Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reinvigorating Your Writing Routine

Writing routines are great, but sometimes they also get old and tired, which can affect your writing or desire to write. I know that I personally struggle with monotony. While I do have a goal to write around 1k words each weekday, I seem to get that goal done differently each time.

Now, I'm not criticizing those with solid routines—I often wish I could have one myself—but for those who are burnt out on their own or looking for ways to revitalize it, I have some tips. You know me, I love me some tips.

1. Go Somewhere Else
Many people write in the same place—at their desk, sitting on the couch, at the kitchen counter, at a cafĂ©, etc. When I get really stuck or tired of writing, I often decide to change locales. I hit the library most often because there are very few distractions there and it forces me to focus. But I've also taken a notebook to the park, scribbled madly at soccer practice, and even simply climbed in bed with my laptop.

It's strangely rejuvenating to just be in a different place, seeing different things. The new locale tricks my mind into thinking I'm doing something exciting, even if I'm just revising that one scene for the 50th time.

2. Bring Out The Paper (Or Computer)
If you type up your books on the computer, try whipping out that old paper and pen for a scene or two. If you write everything by hand, pull out that computer and type for a little. Sometimes just the simplest change can get you looking at writing in a fresh way.

I find this especially helpful when I have a bad case of Perfectionitis. Handwriting helps me push forward even when I know it's not perfect. And then typing it into the computer gives you the perfect opportunity to clean it up.

3. Experimental Writing
Sometimes your story goes stale for you and you need to see it in a new light. Lately I've been exploring my books from different angles, like seeing the book from a secondary character's pov, or digging into the back story way more than I'd ever put in the book, or imagining what a prequel would be about, or how the story would go if I was writing about the villain, etc.

I've recently been going through all my side characters and asking them what they think of my MC. That has been interesting—especially since it rarely coincides with what my MC thinks.

4. New Writing
I know we're supposed to have one project that we put our all into, but I must admit I'm a bit of a cheater. Yes, I cheat on my books. I write down new ideas when I get them—I may even start writing them if I get super sick of my current project.

I don't think that's such a bad thing. I think it gives my brain a break, and when I come back to the main project I feel rejuvenated. Usually that time away, even if it's only a few days, helps me see that my main WIP isn't as bad as I thought it was.

5. Changing Up Times
Maybe you always write in the morning, and maybe for the last two days you've stared at the screen instead of making any real progress. If you can manage, it wouldn't hurt to try a different time of the day. Maybe you can go for a nice walk and then write after lunch instead. Maybe that'll clear your head and get the juices flowing.

6. Just Freaking Chill Out
Writing is a hard job because it always feels like you could be doing more. If you write for three hours, you think about how you should have squeezed in one more. If you get four pages written, you wonder if you could have gotten five if you just wrote a little faster. You feel guilty if you DON'T use your free time to write. You feel awful if you take a day just to relax—or a week even. Heck, a month! How horrible, taking off for a whole month...

Stop that. You do not have to feel guilty for the work left undone. There will ALWAYS be work. Everyday, I try to focus only on what I did accomplish, even if it's only two sentences. That is two more sentences than I had the day before.

Writing is part of our lives, but it should not be our whole lives. Do what you can when you can. Enjoy your breaks when you need them. Come back to your writing reinvigorated and ready to go.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sekrit Project

Reminder: Enter my contest for Get Well Soon! There are now TWO chances to win, since Julie Halpern herself was kind enough to donate an audio book as well.

I have a secret project. Like, really secret. After finishing the big rewrite of Transparent, I kept waffling between a few projects, but I finally picked one. I decided not to tell anyone what I picked—and I mean no one. Not even my usual alpha readers know. (Unless, of course, Nick which case he might be in trouble.)

It's kind of liberating having a secret project, writing this book just for myself, not worrying about who will see it and if they'll think it sucks. Right now I think it's just what I need—I have enough projects heaped with pressure.

And I love Sekrit Project (at least when I'm not completely intimidated by it). I'm just happy to be having fun right now. I'll admit it's been a long time since I've had some plain ol' fun with writing!

I think sometimes we take all this publishing stuff too seriously. At least I fall into that trap a lot. But lately I just want to scream " Just CHILL OUT, guys!"

I know the process is maddening. I know querying is tough and submission is even harder. I know how unfair it all is and how impossible it seems at times. I know how bad you want it and how much it hurts not to know when or if it'll happen.

I know because I've been there. For a while, even.

But like the nomads in Avatar said, "You need to focus more on the going, and less on the destination." (Oh my gosh I love that episode!) It's totally lame and true. "Are we there yet?" never makes the journey go faster, and it only annoys the crap out of you and everyone else along the way.

So basically I'm trying to be a writing nomad right now, and it's pretty nice, I must say. Write when I want, however much I want, because no one is going to see it and there's no deadline or expectations. Sigh. It's awesome.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern

You want to read this book. No, seriously. You do.

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I'm a huge, squealing fangirl of Julie Halpern. Into The Wild Nerd Yonder is one of my favorite books. And now that I'm finally done with edits on my WIP, I grabbed Get Well Soon to read for Banned Books Week.

Yes, Julie has been BANNED (and challenged). So rebel, right? Also really annoying, because now having read it I am flaming raging mad that anyone could completely miss the point of this amazing little book.

So this is the part where I gush about the importance of this novel. Because it's important, guys, very, very important.

Get Well Soon is about a girl named Anna Bloom who gets sent to a mental hospital for depression. During her stay, she meets a host of surprisingly normal teens (you know, despite the hearing voices and pretend babies and seizures), endures incredibly strange rules and farting chairs, and learns that maybe she is much stronger and prettier than she ever imagined. Also, there is a cute boy. A very cute boy.

And it's FUNNY. It is a funny novel about depression, which is freaking brilliant, because what depressed person wants to read about how depressing it is to be depressed?

I majorly adored this novel because Anna is a NORMAL girl with depression. She has two parents and a sweet little sister. She has friends (though not as many as she thinks she should have). She is pretty (though she has body image issues and thinks she's fat). She likes music and posters plastering her bedroom.

She also has panic attacks about being teased. She also tries to hide how hard it is to deal with anxiety, and thus has a lot of anxiety ABOUT having panic attacks. Been. There.

It touched my heart because Julie painted Anna perfectly. I know because I have much anxiety in my family, an issue often accompanied by depression. And having been so close to it for so long (and experiencing some of it myself), I rejoiced in seeing a depiction of depression where the main character hadn't had some horrific, traumatic experience!

"Normal" people experience psychological disorders. "Normal" people with good lives and love and money and happiness can experience depression and anxiety. I think there are a lot of misconceptions that there has to be a trigger, but that is not the case! It is a chemical imbalance that can hit even the most "perfect" looking person, and sometimes I wonder if "normal" people don't get help because they feel ashamed. They should be happy. They have a good life! And yet they are sad—more than sad. Hollow.

Normal people suffering from psychological disorders can get help, too, should get help. Anna shows that it is nothing to be ashamed of, that you don't have to be abused, etc. to be suffering mentally.

Julie's Get Well Soon normalized psychological disorders in an amazing, heartwarming way. As someone who is familiar with depression and anxiety, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to see mental illness treated like it's not real or worse, like it makes a person totally crazy and on the verge of "losing it" at any second.

My sister, who was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder around 7 years old, has been teased about her behaviors. It has been quite the experience trying to educate others about anxiety, as if it's this strange foreign thing when it's one of the most prevalent mental hurdles out there!

