Tag Archive: writing

On being a girl’s mom

Baby’s first photo shoot! Photo credit to the talented Shirley Konu of SVH Designs!

Hi everyone! I’m taking a brief hiatus from my monthly update posts for a reason tiny in size but monumental in importance… the birth of my beautiful daughter, Astrid Doreen Lucille Flynn! She was born at 2:00 am on May 26, and the days since have been a total whirlwind. Everyone says time goes by crazy fast when you have a child, and I’m realizing that it’s not just a cliché… it’s very true. Astrid is almost four weeks old now and I have no idea how that happened already!

It’s not usually hard for me to write about anything (generally, it’s the opposite… I have too many words and too many ideas and not enough minutes in the day or space on a page to express them all)! But writing about Astrid and how she has already changed me is difficult to do. I had no idea it was possible to form such an instant, immediate, fierce love and devotion for another person. I had no idea that an adorably gummy little smile would bring tears to my eyes, or that I would wake up in the night just to stare at her and make sure she’s okay, or that rocking her to sleep would be such a feeling of comfort, or that changing a diaper and using less than ten wipes would be a big accomplishment. I had no idea I could function and be productive on so little sleep. (To think I used to need at least eight hours a night… ha!)

While I haven’t been writing much since Astrid arrived, I have been thinking about my writing, and how being the mom of a daughter will influence it. Shortly after Astrid was born and I was holding my baby girl, I realized how much I want to write stories for her, stories with strong female characters she can see herself in. Stories with girls who aren’t perfect, but who are real. Stories with girls who follow their hearts, who are fearless and unafraid of going after their dreams. I want to write stories that will inspire her (when she’s old enough to read them)! And I want to introduce her to books by so many of my talented author friends, who write some seriously authentic and memorable girls. I hope that books are a part of her life, the way they have been such a huge part of mine and helped me discover things about myself. I hope they make her realize there is no dream too big for her.

I’m an unapologetically girly girl. I have a closet devoted solely to dresses and skirts. I love purses and shoes and makeup and spa days, the color pink, girls’ nights spent drinking blush wine and watching Say Yes To The Dress. My lipstick collection is out of control. My Chihuahua owns several dresses that I make her wear. But I have another side. I’m also a daredevil. I also love hiking and being outside and if there’s a body of water to jump into, chances are I’ll be on the highest ledge, ready to dive in. If there’s a new trail to explore, I’m on it. I’ll try almost anything once. Girls don’t have to be one way or the other. Girls can do and be everything. I’m the mom of a girl who is now my everything. I want to show my everything that she can do and be anything. I can start by continuing to live my own dreams and set my own big goals, by not being afraid of that intimidating book idea or venturing outside of my comfort zone. I can live by example, as a strong woman who takes risks, so that she looks up to me.

And I can only hope that in the meantime, when she looks up at me, she keeps giving me those magnificent gummy smiles.

Some big news…

I’m so excited to announce the bookish news I have been dying to share with everyone! My next two YA books (both contemporary psychological thrillers) have sold to Erin Stein at Imprint (Macmillan), with a tentative release date of winter 2019 for the first book, which is called Last Girl Lied To. I’m really looking forward to working with Erin, who has brilliant ideas and such great insight, and I’m honored to join the Imprint family!

That’s the short version. The long version? Well, we’d have to go back to February 2014, just after Pitch Wars wrapped (I was a mentee for Firsts). An idea for a creepy YA thriller was taking shape in my head, and I wrote a first draft in just under a month, giving it the working title Heavy. But… it just wasn’t the story I envisioned in my head. I planned to revise it right away, but a lot of stuff happened at once. My husband and I bought our first house and moved in, and I received offers of representation for Firsts, ultimately signing with agent extraordinaire Kathleen Rushall. So my little draft was shoved to the side of my desk… or more like, buried among other Word documents. But out of sight was not out of mind, because it was still on my mind.

When I came back to revise the draft, I got frustrated. It wasn’t going to be easy, like how it felt with Firsts, where I intuitively knew what needed to be changed and could make a plan to address each issue. Each time I opened that Word document, I felt like I was in way over my head. Instead of just tackling it in pieces like I should have, I ignored it and cheated on it with other WIPs. But I always had this nagging sensation in my head that the thriller was the book I should be focusing on.

So finally, I did. And I didn’t just revise– I rewrote the whole book. Twice. Then I revised some more.

Portrait of an author being driven crazy.

