Reading through old blogs is like getting a letter from past me. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and full of hope.
Today, I’m going back to New York – but only in my mind.
Sometimes I think about living there and I swell with panic. I remember endless climbs from the subway carrying my two-year-old and a stroller. I remember the loneliness. I remember the disillusionment. I remember the bitter cold and the blistering heat.
Sometimes, though, I remember the pizza from 5th Avenue or the bagels from 9th. The picnics in Prospect Park and all the trees we climbed. The local bar, Rhythm & Booze, where I took my kid for dinner before it got too rowdy, where we waited out storms and we got midnight fries. The time I saw THE NUTCRACKER and had a martini at the Plaza. The time I was in the same room as Daniel Radcliffe.
Then I remember the most important part of all.
That I did it even though it terrified me, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am now. And none of it has been perfect, or easy, but it was right. And thank God it’s sunny here, that the flowers are blooming, and I have a pool – that I haven’t, and won’t, ever go backwards.
#TBT to this message from past me, and all the grace carrying each and every one of us through.
“There is a moment in the midst of the waiting, and crying — a moment in between public outbursts of anger and private laughter over pizza — that you realize the grace is holding. And it’s holding you. It’s holding your baby when he sleeps in his new bedroom. It’s holding the dog when he finds a spot on the floor in your empty house and takes a nap. It’s holding your parents and brothers and all those at home that you miss and miss you. It’s holding. The bottom hasn’t fallen out of your world. You’re just in a new world.”
TGI the Weekend!
I’m blacking out time on my schedule to write some words, but I thought it might be fun to drop some knowledge about HOW I get 500 words NO MATTER WHAT.
1. Decide the writing will happen and you will enjoy it. So much of the story around writing is about how HARD it is. How challenging it can be to get what’s in your brain out on paper (or a Word doc). I won’t lie to you and say the writing always feels like shooting rainbows out of my fingers, but – especially in the drafting phase – I always remind myself that this is a chance to purely create. It’s alchemy with words. It’s FUN. Even when it tries to convince me it’s HARD.
2. Set the scene. I know writers who need it dark, with candles flickering, music playing. I know writers who exclusively write in cafes with bustle and noise all around them. It doesn’t matter how, but find a way to use your senses, and habits, to trigger your creative brain. It doesn’t have to be the same every time either. Honoring the time with your story is what matters.
3. Set a timer on yourself. This can be a few hours, or 30 minutes or whatever you want. But having a window for the words helps. It’s like how having a deadline can spur you to finish a project. It will help you stay with your writing instead of slipping onto Instagram, or taking one of those Buzzfeed quizzes where you make a pizza and they reveal the color of your soul.
4. Write forward. Once you get momentum going, try to stay with the forward motion until you hit a goal. You can always go back and edit after. But you can’t edit at all if you don’t write the words to begin with!
5. Reward yourself WHEN you succeed. Celebrating the victory of setting a writing goal and then meeting it is SO IMPORTANT. Sometimes, when I need to get a lot of words in one day, I will set little rewards up for hitting 500 word increments – a fresh cup of tea, a walk with my dogs, playing a round of Mario Party with my son – and then I will give myself a big reward at the end of the day. This usually involves wine and Netflix, and it’s glorious because I did the work and I loved the process and, best of all, I WANT to do it all again tomorrow.
WRITING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A HOBBY.
When I was 26 -years-old, I moved to Brooklyn with my husband and son. The move was for my husband’s career — at the time my career was caring for my then two-year-old son. But I had always WANTED to write. To be a WRITER. I had dabbled in it for years- mostly with one act plays and screenplays that lived in perpetually unfinished states of being.
Writing was a hobby, for me, not a career.
I will never forget the moment that changed. I was sitting on my front stoop watching my son draw with chalk on the sidewalk. The sun was low and everything was bathed in orange and pink light. I had just started writing my first novel EVER and I was in that heady stage of early romance with the process. It was unfamiliar and sexy and deeply, unthinkably terrifying.
It was a beautiful evening, and I was doing what I had always done with my time — and LOVED doing — except one thing had changed.
My fingers itched to type. My head swam with a character’s voice. I was in another world and it was exactly where I wanted to be. Right then and there, I knew I had to commit.
I had to call myself a WRITER.
I had to admit I wanted to make money with my craft. I had to claim the time necessary to get there. Because I wanted it for more than a hobby — I was love-drunk with it and I never wanted to break up. I knew that in order to get where I wanted to go, I had to stop pretending there was anywhere else I COULD go. That any other thing would ever be ENOUGH.