Get Well Soon opens the doors to what it's like to be in a mental hospital—which I think is an important read for anyone. I admit to thinking it's a "scary" place to be before reading, but the way Julie portrayed Anna's hospital was not only funny but educational. It taught me that the people there shouldn't be feared or treated any different. It encouraged me not to be afraid of seeking that kind of help if I ever need it.

This book has been banned for dropping the f-bomb, as far as I can see, and it's such a shame that this is all those people can see! The point of this book is to help others understand what it's like to suffer from psychological issues, to normalize it, to show that it's OKAY.

Get Well Soon is a healing book. It reminded me that despite all the anxiety I feel I can continue to fight it, I can live a "normal" life and be happy. It taught me compassion for those struggling mentally, and it made me laugh and smile on top of all that.

I highly recommend it. I recommend it so much that I'm giving it away right now! Yes, the only books I've given away on my blog have been Julie's. Like I said, I'm a HUGE FAN, and she really deserves more credit and attention for her fabulous books.

To enter, just leave a comment! I will choose a winner randomly on Thursday, September 30.

UPDATE: The lovely Julie Halpern has offered to give away an audio book of Get Well Soon as well! That means there will be TWO winners. One for the book and one for the audio! Woot!

Happy Banned Books Week!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why You Should Watch Avatar: The Last Airbender

If you follow me on Twitter you know I am now a massive fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I'd always wanted to watch the series, but since I didn't have TV I couldn't. Nickelodeon keeps close watch on their stuff, and I couldn't justify buying a series I didn't know was good.

But luckily my sister-in-law bought it and let us borrow it. I love her. And I love this show so, so much. It's awesome—everything you're looking for in a story. I must get copies for myself.

I know it's a TV show, but there's so much you can take away from this as a writer. It's time to employ my handy dandy list action:

1. World Building
Oh. My. Gosh. Seriously, the world building in this series is incredible. I don't even know where to begin because every little piece is perfect—you can tell the creators put their heart and soul into it. And more than that, they did their research. You can both see their inspiration and also how they took it further.

This isn't just a world with some cool elemental magic thrown in. This is a world built on the foundation of that "magic" (aka: bending). From their clothing to their cities to each nation's philospohy, it is all seamless and incredibly awesome. The world of Avatar showed me how to build a world and made we want to come up with something that cool.

I'm usually a character girl, but this world was one made to fall in love with, a la Harry Potter.

2. Characters
And if the world building wasn't enough, the characters are fantastic. Aang isn't your average "boy who saves world," and he doesn't save the world in the way he's expected to! He's not perfect, he fails a lot, and yet he's also so loveable and cool and sweet and...

I need to stop.

But seriously, each character is so well formed! The creators did not take short cuts. These characters are not cookie cutter, even if they do fill some traditional fantasy roles. The backstory and motivations are clearly laid out. Even the "villains" get their fair share of screen time and fleshed out story lines. Actually, I'm in love with Zuko, the villain.

3. The Humor
One reason I adore anime (and anime-inspired cartoons like this) is that they can get away with a sense of humor some things can't. You can have this epic, hero-driven story line, but also at the same time the writers can poke fun at the tropes, etc. Love this. So. Much.

Probably because I tend to do it in my own writing.

4. Celebrating Differences
This series obviously pulls its inspiration for many Asian cultures, which is so freaking cool. So many elements are amazing and not "western." Not to say western is bad, but it's a nice change. I'm a huge fan of expanding multicultural representation in media/art.

But not only is it Asian inspired, Avatar features many characters from different backgrounds and abilities. One of the main characters is blind. Another character is in a wheelchair. And they are strong and resourceful and awesome!

Many of the themes are ones of peace, of looking at others with compassion instead of hate, of inclusion. And yet it doesn't hit you over the head with this—it's pretty subtle, especially in comparison to some anime monologuing, trust me.

5. Knowing When To Quit
The Last Airbender is three seasons long. Oh, it could have dragged on forever—I think kids would have watched a "boss of the week" Avatar for at least twice that length. And yet the creators decided to make something of substance instead. Each episode has a purpose in the story, and there is a clear progression of plot and characters. The third season ENDS, and it's satisfying and yet not a perfect bow.

They left us salivating for more, while also filling us up. And because they were brilliant like that I cannot WAIT for their next project, The Legend of Korra. Seriously, I'm dying to see it. I will get my hands on it as soon as I can.

Why? Because I trust them as storytellers (which is also why I think the movie bombed, because Shamylan did not have that trust, and kind of dashed that trust in some aspects). Earning that trust is a big deal, and I think this series taught me a little but more about how to do that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Writing For Yourself

Welcome to another HWS meeting! I apologize for the lack of cookies this time—it seems our funds are running low. Do you know how expensive it is to run an imaginary club? But never fear! I have a brilliant plan (brilliant, I say) for replenishing our horde, err, account. Hopefully I'll be able to reveal said brilliance next week or the week after.

We are gonna be rich, guys. I'll be able to put caviar on the cupcakes. Not that I would, because that sounds gross, but I could.

Anyway, today I want to talk about something that seems to get harder and harder in this social media age: Writing for yourself.

To quote one of my own tweets (classy, I know): I write for myself, so the story has life. I edit for others, so the life shines through.

When I wrote that, I was having a particularly rough day. I had to write some new material, and every time I typed up a sentence I would think:

"Is that right? Am I following all the rules?"

"Would my agent like that?"

"I wonder if readers would think that's boring."

"Does it contribute to the story? They say every sentence, every word, has to contribute."

"My friends will probably think it's weak."

"Yeah, it's weak. I suck."


Rinse and repeat until I was one frustrated ball of a writer. And then I was all upset that I was so frustrated, so I tried to figure out what was stopping me from getting the words out. I knew the story. I knew what I wanted to happen and that all I had to do was write the dang thing. What was my problem?

Then I realized I had too many voices in my head. Too many people I was trying to listen to while drafting. I was trying to please all these "people," instead of myself.

Writing—the actual process of getting those words on paper (or screen) for the first time—is a very personal thing. While writing can be very social, that time is all you. And it should be that way. You are the artist, the creator. It's your story and you can tell it however you want! Getting that story out, finished, is the most important part of a first draft. Everything else can technically wait. No, really. I'm not saying it has to wait, but it can.

I think we forget how important that is, what with all the advice and tips and endless lists of rules we find everywhere (here included!). We forget that's for after the creative process. It's for revising!

My dear friend Kiersten often tells me that, whatever problems my writing has, my stories and characters always have life. Now, I don't love hearing my books have problems (though inevitable), but I do find her words comforting. Life is important! And that life comes in letting yourself be free to create, explore, and just plain write.

I find that when I write for other people, not myself, I lose that so-called life. That's when my writing becomes something I'm not, when my stories don't work, when I fall "out of love" with the whole process, when I get extremely frustrated.

That first draft? It has to be for you and you alone. You have to think "If others like this story, great! But if not, that's fine because this is my work and I'm proud of it."

Thinking about other people's opinions comes after—that's the revision stage. And it's equally important, because revision helps that life shine through.

So I write for myself as much as possible. It probably sounds selfish, but I think that's really the only way. You have to write the stories you want to tell in the way you want to tell them. It's not about pleasing others at first, or ever, maybe. Sure, we hope others like our work, but could you imagine if Rowling tried to please everyone while writing Harry Potter? It would have been a mess.

This fall, I'm renewing my resolve to write for myself, not with the market or my agent or publishers or even my friends and family in mind. I will write the story I want to write! And I will call it Squishy! And it will be mine! Mwahaha!