The toughest part for me was actually plotting the book, not just flying by the seat of my pants like I usually do. Last Girl Lied To taught me a lesson: that every book follows a different process, and what worked with writing one book might not work at all with the next one. And there’s nothing wrong with that. At one point, I remember sitting on the floor of my office with different colored Post-Its stuck to my closet door and walls in an attempt to place scenes where they were supposed to go. I might have even told myself that I’d never write such a twisty book ever again. (Alas, that was a big fat lie!)

But then, after all the hand-wringing frustration that revision brought, something wonderful happened. I had… a book. A book I believed in, that I had poured my heart and soul into. I sent it off to my brilliant critique partner, Emily Martin, hoping she would like it. And she did. Then I sent it to Kathleen, and was a big ball of stress waiting for her response. I wanted so badly for her to love it. And she did. A happy dance ensued.

More revision happened with Kathleen, but I moved through that quickly and with a purpose. Knowing she stood behind the book really fueled me. Then, we went on submission. And waited. (If you’re a writer who has ever known the particular hell of being on sub, you know exactly what I’m talking about!) We waited some more. We received some great feedback and very kind passes, but hadn’t yet found the editor who would champion the book. In that time, Kathleen’s faith in the book (and in me) never wavered, and her support was constant. It’s my wish that every writer has an agent like that in their corner. Then, the book went to acquisitions at Imprint, and I got the call from Kathleen– we had an offer from Erin for a two-book deal!

In total, the book was on submission for over six months. (Don’t even ask me how often I checked my email during that time, because it’s a disturbingly high statistic per day. Oh, who am I kidding– per minute.) It took longer to sell than Firsts. At times, my writer insecurities got the best of me, and I was convinced it wouldn’t sell. Writers, if you’re in the same boat, do not give up hope on your work. It WILL find the right home, even if it doesn’t happen overnight.

Maybe the biggest lesson I learned from the process was not shying away from the writing when it got hard. Once in awhile, we’re lucky, and have books that write themselves. I got lucky like that with Firsts. But Last Girl Lied To was a different story, and has ultimately been the most rewarding writing experience of my life. The book is so important to me, and the fact that it took a lot of my blood, sweat, and tears (okay, maybe not any blood, but lots of frustrated tears), makes me that much more excited to know that it will soon be a book-shaped thing, on a shelf in bookstores. I wrote what scared me, what didn’t come easy. I forced myself to plow onwards, even when it would have been easier to give up and write something that didn’t give me so much grief. But I did not give myself permission to quit. And as a result, this book means more to me than anything else I’ve ever written. Writers often talk about the book of their heart. Well, so far, this one is mine.

Now, I am looking forward to the next steps. Edits and line edits and copyedits and cover reveals and ARCs (!!!). I truly cannot wait for this book to find its readers. If you like your YA twisty and dark, I hope you’ll enjoy Last Girl Lied To! A little bit about it? It’s about seventeen-year-old Fiona, whose best friend goes missing, after which Fiona is faced with the reality that the girl she knew better than anyone might have been a carefully constructed lie– and her disappearance might not be an accident at all. It’s set in a coastal town in California and is full of secrets and betrayal and regret and friendship and first love and damaged boys and broken hearts.

Thank you so much for all of your ongoing support. My readers mean the world to me, and I am so fortunate to share this journey with you all. It’s official: my second and third book babies are on the way! This is the part where I would normally crack open a bottle of champagne, but… sparkling juice it is, for now!

April, briefly

Photo credit to Shirley Konu of SVH Designs!

It feels like April was exactly that… brief. I know there are only 30 days in the month, but is it just me, or did those days fly by exponentially fast? We have been so lucky with the weather here (I even stored my winter coat away… touch wood), and it has been warm enough to go for walks in shorts and a tank top. It’s hard to believe that by this time next month, there’s a very strong possibility that I’ll be someone’s mother! (Unless he or she inherits my bad habit of always running late…) I’m getting so excited to meet this little one and find out who has been in there this whole time!

This month, I have been…

Working on: It has been all about the YA psychological thrillers this month. I’m using a corkboard and cue cards to track my progress (thanks, Save the Cat), and I feel like I have been more productive than usual as a result. My attention was very scattered and unfocused near the beginning of my pregnancy and I was having a hard time writing anything I liked, but things have changed in my third trimester and I’m motoring along at pretty much my pre-pregnancy speed. Maybe it’s because I know this is the last time I’ll be able to write without balancing writing and motherhood? I’m not sure, but either way, I’m taking advantage of it! (And I may be hitting you writing mommies up for advice about balance soon enough!)