Making the transition from I WRITE IN MY SPARE TIME to I AM A WRITER takes nothing more than a moment of choice. For me, that moment was there on a red brick stoop outside my Brooklyn pad, watching the sunset and knowing I had work yet to do that day. Every time I sit down to write, I commit again. I’ve been committing for seven-years straight. Through multiple novels and screenplays, ghostwriting jobs, and MANY ups and downs in the publishing industry.
I KEEP ON COMMITTING.
If you want to be a writer – then you are one. You don’t need permission. You just need to commit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. What they actually are. How we achieve them if they are dependent on outside forces. Where we draw the line in our pursuit and shift the goal so we can find success. I’ve been thinking a lot about it because, from the outside, it looks like I must have a lot of goals. But recently I realized, I don’t.
Before you roll your eyes and point to my Instagram, listen.
Eleven-years-ago, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I vehemently despised this position. People irritated me. Having a boss irritated me. Making cookies for house closings, irritated me. I was irritated about getting up in the morning, and irritated about going to bed at night. The job was a means to an end. My husband was in school full-time, and we needed the income until he graduated.
What I really wanted was a baby. I didn’t actually know if I could ever want anything more.
It was an all-consuming desire that turned into an unachievable goal.
Every month I wasn’t pregnant, my mind whirled with fear. All the trying in the world (and believe me, we tried A LOT) wouldn’t make it happen. I did everything right. I ate well. I cut back on caffeine. I was active. I spiraled and spiraled. All around me, friends jubilantly announced pregnancies, sent photos of sonograms, cried happily into the phone. I wanted to be happy for them, obviously I did, but there was a tiny, barren place in my heart where true joy for them, and real hope for me, went to die.
And, oh yeah, I still really hated my job.
During that year, I began working on a screenplay I’d had in my head for years. And even though I still had the desire for that baby, and even though I still wanted to burn the cookies and tell off my boss, I began to want something else, too. I didn’t yet have the words for what it was or the courage to say it allowed, but I was changing. The goal still mattered, but it wasn’t the only goal.
Ten years ago, I was fired from my job as a receptionist. They were downsizing and looking for fat they could trim. I literally volunteered — I might as well have been Katniss. My husband was about to graduate, we had some savings, he’d get a job — whatever. We agreed it was the right time.
Free from my desk job nightmare, I threw myself in writing. I finished the screenplay. I began planning something new. And the week before I found out I was pregnant, I had a straight up gin martini and told my husband I was glad I hadn’t gotten pregnant when I wanted to.
I had found peace in the pursuit.
At no point in this journey did I consciously alter my goal. Never did I make a declaration— privately or otherwise — that I didn’t care anymore about being pregnant. I never stopped pursuing it, even though there were times I really believed giving up would at least lead to some inner peace. I continued to do my part, which, let’s face it, was super fun, and somewhere along the way I stopped holding so tight to the when.
It wasn’t until my son was two-years-old, that I genuinely started to imagine a life as a writer. I’ve talked about this before, but I made some serious missteps in my goal setting there. Because, I made the goal something totally outside my own ability to control, and I have spent years undoing that. I’m still undoing it.
The goal is the work — the creative life. Everything else is external, and in case you didn’t know, you have no control on the external. You cannot make an agent love your book. You cannot make a publisher buy it. You cannot make readers run to bookstores or download it on their Kindle.
You cannot make anyone give a shit about you. It is more important that you give a shit about yourself.
Love the hell out of your work. Write the book, the screenplay, the poem. Take your time. Do all the work. Learn all you can about the work. Love every minute even when that particular minute majorly sucks. Then, take a seat, have a gin martini straight up, and thank God you didn’t get it when you wanted because look at all you have learned along the way.
You never know when it’s going to change.
I’m going to tell you a story about why I write for young readers. Years ago, before I had my son, moved to Brooklyn, or ever wrote a YA novel, I wrote one act plays for kids. They were produced locally, and I always ended up directing for lack of anyone else stepping up. During that time, I met and worked with a slew of 7-12 year olds who had never acted or read a script in their young lives. They didn’t know they could or should.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be famous. My mother and father were familiar with big dreams, so they encouraged me, but parents are usually the last person you want to hear from when you’re young and ambitious. It would have been something to have a teacher, or a cool, successful artist, a someone other than my parents tell me I should keep shooting for the stars. In spite of that, I never lost my drive, though occasionally it did get waylaid.