Wait, what was I saying?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

All Day Q&A

I'm changing up Q&A this time—today I'll be answering questions in comments. I'll be around all day just waiting for comments. So if you're dying to ask me something, now is your chance for a fairly quick response! How...exciting. It's exciting, right? Or not. Maybe?

Okay, now I'm a little nervous, like those writers who sit at Costco with their books, waiting for someone to stop by but everyone's too busy sampling the food. Seriously, go there at around lunch for a free meal. Good times.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Under Pressure

Yesterday there were so many great comments about sequels and whether or not to write them. Thank you so much for the added opinions. It really is a personal decision, and if you have written one please don't feel bad! Like I said, I wrote one too and I did learn a lot from it. Learning is good. You just have to be okay with knowing learning might be the only thing to come out of it.

One person even mentioned writing a sequel as practice, because they'd heard from many published authors that the sequel is HARD.

While I do think that is a smart idea, I also wanted to talk about something many writers can't quite grasp unless they are published—the pressure.

Now, I'm not published, obviously, but I do have several friends who are or soon will be. And I do have an agent, which comes with a different kind of pressure that, I hope, is preparing me for the eventual pressure of publication.

See, it's not necessarily the sequel itself that is hard to write (I mean, it is hard, but all books are hard for many different reasons), it's the experience of writing under pressure for the first time. This, no matter how much practice you've had, is something you can't be fully prepared for. It's like having kids—you do your research and make plans and decide how you will act, but in the end it's just not how you imagined it. There are things you cannot prepare for.

If you don't have an agent or editor, it's hard to understand that pressure. All you can think right now is that's what you want! Bring on the pressure! And that's OKAY. By all means want those things, but I encourage you not to underestimate the oncoming pressure. And please don't feel bad when you go through it. As far as I can see, it's totally normal.

I remember when I first started writing. I wrote for myself. I wrote whatever I wanted. I mostly wrote for fun since I figured publishing was a long ways off. I put some pressure on myself, but it was all me and I could take it off whenever I wanted.

I can't tell you how much I miss those days, when I wasn't worried about whether or not my agent would want to represent my next project. I can't tell you how many published authors I've talked to who tremble over sending their next project to their editor, wondering if they'll still like them. It's an indescribable unease that lives in your blood, weakening your resolve if left unchecked.

From what I've heard, writing under contract is freaking scary. The first book you got to spend time on—all the time you wanted! Sure, you know what happens in the sequel, but you don't have as much time to write and edit like you did with the first. And on top of that, you have people waiting—your agent and editor and future readers. What if they don't LIKE it? What if your editor regrets signing you? What if you don't meet expectations? What if, after all this work, no one buys your book and you're a big fat flop? What if it's so bad your editor nulls the contract just to cut losses?

Ridiculous, but you'd be surprised how panicky you can get when you have to write a book not only for yourself, but for other people.

I know it shouldn't be important. I know that we want to think it's easy to get past those emotions, but you would be surprised how hard it is! And then you start to feel guilty, because you finally have a book deal and everyone expects you to be happy and perfect because you have what everyone else wants. So you can't even talk about how much you're struggling, because you shouldn't be, and you are.

You have to trick yourself in to thinking there's no pressure, that you're still writing just for you, but that doesn't take it away. It only dulls it momentarily. You still know in the back of your head that there are expectations, and you might not meet them. Learning to live with people reading over your shoulder is part of the gig, and it's harder than you expect because it's what you thought you wanted for so long!

I wish I could give tips on how to overcome the pressure, but I'm still figuring it out myself. All I can tell you is to be prepared for it and not to beat yourself up if it hits you harder than you expected. The more you panic over the pressure, the worse it gets. I know that for sure.

Now, I'm gonna go pretend I'm writing this new WIP just for myself and see how long it lasts.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stuff To Consider About Writing Sequels

As writers, it seems we're always thinking about sequels. Should this story have one? Or five? Maybe there's room for a "companion novel." Or a prequel.

Sequels can be so fun—you already know the characters and it's like hanging out with good friends instead of trying to make new ones. But there's stuff to consider when choosing whether or not to stay in a particular story. It's not always a good thing. In fact, I might argue in most cases it isn't the smartest move.

But here are some questions you can ask yourself. Hopefully they'll give you a clearer idea of whether or not you should write out a sequel (or a whole series).

Do you have a multiple book deal?
I know, very simple question, but humor me here. The only sure way a sequel will be published is if a publisher has already contracted to, uh, publish it. Your sequel (or series) should be at the forefront of your writing focus at this point—those books WILL be coming out and you need to write them.

Do you have a book deal?
Sometimes a publisher will be open to buying a sequel (or companion or series) if your first book does well. If you have a book coming out, a book with sequel potential, you could definitely justify writing that sequel and seeing if your editor likes it. If they don't, it kinda sucks, but at least it has a chance.

Do you have "prospects" for your sequel?
Maybe you have an agent, or perhaps a publishing house is interested and asking about sequels. You get that itch to write—is it okay? Maybe. Consult your agent. I'm pretty sure mine would say hold off, but I know every agent and situation is different and maybe that publisher would want some sample pages, etc.

If you have no "prospects," why are you writing a sequel?
Is it because you're high on the story and want to keep going? Is it because you're afraid to move on because you don't think you have other good ideas? Is it because you are 100% sure this book will sell and people will be begging for more immediately? Or perhaps you feel like you don't know where the story ends, and you need to explore the world/characters more?

Whatever the reason, really think about it. Think about if it's worth the risk. Choosing to write a sequel is even more risky than writing that initial book—it's a book that essentially has no chance to sell unless the first does. It's a book that can wait if you have other ideas.

What are the emotional consequences of staying in that world?
Confession time: I've started writing two sequels and have actually finished a whole third one. From this experience, I've learned that writing a full on sequel only gets you more attached to your characters and world.

Which makes it much, much harder to let go of that world when a book fails.

I thought my dragon book was The One. I had many requests from agents, so I thought I better hurry and write that sequel. And I did. It was so awesome, too (okay it was actually horrible and I'd rewrite the entire first book and scrap the embarrassing sequel for something way better).

But when all of those requests turned up with "great idea, clunky writing," it hurt more. I'd invested more into "the series" than I really should have, and it made it harder to walk away, move on.

Are you prepared to change a vast amount of your sequel material?
Okay, say you write those sequels—say you write the whole ten-book series—and then you DO get an agent for the first one! Yay! Awesome! But what if your agent has a very different idea for how the other nine books should go? What if you show them what you've written, and they suggest HUGE changes?

Or what if your agent starts shopping that first book, and an editor takes interest, asks for sequel ideas, and then HATES what you have? Maybe they want the first book, but want to change the rest of the series. Are you okay with scrapping all that work? It depends on the situation, of course, but you have to consider the idea of potentially throwing out everything you've done.

Are you okay with the possibility of the work going nowhere?
It's totally okay to explore. I am a fan of exploratory writing—I wrote a Steampunk book for that very reason last year. But at the same time, the second I start loving something I dream about publishing it. It's hard not to! But still I try to enjoy my exploratory writing, tell myself it's just for fun and learning. There is nothing wrong with that.


So those questions probably sound really harsh. I guess they are. But if you are seeking publication, part of that is thinking practically. Working on sequels is often not practical. There's a time and a place for them, and you need to decide when that is.

I know this is when some people may argue that it's okay to write a sequel that stands on its own as long as it really is a fully separate story. True, but that can be hard to do and I don't think most people think of sequels in that manner. And that would mean you're basically writing a "first book" anyway. Why not try a different story?

