgotten.

It was spring of 2013. I was getting married in less than a month, so needless to say, my life was incredibly busy with wedding preparation. I had been querying a New Adult manuscript since December with some interest and several requests, but no offers. I was totally convinced that it was only a matter of finding the right agent for my project. And one day, I got an email regarding one of the full requests. They wanted to set up a time to talk to me about my book. On the phone. It was THE call, I was sure of it! Much flailing ensued. This was my moment, after six months of querying. Everything was coming together for me.

But the phone call wasn’t an offer. It was an R&R, which I pretended not to be disappointed about. I tried not to get my hopes up, and I diligently set about making the changes that the agency wanted to see. I pored over my manuscript, certain that I was making it so much better. I could practically envision the book deal announcement. When it was ready, I sent it back and kept my fingers crossed for good news.

But it wasn’t good news. There was an email passing on the project less than a week later, on a Friday night when I was binging on Shark Tank in my pajamas. I’d like to say I took the news well, but I remember crying in my apartment. I had an opportunity and I fell short. What if another opportunity never came? I wasn’t good enough. My manuscript wasn’t good enough. Every single doubt I had ever cast on myself bloomed around me, sucking me into a dark cloud. I didn’t even want to look at my computer, and suddenly the dream of being a published writer was ridiculous and unfathomable. I was glad only a few people in my life knew that it was my goal to become a published author, because it was less embarrassing to only fail in front of my immediate family. With that one rejection– one person’s opinion– I convinced myself that I should just give up entirely.

And I did give up. For one week, two weeks, three weeks, a month. I didn’t open a Word doc or create anything new. I focused on all of the other good things in my life. My wedding. My mini-moon. My friends and family. My dog. Summer weather and patio season and long walks and barbeques. I think I needed that break, needed to let myself be upset over something that really hurt. I needed to let myself feel the sting instead of glossing over it the way I usually did. I needed that time away from writing.

I told myself that life was easier without the rejection and judgment that comes with being a writer, or trying to be. And it was easier. But it wasn’t me. I was happy, but I wasn’t creatively fulfilled, and for me, the two are tied together in a knot that can’t really come undone.

Picking myself up and trying again was not easy to do. But I did it, slowly at first. I sent more queries, knowing that they might end the same way, with rejection. But I also knew if I didn’t send them, my book would never see the light of day. I became more active on Twitter, despite my shyness, and I started entering contests. I worked on a different New Adult manuscript and let myself believe that it was my best work yet. I truly believe that the art of creating that book might have saved me from quitting entirely. (This is part of the reason why I believe always working on the next thing is so important!)

That new manuscript? I didn’t query it very widely before a new idea lodged itself in my head and wouldn’t leave. That book was Firsts, and I wrote it over a furious and magical three-week period. Then I heard about a contest called Pitch Wars, and my life was forever changed.

Not finding an agent with that second book really didn’t sting at all. It was a totally different experience then the first time around. All of my expectations weren’t hinged on one manuscript. I was so excited about Firsts and getting into YA writing that I felt a sense of possibility, like anything could happen. And a couple months after Pitch wars ended, my dream of getting an agent did happen, and then I dared to think even bigger and let myself believe the book would sell. After it did, I dared to believe I could keep selling books. And I have.

The truth is, my dreams didn’t change from when I wrote that first book. But my expectations did. I went from feeling like I would fail if a book didn’t get me an agent or published to being okay with any given book not being the one. Because I can always write more. The words won’t dry up if I write too many. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The more I write, the more efficient I get, and the less I get attached to any one darling. My advice? Get comfortable with whatever you’re working on not being “the one.” Don’t consider any writing you do a waste of time, because it never is. And let yourself mourn the losses. Admit that it sucks to be rejected. When you’re done grieving, I promise you’ll come out on the other side stronger than ever.

My first two books are currently trunked, but they were some of the best use of my time. Maybe I’ll go back to them someday. Maybe not. But they’re the foundation upon which everything else was built, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

My new writing space

With the new addition to our family due at the end of May, some shifting around had to happen in our house to make room for a nursery. Luckily, our basement renovation had just been finished, so my husband moved his office downstairs, and I took over his old office location, which is right next door to the nursery. When baby sleeps, I will try to write! (Or something like that…)

I was excited to have a new office to decorate, but struggled a bit initially with the layout of the room. It’s longer and more rectangular than my old office, which was more of a square, and I didn’t want it to feel narrow. Thanks to my husband, who is a genius at furniture layout, I was able to make the most of the space, and I’m really happy with the end result! The walls are painted a blue-gray color that I love (it’s actually the same shade we chose for the nursery), and I have a better desk and new computer monitor, along with my beloved desk chair and bookshelf.