While writing for and directing these kids, I uncovered heaps of hidden talent — kids who went on to become YouTube famous, stars of high school plays, dreamers of other big dreams at top tier colleges.
A few months ago, while visiting Texas, I ran into one of the girls I’d plucked from shyness and set center stage. She’d been twelve at the time, with long brown hair and a tiny button nose, and she’d never been asked to sing in public before, never been under a spotlight. I had a gut feeling she could sing, and so I promised her she wouldn’t regret singing during her audition. She landed the lead role in the play. A lead role with a difficult (original) solo. She’s now a senior in college, a stellar violinist about to graduate with a music and vocal major.
As we talked, reminiscing about that special time all those years ago, she said, “I just want you to know, if you hadn’t made me play that role and sing that song, I would never have studied voice in college. You showed me it was an option.”
Even writing this now, I’m tearing up. I’m thinking how my certainty we should always do the very scary, big thing created an opportunity, her trust that I would protect her in the room gave her the confidence, but her talent carried her onto the stage. She was always gifted, she just needed someone to provide a spotlight.
I am not a teacher. I know teachers must know how this feels, much more profoundly than me. But in that moment I knew, my investment in that child had paid off in ways I never imagined. And it was so incredibly worth it.
This weekend I spent time with my friend Sara Biren— a fantastic writer and award nominated author —and her two kids. Actually, mostly her two kids. I was in town for a Book Awards ceremony to honor Sara, but now that I’m homebound, I wonder…maybe I was in town for her kids, too.
I talked to her daughter about the possibility of traveling the world, of never limiting yourself to a safe and obvious path. We filmed a YouTube video. I talked to her son about becoming a filmmaker, discussing themes and shot composition. How he’s not getting off with any excuses that he’s too busy or it’s too hard. How his love of movies is more than entertainment.
We are never too old to pursue our dreams. We are never too young to believe they can one day be real.
We sometimes do need a push in the right direction.
If you follow my blog, you will know I do not regularly do book reviews. For that, I use Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes and Noble because leaving a review on one of those sites for a book you love helps the author of that book immensely.
When I do talk about a book on my blog, it means that book has hooked me in the heart. It will not be reviewed so much as emoted about.
First, the description:
Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.
Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.
Kathleen Glasgow, the author of Girl in Pieces, and I are friends on Facebook. We have never met in real life, but after reading this book I feel like a tiny piece of her soul now resides in me. This book is deeply personal, for the writer to share with the world, for the reader to experience through the text. This is a book you will likely not find easy to get through, and when you finish you will not quickly forget or move on from.
Kathleen sent me the ARC (which stands for Advanced Reader Copy) because we’re both authors in the YA community, and because I stalked her Facebook when she was giving them out for review.
I started it immediately, wanting to read and get my thoughts out on the internet to best help promote the book. About sixty pages in, I abandoned my plan. There were times when I could only read three or four pages in a sitting because it was making me feel feel feel. It became clear that this book was not junk food. This was not a speed read. This was a book you experienced, sometimes in public— while waiting for a movie, while ignoring family members at meals, while sitting by a pool — and sometimes only in the dim quiet of your bedroom, surrounded by blankets to ease the pain.
Not everyone will feel what I felt for Charlie. To some, her journey will be compelling, but completely other from their own experience. But anyone that has ever experienced deep, confusing self-harm —for whatever reason, in whatever walk of life — will be able to see a little of themselves in Charlie.
By nature I like to maintain control. By hard work, years of discipline, lots of good loving and growing up, I have learned how to let go. As a teenager I was still learning how to exist in the world at all. As a teenager, I was overtaken daily by fear. It became unmanageable and impossible to maintain, so I restricted. I built walls around myself. I ate only candy some days. Tuna others. Often, pickles and sugar-free jello were my only reward for a day in the world. I shrank down, and eventually, I became a whiff of my former self. This action was accompanied by all manner of obsessive compulsive behavior, and followed by many years of retraining my mind and body to live in the stupid, big, uncontrolled world I had been born into.
Charlie cuts. She cuts away the pain. She cuts away the lack of power she has over her life. Reading about her journey as an adult I felt so thankful to Kathleen for writing this book for young women, boys…grown-girls still lost in this. When you are trapped in this kind of pattern, sometimes it feels like you aren’t seen. That people are looking away from your pain, unable to deal, too busy, too something. I know that because I felt it at times, even though everyone saw, everyone knew, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to help dig me out.
Girl in Pieces sees all the crooked edges and works to make them safe. It is a voice to this silent scream. It is a conversation starter.