Most of the time, it's a better idea to move on to a new project unless you're sure that sequel is worth the time and emotional investment. But if it is worth it to you, then by all means go for it!

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

When I was little, I got made fun of for a lot of reasons. I got made fun of for being Mormon; I was informed regularly that I was going to hell, checked for horns, asked if we sacrificed cats in our temples, and other ridiculous things. I was teased for having "ugly" clothes, many of which came from my aunt as hand-me-downs. My last name was Walus (add an "r" to that and...yeah). And if all that wasn't enough, I also got made fun of for being smart, a teacher's pet, and so on and so forth.

It was enough to make any kid a bit messed up, and looking back I made a lot of dumb choices based on how all that teasing made me feel. I'd like to say I'm a fairly well-adjusted adult, but whenever I think of Zeashan I still get this pit in my stomach.

See, Zeashan was kind of in the same boat I was. He was one of maybe two Muslim kids in our school. He was a "dork," complete with glasses and flooded pants and awkwardness. Of course he was brilliant, getting most of the high scores in class.

And I relentlessly teased him.

At the time, I remember being jealous. He was always in my class (duh, because I was always in the advanced class), and he often beat me at tests. Never by a lot, but just those few points felt like the world back then. I didn't have much at school to be proud of—I didn't talk about how hurt and sad and angry all the teasing made me, that would make me weaker—and it was like he constantly trampled on the one thing I had going for myself.

It was like an all out nerd war between us, and now I wonder if he felt the same way when I beat him on tests.

As bad as I still feel about teasing him, at the same time I smile, because he always fought back. He always had some bitingly smart comeback:

Me: Four eyes.

Zeashan: All the better to see you with.

Me: You sure didn't see well for the math test, you only got an A-.

Zeashan: At least I can spell "harmony." HarMANY? *laughs*

Me: *glares*

I never had a comeback for that. Spelling has never been my strength (as shown on this blog daily). Also, I should probably mention we weren't older than like nine. I know this, because I still remember one winter day in fourth grade.

Zeashan's mom came into class. She was a beautiful woman with dark eyes and hair, wearing a long dress. She told us that something had happened to Zeashan and he had to go to the hospital—he had something called Diabetes.

It was the first time I'd heard the word. As she explained that he would have to give himself shots everyday, stop eating candy, and that there was no cure, I sunk in my chair. I felt like the most horrible person in the world. Did she know how much I'd teased her son? When she saw me, did she think I was an awful person? And worst of all, was she wrong for thinking that?

I didn't think she was. That day I realized I wasn't being any better than the kids who teased me, and as much as I wanted to be accepted I did not want to be like them. I didn't want to pick on people "weaker" than me. Not that I became a saint, but I decided to save my mean streak for the bullies instead.

I never made fun of Zeashan again. I didn't talk to him much at all. He went on in his struggles, while I went off on my own. But I had to admit that part of me missed talking to him. In some strange way, he was a friend, though it never looked like that.

I often wonder if this rivalry was unavoidable, since being friends would have made it worse for us, almost. I know exactly what would have happened—everyone would have said we were in love, that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, which would have been the epitome of embarrassing.

But the thing is, I didn't really care that he wore glasses or that people made fun of him. I never even thought he was different or weird. In fact, I think I saw myself in him, though I didn't know it at the time. And everything I said was almost like I was saying it to myself, because I didn't know how else to deal with being on the outside. It's hard, when you're that young, to realize that it's okay not to fit in, so instead you beat yourself up for being such a freak. Or you beat up others for being freaks.

So to Zeashan, wherever you are, I'm sorry for taking my own pain out on you. But thank you for always fighting back, because it taught me that I could fight too, that just because other people said I was one way, didn't make it true. I know we never got along, but in a way you were one of the few people at school who made me feel normal.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Embracing The Fear

Welcome to another Happy Writers Society meeting! Please, take a seat. Get comfy. Don't fight over the brownie tray—there's plenty for everyone.

A small matter of business before my pep talk: Dayana Stockdale, a member of the society, has interviewed me about HWS and added her own thoughts on the importance of being a happy writer. It's good stuff. Be sure to check it out.

Courage isn't the absence of fear; it's moving forward despite the fear.

I think we've all heard that saying in one form or another, and I'm sure we all agree, too. But it deserves repeating.

In any creative endeavor, there's this element of fear. You're basically taking your thoughts and emotions and putting them on display for the world to see. That's a scary thing! For many reasons. I won't bother naming all them, even.

Today I want to talk about fear of our own ideas in particular. Maybe you've had an idea like that—the one that you know is amazing and yet at the same time you feel like you don't have the ability to portray it.

As an artist, I know this feeling well. There are still images in my head I know I don't have the technical ability to draw. I've had them there for years, and yet every time I try to put them on paper I fail miserably. I crumple the paper and determine that maybe I'll be able to draw it later.

I have these ideas for books too, ones I'm afraid to write because the idea is "too big" for little old me. I start writing them, and they scare the freaking crap out of me.

Transparent was one such idea. My main character is invisible. Invisible. At first I was overwhelmed by how I would portray such a girl, how I would get the reader to connect with a person who had no idea who they really were. I avoided the idea for months, terrified of how big and scary it was, but I finally got up the courage to write it.

And the first attempt was a disaster.

No. I'm not exaggerating.

My agent suggested I REWRITE it. I was devastated—the idea really was too big for me just like I thought! I'd tried to translate this awesome idea into words and it didn't measure up. The thought of rewriting it seemed impossible: I would just mess it up again.

But I did rewrite it, and it was hard. I just barely finished the six month journey! There were times I wanted to give up, where I was sure it was still a piece of crap.

This last read changed my mind. I finished this morning and realized that, though it might not be perfect yet, it IS good. It is closer to the perfect idea in my head. I've translated it better and I'm so, so proud of that!

And I've learned something along the way—that Fear is a good thing.

The Fear tells you you're pushing yourself, that you're growing as an artist. It tells you that you're not playing it safe, and an artist can't play safe if they want to make an impact. I realized I never want to get comfortable, because comfortable means I'm not growing and improving anymore. It means I'm being lazy.

So when I get those chills, when I feel that Fear creeping into my heart, now I will smile. Because I know it means I'm going the right direction.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When To Send It Off

So you might remember I finished a massive rewrite of my project Transparent last month. As much as I know it's a better book, I also know it's still not perfect. Rewriting a whole book is weird—it's kind of like a first draft but not at the same time.

Anyway, I thought I'd be a good writer and do a close edit before sending it out to readers. There had to be things I could improve on my own, and I want it in the best condition possible. Surely I could pick out the problems by myself...

Or not.

I am editing, but more than anything I find myself continually saying, "I don't know what's wrong! There HAS to be some huge plot hole or character flaw or other big issue to fix! Why can't I see the problems? It just can't be perfect—I'm not that naive."

That, my friends, is the point at which you must send it off to other people. No matter how scary or how unfinished or whatever. You've gone blind. You're too close to the story. You need to step back and let other people be your eyes.

So I'll finish this "edit," knowing it's not done but not really being able to do anything about it. I can't wait to send it off to readers more brilliant than myself, because I know they will see things I'm missing and help me improve. And next time I edit I will have plenty to do, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Paranormalcy In The Wild: Contest Winner!

So it's time to announce the winner for a FULL MS CRIT from me! But first, I just have to show you some of the amazing things Evie got to do and see these past couple weeks since being out there. You guys are so creative! And I'm sure all these pictures will make Kiersten smile. (Also, sorry if I don't post your picture—there were a lot!)