 

One mission I had before moving into my new office was purge some things I wasn’t using anymore. Decluttering is one of the greatest feelings– there’s something incredibly satisfying about admitting you’re not using/wearing/reading something and donating it to a local charity instead. So that’s exactly what I did. It took a lot longer than I thought it would (this is a common theme with projects I take on…), but I was determined to have a fresh start in my new space without any clutter bogging me down. Some was thrown out, a lot was donated, and I repurposed some things I completely forgot I even had. I organized all my swag items and mailing materials, and found a spot for my massive collection of notebooks. There’s a saying about how a cluttered workspace = a cluttered mind, and I think there’s some truth to that, at least for me. As a person who errs on the scatterbrained side (especially with baby brain, which I swear, is a real thing), I can use all the zen vibes a space can give me!

 

My plan for the wall over my desk is to have all my future book covers turned into plaques and hung up. Firsts is, obviously, the first one, and when I’m slogging through a draft that I feel is going nowhere, I can look up at it and remember that I do know how to write books after all.

Now that my office is finished, I’m excited to get back to my writing routine and spend some quality time there before baby arrives!

On those drawer darlings

While looking through the various folders on my computer recently, I realized that I’ve completed eight books.

And started about twice that many.

In an effort to stay organized, I give each book a folder. But some of these “books” don’t quite materialize, and the folders don’t have much to show. Some are partway toward being a completed novel– one has over 30,000 words, while another is encroaching on the 50,000 mark. Some are a lot less far along– a few chapters in, or even just a few pages. As I clicked through the neglected documents, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I had abandoned them. I never gave them a chance.

Or did I?

A drawer darling that just may be resurrected.

A drawer darling that just may be resurrected.

More than once, I’ve wondered—am I commitment-phobic? Am I just in it for the glorious honeymoon period, when everything feels shiny and effortless, before it becomes a big confusing mess? Do I take a hike when the words dry up and sentences feel like a massive undertaking and that paralyzing feeling of “what’s next” takes over?

I honestly don’t think so. I’m pretty sure my prognosis is that I’m just a regular writer.One thing my journey to publication has taught me is that most of us have lots of those half-started, half-finished, halfway-maybe-something projects in our proverbial drawers. Some of them are terrible and we’d never show them to a single soul. Some of them might become something, someday. So why do I still feel guilty that my drawer darlings exist?

I think it’s because such a huge part of success in writing is persevering through the hard times and never giving up. You’ll hear a lot of writers (myself included) say that habit is the key to success. You have to put in the work and commit in order to finish something. A first draft only has to exist, not be anywhere close to perfect. But not everything makes it even to first draft status. Those not-finished somethings don’t mean you didn’t commit or that you didn’t care. Making the choice to abandon a project isn’t the same as giving up. Maybe you’ll go back to it in a week, month, or even two years. Sometimes, distance is the best solution. And sometimes, the book just isn’t working, and you have to accept that. Accepting that it didn’t work isn’t a failure– it’s growth as an artist.

I can’t even fathom how many thousands of words of mine will never see the light of day, how many hours of work I put into projects that nobody will ever see. Maybe some people would deem that a waste of time, but I’m okay with it. None of the time and effort was a waste, because I was writing and learning and honing my skills, even if I didn’t see it at the time. I can go back to one of those abandoned folders and see why a project wasn’t working, why an idea fell flat. I can resurrect it. Or I can leave it, because the passion isn’t there anymore.

A writer’s imagination is a crazy-awesome place. There’s so much going on in there– your imagination lets you build worlds and characters out of nothing. That’s kind of like magic. Don’t cover all that with the heavy blanket of guilt. Let those words be wasted, if that’s the best thing for you. Let those drawer darlings gather dust. They’ll still be there, if– and when– you ever go back to them.

On (not) giving up, or why writing won’t quit you

I’ve done lots of interviews over the past several months surrounding the release of Firsts. It has been such an honor to answer so many thoughtful, amazing questions from readers and bloggers and book lovers everywhere. I have been asked how I got the idea for Firsts (I still wish I had a better answer for that!), about my writing process, best parts of debuting, and lessons learned along the way.

There’s one question I have been asked several times, and it’s a great one.

Did you ever think about giving up?

To which I answered yes. There have been several times along the path to publication where I considered giving up on my dream of seeing a book of mine in print. I was querying, but getting more rejections than requests. I was learning, but not fast enough. I felt like there was an excellent chance I would never sell a book and nobody would ever read my work.

But ever since giving those interviews, I’ve thought a lot about that question. Generally, people think it only pertains to the trying times along that elusive path to publication. Once you reach that goal and see your book in print, there’s the expectation that you are confident and calm and the words flow every time you sit down at your computer. You have things figured out.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I don’t have less doubts than I do before. I just have different doubts. The brain is a scary place, especially when you’re in a creative field. The same brain that houses your dreams also takes your happy thoughts and puts shackles on them and turns good things inside out, analyzing them for flaws. The same mind that conjures up ideas can just as easily crush them.

