And…done!

Last Tuesday afternoon I had the immeasurable pleasure of texting both my agent friend and my husband (who had already returned to New York) that my revisions were finished. A whole bunch of Awesome! and Wow, well done! followed. Then the panic set in. What had I done? I finished!!!!!!!!!! My OCD rose up and began to line-edit (again!) and beg for mistakes, work needed, moments with my characters to fill me up until I begin the sequel. All of these things are, of course, completely unnecessary. There will still be work because I am not a copyeditor, an editor, or my agent friend. I am just the lowly, obsessed author with a brain that won’t be still.

Today, after reveling in my rechecking, I sent my manuscript to my agent friend for a read. I’ve been spiraling since, and excited. Revisions are a funny friend. They make you feel like you are losing your mind, lost in your own world and out of control. This revision has seen me scrutinizing every scene to the last word, asking myself the hard question that no writer wants to ask: is this moving the plot forward? My answer was sometimes no, and sometimes for scenes I truly, absolutely loved.

I have had the question asked, over the last month of revisions, what is my next step?  My simple and untempered answer is: I don’t know. I have ideas, a swirl of ideas in a brain filled full. I have plans, and hopes, and scope, but I can’t tell you the order. I can’t be in control of that and I am utterly grateful for that fact. For now, I sit in a place of completion. This revision feels like a real end. And I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh here (only sub in my manuscript and a glass of wine):

Keep Austin Weird!

This post will be brief because I just arrived in Austin, TX for the Austin Teen Book Festival and I’m tired from watching my husband drive. My husband is very kind to attend this with me as he himself is not so much a reader of YA, but a supporter of my desire to be a writer of YA (not to mention my fangirling of all things YA), and I am not a great driver.

Phew! I have not been to Austin since the Thanksgiving before we moved to New York. The Texas Hill Country is one of my favorite landscapes in the US to view. If you have never been to the Hill Country, you really, really should. Upon exiting I-35 for our hotel in Downtown Austin, we were greeted by a pack of peaceful petitioners for the legalization of marijuana in Texas, and the US overall. They also carried a sign for us to HONK if we agreed. Needless to say, in a city with a slogan about staying weird, and a major university, HONKERS abounded. Nice to know free speech still exists.

Tonight we’ll chill, for tomorrow I plan on absorbing as much knowledge and awesomeness as my brain can hold. (I don’t know if we come with an awesome threshold, I hope not.) I will also be working with the teens in the afternoon, so my energy must be at full-throttle. It’s a thrill for a YA writer to get to shoot-the-shit with a group of engaged readers in her target audience, in a city so completely strange and oddly old-school as Austin. I imagine much fun will be had by all tomorrow, the least of which, a humble, prospective author. Happy Friday to you, wherever you may be!

Some stuff about this week for me.

I’m still in Texas. This is what my sister-in-law Rebecca calls a creative sojourn. I am immersed in opportunity to write and explore the world I am creating, to change things that should be changed, and to comb through my mind for the best and brightest way to confront the issues in my world (both in construction and in theme) with almost no pressure at all. It is an amazing time.

But enough about me, and my glorious exploration into the uncharted wilderness of my own mind. This weekend, September 29, 2012 to be exact, I will be venturing from Denton to Austin for a wonderful (free!) event called The Austin Teen Book Festival. Check out the link here.

I will be volunteering in the afternoon tweeting, facebooking, and tumblring pics and info from the panels. In the morning, I will attend the Keynote speech by the uber-genius that is Neal Shusterman (author of Unwind), and the panel featuring Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson and Sarah Rees Brennan (Shadow and Bone, Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Unspoken respectively) among other fabulous authors.

I’m excited about the opportunity to see all of these authors and hear what they have to say about where YA is and is to go. I also so appreciate that this festival exists, and is free, and that teens will get this opportunity to hear from the writers influencing the genre written for them. It’s a wonderful thing all around. If you are in the general area and are a lover of YA, please check it out. You can also make a donation to the APLFF, who are responsible for putting the festival on for free. Good stuff all around.

 

I’m the Map!

Map-Maker, Map-Maker, make me a map, build me a world, ink it all out!

Or draw it with a Wacom tablet and map-making software. Whatever, I just need one.