Evie liked to start her day at Starbucks:

And after a nice refreshing beverage, it was off to visit new and exotic places:

Like (Which one IS this? The entry didn't specify, but it's pretty!)

And Chinatown. (I'll admit I don't know which city's Chinatown, but LUCKY.)

And let's not forget AMSTERDAM. (Holy crow, I'm jealous of a book.)

But it wasn't all fun and games for Evie. Some people took her to work:
She sure spruces up the office space, though, doesn't she?

They even MADE her work for them!

Evie also got dragged to school, but I have a feeling she liked that very much:

She looks like she's about to squeal, doesn't she?

She even got to make a pink, glittery noodle craft project in elementary school.

After all that work, Evie was lucky to have the comfort of several adorable animals:

The cuteness is so relaxing.

Look! Evie was lulled to sleep by the adorableness!

After such a refreshing nap, Evie was ready to get her party on. She spent the rest of her time doing a myriad of activities:
She always wanted to know how to make raisins.

She tried her hand at tank driving. Fun, but not *quite* for her.

She went wine tasting, and surprisingly no one questioned her age.

Then she danced the night away at a Boyz II Men concert! I had NO idea she was such a fan. (Maybe it was the wine.)

It's been a tiring but fun two weeks for Evie out in the real world! She can't quite believe how much people like her, but she's SO happy about it.

And now it's time to announce the winner of the contest! I know most of you probably just scrolled down this far to see, but that's okay.

Emily Barrus wins the full crit! Congrats, Emily! Also, Evie thanks you for taking her to target practice:
It was very considerate of you to help her gain new skills for her rather dangerous job.

Emily, email me and we'll work things out. Thank you to everyone who entered the contest! It was a blast seeing all your pictures!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

7 Ways to Improve Your Blog's Readability

I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating, I think. Of course content is the most important part of a blog post, but as a former typographer I'd like to argue that the appearance of that post plays a big role in how likely it is to be read. You could have the most interesting post in the world, but if it's all in one long, centered paragraph people might skip right over it.

I know most people read blogs in readers these days. It "doesn't matter" what your blog looks like. Yes and no. As far as design, I'd say that maybe that doesn't matter as much, but the format of your posts still largely translates to a reader. Below are 7 tips on improving readability (or the ease of reading text), many of which still apply in a reader.

1. Font
There's nothing like an overwhelming font to scare off a reader. I don't see it often, but there's still a few using unruly fonts. The "fun fonts" are for titles, headings, etc—not for body text. For max readability, your body text should be simple, not bold, italic, script, etc. Some argue over whether or not it should be serif or sans serif online, but I'm not on either side. Most screens have high enough resolution now to properly display serifs.

2. Left Justified
I know centered might look fancy, but I promise it interferes with readability. We're not used to reading long texts centered (or right justified). For a caption under a photo, sure it works, just not the entire post. The standard for English body text is left justified, and you can get away with full justified if you don't like the jagged edge (though that annoys some people due to the uneven spacing between words).

3. Length
Not that I'm one to talk, but blog posts shouldn't get too long. And if they do you should take measures to help ease the lengthy text (headings, lists, paragraphing, etc.). Blogs are different from magazines or books in that it's almost more like reading a scroll. It's one long page, and if a reader sees a really long scroll they might skip over it unless that article is particularly useful to them.

I won't recommend word counts or whatever, but for me I look for how far it reaches down my sidebar items. If I hit my labels or archive, I know I'm getting really long. But sometimes if I have a lot of pictures and that doesn't matter as much.

4. Text/Background Color
Not as important for google reader and such, but it still makes a big impact on people visiting your blog. Light background and darker text is just easier to read. I won't tell you to go white background and gray text or anything so rigid, but that contrast is important for max readability.

5. Paragraphing
While books can get away with long paragraphs, blogs can't as much. The audience is different. People reading blogs are looking for a quicker read, and long paragraphs bog that down fast. Your eyes naturally get tired following line after line with no pause—it takes more work to keep track. The more breaks, the easier it is on the eyes (you know, without chopping it up to all one liners).

6. Headings
If you are writing a longer post in particular, it's usually helpful to break up the information under different headings. It's almost like a chapter break, but in shorter form. It helps the reader organize the information you present and makes it less overwhelming.

7. Lists
People love lists. When looking for quick information, lists are the best. Take this post, for example. If someone didn't have time to read everything, they could at least read the list I've presented and get the gist of what I'm saying. If they want to read more under a particular number that might apply to them, then they can. Fast, accessible information for the win.

So there you have it—7 tips guaranteed to improve readability. I know it may not seem important, but you'd be surprised how helpful it is to have a well-formatted blog. Readers already have little time as it is, and you don't want to give them any excuse to skip over you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Real Life

It's been a whirlwind five days, but Sara is on a plane home and here I am realizing how much I enjoyed her visit. It was so nice to be face-to-face after years of instant messaging. And we got to hang out with so many other writer friends! Online friendships becoming real is the coolest thing.

My head is spinning with stuff—the work I have waiting, the cleaning I don't want to do, how I'm going to get on without all my friends close by—so I'm afraid any recaps will have to wait. Maybe they won't come at all. Sometimes I wonder if talking so much about my "exciting" life makes others feel left out and sad. I'd hate to do that; I know what it's like to feel like you're on the outside.

In a similar thread, I totally quit Facebook last week! I gotta admit I'm loving it. I felt bad most of the time because I rarely got on, and when I did I just ended up feeling awful about myself because I didn't have any exciting news to share.

I'll be honest, sometimes social networking or whatever makes me feel so...lame. Sometimes it feels like a bigger version of "keeping up with the Joneses," as if my life is less because I don't have insert-whatever-thing-here.

I hate feeling like that. I hate that I fall for it when I know it's not true. So I got rid of Facebook, and I've been contemplating much on internet interaction in general.

Not to say I think social networking is bad (Hi, my dearest friends are a result of it!), I'm just saying there's a line. I'm saying I think I've been flirting with that line too much lately and need to rein myself in. I'm not ashamed to admit that—I think most of us go through it.

These last few days were a good reminder of just how important real life is, how much I actually like my real life.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Meeting 2

Order! Order, everyone!

*pounds gavel*

You in the back there—I know this is the Happy Writers Society, but if you'd please stop that giggling for one second. We're starting all official like.

*secretary scribbles minutes on notepad*

Welcome! I'm so happy you all showed up! It's nerve wracking to start something and wonder if anyone will care, but so many people stopped by our first meeting. Thank you so much.

As for items of business, I'd like to point you to Kristan's blog for my semi-usual Friday Sketch. She asked me to do a guest post, and that turned into a rather interesting drawing of "The (De)Evolution of a Writer."

Also, if we could take our shoes off in the clubhouse, the carpet will stay clean longer. I'd hate to use up all our HWS funds (currently at $0.06) for that.

And now onto the major issue today. I've been informed of a very serious writing disorder:

Manuscript Dysmorphia
This condition is characterized by an exaggeration and obsession over of a manuscript's flaws. A writer with Manuscript Dysmorphia will likely continue to obsess over flaws even once they've been resolved in the manuscript. They constantly worry that others will see through their revisions to the "ugly, deformed" first draft underneath. They are never happy with their work, even once it's beautiful, edited, or published.

Left unchecked, Manuscript Dysmorphia can lead to other writing-related issues:
• Decreased motivation
• Inability to start/finish WIPs
• Compulsive editing
• Over-editing
• Lack of self-confidence
• Inability to accept praise
• And much more

As members of HWS, it is our duty to not only spread awareness of Manuscript Dysmorphia, but to help those suffering.