There is no glory or beauty in Charlie’s scars, and the author does not make light of the very dark and dangerous path self-harm can lead to. But this is Charlie’s journey to learning to love herself regardless of the ugly she has taken into, and cut onto, her body. It is a journey worth taking with her.
The writing is stunning. It moves along the page like notes of music from an instrument. There is color and life swirled in with the pain. Funny, honest, thoughtful moments that make the story feel like looking in on a real life. There’s rough romance, and some language even a sailor might blush at, and somewhere in there I went from being certain this was a story about every other kind of pain than my own, to knowing this was a story about all pain and how there is always a way through it without hurting yourself or someone else.
I cried. I finished the book on the couch while my son watched Teen Titans. I had to get up from my spot and walk away, close the bathroom door, sob on the edge of the tub. I hugged the book to my body. I consider it one of the best I’ve read this year, and an important book, one that should be read, and praised, and shared.
Here is a link to pre-order Girl in Pieces, so that you might experience something truly fucking angelic.*
*You’ll understand once you’ve read. And you’ll love it.
Ready. Set. WRITE! is an online writing intensive to help stay accountable with your writing goals over the summer and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on whether planning, drafting, or revising! Your RSW hosts are Alison Miller, Jaime Morrow, Erin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.
Today, we check in on our goals from last week:
1. Finish the few revision points left on my manuscript Of Blood and Promises.
~ I finished all the revision points but then added three. No big deal. Technically I achieved this goal.
2. Write Five Screenplay pages.
~ I wrote five screenplay pages. They are pretty fabulous.
I should have put a goal in there that reads something like Adjust to my son’s summer schedule of two days a week at his Montessori school.
~ Tuesday we had a playdate with my niece and sister-in-law that involved swimming. Thursday we went for ice cream and comic book shopping with one of his friends, and then he had an art class. Friday, was the movies and the library…and it was only week one.
A favorite line from my story or one word or phrase that sums up what I wrote or revised:
Cal’s eyes trail across her face. He turns on his heels, begins walking across the court toward his gym bag.
She follows, trying to adjust her expression to appear unruffled.
You know me, Cal, I gotta make an entrance.
He whirls on her, a mean smirk on his face, and claps, slowly.
Ten years. Still wasn’t enough?
I asked for forever.
Forever isn’t in the cards.
See above wherein I try to adjust to less writing time.
Something I love about my WiP:
The history between the two main characters is ripe with tension. I love being in the middle of it.
This Weeks Goals:
1. Write 15 screenplay pages. That sounds ambitious, but I plan to spend most of my writing time this week on screenplays.
2. Finish those three new revision points on my manuscript.
3. Adjust to my son’s new schedule.
4. Finish the beta reading I have lingering on my computer AT ALL COSTS.
What does your writing week look like?
It is no secret that I watch — pretty religiously and usually while drinking or snacking to further differentiate myself from the sinewy dancers bodies — So You Think You Can Dance. It is pure entertainment, and unlike American Idol or The X Factor or The Voice, the talent on this show are (usually) highly-trained performers who have been working toward this much of their lives. There is less nonsense, in other words.
Besides that, there’s the other, slightly more private and embarrassing fact about me, that I secretly wish I could dance. I do not secretly harbor the same fantasies for being a singer. I also live with the daily knowledge that my future will never include me formed in the graceful lines of a pirouette. (As proven by my foray in Hula while visiting Hawaii this summer, which can be viewed here.)
But I’m straying from the topic. As I watched So You Think You Can Dance this season, I have also been in the very emotionally abusive (totally masochistic, I should specify because the agents have been very kind) journey known to all aspiring authors as querying.
Of course, to soothe my own misery, and because I’m a writer who looks for storytelling tools, I drew some parallels between the Road to Publication and the Road to America’s Favorite Dancer, that I am now going to share with you. (And, because I know you’re getting ready to ask, there will be visual aids.)
1) There is a long line of talented, charismatic, maybe even gorgeously beautiful (for writers, more social networking savvy) people in front of and behind you vying for the same position as you are. There is room for many to succeed, at some level, but the majority won’t make it past this point.
Confession: I have developed a serious (borderline neurotic) phobia that all my emails go straight into spam folders. I have fantasies, and not the good kind, of the internet netherworld where emails from me wander around in limbo. Even when I get prompt replies, I then worry over my response email. Really…it’s becoming a problem. One with no solution because as a querying writer it is essential to maintain a front of cool. In other words, no psychotic Twitter stalking, no emailing to check they received your other email. Guys…we just have to wait.