Today, after avoiding any tactile pre-writing, plotting, or the like, I finally broke down and bought myself a sketch pad. Now, I cannot stress to you how very poor an artist I truly am. I generally avoid graphite and paper without lines. (Who am I kidding? I generally avoid paper and pens, even the erasable kind.) In my manuscript there is a point where a map is presented to the protagonist. This map is described, in some detail, by the protagonist as she lays out the boundaries and scope of her journey.

I needed a visual of this map. My husband is an artist, both fine and of the tech-variety, but I am not. He may someday, should it become necessary, make me a map that looks way prettier and shinier than my own crude version. But my own version, for the purposes of storytelling and needing to make sure the image in my head is the image written in the manuscript, will do just fine.

Now, you are probably hoping for a the scanned sketch. Sorry, again, I am neither artistic nor super tech savvy. We are also in Texas where we have no printer/scanner/mind-reading devices at our present disposal, so my assurance that I have made a map and it is pretty bad will have to be enough. For now. When my book is published, I hope there will be a beautiful, clear and not-at-all smudged with my fingerprints map included in Chapter Seven where she (protagonist) first sees it herself.

Until then, here are some fun maps of fictional worlds that my map in no way resembles. Enjoy!

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Thumper

I realize I’ve been a little quiet the last week, which is unusual for me. I have been in Texas since last Saturday working on revisions and proofreading the revisions I have finished. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating. Why Texas? I am originally from the Lonestar State, and both sets of grandparents live in our former hometown. It’s a great place to occupy my son while I am pushing through to finish my novel. I am pushing through everything right now. Through my tired eyes. Through my aching shoulder. Through the other things I could be doing, and the missing my New York apartment and my sweet son who is happily engaged with his family.

Mostly, I am pushing through self-doubt. I think this is a normal emotion to struggle with in the face of rewrites, and the finish line. I had it nicely boxed up inside the corner of my mind reserved for those sorts of thoughts (my weight insecurities and parenting shortcomings also live there) until yesterday. Yesterday I had an experience I would rather not elaborate, but only say, I began to fear my own talent, the positive feedback I’d received from multiple sources, and the truth that I really, really believe this book is worth publishing.

The reason I will not elaborate is I refuse to be one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve. I refuse to express my anger and frustration at an individual person in a blog that can be read by anyone. I think someone should put this person in line, but I will not be the girl to do it.

I will, however, be the girl to tell you that you can never allow one asshole’s opinion to affect you for more than a glass of wine and a good cry. I do think you should have that glass of wine and good cry, that is super healthy and smart. But after that, and I mean right after, get your ass up and keep moving. Remember what you know to be true. Remember that you can never please everyone. When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me — with her hands on my shoulders: “If everyone likes what you’re doing then you’re doing something wrong.” She was also the one to encourage me to remember what Thumper’s mother said: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I am still reminding myself of this today.

I am remembering it as I tell you to forget critics and remember only true critique. I am remembering it as I curse those who think they know more than Jesus, and may know a lot, but who can still be blind and foolish enough to make asinine statements in an offhand way. Those people are invited to bite me. I do realize that was not something nice to say and have chosen to say it anyway.

I think you have to find kindreds in your life and remember not everyone will be one. Not everyone is super creative or good at knowing their own mind. Some must be told what they like. Those are the ones who followed the popular girls around school and who now ride the coattails of someone else’s brilliance. There is need for those kind of people in life. I will readily admit that. I will also readily admit that I really, really don’t care to be one of them. But that is sort of off point. I am trying to be edifying.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you too wrestle with self-doubt, remember that self-doubt can cripple you into never putting yourself out there. Don’t let it. Let it wash over you and remind you of your self-confidence, your self-worth, and your uniqueness. (Have a glass of wine and cry, too, if you like that sort of thing.)

What to do? What To Do?