If you know someone who might have Manuscript Dysmorphia, the most important thing you can do is tell them. Realizing you have it is the first step to healing. The writer may also need a listening ear, someone to talk through their issues so they can pinpoint why they have this disorder. Encouragement is also key—let the writer know that their work is good. It may need more work, but assure them that it isn't as bad as they think it is.

If this doesn't work, advise the writer to refer to older drafts of the manuscript in question. Point out how they've resolved the issues and their manuscript no longer has those problems.

It also doesn't hurt to have a plate of cupcakes at ready.

With time, hopefully the writer will be able to see their manuscript with a more forgiving, realistic eye. I'm counting on you, my dear HWS members, to make a stand against Manuscript Dysmorphia.

That concludes business for today. The Punktuations! will be playing in the ballroom, and there's a full buffet for your enjoyment. Also, laptops if you need to check your email first. I get that. Enjoy!

*steps down from podium*

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ice Cream Truck

Note: The wonderful Danielle interviewed me! Go check it out!

HUGE Note: Remember that time Kiersten White FREAKING HIT THE NYT BESTSELLERS LIST? Yeah, that was awesome.

When I was little, summer days were measured in how soon the ice cream truck was coming. He'd come everyday at about the same time in the afternoon, and as the hour drew nigh we'd sit on the curb and wait, planning what to buy with our meager allowance.

Crunch Bars, Choco Tacos, Big Sticks, Rocket Pops, Twin Pops, Push Pops...lots of Pops.

The wait seemed eternal each day, though we knew the tinkling sound of "Do Your Ears Hang Low" would eventually fill the air. Then his truck would appear and we'd cheer, our mouths watering.

But before that glorious moving sugar buffet arrived, it was always the same:

"When is he coming?"

"What if he doesn't come?"

"I'm going to DIE if this takes much longer!"

To pass the time we'd throw rocks into the street, color with chalk on the sidewalk. If we really wanted a rush, someone would strap on their roller blades, we'd all pile in the back of a wagon, and they'd pull us down the hill and around the corner as fast as they could.

That's how I got the scar on my chin—I can blame it on boredom waiting for the ice cream truck.

But looking back now, I wonder if that ice cream man waited as much for us as we did for him. We were serious regular customers, well-versed in ice cream truck delicacies and probably a much-needed part of his paycheck. Perhaps he never came early for fear that we wouldn't be there. Perhaps as he approached our street, his music blaring so loud he probably couldn't hear, it was always the same:

"Will they be there?"

"What if they're not there?"

"I will DIE if this takes much longer!"

Then we'd see each other and smile. My friends and I would wave to him, our quarters at ready. He'd wave back, relieved that we were still there, waiting.

I think sometimes we forget that the "other side" is waiting too, that agents or editors or readers hope we're ready on that curb, can't wait to see how much we have for them today. Just like we're standing on the curb, hoping they haven't run out of Rocket Pops yet.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

You're Only A Day Away...

Tomorrow! The Dread Pirate Sara comes to visit me tomorrow! I'm so excited. I've known Sara for about two years; she is one of my dearest friends.

And we've never met!

It's because she has to live all the way in Ohio. Ugh. Why do so many of my friends live so far away?

But by some amazing stroke of luck she gets to come here! And we get to hang out for five days and go to Kiersten's signing and party Utah style (which, uh, means food and laughing and pretending lame things are awesome [for reals]).

You know, whatever comes of all this writing stuff, I think my most cherished treasure is my friends. Cheesy as it may be, it's true. They are awesome, and I'm so lucky to have every single one of them.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to clean. A lot.

...after I finish watching the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender, of course.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Paranormalcy Contest Extension

I feel really bad that some of the pre-order people haven't gotten their copy of Paranormalcy yet! So I've decided to extend my contest!

You remember that contest, right?

Okay, so you now have until the September 13th at midnight! Go forth! Enter!

Writing For Money

Okay, I'm totally getting ranty today. Sorry. I am fairly opinionated on this topic. As I expected, yesterday's post brought on this question:

Are you saying it's bad to write for money or fame?

Well, yes and no. I mean, obviously I'm not writing solely for the heck of it. I have an agent—I hope he'll sell my book. I'm not hiding my manuscripts away, content for my grandchildren to stumble on them someday. I would love to have a little cash in return for all this work I've been doing! Who wouldn't?

But at the same time, there are dangers in writing solely for money/fame.

First off, let's be honest here, if you really want money and fame you're kind of in the wrong business. Very few authors make enough to even quit their days jobs, let alone qualify for "money and fame" status. Yeah, we have J.K. and Stephenie, and Suzanne is totally up and coming to this status. Most people know Mr. King and Mr. Grisham, probably Patterson too. But even most of the bestsellers aren't household names!

Let's take Neil Gaiman—writer rock star to us. He's got movies, awards, everything, right? When the average person asks me for book recommendations and I say try Neil Gaiman, the number one response:

"Wait, Neil Diamond writes books?"

Then I'm like, "No! GAIman! With a G. Did you ever see Stardust? Coraline?"

"Oh...those are books?"

Not. Kidding. *face palm*

Let's look at a few big YA Bestsellers/Legends: Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Cassie Clare, Ally Carter. I've dropped all their names, only to get funny looks as if I'm speaking a different language. The book world is small—sometimes when you're online all the time it feels huge and influential, but you can't forget the average American hardly reads fiction. Depressing, but true.

Secondly, writing with money and fame as the sole goal can actually hinder your progress towards that goal. It might cause you to rush when you should wait, skip an edit because you really have to get this book to an agent NOW before mummies aren't hot anymore.

And then you'll be going out with a half-baked manuscript, one that might not make it in the current difficult market at all. And say you do get an agent; maybe you'll spend nine months editing that baby and your whole "Mummy Trend" will be poof anyway. And if you get past edits and onto submission, maybe every editor will say, "Yeah, we have too many mummies, and this voice just doesn't stand out." And even if you DO get a book deal, maybe it won't be for as much as you thought and your book won't get the attention in-house that you hoped and you won't get a huge print run and there's no way you'll make a list even if you do have a decent online following.

It kind of breeds permanent unhappiness, doesn't it?

If there's one thing I've learned in the last five years of serious writing, it's that cutting corners does not work. There are no short cuts—you will NOT be the exception to the rule. And even if you are, the public will ream your book for poor writing, etc. Yes, maybe your millions will console you, but not as well as you'd think.

Wouldn't you rather do your best work AND have wealth and fame? I would. Then I'd feel like I earned it.

And third, writing with visions of your 3-book-deal and 7-figure advance can only keep you working so long. When the going gets tough, that dream looks less and less possible. Then maybe you start to wonder why you're writing at all. Maybe you're not even good enough to get any deal at all let alone one so big! (I've thought all this, promise.) Then you get depressed, and I don't know about you but my writing suffers intensely when I'm down.

You can't get anywhere if you can't get the words on the page. Writing is the soul of everything—if you are too depressed to finish that book, edit that book, submit that book, then you can't get the rest either!

It's simply putting the cart before the horse.

So there are the dangers of writing with only profit in mind, and that's why I encourage staying focused on actual writing. Because when you work on the craft, the rest will follow! You can't control the profit side; it'll come or it won't.

Focusing on your story, on improving your writing, on making your book the best it can be naturally fosters success! If you really want that whole money part, you best be putting your time into the craft.

Writing, the craft, the work—that's the horse. Success, money, fame, or whatever—that's the cart. Your cart ain't going nowhere without the horse!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cart Before The Horse

So I started writing this post in the morning, and it totally wasn't coming out like I wanted. I've deleted like three versions. They sounded accusatory, a little mean. That is not how I want to put this, because I have been there—and go back there more than I'd like.

