That is not the answer.

I am a Christian.

How many will stop reading this post because of that?

What if I said I was Muslim?

How many others would stop then?

I find it difficult to talk about my faith on social media, and so mostly, I don’t. My Facebook feed is divided: half people I go to church with and half I have met in my life as a young adult writer and screenwriter. A lot of conservatives, just as many liberals. I see both sides to every popular argument going on in America. I rarely add my own voice to the debate. Partly because I do not want to create more noise, and partly because I do not always know what I feel is right.

Christians say go to the Bible, the answers are there. But it’s easy to misinterpret the Bible based on my own desires, based on my own experiences, the environment I live in, the world I am faced with or wishing for. Ultimately, faith is personal and a journey and not easy. My path and yours are different, and therefor the way I choose to live is not subject to your approval. The way you live is not for me to discuss or diminish. My answer from God is not yours.

When I lived in New York City, I constantly encountered people that did not believe the same thing as I did. These people did not shock me or wound me. They were not my enemies because they were gay or atheists, because they were the children of a Muslim, because they ascribed to a different spiritual journey or lifestyle.

But still my faith was shaken. And it was good for me. It taught me who I really was, and it helped me learn true empathy, it opened my mind. Faith is not made sturdy without testing. I am no lesser now because I want to accept other people for who they are and what they believe, because I question things more freely, because I am willing to change. I do not care about a person’s sexual orientation, race or religious affiliations as long as they are kind and they treat me with respect.

That is the only thing that matters in a friend, in a world. How we treat each other.

I get tired of the fighting. I want very little from my friends. I want them to laugh with me. I want them to listen to me. I want them to be brave. I want them to respect my choices. These are all things we should be able to do, but more and more it seems we can’t. We think it is our job to show someone the light, and I don’t mean the Light of the World. We spend a lot of time arguing particulars. If someone doesn’t support the woman’s right to choose, they are trying to control women. If someone thinks abortions aren’t murder, they are compared to Hitler — Hitler, who slaughtered millions of Jews because of his own bigotry and fear. Bigotry and fear lead nowhere good fast.

I will not fight you on these or any other issue because for every horror story on one side of the coin, there is an equally horrible one on the other. There is no good answer in a world like this one. There are only more questions.

I have a very good friend that used to, after we had a few glasses of wine, always start up a debate. And I would always listen because her views and feelings were important to me. We would go round and round on the BIG questions of War and Death and Illness, Rape and Violence, and she would always ask me how I could acknowledge all of these things and still believe in God. I would always tell her the same thing, because I choose to.

For me it really is that simple. But this fight we are in all around the world, that is not simple. It is painful and nuanced, layered and eternal. I have learned there is no one answer to silence every voice.

Just be the very best possible version of the person you think you are meant to be. Don’t be an ass no matter your religion, race, gender or lifestyle. Don’t try to conform others to your liking. Be who you are and have a little faith that that is what you are meant to do, that is enough, that is your answer. Show don’t tell. Act when you need to, when it is right for you. Be willing to listen, be brave enough to speak your truth, and be kind enough to shut up when you are finished.

Author Platform Building

Authors with a mortgage never get writers block.

— Mavis Cheek

I have been looking a lot at writing as a profession, and not just an outlet for the crazy inside my own brain. When you sit down to write your first novel the tendency — at least this was the case for me — is to get wrapped up in the new romance. This can manifest itself many ways. I fell in love with my protagonist. I fell in love with her love interest. I fell in love with what she was fighting for, and consequently, against. But, eventually you finish the manuscript, you do your rewrites, and you get it to an agent.

If you are lucky enough to hook an agent, you then have to wait for them to read it and give you notes (if they’re going to take it on) or pass (at which point, chocolate and a bottle of wine may be in your immediate future.) Either way, waiting is involved. I’m an inherently impatient human being. I can blame my father— who is the same way — or the instant availability of entertainment and information in this age — because they have screwed my generation over when it comes to attention span — or just bite the bullet and admit I just can’t sit still. I can’t.

This means I seek the next step. I file a preemptive strike against patience. And I research what authors, especially YA authors, are doing to get their names out there. That is where I learned the phrase author platform. Apparently, romance with your work is great, researching agents is smart, doing the hard work of actually editing and submitting your novel is valuable, but author platform is increasingly vital in this growing, merging world that is publishing.

Publishing is changing. It’s largely electronic now. The audience you are trying to reach wants things now  — I’m not alone!— and they want to know EVERYTHING. They need multiple ways to interact, not only with celebrities, but writers, friends, family, celebrity pets. In other words, if you want to be a writer, you must develop a platform from which to build your following. You must become a presence.

This may send you to a dark room with heart palpitations. You are not alone, I was there earlier this week. But, once you stop panicking, you then start to grapple with the reality, you then develop a plan. Dan Blank writes a clear, cut-the-shit article about it here. His basic take, and here he’s referring to branding (a not four letter word that feels like one):

…it is about communication. Effectively understanding your own purpose, that of your audience, and the ways to connect the two. That’s it, just a word to describe a much deeper and more meaningful process.

He goes on to break it down for us. It’s helpful. Still scary. Why does it scare me? Because it feels like admitting that I’m really doing this. There is a place where you can still go back. I left that place two weeks ago when I stopped rewriting and handed my manuscript over to an agent. I drank a lot that day and watched Batman Begins. (I was gearing up for The Dark Knight Rises too!) It felt like a weight lifted and then was replaced by an anvil. It felt real — the tangible step toward the abyss of publishing or crashing-and-burning.

I already had a blog. I’m gonna be honest, that is the easiest step. Blogging is fun, and as long as your blogging you can feel like you are accomplishing something just by clicking publish. This can be a delusion when you only have three people reading your blog. The real challenge is then producing real interest in yourself. That takes time, consistency, and you actually putting something out their that other people want to read.

On writer Bill Henderson’s blog, Write a Better Novel, he explains that utilizing the planks — haha, since your building an author platform, get it? — of Facebook, Twitter, and blogging is an easy, free way to do that. You still have to be smart about it, though, and not just think by having an account people will magically care. But if you can’t be smart about it, maybe you should be a baker. Of course, if you’re trying to make it as a baker in this day and age you probably need a Twitter account and Facebook page so people can like you. In other words, everyone looking to make a career needs to build themselves a platform.

In the spirit of that, I started a Facebook fanpage. This is separate from my personal, private account, and is set up for me to funnel all of my internet writerly escapades to one, easy source. Check it out if you are so inclined. But further, make your own if you are at this stage. And then let me know so I can like it. We need each other, we reclusive, obsessive writers. Planks laid, platform being nailed.