2) Even if you make it past this stage into the first round of eliminations, (or what can be compared to a partial request) that may be where your journey ends. This, of course, is up to how well you dance and how willing you are to be vulnerable on stage. (Is your writing “there”? Did you revise enough for a stranger to connect with your words?) Also, what kind of contestants they are looking for this season. Producers have an idea of the kind of show they want to make, you just may not be what they are looking for. (The “Not for me, not right now” response.)
Many writers, after multiple partial requests without an upgrade to full, will give up. It is draining to have the hope dangled — even with good intentions, as I am inclined to believe agents generally have — in front of you, for it to then be snatched away.
Confession: I try to see requests as nothing more than a first date. The agent is grabbing coffee with your MS, flirting, maybe fantasizing about kissing, maybe looking for an out. It is not a commitment for more, but could result in further courting.
3) You make it to the top 20! Yay! This is further than almost every other dancer in America. You should be proud. You should be grateful. You still just really want to win. Winning is the goal, not placing, not getting some recognition only to be told you’re not popular or talented enough for the big time. (You’ve had a full requested, but still no offer of representation. You’re progressing, but your goal is an agent willing to rep you, not nice words about how much they love your book…just not enough to take it on.)
Your road to dance success may not be through So You Think You Can Dance, it doesn’t mean you can’t dance.
Ultimately, you want an agent who gets your book, can conceive of how to make it better, will be able to sell it, and will defend it right along beside you to anyone who doesn’t get it. Submission is a bitch, mediocre feelings won’t carry you through it. An agent who passes because of that is a kind person indeed, who respects their position in the author’s life and sees they aren’t the best to represent them.
Confession: I actually would rather continue to search for the right agent than sign with the wrong one.
4) You make it to the top 10. (A position I will equate with having an agent, but being in revision still, maybe even out on submission with no luck. I have no agent, though I feel I will always be in revision.) You’re gonna go on tour, you know that much. You’re popular. Your talent is real, and your discipline to improve has so far held up. Any number of things can result in your elimination at this point, but the greatest seems to be that you just aren’t what America is drawn to right now. It’s really not about your skill, but what you’re selling.
Jenna, who I thought was a very talented dancer with a lot going for her, never seemed to grip the audience. In the end, both she and Tucker were eliminated after dancing beautifully all season.
Confession: I am not a technically perfect writer. My grammar can be lacking. I’m a fan of a comma in odd or random places, and my education has come from reading a lot, writing a lot, but not going to school a lot. This does not make me better or worse. In fact, betas on my early drafts probably wanted to strangle me, but somehow also still loved the story. However, technique isn’t the most important thing. Technique can be improved by practice and a willingness to learn, something easily managed by all if we put our minds to it.
5) Even when you make it to the end, you still may face disappointment and set-backs. (Expectations for your publishing deal, your sales, your fame and fortune are not met.) The truth is, this is what it all leads up to. The finale.
This season of So You Think You Can Dance featured a really talented tapper who made it to the finale. Aaron had auditioned three times for the show. He had made it to Vegas twice. He had made it through multiple cuts only to be sent home before the Top 20. Finally, he made it into the Top 20, then the Top 10, then the Top 4. His skills as a dancer were top notch. He had a great charisma on stage. He was masculine and strong and, really, not bad looking. I was rooting for him. Sure, I liked Fik-shun. I thought he was talented. I loved him with Amy, etc. But I wanted to see the happy ending for Aaron. I hoped, after all the years of him knocking on this door, him seeking this prize, the answer would be America’s Favorite Dancer Is…Aaron.
Why? Because I want that. As do all writers on the journey toward publication. To pretend we don’t dream of a great publishing deal, a New York Times Bestseller, a film adaptation that doesn’t suck, would be a boldfaced lie. This dream isn’t about the realistic, the what we know will probably happen, because in the end we will be happy to be published and continue writing books — no, the big dreams are what keep us sending out queries, revising, writing. We must write, this will not change if we are never validated by a publishing deal, but the yes from an agent, the sell to an editor, is our goal.
We hear nonstop about the subjectivity of this business. So You Think You Can Dance beautifully illustrates this concept. In the end, what another person loves is not up to you. Be a champion of what you love. Write the stories you want to write, with the characters you can’t ignore, and have faith that you will one day become Your Agent’s Favorite Query, That Editor’s Must Read Submission, The Bestseller Everyone Loves, or The Book That Someone Won’t Be Able To Put Down.