It sometimes takes a lot for me to dig myself out of my own mind. On days like this I find it difficult to do much more than coast. I am a bad coaster. I don’t like to feel unproductive, or directionless — and I really don’t like to be at the receiving end of my own disapproval. On those kinds of days — or weeks, or over-long months — I try to place this wandering mind on something to refocus it. Some of the ways I do that are as follows, in no particular order, with no discernible reasoning:

  • My son’s long black eyelashes. There is something mesmerizing about sapphire blue eyes curtained in charcoal lashes so long they can tickle your cheeks when he kisses your nose.
  • Real Estate. Not real estate in my budget were I looking to by a house or apartment. Not even real estate where I live or have lived before. Usually real estate in the most fantastic sense of the word.
  • Wander around the park (Central or Prospect) and pretend I’m in the woods. This is good for many reasons. Quiet. The location of the first third of my novel which I’m in revisions with. The chance to climb a rock or a tree. Running water. Playing pretend.
  • A nice glass of wine well before evening time. This may be counter productive since wine can also make you tired, but it definitely calms me down.
  • Default to reading some YA I need to familiarize myself with in order to be able to hold conversation with the rest of the YA writer/bloggers out there. I am behind. Sometimes this helps by merely triggering my longing to see my book in print and putting my brain back in the place it needs to make sentences someone might want to read.
  • Remember that everyone needs a break and then turn on an episode of Weeds because I am way, way behind on it.

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Being a writer, mom, and wife I forget sometimes to also be an individual person with many facets and needs. Sometimes I forget to place my mind on things beyond my need to finish rewrites. (To just get.it.done!) This can be a bad place to write from, because it can make you very selfish and one-sided. Writers revel in their solitude, but solitude and hard work is not the only way to create. And probably not the best.

My Companion

I spent hours dreaming of a different life as a child. My life was rich and engaged, but my heart was a butterfly never satisfied with the flower she rested on. Once, at nine-years-old I ran away. I packed up my pink and purple Caboodles box with stupid shit like hair ties, bubble gum, and lipstick, and set out due west for California on foot. It took my older brother maybe ten minutes to figure out what I’d done and come find me on a busy street neighboring our house. “Where are you going?” He asked me, arms crossed, all domineering-protective-big-brother-like. “California.” I replied, squinting at him defiantly. “Your headed toward McKinney, and in a couple more blocks you’ll be in the only projects in Denton.” My face fell, but I was not easily deterred. I started stomping still for California, even though I was walking east and toward a dangerous part of town. After following me for a block or two, he grew weary and maybe bored, and just picked my skinny pre-adolescent ass up and carried me home over his shoulder. This would not be  the last time I considered running away, though future attempts were far more feather-brained and rage driven, but it was the first time I gave in to the siren call of my longing.

Longing leads us places, and then it forces our eyes to open and see that we can run but not hide, we can hide but not be safe. The idea is one I chew on in my novel, and also one I dance with in my life. I have never been one for absolutes, I need the possibility that maybe offers.

I fidget and flutter around my home, I fly through ideas and scenario like an easy summer read. The longing lingers, and it makes me eternally wonder where the road is taking me. Writing helps because I can let the longing overtake me, in that quiet place where my mind meets my story and possibility is born. I can feel it powerfully directing me on a twisting road. I can handle it with abandon. The only sufferer of my longing then is my own mind and the characters that populate it.

The Choices We Make as Writers

from stickynotethinkers.com

I’m grappling right now with choice. I find choices relatively easy in my everyday life. To me, a decision is never the final say on something, so it doesn’t scare me. But when you are writing for a character, making choices can be a little bit more difficult. Most of my major rewrites have involved choices I made that were lazy. I can be a little lazy.

Occasionally. Let’s not get crazy, mostly I’m obsessive and manic. This can be good for a writer. In the first draft of my manuscript I wrote the entire inciting incident without my protagonist seeing it. She was told about it after the fact. I did this for a few reasons.

  1. I was new to writing action and felt a little intimidated by it.
  2. I didn’t really want go there. It was a lot more pleasant to hear someone else’s account rather than put her — or myself — through it.
  3. I didn’t know her that well.
  4. I had fears it would be a jumbled mess.
  5. Lazy ass.

Now, when I had done all that writing (6,000 words give or take, from the inciting incident to what followed) I began to feel uneasy. I knew that this was not good enough. I knew that I was being a coward, but the thought of cutting all of that and doing it over made me ill and need more coffee. Eventually I gave up. I cut, I rewrote, and it is one of my favorite passages in the entire book. It is emotional and nerve-racking and dark. It also prepared me for future massive cuts (the largest being the last 20,000 words almost completely) and taught me how to be a better writer.