Sometimes we spend a lot more time acting like a writer instead of actually being a writer, if that makes sense.

Being a writer is, well, about writing. Plain and simple. The rest is extra—from networking to socializing to agents to publishing to lists and awards. It seems at times people want the "stuff" that comes with writing without actually being serious about writing.

I certainly don't want to point fingers. I am not saying anyone I know is like this. I've just been thinking about my own feelings lately. Whenever I get really down, I hate to admit it's usually because I'm looking at what I don't have as a writer. It's like I care more about my name on a book instead of how great the story is inside.

So not proud of that.

Then I slap myself out of it, appalled. What am I thinking? Is that why I'm writing? Is that what makes me happy when I write? Funnily enough, the more I think about The Stuff the more I hate writing! The less I get done! It's because I put the cart before the horse.

But when it comes down to it, none of that really matters. I know, here I am blogging and saying stuff doesn't matter. I guess I'm saying it's all icing. Yeah, icing is fine on its own, but you can only get so much from icing (like a raging sugar buzz and a stomach ache).

Writing good books is the cake, the substance. If you throw amazing frosting on a cardboard cake—it's still a cardboard cake. You're not fooling anyone. But if the cake is good? It stands on its own; maybe you don't even need frosting. I mean, sure, frosting is always a nice compliment, but good cake is what keeps people coming back.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Happy Writers', CLAN. Coven, maybe?

I've noticed a wealth of angst lately among writers. This business is hard to break into, and it's easy to get down on yourself, on your writing. And it doesn't seem to end even after the book deal. I haven't met a writer who didn't at one point feel a little stressed and frustrated and pressured. Or a lot.

Obviously I've been going through an intense bout of writer angst this year as well, and I gotta admit I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the knots in my stomach when I write, the worry that I'm messing up my book, the wondering and "agony" of waiting.

I hereby declare war on writers' angst. WAR, I tell you.

And I'd like to recruit you, too.

I'm forming a club, except anyone can join so it's not that kind of club. I'm calling it the Happy Writers' Society. It will probably be as ridiculous as Haruhi Suzumiya's SOS Brigade, so be prepared for ridiculousness and smiling. LOTS of smiling.

Because writers should be happy! We are creative, imaginative, hard working people who claim to love what we do! Shouldn't we show it a little more? Do we have to be so tortured? I don't think so. I'm so over "tortured writer."

So welcome to the Happy Writers' Society!

Mission: To spread writerly cheer, celebrate the journey, and otherwise purge writers of angst.

Every Friday (along with my occasional sketches), I will be posting something for Happy Writers' Society (HWS). But that's not all—I want "members" to share their stories too! So if you want to join my little club/clan/society/coven thing, please do. And if you want to share, send your stories (500 words max, please) to natalie (at) nataliewhipple (dot) com. Now to kick this off with a BANG.

Celebrating Failure
Disney put out a movie called Meet The Robinsons a few years ago. I don't know if it really took off, but it's one of my favorites just because it reminds me to "Keep Moving Forward."

It's about a boy inventor, struggling to get his mojo back after his most-loved invention fails disastrously. (Um, can you see the parallels already?) He wants to give up inventing—he's ashamed that he can't get anything right ever.

At one point, the Robinson family convinces him to try tinkering again, so he attempts to fix this machine. And guess what happens? No, he doesn't succeed—the thing blows up in his face and the boy is utterly devastated.

And then the Robinsons cheer.

They cheer for his failure! They throw confetti and tell him how awesome his failure was, how horrible it went, laugh at how everyone's covered in goo. It's totally cheesy, but it sticks with me every time.

You see, the Robinsons believe failure is great—they believe it's learning, growing, and part of the process to finding what DOES work. It's nothing to get upset about, nothing to give up over. And as cheesy as that is, I've decided I'd rather be cheesy than depressed all the time.

So today I shall celebrate my failures by posting my VERY FIRST QUERY LETTER EVER. Oh, yes, it's a doozy. It's embarrassing. And I'm totally gonna celebrate the beautiful newbness of it. Just so you know, my very own agent received this query almost three years ago. It was promptly rejected in five minutes—making it my very first rejection! Are you ready, guys?

When Sevene’s hair turns blue on her sixteenth birthday she thinks the world is ending; and she’s exactly right. In Sevene: The Keepers, a 74,500-word novel, the timid yet creative Sevene Keys finds herself with incredible new powers and daunting responsibility when she discovers she is from a distant world. As aliens invade Earth to kill her, she must not only avoid her own death, but stop the vicious creatures from destroying Los Angeles.

Hooked to writing since I could read, I have been avidly conjuring stories and dreaming of new worlds since kindergarten. I worked as a writer for BYU’s Eagle’s Eye Magazine
for four years, writing over 30 articles for 10 issues while also managing layout and editing responsibilities. A hard-working perfectionist, I believe that revision is the heart of good writing and embrace criticism as a means to improvement. I am not afraid to rework my materials and seek out people who will help me grow as a writer and help my stories flourish into novels.

In reading your blog, I felt that my manuscript would be a good addition to your list. Thank you for considering my complete manuscript, which also has an option of becoming a series.
Awesome, right? I mean, take a look at the bio paragraph! For reals? Please imagine me laughing, because I am. It's funny how there's this little shred of potential there (I'm totally digging the tagline!), and yet, wow, what a disaster. That bio paragraph is basically a "see how insecure I am but please like me anyway?" speech. And it's totally vague in general.

But, I learned a lot from this first query. First, I learned I had no clue what I was doing. I wrote this without any help—I had no writer friends to help! This experience propelled me to seek out knowledge and friends, which profoundly affected my life.

Second, I learned that I had the guts to query, even if I wasn't ready. That was a big deal, since I'd spent my life up until then too afraid to even try. I learned I could put myself out there, get rejected, and survive. Luckily I only queried five poor souls with this thing and then decided I needed more practice.

Third, I learned my book wasn't ready—I wasn't ready. I really had no idea how much work it took, but writing this first query taught me things about storytelling. There's nothing like a summary to test your plot, to show whether or not the story actually holds up. After writing this query, I realized my book didn't. Sure, I still didn't know how to fix it, but at least I knew!

So there you go, a disastrous failure that led to many good things! Sure, it's a little embarrassing, but I don't think I'd be the writer I am now without it. In the end, I owe a lot to this silly query, and thus I will celebrate it.

This concludes today's Happy Writers' Society meeting. Please feel free to celebrate failure with me in comments! I would love to hear your misteps-turned-positive!

Also, I should probably make a badge or something...a crest? A flag? Oooo, a THEME SONG.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Living With Scars

The last few weeks have been rough ones for me. I can't go into the details, but I lost something I put a lot of hope in. I didn't even know how much hope I'd put in it until it ended. Don't worry, I know I'll be okay, but it's got me thinking a lot about the grieving process, about how we as humans deal with the hard things we face.

We all have moments in our life that hurt. And as a good friend said, "Pain is pain." I don't think we should go around comparing who's suffered more—who wants to win that contest?

Times like these remind me that those moments, while they do fade, never really go away. It's like that scar I have on my chin, from when I fell out of a wagon as a kid. It doesn't hurt like it did when it was oozing blood, when the stitches itched and my mom kept telling me not to touch them. Most of the time, I don't even think about it.

But then sometimes I rub my chin or, uh, pluck a stray hair from there, and there's the scar. I remember for a moment turning that corner too tight, toppling to the right, and my face skidding across the sidewalk corner. The blood is warm as it dribbles down my neck. The barely-attached skin flaps back and forth in the wind. My friends' faces fill with horror.