Reading: I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Heather Ezell’s 2018 debut, Nothing Left to Burn, a book I have been excited about since seeing her book deal announcement in Publisher’s Weekly. Heather was a fellow Pitch Wars mentor last year, and not only is she an incredibly sweet person, but she is one hell of a writer. I absolutely adored her debut. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and so different than anything else out there. I’m so excited for it to find readers!

I also read another book I had been highly anticipating– Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage. I was a huge fan of Kim’s debut, After the Woods (we were fellow Sweet Sixteen debut authors!), so her second book had long been on my radar. It definitely didn’t disappoint. Her writing is so gorgeous and evocative, and the story itself was full of mystery and intrigue and heartbreak.

Watching: My husband and I binge-watched two great series based on books this month. The first, 13 Reasons Why, had me completely captivated. Jay Asher’s book was one of the first YA books I read, and was very influential to me as an aspiring author. I thought the series did a fantastic job of bringing the book to life, and the actors were nothing short of amazing. The episodes were haunting and at times very hard to watch, but I think it’s such an important book and has opened a lot of dialogue between teens and adults alike.

We also watched Big Little Lies, which is based on the book by Liane Moriarty. I haven’t read the book yet, although it has been on my TBR for quite awhile, but the series was excellent (and now I want to read the book even more than I did before). Great acting by a brilliant cast of female actresses (especially Nicole Kidman), and such a twisty, surprising plot. There are only seven episodes, and I think we finished them in just a matter of days.

I hope all of you have had a great month! I have some big news I’ll be sharing this coming week, so stay tuned!

March, briefly

My curious little helper!

Well, it’s official… March has come and gone. I’m grateful that I have quite a bit of new writing to show for it (not to mention, a bigger baby bump)! All in all, it was a busy, productive month, and exciting things are happening that I hope to be able to share with you all very soon!

This month, I have been…

Working on: I had a creepy new idea for a YA thriller, so I started writing it, and a week later, had almost 50 pages. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here! (I think the key to my progress was writing at coffee shops a couple times instead of just at home, where I tend to get distracted very easily.) In the latter part of the month, I went back to revising last year’s NaNo book (also a YA thriller), and I’m still trying to untangle it and figure out what it’s really about. I have a feeling that revising in this case will involve a lot of rewriting, but that’s okay… the framework of the story is somewhat there, and I’m figuring the intricacies out as I go. It just feels great to have words flowing again after being in somewhat of a rut earlier this year, and I hope this momentum continues until baby gets here!

Reading: I read a seriously fantastic book that I’m still thinking about– Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Very quickly, I became pretty much obsessed with it. The writing, the intricate storyline and structure, the incredibly realistic characters… I was left with a book hangover for several days after I turned the last page. It’s gorgeous and evocative and so, so compelling, and I recommend it to everyone looking for a read that will really suck them in.

I also finished Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, which is chilling and disturbing and twisty and compulsively readable. This was actually my first Karin Slaughter book, and I’ll definitely be looking into more of her thrillers going forward!

Watching: I owe a big thank you to the Lyon family of Empire for keeping me company when I had a horrific bout of the stomach flu early in the month. I was pretty much prone on the couch with crackers and Gatorade for a couple of days, and those Lyons kept me entertained! I’m on the third season now, and I seriously adore this show. If there’s a better screen couple than Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, I don’t know about it. My husband and I also watched the second season of Love on Netflix, which is such a quirky, funny show. (Gus is so adorably awkward!)

Now that April is just about here, I hope to finally be able to ditch my winter coat and boots for good! But in Canada, you never know…

Keeping the spark alive: how to conquer burnout

Burnout is something all writers face at some point in time. As much as we love what we do, sometimes it feels like the creative tank has been depleted. Either the ideas are lacking, or the motivation has dried up, or maybe both– either way, it can be a maddening cocktail of emotions.

I fell into an unmotivated spiral sometime last month. It was just after the New Year, when you’re supposed to make resolutions and feel energized and ready to tackle anything. Instead, I just felt tired. I chalked it up to the fact that growing a human takes a lot of energy, and it was normal for me to not feel like tackling writing projects with my usual aplomb. Plus, I had other things on my mind… decorating a nursery, creating a baby shower registry, looking at baby name books. But regardless, I was used to fitting writing in with everything else going on in my life, and couldn’t figure out what had changed.