That was a choice I made for the audience, and for me as a writer, it wasn’t for my protagonist. There is a choice I’ve made for her, a decision she actually comes to in the end of the book, that I’m not sure I can live with. It’s a bad choice. It’s murderous and selfish and kind of outside her character. It’s also exciting and willful, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. It’s something I’m grappling with right now. What do I do? I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m also feeling rather lazy.

Why lazy? Why do I keep referring to myself as “lazy”? Because I had felt done, at least, done from the perspective of a writer who’s never been published feels done. Then I made the royally stupid to choice to write a synopsis of my novel (something you need for your agent) and it brought to light this potential flaw. Maybe I’m not lazy, I’m just obsessed. Maybe I should take up knitting or start to exercise, maybe that will distract me?

(*I’m just throwing those out as two options. Two, very boring options.)

As a writer we are forced to make choices as our characters. We are forced to get inside their minds and root around for truth. It makes us feel ugly things sometimes. It makes us shock ourselves. We also have to choose when enough is enough, or when there’s more.

Word — er, Sentence Structure — uh, Choice?

I am profoundly shocked everyday at how one word can change an entire sentence. One word misused, overused, or poorly placed can throw off a piece of prose faster than an entire bad sentence. This is because a sentence poorly written will usually get scrapped, but a bad word can be overlooked draft after draft after draft. Sometimes this occurs not when a word shouldn’t be there, but when it very much should. Like a sentence not quite finished. For instance—

The wind shifted with new breath, but I couldn’t see anyone.

Ok, that is a fine sentence, nothing wrong on the surface, but something about it just doesn’t sit right. So try it this way.

The wind shifted with new breath, but still I saw no one.

Better — maybe still not perfect, but an improvement nonetheless. Now, this attention to word detail isn’t something I come to naturally. Until I began the arduous task of drafting and rewriting my first novel, I was more of a broad strokes type of writer. I believed in the power of inspiration. I was also a screenwriter, which requires less combing. Strokes of genius occur, ( No mater what Stephenie Meyer says, The Twilight Saga could have cut about 250,000 words, or a whole book) but they still need to be fine tuned.

From Small House Pottery.

Writing is a craft, it requires diligence, not luck. It is something you work at, and then you scream about, and then you grab a bottle of dark liquor and lament over, and then you grow a pair and get back to work.Writing is a job, not a vacation. If you are blessed enough to turn your job of writing into an actual job, then I imagine the ball game changes again. But, no matter what, a wrong word can be why someone stops reading. And no one can afford that.

Acceptance

Sometimes I very much wish I was writing something else. I wish it was lighter, gentler. I wish it made me feel peaceful to have these voices in my head. I’ve been reading a book lately that has a decidedly sad tone, but somehow it renews my romance with the world. My book is not like that. My book is a journey, and that journey begins in darkness. And that darkness is overwhelming.

I’ve been thinking about this struggle, this inherent desire to be in someone else’s process, to feel what they feel when they write something lighter. I read a lot of YA, and the trend in young adult fiction is to be a angst-ridden, to create a dystopian world, or to talk about teenage sexuality. When I set out to write my book, there was no choice in doing YA. The book just happened that way. The idea, the voice that came out, it was more for the teens than the adults. Not that adults won’t like it. All my early readers are adults. A lot of adults swoon for YA. But it wasn’t my goal to write YA, it was an accident.

So, I think what I’m trying to say is, you must accept that you will write what you write. You can’t change that. I don’t mean we write what we know. Jo March did, and it worked for her. I mean we write what comes out, we commit to a work of fiction because it exists within us and it needs to get out. It’s not always a journey we understand, but most of the time, it’s still the search of our own life. It’s the good and bad of us, or of us in our current state.

Be OK with your work, whatever it is. Let it grow in you. It may not be literary fiction. It may be a summer romance read. It may be a crime drama. It may be the next Harry Potter. (There will be a next one, someday, when the world is hungry enough for it.) What you write has a purpose, and on some level, for someone, it will be exactly what they need. Acceptance is the first step to writing…or recovery…or dieting. Let it nestle you in a warm, gut-squeezing, cartoon style hug.