It's as if I relive it all over again, just by seeing that scar.

Grief seems to be that same way for me. Most of the time I'm fine—I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the hard things I've gone through. Mostly because I don't think my life has been that hard. I constantly feel blessed. There are so many good things in my life.

But when something sad or awful does happen, it's like touching those scars. The memories come back, almost as vivid as experiencing it all over again.

I was teased as a kid. And I'm not talking the little jokes here and there. From kindergarten to around my sophomore year in high school, there was someone "out to get me." Someone who made sure I knew what an awful person I was. And sometimes they were once friends. I want to think I've grown out of it, but when I struggle with my self-esteem or loneliness their voices always come back:

"I hate you, Natalie."

"You're ugly."

"You're weird."

"You're not cool enough to hang out with us."

"You don't belong."

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. A horrible lie, in my opinion. I still live with the mental scars from words wielded harshly. Every time I fail or "look stupid," it's like touching that scar, remembering the pain.

It's like a chain reaction, because that, of course, makes me think of my grandmother. She always made me feel important and special and worthwhile. I lost her 18 years ago, and yet the memories smacked me across the face yesterday. I was driving home, and bam, I ached for her like I haven't ached for her in a while. I wanted her to be here, to tell me I was the most brilliant writer in the world. Because when she said things, they were true or she would make them true. She was magic like that. A fireball.

So then I end up living through all my grief because of one sad thing (I won't go through all of them for you, this sad post is long enough). It plays in my mind, vivid and real (though it's probably more like over exaggerated and melodramatic). Logically, I can see what's happening and why, and yet at the same time the feelings are still there. The scars.

I know as I heal up from this last emotional wound, the pain will fade and I'll be fine. I might be changed in ways I may not even know, but fine. I also know that as much as I heal, there will always be this scar, a reminder of what I've been through.

But maybe that's not such a bad thing, to remember those hard times once in a while. Our scars are as much a part of who we are as the rest, right? They shape us, but it's up to us to decide what shape that'll be. I'm determined to come out of this one stronger, even if I'm not quite sure how to do that yet.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Handling Self-Imposed Deadlines/Goals

First, Dino Boy started preschool today! Even with the orientation, I had like two hours to do things. I got work done—during the day. It was awesome. And Ninja Girl got to play with any toy she wanted! Without bossy big brother micromanaging!

Obviously I'm not Mother of the Year material, as not a single sign of tearing happened. I hear so many moms get sad and nostalgic, but we were all happy.

Dino Boy: Pick me up later?

Me: Yup.

Dino Boy: Bye.

Me: Can I at least get a hug?

Dino Boy: /sighs Alright.

He's gonna be an awesome teenager. I can't wait.

I have a little more time now, and I'm so happy about that. I might actually get a chance to let that cyborg side out again!

Today I wanted to talk a little more about self-imposed deadlines, since many comments on Monday mentioned being horrible at keeping them. It's not an easy thing to learn, the whole set-a-goal-and-stick-to-it thing. We can refer to centuries worth of unfilled New Year's resolutions for proof.

But if you want to be a professional writer, part of that is learning self-discipline. I won't lie, at some point in this journey you will want to give up, you won't feel inspired, or you will face outside forces that prevent you from writing. At those times, sometimes "love of writing" just isn't enough. Sometimes you have to push through, and you can't really count on anyone but yourself to do it.

Delayed Gratification
Setting personal goals and deadlines really comes down to how well you can delay your own gratification. It's hard these days, when so many things are instant, to put off "good things" or "fun things" for the "better thing" that takes so freaking long to happen.

Delaying gratification happens constantly in writing. You write now so you'll have a book done later. You edit now so when you finally query it'll pay off. You suffer through submissions so you can have the backing of a publishing house. And so on and so forth.

The first step to meeting self-imposed deadlines and goals is deciding—one hundred percent—that they are worth it. That when you reach them, the deprivation of fun/pleasure/laziness/sleep/food/time will be a decent payment for what you have gained.

Basically, it's the Marshmallow Test, but for grown-ups.

If you can't convince yourself of that goal or deadline's worth/plausibility, then it's less likely to happen, right? Humans are like that—we don't usually go along with things we don't find valuable in some way to ourselves.

Creating A Plan
Okay, so you convince yourself that writing a novel (or running a marathon, or losing weight, or learning to play the piano) is a worthwhile goal. You want it, and you want it BAD. And not only do you want to finish a novel, but you want it published and successful, etc.

How do you get from Point Want to Point Results?

A plan, of course.

Now, don't imagine me with this "How I Will Get Published" notebook full of my goals/deadlines and a little chart I check off when I meet them. You'd be way wrong. I mostly keep this in my head when it comes to the big goals. Besides, let me know if any of your actual "How I Will Get Published" plans actually, uh, go according to plan.

But when it comes to the smaller parts of my goals, I definitely have plans. I plan to finish books within certain periods of time. I plan out my edits. I plan what to work on next.

I can't tell you how to make your personal plan, but I will give a few tips.

Deadlines and Goals and When/How They Should Be Used
Example of a bad deadline: "I will have an agent by the end of this year"

Why? Because this is not something you can entirely control. A deadline should be attainable by you and you alone. It should not be contingent on another person. There is a very real risk that getting an agent in insert-whatever-time-period-here will not happen. And then you will feel bad when you really shouldn't.

This kind of deadline also may hinder your work. You may rush a project that needs more time. You might query before you're ready. You might actually sabotage your own goal of an agent by wanting it too soon! (It took me almost two years, mostly because I spent the first year being stupid and impatient.)

Example of a bad goal: I will sell for six-figures.

Why? Well, it should be obvious. It's also something you can't control—selling at all is something you can't fully control. Having this mindset may also sabotage you. Instead of writing stories from your heart, you may start to write for the market instead, you may get caught up in "the game" that doesn't actually exist.

Good goals? I think we've all heard that they should be measurable, reachable, and all that other stuff. You know, realistic and yet challenging.

Some of mine (that I like to think are good):
• Constantly improve my writing. (Goal)
• Finish first Transparent edit by then end of September. (Deadline)
• Get published. (Goal. [Also notice how there is no time line or specific book attached to that.])
• Finish first draft of new WIP by the end of the year. (Deadline)

All tough, but also realistic according to what I know I can do.

After you have determined your goals and their worth, it doesn't hurt to throw some motivation on there. Of course I prefer rewards—who doesn't? I don't go for punishments unless I really need help moving.

Rewards and punishments are the same as deadlines/goals. You can't give yourself something crazy awesome for writing 100 words. Okay, maybe if you're rich. Rewards and punishments should fit the accomplishment.

I usually go out to lunch for finishing edit rounds—and more importantly I DON'T go out to lunch when I don't. Delayed gratification, right?

There are many things you can do. Maybe you can't write that New Shiny Idea until you finish this book (or chapter). Maybe you don't get to watch that episode of Glee until a scene is done. Maybe you can't get on Twitter for ONE WHOLE HOUR while you write.

Whatever works for you. I find internet deprivation extremely helpful. I'm just sayin'.


In the end, it really comes down to the first point I made—delayed gratification. The rest is fairly worthless if you don't think your goal/deadline is important or worth it. When I struggle with writing, with my self-esteem and motivation, I always have to go back to that ultimate question:

Is publishing my book worth all this work?

I'm always a little surprised when I say yes. Again. As long as that's my answer, I will keep believing in my goals and making deadlines.