It was only after talking to my husband about it one night that I figured out the root of what was going on. He helped me figure out what was missing, and why I wasn’t feeling as passionately about writing as I did before. A lot of it came down to how I was using my time. Part of the problem: I was wasting too much time mindlessly scrolling through social media (I’m sure we’ve all been there!), and comparing myself to other people. I wasn’t even aware I was doing this until I heard the words come out of my mouth. Sometimes, you have to actively remind yourself that what you see on social media is someone else’s highlight reel. We all have ups and downs, but we tend not to share the lows.

The other problem (which isn’t even a problem as much as a new situation) is that I didn’t have one project to focus all of my energy on and set deadlines for, but instead, was trying to work on several projects at once. I just didn’t know how to implement a schedule to work on all of them and be productive, and also remain interested in pursuing each one. I felt like my attention span had dwindled to that of a fruit fly– bouncing from one idea to the next, but never resting long enough to give it a chance to become something.

So how am I going to fix this? First, by admitting that it’s okay to take breaks sometimes. If you’re someone like me who tries to write every day, not writing can feel extremely detrimental, and like you’re going backwards instead of moving ahead. But this isn’t always the case. Forcing it can make it feel like a chore and not like something you love, and I never want to be in that position with writing.

I’m also stepping back from social media a bit, and choosing more set hours to be online, instead of being half-there a lot of the time. Often, after a weekend was over, I didn’t feel rested at all. I had spent a good chunk of it on my phone, responding to emails that weren’t urgent in nature just to get them out of my inbox (I’m a bit obsessive about never having any unread messages linger there). But the truth is, those emails and tweets can wait. I’m making the conscious decision to unplug and focus my energy in places that make me feel creatively replenished, not drained.

My main mission is to learn how to write unselfconsciously again, something that seems instinctive but really isn’t. I need to write for me and pursue ideas that excite me, even if they don’t go anywhere. Instead of thinking “what if” in a negative way: “what if this doesn’t sell? What if this is stupid? What if I’m wasting my time?” I’m trying to turn “what if” into a positive: “What if I love this and it turns into the best thing I’ve written?” Because I know from experience that even writing that goes nowhere is not a waste of time. It’s a learning experience– and those ideas that trail off, that don’t quite make it into books, are always something that can be pursued later.

I wanted to share all of this in case anyone else out there is feeling the same way… burned out, exhausted, uninspired. You’re not alone, and you haven’t lost your talent. You’re a writer, and these are the realities we struggle with. What we do– creating something out of nothing– takes a lot, and we don’t reward ourselves enough. Take a break. Read lots of books. Reorganize your office. Go back to your characters with excitement, not fear. And write your little heart out.

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!

November, briefly

Being a writing buddy is exhausting!

Usually, November ushers in snow and cold weather and I start to get a case of the winter blahs. We have been especially lucky this month to have mild temperatures (for the most part), and I’m in much better spirits than I normally am at this time of the year. This November has been very productive and fun, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I’m back in a solid writing groove.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I finished a (very sloppy) first draft of a YA contemporary thriller I have been conjuring up in my head for several months. I used this first draft to get to the heart of the story and show myself what it’s really about. As usual, my characters had different plans than I did, but for me as an author, those revelations are half the fun. Now that I have words on pages and know my characters better, I can work at refining the mess and getting the story to look on paper how it does in my head. Which is always the hardest part…

Reading: I finished two excellent Sweet Sixteen debuts: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson, and The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander. The former is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts, and I loved its creativity and how totally real the characters felt. The latter, about a girl haunted by the drowning death of her twin brother who begins to challenge her fears through freediving, is beautiful and haunting and evocative. I also read Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou, whose writing is in a league of its own. Her autobiographies are many things, but inspiring tops the list. I ended the month with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, a book I had been eager to read, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the humor and heart, and how relationships were portrayed– family bonds, friendship, and romantic love.

Watching: After hearing so many great things about Westworld, I knew I had to start the season and give it a try. (My husband was surprised I suggested it since I’m not usually a huge fan of sci-fi.) We were both sucked in right away by the totally imaginative concept, plot twists galore, and fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. I’m glad I ventured outside of my TV comfort zone!

I love Christmas, so I’m looking forward to all that December brings… picking out a tree and decorating it, wrapping gifts, spending time with friends and family, and eating all the holiday food! Wishing you all the best in the last month of 2016!

September, briefly

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

September has always been one of my favorite months. I love the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, and the electric sensation that anything can happen. Summer clung on a little longer this year (which I wasn’t complaining about… I would wear flip flops year round if I could), but now I feel like we’re firmly into fall. The month was capped off by a fantastic trip to Toronto for the Word on the Street festival, where I spoke on a panel and got to hang out with some awesome writer friends!