I don’t think about giving up on writing these days, but I do have days where I think writing has given up on me. That my words are on strike, my characters holding up little signs that say “WE WANT A BETTER AUTHOR!” and chanting for me to get my act together. I have days where I have no clue how to write a chapter and moments when I read what I’ve just written and shake my head because it’s such steaming crap. Each book after Firsts has been a struggle for me. I’ve said in interviews that at times while writing Firsts, the book practically wrote itself. Well, that hasn’t happened since. Not a single word wrote itself.

But does that mean I forgot how to write?

I’ve realized that the answer is no. Because it’s impossible to forget how to care fiercely about something you love. Some days, you read over the words you put down and realize they aren’t as bad as you thought. Some days, they’re worse. But always, they are there, on the page, no matter how hard it was for them to arrive.

Fellow authors, no matter what stage of the process you’re at– don’t quit. Because I promise, writing won’t quit you.

“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.

February, briefly

February has a reputation as the shortest month that feels like the longest. Normally, I’d be inclined to agree. But we’re almost at the end of the month and for the most part, I never had any of those days or weeks that dragged on indefinitely. One thing we have had a lot of is snow—and I’m one hundred per cent NOT a fan of that. (I’m a bad Canadian, I know!) But instead of griping (much) about having to shovel the driveway or wear my giant winter coat everywhere, I have been using the frigid weather as an excuse to stay in and write.

This month, I have been…

HPMug

I solemnly swear that most of my characters are up to no good…

Working on: I can sense that I’m getting very close to that “snowball” stage in my current Young Adult contemporary WIP—that phase where you finally know the story and chain of events well enough for everything to flow without any roadblocks. I find that the middle of a MS is always the hardest part, and the part wherein it’s easy to lose momentum. The tension seems to sag, and I start to worry if I’m threading everything throughout the story well enough. Finally getting out of the middle and into something resembling the home stretch is always a great feeling. Plus, my pantser brain keeps trying to deviate from my outline, which at first was annoying—until I started listening to myself and realizing that sometimes instinct trumps logic.

I’m beginning to learn that if I stop to think about things for too long (and there’s a lot to think about with this story—so many secrets and lies!) I tend to remove myself from the flow of the story and get intimidated when I try to wade back in. So what I’m doing now is writing what’s in my head, knowing I can (and will) go back and make changes and shuffle things around.

Reading: This has been a particularly slow reading month for me. Usually I read at least one book a week, but this month I have been writing so much that I’m going to bed exhausted—and usually the bulk of my reading time comes before bed. I did read a couple books I really liked, though.

I finished SEND by Patty Blount, which is a really interesting story dealing with the issue of bullying. Although the subject matter is serious, I love the author’s use of humor and how authentic the main character, Daniel/Kenny’s voice felt. I really enjoy reading male POV in YA, and I think Patty does a great job with it.

I also read MORE THAN COMICS, the second book in Elizabeth Briggs’ New Adult CHASING THE DREAM series. If you’re looking for a great NA series to start with characters you’ll cheer for, I highly recommend this one. MORE THAN COMICS is set against the backdrop of Comic-Con, an event I knew nothing about going into the story. It was really fun to learn more about it through the eyes of the main characters, Hector and Tara.

Watching: My husband and I have been watching the BORGIA series on Netflix, which is really interesting. I don’t know anything about the history of the Borgia family, so I can’t comment on the historical accuracy, but the entertainment value is definitely there. It’s dark and sexy, with lots of morally challenged characters in impossible situations, which makes it very intriguing. Any show that deals with lies and corruption is right up my alley, and this one is no exception!

Speaking of which… as of tonight, you can find me firmly planted in front of a HOUSE OF CARDS Season 3 marathon… so long, productivity (for the next few days, anyway).

Anyway, that’s February summed up. Looking forward to more snowballing with my WIP and less snowballs outside in March!

“Can you speak up?” : Or, writing memorable voice

When I was a brand-new writer getting ready to query my first book (a NA contemporary), I unknowingly committed a big writing sin: I didn’t think about my main character’s voice. If you had asked me, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you what voice even meant.

So I was surprised when I started getting feedback about it from agents. Requests saying they liked the voice and wanted to read more. Rejections stating they just didn’t connect with it.

I considered all the thought I had put into the story. The details I had put into the cast of characters. The outline I had made to keep track of scenes and plot points. I had put so much work into those parts of the book, yet the thing that seemed to stand out most to agents was something I hadn’t consciously worked on at all. I didn’t even know how to work on it, or how I made it happen in the first place. So those rejections that cited voice as the main reason for not connecting were especially frustrating.

When I started writing my second book, I did something I should have done a lot sooner.