This month, I have been…

Working on: The first half of the month was challenging… I felt creatively blocked and my attention was scattered, leaving me a lot less productive than usual. But instead of forcing myself to work on something I wasn’t passionate about, I wrote some short stories, which motivated me to take chances and explore. I finally hit a groove with the new YA contemporary thriller that has been percolating in my mind for awhile now. I managed to get a decent amount of words down in the last couple weeks and am looking forward to more fast-drafting in October!

Reading: September has been a huge reading month for me! I started with Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which my CP has been telling me to read for ages. I finally got a copy for my Kobo and understood exactly why it’s her favorite book. It’s deep and intense and so different from any YA book I have read. Next, I was lucky enough to read my agent-sis Samantha Joyce’s sophomore novel, Dealing in Deception, before its November release date! I literally could not put this one down… it has everything a reader could possibly want! Plot twists, humor, realistic relationships, drama, and healthy doses of romance. Next, I read the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline, which deserves every bit of amazing praise it has received. The writing totally blew my mind and seriously inspired me. I followed up The Girls with another eagerly awaited 2016 debut, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I loved this one too… such a true-to-live glimpse of working in the restaurant industry with incredibly sensory writing that made me hungry for gourmet food more than once. I then read Not That Kind of Girl, the memoir by Lena Dunham, which I really enjoyed since I’m a huge fan of her TV show Girls. I finished the month with two excellent YA contemporaries, Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway and The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine.

(I guess it’s pretty obvious how I spend my time when I have writer’s block!)

Watching: I was totally sucked in by Empire, a show I have been meaning to start for awhile now. I’m a big fan of Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson (they have such great chemistry on screen together!), and I sped through the first season. I love the family dynamics and watching the lies, drama, and betrayal play out. Plus, the music is amazing!

I have a feeling October will be a really fantastic month. I’m looking forward to walks in the woods, crunching leaves underfoot, and lots of writing!

For all the Pitch Wars hopefuls

On Wednesday night, the Pitch Wars mentee list was unveiled. Excitement ensued for those chosen and there was a fun virtual Twitter dance party as everyone congratulated each other on this huge accomplishment. I remembered being on the other side of things, as a mentee two and a half years ago, madly stalking the hashtag for any and every update. I remembered my heart racing and the doubt coursing through my mind that I wasn’t going to get picked, and I’d have to move on from that. When I did get picked, I stared at the screen in disbelief, thinking there must be some kind of mistake.

Keep taking that leap of faith... you'll only get higher!

Keep taking that leap of faith… you’ll only get higher!

Why the crippling doubt? Because I had entered contests before with other manuscripts. My hopes had been high. They had promptly been crushed. I had to mentally prepare myself for disappointment, gird myself against failure. Somewhere along the line, I stopped being hopeful and started being what I called practical, steeling myself for the sting of rejection.

If I’m being perfectly honest, every time I wasn’t picked for a contest, I went into a mini-spiral of negativity. I convinced myself my writing wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t on the same level as others who had entered, that I’d never find an agent, that I should only write for fun and not put myself through the stress of trying to get published.

Sometimes I took a break. Sometimes I threw myself into a new project. But always, I went back to writing, and always, after the storm cloud had passed, I looked toward the next contest. The next query. The next thing.

What I didn’t realize then is that publishing never stops being about rejection. Even as a published author, I deal with it. And if I had let every “no” derail me, I’d be in the middle of nowhere, with no direction. But I learned to take those “nos” for what they were. Subjective opinions. Sometimes, a “no” is accompanied by great feedback that you can apply and learn from. Sometimes it’s about someone not connecting with your writing or your plot or your characters. And you know what? Every “no” is okay. Because every “no” takes you closer to the “yes” that you will get if you keep writing.

This is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor. I was totally blown away by the level of talent and the caliber of work in my inbox. I also heard the mentor chatter behind the scenes, and it was unanimous that this year’s quality level was higher than ever. Not getting picked is NOT a no. Not even close. You have a whole community of people behind you, and that’s the beauty of Pitch Wars. Once you submit, you’re in the Pitch Wars family, and we all want you to succeed. We’re here for questions you have, advice you want, virtual hugs you need. We’re here for you.

It’s okay to be disappointed, to process whatever you’re feeling. But just remember that if you’re sending your work out there, if you’re doing your research and learning something about the publishing industry, you’re doing things right. You’re where you need to be. And I have no doubt with that attitude, you’ll get where you want to be.

Be hopeful. Be practical. Be you, because only you can write your stories, and the world wants them!

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