I started reading widely, both NA and YA. And I realized the books I loved most, the ones that stuck with me long after I turned the last page, as different as they were, had one element that tied them together.

Voice.

I started to learn that there was really no right or wrong way to create voice. Voice comes from your main character, from his or her ways of seeing the world you put them in. Voice can be naive or sarcastic or downright mean. Voice can be lyrical or sparse or colorful or gray. The spectrum for voice is enormous, neverending. But a good voice, a memorable one, is always authentic and consistent. Because your main character is the lens through which your readers see the world you create. Your readers will literally get inside your character’s head.

After I realized this, I was both inspired and intimidated. I started to think about what I could do to pinpoint voice, and how I could use it to drive my book. By this time, I had an idea in my head for a character whose voice I knew would be polarizing and the hook for her story. I was ready to start writing what would become FIRSTS.

I knew that I couldn’t control whether people would like Mercedes, but I came to understand that liking her wasn’t the most important thing. What was more important was the experience I was creating, the character whose head readers would be occupying. Did she feel authentic? Was her voice consistent? Was she interesting enough to spend a whole book with?

Here are some things that I have taken away most from reading widely and writing from different perspectives. When I’m writing from a character’s point of view and start to get stuck, I refer to these points:

1) Your character doesn’t have to be necessarily relatable, or even nice. But she does have to feel real. A too-sweet and passive main character who doesn’t ever make mistakes isn’t any fun to read about. A snarky, jaded main character needs to give us at least something vulnerable to connect with, particularly if he or she is doing bad things. People in real life don’t exist as either strictly good or bad, and nor should your characters.

2) Experiment with your character’s voice. Write a few scenes from her perspective. Get to know her. Think about how she would see the world, how she would react to things. Think about the reasons why. This can be difficult, because it might not be how you see the world or how you would react to things. But unless you’re writing a memoir, your character isn’t you. For instance, a bully with something to hide might threaten someone and feel momentarily powerful. A popular girl might know her jock boyfriend is cheating on her but choose not to confront him. Your job is to make your character convincing enough that your reader wants to know more about why she sees things the way she does.

3) Think about your character’s secrets. His motivation. You don’t have to give this away up front. You can keep this from the reader, but let it color your story and build tension. Sometimes what is unsaid is even more effective than what is said. People’s pasts, the experiences they have gone through, have a huge impact on how they see things. So even if you don’t include all of your character’s backstory in your book, make sure you know it. This will let you know him that much better.

4) Keep your character’s voice consistent. If she’s sarcastic and cynical and whip-smart, don’t dumb her down. If she’s incredibly perceptive, don’t let things pass her by. If she’s an anti-hero, own it. Some of my favorite books have narrators who are anti-heroes, and I have stated on many occasions how much I love characters who aren’t traditionally likeable. Why do I love these characters so much? Not because I want to be best friends with them, but because the authors did a great job of keeping the voice consistent, and the characters felt complex and interesting as a result.

5) Pay close attention to dialogue, because it’s a big part of voice. Readers see and feel things unfold from your character’s perspective, but they also hear it from your character’s mouth. Make sure that when he speaks, it’s in a way that makes sense to the thoughts unfolding in his head. The way he interacts with people, his words and his gestures, are an extension of his thoughts.

6) If you’re writing in dual or multiple points of view, make sure each character’s voice is distinct and unique. If the voices are too similar, no matter how good your story is, it will become less compelling as a result. You want your readers to always know whose head they’re in at all times.

And the main thing I have taken away? Voice is one part of writing that’s subjective, which can be thrilling and frustrating. If all the other elements of a book make it speak, voice is what makes it sing.

I’d love to know… what techniques do you use to create a memorable voice?

Office, before and after

Desk, before.

Desk, before.

After!

Desk, after!

 

One of my favorite things about moving into a new house was getting my own office. I was so excited to have my own space to write and the freedom to do whatever I wanted with it. Since the room is small and it wasn’t in our budget to buy new furniture, I decided to see what I could do with a bit of white paint and the desk I have had since I was a kid. The furniture I had for my office didn’t match, so I thought whitewashing it would make the room look a lot more streamlined.

The project was pretty straightforward, and quite easy. I picked up a primer and white paint at a hardware store and cranked up some music while I worked. After two coats of primer and two coats of paint, all I had to do was wait.

I wanted my office to be simple and uncluttered, but still have enough personal details for it to feel like me. I upholstered an old stool to provide a seat in front of the window, which looks out onto our backyard. I made space in a corner to set my easel for when I want to paint.

The project didn’t take very much time (or money), but the impact went a long way. It just goes to show how a couple of small changes can make a huge difference! And now that I’m content with my work space, I’m happily seated at my new (old) desk, ready to write lots of words. Even though I can (and do) write everywhere when the occasion calls for it, it feels great to have a space to call my own now.

 

 

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